By Joe Newman, Behavior Consultant
What do you say to a parent who asks, “How involved should I get in school?”
Before talking about this question I first want to talk about a more important underlying issue. Relations between parents and teachers are at an all-time low. Parents blame teachers for their child’s poor academic performance and teachers blame parents for raising badly behaved children. And while there are certainly parents and teachers who are not like this, it is the unfortunate trend.
So before a parent can know how involved they should get in their child’s school, or what kind of involvement will be optimal, they must first build a positive and productive relationship with their child’s teacher.
First, what to do.
Assume the teacher wants the very best for your child, even if you don’t see it. Remember the saying; first seek to understand, then to be understood. Find out what the teacher is doing, what they see happening with your child in the classroom, what their concerns are, what their struggles in the classroom are, and how you might be able to mitigate any of these.
Ask them directly, “What can I do to support your work with my child?” Then do your best to do it.
Stay informed about what your child is doing in class and what they have for homework. Make sure they’re doing their homework and confirm that they’re turning it in. Set up an effective homework routine -you can find help on Homework Tips.
If you offer suggestions, offer them in the form of questions like, “Is it possible for Rachael to use manipulatives when she does her Math work? This seemed really helpful for her last year.” Or, “Are there opportunities for Dylan to have chores in the classroom? He seems to get into less mischief when he’s given responsibilities.”
Catch them being good. We love to use this with our child but it’s an equally effective tool to build a relationship with our child’s teacher. Find something, or several things, that you like about what’s happening in your child’s classroom and let them know you see it and appreciate it.
Second, what not to do.
Don’t attempt to correct or criticize a teacher until you have established a positive relationship with them. Even well intentioned advice can fall on deaf ears if you don’t understand what’s happening in the classroom.
When parents attempt to correct or criticize a teacher’s approach or method with their child it almost always goes badly. A teacher may listen politely during the conference and say they will consider, or even try, the suggestion. But when the conference is over, the chance that the teacher will actually implement the suggested change is slim. And worse the parent/teacher relationship will be worse for the experience. Why? Because in most cases the teacher has either tried this suggestion before, knows it can’t be realistically implemented, or disagrees with the approach altogether. In other words, the parent didn’t understand before they sought to be understood.
Eight years ago, when I finished my Master’s degree, the agency I worked for immediately made me a supervisor. After twelve years being the child whisperer who could turn around the most difficult children, I now had the opportunity to oversee and train twenty behavior specialists and teachers and pass on all that I knew. To my great surprise very few of these people seemed interested. After six exhausting months with only a little progress I finally realized that I needed to build relationships first, then teach. I had to appreciate the efforts and the insights of the people I wanted to teach before they would hear anything I had to say. I needed to understand before trying to be understood.
Once I began focusing on recognizing, appreciating, and articulating the efforts and insights of those around me all my cases started to quickly improve. When what people think and feel when you walk into the room shifts from, “There’s the guy who always tells me what I’m doing wrong” to “There’s the guy who really understands how hard I’m trying” amazing things start to happen.
It didn’t matter that I knew the right thing to do to turn these kids around (I did), what mattered was actually getting it done. And to actually do it required appreciating and developing positive relationships with the people who would be doing most of the work.
Studies consistently show that children whose parents are involved with their schoolwork do much better than children whose parents aren’t. Just remember that how you get involved is just as important as how much. Assume your child’s teacher wants the best for your child. Make efforts to support them. Ask questions about what’s happening and how best to support. Recognize the efforts of teachers and appreciate them. Then, get involved in school as much as you are able and in the ways that are in unity with the needs of your child’s teachers.
By: Joe Newman, Behavior Consultant
Paul was in the third grade when his grades began to slip. He was attentive in class and a good participant in class discussions but struggled with the reading and writing that was expected of him. In order to help Paul keep up he was often pulled out of non-academic activities (like art and music, which he excelled at) and given extra help in language.
By the start of fourth grade his attitude had shifted. Paul was getting into mischief in class, often interrupting the teacher and clowning around and joking during lessons. By the middle of the school year Paul had been sent to the principle several times for bullying other children. As a penalty for his bullying Paul was suspended from the after school baseball team.
Paul’s acting out in class, bullying, and negative attitude towards school seemed to be in a downward spiral. His parents and the school staff were at a loss as to how to turn things around.
As Paul’s academic struggles grew, his social status at school diminished. And, in their efforts to give him more help and deter his problem behaviors, teachers and parents inadvertently took away many of the remaining avenues he still had to feel powerful at school (like art, music, baseball). It is not surprising that, as his feelings of social power at school disappeared, Paul found less appropriate ways to feel social power.
As school budgets have been repeatedly cut they have eliminated art, drama, sports, woodshop, music, and auto mechanics while increasingly emphasizing academics. This means that avenues for demonstrating social power at school are becoming limited to those students who thrive academically. In the past, these other activities offered students who weren’t the best academically the opportunity to find and demonstrate other skills within the school community.
Children are drawn to social power more than to what they’re told is right or wrong. I’ve noticed that many children who struggle at school are more attracted to the villains in comics and movies than to the heroes. This is because children who don’t see themselves being successful heroes relate to anti-heroes. At least anti-heroes are powerful.
As Paul’s father Dan watched his son’s escalating difficulties, he considered that maybe his son wasn’t so different from himself. He had struggled in school and it was only after he’d graduated and found a job on a film crew that he began to find his own talent. Over the years Dan had worked his way up to become a successful director of photography.
He decided that maybe his son didn’t need to wait until he was in his twenties to find his talents. He knew that Paul was interested in making movies and his class would be studying the founding fathers in the months after their spring break, so he approached him with a plan. They would make a film together about one of the founding fathers.
Paul chose Ben Franklin and recruited some friends to play the various roles in the film. During the first week of spring break (Dan was on hiatus) they shot the movie and during the second week Dan coached Paul through the editing process.
When Paul returned after the break he gave the film to his teacher as a special project. To his teacher’s credit she not only showed the film in class, but also arranged to have it shown in the other fourth grade classes and even at a school wide assembly. At each showing Paul was asked to talk to the audience about how he and his friends made the 15-minute movie. His teacher even arranged for him to go with his father and show the movie at two neighboring elementary schools.
Paul was so busy and proud of the film he’d made and his new found notoriety at school that the bullying and class antics stopped completely. In the months that followed his participation and attitude at school made a big turn around.
When children find something they’re good at, something they like, or something they can contribute, they also find their place in a community. When children have a legitimate place, they’ll have no need to find power through hurting other children and bullying.
By: Joe Newman
In 1975 I was in the 7th grade. I’d just moved to a new city and a new middle school. I had just a few friends. Everything in my social life and at school seemed precarious. Puberty had set in for some but not yet for me. Everyone was trying to figure out how to impress the girls and each other. We all pretended to know everything about sex, but I for one knew almost nothing. I felt a constant anxiety that at any moment everyone would realize I was a fraud, and not at all cool, and they would suddenly turn on me, laughing.
I was on the playground for the recess after lunch, standing with a group of boys at the edge of the blacktop. A girl named Lee was walking towards us from the other side. She was about 30 pounds overweight, wore cloths that were a bit too provocative, cursed more than was necessary, and had allegedly gone to second and third base, maybe all the way, with a few different boys.
As Lee walked towards us I started yelling, “Here comes the Goodrich blimp! Look how she floats. Like an elephant balloon at a parade!” I continued with a litany of insults and crude jokes as the boys standing with me laughed and egged me on. Even as I was yelling the insults I could see the pain in her face and her struggle to keep up a strong front. I wanted that little bit of approval I was getting from the other boys so badly I swallowed down the noxious taste of the pain I was inflicting. It remains one of my clearest memories of that entire year.
My desire for social power had been stronger than my empathy and sense of compassion.
All bullying is driven by a desire for social power.
Bullies aren’t children who lack empathy, compassion, or understanding of the consequences of their actions, but rather ordinary children who want social power so desperately they will swallow guilt and ignore empathy to get it.
Unfortunately, many of the most common interventions adults use to try to stop bullying only increase the social power of the bully and often make the situation worse.
Typically the first response to bullying is a lecture. It can be in the form of a teacher telling a student why what they did was wrong and how remorseful they should feel. Or it can be in the form of a bullying awareness week where a team of therapists and presenters is brought in to talk to students about the effects of bullying, teach empathy, and offer suggestions of alternative pro-social behaviors.
The natural instinct to defend the bullied and stand up to and educate the bully serves to further exacerbate the root causes of bullying.
This is because there is no better way to gain social status than to show your peers that you don’t need the approval of adults. When a teacher or parent publicly tells a child that they disapprove of what they are doing, this becomes a perfect opportunity for the child being reprimanded to gain social status by demonstrating that they aren’t fazed by the censor of an adult. And because the adult, who is not a peer and therefore not cool, intervened on the bullied child’s behalf it reaffirms the weak social position of the bullied child.
If we’re going to stop bullying we must begin by understanding that its root cause is a desperate desire for social power. Attempts to confront bullying will succeed or backfire based on our understanding or misunderstanding of this one element.
In this series on bullying I’ll cover insights, tools, and strategies to prevent and stop bullying that inlcude:
- Why lectures and conversations often backfire and action consequences are effective against bullying
- Responses to bullying that lower the social power of the bully and create effective motivations for it to stop
- How an adult’s instinct to defend the bullied and stand up to and educate the bully often exacerbate the root causes of bullying
- How cutting programs like Art, Music, and P.E. create conditions in schools that promote bullying
- How teachers and parents can regain the respect and authority needed to effectively stop bullying
- What’s happening culturally to feed the rise in bullying and what we can do about it
By: Joe Newman
Sara, the mother of seven-year-old Aiden told me her son was complaining that his friend of several years, Noah, a boy a year or two older, had been bullying him. Apparently, Noah had pushed him into a closet where he and another boy hit him. This had happened a few times and always out of view of any adults. Additionally, the boy told him if he tattled that he would hit him again when no one was around. This was happening when both boys were at either at Aiden or Noah’s house.
Although the occasional abuse made her son reticent, he still wanted to visit and play with his friend. His mother was concerned because this was one of very few friends Aiden had and she and the boy’s mother were also friends.
What to do?
To understand how to respond to bullying we must first understand its motivations. Bullying is an attempt to exert social power. Bullying is not the result of the bully’s lack of understanding about right and wrong, or their lack of empathy. Quite often a bully is conflicted between his desire for power and his empathy. It’s not that a bully doesn’t understand or feel empathy, it’s just that his desire for social power is stronger.
Social power is increased when a child shows disregard for the opinions of adults. Grade school children are uncertain about who they are, and there is nothing cooler to their peers than a child who shows that he not only doesn’t need the approval of adults but is unafraid of their opinions or outrage.
Consequently, there are generally two effective approaches to handling bullying. One is to consequence the bully and the other is to coach the bullied. The biggest mistake adults make is to intervene by lecturing the bully or otherwise telling him how his or her actions are wrong, bad, shameful, or disapproved of. Berating or lecturing the bully in front of his peers is particularly ineffective as it provides a perfect platform for the bully to display social status and power.
So what to do with Aiden and Noah?
I suggested the mom start by coaching her son in effective ways to handle the situation. Ask him to look out for the first signs of the bullying and when he sees it going that way he should say to his friend, “I don’t want you hitting me. If you hit me I won’t play with you.” Then if his friend does hit him, he should immediately tell the adult who’s at the house that he wants to go home or he wants his friend taken home.
Sara asked me if she should sit Noah down and tell him that she knows about the bullying and that it isn’t okay and I told her no.
There are two problems with Sara, not Aiden, confronting Noah about his bullying. First, it undermines the power of Aiden by demonstrating that he must rely on his mom’s power and can’t assert his own and it denies him the opportunity to assert that power himself. Second, it gives status to Noah’s actions by allowing him to flaunt his opposition to Aiden’s mom’s wishes and approval, inadvertently increasing Noah’s social power.
Then Sara asked me if she should talk to Noah’s mom and have her talk to Noah about his behavior. My answer was no. Again this will increase Noah’s status and show Aiden’s lack of power and status. If she does talk with Noah’s mom it should be to ask for her support of Aiden as he negotiates this problem while specifically asking her not to talk to her son.
This way Aiden can exercise the power of following through with what he said he would do. When Aiden comes to either adult he should be coached to say simply, “I want to go home now” or “I need you to take Noah home now.” And the adults should honor his request immediately without questioning him or reproaching Noah.
The other effective approach to bullying is hard to do in this situation since the boys are always playing alone when it happens. However, in other situations I would advise the adults to stay close and within eyeshot when possible and intervene with an immediate action consequence that lowers social power. Telling the bully to take a break for five minutes away from other children, without discussing with them why, can be a good way to do this. Once the adult says why, or what the bully did was wrong, they inadvertently increase the status of the bully.
My wife told me about a teacher she had as a child who insisted that any child he caught bullying wear a big pink bow for the rest of the day. While I’d never recommend this kind of shaming, her teacher clearly understood the root cause of bullying and attempted to counter it with something that diminished social power and status.
As we move forward in our attempt to eliminate the growing epidemic of bullying it’s essential that we respond with more than simple outrage and moralizing for the bully and empathy for the bullied. Our responses must consider why it’s happening and which actions will undermine, or strengthen, the true motivations for it.
By: Joe Newman
A passive tantrum is when a child feigns inability or lack of understanding in order to avoid difficulty, frustration or effort.
Jackson was an eight-year-old who was very inconsistent in his ability to focus and complete most class work. Most of the time he sauntered slowly through his assignments and needed constant prompting to stay on task or he would slowly drift into doodling on the sides of his papers, playing with something in his desk or talking quietly to the boy next to him. When prompted by Ms. Gibson (his teacher) he would often tell her he didn’t know what to do next or he didn’t understand, despite his apparent understanding only a few minutes before. Because Jackson showed difficulty comprehending social interactions and communications and had some difficulty making friends, he was diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum.
Ms. Gibson noticed that when Jackson was excited about an assignment he readily understood her communication, remembered the directions, and moved through the class work at a good pace without assistance.
One morning, when Jackson had been sauntering through his class work at a particularly leisurely pace, Ms. Gibson decided to see how much he was actually capable of. During the lesson right before lunch the students had been given about 25 minutes in which to write three sentences. Jackson had only finished writing one.
When the bell rang for lunch and Ms. Gibson excused the class she called Jackson over to her desk, “I need you to finish your last two sentences before you go to lunch.” A moment later Jackson went to his cubby got his lunch and brought it to his desk. Ms. Gibson saw this and said, “Jackson, maybe you didn’t understand, but you can’t have your lunch until you finish those two sentences.” A minute later she heard his bag rustling and saw that Jackson was taking out his sandwich. She walked over to him, placed her hands on his sandwich, and said, “I can see you really want to eat your lunch. However, you won’t be able to have your lunch until you’ve finished writing your two sentences so I’m going to put your lunch on my desk till you’re finished.” She took his sandwich, put it back in the bag and sat it on her desk.
Jackson sat without saying anything for a few moments. Then he picked up his pencil and began writing. Forty-five seconds later he had finished writing his two sentences (a task that on a good day might have taken him 5 minutes). He showed his paper to Ms. Gibson and said, “Can I go to lunch now?” And she gave him his lunch and he left the room.
From that day forward Ms. Gibson shifted her expectation of what Jackson was capable of. She set natural consequences for not completing work she thought he might be capable of and created frustration around those behaviors she felt Jackson could change when motivated. She began to assume understanding and ability where before she had assumed inability and insisted that he complete more work independently. And in the month that followed, the amount of class work that Jackson would complete in a day almost doubled.
I see children like Jackson in every classroom I visit. Children who have learned to camouflage their actual abilities in order to avoid frustration and difficulty and assert power and control over adults. This is the passive tantrum.
In a culture where parents have been taught to empower their children in every way possible, we need to be aware that children will find more creative ways to assert this power, even if it means feigning inability. Add to this the fact that parents and teachers are taught to be constantly on the lookout for signs of a disorder so as to intervene as early as possible. Consequently, parents and teachers are more likely to assume inability and react by accommodating, rather than frustrating, these behaviors and many children quickly learn that a passive tantrum is an effective way to avoid difficulty and assert control.
When the new statistics came out in March about the sharp rise in children who are being diagnosed as on the Autism Spectrum I couldn’t help but wonder what percentage of these children were children like Jackson who had learned (and could therefore unlearn) the patterns of the passive tantrum.
By: Joe Newman
Our boys are in trouble. They are falling behind girls academically, socially, and psychologically. Consider the following:
• Boys are 30% more likely to drop out of school before graduation.
• Girls outperform boys at all levels of schooling, from elementary to graduate programs.
• Boys are 11% less likely to get a B.A. and 10% less likely to get a graduate degree than girls are.
• Boys make up 2/3 of special education programs.
• Boys are five times more likely to be diagnosed and medicated for ADHD.
There has been a confluence of cultural shifts responsible for this dangerous trend, a sort of perfect storm that is ravaging the psyches of our boys. The shifts fall into one of three categories:
Shifts in what our boys do with their free time, shifts in our schools, and shifts in the parenting. Understanding these three areas will point us in the direction of how we can take practical steps to save our boys.
First, boys are spending a lot of their free time playing video games and watching porn on the internet.
• By age 21 boys have spent an average of 10,000 hours gaming, 2/3rds of that in isolation.
• The average boy watches 50 porn clips per week.
The result of this is that boys are developing “arousal addictions” and they are developing minds that seek constant change, novelty, excitement, and arousal. This makes them unprepared for classrooms that are predominantly interactively passive, static, and analog in nature. It also makes it more difficult for them to develop real relationships which build gradually and subtly (from Philip Zimbardo: The demise of guys? – http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/zimchallenge.html).
Next, the culture of our schools is increasingly alienating boys.
• Boys are expelled 3 times as often as girls.
• They are suspended 2.5 times as often.
• They are 2.75 times as likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability.
• They are 3.24 times as likely to be diagnosed as emotionally disturbed.
Ali Carr-Chellman of Penn State attributes the above to three factors. First there is a “zero tolerance” policy toward weapons or violence. This is often translated into not only a ban on real and toy weapons but also writing about these things or about topics that seem destructive or violent in nature. Second, there is an appalling lack of male role models in our elementary schools. Ten years ago 14% of elementary school teachers were male. Today that number has dropped to 7%. And third, there has been a compressing of our children’s curriculum in essence making “kindergarten the new second grade”. The effect being that teachers are under pressure to move children quickly through the curriculum and there is much less tolerance for the child who is active and needs to move (predominantly boys).
Finally, in the last 30 years, our parenting culture has shifted from an emphasis on raising children who respect their parents to raising children who respect themselves. Consequently, our children are more confident, assertive, and willful. Add to this that the ways in which parents deal with conflict has shifted to using more and more communication and explaining instead of action consequences; the result is children who are stronger but more difficult to control. This lack of effective boundaries also stunts a child’s capacity for intimacy and promotes feelings of anger and isolation. (For more on this see my book Raising Lions or my blog ‘The Beautiful Tyrant’.)
Add these three factors together and we can see how boys are slowly being marginalized at our schools and consequently within our culture.
Here are some practical steps parents can take to bring back our boys:
• Move all computers into the public areas of the house. This will prevent a lot of your children’s ability/desire to watch porn. And use a porn filter to make it more difficult when you’re not home.
• Place a limit on video gaming time. Between 2 to 4 hours a week at most. Let your child choose how to divvy up the time.
• Encourage activities that aren’t virtual: Building projects, theater, Cub & Boy Scouts, sports and playing outside.
• Watch the TED talk by Gever Tulley “5 dangerous things you should let your kids do” then do these with your sons.
• Advocate for, and encourage, your sons to write about and express what they find interesting, even if it involves weapons, battles, and things being blown up.
• Learn to set action consequences instead of giving information in response to problem behavior.
• Create real jobs for your children to do that support the daily functioning of your home. This goes beyond traditional chores to include learning to make dinner, changing light bulbs, doing dishes or laundry, spending a day painting the kitchen with Mom and/or Dad. This can contribute greatly to your child feeling a sense of responsibility and connection to his immediate community.
Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators, and specialists. During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program. His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.
By: Joe Newman
Struggles, difficulties and deferred gratification are good for children. These things used to be a much bigger part of growing up and there wasn’t any other option. Today most parents have the option of giving their child almost everything they want (attention, toys, constant stimulation, choices about everything, lavish praise). One of my clients called the sickness this creates in our children “affluenza”. In today’s society it’s necessary for parents to create deferred gratification even when they have the resources to give immediate gratification. Struggles, difficulties, and deferred gratification are essential to the development of emotional regulation, intimacy, self–discipline, and feelings of connection with the world around them.
Parent like an adult, not like your inner-child. There is a natural, but unhealthy, tendency to parent our children in terms of what we needed and never got as children. Although doing this feels like being considerate of what your child needs, it’s not. It’s self-involved. Try not to parent in reaction to the way you were parented. Make a concerted effort to listen to feedback from others about your parenting and be extra reflective about recognizing the difference between what you needed as a child and what your child needs right now. Remember, no parent thinks they’re permissive.
Match the will of your child, but don’t shame it. We are raising children who are strong, confident, and tenacious. Parents must be prepared to be at least as tenacious about enforcing boundaries as children are about pushing them. It’s natural that our children push boundaries more fiercely than we did. Don’t expect them to respond to the same things that worked with us as children; they’re stronger so we also need to be stronger. At the same time we shouldn’t resent it when they question and test so often.
Recognize and acknowledge your child’s power. In both times of cooperation and of conflict do your best to point out and respect your child’s ability to make their own choices. Rather than telling them what they “should”, “must”, or “have” to do, point out that they are free to make their own choices even when you disagree with them. It’s a good way to teach them what they control and what they don’t control. “You can decide to _______, but _______ leads to this. If you’re okay with that then that’s your choice.” They control their choices. You administer the outcomes.
Don’t explain to a child what they can figure out themselves. Too much explaining makes feeble, passive children. Never tell a child something they could realize themselves with a bit of coaching or consequence. Ask questions about whether the choices they made served them well. And never tell a child something you are sure they already know. Never address problem behavior with explanations and information they already know.
Let consequences teach. Children make their choices based on what works. If rude and inconsiderate behavior gets them what they want, don’t expect them to change because this violates your moral reasoning. Don’t blame your children for their bad behavior. If you don’t like their behavior change the consequences of those behaviors.
Take the anger, judgment, disappointment, and moralizing out of your parenting. All of these things can be forms of manipulation and eventually they will backfire on you. While it’s natural to have an emotional reaction to some of the things your child does, never use emotion to manipulate or shame.
The parent is in charge and this is the natural order of things. Children who have too much control over their parents become anxious, angry, and lonely. Children are comforted by parents who assert control without negating their needs or feelings. These children are better equipped to internalize the boundaries the parent holds.
Have your own needs,and make sure your child learns to consider them. Teaching your child to consider your needs is as important as considering theirs. It’s important that parents maintain an independent sense of what they like, want, and enjoy and not allow their identity to be dominated by their sense of themselves as an excellent parent.
Embrace conflict. The less you shy away from conflict the less of it you’ll have. Learn to deal straightforwardly with aggression and dependence.
Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators, and specialists. During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program. His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.
By: Joe Newman
I recently saw a 20/20 program entitled Stupid in America with the tag line – “Kids failed to make the grade because their schools failed them” in which they looked critically at grade schools in America as compared to schools in other countries. The program showed how schools in America were producing much less capable children and implied this was because of the incompetence and lack of effort put forth by American teachers. They did this without offering any explanation as to why our teachers had apparently lost their efficacy and ability to care.
As I watched how European students far outpaced their American counterparts of the same age, I thought, “Of course Europeans are outperforming us! Their teachers don’t spend half their time trying to overcome the culture of entitlement. American teachers spend an inordinate amount of time on classroom management and attempting to deal with children who believe their opinions are just as important as the teacher’s. Hours of classroom learning are lost each day and by the time our children are graduating high school their European counterparts have had many more years of real education.”
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that the reporters at 20/20 used the same kind of thinking to examine the problem as was used to create it – “Our parenting, our culture, and our children are perfect; blame the teachers.”
The unspoken assumption I see in most children at school is that they are perfect and correct until proven otherwise and that it is the responsibility of the teacher to prove himself or herself knowledgeable, entertaining, and engaging. Every teacher must constantly battle this assumption in order to get to moments of real teaching and learning.
While not all children come to school with this assumption, this is the current classroom zeitgeist and it pervades our classrooms.
Deference and appreciation is a rare commodity in most of the children I see in schools today. And these attributes are fundamental to creating an atmosphere that is conducive to learning.
Here are a few of the myths that are instilled in our children at home that create this culture of entitlement and undermine our children’s capacity to learn.
Education is something they’re entitled to, not something they are fortunate to get. Children feeling a sense of appreciation toward their teacher and their school is the first step toward a child coming to school with a seeking mind and willingness to work hard.
The child’s opinion is just as important as the opinion of the teacher. Children who are given choices about everything learn to question anything they don’t prefer. This might seem fine for a tolerant parent at home, but by the time these children enter school it becomes extremely difficult to deal with their belief that their opinions are just as valuable, or more valuable, than the opinion of their teacher.
Children should be treated with the same deference that teachers are. Wrong! Teachers, and for that matter most adults, are entitled to more deference than children because they have more experience, know more, and have gone through difficulties the child has not yet faced. And more to the point – if children come into school with this belief, the implication is they should have as much of a say in running the classroom as their teacher does. The teacher who has a classroom full of these kinds of children will spend an inordinate amount of class time dealing with behaviors and negotiating boundaries.
The following are some concrete steps you can take to prepare your children to learn at school.
- Give children choices about some things and not others.
- There should be times when “no discussion” is the rule.
- Teach your children that having choices is a privilege that can be taken away if they don’t respect the rules that govern them.
- Tell them the rule once, or not at all. Repeating rules over and over is condescending and tells them it’s the adult’s responsibility to remember the rules and not the child’s responsibility to proactively consider others.
- Choose what deserves praise. When everything a child does is praised, your praise becomes meaningless.
- Be authentic. Don’t be afraid of telling a child you think they could do better when it’s clear they haven’t given their best effort.
Transforming the state of education in this country will start with transforming the culture of parenting.
Note from the editor: It is important to us that TNF expose you to both sides of the coin on parenting issues. Your child may not fit the personality described by one writer but s/he may very well be like another. Each week in this Q & A segment we will juxtapose two parenting philosophies –one as proposed by Julie & Holly (more of an unconditional parenting style), and the other by Joe Newman, who provides a more transactional parenting approach.
I’m a divorced mother of a 6-year-old. My ex is always giving in to whatever my daughter wants. When she comes back to me I feel like the bad cop because I enforce boundaries. My ex says I’m too strict, and my daughter isn’t so happy with me either. What should I do?
Answer by Holly Kretschmar & Julie Gamberg (Parents and Educators)
You’re in a difficult position and we applaud you for upholding boundaries with your daughter. Maintaining limits is especially important because she’s living in two households, which is potentially destabilizing. You have the opportunity be be a bedrock of stability, but how do you hold your own in the face of her visits to the proverbial candy factory?
Children who are raised by so-called ‘permissive parents’ – ones who avoid conflict and indulge their child’s every desire – may initially appear to be reveling in the freedom. But as kids learn they can push boundaries to potentially unhealthy levels, they lose a sense of security, trust, and safety. Inconsistent (or nonexistent) boundaries can cause kids to develop anxiety because they feel a lack of control over their environment. An overly strict environment prevents kids from exercising their judgment, though, so it’s important to strike a balance. Working through conflict with children in a constructive, positive way is a critical parenting skill that your ex is, apparently, lacking. So your daughter needs you to model compromise and negotiation so she can learn to use these skills in relationships with others.
If your ex continually removes limits in order to bypass conflict with your daughter, he risks sending the message that he would prefer to avoid her negative emotions at all costs. A parent who is afraid to tell his child “no” is telling her that he’s not equipped to handle her frustration, anger, or sadness. It’s important for you, then, to support her through these emotions, comforting her through the inevitable disappointments that life brings, coaching her through complicated feelings and demonstrating that you are there for her. Your unconditional love will pay off in the long run.
Here are some further suggestions:
• Avoid setting limits in reaction to your ex’s permissiveness. It’s important that the limits you set are appropriate, loving, and make sense to your daughter. Be clear with her and yourself about why a limit exists. She won’t think you’re too strict if she understands why you set the limits you do.
• Many of us have inflexible limits (“no running in parking lots”), but don’t be afraid to establish flexible limits as well. For example, you might have a flexible limit around bath time:
Child: I don’t want to take a bath! Daddy doesn’t make me take a bath.
Parent: It’s good to wash the dirt off our bodies.
Child: But I was inside all day today and I’m not dirty!
Parent (applying a flexible limit): You know, that’s a good point – you are pretty clean. Let’s skip it for tonight.
• Empathize sincerely and engage your daughter in problem solving when you hold a limit. For example:
Child: Daddy lets me watch TV before bed. I want to watch TV!
Parent: I know he lets you watch TV and that sounds fun. It must be hard to do things differently here but we don’t watch TV before bed. Can you think of another relaxing thing to do that we can both agree on?
Child: What if we skip bath and read another chapter? Reading relaxes me.
Parent: Sounds great!
Dismissing limits is the easy way out. By avoiding parenting short cuts, you’re investing in your relationship with your daughter and building her sense of confidence and trust in you. The fact that your parenting style differs from your ex’s could be an opportunity for you and your daughter to talk and connect. You might be surprised at how a little transparency can bring you together. By maintaining high standards for her, you’ll be demonstrating that you respect her, which she’ll come to value more than nights of watching Late Night and eating Frosted Flakes.
Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.
Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)
When parents are separated and a child is being raised in two different households there is always a tendency to try and compensate for what the other parent is doing wrong or to compensate for the short amount of time you have with your child by being more indulgent than you would otherwise be.
So the first rule is: don’t parent in reaction to what your ex is doing. Stick with your best instincts and work to create a balanced approach in your relationship with your daughter. You won’t improve your daughter’s upbringing by either being stricter because your ex is too lenient or by being more lenient because your ex is too strict. A too-strict relationship with your daughter won’t remedy the too lenient one she has with her father. It will only mean she has two unbalanced relationships instead of just one.
Next, to the extent that it’s possible, try to unite with your ex in terms of the ways you both parent your daughter. Try to agree on bedtimes, morning routines, and guidelines about play dates and even the ways you set boundaries and give consequences. Perhaps you can ask him to suggest a parenting book he likes and then read it to find common ground.
After a discussion or mutual reading, I suggest writing down some points that you think are most important. Present it to him by letting him know this is just a first step in the two of you being unified and ask him to freely change or add to anything you’ve written. There is a lot of power in having some basic points written down that you both agree on.
Lastly, the “bad cop” feeling you’re having can be mitigated by doing your best to set boundaries in a compassionate and sympathetic tone. Parents often feel it necessary to give consequences and enforce boundaries in a tone that tells their child how angry, upset, or disappointed they are. It’s as though they don’t trust that the consequence or boundary will be enough to change the behavior they don’t like so they need to add an additional emotional motivator.
But the emotionally charged tone when giving a consequence is a form of emotional manipulation that undermines your relationship and the autonomy of your daughter.
I suggest trying to do two things simultaneously: be firm in your setting of boundaries and consequences, and while doing this acknowledge your child’s autonomy, respect her decisions, and keep any judgment of them out of your voice. Let the boundary do the work of shifting the behaviors –not emotional manipulation.
Here are a couple of examples of how that might sound:
“Yes, I realize your father puts away your toys for you when you’re at his house, and if you can get him to do that for you that’s between the two of you. But when you’re in my house you need to clean up after yourself before you do anything else.”
“Yes, I realize you hate sitting in timeout. Timeouts aren’t supposed to be fun. But if you decide to call Mommy “stupid” you’re going to get a timeout. You’re the only one who can control what you say, not me. I just control the consequences.”
Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists. During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program. His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.
By: Joe Newman
One afternoon, I was watching a first-grader named Jimmy playing Legos with two other boys when I heard him say to his friend Ryan, “That’s a stupid way to build it. The wings are gonna fall off. Give me the ship. You’re stupid!”
Ryan looked hurt, put the half-built spaceship down, crossed his arms and turned his back to Jimmy.
Jimmy was very impulsive and often said the first thing that popped into his mind without thinking. He was trying his best to make friends but most of the children still didn’t like him very much. He and Ryan had become friends about two months earlier and had even had a few play dates together after school.
I winced when I heard him call Ryan stupid, not only because he clearly hurt Ryan’s feelings, but also because I was afraid he might lose one of his precious few friends. So I called Jimmy over and said to him, “Jimmy, let me ask you a question. Do you want to have more friends?”
Jimmy looked at me suspiciously and gave a tentative “Yes.”
“Okay, and are you happy about how many play dates you have or do you want to have more?”
“I want to have more.” Jimmy said.
“So right now, after what you just said to him, do you think Ryan wants to be your friend?”
“But Ryan was being stupid. If you put the wings on like that they’ll never stay. You need to ….”
I broke in and said, “Hold on, hold on. I didn’t ask you if Ryan was being stupid, maybe he was. I’m just asking you if you think he wants to be your friend when you call him stupid.”
“I don’t know. Probably not,” he said.
“Well I just wanted to ask you because I know you want to have more friends and play dates, so I couldn’t figure out why you called Ryan stupid.”
Then after a pause I said, “Do you want to go back and play?”
“Yeah.” Jimmy said.
“Go on then.”
Jimmy had always been resistant to anyone telling him that something he did was wrong or a bad idea. I’d learned that if I asked him questions, and didn’t force him to admit he was wrong, he was more likely to talk with me honestly and change his behavior.
Guidance Without Manipulation
There are all kinds of subtle manipulations in the language we use when we talk with children. This new generation of children, children with more highly developed communication skills and a stronger sense of themselves, are highly sensitive to manipulation and they will resist it. The use of manipulation is an attempt to shape and change them based in a fear that the child will not come to the correct conclusions on their own. The child’s resistance will start an antagonistic and oppositional dynamic. The most effective way to speak to these children is to speak to them in terms that acknowledge their independent will.
Recognize that children ultimately make the decisions in each circumstance and that we cannot make decisions for them. Also, the language that we use with children should communicate to them a belief that they are capable of making logical, healthy decisions that are respectful of themselves and others. The language commonly used to speak with children is filled with manipulation, moralizing, and innuendo about what they should and shouldn’t do. This kind of language communicates to them our lack of faith in both their ability to make decisions, and in their capacity as moral and ethical persons.
Learning or Realization?
There are two different ways to teach a child –through a process of learning or a process of realization. When trying to teach a child after a moment of conflict or difficulty it is much more effective to use a process of realization.
Learning happens when you take information, or the conclusion about something, from someone else. The adult gives the information or conclusion and the child takes it.
Realization happens when you gather your own information and come to the conclusion on your own. The adult can lead a child to realizations by asking questions rather than giving answers.
Using a series of questions to lead someone to certain realizations is commonly called the Socratic method. Wikipedia defines Socratic method as “a form of philosophical inquiry in which the questioner explores the implications of others’ positions, to stimulate rational thinking and illuminate ideas.”
Did That Work for You?
The key to having a Socratic dialogue with children is to base your discussion around asking them, in as many ways as possible, “Did the choices you made get you what you wanted?”
When you lead a child to examine the facts and ideas based on better understanding of what’s in her own self-interest, rather than telling her your conclusions about what she should and shouldn’t do, she will more easily embrace the realizations and conclusions she’s come to because she feels respected and not manipulated.
Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists. During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program. His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com..
[Photo Credit: ianus]