Archive for the ‘Boundaries’ Category

PostHeaderIcon How to write a kid’s behavior contract

Every child has one or more behaviors that parents/teachers would like to change. Whether a child is displaying mild behavioral problems or very serious ones, each child could benefit from a simple behavioral plan to change the unwanted behavior. Behavioral contracts, which is a signed contract between a child and their parents or teachers, helps mold or change the behavior/s of kids that are disrupting either the classroom or the home environment. Typically, the unwanted behaviors comprise one of the following areas: not listening or having to repeat yourself to your child a thousand times a day (ie..will you pick up your room, will you brush your teeth, will you please do what you are told), physical aggression (hitting, throwing things, punching, kicking, or pushing other kids including their siblings), and anger or attitude problems (ie… sighing heavily, rolling of the eyes when you are talking to them, refusal to do what they are told, or talking back). Now there are a vast number of either behavioral problems that are specific to each child, however most unwanted behaviors fall in one of these three categories.

So, how do we change a child’s behavior through a behavioral contract?

A behavioral contract sends the message to the child that whatever particular behavior is written on the behavioral contract is an unwanted behavior that the parents or teachers want changed as soon as possible. First, we need to write up an agreement between you the parent and your child. Pick a particular behavior that you want changed and then write up the consequences for not obeying the rules. For example, lets say that you want your child to quit hitting or pushing his eight-year-old brother every time your head is turned. The behavior is you want physical aggression to stop in your home and if your child can go a week for example without hitting/pushing his older brother than he gets a reward that you determine (ie.. taking him/her to McDonald’s, going to the park, etc…). However, the consequences for not following the behavioral contract is also determined by you and for example you may decide to not let your child watch television or ride his bike for 3 days.

Each behavioral contract is customized to your child and whatever behavior you would like to change. The key to a good behavioral contract is to only pick 1-2 behaviors to change at a time and be consistent in rewarding them for good behavior and consistent for handing out consequences when their behavior is bad. Do not give up on your child, be patient with them. Most likely your child will mess up and make bad choices, but keep with your behavioral plan until you start to see more positive behaviors.

PostHeaderIcon Letting kids suffer consequences

As parents many of us have significant difficulty in letting our children suffer the consequences of their actions. We feel obligated to bail them out of their troubles that they have actually created for themselves. Here is a good example of this:

Your child has a class project that is due and they tell you the night before that it is due tomorrow. You as the parent do not want your child to get a bad grade so you stay up half the night helping them work on the project. You of course ask your child, “how long have you known about this project?” Your child answers, “a few weeks now.” Of course all projects need supplies so you run to the store in the middle of the night to get paper, glue, and everything else that is needed for your child’s project as well.

In essence, what has happened here is that the parent has enabled the child to not be responsible for their actions and they bailed them out. A better scenario would have been for the parent to emphathize with their son/daughter that the project was due but make them stay up to do it. Yes, this may sound harsh, but think of it as more as “tough love.” The lesson that needs to be taught is for the child to look to the future and to know that their decision to do or not to do something is entirely up to them, however their choices result in consequences.

If a parent bails their child out of situations of which their are negative consequences, then the parent has taught their child to be irresponsible and a negative pattern of behavior for future actions/behaviors has developed. Of course, every child forgets things now and then, and you as a parent can help them, but if you notice that this occurs all the time, then it is time to let your child suffer the painful consequences of their actions. If you find it difficult to allow your child to suffer consequences, then be sure to find someone that can help you through your own resistance of enforcing rules/boundaries.

PostHeaderIcon Is giving our kids too many gifts healthy?

We as parents frequently want our children to have more than what we did and overindulge them. Especially at Christmas time, we are often guilty of wanting to over gift our children. What does giving children too many gifts do for our kids. Much research has been done in this particular area and giving our kids too many gifts is actually not of benefit to them. Giving too many gifts to our kids has the following effects:
1.) Our children are not appreciative of what they have received when they have a stack of gifts sitting next to them that is higher than they are. Children that have “too much” can become ungrateful and it truly is more important to give than to receive. However, if children receive and receive and receive, it is very difficult to teach this particular value.
2.) Giving bigger and bigger and more expensive gifts often leads to a competitition among family members to “out do” each other.
3.) It sends the message that love is truly measured by presents and “stuff”.
4.) Numerous studies have been completed that show that receiving too many gifts over stimulates children. When children receive so many things, it is hard to focus on the gifts that they do receive because there are simply too many. Children can only focus on one or two things at a time, not a pile of toys that are stacked to the ceiling.

Yes, I understand that it is hard as parents to not buy and buy for our kids because we want them to have everything, but truly it is not healthy. How can we prevent from buying our kids too much this year. Here is how:
Make a list of what you want to buy for your children and then stick to it.
Decide how much you want to spend and plan what you are going to buy.
Figure out how many gifts you want to buy for your kids.
Lastly, if everyone is in agreement in your family, then draw names of who you are going to buy for.

This year don’t go broke buying gifts for your kids and family and make this a more meaningful Christmas. Your kids will thank you for this later.

PostHeaderIcon How to teach kids self-control

Self-control truly is a basic lesson that needs to be learned early in life.  Children must understand early that they are the ones that have control over the quality of their life and they have a choice over whether they have privileges or if they have consequences for their behaviors/actions.  If a child chooses to do what they are told then they receive privileges or get to do what they want and if they decide to not do what they are told, then their should be consequences for this.  Parents must set limits and boundaries and then stick to the consequences of their children’s choices, whether good or bad on a consistent basis. 

The basic formula to teach self-control is to give children freedom, allow them to make choices whether it is good or bad, and then deal with the consequences of their actions depending on what choices they have made.  When a child has done something good and they have listened, then praise them for it.  When they have not, then we dole out consequences.  Parents should give privileges when they have been earned and let their children know that they are receiving privileges as a result of having made good choices, no matter what the age of your child.  When a child has made poor choices, parents should empathize with what they have lost (ie.. consequences), however they should not say, “I told you so” or “I told you this would happen.”  Rubbing it in will not help matters.  Make statements such as, “That’s sad that you can’t go out with your friends” or “I feel for you that you don’t get an allowance this week, now you can’t buy that CD.” 

The goal as parents is to not control our children, but to make them do what you want them to do.  Parents need to give them the choices of what to do and make it painful for them when they make the wrong choices so they won’t want to do them again.  When we balance children’s freedoms, their choices, and hand out consequences, this is how we can teach children to control themselves accordingly.

PostHeaderIcon Obstacles for parents in teaching boundaries

One of the biggest difficulties for parents in teaching children boundaries is putting up with your child’s whining about the boundaries.  The child will push you and push you in order to test the limits in order to get their way!  That is their job, of course they want what they want and when they want it.  Your job as a parent is to put up with this testing of the limits, the whining, anger, temper tantrums, and pouting until the boundary lines between you as a parent and your child are clear and defined.  Teaching a child appropriate boundaries with you as a parent as well as at school and with their friends is a very difficult job, however if you teach these boundaries, your child will be much more successful at relating to others as well as being more successful in all of their relationships in life.  The obstacles to developing boundaries in your child are as follows:

1.) When a parent depends on their child to meet their own needs.  You want your child to develop their own friendships and relationships .  When you as the parent need your child to be close to you and require their constant affection to meet your own needs, this interferes with your child’s ability to establish their own boundaries with you and with others.  This causes problems for children later in life because they are too dependent upon you and you have now made your child your “friend” in order to have everything between you flow smoothly in order to not lose their “friendship.”  Children are our children and the appropriate boundary is for them to be our kids and not our “friends.”  Their friends are at school and not at home.

2.) Another common obstacle to establishing appropriate boundaries with our kids is when we overidentify with our child’s feelings.  This usually occurs as a result of a parent’s own unresolved issues from their childhood.  We as parents often are unable to delay our child’s gratification as result of trying to avoid having our child experience any pain, guilt, anger, or fear.  This is impossible!!  We as parents need to empathize with our children when they are scared or feel pain, however we as parents can not avoid having our children feel these feelings.  Children need to learn how to experience and handle their emotions.

3.) Children require consequences in order to learn boundaries.  A common mistake made by parents is when they believe that their children will not love them if they give them consequences for their behavior.  Children need structure and many parents fear that if they confront their child or or disagree with their child that they will lose their relationship with their child.  The reality is that when you set clear boundaries for your child, they will feel more secure, not less.

4.) A common obstacle also seen is when parents ignore their children when they are misbehaving and then later start ranting and raving at them.  For example, your child is in a store and complains and carries on about having you as the parent buy them something and you ignore their behavior while you are in the store.  You are really hoping that they will stop their temper tantrum in the store and they will simply stop.  Then, when you get in the car you let them have it!  Of course, your child starts crying or is very angry at you and you as the parent feel guilty.  This is an obstacle that will clearly not help you establish boundaries with your child.  That behavior your child was displaying in the store should have been addressed immediately, even if you had to leave the store.  Nobody and I mean nobody gets their way all the time, don’t set your child up for a reality shock later on in their life. 

5.) Lastly, and the most popular  obstacle to setting clear boundaries for our kids is when we let our children wear us down and we simply give in to whatever they are asking us.  We have all done this as parents.  They go on and on and on and finally we say, “alright go ahead, just stop your whining.”  Kids do not give up easily and they will work you to death until you give in and they get their way, even if you don’t agree as a parent to what you gave in to.  Don’t simply say boundaries to your child, you have to enforce the boundaries and this needs to be done consistently. 

Children without boundaries are usually children that are out of control and have little to no ability to delay gratification.  As a parent, have supportive relationships of your own, this will help you stay focused and allows you to have an outlet.  In addition, parents that have their own life are teaching their kids that they are truly not the center of the universe.  This teaches children that they must interact and relate to those around them and everyone is important and has their own wants and needs.

PostHeaderIcon To Spank or Not to Spank?

To Spank or Not to Spank.  That is the question?  I am writing about this particular subject today as a result of an argument that took place in my office this past week between two parents.  They brought in their child to see me due to discipline problems they are experiencing with him at home.  The parents proceeded to argue in front of me about how to discipline their son and how to get his behavior problems under control.  You see, this child had completely taken over the house and the parents were no longer in control of their own home.  The child was running the show!  The father told me that he believes that corporal punishment or spanking him is a most effective way to discipline and the mother prefers to send him to time out or to reward him when his behavior is appropriate.  I proceeded to watch this couple argue for about 15 minutes in order to observe how they interact with each other and finally asked them, “is this how the two of you talk to each other at home?”  They proceeded to tell me that they try to argue about these types of things in their bedroom away from their son.  The problem with that folks, is that children tell me all the time that they either know that their parents are arguing or that they can actually hear their parents yelling in the bedroom.

So back to my question, to spank or not to spank.  The problem that I just outlined for you above is an all too common one that myself and other therapists hear.  If parents are not even in agreement, how do they expect their child to react to conflicting and/or inconsistent discipline in the home.  Spanking, in my opinion is not an effective tool to change a child’s behaviors/actions in the long run.  The problem with spanking is that it will stop a behavior or an action immediately following the punishment, however children usually do not even really know what they are in trouble for and it will most likely not change the behavior for the long-term.  Yes, I know that alot of parents will not agree with that statement, however controlling someone’s behavior through negative means is never a good thing.  In addition, spanking is a punitive measure and is a negative means to control behavior, not a positive one.  If you really want to change a child’s behavior, a more effective means of doing so would be to reward positive behaviors consistently and set up a behavior management plan for your child in order to change unwanted behavior.  If parents are not successful in doing so by themselves, they should consult a mental health professional for assistance.

PostHeaderIcon When do we reward positive behaviors in children?

Many parents that I have seen over the years have told me that they like to reward their children for a “good job.”  Now exactly what does that mean, “a good job.”  Parents have told me that they give their child a reward such as money, going out to dinner, or buying them something every single time they do something they are told to do.  So when do we reward a positive behavior in our children?  We do this when they have performed above and beyond the call of duty.  Children should be rewarded when they have diligently worked at something and have learned something new and also when they have performed exceptionally well, whether this is at home, school, or at an extra-curricular activity.  If we reward our children every single time they do something they are told to do, we create a sense of entitlement in our children and they are not grateful or thankful when we do reward them.  They simply come to expect that they are going to get a reward for easy; menial jobs around the house or at school. 

Children should complete their homework, schoolwork, housework, and do age-appropriate things.  However, rewards such as money, buying them a new game, a trip to their favorite place, can be very powerful tools but they need to be used appropriately.  Rewards are good when your child surpasses what is “normally” expected of them and when they finally do receive a reward it will be special and mean something to them.  Once children learn a new skill that is required in life to be a responsible adult, we do not continue to reward this behavior.  For example, you as a parent decide to reward your child for learning to tie his/her shoes and you give them a reward for having done so.  You reward them once and do not continue to reward them forever for having learned an age-appropriate skill. 

Also, be careful to not instill in your child the attitude that they will only do something if they are rewarded for it.  I see this all the time!!  If a child does not perform at school or at home and they should be doing so, then a consequence should be enforced for them.  (your child does not get to go out with a friend over the weekend because they did not clean up their room.)  Having done this, you have avoided the sense of entitlement that has become so prevalent in the U.S., the attitude of getting something for having done nothing!  Everyone is required to do their part, whether it is a family unit, at work, at school, everybody has to work and  rewards are only given when your child does something “extra” above what is normally expected. 

Remember this, in today’s society no one is given a reward as an adult for doing the bare minimum and having everyone else do things for them.  We need to as parents teach our children how to be productive and responsible adults that are able to take care of themselves.

PostHeaderIcon When Parents Don’t Agree Over Discipline

What do you do as a parent when your child is resistant to discipline and  your spouse will not stand behind you and enforce the rules.  As a therapist, I see this all the time.  One parent is the “good guy” and the other one who disciplines and enforces the rules is the “bad guy”.  No two parents agree all the time about discipline/boundaries and will parent the same, however some parents just don’t want to discipline at all and want their children to be their “friend”.  Children and parents are NOT friends, your child needs a parent, their friends are at school.  This is a serious problem as it puts one parent against the other and of course the child will play one parent against the other in order to get their way.  So what can you do if you are the parent that is the “bad guy” and your spouse will not help you with discipline. 

First of all, as the “bad guy” you need to address this with your spouse.    Most likely you are saying that you already have and it fell on deaf ears and your spouse did nothing about changing their way of disciplining.  If your spouse will not change than from now on they need to be held responsible for the consequences of not enforcing discipline in the home.  For example, if your spouse will not make your child clean up their room, then your spouse should have to clean up the child’s room.  You are not to go behind your child and go into their room and clean it up.  If your child has been told to take out the trash and they have not, even after you told them, then your spouse is to take out the trash.  Most likely, if the resistance of a spouse to change their behavior and discipline strategies is very severe, this is probably a marital issue and not a parenting issue.  Marital counseling may be needed in order to address a “marriage issue.”  Individuals understand consequences for behavior, whether it is an adult or a child.  Make the parent who does not want to discipline or enforce appropriate boundaries reap the consequences for doing nothing.

PostHeaderIcon How to Raise Active, Not Passive Children

Passivity in children is often seen in a clinical setting, as it is often a symptom of an emotional problem.  Some children that have depression or anxiety are very passive and they withdraw and do not cope well with their own pain.  As teenagers, passive children often use drugs or alcohol to deal with their issues.  How do we as parents raise children that are active participants in their own life and destiny as well as children that have strength in their convictions.  Passivity is not necessarily a bad thing, however passive children are often very entitled and feel that their parents and those around them should “wait” on them and do everything for them.  Passive children feel that by simply being born and being a child or teenager that they deserve to have others do everything for them.  Do not fall into this trap parents!  Here are the ways we can develop an active child instead of a passive child:

1.) Take an active role in your child’s life.  Make your child do things for themselves.  If you are a parent that has been used to do everything for your child while they do very little, they are certainly going to fight you in the beginning. 

2.)  Be a good role model for them.  Our lives as parents are not centered around our children to the exclusion of everything else in our lives.  Life is about a balance between our children, families, work, friendships, health.  The parent that centers their entire existence around their children is influencing their children to think that life is about only being a parent or that you as a parent will be serving and catering to them forever.  The healthiest parents are those that have relationships of their own that don’t involve their children.  Take up your own interests and you as a parent will be healthier and you will have a better relationship with your child.

3.) Don’t avoid setting limits with your child.  Remember, passive children just sit and let everyone do everything for them.  Discuss problems with your child and do not avoid conflict with them, just because you don’t want them “to like you.”  We are not our children’s friends, we are their parents.  We must set limits in all areas and give them responsibilities if we are going to move them towards personal growth and autonomy. 

4.) Children by their very nature will let you as a parent do everything for them.  Parents tend to want to try to “fix” everything and “do things” for their children to the exclusion of having their children do very little for themselves.  I have seen so many exhausted; harried parents that are running around doing everything for their children, meanwhile their children have no household chores and have no responsibilities.  Wrong!  If you do all of the work for your child, then it is your fault that they have not learned how to be responsible.  Start by saying to your child, “I am sorry, but cleaning up your room is your responsiblity.”  Or, “Sorry I am late again, what are you going to get me for dinner?”  Your response of course will be, “you know when you are supposed to be home, now you have to get yourself something to eat.”  Do not wait on your child, as you just reinforced their being late coming home. 

Help your child take initiative to solve their own problems and be responsible in their actions and choices and you will have a child that matures and has personal strength.  When parents are overly active in doing everything for their children, the child then becomes overly passive and expects everything to be done for them including someone solving their problems.  The key to raising strong; healthy children is to teach them to be responsible and to be active participants in their life.  Remember passive children often avoid relationships in general as they do not have enough strength of character to take the initiative in a relationship or they are fearful of doing things on their own.