The spring rush and end of year craziness is over. Some of you have been just holding on by the ‘skin of your teeth’ to get through it. It was too much to think about adding more to your plate, but now (perhaps) you see a window to grow some responsible habits this summer.
Or for some, you may be concerned that the healthy habits you’ve worked so hard to develop could be lost during the summer. Many children develop the expectation of ‘it’s only play time’ during the summer.
Then, summer comes. Structure and routine can become WAY too flexible. In the short term, this does not appear to be a problem. Within a few weeks however, you will often discover that the more you bend, the farther you will bend next week. Some children will not take advantage of this looseness; many will however!
And the problem is that bad habits begin to form quickly, and these bad habits are hard to change. That’s just reality.
So, what can you do NOW to keep the kids on track so you maintain those good habits, and even build a bit more responsibility during the summer? Rather than ignore this, let’s create a simple, healthy-habit plan for the summer! Here’s how:
1. Choose Reality While You Can. (This Will Protect Your Future Sanity!)
Choosing reality means that you recognize that play is awesome and wonderful for kids. Yet, complete freedom to play continuously without any requirements is not the way the world works. In fact, play is better after we put forth a bit of work to get it. In other words, efforts (or responsibility) actually sweeten the rewards that come with play.
Thus, starting today, build in some daily requirements of ‘effort’ BEFORE the ‘rewards’ and play begin. It’s a simple concept, but it makes all the difference because this formula actually gives you a tremendous amount of leverage and enhances your parental authority.
During the summer, you will actually have more leverage than any other time of the year. Your leverage comes in the form of all the summer fun.
Key Lesson: Never give up your leverage!
How does this work? Don’t let the kids promise you that they will clean their room after they get back from the pool. This is a major mistake. Instead, leverage the daily trip to be pool. In other words, the room is cleaned and their laundry is put away BEFORE anyone leaves for the pool.
2. Don’t bend on structure and routines.
This is about your sanity and your child’s sanity. Most kids fight for less structure, but all do better with more structure. In other words, what kids want is NOT what is good for them.
So stick to your guns on chores and daily routines. Keep bedtimes consistent. Don’t let the kids sleep in till noon and stay up till 3 am playing video games. These are toxic patterns that unfold over the summer and are very difficult to change.
Key Lesson: Bending the limits is easy. Moving them back into place will be painfully hard.
Just stick to the structure and routines you had in place. If your home is lacking in consistent limits, then start today with setting them up.
Getting up at a consistent time, having breakfast, and moving into some small daily chores before the play begins is a perfect way to start the day. This is very hard to do if you haven’t ended the day in a similar way, with making sure bedtimes are regular and lights out at a reasonable time.
These are simple ideas, but they go a long way in making your summer enjoyable because your children will be calmer, more cooperative and better prepared for the fall. Good luck, and enjoy your summer fun!
At times, we find our children tending toward a negative, critical or complaining view of life. This can happen even when life is quite good! If you have a child who habitually finds the ‘wrong’ or ‘negative’ in most situations, then it’s important to understand this lesson.
Let’s imagine for a moment that all thoughts are like magnets. This is true for adults, and even more obviously true for our children, if we take a moment to observe.
To see how this works, we must first understand that a thought ‘magnetically’ attracts similar thoughts—not opposite thoughts. This works because a thought automatically causes a feeling to follow the thought. This feeling (or emotional state) is truly magnetic, pulling thoughts that resonate with that emotional state. This means:
• Thoughts of beauty attract more thoughts of majesty.
• Thoughts of joy attract expanded thoughts of happiness.
• Thoughts of criticism attract ideas of severe blame and disparagement.
• Thoughts of sadness attract thoughts that are depressing.
• Thoughts of anger attract judgments leading to rage.
• Thoughts of inadequacy attract thoughts of worthlessness.
We’ve all seen how this works in our life. When we get into a period where we are “a bit down, it seems that we can’t dig our way out. Every critical, sad thought creates intense depressing emotions. This ‘negative emotional state’ becomes the magnet for thoughts that align with that negativity. Literally, this becomes a circle of a thought causing an emotion, which pulls a similar thought that THEN PULLS a deeper emotion.
The good news is that this works with both positive and negative thoughts. Thus, when things are going really well, it’s almost like nothing can touch us. We ride on an invincible wave. We just keep attracting those positive thoughts and those positive feelings follow, which then pulls more positive thoughts to support us.
Our Magnetic Thought Train
For a moment, consider your thoughts to be like a train. Sometimes the train can be short, and sometimes the train can long. At the end of the train, there is always a caboose, which is filled with emotions that come from the preceding thoughts. This caboose has the emotional ‘juice’ to magnetically attract the next thought train that comes along.
We can all easily get hooked on thoughts, which usher us to similar thoughts, and perhaps even more thoughts… ultimately leading us to the inevitable emotion that is tied to those thoughts. That’s the caboose!
But guess what? You can’t really control what goes on at the end of the train. That’s a consequence of the thoughts you give your life attention to. You see…the caboose must simply follow the train of thoughts. It’s really too late when we try to directly change the feelings we have, because we weren’t paying attention to where our train of thoughts was taking us.
Most of us do not understand this. We are constantly trying to affect the feelings we have while ignoring the ‘thought train’ that causes these feelings. We do this with some healthy coping mechanisms, like running or meditation. We also do this with both prescribed and non-prescribed medications. All are an effort to affect the consequences of our thinking and beliefs, while (often) ignoring the cause. We are living in the drama of the ‘caboose’ of our thought train, and trying to calm the effects without attending to the cause.
Children Are Like Sponges for Our Thought Trains
Our children, of course, are not immune to the influence of these thoughts and emotions. While we often readily acknowledge the power of someone’s depressive energy when they walk into the room, we tend to think of this as an adult awareness only. We also know the influence of a powerfully positive person, whose presence just lights up a room.
We easily see the impact such individuals on our own emotional states. Yet, in reality, our children are much more susceptible to the influence of Mom and Dad’s emotional state, as well as the thoughts that produce that emotional state. When we are truly immersed in thoughts of joy and happiness, this is a powerful attractor for our children…pulling conversation and questions into an escalating loop of growing enthusiasm and joy.
These positive thoughts also serve to focus our attention. The thoughts serve like a filter to perceive only similar thoughts and energies…all the while…the children are resonating with where these thoughts take our attention.
Of course, when we get on a negative train of thinking, we continue to influence our children…except it’s usually in a direction that is not serving them. They jump on board our train of thinking, whether we want them to or not! In part two of this series, I will give you some concrete tools for pointing your thought train in the direction you choose…not in the direction set by chance.
Incentives Do Work…But Not The Way We Think They Do.
It is a well-researched fact that incentives DO WORK! This is true for adults and for children. However, with years of great studies behind us, we now understand more precisely how and when to use incentives. From Kindergarten to mature adults, the following general principles seem to hold true.
• Keep It Simple (For Incentives To Be Effective)
When studying simple tasks, like showing up to school or reading a book, incentives have proven successful. When motivating children or adults, adding a ‘bribe’ is useful for simple, task that are understood and easily managed.
Avoid trying to use incentives in any fashion with complex, creative tasks, or those requiring a significant amount of brain power. This includes any set of tasks that are challenging for your child’s abilities.
Why? Because performance decreases with complex tasks! When we add an incentive to anything that is demanding, creative or taxing of the intellect, we see performance decreases. This has been tested with toddlers, and with adults. It is critical that the tasks are easily mastered.
• Thus, Make Sure Kids Can Easily Do The Task You Incentivize
The key here is that the more effortlessly your child can perform the task, the more likely an incentive system could work. The issue here (addressed by the incentive) is one of simple, pure motivation.
We see very effective incentive models that actually get children to read books, for example. Assuming reading has been mastered, and the material given is not too challenging, incentives cause children to read more books, at least in the short term.
However, these same systems do poorly at improving reading comprehension or grades. Such complex events do not respond well to incentives. The complexity is the issue, because if too complex, children do not feel as if they can control the outcome.
• Children Must Know That Their Efforts Are Directly Related To Receiving Incentives
This is where clarity begins to emerge in understanding incentives. When the task is simple, and the rules are clear, children are able to increase their performance. “Read a book and earn a buck.” This is straight forward, and children do respond. They read more books in this model, with the one dollar incentive.
Similar results can be found with basic chores: “Clean your room. You earn 5 dollars.” Children do respond to this.
If told they will earn new sneaks for every ‘A’ they may feel there are too many factors that have nothing to do with effort. In fact, they can control their study time, but they can’t control the grade. Thus, this is where problems begin to emerge, and incentives do not work well here.
In the adult world, we see where this understanding could be applied for better results. A number of my clients work on commission. For some, the sales process is simple and incentives are straightforward, thus the incentives work.
For others, they work in a system with a very long sales process that is complex and requires creativity. In such systems, incentives are actually (likely) making performance decline. The pressure of the incentive detracts from creativity and promotes more fear based thinking. In such systems, we know that more options for creativity and autonomy would serve the business. Yet, these approaches are seldom adapted.
• Incentives Also Eventually Fail Unless Motivation Becomes Intrinsic
This is why I am not a fan of these extrinsic motivators and bribes. They do work temporarily, with simple, easily mastered tasks. But without a clear plan, external incentives are NOT an effective long term model to build responsible children.
First, most of the responsible behaviors we seek are easily handled with a solid parenting game plan. This is not just hype…but it’s reality. Most families are waiting too late to initiate a plan for building responsibility, and then when they do…they choose too much based in soft ‘pop psychology’ that has little proven track record. Programs like my Essential Parenting home study course, is just one example of how to get these tools without resorting to bribing children for a few chores.
There are other more serious considerations as well. If using incentives, the incentive must get larger, and keep changing, especially for the more challenging child or teen. Within a short while, even the biggest incentives fail unless the motivation is shifted to one internal to the child…and not built on external bribes and incentives.
I have an associate, who has two challenging boys. He lives near Disney, and has a season pass. They are at Disney at least 3-4 times a month, and he used this as an incentive model for months. However, after you child has been to Disney a couple dozen times, you find that Disney is not enough to get them to clear their room.
See the problem? I am sure you do.
Have I used incentives in my parent coaching with families, to help with difficult kids? Yes, of course. However, this in built into a system that is designed to teach responsibility and nurture a child’s internal motivation. In addition, it is used with a very clear plan to eliminate the external incentives as soon as the ‘habit’ of responsibility begins to emerge.
Bottom Line: You can use incentives to get cooperation on simple tasks. It is not a substitute for a poor game plan that is failing with a child or teen.
Instead, seek out Parent Coaching if you have serious concerns, so that you can get the long term results. Or perhaps, consider a proven training program, like my Essential Parenting Home Study Program. If on the right track, you should find that most of the behavioral challenges are gone within a few weeks, and then you are on the path to building consistent responsibility without bribes and constant conflict.
Many parents argue vehemently for the value of the bribe, but then do not understand why it is failing to work. Most of these parents, I find, had success as a child when their parents added an incentive. The missing ingredient however, is that most of these parents were (as a child) already thriving academically. This is not a good measure of such incentive systems.
In recent years, the debate on this topic has been hot and furious. Interestingly, the research continues to point in a very clear direction, and findings with children reflect years of research with adults. While much of this research seems to be ignored in modern business models, we nonetheless have a reasonable clear idea of how to approach the whole incentive based conversation.
Do Incentives Work, or Not?
Yes, that appears to be the question. Whether it is better to coerce your son or daughter into getting better grades with a bribe, or to leave them on their own to figure it out. The same might be said of a doing chores, or going cooperatively into a doctor’s appointment or even simply cleaning up some toys.
We tend to believe that incentives or bribes are helpful, because they often work ‘in the moment.’ And many times, these incentives continue to work…at least for a while.
Then we notice that the same bribe doesn’t work very well any more. So we try something new, perhaps bigger, or maybe more compelling. Rather than a movie, we offer a video game. Rather than a video game, we offer 20 bucks. Rather than 20 bucks, we offer 50!
Seems insane? Yes…it is. Recently, I worked with parents over the phone from Denver that was buying their 12 year old a $150 pair of sneakers for every “A” on his report card. (The child already has over 20 pairs of these sneakers.) On his last report card: four “C’s” and three “D’s”. He did get an A in technology, and still was given one new pair of sneaks. Both parents concede that it was bizarre that they had ended up in this place, but felt helpless without a better plan.
Most of us recognize that something has gone askew here. The plan isn’t working. Is it fair to conclude that bribes are not effective…at least over the long term? No, it’s not.
Childhood anxiety continues to rise, and the reasons are complex and not fully understood. However, there are mistakes that we often make, which tend to cause more problems with anxiety than they solve.
In previous post, we discussed the first two mistakes that will increase your child’s anxiety. These were:
1. Modeling Anxious and Fearful Thinking
This occurs when we allow our own thoughts and fears to be expressed repeatedly to our children, and then they begin to see the world through the same filters of anxiety. We can also direct the questions our children ask themselves, through the types of questions we ask them. When questions reflect anxiety and worry, our children then begin to ask the same questions.
2. Treating Anxious Thoughts Like a Thing
This process is more dangerous than it appears. We take the actual thinking of anxious thoughts, and we look at the outcome we see in our child (i.e., anxiety). We then focus on the outcome, as if it were static and unchanging. We make this ‘thing’ the problem, when the real problem resides in the ‘anxious thoughts’ that cause this thing (anxiety) to occur. We can change thoughts. It’s very difficult to change the consequences of our thoughts, and yet we tend to focus our children on the ‘thing’ rather than the thoughts that produce the ‘thing’ (anxiety).
In this post, my primary focus in on mistake number 3.
3. Protecting Children from Facing The Anxiety
Most childhood anxiety is the result of fears that are not based in reality. As discussed last week, these non-reality based thoughts wreak havoc because they create very real consequences, in the form of anxiety and suffering.
When children believe that there is something to be afraid of, they react as if that fear is real. We can see it. We can resonate with their tearful upset, and pleas for help.
This is where the real problem emerges.
The wide majority of these tearful moments are based in the non-reality based thoughts. Perhaps it a fear of saying goodbye to mommy, as I walk into the classroom. Or perhaps it’s an anxiety about going ‘upstairs’ alone to get a toy or even to go to the bathroom. Or maybe it’s a trepidation about going to soccer practice.
All of these are common. And all of these anxiety based problems share the common theme of children having a moment of discomfort or anxiety because a thought arises that causes the anxiety. The ‘thought’ is not real. There is no danger in the classroom. There is no boogeyman in the hallway upstairs, and no monsters on the soccer field.
So, why do these moments seems to get worse and worse?
Because we simply feed into them. We mean well, but our choices make things worse.
Rather than gently letting our child know that these moments often cause a bit of worry, and that they will get through this moment, we do the opposite. We hold them. We soothe them. We soothe even more. And as they cry, we find ourselves unable to push them forward to face the dreaded experience.
Yet, this is what must be done.
Over and over, through hundreds of studies, the research (as well as my clinical experience) argues that the way we get over fears, is by facing them. The same is true for children.
The more we help children avoid the feared situation, the worse things get. The more we gently reassure them that all will be okay, and then allow them the opportunity to face the situation, we find that they get better.
Every kindergarten and first grade teacher has seen this dozens of times. The parent who lingers, and soothes excessively, will nurture the most clingy, fearful child who shows more and more separation anxiety. Don’t do this!
Here’s my advice: Be courageous!
Trust that they can handle the situation, and let your actions lead more than your words. Show your child how to be courageous, by facing your fears.
They can handle it. But they need you to show them that. They will not fall apart (despite the emotion that sometimes looks that way).
Trust them. They will handle it. That is what is needed. When you honor this, you will see miracles occur in just a very short time…guaranteed!