by Victoria Thorp
In recent weeks, a new book called “Grit,” by Dr. Angela Duckworth has made quite a splash, with coverage in news outlets from CBS News to NPR to the New York Times (even David Brooks loved it).
Maybe you’ve read these stories or perhaps bought a copy of the book yourself. Or maybe, because it’s spring and you can barely manage the onslaught of graduations, science fair projects and final exams, you’ve been in a media blackout. Either way, I have good news: this post will explain what ‘grit’ means and why it matters to you as a parent.
Angela and I in San Francisco, May 2016
Full disclosure: Dr. Duckworth is a friend and former colleague of mine, so I’m not new to the topic of grit, nor am I fully objective about Angela. But here’s the thing about Angela: besides winning a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant and working as psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, she’s also the mom of two middle school girls.
And I know from a recent conversation with Angela that she’s just as humbled by the challenges of parenting as we are, despite a best-selling book and her professional success.
Here’s my attempt to boil down her brilliant book into one page…
What does ‘grit’ mean?
Dr. Duckworth (hereafter to be described as Angela) defines ‘grit’ as a combination of passion, effort, and persistence applied toward a goal over a prolonged period of time.
Why does grit matter?
According to Angela’s extensive research, grit appears to be a strong predictor of life-long success and happiness — perhaps more so than innate talent or IQ. “Our potential is one thing,” she writes. “What we do with it is quite another.”
As a parent, I appreciate this definition because it breaks down the ‘talent myth’ that seems to dominate our popular understanding of why people are able to accomplish their goals. Whether it’s looking at athletes, artists, or even entrepreneurs, stories of victories and accomplishments are usually told as if these winners were born with a particular gift that made their dominance inevitable .
What’s different about grit?
Angela’s explanation of grit provides another narrative for understanding these stories, too. One that examines the persistence that these champions applied towards their goals, their ability to not give up even in the face of failure, and the specific, difficult and prolonged practice they applied to the craft/sport/skill they were trying to improve.
Here in the Bay Area, Steph Curry is the most famous example of an athlete who wasn’t considered to have much potential as a youngster, but who’s risen to the top of the game through his determination, endless practice, and dedication.
So how can we find our passion (or help our kids find theirs)?
Never discount the power of the chart to motivate kids to reach a goal- especially charts they make themselves (note that goal has yet to be met but working on it!)
At least where I live (Palo Alto, California, U.S.A.), passion is the newest element that kids are supposed to add to their dazzling college resumes. It’s not enough to have great grades and do varsity sports, now teens are supposed to also have a “passion,” whether it’s global warming or raising foster dogs.
That’s why I loved the part of Angela’s book where she explains in detail what it means to have a passion and explores exactly how people stumble upon the “thing” that they end up pursuing with so much grit.
Angela has some experience with trying to find a passion because she spent time as a neurology grad student, management consultant, high school teacher, and tech COO before realizing that her true path lay in the study of psychology (she entered the PhD program at Penn when she was pregnant with her first daughter).
Why it’s hard to find a passion
Some people may realize like a bolt of lightening that they want to study sharks or cure childhood obesity, but most of us won’t have the luxury of this sort of epiphany.
We’re more likely to figure out what we love through multiple exposures and prolonged engagement with something that we might ‘sort of’ like or be ‘kind of’ interested in.
In fact, it may take longer than you’d imagine before you realize what it is that you must pursue.
The reason it takes so long is because of how our brains work.
When people are bored, they know right away. Researchers can ask people if they’re bored when doing a task and they will be very clear if the answer is yes.
It’s much harder to ascertain if a person is truly interested in a task.
When researchers ask people, “Are you interested in what you’re doing?” the answer is often, “Not really.” But these same people will manifest behavior that looks a lot like interest — continuing to do the task, not wanting to break away from it, etc.
It takes lots of exposure to something for kids to develop an interest in it…
For parents, this means that we have to keep exposing our kids — over and over again — to activities, ideas, and pursuits that they may not express a ton of interest in.
Sounds hard, right? Likely it’s a process we’re all familiar with at the dinner table. You’re tempted to never make broccoli again after your kids reject it a few times. But you know their tastes keep changing and experts recommend that you bring back foods that were previously rejected or your kids will eat nothing but white rice for the rest of their lives.
So when it comes to interests and passions, it’s most beneficial to our kids if we give them multiple exposures to a variety of different pursuits … that we not have a fixed mindset about what may interest them as they grow and change.
So if kids try lots of things and quit, what then?
This photo links to Angela’s TED Talk
Angela has a rule in her house — never quit on a rainy day. In other words, never quit because of having to play in bad weather or striking out, or experiencing some other adverse situation.
Instead, encourage your kids to get through the season and to not quit until there’s a natural stopping place (could be the last session you paid for, etc.)
What if kids have a passion for something that you find less than inspiring?
From Minecraft to marijuana legalization, kids can get fixated on pursuing interests that feel less than ideal. So what to do?
That’s a tough one and Angela has not addressed it directly. But she does have another rule in her house I thought was a good: everyone has to do one ‘hard thing.’
On CBS news she said, choosing the ‘hard thing’ is not an open-ended question — it’s multiple choice.
While her teen girls might be passionate about Instagram, Angela is clear that they can’t choose that as their ‘hard thing.’ Instead, it has to be a sport or musical instrument.
Sports or musical instruments may not be right for your family, but the idea is to encourage your kids to pick something they have enough interest in to pursue and get them to stick with it long enough to make progress.
Can grit be taught or is it just a trait you’re born with?
There’s a lot of debate about this question. Angela gives some ideas for how to ‘grow grit’ but they are more anecdotal, perhaps because the research here is a bit less clear.
I have two girls and one is definitely more naturally gritty in the way Angela defines it. She sets goals and tends to stick to them, and loves to practice and get better — she’s inspired to improve (flute and soccer are her main areas of focus).
My other daughter has lots of big ideas, but often abandons her plans before they’re fully realized, and isn’t particularly driven to practice. So my tiny data set would lead me to the conclusion that there is some innate element to grit.
While you can’t teach your kids to have innate drive, by setting clear expectations around commitment and practice, you increase the likelihood that they’ll experience the relationship between effort, time and progress.
My daughter worked for a year to over come her fear of running hurtles.
My less gritty daughter’s found a track program that she loves. She’s kept running for several years. She’s motivated to train with her team; and while she doesn’t do much practice on her own, she’s made noticeable improvement. The findings in Grit support the idea that sustained practice is best done with a coach — and that it’s tough to independently figure out where and how to improve.
I have no idea if my girls will pursue these interests for their whole lives, but I’m trying to encourage them to keep going long enough to feel competent, as I do believe competence builds confidence. And you can’t get to competence without putting in the time.
One big thing that ‘gritty’ people have: purpose
And finally, one of the most compelling parts of Angela’s exploration of grit is the connection she makes to purpose.
From her many conversations with gritty people, she discovered that beyond perseverance, persistence, and prolonged practice, they all shared a belief that what they do is important, valuable or makes a difference in the world in some way.
This was true for musicians, athletes, business people, and even one sanitation worker she interviewed. And she has some great tips for trying to find purpose. (Read the book!)
So now you’re wondering…how gritty are you?
You can take the ‘grit scale’ and find out how you rank on Angela’s assessment.
I’m in the mid range in terms of grit — I bounce around from interest to interest and have never had a laser focus on one thing. It’s a good personality for a writer! But reading Angela’s book gave me new inspiration to look hard at the things I dabble in and try and commit more deeply so I can continue to grow and learn. Even an old dog can get gritty…or so I’d like to believe!
Are you getting gritty with your kids? Or skeptical that grit is yet another parenting fad? Post a comment and let us know!
Victoria is the founder of Palo Alto Pulse, a website that shines a light on the people and ideas that make Palo Alto such a cool place to live. She is also a senior contributing writer for the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund in San Francisco, where she supports the work of KIPP charter schools and other innovative educational organizations. Victoria lives in Palo Alto with her two teenage daughters, her husband and, the grittiest member of her family, her dog Abby.
Shortly after Eric finished up my 7- week parenting series, he sent me this story which beautifully illustrates the power of asking for a hug.
Last week on my way home from work, my wife Stephanie sent me a text that our daughter Grace (5) was being a handful, was in a horrible mood and that she had had it with her.
When I got home, I walked into the house and went straight to Grace and asked her for a hug. At first she turned her back and crossed her arms, and said no.
I then decided to ask her one more time and after a 5-second pause, she turned and gave me a big hug.
Steph said it was like someone flipped a switch on Grace. She went from being in the worst mood to acting as if she was having the best day ever.
It’s amazing to see the kind of impact and dynamics that something as simple as asking for a hug can have on a 5 year old.
Honestly, before taking your class, I probably would have come home and punished Grace for misbehaving and the entire afternoon would have been ruined for the whole family.
Asking for a hug sounds almost too easy, right? Too simple to be true?
However, while it’s simple… there’s a subtle tweak that’s key to the effectiveness of this parenting strategy.
“I could use a hug” vs. “Can I give YOU a hug?”
The first taps into your child’s deep need for significance and belonging. When you ask for a hug from your child, you acknowledge that they make a difference to you and in fact have a positive influence on your life.
In the later, you are reinforcing what your child hears and perhaps feels frequently: That children need help from grownups to feel better.
The parenting tool of asking for a hug (for YOU) is simple, easy, and effective if done from the perspective of genuine connection, genuine desire for your child to assist you! (Plus, who doesn’t love hugs? I love it!)
Try it out.
Ask a friend to be your parent and say these two phrases to you:
Could you give me a hug?
You look like you could use a hug.
Do you notice a difference in how you feel after each?
This week look for an opportunity to ask your child for a hug.
I’d love to hear how it goes in the comments below!
My relationship with my teen has been jaggedy.
Over the past several months I’ve felt tested and provoked like never before. It’s not easy. We’re on solid ground right now but I admit to having intermittent moments of insanity.
One thing I’ve learned as a parenting educator and so called expert is that I’m not the only one going through this… that’s a relief. 😌
Are you facing challenges with your teen that leave you doubting yourself?
As my teen has veered into the territory of seriously challenging behavior, I’ve kept one goal in mind, as hard as it is, stay connected.
7 ideas for how to stay connected to your teen – even when they’re REALLY pushing your buttons:
- Exaggerate positivity — A study by Deborah Yurgelun-Todd found that teens use their “gut” as opposed to their frontal lobe to interpret facial expressions. In short an adult’s “fearful facial expression” was misinterpreted as anger, confusion or sadness 50% of the time.
Knowing this, I’ve amped up my enthusiasm when I interact with my son and try to greet him with a huge “I love you” smile on my face — one that can’t be misinterpreted — when he comes home.
This strategy has helped me regain some closeness with him, and he frequently asks me to check in on him when he’s waking or retiring for the evening. You still matter to your teen, even though they’re doing their darndest to push you away.
2. Use a quiet tone of voice — Although you may be feeling emotional, when possible use a quieter voice with your teen. Similar to facial expressions, teens can interpret increased volume as anger.
3. Be explicit — When you ARE angry or annoyed about something say it in plain language, using as few words as possible. For example:
I’m angry that you didn’t text me letting me know you’d be late.
I’m angry because I’ve been so worried that something happened to you and I love you.
Try to avoid lecturing or adding editorial comments (e.g., “We have talked about the need to text me back a million times and I’m sick of it!”). You may find that stating your feelings clearly calms you down too.
[tweetthis]Sometimes it takes a moment for us to uncover why we’re angry at our teen… oh yeah, it’s because I would step in front of a bus for this kid if necessary![/tweetthis]
Deborah Yurgelun-Todd’s study supports this strategy, too.
4. Make yourself available to your teen, even when it feels inconvenient. The other night I was snug in my bed when my teen came home and asked me to come watch Survivor with him. I did 🙂
5. Use humor — Teens take themselves seriously. The angst and insecurity they feel is real for them even though you may see it as overly dramatic. I’ve found humor – the cornier the better – can provide a counter weight to all that teen gloom. Ridiculous as it sounds, I use silly voices, faces and poop talk. These tactics lighten ME up and make me laugh.
I’ll spare you the details but one night I was woken by police banging on my door. Apparently I had to retrieve my son from a parking lot not far from my home. When I arrived, he was fine, his “crime” with sitting in a car with a girl (no substances). He got in the car and looked at me, afraid of my reaction. I cracked a smile and started laughing. He said “Mom, I’m glad you’re laughing. I’m sorry you had to to come get me.”
Use your sense of humor to bring levity to what can feel like a heavy relationship with your teen. They’ll be relieved that you’ve got space to breathe and have fun and it just might open the door for them to do the same.
6. Post a visual reminder that clearly shows the essence of your child — Find a photo of your teen as a younger person – a photo that you love – with an expression on their face that captures your heart. Carry this photo with you or put it somewhere easy to see. Use this as a visual reminder of who this kid really is in his heart. Your teen can look and act downright ugly and an image can remind you of the deep love you have for him, even when you’re not feeling it every moment.
7. Take care of yourself — Make this a priority because in order to be on top of your game, in order to actually do 1 – 5, you need a deep well of strength to draw from. Remember, children do better when they feel better and so will YOU. You can’t expect humor, listening, positivity, etc. from yourself when you’re depleted.
Exercise, rest, see friends, get outside- whatever fills your tank, find time to do it. Your teen will thank you!
Parenting a teen is no joke. Dig deep, breathe deep, and in that quiet space invite faith that they will be okay, that you’re doing the best you can by being present when you can, setting limits as needed and providing unconditional love. They won’t be an adolescent forever.
Lastly, although parenting a teen can lead to a deep desire for control – especially when their behavior seems out of control – the same principle of kindness and firmness applies. Although I’m tempted to ‘lay down the law’ with my teen, I know that if I lose connection with him, I have no chance of helping him make good choices in his life.
Have you found other ways to manage difficult adolescent behaviors? Please share in the comment section below or send me an email. I love to hear from you.
If you’re in the Bay Area, join me for Parenting with Positive Discipline. This series is geared for parents of children of all ages.
Ready for more, watch this in-depth interview where Dan Siegel discusses his book Brainstorm ~ the scientific developmental stage of adolescence.
As much as we wish it weren’t true, our relationship with our parenting partner, how we communicate, how we make decisions and how we parent… is closely observed by our children.
Of course we are not going to have a perfect partnership but there are ways we can increase the odds of providing a healthy model.
Below is a list of resources to explore to learn more on this topic including tips on how to come closer together in parenting styles and how to best manage conflict in your co-parenting marriage.
Ideas For How to Deal with the Dreaded Style Clash
When Parents Don’t Agree on Parenting from Habitot E-News.
When You Don’t Discipline the Same Way from Power to Change.com.
Best Practices for How to “Fight” When You’ve Got Kids
12 Keys To Healthy Partnership Conflict Resolution When you Live With Kids from Aha Parenting.
Parent Arguments: How Do They Effect Children? from Bright Horizons Family Solutions.
Family meetings are a wonderful resource to help find solutions to all sorts of issues that families experience. They also provide a forum for parent to model working out challenges in a positive, open, solutions oriented manner. Here is a guide that I created to help make family meetings EASY.
Having a regular “parenting pow-wow” can also be extremely helpful: setting aside some time each week or month to make agreements on how to handle various parenting challenges, and what you will do when you not not agree on a course of action.
In our recent Roots session we explored the following questions:
- What are the possible effects of disagreeing in front of the kids on the adult relationship, children and on the individual adult?
- What are typical topics that parents and caregivers disagree over?
- What are respectful alternatives when parents disagree?
- What are the possible effects of these alternatives on the adult relationship, children and on the individual adult?
Possible Effects of Disagreeing in Front of Kids
Typical Topics For Parent/Caregiver Disagreements
Respectful Alternatives When Parents/Caregivers Disagree
Possible Effects of Respectful Alternatives
In these last two posters we looked at how parents with different styles, specifically one who is “more Positive Discipline” leaning and one who is less, might support each other best. We came up with DO’s and DON’T’s for each person.
The More Positive Discipline Parent is encourage to:
The Less Positive Discipline Parents who like the More Parent to:
This topic is alive on this seemingly static page! Please use the comment section to add your thoughts and additional resources to share on this important of how parents with different parenting styles can be successful.
If you’re like me, you’re struggling right now to wrap your head around all that’s been going on in the world.
I don’t pretend to have the answers, but from my perspective it seems like disconnection is at the root of so much of the insanity and violence.
I believe that deepening and strengthening our connections — to each other, to the planet, to our families — is our path to healing.
It might seem simplistic, but I’m convinced that our collective well being and health begins with the health of our families.
And where better to start than with the holidays?
We all crave warm, loving connections with our family and children, this time of year more than ever. Bring on the dark storm so that we can be snug together, play a game, listen to music, and share a meal.
And while there may be heated moments of competition or disagreement, it’s all good because we’re together, making time for each other.
The following gift ideas may help you with this goal.
The list is organized into four categories:
- Dinner Bell. This is so simple yet almost daily I’m reminded of the power of our dinner bell. Whether I make breakfast, a snack, lunch on the weekends, or dinner, I often notice a wee bit of tension building when my child isn’t eagerly awaiting my labor of love. Then I see the bell and it dawns on me: “Just ring the bell.” I can feel my expectations melting away with that simple action. Message delivered. I can breath and move on.
- Mobilhome. Our devices get in the way of real connection. The
Mobilhome is a super cool way to — without making a stink — let your friends and family know that when socializing in your home, you encourage a device free zone. By establishing a place for everyone’s phones, you’re acknowledging the value of spending undistracted time together. The Mobilhome is an original artisan project created by Yvonne O’Hare (we met at a writing workshop). When ordering one, use the code “holiday2015” until December 15 for an extra 10% discount with free shipping. If it’s out of your price range simply find a basket for phones to call home.
- Positive Discipline Tool Cards. I gift these to parents who
enroll in my Parenting with Positive Discipline series. They are concise and powerful. Topics include: allowance, letting go, setting limits, kindness and firmness at the same time, silent signal and 47 more! Great for when you need a focused idea on one particular challenge.
- “Passing the Squeeze,” a ritual shared by my friend Catherine, will help you slow down and mindfully connect before meal time. You begin each family lunch or dinner with “passing the squeeze.” Everyone holds hands (people may choose to close their eyes if they wish). The person who cooked starts a hand squeeze in one direction and it gets passed around. When the squeeze gets back to the person who started it, she squeezes hands in both directions and then everyone squeezes hands. For extra credit meditation kudos, the person who cooked rings a meditation chime. Everyone listens for as long as possible before picking up cutlery and chowing down (I’ll let you know how that goes over at our house:).
- Family Meetings… Why have family meetings? They
- Build closeness by creating a sense of significance and belonging for all.
- Give children and their parents a place and time to practice leadership, responsibility, problem solving, empathy and love.
- Establish a forum for communication that becomes increasingly significant as children mature.
Once you begin to hold family meetings you’ll experience even more tangible and intangible benefits for your family!
Join my list to download: Unlock the Power of Family Meetings: Your Free 7-Step Guide.
- Qwirkle. I love this game! Using six unique colors and shapes your mind is challenged to find configurations that conform to the rules (no repeating) and give you the most points. It takes 30 – 60 minutes to play depending on how much conversation and silliness you enjoy. Recommended for ages 6 and up.
- Sorry. Be sure to get the original version. What can I say? This is simple and fun. My son warned me against recommending Sorry because he said it gets people too riled up 🙂 That said, it’s most fun when everyone gets invested, regardless if you’re 7 or 70! It’s equal parts skill and luck… maybe more luck. Old school fun!
- Hunt the Thimble. My friend Anna loves to play this one on Sunday evenings after their family dinner at her mother in-law’s house. Try it when you’ve got friends over or with the extended family. All ages! Here’re the steps to play:
- Find a thimble
- Choose someone to be “it”
- Tell that person to leave the room
- Choose another person to be the hider
- Call in the seeker to start looking (it should be hidden within eyesight, not under or in anything)
- The whole group can yell out “colder!”…”warmer…” Until the thimble is discovered.
- Let the last hider now become the seeker, and so forth until someone rings the dinner bell 😉
Side note to parents of teens… it’s more important than ever to make the time to play games and simply find ways to be together. Don’t rely on your kids to come to you and ask for this time — if they do, consider yourself lucky! When your teen resists family time, I suggest persistence. Let them know that being with them is important to you. Here are general tips from Aha! Parenting for keeping connected to your teen.
My grandfather used to read stories aloud and even when I was too young to understand the content, I have warm memories of sitting on the floor next to him as he read while the entire family listened. The tone of his voice and response of those listening was enough for me. Here are some of my favorites to read to my children.
- All About Alfie by Shirley Hughes. I received this as a gift when my second son was born (thanks Mark and Kelly). I love these old school stories, set in London, about Alfie and his little sister Annie Rose. For ages 3+.
- The Tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash. So fun and lyrical! Enjoyable for every age! Here’s a taste:
Belinda lived in a little white house, with a little black kitten and a little gray mouse, and a little yellow dog and a little red wagon, and a realio, trulio little pet dragon…. Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth, and spikes on top of him and scales underneath, mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose, and realio, trulio daggers on his toes.
- Sarah’s Unicorn by Bruce Coville. While this is great for early readers, I read it over and over to my children when they were 4 to 8 years old. We’re talking pages falling out. It was the hands down favorite for my son who struggled most with reading and finding interest in books. It’s out of print but you can find it used.
- Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and Trumpet and the Swan by E.B. White. What I love about E.B. White is his spaciousness – these stories are told at a human pace and scale. And what could be better than a mouse and a pig for main characters. The Trumpet and the Swan was harder for my daughter to relate to… maybe because she’d been immersed in the Harry Potter series and the change of pace was too dramatic? For ages 6+.
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown. This one is for YOU to bolster your connection with yourself!! I come back to this book again and again as I find its message continually challenging and interesting. There are 10 guideposts for living our most excellent imperfect life. Take this a step further by gathering your most curious friends, and meet monthly to explore each guidepost.
Cultivate those activities that feed your connection to self and others.
Relax and be present. That’s what your kids want from you more than anything.
To increase the likelihood that you can relax and slow down, focus on activities like these:
- Take a bath
- Exercise, take walks
- Cook or take out foods that make you feel good
- Make time to read a good book
- Go to bed early
- Do something creative
In general, try to keep it simple, focus on the inside, notice the hilarity
and joy of spending time with kids… generally BE KIND TO YOURSELF. That’s it.
Guest post by Marcilie Smith Boyle
The topic of lying came up in my parenting class last week. We were role-playing parents’ typical responses to a lying kid:
“Honey, did you just lie about that? Are you sure?” (When parent already knows the child is lying)
“Are you kidding me? You just lied straight to my face. How COULD you?”
“That’s it, no more (fill in the blank__________) for you!”
Everyone agreed that the typical responses above didn’t help the child learn to be honest, but they also wondered what the heck else to do!
Strangely, the very next night at bedtime, my own teen looked my husband straight in the eye and said he didn’t have his phone in his room (which is not allowed in our house.)
We scanned the downstairs charging area where the phones are supposed to “sleep” at night, and didn’t see the phone there. Or anywhere else. So I went back upstairs and knocked on my son’s door. He opened it and handed me his phone.
I had a really important conversation that I needed to finish and I knew that Dad would not let me finish it. I’m done now so here you go, he said.
I replied, You know, if you had explained that to Dad, maybe he would have let you finish your conversation.
No chance, my son replied.
Well, I said, you didn’t give him a chance. He might have. And even if he didn’t, was the lie worth the loss of trust and relationship?
Good night, Mom. Apparently, it was.
Good Night, C. We can talk more about this in the morning. I love you.
It’s an interesting question for parents to ponder: sometimes, to the child, the lie is worth the loss of trust and relationship. And sometimes, the lie is protecting trust and relationship (in their mind, anyway, because “If Mom found out that I actually did steal that candy bar, she would lose her trust in me and our relationship would suffer.”)
So what to do? How do we help our children to become honest, trustworthy, and develop integrity for doing the right thing?
“We may treasure honesty, but the research is clear. Most classic strategies to promote truthfulness just encourage kids to be better liars.” Po Bronson, Nurtureshock
Here are a few tips gathered from various experts on the subject.
Just know that all kids lie. Home observation studies found that “four-year-olds will lie once every two hours, while a six-year-old will lie about once every hour . . . 96% of all kids offer up lies.” (Nurtureshock by Po Bronson) I used to feel completely betrayed when I discovered that my child lied to me. Now, I am less personally appalled, which means I can respond with less emotion, and increase the odds of productive learning in the aftermath.
Avoid punishment. When children first begin lying, they do so to avoid punishment. The threat of punishment puts the child’s focus on self-preservation, rather than on the bigger issue of doing the right thing. “In studies, scholars find that kids who live in threat of consistent punishment don’t lie less. Instead, they become better liars, at an earlier age – learning to get caught less often.” (Nurturshock)
Don’t trap your child in their lie. If you know your child has lied, don’t ask them if they have, which is an invitation to dig themselves even deeper into the lie. Instead of “Have you washed your hands?” when you know they haven’t, describe what you see: “I see dry hands,” and invite the next step: “would you like some help washing those germs away?” (Dr. Laura Markham, AhaParenting.com)
When your child has lied to you, be honest yourself. Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott of Positive Discipline recommend you say, “That doesn’t sound like the truth to me. Most of us don’t tell the truth when we are feeling trapped, scared, or threatened in some way. I wonder how I might be making you feel that it isn’t safe to tell the truth? Why don’t we take some time off right now? Later I’ll be available if you would like to share with me what is going on for you.”
Reward honesty with immunity and appreciation. This advice comes from Dr. Victoria Talwar, one of the world’s leading experts on children’s lying behavior. If you want the truth from your child, teach them the worth of honesty by telling the child, “If you are honest with me, I promise that I will not punish you and in fact, I will appreciate you even more for telling the truth.” Her research shows that offering immunity PLUS praise for honesty reduces lying by between 50-75%.
Deal with the actual problem. Lying about having hit one’s brother is a problem, but the real problem is feeling the need to hit in the first place. So put the focus on the hitting and look for solutions to that problem, rather than on the lying. (Positive Discipline A-Z)
Be aware of what you are modeling. Turns out, adults lie too, at a rate of about one per day, on average. (Nurtureshock) The vast majority of these are little white lies to avoid hurting feelings, protect ourselves from looking bad, or avoid engaging in something we’d rather not. When a telemarketer calls and asks if you are home, do you ever say, “I’m sorry, she’s not here right now”? Our kids are listening!
As for my own situation with my teen, the next day I told him, “Dad and I really value trust. And we also recognize that you feel might feel trapped – you both want our trust and you want to be connected to your friends as school, especially when there’s a lot going on around Homecoming and homework and the PSAT. We understand that. We try hard to be reasonable people and when you’re feeling pressure to conceal the truth from us, we hope that you will let us know so that we can look for a win/win.”
Will he lie less in the future? I don’t know. I can’t make him be honest. All I can do is my best to create an environment and a relationship that makes honesty easier. And model it myself, of course.
I’ve decided to notice how often I lie today. Already caught one! (I can’t believe it! Dang!) More results later. ( ;
It just slipped out. I didn’t mean to say in front of the 25 parents who’d come to learn strategies to solve sibling conflict. There’s something about it that just didn’t sound right. Actually it sounded like the antithesis to everything out there selling like hotcakes in the world of public opinion parenting.
I said it. “Positive Discipline (PD) is lazy parenting.”
While that’s not exactly accurate, it can feel effortless when you’re in the PD Zone compared to the prevailing helicopter/effortful parenting mode.
Here’s what I see with parents I work with and what I’ve experienced firsthand…
You’re working so hard to parent your child in a way that will encourage them to grow into loving, responsible, contributing members of society. Let’s add a cherry or two on top and throw in hard working, honest, happy, conscious of the world around them, yada yada the list goes on.
Looking at it straight on, it’s freaking intimidating.
No wonder you’re stressed about the hitting, lying, excluding, whining, complaining, isolating, arguing and bad attituding that’s happening today.
Who has the luxury to be lazy when vigilance is required to produce the qualities you know are so important for your child’s success?
What’s clear is that while control might feel necessary, and to some degree satisfying, in the moment, control, as a parenting style doesn’t invite the long term character traits you desire.
In short, control creates hollow results. When you do it all for your child (decide it all, manage it all, enforce it all), you inadvertently rob your kids of the opportunity to practice valuable life skills that they can only learn by doing.
With ‘good character’ as the destination, your child must travel through mistake-ville which inevitably leads to growth-town. They need to learn how to solve problems and think critically about the world around them in order to become who you want them to be. And that takes practice.
I stand behind what I said. [tweetthis]Positive Discipline can feel downright relaxing at times – – – lazy even. And that’s a good thing![/tweetthis]
Here are three real life examples, featuring a variety of ages, followed by the how-to tips for effective lazy parenting.
Example #1 from Kelly:
While enrolled in my spring sibling series, Kelly sent me this email after our first session.
These pictures were taken on Father’s Day right after I used “put in same boat” technique & validation. The boys were fighting over the chair (we only had one) and I said, “hmm, one chair and two boys?”... Then Emmett had a solution. Xo
“hmm, one chair and two boys?”… elegant indeed. No refereeing or setting a timer to make sure it was fair, just a simple, observing, genuinely curious question.
Kelly’s story reminds me that when you don’t take sides, fix, solve, control — children have the space to use their own intelligence to figure things out and come up with their own, often elegant solutions.
That said, if your children are accustomed to you fixing, solving, refereeing, it will take training, practice, and time for them to reach for their own intelligence when faced with a problem.
Kelly’s tool of choice in this example was to ask a curiosity question (being genuinely curious about what solution they would come up with!) while treating kids the same (in PD lingo we call this putting them in the same boat… or in this case chair!)
Example #2 from Rochelle:
I have long been critical of parents who swoop in to solve their kids’ social problems, whether they be in school or on the athletic field. But when it comes to homework, I was clearly piloting this ‘chopper.’ Despite the fact that my son was just two years away from going off to college, I was still checking the online homework program for assignments and grades on a daily basis and harping at him about the status and quality of his work.
Both of us were miserable: my son blamed me if he missed an assignment and I felt angry because he wasn’t taking responsibility for his own work. But why should he? How could he, when I was always looking over his shoulder?
This year my husband and I decided we would take a different approach, we’d let our son be the master of his own destiny, free to make his own mistakes.
It was scary; he’s a junior in high school and there’s a lot of pressure on him to do well in school. While we worried that our messy, disorganized son, would lose important papers and forget about tests or quizes, we have been more than pleasantly surprised. He has risen to the occasion.
When he forgot to do an AP assignment, he took responsibility for his inaction, contacted the teacher and asked for an extension. It was the first time I could genuinely say I hoped she would be supportive and honor his request. He’s learning to take responsibility, we’re learning to let go and let him succeed (or fail) on his own, and our relationship is so much stronger for it.
Rochelle’s tool: having faith in her son period and showing faith in him by giving him the opportunity to make mistakes and then learn from his mistakes. Rochelle is taking the long range view, knowing the lessons he will learn outweigh the in-the-moment forgotten assignments, etc.
Example # 3 from Eric:
Eric emailed me this success story during our 7-week Parenting with Positive Discipline series.
Last week on my way home from work, my wife Stephanie sent me a text that our daughter Grace (5) was being a handful, was in a horrible mood, and that Stephanie had had it with her.
When I got home, I walked into the house and went straight to Grace and asked her for a hug. At first she turned her back and crossed her arms, and said no. I then decided to ask her one more time and after a 5 second pause, she turned and gave me a big hug.
Steph said it was like someone flipped a switch on Grace. Grace went from being in the worst mood to acting as if she was having the best day ever.
It’s amazing to see the kind of impact and dynamics that something as simple as asking for a hug can have on a 5 year old. Honestly, before taking your class, I probably would have come home and punished Grace for misbehaving and the entire afternoon would have been ruined for the entire family.
Eric’s tool: Asking for a hug (note this does NOT mean asking your child, “do YOU need a hug?” You spark your child’s sense of significance when you ASK them for a hug signalling that your child makes a difference to you — they’re giving you a hug has an impact.) Pretty easy.
Warning: Don’t try letting go of control once and give up when the results don’t look exactly as you’d hoped. Children need to adjust to your new behavior — they’ll test and maybe test some more until they can trust your change is enduring.
What does lazy parenting require from us?
- Flexibility – if you’re not dictating and controlling the outcome, you need to be open to a different outcome.
- Patience – when children are figuring it out they’re bound to make mistakes, a mess, etc. Beam out to remember the bigger picture — long term character building and ahhhh lazy parenting!
- Humility – finding that place inside that accepts your limits – you might not have the answer, and what a relief that you don’t have to solve every problem.
- Faith in your kids — messy faith. Their solution may not look good and the neighbors could see or hear a mess. Your belief in them, regardless of what their solution looks like, will go a long way to build their problem-solving muscles.
What Kelly, Rochelle and Eric demonstrated seemed pretty easy and parenting can be— AT TIMES — when we’ve established a relationship of trust. Lazy, or if it makes you feel better, call it ‘conscious effortless parenting’ is possible, feels awesome, and can be yours!.
I want that for you!
Share your experience of lazy parenting in the comments below. Don’t be shy.
And if you’re ready to take your parenting to the next level, join my class beginning next week. As of right now, there are still a few spots. Join me!
Want to read more about this topic? Here’re some good posts:
Being “In Control” – The Possible and Impossible In Parenting from Hand in Hand
Control Freak vs. Pushover Parenting: Why Niether Works
Being on autopilot has gotten a bad rap. Mindless, unconscious, not thinking, a cognitive state in which you act without self-awareness.
Here’s why, as a parent, I love it. (Maybe you’ll relate, too?)
Autopilot can help you live with a focus on what really matters to you — without all the effort.
When you get into parent mode and forget to do the things you love (and even the things you don’t but simply need to do — like go to the doctor!), autopilot comes in handy. If you’re one of those who goes weeks or even months before you remember to do something for yourself, or who’s just plain forgotten what it is you love (besides your kids) you need more autopilot.
Autopilot – a navigational device that automatically keeps ships or planes or spacecraft on a steady course.
Think of yourself as a whole person (the entire spacecraft if you will!) – parent, spouse, leader, singer, creator, lover, grower, cooker, collaborator, teacher, hugger….
As a whole person, you have many different courses that need to be followed on a daily basis — not the least of which are courses that help you take care of you.
Here’s how I’ve consciously used autopilot to experience more joy in my life… on a consistent basis.
When my first son was born, none of my friends had children. I was the first. In some ways it was wonderful because initially, friends offered to sit for him while my husband and I grabbed a bite to eat or took a walk. Our baby boy was a novelty who delighted and surprised.
However, after a few months, I noticed I wasn’t seeing friends. I was exhausted and it took too much energy to organize socializing. While I felt fried by the physical demands of parenting, I deeply missed my connection with my friends.
I decided to form what came to be known as “dinner group.” With 3 other couples that I knew from social work school, we’d gather every Thursday evening at one of our homes for a meal. We had a rule that host duties rotated and to keep it simple the host did all the work — no stepping in to help clean up, and it was okay if you to arrive late.
Dinner group endured for 15 years. Autopilot worked like magic. We attended each other’s weddings and births and even put together a cookbook of our favorite recipes. That deep, continuous connection that I craved was achieved without the daily nagging feeling, “I should invite friends over.”
I also love live theatre, but feel completely overwhelmed by the Pink Section (the San Francisco Chronicle’s arts section). I find it stressful to make future plans and, frankly, to commit. I weigh the cost of a show and wonder if it’s really worth it. And then I end up not doing anything.
However, a fews years back my husband surprised me with season tickets to the Berkeley Rep for my birthday. The gift of theater and not having to decide and follow through has been huge. I’ve renewed the tickets every year since… why? Autopilot.
Just yesterday I put dates for six shows in my calendar from September through June. I look forward to and plan around these dates. I invite a friend or my husband and we make an evening of it with dinner and lots of time to chat and connect.
It’s an absolute luxury. A treat. What makes it doubly delicious is that I don’t have to go to the effort of researching, weighing, purchasing and planning. Sure, some shows are better than others but the surprise and ease is a large part of the fun.
What do you love that you’re not doing because you’ve got kids and it feels like too much effort to set plans in motion? What doesn’t feel worth the hassle right now, but you know at the end of the year (or the end of your life!) you’ll feel a deep pang because you didn’t ________?
Your list might include going to the theatre, having dinner with friends on a regular basis, Monday dog walks with your BFF or keeping up with your Positive Discipline practice.
If it’s the latter, and you’ve already taken at least 12 hours of PD instruction, get yourself on autopilot by signing up for the on-going Roots series.
It’s once a month (September – May) — don’t torture yourself by having to consider it every month. Just sign up and be done with it. If you make it, great, if not, chalk it up to making an intention that you really care about.
Once you’ve got the Roots meeting on your calendar in ink you’ll be more likely to attend — the first step in making a change is bringing your mental focus to what you want to change.
I just learned that Frances McDormand is playing Lady Macbeth in a production in the upcoming season at the Berkeley Rep. Don’t ask me where my seats are, what they cost, or even what month I’m going. It’s on the calendar and I’m thrilled!
When I’m engaged in my life, doing things I love (outside of parenting), I’m lighter, happier and more consistently grounded and present with the kids and everything else in my life.
Ask yourself: What do I want more of? What am I craving that I just don’t make time for anymore? What will help me stay steady and on course with more joy?
Next, consider how you can put this activity on autopilot; and finally, set the wheels in motion by calling your BFF to see about that Monday morning walk (scheduled on auto repeat in your calendar).
Lastly, send me an email or share in the comments about your autopilot activity. I’d love more ideas for pressing autopilot.
This summer’s been a doozy. What once felt like a series of mini health crises has come to feel like the norm with appendicitis, stress fractures, depression, drug addiction, cancer and even death becoming a more common part of life.
Last summer, I started writing a post about how to parent when you feel distracted or distraught by a loved one’s suffering.
It’s a hard topic. So hard, that I never completed the post. I couldn’t bring myself to put a bow on it and send it to you. My thoughts never felt right or complete or enough.
Now, it’s back around as I’m dealing with my own health struggles. This week I had two areas of infiltrating basal cell carcinoma surgically removed from my face. With the surgery behind me and plenty of ice packs, I feel a sense of deep gratitude. My doctor described the tumors as nasty and aggressive and I’m lucky that they could be removed.
So I ask for myself and maybe you too – how do you parent when you’re struggling with your own or a dear one’s illness?
This is what I’ve gleaned talking with some of you and pondering the question these last 12 months:
- Keep it simple. When your child’s needs feel draining of the little resources you have serve macaroni and cheese or Cheerios and let them watch TV. It’s okay.
- Prioritize. Allow what’s most important to rise to the top. Family, food, sleep, and exercise (if possible) make up my essential list.
- Say no mostly and yes only if that YES will enhance your life. Time and energy are limited. Use yours wisely.
- Reach out intentionally. Ask for help — as my friend Liz says, “you may need to get over yourself” to do this. Remember that close friends want to lend a hand, particularly when a bigger situation leaves them feeling helpless.
I “got over myself” this past week when my friend Carolyn came bearing flowers the day before my surgery. Having had a similar experience, Carolyn warned me that the hardest part for her had been after the procedure, when she had to remove and replace the bandages. I immediately asked if she would be willing to come over and help me do that. She said yes, and little did I know just how important it was to have her for moral and physical support. With 22 stitches across my hairline — and as the doctor put it, “too many to count” in my nose — I was weak and close to fainting. It took us an hour and a half to remove and replace all of the dressings that first time. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to do this alone.
- Stick with the facts. Depending on the age of your child, share relevant factual information, but only the surface story. They don’t need to know the details and certainly not your “what if” fears. While your fears may be in the realm of possibility, they’re not the facts.
- Be childlike. As much as you can, allow your child’s aliveness and awe of life to touch you and lift you into the present.
- Dare greatly by saying no to guilt. Instead, accept that you may be more foggy and distracted than you’d like to be with your kids. It’s okay. Don’t add parent guilt to the list of your full bucket of worries. In Daring Greatly Brené Brown writes, “To set down those lists of what we’re supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly” (Page 110).
- Lower your expectations. Finally, be realistic about how much your kids, depending on age, will be able to empathize with you or the situation. In my experience that’s NOT MUCH. They don’t get it, nor should they.
A few years ago, my brother’s best friend and brother in-law, Steve, died unexpectedly during a surgery. Because Steve was beloved by his community as a volunteer firefighter during the Eastern Long Island pine barren wildfires, acting as Chief of the fire department at the time of his death, founder of the junior volunteer firefighter training program and a village civil servant, the community put on a huge uniformed procession for the funeral. Being family and a close friend, my brother delivered the eulogy. In the midst of the long funeral procession through town, his 8 year-old son Aidan turned to him and asked in a tired voice, “when is this going to be over?” My brother was both heart-broken and relieved by the question. How could Aidan, who’d loved Uncle Steve deeply, be ready to move on? Be so oblivious to the gravity of the situation? Be so cold as to be DONE with Steve? At the same time – in Aidan’s question my brother heard hope and the possibility that life could go on – that tomorrow would eventually arrive and maybe it was sooner than my brother thought possible. In his son’s words were the innocence and gravity of the truth that we do go on, even when we lose the unloseable friend, even when we suffer unimaginable pain.
I’ve decided that it’s okay that I don’t have a bow on this one. Its a question that doesn’t have a neat answer.
Please chime in with your thoughts and questions in the comment section. How do you parent when you feel overwhelmed by your own or a loved ones health challenges or a death?
What advice would you add?