At least 50 people have been charged with participating in alleged conspiracy that involve cheating on college entrance exams, like the SAT and ACT. Some of their children were admitted to elite colleges, including Yale, Stanford, UCLA and the University of Texas, by bribing coaches.
I listened further and quickly realized it was no joke. I felt stunned then disgusted and outraged. Then I noticed I also felt surprised. These were quite strong feelings to have over something that didn’t involve me or anyone I knew personally. My heart ached because of the obvious social injustice that permeates every aspect of our society but there was more.
I realized that the story drew me in because — if I’m being honest with myself — I could genuinely relate to the motivation of those parents.
While for the most part I’ve resisted the urge to fix everything for my children the way these parents so blatantly did, I have, on several occasions, had a panicky sensation that I’ve got to get ahead of this! One that’s accompanied by an intense fear that my child will feel badly … or even (gasp!) fail at something important.
Do these internal thoughts sound familiar?
If she finds out she’s not invited, she’ll be crushed by the social rejection.
I feel so sad for him that he wasn’t chosen for the team.
This learning disability will ruin his self esteem and likely his life.
She won’t be able to get over the experience of a serious illness or injury.
He’ll become depressed if I limit screen time or don’t get him a smartphone.
Why doesn’t she have more friends? What’s wrong with her?
These parental fears are more common than you think. The impulse to smooth it over and FIX IT for our kids is the norm these days.
What the Varsity Blues example makes so clear is that the short term fix leads to much bigger long term problems.
For our “little” issues its true, too. I recently heard a story of a mom who was distraught because her 13 yo daughter wasn’t being included in the activities of the popular girl clique. What that mom didn’t know is that her distress likely increased — and even created additional suffering for her daughter.
And, we’re mistaken if we think our unspoken fears won’t impact our children. Kids are energetic sponges. They feel our doubt and it colors their confidence and resilience.
What we need to remember is that when we excessively worry about our child’s life and sometimes even move to “fix it,” we’re telling them:
You’re not enough just as you are,
There’s a narrow range of what’s acceptable,
What matters most is what others think,
You’re incapable of managing your own live.
Believing in your child’s unique capabilities, embracing who they are, just as they are, is by far the most important stance you can take as a parent.
I’m not suggesting that you ignore or deny their struggles, but we can choose faith over fear as our guide and take a grounded position with them. In Positive Discipline we use the metaphor of a tree, strong, balanced and flexible. When we bring these qualities to parenting, our children they have a sure place to rest.
What inspired me to write this post was what my 12 year old daughter shared after she read an article about the admissions scandal.
“Mom, you know what the worst part is? Let’s say I got into Harvard and then found out that you had paid them to get me in… the worst part would be knowing that you didn’t believe in me.”
my 12 yo daughter
Believing in your child is a tremendous gift to them.
It is a parent’s belief in a child that helps them feel there is a way out of it all.
Here are 4 specific ways you can show your child that you have faith in who they are:
Give children of all ages opportunitiesto pitch in and be responsible. This often takes letting go of your expectations of how the task is completed. (The dishes may not be as sparkly as you make them!) Let them know their contribution makes a difference. More ideas.
Pay attention to your child and get to know and appreciate them for all they are, not just the easy to love parts. Looking back now, I see I could have spent more time learning about and even playing video games with my son. More ideas….
Love and connect with your child each day. While this sounds obvious, time gets away from us and it helps to be reminded to intentionally connecting. More and even more ideas….
Learn to tolerate and even embrace feelings, both yours and your child’s. When hard stuff happens, resist the “fix and rescue” mode and instead practice letting go. In doing so, your child will have an opportunity to genuinely feel their disappointment, anger, sadness… you name it. When appropriate, help your child name their feelings. Research shows that when we label our emotions, we’re better able to integrate them.
My friend shared a mantra she uses to help her remember, in the most challenging moments, that her child’s path is just that, her child’s path:
Love the child you have, her path may not be the one you imagined but it’s right for her.
The bottom line is, your child is going to be ok.
That doesn’t mean it’s always going to be fun or easy, but at a deeper level, she will be just fine, whether she’s reading by first grade or not, whether she goes to the prom or not, whether she attends college or not. She’ll always have a loving family and that’s the only part you can control.
After writing this post I listened to a discussion on the radio program, Fresh Air, addressing this very topic. I was struck by the guest’s advice for parents supporting their older teens:
Your child is the expert on himself or herself. We are 20th-century parents giving advice to 21st-century kids. They’ve inherited a brave new world that we never lived in.
Dr. B. Janet Hibbs
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.
How do you show your child you believe in him/her? How do you keep perspective? What’s hard? Know that you comments in the section below will support someone who shares your concerns and questions.
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 fromyour 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!
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.
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:
Practice Scripts for Parents: So you can stop unwittingly contributing to your children’s fighting
In Part One we looked at the tremendous learning that results from sibling relationships.
In Part Two we looked at the importance of staying out of your kids’ fights after establishing — and repeatedly reminding kids of — family rules and expectations. (Here’s the index with all of the resources.)
Here in Part Three we’ll explore what you do, unintentionally, to increase sibling acrimony and what you can specifically, say or do instead.
Scenario 1: You’re at a work meeting with your colleague (Joe) and your boss (Big Cheese). You and Joe present what you’ve been working on for the last month at which time Big Cheese looks Joe in the eye and says, “Joe what you’ve done here is outstanding work— you’re exceptional, you really are.”
Be with that. What runs through your mind, your heart?
Scenario 2: You come home after what’s been a bad day and share with your spouse what happened at work, “I just finished this huge project. Joe and I presented it to the Big Cheese, and well, you had to be there, but I felt really unappreciated. It made me feel like crap actually. I put so much of myself into that project, but he didn’t recognize me at all.”
Then your spouse replies, “You know you make a difference — the work couldn’t have been done without you. You need to remember you’re good enough whether someone tells you or not.”
Be with that. What runs through your mind, your heart?
While these are adult scenarios, what they illustrate are common mistakes we make with our children. Sometimes, daily.
How did you feel when you imagined yourself in the scenario?
In parenting class we role-play a parent praising one child but not the other. The volunteer playing the sibling not receiving praise — without exception — feels badly about themselves and usually resentful of their praise worthy sibling.
The un-praised sibling goes on to assume that the accolades lavished on sister or brother mean they’re destined to fall short… big time. Right or wrong this is a predictable human response.
In scenario 2, I’ve put the spotlight on how the denial of feelings, while well intentioned (like praise), is in fact discouraging because it communicates that we’re wrong when what we crave is to feel understood.
Below are four parent behaviors that hurt sibling relationships, followed specific examples of what they sound like and what you could say instead.
PRAISE ➜ ENCOURAGE
Wow — you’re the fastest swimmer out there! ➜ I love to watch you swim!
You’re such a good boy! ➜I appreciate your help, you made my day easier.
With more work, you’ll get it right. ➜ Look how far you’ve come, you can do it.
DENY FEELINGS ➜ ACKNOWLEDGE FEELINGS
Just get along — she’s your sister! ➜ It sounds like you’re feeling really sad and hurt.
Don’t say you hate your brother — that’s not nice. ➜It looks like you guys aren’t getting along right now and could use some time away from each other.
COMPARISON ➜ DESCRIBE BEHAVIOR (put kids in the same boat)
Why can’t you just be nice like your sister!? ➜ I can see you’re really cranky right now… come find me when you decide you’re ready to talk.
Why do you always make things so difficult? ➜ Kids, I have faith that the two of you can work this out together. Come find me if you need help.
LABEL ➜ DESCRIBE WHAT YOU SEE, FEEL OR THE PROBLEM
You’re the family artist. ➜ You really love to create!
Why are you always such a bully? ➜ I see that the blocks are all over the floor, what can you do to help the situation?
I can’t take it — you’re such a slob! ➜ Milk is all over the floor — what do you need to clean it up?
When spelled out like this, it’s crystal clear to me that [tweetthis] conscious parenting is a practice, not the default for any of us.[/tweetthis]
So it’s time to practice!
I know how hard it is so I created this Script to make it a bit easier.
Download it — print the pages you find helpful and PRACTICE.
A month ago, after a parent education talk (ironically, NOT about sibling issues), parents came up to me afterwards wanting to ask specific what do I do when questions.
This night each parent had a sibling challenge that deeply distressed them — and they wanted advice on how to work them out — how to FIX them.
After each told me their story of fists, tears, tussles and injustices, I asked, sincerely, so you want this to stop because ________?
It sounds like a joke but I was serious.
Here’s a snippet of their answers (and my thoughts):
I don’t want my kids to fight. Period. (We get confused thinking peace equals the absence of conflict — not true)
I’m afraid my children will seriously hurt each other — (it won’t happen if your kids have some skills — it makes sense to focus on teaching these skills).
I was mistreated and abused by my siblings and my parents did nothing (if you’re reading this post, or trying to understand the issues, you’re not doing nothing. You’re learning how to respond rather than react).
It’s important for you to get to the bottom of your frantic need to end sibling fights.
When you feel desperate, your children tune into your urgency and — baBOOM! — their fights gain greater importance and power.
No matter what age they are, you can see the wheels turning in their mind… “Hey, I’m onto something here — mom’s lost her mind over this bickering — it’s energizing to have her so plugged in so I’m going to persist and/or do it again soon.”
[tweetthis]Even if a child is scared, negative engagement with you is better than the alternative, no connection[/tweetthis]
Your children are wired to get your attention (think survival) and this sibling stuff is just the ticket.
So what if you don’t react when the fight breaks out, and instead acknowledge them by:
Letting them know you notice what’s going on and you’re here if they need your help (hint: think of yourself as a consultant rather than a cop) or
Saying, “I can see you’re struggling with each other and I have faith that you’ll be able to work it out together.”
What’ll happen next? They’ll be flabbergasted that you haven’t jumped in to fix or solve.
Jane Nelsen says surprise leads to confusion. When a child is confused because she doesn’t get the reaction she’s used to, she’s ready to consider a new behavior.
If the surprise results from a respectful interaction, her confusion will include a feeling of belonging and encouragement, so her new behavior is likely to be positive.
If the surprise is a result of disrespect, then her previous misbehavior is likely to intensify.
After a recent sibling talk I got this email from a mom who’d bravely tried what I’d suggested, the very next morning:
I wanted to tell you my success story from this morning. I feel like one of the examples from the book (Siblings without Rivalry), I was so surprised at its effectiveness!
This morning my 5.5yo son Eden left his favorite transformer toys on the floor, and his 1.5yo sister Lulu ran to them and started playing. He saw that, ran over, and pushed her backwards so her head banged the floor (she’s had worse bumps, but it was still rough and it hurt her).
I calmly went over and said, “Do you two need some help? Lulu doesn’t know why you pushed her. Use your words to tell her. I know you two can work this out. I’m going in the kitchen now so you can work it out.”
I walked away as Lulu whimpered a few times, just sitting next to her brother, probably unsure why I hadn’t defended her better.
Only 5 to 10 seconds after I walked away, Eden said, “Hey Louie, do you want another one?! I’ll get you one!” and jumped up to get her the one transformer he wasn’t playing with. He gave it to her, she happily accepted, and she scooted away a few inches to play with it in her own space.
I COULDN’T BELIEVE IT! It was exactly like the book and you said it would happen! Even though it worked so well, I admit I felt a bit guilty about seemingly abandoning Louie to her big brother in a moment of distress. But I get that their relationship benefitted from his problem-solving so much more than if I had stepped in.
Based on the book, if we can be consistent with this kind of conflict resolution, soon both kids will not feel this as abandonment, but as empowerment instead.
This story beautifully illustrates that [tweetthis]you don’t stop teaching your kids just because you don’t get involved in the moment of conflict.[/tweetthis]
Rachel admits the guilt she felt in trying a new behavior — I think many of us don’t try new tools and responses, even though they may be more effective in the long run, because of the dreaded parent guilt – what’ll happen if it doesn’t work?.
There may be times when you want to step in — how do you do that without fixing?
Here are three Positive Discipline Tools to help in the moment with a dispute between young children:
DISTRACTION — “I’ll give you something else to do now.”
SEPARATION — “Let’s move you over here for now.”
PUTTING KIDS IN THE SAME BOAT and recognizing that CHILDREN DO BETTER WHEN THEY FEEL BETTER — “I’d like to read you both a story now – it will help put us in a good mood. Then you can try to play together again… when you both feel better.”
So often when you plunge into a sibling fight, you think you know what’s going on.
This week, pretend you don’t and put the kids in the same boat.
Do your best to stay out of their business (or consult from the sidelines), and see what happens.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
If you’re not already on the list, sign up to receive Part 3 of the Sibling Series: From Squabbles to Sharing: Proven Strategies to Improve Sibling Relationships by email.
If you’ve already taken a Positive Discipline series or workshop with me or another facilitator, my colleague Marcilie Smith Boyle is still offering the monthly on-going Positive Discipline Roots series -virtually! Learn more here.