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Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Parenting Question: What’s the most important thing I should teach my child?

July 13, 2015

That was challenging, but you did it!

That was challenging, but you did it!

Here’s Part 5 of my parenting Q&A series. Today’s question may be one of the most fundamental I’ve received in my 18 years at this online parent education gig. Here goes…

What is the most important thing I should teach my child?

Obviously an essential part of every parent’s job is teaching your children to survive, to keep themselves safe. But I’m going to take a different tack here. My answer to your question is: Teach them to handle their distressing emotions, i.e., the emotions that throw us off-center, muck with our moral compass and interfere with clearly thinking. I’m talking about anger, jealousy, resentment, etc. Oh and let’s not forget frustration and rejection! These emotions can very easily push us over the edge. And when we go over we are much less likely to treat others with respect and sensitivity. This is the why people become violent. Why we so often hurt each other.

When we teach kids to manage their distressing emotions they are in a much better place to deal with life’s challenges. And you don’t need me to tell you there are plenty of challenges to be dealt with… at least a dozen turn up in your path every day. Emotions are like solar flares.  We need the tools to regulate and rein them in.

I’m not suggesting that we teach kids to try to rush ahead of our children and clear their path of all possible obstacles. Nor should we teach them to take everything as it comes with a cheery smile, pretending everything is OK when it isn’t. No way! A more realistic and valuable approach is helping kids understand that they will be pushed to the edge at times. They can count on feeling frustrated, hurt, and angry at times. Our feelings are important, but our behavior is even more important. Our behavior in the face of really strong emotions is something we need to master. Mastery comes from practice.

So let’s give our kids lots of practice in calming down. Lots of practice in finding the words when they feel out of control. Words are very important. We need to help our kids understand that even when we feel we’re about to lose it, it is never OK, to be cruel or disrespectful to anyone. The best way to do this is to model it. Our kids give us plenty of opportunities to show what it’s like to get one’s buttons pushed. They do that to us every day! We need to show them that we know how to control ourselves so that they can learn to do it too.

I hope this helps.


How do you turn a whiny kid into a problem solver?

June 3, 2014

You can't tell me "I can't have it!!!!"

You can’t tell me “I can’t have it!!!!”

Kids only learn to whine when frustrated if whining gets them what they want. They do it because it works. It doesn’t even have to work all the time. It just has to work once in a while for them to try it all the time. When their whining consistently does not work (because we have taught them it doesn’t) then they don’t bother… ever. That doesn’t mean kids who don’t whine don’t get frustrated. Of course they do! They just use their frustration as a signal to calm down and think about solutions.

So have a look in the mirror. If you’ve got a kid who excels in whining, congratulations, you have trained him or her brilliantly. It doesn’t matter that you can’t stand the behavior or that it makes you feel like screaming “Shut up! You’re driving me crazy!” This evidence of Mom or Dad’s frayed innards is exactly what the child’s going for. When they know we’re on edge, they may secretly rejoice because they understand they’re closer to what they want (the candy, the toy, the extra 30 minutes to watch the end of this show, the permission to do whatever it is for which you don’t feel good about giving your permission, etc. etc.)

If parents truly want kids to learn more mature, respectful, and constructive responses to life’s frustrations, do not reward the behavior you hate. When you calmly refuse to engage in the infuriating back and forth, your kid experiences a teachable moment. In this case the lesson is: “This whiney BS does not work. I’m not going to waste my time any more.”

So, if you want to transform a kid who whines into a problem solver, start with this:

PARENT: “Sweetie pie, I owe you an apology.”

KID: “Huh?”

PARENT: “I am really really sorry. It’s my job to teach you how to deal with frustration so you can solve problems and do more things for yourself. But I haven’t been doing my job lately. Nope. Not when it comes to this. I’m sorry about that and I’m going to do much better starting now.”

KID: “What do you mean?”

PARENT: “I heard you whining. What are you frustrated about?”

KID: “I can’t button these buttons!”

PARENT: “How can I help you?”

KID: “You do it!”

PARENT: “Nope. Not going to do it for you, but I will help you learn to do it yourself.”

KID: “NOOOOO! I just want you to do it!”

Your old impulse to rush in (shut down the whining and button the damn buttons) is strong.  But now that you’ve seen the light, your resolve to do your parenting job is even stronger.

Put on your oxygen mask… inhale slowly and evenly… and teach the child to button a button. This could take a while. But that’s OK you will make the time you need. You’re a teacher. You’re in the zone. Use only positive words as you praise all efforts no matter how tiny. Cheer on all progress. Take breaks when little fingers get tired. Have a snack then get back to the task at hand. Use humor. And reward success with high fives and the happy dance.

Make this a positive experience and guaranteed your child will not whine about buttons again. Instead, he’ll be busting with pride that he’s learned a new skill on the road to independence.

Wow, that was fun. What’s next?

Check out my 3min answer to the ‘Whiny Child” question on Vidoyen.



Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , — Annie @ 6:13 pm
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