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How to Get Children to Behave from the Inside Out

As parents, we have heard that the days are long and the years are short. The days can be filled with mistakes, sibling rivalry, tantrums, boundary testing, bedtime battles and tough discussions—and even as they are interspersed with fun, excitement, pride, connection and love, as parents, it’s normal to feel frustrated at times and want tools to help make the days go a bit more smoothly. The truth is, we DO only have a relatively short time to help raise our children to become responsible, capable and confident before they head out the door as adults. Vicki Hoefle reminds us, “parent the child who will be 24 in a hot second. Parenting is not about what happens for you between the ages of 0 and 18, Parenting is what happens for our children between the ages of 18 and 80.” Let that sink in for a bit there.

So, how do we parent our children, knowing that we don’t have a lot of time to, in fact, parent them, but the time we spend is so important.

Important Messages:

  • When we parent with love and good boundaries, our children internalize this and it guides them as they get older. 
  • Message of hope: The key is to help parents have a good relationship with their kids no matter the age.
  • Basic old approach- get really mad when make mistake and then have a consequence? Then the kids get so focused on not making kids mad—rather than thinking about how the decision will affect his life.
  • Instead: yes, hold kids accountable but with empathy. “Oh I can imagine how upsetting it must be to get a report card like this. The good news is we love you regardless for the number of years it takes you to get through school. What are you going to do?”
  • The message becomes: We are sad FOR you rather than we are mad AT you.”
  • Soundbite: Sad instead of mad. Be sad for your kids rather than mad at our kids.
  • Get kids to think: how is this next decision going to affect my life? Rather than “how is this next decision going to look to other people?” Then children go through life thinking all is fine if they don’t get caught. Outside in: Am I going to make somebody mad?
  • Self concept comes from our kids seeing that they are capable. Inside out. Self concept gets destroyed when we try to create it from the outside in—lathering on false praise and smoothing everything out for kids.
  • Good self-concept comes from doing hard things well.
  • “Oh Bud. You broke Grandma’s vase. You must feel terrible. What are you going to do? Love you—but how are you going to solve this problem?” Maybe they do yard work or sell something of their own—and then they solve their own problem and they feel great and capable!
  • Allow kids to make lots of mistakes when they price tag is small.
  • Allow your child to forget their homework! Even though you feel the bad parent- let it happen! When their kids remember the next day or put together a plan so that they remember, great! If they want help or ideas, they can have them. But if they say “I’m fine!” then back off and honor it.
  • If you need to be sarcastic—be internally sarcastic not externally sarcastic!
  • Parenting- emotion-filled and daily. Hard job! Kids bond with imperfect people.
  • Self control- up the odds that it will be developed. Three Es. (1) Example- modeling. Let your kids see you struggle with self-control and “eavesdrop” on your thinking through the problem. Cope out loud. “It is so hard not to eat all of these butterfingers right now. If I do, it’s not going to go well for me.”
  • We want our kids to hear us struggling with temptation and overcoming it.
  • Self control- Need to have a template that starts with us. Limits. Describing. “I allow kids to drive the car when they are paying for at least have of the cost.”
  • (2) Experience: Need limits but also need practice testing them. Sometimes we get upset that kids test limits—but it’s a great learning experience if we stick with the limit. “I’m feeling like the tone of voice is not good. I’m happy to take you to this place as long as I feel like we are speaking nicely to one another.” Test limit. But then, prove it. Car makes a u-turn and you go back. Don’t need to say anything.
  • (3) Empathy. We shut our mouths and open our hearts. We don’t say a whole lot. “I love you and I want to do this with you but I love you too much to have this kind of experience with you. It’s hard.” Might not feel good in the short term- but do we want to be the bad guy or do we want the kid’s bad attitude to be the bad guy? We start saying “don’t you do this and that” and “how dare you this and that” and “if you do this, you’ll get that”- we become the bad guy. Instead be loving. One spot on brain might say that we aren’t so bad- maybe it was the decision that made things bad.
  • Lots of empty buckets and empty hearts- so people will fill them with whatever they can regardless of what the consequences are. Alcoholics, for example. Simple stuff is more important- spending time with people.
  • How to teach kids about money? Even if you have the money you need to buy everything you want. “The way we teach our kids about money is by living our lives putting emphasis on true wealth, which is relationships.”
  • Fine to give a gift- when it feels good. But don’t want to have a love of stuff. Don’t give when they demand it. Or when they argue that everyone else has it. Must earn the stuff! Sample convo: “Oh, you want X? Oh I think you should definitely have that! You deserve it! Buy it for yourself, absolutely.”
  • Blessed with wealth? Make sure they don’t have access to it as soon as you die unless they are at least 30 or 40.
  • King Solomon: Money can’t buy you everything you want in life.
  • Yugo car: Terrible car. Very reliable because it never worked. You can be a yugo or a slot machine. Yugo not exciting. They don’t budge. Slot machine tricks you. Even if it takes 9.6 million to get the 30-dollar jackpot, I’m going back! Because the next time, it will deliver, we think! Parents afraid to be yugos. Know where they will be!
  • Parents- empathetic but consistent. Remember, this isn’t personal! “But you must not love me and I’ll just die if I don’t get a phone!” “Oh honey, what did I say?” This kid is doing just what he’s supposed to do to become a fantastic, solid, young person some day. Let this child do it with me now so when later with a boyfriend or girlfriend, partner, spouse, it will go well.
  • Enough! Get to end of rope. Normal! Then, I really blew it. “Aren’t you so fortunate to have parents that are imperfect.”
  • Slot machine parents- think they are in control. Say no. Then finally give in. Kids learn that if they nag or whine, they’ll get what they want.
  • Listening starts really early. Don’t wait. 10 month old on ground. Crawl towards something they aren’t supposed to—“uh oh!” Poor decision. Then change their location. Put them in lap. Knocking bottle off high chair. Then again. No anger. “Oh, so sad.” Eating is over. Food goes up and they go down. 15 minutes later- try again. Cause and effect. “Honey, we get to stay as long as long as we listen the first time. Then, the first time they act up, you leave, no matter what the circumstance, so that your kids learn that what you say is true no matter if it’s in public or not. Pick a place that you don’t like so there’s no hesitation about leaving.
  • Plane: little toys- hide them, long trip, reach in the bag and get something new.
  • 8 year old: Takes the ipad before school even if it’s against the family rules. “Oh, are you sure that’s what you want to do? Is that a wise decision?” But don’t get into an altercation before school. Then put the ipad away. “I love you too much to fight with you about this. I’ll take care of it.” Think they got away with it. Then- it’s gone. Called names- so damaging to have that level of disrespect. Diminishes self concept. Sold ipad. “I love you too much to let these things to become a problem.”
  • “I allow the use of this device in this home as long as I never feel that it’s damaging our relationship.” (Sneaky, irritable, won’t get off, won’t put it back where it’s supposed to be). But need for school- “so how you going to explain that to your teacher? Maybe your teacher will have some ideas so that you can get that credit.”
  • Take action. In car. In good mood. “How in the world have you learned to cook the way you do? That’s a gift. Many people can follow a cook book but they don’t cook like you! What do you think I’m going to say that isn’t so good about that? If someone is so good at cooking, then probably so good at cleaning too. Have ideas?” Celebrate who she is. Then problem solving. “Well then maybe I just won’t cook!” “Well, that’s an idea but that would be sad for you! Some kids decide to clean as they go. Others allow their parents to do it and pay for it out of their allowance or other means. Going to be fun to figure out how to solve that problem.) Parent can do it but it will be costly!
  • Sibling rivalry. “I love you guys. And I know you love each other. The problem is that my ears don’t love this so you’ll need to take this someplace else and if you’d like someone to do mediation, I’m happy to do that- I don’t take sides. But what you need to do is to take it someplace else so it doesn’t bother others in the home.” If they don’t, bonding time! Do things together to further relationship- pull weeds, cleaning toilets- helping bonding experience. Pretend to like each other and get along so they don’t wind up doing this!
  • Top tip: Empathy! Remember- “I’m not the one who has to teach the kid responsibility, it’s the poor decision and the consequence that teaches the responsibility. I can be the good guy.” That takes the pressure off. Don’t have to nag. Allow mistakes. Hold accountable. Provide empathy. Comes out in the wash later with maturity and time.

Notable Quotables:

  • “We want to condition our kids to believe that ‘when I make poor decisions, it can dramatically diminish the quality 
  •  of my life. Every choice matters. It affects me and it affects other people.’”
  • “Be sad for our kids rather than mad at our kids when they make a mistake.”
  • “If we start using empathy in our parenting, then we create kids who are thinking; ‘how is this next decision going to affect my life?’ rather than ‘how is this next decision going to look to other people?’”
  • “Good self-concept comes from doing hard things well.”
  • “Good self-concept is forged in the furnace of reflection.”
  • “How can you have a success when you don’t have a failure first?”
  • “Let’s allow our kids to make lots and lots of little mistakes when they price tag is small.”
  • “Allow your children to forget their homework. You may feel like a bad parent but do you really want to have to remind your kid to bring their work…to work?”
  • “Kids are more likely to bond with people who are imperfect!”
  • “Self-control starts with a template that comes from us.”
  • “Kids can’t learn to say ‘no’ to themselves if they’ve never seen us say ‘no’ to them.”
  • “How in the world are kids going to learn that limits are real and how to internalize limits if they don’t practice testing them?”
  • “Do we want to be the bad guy or do we want the kid’s bad attitude to be the bad guy?”
  • “There are a lot of empty buckets and empty hearts. And when there are a lot of empty buckets or empty hearts, people will find something to fill them with regardless of the consequences.”
  • “The way we teach our kids about money is by living our lives putting emphasis on true wealth, which is relationships.”
  • “I allow the use of this device in this home as long as I never feel that it’s damaging our relationship.”
  • “I’m not the one who has to teach the kid responsibility, it’s the poor decision and the consequence that teaches the responsibility. I can be the good guy.”

From the blog of Dr. Robyn Silverman