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Making Memories

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A couple of years ago, we took our kids to Great Wolf Lodge for the night, to celebrate our daughter's momentous achievement of reaching the ripe ol' age of two.  The trip did not go exactly as planned (the birthday girl totally woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and was a pill all day), but we still had a good time.

When I think about the trip, it's not the water park that stands out as the most notable moment; I actually think about listening to the two of them talk -- when they were supposed to be sleeping -- as they were lying in the bunk beds in the little "cabin" in our room.  I'm still not entirely clear on what a four year old and a two year old have to say, but they managed to talk quite a bit.  (Eventually my older daughter begged her sister to stop talking because she was "really, really tired."  For the record, her sister did not oblige until she passed out from exhaustion herself.)  They were both pretty young to remember the trip over the long term, but we had fun at the moment, and parts of it will certainly stand out for my husband and me.

In this busy, 24/7 work-world we live in, how much time do we set aside for making memories?  A week or two out of the year, perhaps.  But the truth is that the memories our kids keep will probably not be the trips to Great Wolf Lodge or the extraordinary events.  Sure, odds are, they'll remember them, but when they call up the most meaningful moments of their childhood, they'll probably recall the mundane and run-of-the-mill moments much quicker than the splashy (no pun intended) ones.

The bottom line for me is that is it’s critical to try to savour and connect with my kids every day, so that whatever memories they're creating, I'm in them.  Even if we're playing Candyland for the zillionth time, or baking cookies, or riding bikes, our day-to-day life is the stuff of memories.

You may do very different activities with your kids than I do with mine.  But it's never too late to foster a meaningful connection with the people who bring the meaning to our lives.  While we never really know when a long-term memory is being created for our kids, by being fully present for the small moments in their lives, we deepen our relationship and increase the likelihood that our kids will look back on those moments of childhood with fondness and love. 

What To Do With a Stubborn Kid

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How many daily power struggles take place in your house?  Do you sometimes feel as though your child is saying "no" just for the sake of being disagreeable?  Well, you may be right.  Some kids just need more of a sense of control in their lives.  You probably noticed this from waaay back, when they were preschoolers and even toddlers.  Some parenting experts theorize that whatever behaviour traits you saw in your kids as toddlers, you'll see again as teenagers.  (Not very comforting for those of you who may be reading this and cringing over memories of the “terrible twos”.  I'm very sorry to be the bearer of bad news.)

However, there are some things we can do.  The need for power is not a bad thing.  We all need to feel a degree of autonomy and control in our lives.  It's the excessive need for power that becomes a problem.  And although we may not be able to "control" how much control our individual kids need for themselves, there are things we can do that can help to avoid fanning the flames and even deescalate power struggles as they arise.

First of all, remind yourself that this is actually a good trait in many ways.  You're raising a kid who knows what she wants and is less likely to be pushed around or talked into something she knows isn't right for her.  Hooray!  Now if only she'd unload the dishwasher when she's told to...

Which leads to another key way to avoid power struggles and maximize the natural talents and desires of our kids.  Remember that if we insist too much on being right ourselves and insist on having things done our way all the way, we're actually modeling for our kids that power works.  We demonstrate to them that being strong and inflexible is actually the way to go.  So we need to make sure that we're setting a good example by modeling and demonstrating the behaviours we'd like to see in our kids.  Power struggles don't have to end with one winner and one loser; everyone wins if we work together to create a solution that everyone is content with.

As our kids age, our level of control over their lives continues to drop and drop, so perhaps some of the struggles are due to that difficult shift of power over to our kids.  Give opportunities for choices you can live with, and then let your child decide.  Remember that sometimes mistakes are the best teachers, so give your kids the space to make their own decisions and handle their own consequences.  Keep assessing and reassessing what your kids are truly capable of, then give them the chance to work within those new and expanding boundaries.  Choices, respect, and compromise are key ways to diffuse stubbornness and power struggles – at any age.

Public Speaking Anxiety

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Many of us have anxiety about public speaking.  But what do you do when it's your child who's terrified of doing a presentation?

The best thing to do is to have your child, with or without you, have a private discussion with the teacher about the stress it creates.  This is such a common fear, it can't be the first time the teacher has run into it, so perhaps he or she has a plan for coaching kids through the process and helping them feel more confident.

For your part, discuss with your child all of his concerns: forgetting the words? blushing? making a mistake? sweating?  Once they're all out on the table, break them down and create plans for handling each of them.  It's unlikely that he'll be able to go the rest of his life presenting to others without ever making a mistake, so don't aim for perfection -- teach him how to bounce back from a mistake and not let it throw the rest of his presentation, for example.  It's much more empowering to feel as though you have tools for handling problems when they arise, than to plan to not have problems at all.

Speaking to a group is a great skill for kids to learn early, even if it is a painful one.  Work with the teacher, go slow, have him do his presentations to you before he's on the spot in front of the teacher or the class, provide him with opportunities to speak in front of others in ways that he feels comfortable...  He may never become a professional speaker, but gently decreasing his anxiety and increasing his confidence is a real gift that he'll use over and over again in his life.

The Democratic Revolution

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, November 05, 2013

This article is a bit of a departure for me, in that I didn't actually write it myself.  It was a handout that I received at a workshop that I attended when I was in graduate school, and have recently come across while spring cleaning my filing cabinets.  I think it gives a great overview of how parenting has changed over the past number of generations, and helps us to really understand why some of the previous "go-to" parenting strategies are just not working as they used to.

The article was written by an Adlerian counsellor named Steve Maybell.  Unfortunately I couldn't find any contact information for him as he doesn't appear to have a web site.  But he has written a number of books that you should be able to find at http://www.chapters.ca/ or by going through the North American Society of Adlerian Psychology web site at http://www.alfredadler.org/.  This article is quickly becoming a staple in the work I do with parents today; I hope it provides you with a number of your own "aha" moments.

Our Changing Society: The Implication For Parents Of The Democratic Revolution

By Steven A. Maybell, Ph.D. (adapted from Raising Respectful Kids in a Rude World)

Our society has changed in many ways in the past couple of generations: advanced technology, availability of illegal drugs, more working parents, latch-key kids, overcrowded schools, etc. One of the most impactful change in our society that has brought about far reaching effects, we call “the democratic revolution”.

Since the beginning of human civilization, human relationships have been organized in the same manner. In every human relationship there has been a built-in structure defining one member of the relationship as occupying the superior position and other the inferior position. This kind of relationship is referred to as a “vertical” relationship (picture a vertical line from above to below). Society was structured in this way and this consistency resulted in general acceptance and compliance. Some of the obvious examples were:

Area of Social Life The “Superior” Position The “Inferior” Position
Government Dictatorial leaders The citizens, the people
The workplace Boss, owners, management The workers
Race relations Caucasians People of colour
Gender relations Males Females
Parent-child relations

Parents (moms and dads)

Children

People in society who occupied the “superior” position had all the power and those occupying the “inferior” position were restricted to adapting to this power.

The essential methods applied by the “superiors” to maintain order (and power) included the following coercive tactics:

1. Imposing rules

2. Rewarding those who obey the rules

3. Punishing those who violated the rules

Looking again at the social institutions and the hierarchy that was traditionally established in all of them, it is interesting to note the vast changes that have occurred:

· In government: a worldwide trend toward democracy where people have influence, e.g. representation, ability to vote.

· In the workplace: the union movement, strikes, progressive workplace legislation (the 40 hour workweek, minimum wage, profit sharing). Workers now have influence.

· In race relationships: the civil right moment. People of colour standing up for equality.

· In gender relations: the women’s movement. Women empowering themselves in government, the workplace, marriage, etc.

The above developments are what is meant by the “democratic revolution”. As if in mass during the latter part of the 20th century, the human community has declared that all human beings have value, must be treated with respect, and therefore are deserving to take part in matters that affect their lives, regardless of position, race, gender, or even age.

Equality is in the air, and whether we like it or not, our children breathe the same air. Today’s children are raised in a different social environment than we were. They are raised in an environment where social equality is a given. Beginning with kids growing up in the 1960’s, children have increasingly pictured themselves as equals to their parents, and are operating on an “equality identity”. The current generation of parents were raised on the tail end of the traditional period, when parents still occupied a superior position and where kids operated on a “subordinate identity”. Since most parents have learned their model of parenting by observing their own parents, what we are witnessing is a collision of forces occurring in all of our homes and schools.

We tend to operate from the vertical coercive traditions learned from our parents, applying these methods to a generation of children who for the first time picture themselves as equals. What is the result?

1. When rules are imposed on kids – rebellion is a way of demonstrating equality.

2. When we apply the punishment model – kids in their efforts to be equal find ways to punish us in return.

3. When we use a reward system – kids expect a reward for most everything they do.

The “clash of forces” between the outmoded, traditional model of parenting and today’s youth may result in considerable conflict and violence. The remedy is not to go back in time and attempt to make the coercive model work, anymore than we can expect citizens, employees, minorities, or women to once again accept a position of inferiority. The coercive model of parenting so often results in power struggles between parents and kids that can have difficult and painful results. The remedy is also not to pamper our kids, that is, do for them on a consistent basis what they can do for themselves. Pampering is another kind of vertical relationship. In our democratic world, kids who are pampered move so readily from the mindset of being equal to their parents to one of being superior. They consider special treatment to be something they are entitled to with dependency, self-centeredness, vindictiveness, and stalled development as a frequent outcome.

The discouraging message we send to our kids when we adopt the coercive model is, “It is obvious you are not able to do things well enough on your own, so I will make you.” The discouraging message we send to our kids when we adopt the pampering model is, “It is obvious you are not able to do things well enough on your own, so I will do them for you.”

The irony is that parents who adopt the coercive model and attempt to control their kids lose all control. Likewise, parents who adopt the pampering model and attempt to make their kids happy, tend to make their kids miserable.

The new tradition that is required is one whereby our kids are not able to picture themselves in a position of inferiority to their parents or other adult leaders…for when they do, based on their “equality identity” they are compelled to actively or passively resist or rebel.

At the same time, parental leadership is important in any family. The question becomes, what type of leadership? Controlling, demanding, and punitive leadership always result in resistance, rebellion, and disrespect. Overindulgent leadership always results in dependency, a sense of entitlement, and demanding behaviour. Kids today will be truly influenced only by a parent they respect. With the democratic revolution in full swing, respect cannot be expected and demanded, it must be won. Winning respect involves giving respect.

The real solution is in developing a new tradition in parent-child relationships where parents as leaders in the family incorporate methods of communication, problem-solving and discipline based on mutual respect and which emphasize taking the child’s value as a person into account.


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Andrea Ramsay Speers • Psychotherapist & Parent Coach • Oakville Family Institute • 175 Glenashton Dr., Oakville ON • Tel.: 905-491-6949

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