Wednesday, December 3, 2008

When Your Child Lies and Digs In, Part 2: Why They Do It

So why do kids sometimes lie and then proceed to dig in, even when it seems obvious to everyone else that they lied. Sometimes it is fear of punishment, often they are trying to save face, and occasionally it is because they initially lied for one of those reasons, and once they've repeated it a few times one of a couple things can happen. One is just an extension of saving face. They know that they lied and repeated the lie even when called on it, and if they 'fess up now, they have to admit that they have been lying repeatedly—not a spot any of us likes to find themselves in. Sometimes a child repeats the lie often enough that they genuinely come to believe in their own lie. I've worked with a few kids where I had a hunch this is what happened. It is what makes the suggestions on handling childhood lying to come in future posts so important. This process has a way of snowballing if you don't have experience or some insider tips on handling it.  

When an adult who is good at it wants to avoid lie detection they can do so is by repeating their lie often enough that they become much more comfortable with it. They can literally rehearse their response. If we hooked up wires to measure the skin conductance of one of these adults attempting to deceive, we'd find that when they first lied, they showed more physiological arousal. As they continue to practice their lie, the biological signs of stress begin to decrease. As an aside, adults that are sociopaths, by definition, are able to lie without their conscience getting the best of them, because for all practical purposes they don't have a conscience. 

Parenting is all about keeping, losing and regaining perspective. Here is one tip for gaining the big picture view you need when your child lies. When we catch our children lying it can feel like a punch to the gut. To recover enough to handle this difficult situation, it is helpful helpful to tap into our empathy skills to remember a time during our childhood when we'd cornered ourselves in a lie. Many of us learned not to lie and dig in in one of the central ways that humans often need to learn, by doing it and experiencing the consequences. We had an experience lying to someone we cared about in the moment, and then saw how it hurt our relationship with them when the lie was found out. Often as adults, it is easy to look at our kids through the lens of the wisdom that we've accumulated throughout the years, and forget that we once had to make poor decisions and learn from them before we gained the wisdom we now have. We wish they could learn through our past errors rather than make them on their own, but just as our own parents likely hoped for the same and winced as they watched us make that very mistake they hoped they could get us to avoid. 

In upcoming posts in this series we'll at what happens when in our anger and frustration we use language that labels our child a liar. We'll also take a look at ways that you can avoid this mistake and handle the challenge in a way that will increase the odds that our response will help our children to use the experience to grow an even stronger sense of conscience rather than becoming more hardened to the relationship injuring aspects of lying.


Monday, November 24, 2008

When Your Child Lies and Digs In Part 1

It is going to happen if it hasn't already. One of these days your child is going to not just lie to you, but even though you are darn close to certain that they've lied, they are going to dig in and deny it. Maybe even to the point that they'll begin to believe themselves that they didn't do or say whatever they are lying about.

This is a little bit heart breaking when this happens, but it is inevitable. And fortunately like most childhood misbehavior there is learning opportunity hidden within. 

In handling lying there are a couple of things to avoid. One is letting your child think that she got by with lying without you knowing (or caring). On the other end of the continuum is making sure, even though it is important to let them know that you're pretty certain that they did lie, that you don't end up labeling your child as a "liar". Even if you have a child that lies fairly frequently that label is certain to work against you. After all what do liars do. If that label sticks, I can predict a lot of what is likely to happen in your relationship. And it isn't pretty. In upcoming posts I will take you through a middle path that winds its way between both of those errors.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Nothing Works for All Kids, Except the Stuff that Does

It's not going to suit everyone's taste, but does spoofs on motivational posters that are seen in offices and cube farms the world over. One of their posters I enjoy is one that quips "You're unique...just like everyone else in the world." I enjoy it just for the sarcasm, but I also appreciate a truth that it gets at.

Sometimes when parents are considering learning some strategies for making parenting easier, they are concerned that there really aren't any approaches that are effective, because "Nothing works for all kids." Well they're right. Every child is unique. And there is no strategy or technique that is going to play out precisely the same way with all kids. And some will play out very differently with different kids. This, in fact, is one of the reasons why I think counseling and parent coaching can be so helpful. "Off the rack" parenting approaches found in books though often helpful, can frequently frustrate parents as their kids respond very differently than the book predicts. And that's not to mention that you can find books that recommend just about anything you can imagine, so there's little consistency from book to book. I work with lots of parents who have often read a at least a half dozen parenting books, and are well informed yet confused because none of the advice seems to mesh together.

So, yes, kids are all unique. And no particular strategy or technique is going to be helpful with all kids. But in my experience, there are principles that have proven to be helpful from classrooms to home and with kids of widely varying temperaments. It is in the particulars of the application that the principles need to vary from child to child.

Examples of Principles You Count On:

When limit setting and consequences become the focus of the relationship, and opportunities for connection aren't there or are too few, things tend to go down hill. 

Control is a basic human need. When it is shared with children in appropriate ways, kids are much more apt to be cooperative. 

Attention to approximations of behaviors you're wanting from your child tends to bring about more of those wanted behaviors.

Attention on what is going poorly will lead to more poor behavior, and will also lead to the desired behaviors decreasing as well. 

Kids who are given both verbal and "action messages" that they are capable, responsible people tend to behave more capably and responsibly.

So you can feel good that there are some proven principles that are helpful with kids across the board. And it is true that kids do vary in the particulars. For some parents, especially those with kids who have easier temperaments, figuring out their kids and how principles  like these might apply is pretty straight forward. For those parents who have kids with more difficult temperaments, or who find it more challenging to figure out how the principles might best be applied with their kids, then coaching and/or counseling can be helpful.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Save the Words for the Happy Times, Part IV: The Art of the Delayed Consequence

The concept of saving the words for the happy times is about making sure we aren't inadvertently pouring on negative attention when things aren't going well. When we lecture, yell or explain too much in the moment when things are bumpy, we inadvertently make it more likely that the problem behavior is going to increase over time.

In the first three posts in this series, we discussed what can be done in the moment when we encounte the misbehavior, how to circle back afterward, and how to do a collaborative problem solving session. In part IV we'll now look in some detail at how to use a delayed consequence, and why delaying a consequence, contrary to what many still think, is in fact more effective in most cases than an immediate consequence.

Why We Crank Up
As parents we often ramp up in the moment, when it is least effective, for a lot of good reasons. Let's look at a couple. One of them is simply impulse. As human beings we are wired to more readily notice negative stimuli. When our child is acting up that is what most readily grabs our attention. Annoyance, irritation and even feeling ashamed that our child is acting in such a way can all play into our jumping into the fray.

And when the behavior is either pretty bad, or it's been going on for a long time, we often get that gut sense that something needs to be done right at that moment. Fortunately, this is actually almost never actually the case. Additionally, we often feel compelled to act because we've been taught that the behavior needs to be "nipped in the bud" or even that consequences are only effective when given right in the moment. This was actually the prevailing wisdom of the day for a while, and it turned out, as we'll see, to be just wrong.

The Delayed Consequence
It turns out for kids five and older delayed consequences can actually be more effective than coming up with a consequence right at the time of the misbehavior. Before looking at why that is, let's look at an example of how a delayed consequence actually plays out. Jon came home after being at a friend's house after school. He grabbed some chips and planted it in front of the TV. Mom was cooking dinner and the garbage that Jon had agreed would be taken out by last night was full enough that Mom could barely get carrot peeling in there without them rolling off the heap at the top. She asks, "Jon, would you please take care of this garbage?"
"I'll do it after the show, Mom"
She sighs to herself and pauses,"Jon, you agreed you'd have it done last night"
"I know. I'll do it, Mom. I just gonna finish my show first."
Having recently learned about the idea of Saving the Words for the Happy Times, she took nice slow deep breath. She inhibited her impulse to yell and remind him of what his responsibilities are and how little he contributes to the family. Instead she said, "Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it."
"Okay Mom," said Jon distractedly, already absorbed back in his show.

On Saturday, two days later, Jon picked up the envelope containing his allowance, as he was accustomed to doing weekly. Jon's mom had set this allowance ritual up after she'd heard about it in the parenting class she recently attended. The suggestion had been to keep chores and allowance are kept separate—allowance to teach about having money and being broke; and chores so that he would have a sense of contribution in the household. Jon opened his envelope. There were two dollars bills inside. He was used to seeing five dollars. In with the two dollar bills was a note that stated "$5.00 - $3.00 (for non-pre-arranged garbage removal) Balance: $2.00."
"What happened to my allowance?" he yelled. "That's my money!"
"I'm happy to talk about it when you're calm Jon"
"This is stupid!" He strode off to his room and slammed the door.
Mom again resisted the impulse follow and start in on his attitude. After a while he cooled off. He later came out and was able to talk about why she did the chore rather than pleading or cajoling him to do it after the time he'd agreed he would have it done. He wasn't happy about it, but after this interaction, Jon started taking more responsibility for getting his chores done when he'd agreed to.

Another approach rather than saying "Don't worry, I'll take care of it," is to say "Would you prefer to take care of that now or hire me to do it?" The key with this whole approach to chores that Jon's mother had already taken care of was 1) to set up chores ahead of time in a collaborative manner where Jon had a say in what he selected for chores out of the available possibilities, and 2) he had a time line on when to get the chores done rather than being told spur of the moment to do them, which none of us usually appreciate. Both of these details on setting up chores raise the odds that the child will be willing to contribute around the house, and make it so the child (at least at some level) realizes that it is fair for the parent to take some action when they aren't choosing to live up to an agreement they had a hand in crafting. And in line with the theme of this series, you can guess that the recommendation on when to do that collaborative setting up of chores is...that's right, at the happy times, not in the moment when things aren't going smoothly, such as when you're upset that they haven't done a chore.

When to Use a Delayed Consequence
Fortunately not all delayed consequences need to be set up like my example with chores above. Often it is much simpler. So how do you know then when a delayed consequence might be appropriate? Well first I recommend that you never need to come up with a consequence right in the moment for any child above five. This can be one of the single biggest gifts you can give to yourself as a parent. Let's look at this from the other end. You know that you don't need or want a delayed consequence under the following circumstances:
  1. You've already told the your child what the consequence would be if they did X, and they just did X.
  2. Collaborative problem solving feels like it would be more appropriate or helpful.
  3. This is the sort of behavior you can simply redirect, just have the child take a break for, or a timeout seems like it is adequate.
  4. Your child is four years old or younger (four is approximately the age when children begin to have enough long term memory for a delayed consequence to be effective).
So when something happens that doesn't fall under those categories above, and you sense that a logical consequence (tied to the time and place of the misbehavior as well as possible so as to be meaningful) is in order, then do yourself and your child a favor, and as Charles Fay of the Love and Logic Institute puts it, "Delaaaaaaaaaaay the consequence". Simply mark the event in time by saying something along the lines of "Oh we're going to need to do something about that. I want to make sure it's fair, so I'm going to give it some thought. I'll get back to you." As we've talked about before, this will be most effective if your tone is warm and friendly, which communicates, "I'm very much in control of myself, and I can handle your misbehavior without breaking a sweat," which help kids to feel safe, and as we psychological types like to say "contained".

If it is a big event, like your child just broke your front window by hitting a baseball through it, and you've previously discussed saving the baseball playing for the park, then you might want to have your child cool her heels in her room for a bit, which might sound like this, "Wow Megan, I'm guessing that window was expensive. Why don't you take a bit of time in your room to give this some thought about how you're going to handle this." Again this would be stated with empathy (keeping in mind we all made analogous mistakes when younger) and in a warm tone. When we keep it to this sort of tone, the child can't distract herself with our anger and frustration. When she can't do that the odds go way up that she's going to be able to think about her poor decision and how she plans to handle the problem in a responsible way.

Why Delayed Consequences Rather Than Immediate Ones
Delayed consequences are more effective for several reasons. First, we are much less apt as parents to come up with an unfair or overblown consequence that we later might feel compelled to retract. When we do that we lose credibility (though I do have a trick I'll share at a later time for how to minimize the credibility loss). On the other hand, when we enforce an overblown consequence we are being arbitrary, and we lose our kids' respect. Their seeing us as arbitrary breeds resentment. When they resent us, that is sad in and of itself, but beyond this fact, it also makes them want to get us back. So it is far better to steer clear of putting ourselves in a position where these are the options we're left with.

Another reason they are powerful is that the child has time to sit with their poor decision. When we deal out a consequence in the moment even if it is fair the child adjusts to it much more quickly, and they are more apt to have the "I don't care" response to the consequence. When they have time to give it thought for a while before you let them know what the consequence is they are much more apt to see it as fair, and to be able to explore what they might do differently in the future.

When we delay a consequence, kids also have a bit of time to wonder what the logical consequence might be for their behavior. In some sense they end up living through a few different possibilities as they wait. As I see it, this gets you more effect per dosage. In other words, your consequences won't need to be harsh to be effective. On the other hand with punishment or even immediate consequences often the adult has to increasingly dial up the harshness to "get the kid's attention".

It wasn't all that long ago when teachers were taught they had to deal out consequence immediately for it to work. The crucial mistake that had been made was taking findings about how lower animals (often rats and pigeons) learn, and assuming that learning worked precisely the same way with kids. The huge variable that they left out between the stimulus and response was cognition, thinking. And that piece makes all the difference, and accounts for why they were wrong about consequences needing to be immediate. It is important to let the child know in the moment that you notice the misbehavior, and that something will need to be done. But for all the reasons above, they don't need to have a consequence spelled out until everyone is a bit calmer.

Well this has been a long post, and so I'll wrap up the series here. I'll be sharing some of the ideas I mentioned previously about having the child do a written / drawn plan or using practice as a consequence in future posts.

Hopefully, we've all gotten something about the value of talking less when things aren't going smoothly. We know that isn't natural, and that it is learned skill, but it is one that is certainly worth learning. I'm still learning along with all of you how to do this more often.

What did you most helpful or thought provoking in this series?

If you enjoyed this article please vote for it on Digg, above, or Netscape or one of the other options below. You can also bookmark the site to the right. I appreciate your support.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mother Looking Back on Doing Her Best to Help Her 5-Year-Old Cope with September 11th.

This is a beautifully written piece by Kathy Sena over at Parent Talk Today about her struggles and uncertainty surrounding helping her then five-year-old boy sift through some difficult facts about the world. She shares the way she responded to her son's questions about the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Why do some people want to hurt others? Are there a lot more "good people" in the world than "bad people"? And of course the underlying question of Are we gonna be safe, Mom? Clients occasionally ask me how to go about talking with children about difficult world events like these, so when I come across a response like Kathy's I want to pass it along.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

5 Skills to Handle Childhood Arguing at Squidoo

I have my second page up over at Squidoo on some Skills to Handle Childhood Arguing. Take a look and please sign into the guest book so I know you were there. Share your thoughts on the topic. Weigh in on the poll too.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Save the Words for the Happy Times, Part III: How to Bring Your Child in on the Solution

So far in this series we've looked at reasons to save the words for the happy times, and in the second part we looked at how to circle back after a difficult interaction. In this and the next post we'll need to explore a few of ways you can proceed once you've circled back. There are several options here including collaborative problem solving, following through with a delayed consequence, having the child make a written/drawn plan and using practice as a consequence.

I'm going to cover the most broadly useful one first. Collaborative problem solving is often a wonderful way to address the issue at hand. It is apt to work well if your child is five or older. Doing it with kids younger than that is like the proverbial cat herding. All the options we'll discuss in this post and the next can enhance your relationship with your child or teen. This one in particular tends to do so powefully. It is an approach to draw on especially for kids who for whatever reason feel very resentful of authority and are prone to getting into power struggles.

Step 1 Define the Problem: It might sound something like this "We've been on your case a fair amount about being on the computer too much. You got pretty upset last time I asked you to get off, and I'm really worried about how all this computer time is affecting your grades and how much time we spend together as a family. So we need to come up with a way to work out a reasonable amount of computer time for you, so you can do some of the things you enjoy, and some of the things you need to do, and so we don't have to worry about hassling you about how much you're on there." Notice the way that both the parent's and the child's viewpoint are included. Often there are more perspectives, and they can all be described briefly in the defining of the problem.

Step 2 Brainstorm Ideas About a Solution: Explain that first you're going to write down all the possible ideas that you can think of as a family (everyone involved in the problem that is), and that the brain is good at either coming up with creative new ideas, or at editing and evaluating those ideas, but it doesn't do both well at once. You'll want to use paper at a minimum. Ideally you'd have lots of space like on butcher paper, or up on a whiteboard. Never thought a giant whiteboard would be something that could enhance family life? It can. Make it a rule that no one, including the adults are going to censor any ideas. If your child says "How about I'm on the computer all day long?" I would put it on the board. This lightens the mood and expands the range of ideas, both of which make it more likely that you'll come up with something genuinely creative that addresses the problem. When things start to slow down or you start to get low on time, give a warning for a couple minutes left rather than just abruptly stopping the brainstorming. You could even say, "We've got about two minutes left, let's see how many more we can come up with."

Step 3 Sift Through Proposed Ideas: Try to identify even parts of ideas that might work. You might say things like "This is interesting. Here's my concern..." Kids can often surprise you with novel ideas that might work when they're brought in on the solution. You might circle ideas and parts of ideas that look worth giving a go. You can draw a line through ideas that aren't going to be part of the solution.

Step 4 Put Together a Plan for a Trial Run: The good news is that this doesn't have to be foolproof. It only needs to be an option that everyone involved is worth giving a try to see what works and what doesn't.

Steps 5 Evaluate and Readjust Accordingly: You likely already have the gist of this. Once you've given it a trial run, it is time to get together and talk about what is working and what is not. You then go back to Step 1, or wherever it makes the most sense to resume and try again. Rinse and repeat.

Some benefits of collaborative problem solving:
  1. The nature of using visuals, especially when larger, is that the problem is experienced as something that you can "get perspective" on. There are lots of technical cognitive psychological reasons for this that I cover over at GTDtimes, but in short, writing things down or drawing is like adding extra RAM to our brains. People who problem solve for a livng rarely do it without using some sort of visual or writing down.
  2. Problem solving is like other complex skills such as learning a language or learning to play an instrument. You get better at it by actually doing it.
  3. Collaborative problem solving models a way of handling problems that your child/teen can use in all sorts of other situations.
  4. Collaborative problem solving puts you both on the same side of the bargaining table, so to speak. You are less apt to end up in adversarial positions.
  5. Kids who are included in thinking hard about solutions, esp when they are kids who often resist adult guidance, are less apt to oppose you as they are when they feel like you are arbitrarily coming up with consequences. This is esp true if they feel like you are doing so out of anger or frustration.
  6. Because of all of the above, even when dealing with difficult problems families experience the process as bringing them closer together.
Parents I talk to about this tend to either immediately see possibilities, or they have some concerns about the process. Here are a couple common concerns.

But my child won't cooperate with this. He'll just sabotage it. Well that could be true, but what you're doing, and what you've tried before presumably weren't working. You can also offer a choice if a kid is being less than cooperative with the process. "Sam I'm wanting to try out getting you in on the solution here. If you're not willing to help out with solving this, what's your guess on the alternative I'm left with?" (up and out of the kid).

I shouldn't have to do this mamby pamby approach to parenting. Why can't I just punish him for what he did? Well the answer is that you can. I am only proposing this as one way to handle the second phase of saving the words for the happy times. My idea is that you are going to do best as a parent when you have a wide array of ways of handling problems. We'll only cover a few the possibilities over for the 2nd phase in this series, but over time at Awareness * Connection, you'll see a good deal of the array of possibilities. I only present collaborative problem solving here because it is broadly adaptable. There are times when I think a natural consequence (as opposed to punishment) is more in order than collaborative problem solving. Often which route you go is simply an intuitive choice or a value judgment on the part of the parent. I don't know any parent though who's learned how to use collaborative problem solving that has later regretting having it up their sleeve as another option.

Experiment with this. And before long I'll have our last installment of Save the Words for the Happy times where I'll cover a couple more methods for dealing with the problem at hand.

In the meantime have any of you experimented with something along these lines? How did it go?

If you enjoyed this article please vote for it on Digg, above, or Netscape or one of the other options below. You can also bookmark the site to the right. I appreciate your support.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Guest Post Over at Parent Talk Today

I've recently added a link to a very useful parenting site Parent Talk Today  by a friend, Kathy Sena, a seasoned journalist that covers parenting, lifestyle, women's issues and more for magazines you'll recognize like Women's Day and Family Circle, and for newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times. You'll notice that I haven't yet linked to any other parenting sites since I'm a bit picky about whose stuff I "sign off on". 

Anyway, Kathy recently posted about an article by a friend of hers from the L.A. Times, "Should We Pay Our Kids to Learn?" I commented on the article and got a bit long winded and my comment ended up a few paragraphs long. Kathy is the kind of friend you want to have...instead of asking me not to clutter up her site with article length comments, she creatively turned my pontification about how we motivate kids to learn into a guest post. So here's a good excuse to head over and check out her site.

Squidoo Page on Raising Your Credibility with Your Child

I heard from one of the website effectiveness folks I have a lot of respect for, Sonia Simone over at Remarkable Communication, that Squidoo is a worthwhile format to invest a little time into. It essentially is a way to build little mini websites on any area of expertise that you have. I came up with a page to give Squidoo a trial run. I must say that I do enjoy the format and the intuitive tools to build with. I was able to put something together in short order that I think turned out pretty well.  

The Squidoo page on cooperation that I came up with has some nice, practical tools for raising your credibility with your kids so that when you need them to follow your lead for their best interest, they are more likely to be able to do that. 

Do any of you Squidoo? Stop by and let me know what you think of the page. If you do Squidoo, let us know in the comments below what your pages are about. When you're done, if you do any blogging, have a website, or are curious about how to communicate effectively and persuasively, especially for marketing purposes, check out Sonia's site. I'll be surprised if you don't enjoy yourself over there.

Save the Words for the Happy Times, Next Installment

Just a quick post to let you know that Part III of Save the Words for the Happy Times should be up by Monday, and possibly as early as later today depending on how the weekend plays out. It is a busy one. I know a couple of you had mentioned looking forward to the next post. Hope the first week of school went well for all of you. More soon.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Save the Words for the Happy Times, Part II: Circling Back

We looked last time in Part I at what you might do right in the moment in the moment to avoid the flood of words that can come during difficult situations with your child. We could think of there being two phases to saving the words for the happy times. There's the not sayin' much phase during the difficult moment, and then there is the second phase, which is what you do say and do during the "happy times". Or as I like to say, when you circle back.

Note: As it it turns out this has morphed into a four part series rather than the two I originally planned. The second phase has a few different directions it can take and I think at least three of them deserve a closer look so they're detailed enough for you to use.

"Save the Words..." Origin
Incidentally, the title to this two parter is a mnemonic phrase used by Jim Fay of the Love and Logic Institute. I think by "Save the words for the happy times' Jim largely meant to communicate the concept I'm calling the Attention Principle. If you're doing lots of talking when things are aren't going well, you are inadvertantly reinforcing behaviors you would like to see less of, but that because you're pouring on the words, you are going to see more of.

I like his phrase because it is brief and easy to remember. It sticks. But it does elide the fact that you can save the words not only for the happy times, but also for "neutral" or even just "more neutral" times. Beyond the avoiding inadvertent reinforcement the attention principle predicts, it also give the brain a bit of time to cool off. And finally and just as importantly as the others, it gives you time to think. When we make decisions in the heat of the moment as parents we're going to see painful, smoking bullet holes through our shoes more often than we'd like.

Finding Out What Happened and Re-Connecting (Empathy)
So assuming we manage to keep our words brief and not do a lot of talking when our kid is acting in a challenging way, what are we going to do when we circle back?

Your first best bet, however you decide to proceed is find out more about what was going on. Let's say the situation was that your tween was on the computer and when you asked her to get off. She did, but started screaming at you about how mean you are and slammed a couple of things around on her way to her room.

That is done best with a bit of empathy. "Looks like you were pretty ticked at me when I asked you to get off the computer," can be a nice way to start off. Asking your child to tell you about what was going on with her is a good idea. Sometimes if she's reluctant, we can provide a little help by taking a guess or two about how she experienced it. "So was part of it that you were frustrated that what you were focused on was being interrupted. You were really into your game?"

Checking In
Check in with your child to see if they think you've got the gist of how they experienced the interaction. If they don't think you've got it, I'd suggest a couple of repetitions. Ask them to explain again, and then see if you can communicate back to them what it was that they said. Most kids soften considerably when they get the sense that you are are really trying to understand. I've seen many kids go from completely withdrawn and angry to genuinely talking about what was going on with them.

Usually when she sees that you really get what was going on with her at the time, she is willing to hear out what you have to say with a lot more willingness. And sometimes after hearing what was going on with our kids, we legitimately see things differently than we did at the moment when all that seemed to be in our field of vision was disrespect and insolence. This isn't too surprising when it happens because when we're not in the heat of the moment, our frontal cortex comes back online.

Where to Go From Here
Often though even when we do see what the incident or interaction was like for our child, there is more to talk about, and some instances where something needs to be done. These options can range from you just letting them know what the interaction was like for you; to doing some preventative collaborative problem solving; to applying a consequence. Often the best solutions end up being blends of the three.

So in Parts III and IV we will look at some of the common options for the second phase of Saving the Words for the Happy Times after we've done the initial reconnecting. Don't miss out on these. They've saved my hide as parent, teacher and as a parent coach more often than I can count.

If you enjoyed this article please vote for it on Digg, above, or Netscape or one of the other options below. You can also bookmark the site to the right. I appreciate your support.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Awareness * Connection Now Listed on AllTop, Shooting for 9Rules

I am was very pleased to find out that Awareness * Connection is now listed over in the parenting section by the good folks at AllTop. Just below my "Other Destinations" links you can find their badge to drop by and visit. It is an ingenious alphabetical listing that includes the feeds for the five posts for any blog listed. So it is wonderful place to catch up on the topic of your choice. I often head over to find out what is going on in the world of GTD at AllTop. One handy feature I really enjoy about he design of their site is that bar that you see going across toward the bottom in the pic above always stays where it is no matter how you scroll, so you are always one easy click away from the main alphabetical listing. Give it a spin sometime. And where did the ingenuity come from? Well one of the three owners is Guy Kawasaki who was one of the original players over at Apple involved with launching the original Mac. He has a very hot book out called The Art of the Start about getting new businesses and projects off the ground. As a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and given key posts at Apple he's got some expertise to share. 

Next I'm hoping Awareness * Connection will be listed on another ingenious blog network called 9Rules. Their small green banner is over on the side along with the AllTop one. What I'm shooting for though is their official badge, which is identical to their logo over on their home page at 9Rules. It is awarded by invitation following one of their three 24 hour submission windows annually. These guys know how to build blogging buzz. Sept 3rd is the big day where I find out if Awareness * Connection has made the cut this round. Since they are content, as opposed to web design, focused in selecting network members, I'm feeling hopeful.

Save the Words for the Happy Times, Part I: Creating a Pause

By Nature We Tend to Talk Most When It Helps Least

When do we pour on the words with the most intensity as parents? With the most energy and flourish? Often it is when things are going the worst. When we're irritable. When we're frustrated. When the kids are acting up. That's when the words flow with no effort. Often our words take the form of lectures. We've touched before on how lectures are chock full of You're Not Capable Messages. Also you've likely noticed the way that our kids' eyes start to glaze over when we've moved into lecturing mode. Or they get snippy or comply, but so slowly they reel us into getting more upset. Part of the reason for this is explained by the Attention Principle: Any behavior we react to with energy, attention or emotion, we will see more of. The flood of words inevitably leads to the interaction spiraling downhill from there.

Creating a Pause
So what can we do instead? Lets look first at when we're in the moment, and in Part II we'll look at how to circle back when we're much more likely to be effective. In the moment though, take some slow deep breaths. There's no replacement for doing that as a parent. It serves much like having a biological dimmer switch that takes the edge off our frustration, and our sense that something must be done "right this second", which is almost never actually the case. In fact if there were only one skill that I could help my clients with, it would be simply learning how to create a pause before acting or talking when things are going poorly.

Second, take care of the issue at hand with brevity. Often enforceable statements can serve well in keeping our talk brief. The combination of things not going well, and lots of words from us rarely equals our kids doing better. So keep the words as brief and to the point as you can. This keeps us from inadvertently making things worse.

Third, avoid making decisions in the heat of the moment that could be made later. If our child has done something that warrants a consequence of some sort, and we're feeling really irritated or angry, it is far better for everyone concerned to say something like, "We're going to need to do something about this. I need to take a break right now though. I'll get back to you." It is when we make decisions in the heat of the moment that we often come up with consequences that are overblown. And doling out an excessive consequence only to reduce it, especially if it happens often, reduces your credibility. Letting your child know that something is going to happen, but that you need to give it some thought first often makes whatever the consequence turns out to be more effective. More on that in another post.

Emotional Flooding
Keep in mind that when we're frustrated or angry we lose 10 to 15 IQ points. Sometimes we're even aware in the moment that what we're doing isn't helping, but we just keep going. When we know though in the moment that we're going to circle back and do something later when it is more effective, that in itself can make it a lot easier to put the brakes on. Things don't feel so overwhelmingly urgent.

Allowing some time to pass gives the brain a chance to cool off a bit. Most of us have had the experience, often in a couples interaction, of trying to approach the problem too soon after the initial argument, thinking we're cooled off enough to come back to it. But then WHAM we pop right back down into angry mode. We come by this honestly. The brain often takes hours to cool off, to get out of it's chemical funk, rather than minutes. Giving the situation some time and distance will greatly increase the odds that we're going to be able to be effective with our kids.

In Part II we'll look at some of the options when we circle back to address the problem that help kids shift into problems solving mode. These options help kids to be able to view their behavior more objectively and gives them a much better chance to take responsibility for their behaviors.

If you enjoyed this article please vote for it on Digg, above, or Netscape or one of the other options below. You can also bookmark the site to the right. I appreciate your support.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My GTD Article Selected by Whakate as Best Blog Post of July for GTDtimes

Hey good news for a relatively new blogger, your truly. My article "Ancient Cheating and a Modern Twist" that I wrote in July for the personal productivity site GTDtimes was selected for Best Blog Picks for July by the international life design blog , Whakate (A word from New Zealand, of Maori origin, meaning “to squeeze out” or “get the essence out of” something). Life design I think is a wise choice to get away from the cheesier asssociations with "self-improvement". The article is about two powerful benefits of writing things down on cognitive function, writin' stuff down makes you even smarter.

So here is their listing for Best (Blog Post) Picks for July '08. I am a ways down the page in the personal productivity section under GTDtimes, right above Merlin Mann's 43Folders article on email. Take that Merlin. I enjoy that fact even though I somehow doubt the Merlin is feeling threatened just yet. So my thanks to the folks at Whakate.

Photo courtesy of Timothy K. Hamilton over at Flickr

Sunday, August 24, 2008

One Year Ago on Awareness * Connection: Helping Your Child with Back to School Anxiety

After today, only one day of summer left for my daughter. Hard to believe it's already slipped by. New beginnings are always a bit of a challenge for her, as they were for me. I've done much better as an adult with work that fluctuates according to the seasons than I did with an on/off schedule like school was. So for me seeing what going back to school is like for Hannah isn't all that big a jump empathy wise. Any of us with two kids, or who've closely observed kids, understands what the research has to say. Children are very different from one another from day one on at least nine different measures of how they react to stimuli and how they regulate their emotions (before learning or parenting has a chance to affect the measures). When our kids have temperament profiles that are quite a bit different from ours, it can take a bit more work to see things from their perspective.

Having someone "get" who we are and what we are experiencing is one of the most important things to us in life. If we are surrounded by people who "get" us, our lives tend to be much happier. We also need at least one supportive relationship in our history in order for us to be relatively psychologically healthy.

It can be a good exercise to think back to a time when we went through something emotionally difficult as a child where our parents or caregivers weren't able to give us the empathy that would have been helpful. Can you remember what that was like? Experiencing a difficult emotion and feeling like you were on your own with it? What could the adult in your life have done or said that might have been helpful? All of us had those experiences where the adult was unable to be as helpful as we could have used. Fortunately, children don't need perfect parenting to do well in life. It is about what the pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnecott called good enough parenting. Our children don't need a completely supportive environment to turn out okay, just enough of one.

On the practical side, what we can do if our child expresses some reservation about school is 1) Listen, 2) Clarify and 3) Run by them your understanding of their experience. Then repeat steps one and two until they feel like you've more or less got it. The easy mistake for us to make is to respond to our children's reservations or distress by giving advice right off the bat. "You don't need to worry. After the first couple days you'll be used to your new teacher." Even if the advice is good advice, if our kids don't sense that we understand how they're feeling, the advice can feel dismissive.

If you've ever had a friend do this to you, you know that's usually not what we hunger for when we're having a hard time with something in life. If you do run through those three steps with your child though, when you do have any practical suggestions for how they might cope, they will be much more able to hear the suggestions and maybe even use a couple of them. What it boils down to often is our being able to be with them in their distress for a moment. See Our Most Important Job post a couple of posts back about this being one of our central challenges as parents.

Remember we don't always need to get this right, but it is worth shooting for an increase in how often we can meet our kids emotionally this way. It is one way to keep the connection open with them that at times can their lifeline.

If you enjoyed this article please vote for it on Digg, above, or Netscape or one of the other options below. You can also bookmark the site to the right. I appreciate your support.

One Year Ago on Awareness * Connection: First Day of School Ritual

Today's the day. New sneakers, more carefully done hair than usual, new supplies...though we can't seem to locate the new lunchbox.

We have a tradition of taking a picture in the front yard every first day of school. A friend of ours takes one in the exact same spot every year, just like her parents did when she was a girl. It is really neat looking through the photo album from when the mother was a girl. Since she's always standing next to the same front gate you can see the changes in height and in her face from year to year from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Family rituals like that are a nice way to mark certain times as special, and to mark time as we move through life. Like our unique ways of celebrating birthdays and holidays, they can be a nice source of connection and meaning. Anything regular like a family ritual also is helpful for those kids who tend to feel a bit more anxiety when starting school. The familiarity of the ritual can be grounding for them.

I like the practice, which I don't recall happening as a kid, of starting the first week midweek, so the transition is a bit less traumatic. Three days and you're through your first week. Good luck to everyone with the the first day. Here's to a new year with new opportunities.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Mark Twain on Adolescence

"When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

Mark Twain

Friday, August 22, 2008

What Web 2.0 Says About Human Beings

What strikes me about web 2.0 is that traditional economic models wouldn’t have predicted it. Why would people, for instance, work really hard writing blogs with no monetary compensation?

Turns out that people have a much stronger drive toward self-expression and connection that the “rational self-interest” models would have predicted. And I think that is a wonderful thing to have the latest technology reveal about human beings in our face paced information era.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hamsterbilities: Preparing Kids for Responsibilty

My daughter Hannah is 8 years old and wants a hamster, bad-like. I've posted before about Bargaining on the Front End. This is about a specific version of that.

There are few areas around the house that need some improvement before we're ready to add a hamster to the mix. A couple of them involve taking care of the dog we already have. Another is Hannah cleaning up after herself when grabbing a snack or doing an art project. One other example is eating what she decides to from dinner without complaining about what is served.

We could go ahead and get the hamster, and ask her to promise to improve these areas, and then just hope she does. She's on the cusp of being ready. But if we did we'd rob Hannah of an opportunity to demonstrate that she's capable of taking care of her responsibilities. We'd also be modeling that in life you get the things you want first, and then work out the responsibilities later—that's certainly not how we will be doing things with driving. So why not be consistent and start now.

If we did get her the hamster and just hoped it went well, and it turned out not to, we'd likely feel some resentment. Another option I can think of would be to get tough and say, "If you don't start taking care of your responsibilities around here, you're not getting a hamster!" But phrasing it that way verges on an embedded You're Not Capable Message.

What can we do instead? We phrase it along the lines of "We're looking forward to seeing you enjoy having your own hamster as soon as you've shown us you're ready...and you're getting pretty close. " We collaboratively came up with a list of the responsibilities around the house that will demonstrate that she's ready for having her own pet to take care of, which together we decided to call Hamsterbilities. A term I don't think I'll ever be able to forget.

Now when she says, "How long until I get my hamster?" We can say, "Let's check out your Hamsterbilities chart and see how it's going." We then get out the chart and look at each of the agreed upon areas. We decided to rate them from 0 to 3. Zero being not taking care of a responsibility at all on up to three where she's really got it down. We decided together that she's going to need twos or above. Now she's getting accurate feedback on how she's doing. And the decision for when she gets the hamster becomes less arbitrary, and more associated with how she's handling her responsibilities around the house. Also by looking at a chart together side by side, it doesn't feel to her like it is us "just deciding". Kids tend to view things like this Hamsterbilities chart as a relatively objective, third party source of information. I can guarantee that is not how she'd view it if we just told her why we thought she wasn't there yet. There's some magic in that side by side evaluating of something together.

How's it going? Well she's closing in on her fuzzy little prize. And when she makes it, which looks to be soon, she's going to experience a real sense of accomplishment and she'll definitely be set for the ups and downs of hamster ownership. And the downs as well as the ups are all part of the learning and are part of what make a child taking responsibility for a pet meaningful.

If you enjoyed this article please vote for it on Digg, above, or Netscape or one of the other options below. You can also bookmark the site to the right. I appreciate your support.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reference: The Attention Principle

I had to define this for another post, and it deserves its own post at minimum for now.

The Attention Principle:
Any behaviors which we react to with energy, attention or emotion, we tend to see more of.

This principle explains why yelling, reminders, and even excessive "helpful" explaining yield the counter intuitive result of more of the same problematic behavior.

This principle is worth several posts in the future, but I wanted it up here for reference in the meantime. If you want a longer description of it for now, you can find that on p. 3 of this handout from my practice website.

The Preschool Whisperer

I've had more than one client spontaneously refer to Caesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer on National Geographic in reference to staying calm when interacting with preschool aged children. Both of these parents, and I as well, are clear that working with dogs is not the same as working with kids. But there is a powerful metaphor available in thinking about Caesar. On his show he frequently refers to the idea of Calm, Assertive Energy, as way of being around dogs that helps them to calm down and follow his lead. In very brief interactions with a problem, aggressive dog, you can often see the change in the dog's body language seconds after he enters the scene. The dog is in tune with the way he carries himself.

This Caesar metaphor nicely captures a concept that I've had a clear image in my mind about how it looks, but have some trouble communicating. I think the folks at Love and Logic have had the same challenge. It is much easier to describe the techniques than it is to capture the subtle way of being with kids, yet I think the idea is essential.

After reading some of Wayne Dyer's older books I adopted for some time his phrase of "quietly effective" practices. You'll notice one of the pdf handouts on the Enjoy Parenting Again site is titled Quietly Effective Techniques for Working with Preschoolers and Toddlers. 

This idea of calm-assertiveness is a state of mind in which you are responsive, but not reactive. Where you hold yourself in a way that communicates to the child that "I can handle the situation and help you, and I can even handle you if needed." This way of holding one's self helps kids to be calmer and to feel safer, especially when they are melting down. Often instead we can become reactive or aggressive sounding. But this "I've had it" stance communicates something very different, along the lines of "I'm not really in control here. I'm powerful, but just barely managing myself." When kids are around this they often feel unsafe and act out even more. Or the attention principle comes into play.

More on this in future posts. For now I'll just say that my clients have been the source of many powerful ideas I've come across. This is one I'll be hanging onto. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

David Allen Stopped By...

I am experiencing a "Holy Smokes" moment right now. I just stopped by at the comments section of my latest article at the GTDtimes, which is about how...

...the smartest people are the ones that realize that they have a big, powerful, dumb part of themselves that has a whole lot to do with what they do. They structure their lives in a very intelligent way that manages the dumb and powerful part. The dumb people think they're smart all the time.

I was just checking in to see if any new comments had popped up. I do this from time to time as the notification system for whatever reason only works inconsistently. And sure enough there is a new comment there...but it is by...get ready for it...David Allen. Really.

For anyone who is not a GTDer (I won't be mean and say, who lives in a cave), this would be a bit like having a Mac zealot write a blog entry about some thoughts on the Mac OS. And suddenly Steve Jobs drops by to say, "Hey, nice write up. I enjoyed your ideas. Let's touch base sometime." And you rub your eyes, and it's actually still Steve Jobs.

So have a peek at the Big Kahuna's comment and enjoy my moment with me. And by the way, the part in italics is not my summary of my article. That is David Allen's thumbnail of it from the comment he left. It's always nice to get a reader who gets the gist of your article. But you don't really expect to have the guy whose extraordinarily successful system you're writing about stop by to say hello, much less to have clearly read your piece. That's not to say I didn't have a very distant hope for it...but I certainly didn't expect it.

And it's nice when life drops these unexpected moments in your lap from time to time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Merlin Mann and the 90 second GTD Primer

I don't usually just provide a link to a posting, but this one by Merlin Mann on GTD contexts was stellar for its brevity, wit and usefulness. It includes a 90 second GTD overview—very handy in and of itself, an exploration of why GTD contexts are so damn useful, and a quip that made me actually laugh out loud. If that isn't enough to warrant a link to another post, I don't know what would be. 

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Second Children Change How Parents View Parenting

Many people have noticed the tendency for parents to lighten up quite a bit after their first child. With our first born we tend to be tentative and err toward over-caution. I often hear the explanation for the change in behavior that the parents realized that their first child turned out okay despite the bumps and scrapes both figurative and literal. They've discovered that babies and children are pretty hearty, and treading on eggshells isn't required.

The thought occurred to me today that I think it goes a bit further than this. It has to do with this notion that I heard that first-time parents tend to be big believers in nurture. Parents with later-born children tend to be believers in nature. That is, they realize that very important traits central to who their children are that are not at all determined by how they were parented. When the second child arrives, they notice that she is often completely different in traits ranging from how easily startled the child is to how she responds to new stimuli. So this realization can occur within hours of the birth of the second child. The parent realizes, "There was no time for parenting to bring about these traits in our newborn. There has to be something about the child herself that makes her different."

Of course the question of whether nature or nurture rules the roost of who our children become is a false one. The science is absolutely clear that both are at play. I do think though that our culture errs way too far these days on the side of believing that it is always the environment that is responsible for how the child turns out.

In an upcoming post, I will describe the nine dimensions of temperament, the traits that research has shown that we are born with, and that are not determined by our family of origin.

In the meantime, what traits does your children have that you suspect they were born with?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

iDog, and Up and Out of the Tween

My daughter has extended her ability to delay gratification. We give her an allowance weekly and we offered to match whatever she saved for a recent vacation she and her mother took. And she kept the bulk of her money in her pocket during the vacation and decided that she'd rather get her first iPod than collect souvenirs. I was very glad to see her pull that off. Delayed gratification is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence, and it is challenging to teach. 

Since she's only eight I'm happy that iPods now come with volume limiting capability, mainly to keep her from accidentally turning the iPod up way to loud. Those Nanos have touchy little click wheels these days. Also Hannah is not as good as some kids at monitoring that sort of thing carefully. 

Now here's the catch. She had some money left over and decided she had to get an iDog to go with her new mp3 player. Now I'm not quite as impressed with iDog as she is. He pretty much is simple robotic external speaker; produces light patterns on his muzzle to beat of music; and occasionally moves his head back and forth and wiggles his ears. That's iDog. So much for the delayed gratification piece. And for iDog to work, we've discovered, the volume on the iPod has to be cranked up way beyond the sub-half point we set on the volume limiter to preserve her hearing for future years. My hearing, by the way, isn't great, and she may be up against a genetic component too. 

I'm afraid when she's done with iDog one of these times, she'll put on those earbuds, blasting her hearing before I get a chance to reset the volume limit. It doesn't take too long to do some permanent damage. So at this point, my options seem to be  1) ban iDog,  2) throw my hands up in the air and say to myself "I guess she's almost a teen. Whaddaya gonna do?" or 3) lecture her on how delicate hearing is—try to impress upon her how important it is to make sure that she always brings one of us the iPod immediately after using it with iDog, so we can reset the volume limit again.

At 8 years old she has been cultivating that tween skill of giving off disgusted facial expressions when she doesn't like what is being said. The up side is that I have a lecture early warning sign telling me when what I'm saying just isn't likely to sink in. One of the best things I know of to help in this situation is Up and Out of the Kid. It isn't that far off from lecturing, but it is different enough that it improves on it in a couple of ways. The first way is by changing my tone so that she is better able to hear what I have to say. When we lecture, we have a tendency to lapse into being condescending. If we start catching the eye rolls and facial expressions, it can rapidly go downhill from there. We get triggered, and out it rolls: "If you're not willing to listen to me about this without the attitude, maybe you're just not ready to have an iPod." So we're off to threats, and the unstated, embedded message we send is You're Not Capable.

So with Up and Out of the Kid, I try for something more along these lines. "So Hannah, if you forget to bring us the iPod and you end up with the volume too loud, for too long, what could happen?"
"It could ruin my ears"
"Yeah. And if that happened, how long would your hearing be hurt for?"
"It could be hurt forever"
"So after you use iDog, what do you always need to do?"
"Bring you my iPod so you can do the noise thingy [volume limiter]"
"Good thinking.  And if you're not remembering to do that, what do you think we'll need to do?"
"Not let me use my iPod."
"Right. You'd be taking a break from it for a bit. So is that something it would help to write yourself a note about, or is that something that you could just remember on your own. What is your thinking on that?"
"I can remember." [self given You're Capable Message]
"That would be great. I bet you can too."

Up and Out of the Kid is not perfect, but in my mind it beats lectures and threats by a long shot. One of the advantages is that instead of bouncing off Hannah's cranium, which is what seems to happen when I lapse into lecturing, the ideas come up and out of her nervous system. And by definition that increases the odds that she's actually going to remember to do what she's saying. Also, you'll notice lots of my saying "Right" and "Good thinking" in these sorts of conversations. Where the unstated message of a lecture is, "You're not very sharp, so I'd better spell it out for you." the embedded message in a conversation using Up and Out of the Kid is more along the lines of, "This is important stuff. And I bet when you give it some thought you'll know how to handle it." An added bonus is that since by answering my question she stated the likely logical consequence of not bringing me the iPod, she is not going to be too shocked if that comes to pass. She'd still get hacked at me, but not in the same way since she was able to predict what would happen herself. 

I'm betting she'll do well with this. God they grow up fast. 

This is Your Elephant on GTD. Any Questions?

I was going to forgo posting this feature article I wrote for the GTDtimes, but I've been getting a good response to it over there so I thought it deserved a brief mention here. Though the piece is aimed at Getting Things Done, it actually is about essential knowledge for acquiring any complex skill

The article is about the way that our automatic and unconscious processes tend to wander off in a different direction than the goals we deliberately se, and that we may very much want to achieve. Our conscious desire to learn the skill is like the rider on an elephant. And the unconscious part that keeps us from going to the gym or from using a new parenting skill, even when we fully intend to follow through, is like an elephant the rider is perched upon. The only way this gigantic beast can be influenced is by training and repetition, as it very much has a "mind of its own". And getting angry with it or berating it is pointless.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Why Stating If/Thens in the Positive is Essential to Your Relationship

I've posted before about the importance of enforceable statements, stating the conditions under which you will do, provide or allow a child to do something. By definition enforceable statements are stated in the positive. An example would be, "You're welcome to head outside as soon as your room is clean." We've focused in the past on how these statements increase adult credibility because they are actually enforceable (as contrasted with "Don't you talk to me in that tone of voice", which is much less enforceable). This time let's take a look at how framing your if/then or when/then statements in the positive affects your relationship with your child.

The Difference Between the Two
When things aren't going smoothly, or when we are rushed, we are much more likely frame our requests and commands in the negative So the enforceable statement about the room above goes downhill to become "You're not going outside, unless you get that room cleaned."

The puzzling thing about it is that in the two examples, stated in the negative and then in the positive, the limit being set is exactly the same one. You could say that the statements are logically equivalent. Though they are setting the exact same limit, framing the statement in the negative undermines your relationship with your child in a huge number of way. Let's look at a few.

When an if/then statement is put in the negative, it sounds like a threat. Think about how you feel when someone threatens you. The hair stand up on the back of your neck, and you want to defy the person issuing it. You might even resolve to get back at them. Needless to say when your child hears a threat, it becomes much harder for your child to comply. And when used frequently she will be much more likely to need to struggle with you over control in other areas, even unimportant ones.

Command Avalanche
Whether you make your if/then statements in the negative or positive has a compounded effect over time. I think it is easy for us to forget just how much kids have to put up with adults setting limits for them. And don't get me wrong, I'm all for adults setting reasonable limits for kids. Kids need them. But lets pause and consider (or even remember) what that's like. They have to listen to parents, teacher and other adults throughout their day telling them when they can eat, that they have to be quiet, that they can't play yet, that it's time to clean up now, and on and on.

The point is that when you add up all these commands, the positive manner of phrasing them leaves your child focused on the options at hand. They sound more like the world is filled with opportunities, and they have choices to make. It helps them to behave more responsibly and feel more capable: "Feel free to dig into those cookies, as soon as your lunch is finished." On the other hand, when stated in the negative, the child ends up with what must feel like an avalanche of threats, constraints and negativity. "If you don't get that desk clean, you're not going to recess", "If you don't finish your dinner, no chocolate milk for you."

The Embedded Message We Want to Avoid
This last point is an important one. Kids respect adults who can warmly set reasonable limits with them. They feel safe and protected knowing what their limits are. When they hear limits set in the negative, the underlying message they seem to get, even when we don't intend it that way, is "I don't like you all that much, you're not very capable, and I certainly don't want you enjoying anything in life." The piece about wanting them to enjoy themselves, within the limits of responsible behavior is a biggie. Teens are very apt to see adults as wet blankets as it is. It is part of the process of individuation, to a point. Talking to our kids by phrasing things in the negative from early on though makes the waters more troubled, and sets you sailing in them sooner than you need to.

The negative command tick is a challenging habit to break. See my article at GTDtimes about elephant training to understand why that is, AND what you can do to make your success much more likely. Also see this previous post on seven tips for mastering new interpersonal skills.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Making Fun

I came across this parody site, Done Getting Things, the other day and enjoyed it thoroughly. It lampoons a range of productivity sites, mostly GTD themed ones, from the Zen varieties to de-cluttering oriented ones. One of the ones I enjoyed most was Annihilate Mr. Procrastination with your Zen Tank. Also worthy of mention is Declutterization 101A—5 Ways to Declutter Your Life. Just the unnecessarily convoluted redundant title was enough to make me smile.

I hope they keep posting more content here. Enjoy. 

Thursday, July 31, 2008

GTDtimes Article: Ancient Cheating and a Modern Twist

I was surprised this morning to see my second article already posted over at the GTDtimes, exploring how writing can be used to "cheat, and increase our cognitive capacities in two different ways, both powerful.  David Allen often refers to this as clearing out our "psychic RAM". I mentioned previously that I am pleased to have been taken on as a regular contributor to their well known productivity blog.

Image courtesy of "cheetleys" over at Flickr

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Easier or More Difficult?

I've talked before about how I think that Getting Things Done and Love and Logic function in similar ways by helping to distill the chaotic into the manageable. Getting Things Done does its distilling magic in areas from tracking and paying bills, to managing work projects, to planning birthday parties. Love and Logic does its transformation with everything from having heart to hearts with your child, handling the stolen item found in the backpack, to teaching kids about demonstrating some appreciation for their parent's contributions around the household. Because I think they are doing some sort of similar process, I would predict that you're going to find some ideas from each model that apply to the other. Well here's one that I've noticed that comes from David Allen. He says that implementing GTD is both easier and more difficult that you would respect.

"...both easier AND more difficult than you would expect"
David Allen

Now that is a bit of a paradox, AND I think its true. It is likely true of each model in similar ways. The easiest part has to do with what David Allen calls advanced common sense. Like with Love and Logic people say to him from time to time, "Well this is just common sense." And they are simultaneously right and wrong. It is common sense. Take for example always identifying a next action for any item on what would be more commonly called your To Do list. Once you get in the habit of it, it really does come to make sense and you might wonder how you used to do without it. The part that is wrong is the "just" in the sentence. It is common sense, but not just common sense. David Allen uses the term "advanced common sense" to describe it. I pointed out in a my first post over at GTDtimes that social psychologists might be more apt to call it hindsight bias, the illusion that what you know now, you must have known all along. Or there's a corollary I've added, which is What I know now must have always been very easy to come up with. Well, maybe not. But the fact is that we very rarely if ever do come up with these models on our own. And though we often do it, it doesn't really make much sense to hold ourselves or others accountable for information they couldn't have had at the time. This is a very common phenomenon with Love and Logic. I hear parents make similar statements all the time along the lines of "It only makes sense" or "I can't believe I didn't think of that.

So the easier part I think is that the principles are pretty straight forward. They aren't terribly complex. In fact that is actually part of the beauty of both models. You don't have to memorize ultra complex procedures, and when you break down the ideas, virtually anyone can get them. How about the more difficult part? What is more difficult than we might expect is that given how the ideas are relatively easy to grasp, it is surprisingly more difficult to put them into action that you might expect.

This has to do with why I was taken on as a contributor over at GTDtimes. Part of what the executive editor is wanting me to provide for readers is how our brains interface with the Getting Things Done model. In other words, what about cognitive psychology might explain why the principles work as they do. The reason things are more difficult comes largely down to two things. First it comes down to neural plasticity, which is neurospeak for the way that our brains change as you learn. The fact is that learning is a physiological process. And much of that learning actually takes time to chemically and neurologically alter the brain so that that learning stays long term.

A hugely common phenomenon is in coaching is that parents are surprised when they understood a principle in session, and were excited about it, but then they go home and do the same old ineffective thing and just yell at the kids, for instance. To me it is predictable, because I know that it just takes time, and one other key ingredient, repetition. Now lots of different things can work as repetition. First, they could hear about the technique several times in several different contexts. Often I encourage parents to listen to CDs about the Love and Logic techniques for exactly this reason. Another ways is by reflecting on what occurred when it doesn't go well and tying it in with the new learning. Another way to put this is to say that Awareness is the first step. I literally tell parents to expect that even though they fully got the concept of say, enforceable statements, to expect they will go home and blow it. That is why it is essential that they consider awareness progress. If they set the bar at going home and nailing right off the bat, the predictably run off the rails in short order.

So the good news is both programs are easier than you would expect. I've seen people transform their lives both in the areas of parenting and in "stress-free productivity". And the bad news isn't so bad. If you know the little bit about brains and learning that I just shared and you can fully accept that, it actually won't be much more difficult than you expect...or that's my prediction anyway.

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