I have spent the past several months deconstructing Heather’s parenting strategies. I was so inspired by her genius that I knew I had to share it with the world. So Heather and I decided to co-author a book, How to Raise a Happy Child (and be happy too): Modern Parenting Techniques that Work, which will be released later this year. Since the topic of parenting is so rich, we also decided to launch this website and blog, which you are reading now.
This post features one of the many techniques that will be in our book. It answers the question every parent wants to know: “How do I address my child’s disrespectful behavior in a way that works?”
I figured out Heather’s strategy by watching her eye movements. In literally about a nano-second her eyes darted to 4 different places – each place was a step in her mental process. The eyes are like a map of the brain and tracking eye movements is one of the best ways to slow down someone’s thought process. I’ll let her take it from here and explain:
Enter Heather Criswell:
When I am interacting with children I am aware of opportunities for teachable moments – for chances to connect with a child.
Recently Taryn and I were talking about how I guide children’s behavior. Until Taryn unpacked my strategy and thinking process, I was not consciously aware that I had such a rehearsed mental script for dealing with a child’s disrespectful behavior. These steps happen so fast in my mind, after so many years of practice, I had become completely unaware of my own strategy. All this time I just assumed it was intuition. It turns out my intuition has a structure. Who knew the steps in my process could be understood by tracking my eye movements?!
So let’s take an undesirable behavior as an example. Let’s say my young son just hit me out of anger and frustration. Here is exactly what I do, step-by-step:
1. I immediately ask myself: “Is this a behavior I can let go, or do I need to address it?”
This one is easy. It’s a “deal breaker” behavior for me. I need to address it. I don’t deserve to be hit by anyone.
2. I instantly recall a situation where my child was behaving completely opposite of what he is doing now.
I remember a moment when my child was loving and respectful. I remember his light and smile in that moment and hold it in my mind. As I hold that image of him, in my mind and heart I know my child is love and this behavior is not who he is. It is important for me to remember this so I can approach him in a loving state.
3. I now ask myself: “How can I connect with him?” Then I ask: “How can he hear what I need? How can I hear what he needs? How can we both get what we need from this situation?”
I recall a time I connected with my son and we both heard each other. I remember what I did in a previous situation where we connected. (Note: Connecting to me means putting any of my own anger or frustration aside and looking at each other eye-to-eye and connecting heart-to-heart.)
4. I then repeat that past strategy in this moment.
In this particular case, the best way for me to connect with my son is to have a moment of silence. Then I simply tell him, “I don’t deserve to be hit.” I ask him, “What do you need from me?” I then remind him, “If you want to hit something, you are welcome to hit the punching bag in your room.” (I direct the child to where it IS appropriate to demonstrate that particular behavior.)
5. The situation is now considered closed. It is free from shame, guilt or frustration.
We both have had an opportunity to be heard. We both know what to do next time we feel the same way.
[Taryn’s comment: Can you imagine what it would feel like as a child to have someone hold an image of you at your best and then address you with that image in mind and a feeling of total love for you? Can you imagine what it would feel like as an adult?! Secondly, can you imagine how much more effective your own parent (or boss or spouse) would be if they made sure they had an energetic connection with you before they addressed you? It sure beats yelling across the house, “Go clean your room!!!” I believe that the difference that makes a huge difference is Heather’s simple question to herself, “How can I connect with my child in this moment?” It drives her entire strategy. It drives HOW she talks with the child in a way the child can hear. She gets herself in a good emotional state - a state where she can connect with the child - by remembering a time when the child was great. This step puts her in a place of love so that when she talks with the child, the child feels her love and he wants to listen. Contrast that with what many people do, which is assume a position of authority and tell their child in a stern voice that they need to change their behavior.
Over the years Heather has built up a huge catalog of examples to draw from on how to connect with children and what to say in any given moment. Parents will be able to draw on their own catalog of examples of when their child at their best and when they connected successfully.]
Back to Heather for another example using this strategy….
I realized I use this same strategy, regardless of the undesirable behavior. For example, a couple of months ago my husband and I watched a friend’s 9-year old child, John, for a couple of days. John is sitting on our couch and demands brownies. He says, “Go get me some brownies.”
1. I immediately ask myself: “Is this a behavior I can let go or do I need to address it?”
This one is easy. It’s a “deal breaker” behavior. I need to address it. I deserve to be addressed with respect.
2. I instantly recall a situation when this child was behaving completely opposite of what he is doing now.
I remember a moment when John was loving and respectful. I remember John’s appreciation when we went to his favorite restaurant for lunch. As I hold that image of him, in my mind and heart I know this child is love and this behavior is not who he is. It is important for me to remember this so I can approach him in a loving state.
3. I now ask myself: “How can I connect with him?” I then ask: “How can he hear what I need? How can I hear what he needs? How can we both get what we need from this situation?”
We are not around this child often, so I have to add a step to my process. I pull from my mental catalog of the children I’ve worked with over the years. I remember a child from my school that reminds me of John and I recall a time I connected with this other child. (Note: Connecting to me means putting any of my own anger or frustration aside and looking at each other eye-to-eye and connecting heart-to-heart.)
4. I then repeat that past strategy in this moment.
In this particular case, I state what John CAN do with an unwavering energy and tone to my voice. I look John right in the eye, make sure we connect, and then use the following script
Me: “You are more than welcome to go get brownies if you want them.”
John: “Will you please go get me brownies?”
Me: “Let me be clear. If you would like some brownies, you are welcome to go get them yourself.”
John: “I’m going to go get some brownies.”
Me: “I think that is a great idea! I would do that too.”
6. The situation is now considered closed. It is free from shame, guilt or frustration.
We both have had an opportunity to be heard. We both know what to do next time we feel the same way. (Note: I didn’t have to tell him he was being dis-respectful, he knew exactly what he was doing. That’s why his second response added the word “please.“ As long as I stay clear and consistent, he gets it without words.)
That’s it. That’s what I do! Next time you have an opportunity, try this strategy out with a child in your life (or heck, even your spouse). It took me 20 years of practice to perfect my own technique. I’m sure your child will give you 20 years too! :-)