What do you do when someone you depend on must be gone and you have to pick up the slack? Typical scenarios when this happens include termination, vacation, downsizing or personal crisis.
To read the rest of this article from the Business First of Columbus, see:
Surviving crises while that crucial someone is gone
For example, Brad and Harry had been partners for years and depended on each other daily. When Brad’s father had a stroke and went into a coma, Brad’s work life stopped but Harry’s didn’t. Harry had to do both their tasks. But how could he complain when Brad rushed to be at his father’s side? Brad knew Harry would understand.
As days stretched into weeks, Harry became overwhelmed. But he certainly didn’t want his weaknesses to burden Brad, who had “more important” things on his mind.
Two articles have been stimulated by the publishing of Paul Tough’s new book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.” One is in the Wall Street Journal by Mr. Tough, “Opting Out of the 'Rug Rat Race'” and the other is by Joe Nocera in the New York Times, “Reading, Math and Grit.”
Both ask, “Which is more important to student success, character or cognitive skills, and what kind of interventions might help children succeed?
The whole idea behind this way of thinking is flawed. Parents who follow it will jump on a new fad and, once again, be overwhelmed by anxiety.
I challenge some of the ideas behind both the old and the new ways of thinking such as that:
One set of characteristics – either cognitive skills in math, language, science, etc. or personality/character traits like grit, persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, resilience, integrity, resourcefulness, professionalism and ambition – are much more important than the other.
We can figure out what all the factors are and assign percentages to each based on its contribution toward success. These factors will be reliable determinants of success.
We can improve the success rate of individuals by thinking and discussing ‘why” some children succeed while others don’t in terms of abstractions and generalizations such as “American parenting,” “affluent parents,” “parental anxiety,” “over-protective parents,” “permissive parents,” “character,” cognitive skills.”
We must actively intervene to ensure that our children learn the most important attributes. Based on the latest research, we can develop methods to teach these to all children so they’ll be successful.
When I think of what’s necessary for success, I think not of a list of factors with percentages of importance attached to each factor, but of a target with a bull’s eye in the center containing of all the abilities we want our children and ourselves to have. Did anyone really think that mastering cognitive skills without developing grit would lead to success? Or does anyone think the opposite now? Both areas are necessary and the appropriate mixture of characteristics depends on the individual.
In general, grit matters no matter what you do, but what it takes to succeed as a lawyer can be very different from what it takes to succeed as a genius programmer or a fashion designer. What it takes to succeed as a factory worker, a small business owner or a bus driver may be very different mixes. What it takes to participate in team activities and in individual activities can be different. What it takes to face harassment, bullying and abuse can be different depending on who’s doing it.
All these discussions are in the abstract and general. What we can do something about is in the moment-to-moment reality of us and our families.
How many of us really tried to keep our kids from experiencing any failure and disappointment? How many of us really covered up each of their mistakes and failures so that blame was never on the actions of our children? Most of us try to teach the lessons of life to our children.
Each child is different. Each child learns some particular lessons the hard way, while other kids get those same lessons immediately, but learn other lessons the hard way. And some just never seem to learn, no matter how hard we try. Most kids learn the universal lessons despite the times we mess up the opportunities to teach.
My conclusion about these ruminations is to stop thinking in abstractions and generalizations, stop trying to figure out the correct way that will guarantee success for an average person or a middle class person or an affluent person or a disadvantaged person. Instead, focus on our individual kids and ourselves.
We know the obvious – both grit/character/personality and cognitive skills matter. Which ones do we need to develop more? Which ones does each individual kid need to develop more? Which kids need to develop more grit? Which kids need to learn when to stop beating their heads against which brick walls?
We also know that if we protect our children from hurt, pain, mistakes, failures and realistic estimations of their talents, we’ll promote arrogance, weakness, hesitation and defeatism. Facing challenges is the only way we learn to face challenges and to overcome them and our weaknesses.
I’ve focused on middle and upper class parents and kids instead of disadvantaged kids because I think most of the people who read this blog fall into those categories. But I’d say the same to everyone.
Most self-help literature focuses on the last step of a sequence – on how to do something better. That’s why self-help books and workshops have titles such as “How to …” or “Best practices for …”
Knowing what to do and how to do it better are important. But that’s usually not the problem.
More often, the problem is the prior two steps before developing the skill: Developing the will to do something and then actually doing it.
I divide developing the will into two areas:
The mindset – Developing effective attitudes and beliefs to get started, and developing the will to treat all excuses and obstacles as just speed bumps.
The “heartset” – It means two things: Developing the determination, grit and tenacity to stick with it; and using the same emotional power we’ve utilized when we’ve relentlessly pursued something we’ve wanted, no matter how discouraging the voices, difficulties or obstacles.
The “how-to” steps for learning or improving skills usually are straightforward. People often already know what to do before they read self-help books.
For example, learning to strike up a conversation with a stranger at a conference is a big fear for many people. The how-to steps are well known: see the whole article for description.
Many people already know these steps – but just won’t put them into practice. So they must develop their mindset and heartset in order to implement a potentially effective plan.
Particularly for managers, the proper mindset and heartset are crucial to overcoming poor time management, negating the fear of giving honest evaluations and not being overwhelmed by too much pressure. Appropriate mindset and heartset are crucial in areas that can’t be squeezed into a how-to method any fool can follow – like leadership.
Appropriate mindsets and heartsets also are critical for people who want to lose weight and stay in shape. Most people know exactly what they need to do: Eat less, eat better, work out. But they have many good reasons why it’s too difficult.
Focus on the step that’s been an obstacle for you, and focus people you manage on the crucial step for them. Until you develop appropriate and effective mindsets and heartsets, the how-to training won’t be effective.
We seem to focus on the wrong questions; the “why” questions. And even worse, the questions that analyze generalized, abstract reasons for why mostpeople or why our society does something.
One of the latest in the long list of articles about how to be better parents – by being a Tiger Mom or a French Mom – is by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker, “Why are American Kids So Spoiled?”
Of course Kolbert gives examples of permissive American parents that raise nasty, narcissistic, self-indulgent, entitled, spoiled brats who harass, abuse and bully their parents. And then we can analyze why we parents raise them that way, and the plusses and minuses of raising kids permissively; or not expecting anything until they’ve understood the advantages of the behavior we want and they’re willing to put forth the effort to give it. And then we wring our hands at adults we see who are aging but still spoiled brats. And then we feel overwhelmed and helpless because we think our society is going downhill.
Ah, the false assumption that if we can figure out, objectively and dispassionately, what’s wrong, we can reason our way to the correct plan that will work for all reasonable people.
A better question is about what behavior each of us wants to demand from our kids and grandkids in a real, specific moment.
Every moment, we’re training our kids about what behavior is acceptable and what the consequences will be for falling below our standards of behavior – whether that’s disapproval, removal, or something else.
Training is more important than explaining.
My question is about specific individuals, situations and moments in time – what do we want to say and do with our kids at that moment? It’s not a “why” question. It’s a "what" question focused on the present and future, not on the past.
What reasons do we want to give to our kids for our standards and demands, when don’t we want give reasons in the moment, and when is their compliance expected whether or not they understand or agree with our reasons?
What immediate rewards and consequences do we want to have for their behavior?
As opposed to the misbehaving kids, who we’ve all seen, in Kolbert’s examples, I’ve seen many young kids behaving wonderfully in public – toward their parents as well as toward non-family members. Their parents have trained these kids and demanded good behavior from them, and the kids have accepted the standards.
We can usually get civil, polite, helpful behavior from our children and grandchildren if we’re willing to do the training.
We do know what we want and we don’t need the latest research studies to justify it. Also, we don’t need to spend our children’s whole childhood analyzing what’s right or begging them to act decently.
Nobody wants their children to be bullied. We all want responsible school officials to stop bullying at their schools. We all want other parents to teach their children not to be bullies. We all want other kids to be witnesses and defenders when necessary.
We all want the road smoothed for our children.
Of course we must do what we can to prepare the road with good enough laws and with clear requirements to hold school principals and district administrators accountable.
But since no amount of effort or number of laws against bullying in any of its forms – verbal, mental, emotional, physical, cyberbullying – will ever stop mean kids or their protective parents from bullying their targets, what can we do for our children?
Good parenting also requires us to prepare our children for the roads they’ll encounter.
Report to school officials but that’s only the second task.
For example, Tom came home complaining that some other kids called him names, mocked his clothes, belittled his taste in music and even put down the way his parents looked and dressed. His parents blew up and went to school the next day to have it out with the principal. Since they ranted and raved and wanted the kids beaten in public or at least thrown out of school, they got no where.
Then they focused all their energy on the road – they wrote angry letters to the media, organized other parents and tried to get the principal fired.
There will be jerks who target you, but that doesn’t make you a victim. Victims give in and give up. Victims feel isolated and helpless. Victims get depressed and commit suicide.
You’re okay; don’t take it personally. There’s nothing wrong with you. They don’t know you. Test them – are they nice or are they jerks? If they’re jerks, their opinion doesn’t tell you about you; it tells you about them. Don’t ever let jerks control your feelings or emotions.
Stand up; speak up. Use your talent and learn new skills. Come back at them verbally. Use humor; especially sarcastic humor. Speak your piece. Fight back if necessary.
Get your allies to act. Tell your parents; tell your favorite, trustworthy teachers. Get help. Test your friends. Are they real friends or are they just acquaintances or “friendlies” who hang out? If they don’t care enough to get involved, they’re not friends.
Parents, be smart in how you prepare and fix the road.
I’m all for fixing the road. Just be smart about it. The summer is the best time to prepare the road. Work with principals, teachers and parents to develop clear and strong policies and programs. Hit the ground running when school stats in fall. Get the kids involved so they become witnesses and defenders. Make it a whole community effort.
Prepare yourself so that when there’s an incident, like happened with Tom, you know what to do and can do it without being overwhelmed by your emotions. Have a checklist. Is it a one-time argument or on-going harassment, bullying and abuse? What are the power dynamics? What evidence can you get? Does it happen to other kids? Can you get witnesses?
Prepare the friends and their families.
None of Tom’s friends defended him. They wouldn’t even be witnesses until we talked with them and their parents. Then they saw the power of choice and of standing together.
Parenting: Prepare the road or the child?
Don’t make it an either-or choice. Prepare both. Prepare your children to teach your grandchildren. Do you doubt they’ll also have to learn to stop bullies?
Most of us have been targets of harassment and bullying, but that doesn’t mean we must be the victims of bullies. If fact, when we’re not victims, we can more effectively stop bullying and abuse.
For example, imagine a child who’s subjected to teasing, taunting, harassment and bullying at school.
It could be a boy targeted by one bully or a group or gang. The bullying could be physical or verbal – name-calling, ridiculing or demeaning.
Often, principals and teachers focus on changing the targets. These irresponsible authorities seem to think that if only the targets would change and please their attackers, the nasty kids would stop targeting them. Or they think bullying is natural selection, survival of the fittest, so anyone who can’t blend in should suffer the consequences of being different. Or they think it’s merely kids being kids and the persecutors will eventually outgrow their youthful indiscretions.
Targets may be angry at the injustice, but they’re not overwhelmed and beaten down. Since we can’t win every battle, even if justice is on our side, targets may simply move on and create a wonderful life somewhere else. And hope that someday, they can get their oppressors.
Joan’s father had bullied and abused her all her life. He’d yelled, scolded, chastised, taunted and emotionally terrorized her. He’d been manipulative, sneaky and lying. He never admitted anything was his fault. He’d always blamed on her; everything was her fault. He still treats her the same way. He’s a narcissistic, control freak.
Joan could never understand why he treated her that way. She hadn’t deserved it. She knew he’d had a terrible childhood, but she didn’t deserve to be the one he took it out on.
Now, he’s in his late 80s and Joan could see that he was sinking rapidly.
How can she resolve things with him before he dies?
Sporadically, through the years after she’d left home and made her own life, she’d tried talking with him about how he treats her but he’d always rejected her attempts, calling her weak and bad. He never admitted he’d done any of the things she said. That led to the usual angry rant about her failings and what she owed him. And a demand that he’ll never talk about that again.
Of course, she’s going to try once more. And maybe a miracle will happen. But my experience is that any change would be extremely rare. I’ve see most people recover from near-death experience and be unchanged. They immediately cover themselves with their old costume of abuse and bullying.
I’ve seen a sexually manipulative perpetrator on his death bed try to grope his daughter, just like he did when he molested her for years when she was young.
She means that they’ll have a heart-felt talk, and she’ll say her say again but this time he’ll admit to all he did and apologize and ask for her forgiveness, she’s probably going to be disappointed. No matter how much she begs, bribes or tries to appease him, likely he won’t change. He’ll still insist he never did anything bad to her and it’s all her fault. Also, he’ll never tell everyone to whom he bad-mouthed her, that she was actually a good daughter and he was simply mean and nasty. So the task for her is to accept that she can’t change him and to find a mental place in which to keep him that doesn’t stimulate any self-bullying by blame, shame or guilt – just like he’d do to her again if he had the opportunity.
She means that she can come to like him and they’ll part friends, she’ll be disappointed again. They’re not friends. We can’t be friends with someone who has beaten us, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, no matter how hard we try. A survival part of us doesn’t want us to get close enough so they can abuse us once more. The task for her is to let the anger and hatred motivate her to get distance, no matter what he thinks of her or accuses her of.
Should she stay at his bedside while he passes? If she wants to be with him at the end in order to assuage any guilt she may have for missing a last possible chance for resolution, then she should be there as long as she won’t let him hurt her feelings any more; as long as she doesn’t expect anything more than he’s always been.
Should she have her children visit him at the end? Again that depends on what she wants from the interactions. If he’s been manipulative and rotten to her children, or bad-mouthed her to them, then I wouldn’t let them be subjected to that again. In age and stage appropriate ways, she can talk to them now and as they grow.
Amy was raised to be a nice girl. She had learned not to act if she felt angry or if she sensed any resentful or vindictive feelings within her. When she held back because her motives weren’t pure enough, she became easy prey for her bullying brother.
When they were middle-aged, her brother moved back to their small town after having been gone for 20 years. He began spreading vicious lies and rumors about Amy. He blackened her reputation around town and even manipulated their mother into believing that Amy had always been jealous of him and that’s why she would claim he was nasty to her.
Amy obsessed on what he was saying and what was happening. She couldn’t sleep, she wallowed in negative self-talk, shame and guilt, and became grumpy and angry at her family and at work. She got anxious and depressed. She even contemplated suicide as a solution to her dilemma.
He accused her of being evil. Her anger and desire to retaliate proved how bad she was. Since she did feel angry, resentful and vindictive, maybe he was right and she was deluding herself by thinking she was a good person.
Never act if your motives are impure; if you feel the slightest amount of anger, resentment or vindictiveness.
When she could see that the wonderful life she’d created and her teenage children’s happiness were threatened, she broke free from her old rules and roles. She evaluated those old rules-roles as an adult with much more experience than she had when she was a child.
She told her teenage children what she’d realized. She’d told them secrets about her brother that she’d hidden because she didn’t want them to know how rotten he’d always been. But she had to protect her family from someone who’d destroy it, even though he was her brother.
She told their mother the truth, even though that hurt mom. Her mother had always tried to ignore how bad her son had been. Now she had a choice, face the truth and side with her daughter, who’d always been good to her, or continue siding with a son who was weak and manipulative.
Amy told the truth to her friends and many of the important people in town. The hardest part for her was to overcome her reluctance and produce evidence for many of the rotten things her brother had done while he’d been gone. There were newspaper clippings to back up what she said.
Also, she reminded people to judge by character and history. How had she behaved to them over the years: had she lied, deceived or harmed them? Or had she always been kindly, considerate and truthful?
Her brother had to leave town. Amy felt sorry for him, but she knew that her responsibilities were more important that her sympathy for her brother, who was now reaping the painful harvest of the seeds he’d sown.
Most important, she had a much better sense of what she had to do to fulfill her responsibilities and that she wouldn’t allow her feelings to put her in harm’s way. Also, she saw that she had not let herself be overwhelmed by anger or resentment. She hadn’t blown up and lost her character or the respect of the people in town. Instead, she had stayed calm and thoughtful, and developed a plan that succeeded.
Negative, bullying, abusive self-talk can corrode your spirit, sap your strength, ruin your focus and destroy your courage. Looking at yourself with hostile eyes and talking to yourself with that old critical, perfectionistic, never-pleased voice can be demoralizing and debilitating. Constant repetition of all your imperfections, mistakes, faults, failures and character flaws can lead you down the path toward isolation, depression and suicide. Don’t believe it?
Think of some examples of relentless self-bullying:
The kids bullied at school who tell themselves that they’ll never be good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough or loved. They think it’s their fault they get harassed, teased, taunted and emotionally and physically bullied. They give in to bullies. If their nagging, hostile, abusive voices convince them that there’s no hope for a better future, they become the next Phoebe Prince, Tyler Clementi or other young suicides.
The people harassed at work who’re told they’re dumb, ugly, the wrong color, religion, nationality, gender or sexual orientation. They’re made the butt of jokes and threats; their work ideas are stolen; they’re belittled, ostracized, shamed and passed over for promotions. If their self-critical voices convince them to give up, their spirits will die. They won’t be able to summon the will, determination or perseverance to fight back. They’ll feel overwhelmed and unable to learn the skills they need to protect and defend themselves.
The kids who think the deck is stacked against them.Their parents have treated them badly or one or both have blamed or abandoned them. If they convince themselves they’re stupid and not loveable, they’ll give up. They’ll accept bullying; their own and from other kids. They shuffle through life, putting themselves down, defeating their efforts before they’ve really begun. They lose their fighting spirits; the spirit that will struggle against the conditions and vicissitudes of life in order to make great lives for themselves.
Kids who’ve turned off their engines look and act dull and listless; as if they’ve given up already. You can almost hear their constant inner, self-dialogue. They’re so distracted by the destructive IMAX Theater in their minds that they can’t pay attention to what’s happening around them. Their attention is captured by all the putdowns and listing of all their failures, the magnifying of the problems they face, the making of insurmountable mountains out of molehills, the diminishing of each skill or success, the magnifying of each imperfection. They’re not resilient; the smallest adversity defeats them. Happiness is fleeting; bitterness and depression is their lot. Anything good they get is never enough, never satisfying, never brings joy.
Alternatively, they use their engines, often ferociously, to blame their parents and try to beat them into submission, to extract material possessions and guilt, to vent their hatred of themselves and the world onto their parents or onto the one parent who stays and tries to help them. They bite every hand that’s offered to them. They fight against teachers and against learning a skill that might make them financially and physically independent. They explode with sarcasm and rage in response to the slightest nudging. What a waste.
All the help offered them seems to bounce off. They won’t accept what’s offered because that hyper-critical, judgmental voice knows better.
They have no inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience. They feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless. They may go down the path to being victims for life. Their self-confidence and self-esteem may be destroyed. Anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation may be stimulated. They move easily toward isolation, depression and suicide. Nothing will help them until they turn their engines on again.
Compare them to the kids with great engines; always active and alert, always wanting to learn, willing to face and overcome challenges, seeking risk and reward, capable of overcoming adversity. They have tremendous drive to live and to succeed.
These spirited kids with great engines can tax your patience almost beyond its limits, but the reward is so apparent. They’ll make something wonderful of their lives. They won’t give up. They won’t be defeated by defeats.
Our job as parents with these spirited kids is clear: help them develop great steering wheels so they can direct themselves to fulfill the promise of their great engines in worthy endeavors. Whatever direction they travel, they’ll go with passion, intensity and joy. They’ll overcome setbacks by continuing on with renewed effort. As Coach John Wooden said, “Hustle can make up for a lot of mistakes.”
We know that attempts to improve their steering wheel won’t help. No lectures about being better, kinder, gentler people will help. The beginning of a new life for them is the miracle of starting their engines. Then they grab opportunities for themselves. Then we can help them with their steering wheels.
How come none of the witnesses were willing to come forward, knowing that the principal and teachers would protect them?
A possible answer to these questions might be that there was never any bad behavior on the school bus. But that would be surprising. What was your experience on the school bus? Ask your friends.
Jones, of Lake Mary, Florida, and his wife claim that their daughter, who has cerebral palsy, had been called names and pushed around. They also claim that they had complained to Seminole County school administrators in the past, but nothing had been done to help their daughter. Jones told deputies that boys placed an open condom on his daughter's head, smacked her on the back of her head, twisted her ear and shouted rude comments at her.
The response of the school administrators is the usual, “We didn’t know; they never contacted us.” They focused on Mr. Jones’s over-reaction instead of on the alleged bullying on the bus. “Changing the focus” is a typical tactic of bullies and people trying to gloss over their failure to respond effectively.
We don’t know the facts. School bus tapes haven’t been scanned. Complaints to the school officials by the Joneses haven’t been documented.
However, I’m suggesting that in too many cases, school administrators are not proactive in creating an environment in which:
Every kid knows that bullying is wrong and won’t be tolerated.
Adults are monitoring areas in which most bullying occurs.
I’d be more likely to believe the school principal if he or she stood next to Mr. Jones on nationwide television and said things like, “Yes, Mr. Jones over-reacted, but we won’t tolerate bullying anywhere at school, we’re reviewing tapes to see if there was bullying, we’re questioning the driver, we’re instituting a strong program to educate all teachers, staff and kids that we won’t tolerate bullying. We’ll get the facts in this specific case.”
I disagree with the supposed experts who say that parents shouldn’t intervene, even if the targeted children can’t protect themselves, for example, because the number of bullies is overwhelming or because the child has cerebral palsy and can’t protect herself, like Mr. Jones’ daughter.
I think we simply have to know how to intervene more skillfully so that, when necessary, we know how to force inactive, lazy or reluctant principals to act. For example, if the Joneses had been more skillful in documenting their complaints to the school, if they really did, there would be a clear paper trail of every interaction with the school administrators, including administrators’ signatures on minutes of every conversation and the Joneses would have copies. Individualized coaching is crucial to developing this skill.
More important than psychologists’ claims that “when [parents] jump in and [intervene], it helps the kids actually feel worse because they feel less control, they feel like they can't handle themselves and they feel defenseless without the bodyguard there,” is that when children actually are overwhelmed or helpless, they know that they’re protected by responsible adults. They can learn to protect themselves better as they grow more independent.
Mr. Jones’ daughter was helpless to defend herself. The stress, anxiety and fear are greater because she wasn’t protected.
Let’s focus on the real problem; bullying on the bus, near the lockers, on the playgrounds, in the bathrooms, in the hallways, in the cafeteria and everywhere else bullies feel safe to attack their targets.
Maybe the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince will finally wake us up. Maybe the articles in the New York Times, Huffington Post, People magazine and dozens of others will wake us up. Maybe the long list of charges against the bullies and tormentors will finally goad the public to demand strong action. Maybe charges of statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment and stalking will get a stronger response from the district attorney than, “The inactions of some of the adults at the school are troublesome.”
Phoebe’s suicide is another red alert. But we know that hundreds of other children in our schools are being bullied, harassed, tormented and abused every day. And parents and school officials are not protecting these targets of bullying. Some of these kids will gain strength by fighting back effectively against these predators.
Others will be overwhelmed and destroyed by the bullying, but even more, by the lack of protection by the very adults who have taken on the responsibility to protect them. These kids will grow up concluding that they are helpless and their situations are hopeless. They will grow up with debilitating, negative self-talk, with anxiety, stress and depression, with little confidence and low self-esteem.
We don’t need more suicides to remind us of what we saw at our own schools, what we see in our adult personal relationships and the interactions we observe at work. We know the depths to which humans can sink. We know how alert and courageous we must be to prevent the worst consequences.
A huge number of people failed in Massachusetts. Start with the two boys and four girls between the ages of 16 to 18 who have been charged as adults. Continue with the three minors who have been charged as juveniles. Continue with their parents. Their parents failed to teach and control their children. Of course it’s difficult to teach and control teenagers. But will those parents now defend their venomous children or will they stand with Phoebe Prince?
I think the greatest failure is that of the school authorities, especially the principal and the district administrators who set the tone for the teachers and staff. They pretend to be education experts. They pretend to be worthy to teach children. Yet none would stand up for Phoebe or for the other girl in school who was bullied by one of the accused teenagers.
We know that there are difficulties and that they will hide behind the lie that “we didn’t know how bad it was.” So what? Personally as a parent and grandparent, professionally as a coach, consultant and expert on how to stop bullies I say that these people represent failure and should be forced to go into jobs in which their tasks don’t matter.
Would you want someone who pleads “difficulties” as an excuse for their failures when your life is on the line – for example, a school bus driver, a doctor, a pilot, a cop, a fire fighter, a repairman of train tracks, a quality control worker on an assembly line for your medication, pacemaker or your car’s brakes or accelerator? I wouldn’t give them the responsibility. All that education has been wasted on them. And maybe the type of education currently in how-to-be-a-teacher courses is a waste.
Whether the abuse is cyber-bullying, physical violence, sexual attacks or the many varieties of mean and vicious verbal and emotional abuse – the spite, gossip, rumor-mongering, ostracism, targeting or mocking – there will always be “experts” who say “it’s not so bad,” lawyers who say that it’s too difficult to write enforceable laws, and there will always be difficulties in stopping harassment, bullying and abuse. So what if there are difficulties? If we can’t overcome those difficulties, we don’t deserve the responsibility and trust, and we will reap the bitter fruits that will await us in our hours of need.
An article by Hillary Stout in the New York Times, “For Some Parents, Shouting is the New Spanking,” focuses on the damage to children done by parents’ shouting and, therefore, the need for parents to control their tempers.
Although I agree that a steady diet of shouting and bullying isn’t a good way for well-meaning, devoted parents to act, the experts in the article miss the real source of the problem and, therefore, the real solution.
Those experts point out that the proper way to be a good parent is “never spank their children,” “friend our teenagers,” “spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings,” “reminding, nagging, timeout, counting 1-2-3” and “have a good interaction based on reason.”
I disagree with their basic assumptions about good parenting and their solution that parents should control their tempers.
Of course, repeated sarcasm, criticism, beatings and abuse are bad parenting. I’m talking here to frustrated, well-meaning, devoted parents; not abusive bullies.
Good parenting sometimes involves spanking, has nothing to do with “friending,” is not focused on teaching children to merely understand their feelings and is not usually about good interactions based on reason. Reason is only a small part of being an effective parent, especially when the children are young.
Children are exquisitely adept at knowing your true limitations and which buttons to push. It’s a survival skill for them. They know exactly how many times you’ll yell before you act. They distinguish between yelling and threatening that won’t be followed up, and the “Mom” or “Dad” look and voice that means you will act. And they perform a precise calculus based on how much they’ll get the next time versus a punishment and your guilt this time. They know when they can get unreasonable and stubborn, and win. They also know that if you blow up and yell now, they’ll win later.
What leads to repeated shouting is frustration. Those parents have so limited their allowed responses that they’re no longer effective – the kids know that they don’t have to do what the parents want and nothing serious will happen. Those parents have taught their children to be stubborn and unreasonable in order to win. See the case study of Paula as she stops being bullied by her daughter Stacy in "How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks."
Those parents’ lack of creativity and effectiveness increases their frustration until they blow up and shout. Then those parents feel guilty, apologize, give the kids more power and set in motion the next cycle of not getting listened to leading to more frustration and further shouting.
The solution is for parents to take charge and be parents – speak and act straight. Decide – as age, stage and specific kid appropriate – what decisions you make and when the child simply must obey, and what decisions the kid gets to make and within what limits. In your areas, it’s nice if the child understands your needs and reasons, but you’ll never convince a two or sixteen year-old by reasoning that your way is best and they should be happy not getting what they want.
Sometimes you must be firm about your sense of urgency, which is not matched by theirs. Sometimes, your needs and wishes must be taken into account. You’re not their slave or servant all the time. They don’t get what they want every time. More important than helping them understand their feelings is teaching them how to deal effectively when they’re feeling demanding or angry or frustrated or needy.
And some kids seem to want to be punished sometimes. Really, they do. And they feel much better afterward. When you’ve gone through the sequence of reminding and timeout without effect, a spank is sometimes the best thing to do.
Your frustration and shouting is a message to you that you’re not being effective. You need to do more than merely learn the latest technique; you need to change the limits you place on yourself. That will open up other ways to making them do what you need when you’re under pressure.
Good parenting means that you can say, “Here’s the way it is. I need to move fast and I insist that you do the same.” Or “You don’t vote on this decision and we’ll talk about it later.” Of course, you will talk about it later. Or “I’m not taking you there today. I need to unwind right now over a latte. I love you. Now go read and leave me alone for a while.” Of course, most of the time we devoted parents will take them to places they want to go.
Don’t reason more than once with a five year-old who doesn’t want to brush her teeth, “You’re making a bad decision,” as those experts suggest. Simply say, “In our family, we brush our teeth, so you will.”
It’s not, as those experts say, that “Yelling parents reflect a complete inability to express themselves in any meaningful, thoughtful, useful or constructive way.” It’s that yelling parents aren’t allowing themselves to express the right thought, which is that “I, the parent, am drawing the line here and you will do what I want. I have good reasons. I hope you understand now and I know you’ll understand later. But even if you don’t understand, you will do what I want now.”
In addition to what I learned professionally, we have six, now-grown children who taught me that well-meaning parents yell when they’re irritable, anxious, pressured, overwhelmed and frustrated because they don’t know how else to make things work for them