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10 Gems for When Your Child is Struggling

If you’re like most parents, you have a long list of books you’ve been meaning to read. I thought it might be useful to share 10 quick gems from some of the books I’ve found most valuable, starting with Raising Human Beings by the beloved Dr. Ross Greene.

Dr. Greene gave one of our most popular talks in the Bright & Quirky child summit and he asked that we make his talk freely available, so here it is! Also enjoy 10 gems from his wonderful book Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child:

1. It’s important that we form a collaborative partnership with our kids. Seek to influence, not control. You exert your influence through your expectations. Expectations must match your child’s characteristics (i.e. skills, personal traits, maturity) . The world also has expectations for your child: academic, social, behavioral.

2. Sometimes there is incompatibility between your child’s characteristics and the expectations being placed upon her in areas like emotional regulation, focus, controlling impulses, social skills, learning, etc. Some kids have the wherewithal to suck it up and comply. Some don’t. Incompatibility=struggling. Kids show many signals of incompatibility, i.e. withdrawing, yelling, throwing things, lying, hitting, cutting, lack of interest in school, lack of friends, etc. These are behaviors, not the problem itself.

3. Make sure you look beyond the signals to find the actual root problem(s). Behavior is what goes on downstream. You want to focus upstream, on resolving the incompatibilities causing the behavior. Don’t rush to judgment and action.

4. The manner in which you go about responding to incompatibilities will have a significant impact on your relationship with your child, how well you communicate with one another, and whether your influence is truly influential. Always go with the least toxic response. Physical punishment is the most toxic response.

5. Kids do well if they can. If your kid could do well, he would do well. If your kid isn’t doing well, and not meeting an expectation, it’s your job to find out why. The assumption that a child who isn’t meeting an expectation must not be motivated to meet the expectation is almost always incorrect. Parents do well if they can too. : ) Our job is to be responsive to the hand we’ve been dealt and improve compatibility.

6. Unmet expectations=unsolved problems. Make a list of unsolved problems. Examples: Difficulty getting ready for school, difficulty completing classwork or homework, difficulty making and keeping friends, difficulty finding things to do besides video games. Rule of thumb: Start with the word ‘difficulty.’ The list helps you solve problems proactively rather than in the heat of the moment. Prioritize the list. Solve one problem at a time. Focus on problems, not behaviors.

7. Dr. Greene discusses 3 plans. Plan A is when adults solve problems without the child’s involvement –very popular but not very effective. Plan B involves solving a problem collaboratively with your child – much more effective. Plan B has 3 steps outlined in #8, 9 and 10 below. There is also a Plan C which is choosing not to intervene about an unsolved problem for a variety of reasons, i.e. you realize the expectation isn’t that important (i.e. playing a certain instrument), child is not developmentally ready, or child wants to try solving problem independently, etc.

8. Empathy Step: If you can’t empathize with and truly hear and understand your child’s concerns, she may stop talking to you. Then, problems won’t get solved. You don’t need to figure it out, you need to find out. Use this phrase: “I’ve noticed that insert unsolved problem. What’s up?” Don’t mention behaviors (i.e. screaming, sulking etc.). Behaviors are signals, not unsolved problems. If he starts talking, drill for more info to get more clarity, i.e. ‘You don’t like her? How so?’, ‘I’m not sure I understand, what do you mean?’ Ask W questions (who, what, where). Seek to understand nuances, i.e. ‘So, sometimes you can wake up pretty easily and other times it’s difficult? Help me understand that.’ If your child says ‘I don’t know,’ things to try: Try a lengthy pause and give her time to answer or try guessing, i.e. ‘Are you worried about making a mistake in front of the class?’

9. The Define-Adult-Concerns Step: Note: You must do #8 first for this step to be effective. Start voicing your concerns with phrases like, ‘The things is…’ or ‘My concern is…’. Definitely don’t say, ‘That’s all well and good but…’ Sample concerns: ‘My concern is that you’re getting very frustrated with your math homework and it’s making it difficult for you to keep trying. This year’s math is a stepping stone to next year’s math, so I’m concerned that next year will be even harder.” Or, “My concern is that if you don’t eat breakfast, it will be harder to concentrate in class.”

10. The Invitation Step: Consider potential solutions that will address the concerns of both parties. Handy phrase: “Let’s think about how we can solve this problem.” It’s good to recap the concerns from the first two steps, i.e. “I wonder if there’s a way for you to use your phone and computer to communicate with your friends without it counting as screen time (kid concern), but for me to make sure that you’re sticking with the 30 minute limit on gaming, getting to bed on time, and still having family time (adult concerns).” Give your child the first opportunity to solve the problem, “Do you have any ideas?” Note: ‘Trying harder’ is never a viable solution. Make sure the solution is a. realistic and b. mutually satisfactory. Don’t try disguising your preordained Plan A as a Plan B.

P.S. Dr. Greene has a great form for this problem solving plan on his website: https://www.livesinthebalance.org/paperwork. Also check out his walking tour for parents with video demonstrations: https://www.livesinthebalance.org/walking-tour-parents

P.P.S. Here that link again to our interview with Dr. Greene.