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Vicki Hoefle: If They Can Walk, They Can Work!

Guest posts

Earlier this year, my partner Janine and I had the chance to study with parenting educator Vicki Hoefle, whose Parenting On Track™ program, with its roots in Adlerian psychology, strikes off in a completely different–and more effective–direction than any approach to parenting I had ever come across. Vicki has kindly made some of her parenting articles available to me to reprint here. If you’re interested in the topic or have questions, please comment to help guide me in choices for future posts.

I don’t usually post guest articles that promote a particular product, but I do strongly recommend any Parenting on Track book, course, or media you may be inclined to buy, and I hope that if you’re not inclined to buy anything you won’t be put off by this departure from my usual way of doing things.

This article originally appeared at http://www.parentingontrack.com/2008/06/if-they-can-walk/ .

If you’re beginning to wonder if you’re the maid or the parent, then…

A) You’re not alone

B) Now’s the time to do something about changing roles, and

C) Believe it or not, both you AND the kids will be glad you did now, and for years to come.

I realized at an early stage in my pregnancy with my first child that I could either be the maid or be emotionally available to my children, but I could not do both. Since there’s a far greater payoff to being emotionally available, I decided to train my children early on to help with the household chores.

Now, if you’re at all put off by the word train, here are a few other verbs straight out of my thesaurus: teach, coach, educate, instruct, guide, prepare, tutor… and you’ve got to love this one… school.

I use the word train because that’s what it is. And let’s face it, training is useful – it makes us all better at what we do. And knowing how to learn from our training is a skill in and of itself. A skill, I might add, that will serve your children well as they go off to school, into the workplace… but that’s another topic for another day. Back to making everyone’s life easier and more pleasant by taking off that maid’s outfit and giving your children a chance to be part of the family fun.

Is there an optimal time for training?

The quick answer is YES! Over the years I developed a very simple answer for parents when they would ask me how young they could start training their children to help around the house. My answer is, “If they can walk, they can work.” That’s right moms and dads, it’s never too early.

There are two good reasons to start training your children in what is essentially the fine art of cooperation and contribution, as soon as possible.

1. The first reason is that, if children have been invited to participate in family chores from a young age, contributions will be a normal and routine part of their daily lives by the time they hit the pre-adolescent, “I am not interested” age. So, it’s actually less painful for both you and your kids if you start ‘em young.

Consider this. When our children are very small, they come to us asking to help and we are quick to reply with, “No, too hot; too heavy; too dangerous; too sharp; too fast; you are too little; too slow; too short.” And then we send them out of the kitchen and into the other room to play with the plastic kitchens and plastic food and say, “Now go play and have fun.”

We continue to do this, over and over, for years, until one day, about the time that same child turns 10, WE decide it’s time for them to be responsible for their stuff and we start in with, “Hey, pick up your back pack; unpack your backpack; put your dishes away; clear the table; pick up your room; do your laundry…” Sorry ladies and gents, but by then, it’s too late! We have missed the most opportune time for training.

You see, when children are very, very interested in just about everything around them – including mimicking mom and dad, you, as a responsible, pro-active parent, can use that natural curiosity to everybody’s advantage and get everyone involved in doing their part around the house.

2. The second reason to start training your children early to contribute to the household chores is a very practical one – kids need years of practice to become good at doing “stuff” around the house.

Just take a second and look around your home. I’m sure you’d agree that tasks which truly contribute to running even the simplest of households require some pretty complex skills, and developing any skill takes practice, more practice, and even more practice. The sooner you start practicing a skill, the sooner that skill develops.

So, just how should I go about training my toddler to contribute to the household chores?

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • An immaculate house is NOT the primary goal. If you want it clean to your standards, wait until the kids are in bed and clean it yourself – but for goodness sakes, don’t get caught!
  • Set reasonable expectations based on the child’s age.
  • Notice what your child is doing, and talk about it.
  • Train in small time increments.
  • Start with something relatively easy, like putting back toys, then move on to more advanced tasks like picking up trash and helping with the dishes.

The following checklists should help you get started with your first attempt:

Planning Basics

  • What two jobs can my toddler attempt successfully?
  • When am I going to train him or her? (Pick a time in the day that works for you and your child.)
  • What are my expectations?

When Your Child Says, “No”

  • Smile and walk away.
  • Go do something more interesting like read your book, listen to music, paint…

It’s also good to keep in mind that training in the art of cooperation and contribution doesn’t have to be explicitly planned during the early stages of training. As long as you’re ready when the opportunity presents itself, you can instill this spirit at a moment’s notice.

When Your Little One Tugs On Your Pant Leg to Play

  • Say “Yes, I would LOVE to play with you, as soon as we use bubbles to wash the dishes!”
  • Ask another question like “Would you like to learn how to squeeze the dish soap or turn on the dishwasher?”

Above all, DON’T GIVE UP — the ability to cooperate and contribute is a life skill that takes practice. And, whether you know it or not, your little ones will notice that you never give up on them, and that means the world.

If you have stories about how life has changed, now that you have handed in your feather duster and started training your kids, please share your comments below!

For more information on HOW to stay patient, set reasonable expectations, teach in small increments, and encourage your child (& yourself) along the way, purchase our Home Program and join the forum — Today!

Photo by horrigans

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Vicki Hoefle: End Temper Tantrums, In 4 Words or Less

Guest posts

Earlier this year, my partner Janine and I had the chance to study with parenting educator Vicki Hoefle, whose Parenting On Track™ program, with its roots in Adlerian psychology, strikes off in a completely different–and more effective–direction than any approach to parenting I had ever come across. Vicki has kindly made some of her parenting articles available to me to reprint here. If you’re interested in the topic or have questions, please comment to help guide me in choices for future posts.

This article originally appeared at http://www.parentingontrack.com/2008/06/end-temper-tantrums/ .

End Temper Tantrums, In 4 Words or Less

Vicki Hoefle

No, you are not going to “give in” to them! No, you are not going to “naughty chair” them. No, you are not going to “talk about it”. What you ARE going to do, is add three of the most POWERFUL words on the planet to the word YES and turn temper tantrum -ing toddlers (or teens for that matter) into patient, cooperative thoughtful family members.

Don’t believe me? Well here is a true story that demonstrates just how effective these 4 words are, when used correctly.

I was walking with my good friend and her two children ages 1 and 2, whom I absolutely adore, and the family dogs. The goal was to get some exercise and reconnect with each other while getting the kids out of the house for some much needed fresh air and sunshine. Unfortunately, once we started walking, the kids started in with some classic demands and, well, here is what happened…

It started out with a “Waaaa” from the one-year-old and several whiny “I waaaant toooo waaaalk” from the two-year-old. Like most parents, my friend eventually gave in and let the two-year-old walk, and, as you know, if you let one out, you have to let the other one out, right?

I was immediately impressed with my friend’s circus-like talent. She started by holding the one-year-old in her arms, trying all the while to push the stroller while keeping the other child on the sidewalk. Soon enough, she was juggling two kids, a stroller, and the dogs in beautiful, chaotic synchronization. Amazed… if not utterly stunned by what she had taken on, I remained quiet and observed. And yes, of course, I eventually offered to help.

No doubt some of you recognize this story and are smiling, nodding, or even shaking your head with that blank, shell-shocked look on your face. Well, keep reading because there IS relief to this timeless riddle.

Alas, the girls did not want to walk OR be held OR do anything else for very long. And, it soon became clear that changing their position up, down, over, around and through, wasn’t even their GOAL. What they really wanted was to keep their mommy busy with them, at the expense of everything else – including visiting with me.

Very quickly, neither my friend nor I were having any fun. I had lost interest in the endless circus act, and we were not able to talk and connect with these two ruckus munchkins demanding all of the attention. So, we soon retreated home and the walk was officially over.

The next day when my friend and I had a quiet moment, we discussed the events that had unfolded the day before. We talked about how quickly the walk had degenerated from a time for two adult friends to connect, into a circus routine with the children in the center ring, running the show.

As you probably know, this is a situation parents find themselves in quite often. If you’re just now expecting your first child, or are thinking about having children, all you have to do is look around the next time you are in the grocery store. You’ll see moms carrying the baby, cajoling the toddler, or bouncing the baby while trying to make it through at least putting the essentials in the cart.

And then there are fathers, gallantly trying to avoid a public tantrum by giving in to their little one’s pleading cries for gum, candy or treats. And, as in my dear friend’s case, there are constant accommodations in response to pleas for freedom from or return to the stroller.

In the Parenting On Track™ program we refer to this place as The Slippery Slope – that place where parents find themselves when they know at any minute things could go from good to bad, or from bad to really bad!

So, what’s a well-meaning, law-abiding parent to do?

It’s all about training. We can either train our kids to believe that life is all about them, and that it is their job to keep us busy with them, OR we can train our kids in the fine arts of patience, respect, flexibility, cooperation, and manners – arts that are also valuable life skills that will pay dividends faster than you can say “play date!”

OK, I get it. But just HOW does one do teach these fine arts?

Start small by creating opportunities from everyday life, and for those moments that catch you off guard try this simple Parenting On Track™ strategy called “Yes, As soon as…” Quick, easy, and highly adaptable, using this strategy results in simple, but effective exchanges like this:

Child: “Can I walk?”
Parent: “Yes, as soon as we get to our road.”
Child: “Can I watch TV?”
Parent: “Yes, as soon as you finish your homework.”
Child: “Can I have a cookie?”
Parent: “Yes, as soon as you eat something healthy.”

The tantrums and the whining usually begin when we tell our children, “No.” And, it ends when we either give in or get mad. Neither one breaks the cycle or teaches our children anything useful. So, say “Yes,” instead, AND… make sure that “Yes” is part of an agreement between you and your child. You agree to let your child do something or have something they want, when they prove to you that they can handle the privilege.

If you have trouble getting started, remember this.

It may not work the first time, and is not intended to stand alone, so you should also:

  • Try to incorporate the Crucial C’s (Chapter 9, Parenting On Track™ Home Program) with all the strategies you use.
  • Have faith in your kids – they can handle both the disappointments and privileges.
  • Have your kids help you find solutions to problems if you are stuck.
  • And always, always, take the time to make a plan.

Now, just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine what it will be like if, after 6 months, your family was tantrum-free. It’s all worth considering isn’t it?

Image by Susan NYC

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What’s the Essential Job of Parenting?

Resources

Recently Janine and I attended a series of six weekly classes (with substantial homework assignments) taught by parenting advisor Vicki Hoefle. Our children are wonderful, but we were running into problems like computer overuse with our teenager and getting our two grade school children out the door on time. Before we knew anything about Vicki’s work, I would have expected some helpful tips, useful insights, and gentle tweaks to our parenting. What I wouldn’t have expected was to hear–and quickly come to believe–that I’d been basically doing it wrong … and that I was not alone.

Wait, but I’m a good parent!
It’s very difficult for me, and I think for a lot of parents I know, to consider the possibility that we could be screwing up on a basic level. Sure, no parent is perfect. Ideas like “Ah, I should have been more involved here” or “In future, I’d better limit that” are perfectly comfortable for me. What’s not comfortable is to have to grapple with the idea that although I view parenting as one of the most important things I could do with my life, and although I’ve put great thought and effort into being a good parent, I was misunderstanding something as basic as what my job as a parent was.

This isn’t to say I haven’t been a good parent. I love my kids, and I make sure they know it. I go out of my way to spend time with them, to support them, and to listen to them. I help make sure they have good food, a stable home, fun, safety, and good schools. I try to guide and advise them to help them become better and more capable people. Isn’t that enough?

In a way, sure: my kids are great. At the same time, it’s not exactly on the mark: there’s an important understanding I (and virtually every other parent I know) had missed. That understanding is about who should be in charge. It’s not the parents: it’s the kids.

Parenting isn’t about telling our kids what to do
What’s the essential job of parenting? If you had asked a few months ago, I would have said something like “To love, support, teach, protect, and provide for our kids.” I also would have thought it was a pretty great answer. So where does it fall short?

To answer that question, I have to think about the thing that Vicki pointed out to us at the very first class: when they’re 18 or thereabouts, in most cases, our kids will be going out on their own. As of that moment, we will no longer be able to do things for them, teach them much of anything, or protect them from the world. By the time our kids leave home, they will need to know how to do everything we currently do for them and everything we expect them to do for themselves, as well as a bunch of things that we adults already do for ourselves and they will have never had to do before.

They have 18 years to learn everything. Go.
The list of things to know includes how to do laundry, how to cook, how to choose healthy foods, how to eat at regular times, how to get enough sleep, how to get up on time, how to be reliable, how to solve problems without anyone else’s help, how to act in a crisis, how to spend money, how not to spend too much money, how to earn money, how to save money, how to make and keep friends, how to resolve arguments and disputes, how to drive, how to navigate, how to keep a home clean even if you’re very busy, how to limit games and television so that they don’t get in the way of things like school and work, how to tell whether or not other people are trustworthy, how to deal with unexpected setbacks … and on and on and on. The complete list is probably too long to even fully imagine.

As competent adults, we know how to do a huge number of things, a lot of which we never even let our children try, sometimes because we don’t think they can do it and sometimes because it’s our job to do. (Do you let your children pay the gas bill without oversight? Hire their own lawyers? Take themselves to the hospital? I don’t either, although there are ways for them to learn how to do all these things without having to be abandoned by us.) As a result, young adults out on their own often make huge blunders with money, love, cleanliness, health, school, work, friendships, and in other areas. Sometimes they find their way through and eventually get good at these things. Other times they find an unhealthy status quo, like staying away from other people because they’re too nervous about negotiating relationships, or bossing everyone around, or bingeing on doughnuts every Friday night, or avoiding getting a serious illness or injury checked out because they don’t know how they’ll pay the medical bill, or ruining their chances at a great job and getting stuck with a lousy one.

Some of basic principles I took away from Vicki’s classes were these: let children do everything they’re capable of; let them find their own way; and help them learn how to do the things they can’t yet do.

Not all there is to it
There’s much more to what I’ve recently learned about parenting, especially in terms of what problems with kids’ behavior are really about and how to respond in a way that addresses the real issue instead of just trying to fix the situation. I’ve had to let go of a lot of my previous assumptions about parenting, though the principles of love, involvement, and support have only been strengthened by this process. If I tried to explain everything our family has gone through in the past six weeks, you might not even believe me. I will say, though, that our family is much, much happier and more functional than I could have imagined we’d be. We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re making steady progress.

How can I say this in strong enough terms?
I’ll try to express this as effectively as I can: I don’t think I know a single family with children at home that does not need what Vicki is teaching. Not a single one. I know some outstanding parents, and I suspect those outstanding parents would get at least as much–if not more–out of learning from Vicki as the average person.

When I say “need what Vicki is teaching,” too, I mean that any time, effort, and expense put into this education will pay off many times what was invested.

Just so you know, I have no affiliation with Vicki’s operation and don’t get anything for talking her up. The reason I’m so enthusiastic about promoting her work is that I think it is desperately needed.

Vicki has begun speaking more widely just recently, as her youngest child (of five) has just left the nest. This is good news for people who, unlike Janine and me, do not live in Vermont and would not previously have had direct access to her. Even more usefully, she has a book, Duct Tape Parenting, coming out in August. (She already has a for-Kindle-only book out called Real Parents, Real Progress, but it’s more of an extended preview of what she’s offering than a real resource in itself. Actually, it’s perfect if you wonder if there might be something to what I’m saying but don’t really believe me that it can make an enormous difference in your life yet. Invest the five dollars in the book and see whether you agree it’s worth pursuing.)

I’d suggest that if you can think of anything important that you’d like to improve in your relationship with your children, whether it’s a problem kind of behavior or anything else, that it would be well worth your time to look into Vicki’s site or her books. I’m sure there are other people in the world who have as deep and useful an understanding of parenting as Vicki, but I’ve never run across any of them, and they’re not the parenting experts I’ve heard of before. Prove me wrong if you can that Vicki’s take on parenting is something we desperately need.

Photo by Bindaas Madhavi

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Mental Schemas #18: Punitiveness

Handling negative emotions

This is the 18th of 18 mental schema posts from my series on schema therapy, an approach to addressing negative thinking patterns that was devised by Dr. Jeffrey Young. You can find an introduction to schemas and schema therapy, a list of schemas, and links to other schema articles on The Willpower Engine here.


I have often been severe in the course of my life towards others. That is just. I have done well. Now, if I were not severe towards myself, all the justice that I have done would become injustice. Ought I to spare myself more than others? No! What! I should be good for nothing but to chastise others, and not myself! Why, I should be a blackguard!

— Inspector Javert in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables

The Punitiveness schema is a lifelong conviction that people should suffer if they don’t follow the rules. People with this schema feel the responsibility to be angry and to ensure punishment is given out, whether to family members, employees, acquaintances, strangers, or themselves. They tend to feel they have a strong moral sense and that their insistence on punishment is about justice and fairness, and they have a hard time forgiving other people or forgiving themselves. They don’t generally consider reasonable circumstances that could explain what they see as bad behavior, and the idea that people are imperfect and just make mistakes sometimes doesn’t usually enter into their thinking. The standards applied in a Punitiveness schema are usually pretty high, too. Wiggle room is a foreign concept.

It’s sometimes hard for people with Punitiveness schemas to get close to others because of a tendency to get angry easily and to react harshly to errors of any size.

A harsh, critical tone or moral inflexibility can indicate that a person may be saddled with a Punitiveness schema.

Schemas that can go along with Punitiveness
People with this schema in many cases have been treated very badly in childhood, and such people often have an added schema called Mistrust/Abuse, which leads them to assume that people will usually act badly and take advantage when given the chance.

Another schema that can commonly occur along with Punitiveness is Unrelenting Standards, which is a habit of having such difficult requirements for good conduct that they’re virtually impossible to meet.

The Defectiveness schema, too, fits well with Punitiveness. People with Defectiveness schemas have a deep-down conviction that they’re not good enough, that they’re fundamentally flawed, contemptible, and not worthy of love. A sense of Defectiveness can drive people to want to punish themselves, and punishment can reinforce people’s feelings that they are defective.

Where Punitiveness schemas come from
People with Punitiveness schemas often grew up in families where parents were harsh or even abusive when a child made a mistake. Parents or other major figures during a person’s childhood may have been critical and perfectionistic. Children in such families may grow up with a sense of harsh punishment as normal, just the way things are; they can feel that when someone makes a mistake and isn’t punished, it’s a miscarriage of justice and a serious problem. As we grow up, we tend to internalize some of the things our parents say or do to us, and people with this schema learn to have a voice inside them that demands everyone do things the right way or they’ll be sorry.

Overcoming a Punitiveness schema

The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, screamed ‘Off with her head! Off—’

‘Nonsense!’ said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent.

— from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

It’s hard to change from thinking that people who do things wrong should be punished to the idea that they should be forgiven or ignored much of the time, but this is exactly what needs to happen to transform a Punitiveness schema. Even more than with most other schemas, it can be very valuable for people with a Punitiveness schema to weigh the pros and cons of their schema-driven actions. In addition to the obvious problems with this schema, like feeling bad a lot of the time and others not wanting a person with this schema around, it’s also the case that punishment is a pretty lousy way to change behavior most of the time, if you’re willing to believe the research.  Punishment tends not to make people reconsider the actions they were punished for as much as it encourages them to find ways to avoid punishment in future, or just generates anger and resentment. Even people who are responsive to punishment are often just acting out their own schemas. For instance, people with a Defectiveness schema won’t usually take punishment as encouragement to become a better person, but instead will take it as proof that they’re horrible and deserve to be punished.

Forgiveness and discussion instead of punishment are especially important in parenting, where excessive punishment tends to create the same schemas in children that we’ve talked about above: Punitiveness, Mistrust/Abuse, Defectiveness, and Unrelenting Standards. Parents may consider it their duty to get angry at their children and punish them, but a little of this goes a long way–sometimes far too long–and much more effective parenting strategies are easy to find in a library or local parents’ group.

People working to shake off a Punitiveness schema can benefit from reflecting on circumstances that contribute to behavior they think is bad, from considering people’s intentions in addition to their actions, and in general by building the ability to empathize and forgive. Punishment isn’t necessarily ruled out, but the idea is to restrict it to, at most, people who have bad intentions as well as bad actions, or people who are severely negligent, whether or not those people should be punished becomes a broader ethical question.

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Experimenting With a $100 Bet

Self-motivation examples

My son, who’s 14, has been wanting to get in better shape for quite some time. We’ve talked about good methods and about how to change diet and exercise to lose weight and build muscle, but he’s found it difficult to get moving. Often he’d begin to do something–say go walking every day or track everything he eats–but give up soon afterward. I suspect that part of the problem was not being sure that what he was doing would even work.

Motivating other people
My study and writing hasn’t generally been about motivating other people: it’s been about motivating ourselves. The big difference between those two tasks, if you ask me, is that when we’re motivating ourselves, we have direct access to the brain in question, and when motivating others, we don’t. Since the means I talk about have to do with our own thinking and attitudes, they’re not as useful to try to use on other people.

Still, I had been supporting my son as much as I could, offering information when he asked for it, volunteering techniques for making better progress, and talking through obstacles. But I wasn’t going to try to make him get more fit through imposing rules. If he was going to learn a healthy lifestyle, he’d have to decide to adopt healthy habits on his own. While I buy healthy food and make sure he has access to exercise activities, I’m pretty sure going beyond that and trying to force him to get fit would backfire in the long run (and maybe in the short run, too).

The bet
So what did I do? I decided to try an experiment, and I bet him a hundred dollars he couldn’t lose 10 pounds in 8 weeks.

10 pounds in 8 weeks isn’t a record-breaking goal, but it’s pretty solid weight loss, enough to know for sure that better fitness is possible and to see visible improvement. As to the hundred dollars, I reasoned that if he wanted to participate in some kind of exercise program for 8 weeks that cost $100, I’d scrape that money together in that situation. I’d be willing to do the same in this special case if he were going to exercise on his own.

He took the bet. He didn’t have anything like $100, so we established in the beginning that if he lost, he’d be paying it off in trade: I have plenty of little things he can do to help me with my own projects.

Yet I made it clear from the beginning that I wasn’t rooting for him to lose: instead, I’d do anything I could think of to help him win. I didn’t know what the long-term effects of winning the bet might be, but I figured if he won (I was pretty sure that was possible), he’d at least gain confidence that he could lose weight whenever he really made up his mind to, and there’s good research to support the idea that belief in one’s ability to accomplish something is a crucial building block for motivation.

How he did
The first two or three weeks were not promising. He lost a pound or two early on, but he stopped there. He didn’t seem strongly motivated, even though mentally he had already spent the $100.

Somewhere around the fourth week, though, his attitude changed. We had been talking about how his chances of winning the bet were weakening every day. At the rate he was going, he’d lose the bet.

Spurred on by thoughts of not getting the things he wanted to buy with the money and by worry about how long it would take to work off his debt if he lost, he got in gear. Instead of generally intending to exercise every once in a while, he exercised every day that he could, mostly cardio with some strength training. He stopped asking for and eating junk food and fast food: where they had been uncommon treats before, now he cut them entirely out of his diet. He chose salads without dressing for lunches at school and stuck with lean, healthy options at home. When he didn’t know whether or not a food was good for weight loss, he asked me, and I did my best to give him good guidelines. He avoided most carbs and focused on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and a few whole grains. He stopped drinking juice and lemonade and stuck with spring water. And he started losing weight.

In fact, he lost weight very quickly: several pounds a week. He still had two weeks to spare when his weight loss hit ten pounds. He repeated the winning weigh-in with me as a witness, and was ceremoniously awarded his prize. It was spent on the wished-for items within hours.

The aftermath
I was hoping that he might develop some good habits in the course of his weight loss experiment, but that was based on the idea that he would adopt a healthy regimen over the whole eight weeks, not on the idea that he would lose almost all the weight in a self-disciplined rush in the middle. He had gotten down three weeks of good habits, but for complex behaviors, three weeks is rarely long enough for a habit to form (see “How Long Does It Take to Form a Habit?“).

So it wasn’t surprising, though it was disappointing, to see my son go back pretty much to his old habits of eating (although he’s a little more restrained about things like juice and desserts these days). It’s encouraging, though, that he is still doing fairly regular exercise. It appears that his short flirtation with weight loss may have gotten him over some reservations about exercise, which matches my experience: once you start doing it regularly, especially if you can find a mode that’s pleasurable for you, you no longer work so hard to avoid it.

So, was it a good idea?
In the end, I’m going to call this one a limited success. It certainly isn’t an ideal approach, since it didn’t do much of anything to change his internal attitudes or supply him with a long-burning passion for fitness (something that’s very difficult to even do for ourselves, let alone other people). It also didn’t turn out to get him doing healthy things long enough for them to become habits.

However, there’s no denying that the bet enabled him to lose 10 pounds on his own, and it certainly taught him some things about his ability to motivate himself when there are stakes that matter to him, about exercise, and about healthy living. If sooner or later he comes to feel that he really wants to commit to a healthier lifestyle, he’ll know how, and he’ll have confidence he can do it again on his own.

Photo by Todd Kravos

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The 5 Stages of Grief for a Parent

Guest posts

Today’s guest post is from Kari Wolfe, whose blog Imperfect Clarity passes on everything she’s learning as she works toward building a writing career, interviews fascinating people, parents her daughter in ways she never expected, and forges her own habits of success.


When you’re pregnant (or your significant other is), you spend a lot of your time thinking about the baby. You think about what he/she is going to look like. Will he/she look more like her father or her mother?

You think about what he/she will be like as a baby, how you will treat him/her. Are you going to co-sleep or have a bassinet and/or a crib? Are you going to nurse or use formula? What kind of diapers are you going to use?

I dreamt of giving my baby the type of education I wished I had. The best day cares, the best schools, the best teachers. The best programs. I wanted to give my daughter every opportunity in the world.

When you’re a mother, you can’t help but have these dreams and aspirations for your child. It’s part of your nature.

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When Natasha was 18 months old, her father, Tom, and I started to worry. She hadn’t said her first word. When she played, she played in “her own little world,” paying no attention to the kids or adults around her. She batted and flapped her hands at toys she liked. She didn’t pay any attention to us–we could call her name, but she wouldn’t usually react.

Her doctor said for us to sit back, not to worry–this could be just a normal delay in her development. Not a big deal at this age.

He had her tested for autism at 2. We patiently waited a year, going to every therapy we could think of, hoping and praying maybe she was simply developmentally delayed.

She was diagnosed as having autism at 3.

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In Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, the original first stage is denial. In the expanded stages, the first effect is shock.

In my case, my husband and I suspected there was something different about Natasha. We had seen it when we went to the playground or visited neighbors–there was a difference in the children.

I was at Starbucks, having a cup of coffee with a behavioral therapist, when she told me that Natasha might be autistic. Here was someone else, outside of the family, who noticed something wasn’t quite right. She didn’t have the education to diagnose; what we wanted was an educated opinion.

I was calm; after all, I knew what she was going to say. Mentally, I had prepared myself; however, my heart broke into pieces.

Watching as she went over the therapies Natasha should receive to help her with her social and communication skills, I froze, a black pit in my stomach growing with every thought and every dollar amount she mentioned.

I saw my dreams for my daughter, my hopes and wishes and desires, vanish into thin air.

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When Natasha was evaluated at two-years old, the behavioral pediatrician spoke candidly about the likelihood of Natasha being autistic and the possibility of her symptoms being only a developmental delay. She gave us the option to have Natasha diagnosed as having a global developmental delay rather than autism then having her evaluated again in a year, and we took it.

I made appointments for Natasha’s occupational therapy and arranged evaluations for her to be seen by the early intervention people to be evaluated for state and federal programs for developmentally delayed and autistic children from birth to three-years of age.

She stopped going to day care because I realized the teacher-student ratio may have been great for typically developing children, but Natasha needed someone to guide her activities rather than to let her wander for herself. Not long afterward, I left school so I could focus on her.

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The second stage of Dr. Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief is anger.

It’s not fair. Why did this happen to us? Why did God allow this to happen?

I was angry at life. When I was alone, I screamed my anger out in the car with extremely loud guitars and a fast beat coming out of the speakers.  Sometimes I would rant and rave in the shower.

I was angry at myself because it was always possible that I could have done something wrong. Babies don’t come with instruction manuals–what if this was all my fault for not doing something I should have done? What if I didn’t spend enough time with her?

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Bargaining is the third stage.

While Dr. Kubler-Ross lists anger and bargaining (“I’ll do anything if ___ wasn’t so.”) as different sections, it’s very difficult in my mind to separate the two. Mentally, I bargained with everyone. I would have made a deal with the devil, had I thought it might have worked.

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The fourth stage is depression.

After I gave birth to Natasha, I suffered from post-partum depression. My OB/GYN prescribed an anti-depressant and told me to consult with my family doctor.

Due to Natasha’s developmental delay and subsequent diagnosis, my family doctor would increase that dosage twice in three years.

For me, this was a much-needed part of the solution.

Throughout my entire life, I have had problems with depression. The anti-depressant helped me have the willpower to overcome the despair and the apathy I felt when in a stage of deep depression. Six months ago, my doctor lowered the dose after I felt that I didn’t need quite as much anymore.

Of the stages of grief, I believe this is the one that can be the most harmful. You can stagnate. Depression can lead to inaction–in my case, that was the last thing I could do.

** NOTE: Please don’t think I’m advocating a particular method of dealing with or working through depression. This is what worked for me. The best way to determine what is right for you is to discuss your options with a therapist or your doctor.

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The first year of Natasha’s occupational therapy was my redemption.

Weekly, Natasha and I would go to the clinic where our therapist, L., would take us to the sensory gym. She would show Natasha how to take her shoes and socks off and we would go play on the trampoline, in the ball pit, or on the swings.

My mother tells me that teachers would talk to her during parent-teacher meetings and tell her she needed to get me to play. I didn’t play–from the time I could read, I’ve had my nose in a book.

L. taught me to play while teaching me how to help Natasha get the sensory information she craves. Not only was L. Natasha’s therapist, but she counseled me when I came to the appointments heart-broken and lost.

During this time, we saw all sorts of kids, some with autism, some with other problems, of varying ages and abilities. I watched the kids as they played and the therapists as they interacted with the kids and the other therapists. Some of the kids had problems that seemed to me much worse than Natasha’s–kids with feeding issues, sensory avoidance, physical disabilities. Watching them gave me hope.

Sometimes I talked with the parents of these kids. We would share stories and progress reports. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone.

Through this year, we played games, bounced on the trampoline, jumped or swung into the foam pit, and surfed in the ball pit.  Slowly but surely, Natasha began to progress.  She started to sign “more,” “open” and “all done.” After a year of what felt like no progress whatsoever, she started to communicate with us.

My heart began to mend.

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The final stage of grief is acceptance.

It’s been a very long, rough road, but I’m mostly there. Sure, I have my moments of sadness that Natasha is autistic–but I’m realizing more and more that being autistic isn’t the end of the world.  It felt like it in the beginning but, through listening to Natasha’s therapists and seeing Natasha making progress in things Tom and I questioned whether she would ever do, I’m learning that it’s not.

It’s still hard.  I still have problems when I talk to mothers of children who are around the same age and they tell me their child never stops talking.  They inevitably always ask if Natasha does the same thing. Part of me knows it’s just making conversation, small talk–but it doesn’t stop a little pain going through my heart.

Natasha is in hippotherapy (therapy performed while on horseback) for occupational therapy, soon to be for speech therapy, and the stimulation she receives from riding a horse has been extremely beneficial to her. In the past few months, we have seen her go from not really wanting to pay attention to saying her alphabet and drawing smiley faces to actually beginning to mimic the words her father and I are saying. She’s beginning to understand we want to communicate with her and she’s beginning to want to communicate with us as well.

And acceptance seems a perfectly natural thing after all. This is who Natasha is and neither her father nor I want her to change into something she’s not.

Kari Wolfe is a stay-at-home mother of a very curious three-year-old daughter who happens to be autistic. She is a writer and maintains her own blog, Imperfect Clarity where her focus is becoming the best writer (and person) she can be by living her life to the fullest 🙂

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Mental Schemas #6: Incompetence

Handling negative emotions

This is the sixth in a series of articles that draw on the field of schema therapy, an approach to addressing negative thinking patterns that was devised by Dr. Jeffrey Young. You can find an introduction to schemas and schema therapy, a list of schemas, and links to other schema articles on The Willpower Engine here.

Ever felt stupid? Not just like you did something stupid, but that you are stupid, can’t learn, are incompetent, are talentless or useless? That you in a basic and profound way are just not up to the mark?

Most of us feel some of that at least a few times in our lives, but people with the incompetence schema feel that way every day. On a basic level, they feel as though they’re not good enough. If this feels like you or sounds like someone you know, learning about this schema might come in handy for you.

How incompetence schemas work
Incompetence schemas usually develop in childhood, when parents or other important figures in a kid’s life start telling them–whether in so many words or through attitudes and actions–that they can’t hack it, that they’re not up to the challenge.

Studies of randomly-generated praise have shown that when someone is doing a task, even completely meaningless, computer-generated encouragement tends to improve their mood and make them feel more competent. I suspect on some basic level it’s built into us to need a certain amount of encouragement. Some of us eventually internalize that encouragement and can provide it for ourselves, mentally telling ourselves “You’ve got this!” and “You’re going to kick butt!”

People with this schema never got enough of that encouragement in their formative years and therefore have trouble generating their own encouragement or believing other people’s. This can lead to expecting failure, fearing challenges, and shying away from anything that might “prove” the incompetence.

Getting past an incompetence schema
How do you get the best of an incompetence schema? Well, external encouragement may help, but there are two things that have to happen inside a person for a real change to emerge over time: acceptance that failure is a normal part of life, but also understanding that one failure doesn’t doesn’t define a person. A person can fail without being a failure. People who have failed once may very well succeed when the next challenge comes along. Thomas Edison claimed famously that he had thousands of failed attempts  before he came up with a working light bulb.

In terms of broken ideas, an incompetence schema can show up in a variety of ways: all-or-nothing thinking (“I’m completely incompetent at math.”), overgeneralization (“The woman I asked last year turned me down for a date, so I’m obviously not desirable”), mental filtering (“Winning that poetry prize was a fluke; the judges probably just felt sorry for me”), fortune telling (“I know I’m going to screw up this project”), and so on. Each of these ideas can be detected and repaired on its own, slowly breaking away the barrier of feeling incompetent and revealing the truer, brighter possibilities behind it.

Photo by Paul in Uijeongbu

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Relaxing a Little and Focusing on Positive Interactions at Zen Habits

Resources

Leo Babuta at Zen Habits posted an article on parenting yesterday that’s well worth reading. It’s interesting, because he doesn’t have a lot of hard evidence to back up what he’s saying, yet his points resonate strongly with what I’ve learned by trial and error (and there has been a lot of error, I can tell you) in parenting.

Several of his points about parenting, interestingly enough, touch on important elements of motivation. Several of his points have to do with surrendering immediate inclinations (like being angry or saying no or insisting on your own point of view) in order to improve your relationship with your kid and get a better outcome, and these are excellent examples of the impressive powers of surrender that I talk about in this post.

He also talks indirectly about a point I’ll get to in future posts, which is the value of investing in the important relationships in our lives. Positivity, following natural inclinations, and using happiness as a sign post also come up. I’m curious what non-parents might think of the article, and whether you find much in it that you can use elsewhere in your life.

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