All Posts By

Kelly Reed

Parenting Survival Guide

By | Blog, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

School is almost out. For some, it is an exciting time of getting to spend time with their children who are at school all day. Maybe it means having donuts for breakfast regularly! (No? Yeah, us either.) For others, it brings feelings of stress and dread due to behaviors they now must deal with during the day and the evening.

If you are focusing on simply “surviving” the summer, check out this brief guide. It contains helpful reminders which can help change your outlook in moments of frustration. It is printable so you can post in a place so you can refer to it often! And trust me, you will never look at a donut the same way!

Parents Survival Guide by Dr. Kelly Reed

Praise and Encouragement

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom

Many adults use praise (e.g., “Good job.” “Nice work.” “Beautiful.”) profusely because they believe it is an effective way to help children feel good about themselves and their work. Although well-intentioned, praise has been shown through research and practice to invite comparison and competition as well as to increase children’s dependence on adults to solve problems and to evaluate what is right, wrong, good, or bad for them.

Praise such as “I like the way Johnny is sitting” has been used as a management tool to get children ready to settle down and focus. However, praising one child to get others to conform can be damaging because children usually resent being manipulated in this way. The implied comparison can encourage others to feel competitive or insecure. Some praise may set up even the most capable children for failure. No child can “always” be good or nice or smart. Consequently, to avoid negative evaluations, children may tend not to take choices or try difficult tasks.

Praise (e.g., “That’s a beautiful picture.” “Your project is awesome.”) judges a child’s abilities and self-worth. It tells the child what YOU think about his or her abilities. It teaches the child to value him/herself based upon other’s positive and negative comments. If the child can make a beautiful picture or awesome project, then the child can also make a picture or project that displeases you. Too much praise can make children anxious about their abilities, discourage them to take risks and try new things, leave them unsure of how to evaluate their own efforts, have a negative effect on self-image, and can place them on the defensive. Moreover, if all your evaluations are positive, your child may doubt your authenticity and question how trustworthy you might be. Therefore, praise is not conducive to self-motivation, self-reliance, self-direction, or self-control. You want your child to feel good about him/herself regardless of others’ evaluation, praise, and approval.

Encouragement refers to a positive acknowledgment response that focuses on your child’s efforts or specific attributes of work he/she completed. Unlike praise, encouragement does not place judgment on the child’s work. An encouraging response (e.g., “You worked hard on that picture/project.”) acknowledges the child’s effort. This type of response helps a child learn to give credit to him/herself and to appreciate his/her own abilities. This child will learn to become self-motivated and will not formulate ideas about self-concept solely based upon other’s evaluation.

Let’s say your child cooks dinner, hands you a plate, and asks, “How do you like it?” A praise response is “This dinner is delicious!” This response evaluates and judges your child’s performance. It encourages your child to be motivated by your comments and praise. (And what if the dinner was terrible!?!) An encouraging response (while showing admiration in your tone) such as, “You worked hard making this dinner,” or “You were able to make an entire meal all on your own,” focuses on your child’s work and effort. Comments that acknowledge time, effort, and the child’s hard work can be internalized (e.g., “‘I’ worked hard on this project.”). Again, we want children to become self-motivated instead of relying on praise from others. And if you have other children, encouraging responses can lessen competition (e.g., who can cook the most delicious meal, etc.). Asking open-ended questions, such as “Would you like to tell me about your project?” or “What was it like cooking this meal?” or “What was it like cooking for us tonight?” or “How did you make ___?”, can initiate a dialogue in which your child is the expert on his/her own work. The process should always be more important than the product. Encouraging children to describe their activities stimulates the process of reflective thinking. It can also help children contemplate and describe what they have made or done. Children can recall the high and low points of their experiences and the problems encountered and solved. They become more aware of their own thinking and problem solving and more able to appreciate and evaluate their own experiences and achievements.

Instead of “Good job,” you could say, “(Child’s name), this is the first time I’ve seen you put that puzzle together. You stayed focused on it for a long time to get it completed.” Specific statements like these have the added advantage of being conversation-starters. Praise statements on the other hand, often diminish conversation. A statement like “Good work, (child’s name)!” can communicate the message that the conversation has ended and the child is dismissed.

Children will thrive in environments where they do not fear being evaluated, where they can make mistakes and learn from them, and where they do not need to always strive to meet someone else’s standard of excellence. Adults who create an environment in which children can make mistakes without being evaluated or judged are helping children learn how to value themselves and their work and to be self-reliant. It might take some time and practice to effectively apply alternatives to praise; however, you will soon see the results of your efforts – your children will be more independent, self-confident, and cooperative.

The Importance of Allowing our Children to Struggle

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

Providing children with love and unconditional acceptance is important to helping them develop a positive view of “self”. However, it is equally important to their positive view of self to help them feel competent and capable. Allowing your child to experience what is it like to discover, figure-out, and problem-solve is the first step toward helping your child to feel competent and capable. When you allow your child to struggle with a problem (all while providing encouragement with phrases such as, “You’re determined to figure it out” or “You’ve got a plan for how…” or “You’re not giving up”) you are showing your child that you have faith in his/her capabilities. Your faith in your child’s capabilities also encourages your child to have faith in him/herself.

For most parents, allowing children to struggle is difficult. However, it is necessary for children to truly feel capable. Most parents do too much for their children and as a result their children have learned to depend on their parents to solve their problems, often believing they cannot do it themselves. When you step in to help or rescue your child, you rob your child of the joy of discovery and the opportunity to feel competent. You will never know what your child is capable of, unless you allow him/her to try! It might take a lot of practice in how to return responsibility to your child to do things he/she is capable of figuring out for him/herself. Using phrases like, “That’s something you can do” or “You get to decide” can be helpful. Returning responsibility to your child will help your child learn to no longer depend on you to solve most of his/her problems. To help illustrate the importance of struggle and self-discovery, I would like to share with you “The Story of the Butterfly.”

A man found the cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could not go any farther.

The man felt sympathetic on seeing the butterfly struggle so much. He decided to help it. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of cocoon. The butterfly emerged easily.

But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.

It was never able to fly.

What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it became free from the cocoon. (Author Unknown).

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives in order to fly (i.e., to grow and reach a higher potential). Learning to respond to your child in ways that gives your child credit for his/her ideas, efforts, and accomplishments, without praising him/her (e.g., You figured it out! You did it! rather than “You’re so good.”), will help your child develop a positive view of self as capable and competent. Our book has a section on praise and encouragement, and Kelly will discuss more on the topic in her next blog.

 

Tired of Feeling Disrespected?

By | Blog

Many adoptive parents discussed feeling disrespected by their child’s rude behavior. Some parents said in order to “love” their children they needed to no longer feel disrespected by them. We cannot control our kids or anyone for that matter (a lot of the times we wish we could), but they must make choices on whether or not to listen and obey us or to show us respect and kindness. So, what can you do when your children are displaying disrespectful behavior? Perhaps their disrespectful behavior is choosing not to answer your questions or choosing not to use nice manners when you are doing nice things for them. One thing I have found to help me from becoming mad or hurt is to speak for them the words I wish they had used. Getting mad or hurt usually only makes the situation–or the rest of the day–worse for everyone. Focusing on what I would have liked to hear them say changes my focus a little off the negative. AND it helps them to hear what they could/should have said instead of being disrespectful. You can often hear me talking to myself in my children’s presence saying, “Thank you, mom.” Or “I’m sorry I…”. I am speaking the words aloud that I wish they had said. I do this on such a regular basis that usually my kids will then repeat what I have said or something similar to thank you or I’m sorry. Yet there are times when kids do not choose to be respectful (maybe they are mad at you or someone else and you are getting the brunt of it, maybe they are too embarrassed to try to correct things, or maybe they do not agree with what you want them to say or do). In speaking for them to myself, I can take comfort in knowing they heard what they should have done/said without me lecturing them about it. (Lecturing usually ends in eye rolls, tantrums, or not really listening, right?). And I too feel better just from hearing what should have been said versus what should not have been said or done. It might sound silly to talk to yourself as if you were your kids, but if you haven’t tried it please give it a try a few times to see if it might help you. Taking deep breaths, counting to five/ten, or clinching your fists and then releasing them are other tricks that have worked for parents.

Wisdom from Adoptive Families: Joys and Challenges in Older Child Adoption shares how real adoptive families struggled and how they were better able to manage some parenting challenges. There is also an entire chapter dedicated to the use of various coping skills.