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Dr. Kelly Reed

Adjusting Your Expectations

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

The beginning of a new year provides us the opportunity to reflect and look at our own expectations.

Unrealistic expectations put too much unnecessary pressure on you, your adopted child, your existing children, your spouse, and others. Unrealistic expectations can harm your relationships and leave you working toward false goals. They can, will, and most often do lead to disappointment. If you want your relationships to be successful, work on being aware of what is going on with you, with others, and within your relationships and set realistic expectations.

Do not expect others to be able to read your mind and always act according to your wishes. You do not share one mind, and they are different from you. Good communication is vital to a healthy family. Your family (existing children, spouse, and others) will likely need to adjust their expectations as well. Most families we spoke to found that their existing children had difficulty adjusting to their adopted sibling’s behaviors and the attention their adopted older sibling received. Make sure you check in with your family members to learn how they are doing. Have frequent, purposeful discussions with them acknowledging the successes and difficulties they are experiencing. Give them opportunities to express frustration that their expectations are not being met. Provide them with potential reasons why things are going the way they are. Have family members try to look at things from other family members’ perspectives.

Equally important, your expectations cannot change people. One of the biggest challenges people face in life is learning to accept people as they are. You can accept people while not accepting their behavior. People who do not feel accepted feel rejected, which is a form of identity destruction and can lead to many negative outcomes. Your older adopted child will be required to do a lot of work to adjust and change. You cannot change people, but you can help facilitate their process toward positive, healthy change. Life does not always work the way we imagined or planned and working hard to adjust accordingly to where everyone is at and what they are capable of may be beneficial. Adjustments can be long-term or moment-to-moment as needed.

Though we tend to set our expectations unconsciously, it does not prevent us from consciously adjusting them up or down. If you observe yourself repeatedly disappointed by experiences you feel you should be able to enjoy, you may benefit from consciously lowering your expectations somewhat. Similarly, if your expectations are continually low, your pessimism may prevent you (and possibly others) from enjoying the anticipation of good things, and you may want to work on allowing yourself to expect a little more. Going into situations with an open mind, not expecting certain things, allows you to fully engage without the pressure of living up to preconceived notions.

Consider taking a few moments to reflect on your expectations for yourself and for others.

Creating Moments of Connection

By | Blog, Resources, Wisdom

Family bonding can be healing for a multitude of reasons including, but not limited to: helping to navigate change; enhancing communication; building teamwork; enhancing social, emotional and intellectual success; problem solving; improving concentration; improving decision making; providing comfort and security; building self-esteem; teaching practical skills; increasing physical ability; teaching values; increasing curiosity; building self-discovery; creating a sense of identity; increasing playfulness; improving kindness; and generating wonderful memories.

Thus, it is important for your family to establish a regular time to bond. Attitudes are contagious, so try not to see this as another thing on your to-do list. Try to be positive about family times. When the family is involved in an activity, they are more apt to open up about things they might not normally discuss.

It might be difficult finding activities that help facilitate family bonding. Everyone might not want to be involved. To help facilitate involvement, you can try asking those most resistant to pick the movie, activity (game, craft, etc.), or snack. However, that may not work well for those who are anxious, since they might feel they are being put in the hot seat. If you notice someone is anxious or struggling with making a decision, you might suggest they select three choices and ask another family member to make the final decision, or for the family to take a vote. You may need to give some incentives to participate such as not having to do a chore, getting an extra half hour or hour of TV time, a bonus bedtime story, or getting to stay up an extra half hour on Friday night. However, if the family activity becomes too competitive and there are some who never win, you might change the prize to a family reward earned after everyone participates. Some families may benefit most from cooperative games rather than competitive games. The ultimate reward is connecting as a family, having fun, and creating lasting memories.

The Reed and Kittle families enjoy playing Rory’s Story Cubes where a story is created round robin style with each family member adding an aspect to the story. This type of activity creates connection and conversation. If someone is struggling to come up with an idea of what to add to the story, then another family member could provide a suggestion. This type of activity also emphasizes the importance of taking turns. Some of the stories can also be pretty funny, and laughter is a great way to facilitate bonding! (There are many ideas on Pinterest for printing pictures to use to tell stories as well).

Another fun activity is to work in pairs or teams to write step-by-step instructions on how to do something (e.g., how to make a PB&J sandwich). Select one set of instructions and see if the family can accomplish the task using ONLY the steps provided such as: 1) Locate the bread; 2) Untwist the tie and open the bag of bread; 3) Remove two slices of bread; (You cannot use a plate if it did not say to open the cabinet door and get a plate!) All family members can help monitor whether the task can be completed correctly or not. If that task cannot be completed because steps are missing, start over with another set of instructions. You might want the entire family to collaborate in writing step-by-step instructions and then see if the task can be completed effectively together.

Mementos from family get togethers that highlight the family’s laughter can be saved and displayed to encourage positive reflection on family time. For example, save a funny family drawing from Pictionary and display it in a prominent place, or display the answer sheet from Scattergories with a note that says, “Do you remember all the creative answers Mitch came up with for the letter ‘z’?” Perhaps, you can decoupage and frame a puzzle you finished together or display a mosaic or artwork the family created. Maybe create silly captions for family photos and display the favorite.

Families with younger children might enjoy blowing up a balloon and hitting it back and forth to one another. You could even make paddles out of paper plates and hit the balloons to one another with those. Yoga might be an activity everyone can try and encourage one another to do different poses.

Remember laughter is a great way to facilitate family bonding.

Our book contains many other ideas to facilitate family connection, including lists broken down into Doing Tasks, Artistic Tasks, Writing or Verbal Tasks, Family Outings, and Games You Can Play.

From Lying to Honesty

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Resources

For anyone to be healed from lying, they must discover what is driving them to lie in the first place. Honesty begins with oneself. Honesty with oneself and others—by accepting and telling the truth—is the foundation of lasting relationships and a must for security and well-being. So, what can you do to help your child progress to honesty? You can start by trying to understand the reasons why your child is lying. (Our list of various reasons people lie is in the previous blog post). When you have an idea of why your child is lying, you can respond more effectively.

How to address lying varies for each child as does his or her reasons for lying. There is no single way to solve every child’s lying. However, according to Victoria Talwar and her colleagues who study children’s lie-telling behavior, forcefully confronting any suspected lying and threatening with punishment only make children work harder to become better and more frequent liars.

If you are trying to get to the truth with your child, you can help your child justify his or her actions by saying how reasonable it is to avoid embarrassment or to want to make a good impression. You can use phrases like: “You wish that were true.” “You’re embarrassed and didn’t want me to find out.” “You want your brother to get in trouble so he cannot go to his friend’s house, because you’re upset you’re not going to a friend’s.”

  • Making children aware of their reasons for lying will help them to understand themselves better and to feel better understood by you. It is important to help them learn the alternative to lying is to be honest. “I wish I had a cool story to tell my friends about what we did this summer.” “I’m embarrassed and did not want to tell you I got a C on my test.” “I really don’t want to get in trouble for breaking the lamp because it was an accident.” You might need to work on acknowledging and accepting some of their honesty. It may mean being careful you hear your child’s honesty and do not focus on something else. If your son says, “I don’t like this shirt you bought me,” rather than focusing on his lack of gratitude and the money you spent, be glad he told you the truth. Try to always be positive whenever your children tell the truth.
  • When possible, avoid lecturing or criticizing your child which can be counter-productive, leading to defensiveness and more lying. Do not ask a question when you already know the answer, because it is often an invitation for children to lie. Instead of saying “Is your bag ready?” say, “I noticed your bag isn’t ready.” Please do not call your child a liar as it can lead to more lying to confirm your expectations. It can also trigger trauma of past name calling (e.g., “You’re a bad kid.” “You’re stupid.”). Further, your child may be convinced that change is impossible and quit trying not to lie. It is also not helpful to bring up past transgressions such as, “This is the fourth time you have lied this week.” Remember to be a good model for what you want from your children. Praising them for telling the truth may encourage them to be less likely to lie. You can also help them to see that a little deceit is not worth defending because the more they lie, the more it becomes a problem in their life.
  • As you use the list of various reasons for lying to help determine your child’s intent for lying, you may start to notice a pattern providing insight into your child’s lying. Perhaps you will come to the realization that your child is lying about his or her grades because of perceived pressure to achieve. If your child repeatedly lies to avoid discipline, perhaps reassessing your consequences with your child might be helpful. The point of consequences should be to teach your child, not inflict distress.
  • Parents have mentioned the frustration of their child laughing when caught telling a lie. Inappropriate laughter can be a sign of anxiety. It is most likely that their laughter is due to anxiety about getting caught and what might happen, rather than because they thought their lie was funny. Pointing out the anxiety will help them learn to be honest. Their lying behavior might not be accepted, but their nervousness can be accepted. You can communicate that you understand them and desire to help them recognize possible reasons for their behavior. Verbally pointing out nervous behaviors like inappropriate laughter or lack of eye contact might also help you to avoid taking the behavior personally.

The more you understand the reasons for lying, the better you will understand your child, allowing you to provide more effective help for your child. Some research suggests children often lie out of fear. Therefore, once the fear is reduced, the lying will also decrease. However, determining the root cause of the child’s lying is not always straightforward which makes reducing or eliminating lying difficult. Therapy may be helpful in figuring out why your child feels the need to deceive, but ultimately, your child must purposely make the choice to tell the truth. For most children, increasing self-confidence (which lowers their anxiety and need for control) and feeling understood and accepted by themselves and others will be more therapeutic. It is much more difficult to help those who use manipulation and self-deception, but continuing to confront them and to point out things from others’ perspective may yield benefits eventually. 

Why Lie?

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom

While nearly everyone lies, few understand why they do, how destructive it can be, or how to stop. Because the human imagination is limitless, no list can possibly encompass all the reasons people lie. However, Drs. Kittle and Reed have reviewed research on lying and complied a list of various reasons:

  • To avoid punishment.
  • To avoid shame, embarrassment, and being judged.
  • To avoid conflict.
  • For material gain, such as reward or sales. A child says she has done her homework, so she can go play with friends. While trying to get the best price when buying a home/car, the buyer tells the seller a certain amount is the highest they can afford. A salesperson tells you, “That fits you well” when it is too small.
  • To maintain or improve self-esteem. These lies are often told by people with low self-esteem, who experience a sense of failure and inferiority. They feel insecure and often lie because they want to try to fit in, or to try to get others’ attention, interest or admiration.
  • To preserve independence. Kids keep some secrets from their parents because they do not want them to know everything.
  • To create a sense of identity. People may feel more comfortable in a set role or identity, so they lie in order to be seen or treated in a certain way. This reason can be either unhealthy (pathological and manipulative) or relatively healthy. Professionals (e.g., teachers, doctors, counselors, etc.) need to behave a certain way so that people seeking their services will think they are competent and successful. Lying to make oneself look good on their resume (called “resume inflation”) or during a job interview is particularly common.
  • As a wish fulfillment. A child says, “We went to Disney World over the summer” because the child wanted to go to Disney World, wishes they had, and thinks if people believe we did, maybe that is good enough.
  • To assist self-deception. These lies are told to avoid confronting some painful truths about ourselves. Those who struggle to take responsibility for their own actions lie to protect themselves from facing some hard truths and to avoid accepting blame. Some people blame needing to work rather than admit they do not do well at social events. Your neighbors might choose to go on vacation after you had a huge falling out and say it is because they love to travel. A thief who justifies stealing only from rich people who do not give to the poor. An alcoholic who is self-deceived in believing that his drinking is under control. A girl who convinces herself that her boyfriend loves her even though he has told her repeatedly that he wants to break up. Lying to oneself is one of the most harmful types of deception and automatically leads to lying to others.
  • To obtain a sense of power. Some people experience a feeling of power from telling a lie and getting away with it. People may also lie to prove a point or to try to change someone else’s opinion because it makes them feel more powerful. The additional problem with these lies is that people can form a disconnect between reality and fantasy.
  • For the amusement of fooling someone. Unlike genuine humor, the practical joke can contain a bullying component.
  • To be aggressive and deliberately hurt someone.
  • To control or influence the behavior of others. Some people lie to pursue their own needs and wishes and, at times, the needs and wishes of others. This form of lying is manipulation.
  • To protect our own resources. Most people highly value their time, energy, and money, often feeling like they do not have enough. These lies are told to avoid doing something they do not want to do, but they do not feel comfortable admitting it. These lies may be told to protect others’ feelings, to avoid conflict, to avoid being judged, or to self-deceive, but ultimately the purpose is to protect their time, energy, and money.  Saying you “have to” get off the phone with someone, when really you “want to” get off the phone.
  • To protect or to please others. People like to be told what they want to hear, and this is usually determined by local culture. You say you are fine, rather than disclosing a serious illness because you do not want others to worry about you. You lie to try to hide the fact that the person you are talking to smells bad. We often lie to protect our friends’ and family’s feelings such as when we’re asked if we like a gift, haircut, outfit, writing, or a performance. Some might provide an alibi or commit perjury. Children often lie to their parents because they think telling their parents what they want to hear will make them happier than telling them they failed to live up to their parents’ expectations.

Look for tips on how to respond more effectively to lying in Dr. Reed’s blog post: “From Lying to Honesty.”

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.