Published by Psyched Magazine: By Maryellen Mullin | June 13, 2017
For four years in college and four years after, everything I owned fit into a small space. Because I moved yearly, I lived simply. If I was tired of schlepping something between apartments, it was discarded. Like most people, once I stopped moving and settled in one place, I began to accumulate. Balancing my decisions of what to hold onto and a need for simplicity has been part of an ongoing process of sorting and letting go.
What’s the emotional tie between you and your stuff? For many, it is an existential dilemma. To be or not to be: A saver, a nostalgic preserver, a frugal spender, a frequent donor to Goodwill.
As a therapist, I have observed that both children and adults find letting go of their “stuff” challenging. This is one reason why clients seek help. Anxiety is a common obstacle in the quest to let go; and for many, emotional healing needs to happen first.
While a majority of children can let go of outgrown toys, clothes and books in a way that’s appropriate to their developmental stage; for some, anxiety makes it a bigger challenge. These kids need adult support in letting go.
How do you parent a kid who accumulates? To read more, click here:
By Maryellen P. Mullin, LMFT
Power struggles with kids are a losing battle. Want to make it a win-win for you and your kid?
Parents tend to focus on responding to the words going on in a power struggle, not to the actual issue. Everyone can relate to falling into the trap of getting caught up in a dialogue that has nothing to do with an underlying issue.
I coach parents to “Respond to the issue, not to the dialogue,” whenever they sense a power struggle is about to ensue with a child or teen.
Most parents can relate to the following scenarios. The reluctant child refuses to get ready for bed. The whining child in the grocery store pleads for a box of sugary cereal. The teen wants to use the car, but won’t get off a smart phone and come to the dinner table. The child or teen attempts to coerce, badger or butter up the parent, so that the parent will give in to their request.
Parental reactions to these challenges vary, but in general, many parents feel their frustration level or other negative emotions rise. Sometimes your parental response may spark additional retorts from your kid, escalating the situation into a fast-burning and raging power struggle.
What can you do to change the cycle? A primary goal in family therapy is to help families improve communication.
A simple piece of advice: Do not respond to the dialogue; respond to the issue. When I was growing up, my mom taught me the acronym HALT – hungry, angry, lonely, tired. We are all bound to behave differently (and sometimes negatively) if we are experiencing hunger, anger, loneliness or fatigue. Our behavior changes and is reflected in our communication with self and others.
For example, the child says, “I don’t want to go to bed.” The parent can think, “What is the issue?” Some children are just tired and give refusals when they are tired. Some children may feel lonely in the evening, as their time with a beloved parent is ending for the day.
So, to keep the calm and resist the power struggle, follow these simple steps.
What is the dialogue vs. the issue? For example, your child protests, “I don’t want to go to bed.” Catch yourself, take a moment and allow yourself to think. This dialogue is about bed, but that is not the issue.
Reduce your own tension. Breath deeply and pause before you respond. Think HALT. Where is your child physically or emotionally right now? Observe with curiosity. There is no urgency in responding right away. Slow yourself down.
Coach with reflective listening. Say calmly, “Ok, you don’t want to go to bed. ” Then connect to the emotion and the issue. Say kindly to your child, “It’s hard when you are so tired. I understand. It’s okay that you are tired; sleep will help you feel better.” Reflective listening can help move many difficult parenting moments forward. When children feel heard, they feel validated. Reflective listening is a way to validate their emotional experience.
Practice these new skills. Your child says, “I want the pink marshmallow cereal.” The dialogue is about pink marshmallows, but is that the issue? Your response might be, “Oh, you want pink marshmallow cereal?” Your kid nods. Then ask, with curiosity, “Are you hungry?” Your child may say no, just that they like pink. The response may be yes, that he is hungry. You can relate to both of those ideas.
Your teen wants the car. Perhaps you say, “Tell me more about your plans.” Invite a conversation before you respond in the negative, or before you set boundaries regarding use of the car.
If your child is fussing or your teen talks with contempt, you can assume a neutral tone and repeat what the issue is for them. Stay calm. Remind yourself that their cranky behavior is fueled by feelings. A child's or teen’s cranky behavior does not equate with total disrespect for you as a person or parent.
It’s not about you; so don’t make it about you with an initial negative reaction. Regardless of how you respond, first think about the actual issue and reflect it to your child or teen, thereby validating them. Relate to your child or teen:
“Yes, pink makes the marshmallows look fun. I know how much you like marshmallows when we camp.”
“Hey, I know you want the car, but if there is drinking involved at the party, no car.”
This will help you keep your cool. Move your child/teen forward by moving beyond their words or behavior. Take the time to go deeper, to understand what the child is really trying to say.
Remember, responding to the issue and using reflective listening takes practice. It may not work initially, but if you can stick to the issue, acknowledge your kid’s feelings and move forward, messy moments may not always turn into the dreaded power struggle.
We sat down with Maryellen P. Mullin, Founder of San Francisco Family Therapy and Messy Parenting: Progress Not Perfection, who has a demonstrated history of working in the mental health care industry, to talk about raising kids in the digital age. Below are her top 5 parent tips to keep kids safe and smart.
To watch the webinar, click here: https://safesmartsocial.com/parent-tips/
1. Be Curious
So, how many parents actually know the ins and outs of smartphones, secret apps and social media sites? Not many. How many parents know when and how kids go online? And, where do your kids go when they are online? If you dropped them off at a mall, you’d have a basic idea of what is in the mall. It’s no difference with going online…except you would never knowingly drop your kids off at a sex club. So, be the student – be willing to learn and put in some time to understand the world your kids experience.
2. Eat Dinner Together
Watch family screen habits. Watch your habits with television/screens, time devoted to work or other things that absorb time that could be spent to connect with each other at home. Make sure you model “together time.” The easiest way – sit down for a meal, without any distractions.
Invest in spending time with your kid and engage them in the meal process, which includes conversation, even it if is only a few times a week.
3. Be the Driver
Want to know what is really going on with your kids? Put them in the backseat and offer to drive…drive to practice, drive your kid with her/his friends and provide pick ups. Always offer when you can…be the parent that drives…and listen.
Listen and don’t intrude, even when you want to ask a question. Later, when your kid is not with peers, gently ask about something then or bring it up in a neutral way. Earn their trust by not passing judgement, but reflecting what you hear and asking how they feel about it. “I wonder how you felt when your friend said xxx.”
4. Parent in a “pack,” with a “pact”
Stick together with other parents. Find at least one, if not more, parents who support staying in touch, talking, driving each others’ kids and who also set reasonable limits. I know of a few parents who in middle school made a pact, an agreement, with each other to support the kids together. These kids, now in high school, benefit from parents who wanted them to gain more independence, with support and limits.
For example: they will not drop off the kids at a party if the situation is questionable. They will text the parent group when they do the drop off or pick up.
If one parent can’t reach their kid, they text the parent of a kid in the group. That parent texts their kid to get the friend to call home.
They share information with each other – and they don’t use it against their kids. They ask when friends are having problems; they listen to the kids who come for dinner. They all give rides. They stay in the background, supporting the growth of increased independence by providing a safety net of adult background support…so it’s there when needed.
5. Use tech together.
Talk. Plan. Don’t expect a kid without self-control to manage screen usage on his or her own yet…you wouldn’t hand a kid 10 candy bars and say, “Eat just one,” would you?
Learn tech, talk about it, observe it in play and use it together. Talk with your kids and let others talk for you. Guess what, the parents I see who are NOT struggling, all have one thing in common: they talk to their kids, and they hold fast to a plan, enforcing agreed upon and reasonable rules about devices use in the home. You can, too!