Is It Really Optional?

January 29, 2013


I was out at a science museum the other day with my little one and some other family members. I wasn’t feel all that well so I decided to hang back a bit while my hubby and his mom kept an eye on my son. Several times as I was sitting back, I decided to engage in one of America’s favorite pastimes, people watching. I know in one of my last posts I talked about not being so harsh on parents in the limelight as it puts more pressure on parents in general to try to be perfect. I am not retracting that at all but I was amazed at how some of the parents I saw allowed their children to walk all over them and everyone else around them. It made me realize the importance of what you say to your children and how you say it, as well as brought to my attention more how parents start the friend role with their children versus a parenting/teaching role even from an early age. Therefore I wanted to spend a little time today to talk about how to phrase your requests to your young children.

Making appropriate requests

One of the situations I witnessed was a father with a son approximately 4 years old. The boy was playing with something for a good amount of time while other children were waiting for their turn. The lady in charge was asking the child to let the next child have a turn while he essentially ignored her. The father stated to his child “Are you ready to let the next kid have a turn?” Can you imagine his response? I believe the child ignored his father too but if he were to answer him, the answer would have been a resounding “NO!” I am all about giving children options when it is appropriate but in this case whether he stops playing was not an option, and the father phrased it as if it were. It would have been more effective to first get down on the boy’s level and tell him what needs to be done in this situation such as “It is time to give the next child a turn, you need to hand the controller over now.” Since options are very effective with children when used properly the father could have even added an option to get back in line to play again or to find a new exhibit to check out.

This is a very common problem with parents, I even catch my husband giving our son an option to do something that really is not optional and not getting the result that he desires. Here are some tips on how to get the response you would like.

1. When requesting behaviors from a young child or toddler you need to determine if it is optional or not. In most cases you wouldn’t be saying it if it was optional, so make sure to phrase it so they understand that there is not a lot of wiggle room for getting out of it.
2. Make sure to be reasonable with your request. It needs to be age appropriate, and think about what your child is doing and how they typically respond. You may need to give them a time limit and remind them several times. You can’t expect a two or three year old (or even a lot of older kids) to drop what they are doing and immediately do what you ask but stay on them, repeating what they need to do.
3. You can also make it sound more fun by asking them to hop over to their laundry basket and put their clothes away or give them an option of how they do the task (notice not if they do the task but how they do it).

Good luck in rephrasing how you talk to the little ones in your life in order to get better results!


Praising Your Child for Self-Esteem- 5 Tips

April 21, 2011

Many parents know that they need to give their children positive feedback and praise in order to help boost their self esteem. Are you doing it in the best way though? As parents, we often get caught up into our busy lives and throw out compliments to our children that may not have the intended effect that we were hoping for. Here are a few tips in order to be most effective in the way you compliment your children.

1. Be specific- Too often compliments or praise to children is a simple “good job.” While easy, it may not be so easy for your children to know what exactly it was that they did that you found to be good. Be more specific by adding what they did that was a good job. For instance, “good job cleaning up your room quickly.”

2. Be genuine- Kids are better at reading people than we often give them credit for and can tell when the compliment is not genuine. If you can’t give them a wholehearted honest compliment, just skip it, all the other heartfelt compliments you give them will make up for it.

3. Don’t use sarcasm- Younger children are often confused by sarcasm. Whether it confuses your child or not, it will have an even bigger negative impact on their self esteem than if you just didn’t say anything at all.

4. Praise the effort- Some children may begin to learn that they should only be proud of themselves when they are successful if they are only praised for a job well done. In order to prevent this from happening, make sure that a good portion of your praise is for the effort that your child put into the task. For instance, instead of saying “I’m so proud of you for making that goal” say “I’m so proud that you played so hard and didn’t give up!”

5. Talk about your children’s pride in themselves- The ultimate goal is for kids to learn to feel good about themselves without relying on what others think or say. Talking about how they feel about their accomplishments and efforts will go a long way in this regard. It can be as easy as “you must be really proud of yourself for doing so well on your test.”

Keep up the good work in raising children with a positive self-image!

If you are looking for a Brevard County counselor or therapist give me a call. My office is located in Rockledge and I would be more than happy to talk with you.

Jessica Stebbins, M.S., Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
IMT 1258
Discovery Institute, P.A.     Rockledge,FL
Serving Brevard County

Link Between Bullying and Witnessing Violence

March 31, 2011

Jessica Stebbins, MS, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
IMT 1258
Discovery Institute, P.A.       Rockledge, FL
Serving Brevard County

           For some people, my next suggestion for trying to prevent your child from becoming a bully might be a bit obvious. For other parents, however, this is just not something that we think about or if we do, we don’t realize the impact it can have, as well as how much our children are exposed to this factor. I’m talking about your children viewing aggressive material through different forms of media and in person. If you compare the shows and games that are available and popular now to the ones that were 20 or even just 10 years ago, you will notice that a higher percentage of them are violent now than they were in the past. Because we are inundated with violence, it makes it difficult for many parents to limit the amount that children see.

          No matter how difficult, however, it is important to limit the amount of aggressive behavior your children see. Children should not be watching television shows, movies or cartoons or playing video games that are violent. Although most older children should be able to tell the difference between a movie or game in which people get hurt and there are no consequences and real life, young children and even some older children have a hard time with this. This results in children not fully understanding the impact that violence has on the victim and others. Although we want children to act appropriately due to internal reasons such as knowing it is wrong, this will not be the case for many children, especially younger ones. According to Kohlberg, the biggest factor that keeps children from engaging in immoral behavior is if they believe they will be punished for the behavior. Media does not always show consequences for the aggressive behavior, and when they do, it may not be in a form that is easily recognized and understood by a child. In addition, repeated exposure desensitizes children (and even adults) to violence to the point where it seems commonplace and acceptable.

         Even more important than limiting viewing time of media portrayals of violence is preventing your children from seeing aggressive behaviors in person, especially between parents or other people that the child looks up to. One of the most prominent ways children learn is by example and it is important for your children to be surrounded by positive role models. The more violent behavior your child witnesses within the home and community, the more likely they are to engage in that behavior as well. This link is even stronger than the one between violent behavior in children and media portrayals of violence.

          If you are unable to limit this for whatever reason or the child has already been exposed to aggressive behaviors, talk with the child in order to convey that these behaviors are not acceptable in real life. Talk with children about the consequences of violence to all involved. Make it clear that if your child engages in physically aggressive behavior, there will be consequences for them and let them know what those consequences will be. These consequences should be appropriate in terms of the child’s age and the severity of the behavior and also keep in mind that this punishment should not be physical, such as spanking. It is essential that you follow through with these consequences when your child engages in aggressive behavior so they learn that you mean what you say and for the consequence to have the intended effect of limiting this behavior.

           If you are in the Rockledge area and looking for a counselor I would be happy to talk with you.

Teaching Children to Handle Emotions Appropriately

March 20, 2011

Jessica Stebbins, MS, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
IMT 1258
Discovery Institute, P.A.      Rockledge, FL
Serving Brevard County

         I started this blog series on bullying a few weeks ago and in the mean time, I continue to see on the news and read in magazines and online how bullying is becoming a problem with children at younger and younger ages. Instead of having to worry about this problem only once your children hit the tween or teen years, it is becoming a problem parents are facing with children as young as four years old! How can we make sure that our children are not being mean or aggressive at this young of an age? There are many things that we can do in addition to helping children learn to understand feelings.

            Once children understand emotions, it is important that they learn to deal with negative emotions effectively. Anger and hurt can be very strong emotions but the feelings themselves are not the problem. The way we express and deal with these emotions can be a problem if we do not handle them appropriately, and it is important that both you and you children are aware of this. I say this because when we teach children about emotions, there is always the risk of children misinterpreting our efforts and believing that negative emotions are bad and may lead to children repressing or holding back these feelings.

          Negative emotions may lead to aggressive behaviors in children as they are unable to problem solve how to appropriately handle situations in which their feelings are hurt or they become angry.  We are not born knowing what to do when we feel this way and what may feel good to do when we are upset may not be socially acceptable. Skills must be learned in order to handle social situations and negative emotions in order to get a positive outcome for ourselves and for others. You can help your children learn appropriate ways to handle their emotions by talking to them, and being a good role model.

          When your child becomes upset and acts in an aggressive manner, it is important to talk to them about their behavior. (Remember- it may be best to wait until your child has calmed down in order to talk to them as they won’t be able to listen to you when they are upset.) It does not have to be complicated, a simple statement such as “it is not okay to hit someone when they take your toy, you can tell them to give it back until it is their turn and if they don’t listen, tell me.” Once you have done this a few times, you can begin to ask your children other ways they could handle a situation whether they handled it appropriately or not. Also, give your children praise or some other form of reinforcement when you notice your child handling a situation in a positive way.

         Just as important as talking to your children about dealing with emotions is being a positive role model as social learning (learning by watching others behaviors) may be an even stronger predictor of behavior than talking to them. Make sure you are dealing with your emotions appropriately by not overreacting, yelling, or criticizing when you are angry. If you or someone else loses their patience or reacts negatively in front of your child, be sure to talk to your child about this. Explain that everyone makes mistakes, apologize for your behavior, and discuss other ways to handle the situation.

Developing Empathy in Children- Part 1 Identifying Feelings

March 2, 2011

Jessica Stebbins, MS, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
IMT 1258
Discovery Institute, P.A.      Rockledge, FL
Serving Brevard County

       Empathy is the ability to see a situation from another person’s perspective and to understand what they are feeling. This is a skill that not everyone has developed but it is an important one for relationships. The more empathic a person is, typically the kinder they are. This is an important skill for children to learn in order to prevent them from bullying others. There are several things that parents can do in order to help children develop empathy for others.

        Being able to identify feelings in self and others is an important step in developing empathy. Some people take for granted being able to identify how they are feeling and do not realize this is something that needs to be taught. The best way to teach about feelings is to talk about them in your everyday life. Notice the feelings your child is experiencing and name them so they are able to label them in the future. For instance, you see you child working on a puzzle and they begin to pout (or worse) when not being able to get it together and you say to them “You feel frustrated because you can’t find the right puzzle piece.” After doing this for some time you can begin encouraging your child to identify their feelings on a regular basis.

      Once your child is familiar with the different feelings you can begin getting them used to identifying feelings in other people. You can do this by discussing your feelings as well as other family members and friends feelings. This will help them realize that other people have feelings too. It may be easier for children to learn this first from fictional characters. When you read books with your child, you can pause at different points within the book and talk about how each of the characters feel and the reasons for this and also look at the pictures and talk about the feelings based on the facial expressions and body language. It may be helpful to realize that facial expressions for feelings are universal across different cultures!

       More to come on developing empathy in your children in upcoming blog entries. If you are in the Brevard County area and looking for a therapist, please give me a call.