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Weekly 3: Perspectives on parenting

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Summary: Say more than “No.” Reduce your negative reactions. Lead by example. (~8 min read)
 

Idea Journal Weekly 3

February 3 · Issue #72 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Say more than “No.” Reduce your negative reactions. Lead by example. (~8 min read)

#1. You have more options than “No”
Mom, can I have a cookie? No, it will spoil your supper.
Dad, can I go over to Tracey’s? No.
Mom, can I use the car? No.
Parenting expert Barbara Coloroso writes in her book The Kids Are Worth It that when parents say “No” too frequently, it can dilute the importance of the word and its message: “Kids learn not to take us seriously on the big no because we keep changing our minds on the little ones.”
To help retain the power of the word no for when it matters most, Coloroso recommends that parents use the following 3 alternatives to saying no:
1. “Yes, later”
Mom, can I have a cookie? Yes, later.
It’s worth noting that the mother didn’t say, No, you can have one later. The five year old in this case is ready to fight against a no, but it’s not so easy to fight Yes, later.
But, mom, I’m so hungry. OK, have one cookie.
It’s already later, even if it’s just a few seconds. The important thing is that you have not changed a no to a yes – it was a yes all along.
2. “Give me a minute”
Dad, can I go over to Tracy’s? Give me a minute.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for a minute to develop your own case.
Maybe you’re thinking that it might be nice to have some quiet for a little while (Yes, you can go.), or that there’s a lot to do before dinner guests arrive (No, you can’t go.).
Coloroso writes that many parents find themselves saying no without knowing why: “No just sounded good. Then we have to try to defend it.”
This way, at least when you say no, you’ll know why you’re saying it.
3. “Convince me”
Mom, can I use the car? Convince me.
Coloroso notes that she uses this alternative mostly with adolescents, but that it can be used with any kid who is verbal: “Why should I spend all my energy at my age trying to convince my adolescent she can’t have the car; let her spend all her youthful energy convincing me she should.”
Mom, all my friends …  I’m not convinced.
But you let Maria. I’m not convinced.
Mom, if you don’t let us use the car, you’ll have to drive us to play practice. I’m convinced!
For Coloroso, these alternatives are important because they save the power of no for truly important instances, like when a teenage son asks, Mom, can I stay out all night with my friends?
A good answer is No and he’ll probably ask, Why not?
The typical response is Because I said so, but this isn’t a very good reason: “He could go out the back window after you’ve locked the front door, and he still won’t know why you said no.”
A better approach is to tell him why, and in Coloroso’s view there are four reasons: “sex, jail, drugs, and personal safety.”
Son, you can’t stay out all night because of sex, drugs, jail, and personal safety.
You don’t trust me!
Oh, yes, I do. I trust you from the moment you walk out the door in the morning until you walk back in the evening. It takes less than 10 minutes to get involved in sex, jail, or drugs, and I trust that you’re not. See, I trust you a whole lot. But after midnight in this community, after everything else is closed down, there isn’t a whole lot else left to do besides sex, jail, or drugs, and I don’t want to put you in a position you can’t handle yet.
Coloroso acknowledges that teenagers aren’t going to appear very impressed.
But some will be relieved because they can now tell their friends, I can’t go because they won’t let me. You get to take the blame while their own emotional and moral backbone is developing.
It’s worth remembering that children have their own free will and are subject to peer pressure, and no matter what their parents say, some kids will still go out the back window.
For Coloroso, the important thing is that parents give an explanation that is meaningful with the no, so that children can begin to develop their own internal moral structure that enables them to function creatively and responsibly in society.
“These are the children who will also have the spine to stand up and speak out against injustices.”
#2. Use mindfulness to better control your negative reactions
Neuroscientist and mindfulness expert Sam Harris addresses the following question in an Ask Me Anything episode of his podcast Making Sense: “How does / did rational and mindful Sam Harris handle an angry toddler?”
Harris acknowledges that he would be a much worse parent without meditation and a mindfulness practice.
That’s because the power of mindfulness is that it allows you to recover more quickly: “It’s not that you won’t get angry, or frustrated, or impatient, but the half-life of these reactions can be cut way, way down.”
As he points out, there are enormous differences between getting angry for 1 hour, versus 1 minute, versus 4 seconds: “Just think of the things you can wind up saying or doing in your life if you are filled with rage for an hour.”
But if your reaction only lasts a moment, it can only commit you to so much – maybe a facial expression, or a glance.
Negative emotional reactions will of course still arise, but reducing their intensity and length is useful in parenting or any other context.
#3. The power of a parent’s example
Psychiatrist Gordon Livingston writes in his book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart that, “Parents can try to teach the values and behaviors that they have found to be important, but it is the way we live as adults that conveys the real message to our children about what we believe in.”
For Livingston, a parent’s primary task, beyond attending to the physical and emotional welfare of their children, is to convey to them a sense of the world as an imperfect place in which it is possible, nevertheless, to be happy.
This can only be accomplished by example – what parents say pales in comparison to what they do.
Livingston acknowledges that this can be a difficult task, especially when the world so often seems awash in negativity. As he points out, bad news “is inherently more interesting than good and so we are daily inundated by stories of tragedy, chaos, and the depths of depravity to which human beings are capable of descending.”
How can anyone be happy in such an environment?
Livingston suggests that a dose of healthy denial helps, but the real secret is selective attention.
If we choose to focus our awareness and energy on those people and things that bring us pleasure and satisfaction, we have a better chance of being happy in a world filled with unhappiness.
It’s the ultimate demonstration of courage that we can bring ourselves, even momentarily, to enjoy life “even as we are surrounded by evidence of its brevity and potential for disaster.”
For Livingston, the ability to do this, and to be happy with each other, is the most useful example we can provide our children.
Quote of the Week
“But kids don’t stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.”
- Writer Barbara Kingslover in her novel Pigs in Heaven
Idea Journal
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