Raising Happiness

 

Handling Bad Behavior in Public Places: Alternatives to the Supermarket Squeeze

September 9, 2009 | The Main Dish | 0 comments

"Nobody trips over mountains. It is the small pebble that causes you to stumble. Pass all the pebbles in your path and you will find you have crossed the mountain."
–Author Unknown

My point in writing the Bad Mother: Real-Life Tales of Imperfect Parenting post was not to give instruction in what to do when our kids' challenge us in public places, but to point out that we all make mistakes. It is in understanding those mistakes (and resolving to do better) that we redeem our not-so-great parenting.

However, the over-whelming response to the posting can be summarized by this comment:

But what is the answer? What can someone do in such a situation? The behaviour must be stopped, it is not the place to let her do what she wants, nor is it the place to have a quiet reasonable talk. Sometimes a little physical restraint and command (perhaps with a quiet reasonable talk later at home) is all that can be done, no?

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I do have some suggestions for handling bad behavior in public places, which I'll get to below, about how to handle misbehavior in public places. But before I make my science-informed suggestions, I'd like to point out that having good research behind an idea doesn't necessarily mean that it will work for you and your kid. Also, it might not work for that stranger in the grocery store whose child is yelling, "WHY WOULD A MOTHER HURT HER CHILD'S BODY?!" as mine did. To quote Ayelet Waldman, who literally wrote the book on being labeled a "Bad Mother:"

"Another parent's different approach raises the possibility that you've made a mistake with your child. We simply can't tolerate that, because we fear that any mistake, no matter how minor, could have devastating consequences. So we proclaim the superiority of our own choices. We've lost sight of the fact that people have preferences."

And also, I would add, those preferences often reflect the best choices for our children.

"As a parent," Waldman continues, "I am absolutely certain of only one thing: my own fallibility."

And that is exactly my point with this new Half Full feature about imperfect parenting: we all make mistakes, and though the stakes are indeed high, the consequences are usually not devastating, nor are they uncorrectable. Most are pebbles, not mountains — little stumbles in the road, not major spills. It is a beautiful thing to show your kids how you make mistakes and then learn from them, to teach children how to change their course.

But on to the suggestions and solutions. The best way to handle grocery-store misbehavior is, of course, to prevent it in the first place, perhaps by engaging your children in math games while you shop. But we all already know that prevention always the best policy, and we also already know that at the end of a long day, that often brilliant multi-tasking part of our brain starts to short-circuit, and it is no longer possible to entertain the smaller, crazier people in our vicinity while we make sure we get the least expensive yet most organic versions of everything on our list.

Here is what I try to do, based on the research I'm steeped in, when my kids are making me want to hurl myself off a cliff:

  1. Practice Mindfulness. If you are going to pick only one thing to practice, pick this. If you haven't read Losing my Mindfulness or this post on meditation, they'll get you started.
  2. Be Empathetic. Once I know what beliefs and emotions are behind my kids' bad behavior, it is a million times easier to craft an effective response. Why is Fiona throwing things in the grocery cart? Is she bored? Craving my attention? Remember that often kids don't know why they are doing something, so just asking them outright might not work. But I've learned over time that when my kids are acting really big (screaming, for example) they are often feeling very small. Emotion coaching is the way to hone our ability to empathize with our kids; it will also make them better at identifying themselves why they feel the way they do. (If you read that post on Emotion Coaching, don't miss Karen's comment, which I think is really important.
  3. Employ the ERN method. When I'm being tested, my knee-jerk reaction is often to start bribing: "If you guys behave well for 10 more minutes we'll go get ice cream" or threatening: "If you do that one more time, you are going to have to sit in the car by yourself." I've written before about the problem with threats and bribes, and about the solution: expressing Empathy, Rationale, and Not-being-so-bossy. Research shows that asking your kids for compliance using these three things works better in both the short AND the long-run.

Readers also had some great suggestions for ways that they handle public misbehavior:

  • When our usually reasonable child starts acting like a little jerk I often squat down to his level and discuss with him how he's making me or his mother or the people around us feel. Six times out of ten, that works; he becomes better behaved. This method takes longer, needless to say, than something like the shoulder grab. If I don't have the luxury of time or if he is just not behaving, I give him until the count of three to settle down. If he doesn't, I (depending on the circumstances) a) pick him up and carry him; b) ignore him; or c) restrain him. Later, during calm moments, we talk about what happened and why I had to do what I did.
  • One thing that I have found that HELPS is to prepare my 3 year old son before we go in to whatever situation [by telling him] that I need his cooperation. I ask him if he is able to do it, and then, when inside the store I remind him of what he told me he could do (keep quiet, listen and not touch things when I asked, etc.
  • I know this can't work for everyone, but I made a deal with my spouse when the kids were young. The parent that didn't do the grocery shopping baby-sat the kids. Once they were old enough to "help" with the shopping they were allowed to pick out a treat if they were good. I tried to make a lesson of it when possible — they loved to count aloud each piece of fruit we placed in the bags.

There are a lot more comments on this posting with more suggestions. Please keep adding your comments and asking your questions!

Warmly,

© 2009 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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Friday Photo

September 4, 2009 | Gratitude Journal | 0 comments

"I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself."
–―Maya Angelou

Want to see a photo of your child in this space?
You can share your photos with us by following 3 simple steps:

  1. Create a Flickr account, if you don't already have one
  2. Upload your photos to your Flickr account
  3. Join our Raising Happy Kids group

We are really interested in photos of kids going about their daily activities (doing their homework, eating dinner, practicing sports, etc.) and of children laughing. Thank you for all the wonderful photos you've shared with us so far! We have uploaded them into the Raising Happy Kids Photo Pool on Flickr.

 
 
 
 
  

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Losing my Mindfulness

September 2, 2009 | The Main Dish | 8 comments

It seems everyone who read the post about losing my temper in the supermarket has the same question: what should we do instead of employing the grocery-store grab?

My complete answer to this question will be posted on next week's comment round-up, but here's the short answer: try to be more mindful. When I have those "bad mother" moments, I may feel like I'm losing my mind, but really I've lost my mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness, Really?

Like gratitude, altruism, and strong social ties, mindfulness is definitely a part of the happiness Holy Grail. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the scientist who first "translated" Buddhist practices of mindfulness into a secular program, defines mindfulness as the "awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experiences moment by moment."

You can try being mindful right here, right now. What are you feeling in your body right now? What themes do your thoughts keep returning to—can you notice and label them? Mindfulness is not necessarily a lack of emotion or a state of total calm. We can be feeling furious and pay mindful attention to that experience. Nor is mindfulness necessarily the suppression of thought, or an altered state of consciousness. Mindfulness is often a running conversation with ourselves, describing our experiences as they are happening: I am feeling really frustrated with Fiona…. And then stepping back to label: …frustrated, frustrated. I'm not dealing with her behavior. Denial, not dealing. I just want to get done with this grocery shopping and get out of here. I want her to stop taunting her sister. Wanting, wanting. Notice the lack of judgment that is a part of Kabat-Zinn's definition: I'm reporting what is, not chastising myself for feeling angry at my daughter or for not dealing with her bad behavior.

Parenting Mindfully

Practicing mindfulness doesn't just lead to decreased stress and increased pleasure in parenting, but it also brings profound benefits to kids. Parents who practiced mindful parenting for a year were more satisfied with their parenting skills and their interactions with their children—though no new parenting practices beyond just being mindful had been taught to them. Amazingly, over the course of the year-long study, the behavior of these mindful parents' kids also changed for the better: they got along better with their siblings, were less aggressive, and their social skills improved. All their parents did was practice mindfulness!

So how do we parent mindfully? It takes constant practice. I am well-trained in mindfulness practices, but I still struggle (as detailed in last week's post). Another example of real-life unmindful parenting: the other morning everyone woke up late, and Molly was making us even later. Instead of getting dressed she was drawing. I called from the other room, "Did you feed the dog?" which prompted her to go get her pet rat out of the cage. Without actually taking note of the situation—without any mindfulness, that is—I became more and more irritated with her.

I started to bark orders. "Molly! Get dressed!" And then I let loose a doozy: "Molly! What is up with you!? It is like you are 3 years old, not 6! Do I need to come in there and dress you myself?" For the record, I've never found insulting my children to be particularly effective, and it didn't work this time, either. She flew into a rage, screaming things like, "I'm not going to listen to you if you use mean words!"

If I could rewind the morning and begin more mindfully, things would have been entirely different. All I really needed to do was to take stock of the situation: notice my feelings of anxiety and exhaustion. Notice that Molly's exhaustion was also making her distractible and emotional, and gently help her stay focused rather than boss her around.

Accepting the situation non-judgmentally—rather than futilely trying to force it to be something other than it was, or chastising myself for sleeping through the alarm—would have left me open to more productive and positive alternatives.
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For me, the keys to mindful parenting are as follows: first, notice what is happening (and what you're feeling and thinking) and second, accept what is going on without judgment. If you want to become a more mindful parent—and reap the incredible benefits that come along with it—I highly recommend Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn's book on this subject, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting or, if you are a new mother, Cassi Vieten's book Mindful Motherhood.

© 2009 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

Selected References

N.N. Singh, Lanconi, G.E., Winton, A.S.W., Singh, J., Curtis, W.J., Wahler, R.G., McAleavey, K.M., "Mindful Parenting Decreases Aggression and Increases Social Behavior in Children with Developmental Disabilities", Behavior Modification 31, no. 6 (2007).

M. Kabat-Zinn, Kabat-Zinn, J., Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting (New York: Hyperion, 1998).

C. Vieten. Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child's First Year. (Berkeley: New Harbinger, 2009)

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