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Three questions to help guide you when disciplining your child

December 4, 2010 Leave a comment

After disciplining one of the kids, I often catch myself evaluating whether I did it “right”.  Part of that feeling is generated by whether I am following my values or whether I just reacted to the situation without thinking.  Of course, as parents we are human and we will never do things perfectly. We are going to lose our cool from time to time and not respond in ways that we wish we had in retrospect. But it often helps to be prepared for situations.

Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, authors of Attached at the Heart, discuss the following three questions to ask yourself as you interact with your child.  At times when it is easy to lose your cool, these three questions can help you be effective in your communication with your child:

  1. Am I treating my child the way I would want to be treated (=take your child’s perspective)
  2. Will my words or actions strengthen my connection with my child?
  3. Will my actions give my child an opportunity to learn from this experience?

I think number 3 is especially key.  I remember reading a story once about a boy who broke a glass vase after having been asked repeatedly to be careful not to run around the house. The boy’s father calmly asked his son to help him clean up the broken vase and save money to contribute to a new vase. The father never yelled or punished the boy. It always struck me how, in that story, the child probably learned many lessons but the connection between the boy and his father was never affected. It is not easy to be that reflective and not let emotions of anger or frustration get in the way, but it is something to strive for.

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Perspective-taking

November 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Ellen Galinksy points out in Mind in the Making (2010) that perspective-taking is an essential skill for children to learn in order to become competent adults. I had considered that issue before fin the context of empathizing with others, but I think perspective-taking is a much more appropriate, broadly encompassing term. After all, everyone can benefit from looking at any interaction from the perspective of others. After I discussed Ellen Galinsky’s book with my husband, we now half-jokingly tell each other, just in time to pull us back from an episode of road rage, to remember that the person who just cut us off might just be rushing to a hospital to see a loved one who is hurt. When you look at it from that perspective, it is much easier to calm down and elicit some compassion for another person. And so it is with kids. If we teach them how to see someone else’s perspective, it will be very helpful in relating to others in a positive way.

Perhaps the most interesting research related to perspective-taking is that from Larry Aber. He learned that many years of teaching kids problem solving skills to reduce aggression only had mild effects. He started probing why, asking children what caused them to react aggressively instead of using the problem solving skills that they had been taught. He learned that the children who assume that others are out to get them tend to jump to that conclusion, even when the information is not there to support that conclusion, and this often results in aggression.

So how can you can help your child improve in perspective-taking? Galinksy mentions a long list of indirect approaches, including modeling the behavior. The two direct ways, more commonly mentioned in the literature on this subject, to improve perspective-taking are:

1) Encourage your children to think about people’s responses in many different social situations and help them think through what might be going on in someone else’s mind.

2) Ask children to think about character’s intent in books and tv shows.

I am curious how focusing on perspective-taking might improve sibling relationships, as I often hear my kids drawing conclusions that their sibling is “out to get them”…..