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Good advice, right? Not always. Advice Worth Ignoring exposes and counters fifty of the most common pieces of expert advice that undercut the confidence and authority of good parents. It empowers parents to do what they know works best for their own kids — and helps families grow closer in the process.
Paperback, 150 pages ($15.00 each + shipping & handling)
Advice Worth Ignoring: How Tuning Out the Experts Can Make You a Better Parent
IDEA #3 – NEVER LET THEM “CRY IT OUT” Pages 8-10
Little ones cry – lots. (Years of schooling give me these insights.) And with little or no language, they can’t say why, leaving you to speculate. Fortunately, much of the time, it’s the basics – thirst, hunger, fatigue, diaper dumps, clothing chafing (more common with girls).
Unfortunately, fixing the basics doesn’t always fix the distress or lower the decibel level. Then what? As Bliss’s upset rises, so can yours, sometimes to the point of shared tears. “What’s the matter? What should I do now? …How fast can my mother get here?”
A parent who predictably answers a child’s cries, be they physical or emotional, sends the soothing message: I’m here for you. And no doubt, a pattern of neglecting a child’s distress does risk emotional trouble. The key word is pattern, neglect that is consistent, creating an emotional distances that pervades the relationship.
Our grandmothers, when they were young mothers, called the puzzling upset “being fussy.” With little angst, they realized their limits and sometimes gave the child time to self-soothe. They weren’t tormented by doubts about letting nature help them out.
Young mothers today don’t have that peace. They’ve been warned: Crying conveys a need. The longer the cry, the deeper the need. Fail to meet that need, no matter how unclear it is, and the child will feel insecure, ignored even.
An expert on a radio program intones: “A parent must always and immediately respond to a baby or toddler’s crying, or she can stunt the child’s emotional growth. Well into adulthood the child may show blunted empathy for others, as she herself didn’t receive proper empathy when very young.”
Having tuned in to this program, I remember feeling a lot of empathy for the young parents listening, this despite that decades ago my own mother periodically let me cry myself to sleep, supposedly stunting my early capacity for empathy.
About age nine months, our daughter Hannah started to wail nonverbally that her crib was too confining, this at around three every morning. Some “child attachment” advocates would urge, “Go to Hannah. She obviously wants and needs you.” My wife and I sleepily did so – sort of. Taking turns getting Hannah (I negotiated for a turn every sixth night), we carried her to a playpen (gasp!) in the family room, thus muting her rage to a distant rumble. After a few weeks, Hannah was sleeping peacefully through the night. She must have decided she didn’t need us anymore – not at 3:00 A.M., anyway.
All of this is not intended to suggest that I recommend plopping your little one in bed – or as with Hannah, out of bed – whenever she’s distraught and you’re clueless as to why. How long you persevere in letting your little one cry is your call, and parents vary widely in their stamina, as do kids. I am advising, however, against being unnerved by the accusation that you are somehow a cold-hearted, unfeeling mom or dad if you don’t persist in trying to soothe your child until mental or physical exhaustion, whichever arrives first.
It’s worth repeating: To sow the seeds for future personality flaws, neglect almost always has to build upon itself. Typically it must be deliberate and indifferent. So rest easy. You needn’t agonize that had you just endured for seventeen more minutes, your child would have been pacified, secure in his place in the world. Besides, how many “seventeen more minutes” had you already tallied?
Also available as an audiobook, read by Dr. Ray.
Do you ever feel like raising kids in the faith is a losing battle? Or maybe your spouse wishes you weren’t quite so religious. Concerns surrounding Christianity and faith can become touchy topics for today’s families.
With equal doses of sound spiritual wisdom and good psychological perspective, Dr. Ray addresses the most common issues, such as:
Let Dr. Ray show you the guilt-free way to live your faith and share it peacefully with those you love.
Paperback, 160 pages ($15.00 each + shipping & handling)
When Faith Causes Family Friction: Dr. Ray Tackles the Tough Questions
SPIRITUAL, NOT RELIGIOUS Pages 136-139
Dear Dr. Ray,
My sister has little to do anymore with the Catholic faith. When the subject comes up, she says, “I’m spiritual, not religious.’ What do I say?
At their core, in fact, such declarations are platitudes—full of superficial appeal but with little substance.
So, like a good therapist, ask her, “What do you mean by religious?” “If you were religious, what would you be like?” “What makes a person spiritual?” “Are there different kinds of spiritual?” “How does being spiritual show itself”?
For example, to her religious might mean “following rules.” Or it may imply rote, unthinking actions with little heart behind them.
Spiritual, to her, is a loftier word. It speaks of a connection, however loose, to another power, perhaps a higher one. What’s better, the power commands little obedience to traditional morals or worship……It can mean whatever one wishes it to mean. The spiritual one sets up his own terms; therefore, he follows them to the letter.
Suppose I announce to my wife, “Honey, from this point forward, I want to be more ‘marriage-minded’ and less married. I think the expectations and structure of marriage are impediments to our true selves. Let’s not stifle our relationship with rules. As long as we think lovingly about one another, we don’t have to do all the nitty-gritty of actual loving.” … Somehow, I don’t think my wife would be enamored with this philosophy.
AM I GOOD OR WHAT? Pages 139-141
Dear Dr. Ray,
My brother no longer pays much attention to the Catholic faith in which we were both raised. He declares, “I’m a good person. That’s how God will judge me.” In fact, he is a pretty decent guy.
At one level, Christians would agree with such self-assessments. Every person indeed has worth, inherent and infinite, because every person is made in God’s image. True self-esteem, however, comes from divine declaration, not human.
Does civil society define what good is? I don’t cheat, steal, or lie (not that often anyway). I obey most laws, pay my taxes, and am a faithful souse and a good father. I even go to church once in a while. Overall, I’m a good citizen. My morals are in line with what society and the law say is acceptable.
Perhaps, but society and the law reflect the reigning and ever-shifting standards of the culture, which may or may not reflect God’s never-shifting standards. Abortion is legal and approved by half the population, much more in some cases. Does that make it a moral good? Premarital sex, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, even adultery have pretty much become modern acceptances. Judging by the numbers, are they now morally OK? Are they no longer sins that can taint one’s goodness?
Ask your brother a few questions next time he asserts that God will approve of his life conduct on Judgment Day. Who decides what is good? Do you believe that everything society declares as good really is? Where would you and God disagree about what is good? Does God judge us on what we call good or on how much we love him and others?
Also available as an audiobook, read by Dr. Ray.
How do you deal with anger — and all its emotional counterparts? Parents, children, siblings, spouses, coworkers, even friends: We all struggle with situations that make us angry. Dr. Ray cuts through the psychobabble to present a realistic picture of anger and other emotional issues, and then offers practical solutions for overcoming them. Anger doesn’t have to erupt without warning. Most of the time, managing anger is well within your control.
Paperback, 151 pages ($15.00 each + shipping & handling)
Fighting Mad — Practical Solutions for Conquering Anger
VENT OR CONTAIN? Pages 147-148
Conventional wisdom has long advised that anger vented is good. It allows stress a release, much like the pressure discharged from a steam valve. Conventional wisdom isn’t always wise or always true. This piece of conventional wisdom is now being rethought. It seems that venting anger, especially rashly, can cause the venter a number of ill effects. One, anger too often expressed leads to its being expressed more often. Blowing off steam comes sooner and easier with less pressure. Two, venting can take a physical toll on its releaser. It agitates rather than pacifies. And three, loud and long anger can generate distress post-vent: guilt, shame, embarrassment, and regret. A piece of wisdom: Moderating one’s emotional expression is a healthier alternative to letting it flow.
COOL OR HOT? Pages 14-15
No single gene underlies temper, or impulsiveness, or irritability. It’s an intricate dance among many genes and circumstances. There’s a universal characteristic called free will that makes the picture even more unpredictable.
Therefore, one’s genetics do not offer a biochemical excuse, as in “My body made me do it.” No husband will win affection from his wife by hiding behind, “Honey, I’ve had a temper long before I met you. You’d better learn to live with it, because it’s just a part of me and I can’t change it now.”
No parent of a volcanic Serena would—I hope—in resignation surrender, “She’s so strong-willed. There’s not much I can do but accept it. It’s going to be a long fifteen years.”
No, what he would accept—I hope—is that he needs five times the perseverance to teach Serena some self-control as he needs for her even-tempered brother. Success may come slowly, but for Serena’s sake, as well as that of everyone near ground zero, it must be pursued.
Grown-up Serenas tell me of a lifelong battle to douse their fiery emotions. Genuinely distressed by their proclivity to overreact, their efforts are exhausting, with a two-steps-forward, one-step-back element. Still, they show an admirable will to keep advancing. They mean to conquer, or at least quiet, some of their inborn inclinations.
Science is a long way from knowing (if it ever will) how much a lack of self-control is nature and how much is nurture. And in the end it doesn’t matter all that much. We have to alter for the better what we can. If not our temperament, then our temper. If not our bodies, then our minds.
…The good news, as we shall see, is that we possess the mental resources to overcome even our bodies’ strongest inclinations.
FORGIVE OR FEEL BAD? Page 150
Forgiveness is not foremost a feeling. It is foremost a decision, a conscious act of the will. And that’s good, as over life’s long haul, the will is a more stable guide than the emotions. If one waits for bad feelings to subside on their own or for good feelings to replace them, forgiveness, at a minimum, will be delayed, if not abandoned indefinitely.
Resentments and agitations reverberate much longer if we don’t give forgiveness a chance. Forgiveness is not just good for the forgiven. It is as good, if not more so, for the forgiver.
No single act can relieve the corrosive aftereffects of anger than an honest act of forgiveness. To be sure, forgiving is hard, especially when the offender isn’t sorry. Only one thing is harder: not forgiving.
TRAIT OR STATE? Pages 21-22
“My child is an angry person.”
“When does this anger most show itself?” I ask.
“When he’s denied something or when he’s disciplined.”
“Is he angry at times other than those?”
“No, if we let him do whatever he wants, he’s in a decent mood.”
“So it’s safe to say that this angry child’s anger is limited to specific times and places?
“It seems so.”
“What does his teacher say?”
“I don’t understand it. His teacher doesn’t see any of this….She says he’s a delight.”
“How do you explain the fact that his teacher, who has a fraction of your authority, gets him to behave every day all day without so much as a whiff of defiance?”
“Do you suppose he holds it in all day, and when he gets home, he has to explode?”
“Probably not. I think he knows where the speed limit is twenty and where it’s the interstate.”
The wife of a grouch meets a woman who regales her with “Your husband is such a joy to work with. He’s so pleasant and positive with everyone. Please don’t take offense at this, but a lot of the ladies there envy you.”
At which wife thinks, “Yeah, well, I envy them.” She has to choke back, “What’s this guy’s last name, and does he look like my wallet picture here?” Not only is she stung at hearing where she sits on her husband’s “Be nice to” list, but she can’t reconcile the image of the man she knows with that of the one those women know.
How does one reconcile the inconsistencies between home child and school child or between home child and school child or between marital partner and work partner? Well, they don’t need to be reconciled. We’re talking about human beings here. …Different places promote different conduct. Different places also mean different people.
…Are these distinctions without effect? What does it matter if I’m an angry person or a person who gets angry with certain someones or somethings? Anger is still anger. Yet it does matter for a number of reasons.
One, such distinctions can reassure. Because personality defines who someone is, it is seen as something stable, resisting change or correction. Consequently, being an angry person sounds more serious than being a person who gets angry sometimes. Correcting any life problem begins with describing it correctly. Describing anger as more deep-rooted than it really is makes rectifying it seem more challenging.
Two, distinctions narrow the focus. When counseling a so-called angry child or adult, I must begin with questions—plenty. I need specifics—the who, what, when, and where of the anger’s appearance. Just knowing someone is an angry person does me or him little good. The characterization is too wide to be useful. Unless I narrow it, I don’t know where to head next.
Three, distinctions present solutions. Suppose I know that my abrasive Uncle Buck brings out my own abrasiveness. I can a) keep a room or two between us at any family gathering, b) resolve to let his opinions float past my ears into space or into someone else’s ears, c) keep my wife nearby, to push me away or pinch me if I’m tempted to retort, d) play Legos in the basement with the preschooler until the Buckster falls asleep or goes home.
…What seems a deficit in personal self-control may be my allowing circumstances to push me too hard. I may not have an anger trait so much as a few too many anger states.
Also available as an audiobook, read by Dr. Ray.
Winning the Discipline Debates covers a series of the most common (and most frustrating) discipline scenarios between parents and kids. The debates are interspersed with Dr. Ray’s enlightening comments and observations. Learn, laugh, and let Dr. Ray coach you to stand strong and become a more confident parent.
Some of the lessons covered in the book include:
From preschool to the late teen years, with Dr. Ray as your coach, everyone wins!
Paperback, 139 pages ($15.00 each + shipping & handling)
Winning the Discipline Debates
CHAMPION CLIFF DIVER Pages 9-12
Actors: Dad; Grandma; five-year-old Cliff, Grandpa (cameo appearance)
A grandparent who protects her grandchild from his parent’s proper discipline not only undercuts the parent’s discipline but also hurts the child she means to help.
Dad: Cliff, what did Grandma tell you? She said to quit climbing on the back of her couch. Now get down.
Grandma: He’s OK. He’s just being a little boy. You were a lot more rambunctious when you were his age.
Dr. Ray: Which is it? Does Grandma want Cliff off the couch as she asked? Or is he allowed to climb because Dad was once a little Cliff? Yes, Cliff may be “just a little boy,” but if being a little boy entails being disobedient, then it needs to be curtailed. Most childish misconduct, in fact, could fall under the umbrella of “just being a kid.”
In short, Dad’s level of childhood rambunctiousness is completely irrelevant to whether or not Cliff should be disciplined.
Grandma: He won’t do it again, will you, Cliff?
Dad: Mom, he’s already done it five times while we were sitting here. And you told him every time to get down. He needs to listen.
Grandma: I know, and he will. He’s just full of energy.
Dr. Ray: As Bill Cosby has said, “These are not the same people who raised us. These are older people now trying to get into heaven.”
It seems that even though Grandma wants Cliff to quit foot-mauling her furniture, she doesn’t want anyone to go so far as to do something about it. She’s waiting for Cliff to cooperate because she has asked nicely. Yes, he is full of energy, but it’s energy directed at ignoring her.
Dad: Mom, if you want him to stay off the back of the couch, I’ll make it happen.
Grandma: Cliff, did you hear your dad? He wants you to stay off the back of the couch.
Dr. Ray: In the dialogue of good cop-bad cop, Grandma just can’t bring herself to play the heavy. While Dad and Grandma continue to debate the likelihood of Cliff’s cooperating, he takes advantage of the distraction, hoisting himself up for another leap.
Dad: That’s it. Cliff, you go sit on Grandma’s red chair. And don’t get up until I tell you.
Grandma: Awww. He wasn’t being bad. He’s just having fun.
Dad: Mom, he disobeyed you and me, more than once.
Grandma: He just got carried away a little, didn’t you, Cliff? Come over here and sit on Grandma’s lap.
Dad: Mom, he needs to learn we mean what we say. I told him to sit. Now, Cliff, get on the chair.
Grandma: OK, I’ll sit over there with you, Cliff. We’ll sit together, OK?
Dr. Ray: When a relative wishes to nullify a parent’s discipline, she often directs her comments toward the child. Grandma likely thinks Dad is being “too strict.” In fact, just the opposite is true, as Cliff was warned five times about being a couch diver. Hardly a premature jump toward discipline on Dad’s part.
Dad: Cliff, I said you need to sit by yourself for not listening to me or Grandma.
Cliff: I’m sorry, Grandma. I won’t do it again.
Dr. Ray: This child is a quick study. He senses he has a much better chance of dodging the chair if he keeps the conversation between him and Grandma, leaving Dad to talk to himself. Cliff realizes, at least for the moment, where to throw his allegiance. Grandma is obviously on his side, so he’ll solidify the partnership a little more.
“I’m sorry” is good, but it doesn’t free one from the result of one’s conduct. Try telling an employer, “I’m sorry,” after showing up late five days in a row. See if he or she says, “Oh, that’s OK. You’re just being an employee.”
Cliff is now safely ensconced in Grandma’s arms, looking at Dad as if to say, “I’m sitting, OK?”
Grandma: See, he just needed a little time to settle down. He’ll listen next time, won’t you Cliff?
Dad: Mom, he needs to listen to me this time.
Dr. Ray: Grandma, whether meaning to or not, has effectively thrown Dad under the bus or, if you will, under the couch. She’s sent the message to Cliff that as long as she’s around, he has an ally, and that it’s acceptable to question Dad.
Grandpa (walking in): Well, isn’t this nice? Cliff is sitting on Grandma’s lap. You really love your Grandma, don’t you, Buddy?
In fairness to grandparents everywhere, I hear just as often from the older generation that they wish their kids would better discipline their grandkids. They’d like to enjoy some laid-back grand-parenting, but they feel they can’t, as that would just exacerbate the lax parenting.
Dad has two basic options. Option one: He can pry Cliff from Grandma’s arms and enforce his discipline. Probably, though, that would create a scene nobody wants. And what about the next visit, and the one after that?
Option two: Dad might say something like, “Mom, he needs to learn to listen to me and to you too. If you don’t let me discipline him here, I’ll have to do it at home. And he’ll be in even bigger trouble. So you’ll just make it worse for Cliff by covering for him.”
Dad could also tell Cliff prior to each visit to Grandma’s house, “Cliff, if I tell you to do something at Grandma’s, you’d better listen. If you don’t, when we get home, you’ll go straight to the corner.”
Cliff has shown himself to be a fast learner. It shouldn’t take too many visits before he realizes that, no matter how much Grandma buffers him from Dad at her place, he does have to go home. And Grandma won’t be there to protect him. Unless she follows him home. Which I’m not sure I’d put it past her.
NO APOLOGIES FOR MERCY Pages 131-134
Actors: Mom; fifteen-year-old Mercy
An apology doesn’t show parental weakness or inconsistency. It shows parental confidence and strength. A good apology is for disciplining badly. It is not for the discipline itself.
Mom (entering Mercy’s bedroom): You’ve been up here a while. Are you thinking of just going to bed?
Mercy: I don’t know. Maybe.
Mom: You look as if you’re still really upset.
Mercy: Wouldn’t you be?
Mom: Yes, I probably would. And that’s why I came up here. I wanted to tell you I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I lost my temper and said some things I didn’t mean at all. My emotions got the best of me. And for sure, I shouldn’t have cursed at you.
Mercy (Sitting on the edge of her bed; silently staring at the floor).
Mom: I mean it I’m really sorry for letting myself get so carried away. I was wrong.
Mercy: Yeah, OK.
Dr. Ray: In Mercy’s mind it’s neither “Yeah” nor “OK.” Her words are more of an unspoken “Whatever.” A risk of any apology – from parent to child, spouse to spouse, anyone to anyone – is rejection. It could be heard as insincere, incomplete, manipulative, too little too late, yeah-OK-whatever.
Nonetheless, an apology for a wrong is a right, no matter how it is received.
Mom: You don’t sound too accepting of this.
Mercy: Well I just lost my computer for one month because you don’t like what I put on my Facebook. Does “sorry” mean I get the computer back?
Mom: No. It means I’m sorry for how I acted. I’m not sorry for the discipline. Your Facebook page is totally a privilege. It’s to be used responsibly. If you misuse it, you will lose it, like any privilege. This time around it’s only gone for a month. If something like this happens again, it could be gone indefinitely.
Dr. Ray: Kids want to think “I’m sorry” means (1) “for how I acted” and (2) “for my discipline.” They are mistaken. An apology for harsh words and emotions is unrelated to the discipline itself. The apology is for wrong conduct. Good discipline – even when levied with an ugly style – is right conduct. It is not an apology-worthy offense.
Mercy: You’re “sorry” would mean more to me if you realized that taking away my computer time makes me madder than your yelling and calling me a name. Why don’t you say sorry about that?
Mom: Because I’m not sorry about taking away your computer. Good discipline is not a sin. If I get mean when I discipline, well then, I’m wrong. And that’s what I’m sorry for.
Mercy (Shaking her head slowly, as if to say, “Whatever makes you happy.”)
Dr. Ray: Never let a youngster’s possible reaction to an apology silence the apology. It’s her misunderstanding, or her rejection of the discipline, or her youth that is shaping her reaction.
Then too, some kids can’t pass up the chance to dispense a little punishment of their own – a payback is you will – for what in their eyes was not only undeserved treatment but, more so, undeserved discipline.
I’m sorry for repeating myself, but an apology is for good self-discipline, even when rebuffed. Even when it risks making the whole discipline episode temporarily more inflamed.
Three weeks later Mercy is alone in the family room watching television. It’s hard to calculate which steals more family time – the TV or the computer.
Mom: Mercy, turn the TV off, please. I want to tell you something. (Mercy obliges.)
You have been very pleasant the last three weeks. You took your computer punishment without arguing, and overall, you attitude has been beautiful. So I talked it over with Dad, and we both decided to suspend the rest of your punishment. You can have your Facebook back starting tomorrow, the condition being that you put nothing on there that is unacceptable. We’ll be keeping a closer eye on you than before, but we think you’re ready to try again.
Mercy: Is this because you still feel bad about the big fight we had, when you apologized?
Mom: That’s not it at all. It’s because you have been very good about all this. Not once did you have a “put-upon, victim” attitude. That made a big difference in our decision.
Mercy: Well, I still wasn’t happy about it.
Mom: I didn’t think you were, but you kept it to yourself, and you kept it under control.
Dr. Ray: And sometimes that’s the best a parent can hope for. The first step to a changed attitude is a changed conduct, even if it’s forced.
A parent’s apology and a child’s attitude are related. An apology – even when initially falling on hardened ears – can soften a child over time and yield an eventual softening of attitude. The apology reveals that the parent is not an autocrat – “My way or the highway, kid” – but one who is willing to separate parental misconduct from parental discipline. It emphasizes that discipline is meant to teach morals and character. It is not motivated by anger, nor is it a justification for “getting mean.”
A discipline misconception: If a parent later changes her discipline because of an overreaction (“I’m tired of picking up your wet towels. From now on you will dry off with toilet paper”), she risks being inconsistent or erratic. Not always so. True inconsistency is fueled by many factors: guilt, fatigue, forgetfulness, yielding to pressure from a child or others. These are “irrational” reasons that shape lax or meandering discipline.
Rationally rethinking one’s discipline (“OK, you can dry off with paper towels”) is a sign of parental confidence, a willingness to admit fault. And that is not inconsistency.
Further, every so often lessening a discipline consequence or its duration because a child has shown the maturity to accept it without resistance or sourness is also no sign of parental weakness. It is a sign of mercy. And mercy is not inconsistency.
Also available as an audiobook.
Marriage expert Dr. Ray Guarendi has counseled enough couples to know that building a better relationship with your spouse doesn’t mean learning exotic new communication techniques or rearranging your lifestyle. In fact, a few of his ten “small steps” are lessons you learned in grade school, such as:
Plus, with his “resistance rationales,” Dr. Ray helps you overcome any reluctance you might feel to taking these small steps. Filled with straightforward advice, this book reminds you that a more rewarding marriage is just a few small steps away.
Paperback, 147 pages ($15.00 each + shipping & handling)
Marriage: Small Steps, Big Rewards
ACCEPT IT Pages 51-54
Small Step #5
Accept what? Life as it is? Marriage as it’s been? Verbal put-downs? An excuse? A lie? Just what does “Accept It” mean?
In its broad sense, “Accept It” is a wise philosophy for living. Much of life – the past, other people, adverse circumstances – can’t be altered, not directly anyway. Thus, like it or not, for our own psychological well-being, we must accept it.
Most of us know this. It’s advice we first heard as preschoolers. Transferring it to our hearts and emotions, however, is the schooling of a lifetime.
A good definition of frustration: the difference between the way we’d like things or people to be and the way they are. The greater the gap between our desires and reality, the greater the frustration. To reduce frustration, therefore, adjusting our attitude is a good course, generally easier than adjusting life itself.
Within a marriage two people meshing distinct histories, personalities, and perceptions must develop a healthy amount of acceptance – sometimes tolerance – for each other. It’s absolutely key to getting along well. To deny acceptance is to accept frustration. Discerning what to accept, when, and for how long, though, is the crux of the matter.
To clarify what “Accept It” is, let’s first clarify what it is not. It is not permitting abuse. It is not overlooking wrong. It is not believing a lie. It is not agreeing to an obvious contradiction. It is not making oneself vulnerable to manipulation.
What then does “Accept It” mean? It means that during a conversation or argument (the when), you will not immediately (the how long) dispute your spouse’s thinking or motive (the what). Perhaps you’re objecting that this step is neither small nor easy (and I’ll accept that). It strikes straight at the heart of your disagreements. You don’t always believe or trust what the other is saying. How do you get past your own suspicions?
An illustration: You spouse has just surprised you with her decision not to attend an upcoming family get-together. Your opinionated sister will be there, and your wife says she’s about had her fill of the snide side comments about her motherhood. Your first urge might be to counter with something like, “I’ve never heard her say that much. Besides, you know my sister. She talks too much. You can’t take her personally.” In so many words, “I don’t accept what you’re saying.” The base for an argument is now laid.
You may not agree with your wife’s decision. You may believe it’s a flimsy justification for spending less time with your family. You may suspect her insecurity is talking. Nonetheless, at this early juncture restrain comebacks. Don’t contest her reasoning. Let her make her case, and then consider her case.
“Why do you think my sister does that?” Or, “Did she say anything the last time we were together?” Implicitly you’ve accepted her motive, however wrongheaded you think it is, leaving you better positioned to resolve the impasse. “What if I stay close to you during dinner? Is that when she says things?” Or, “If I hear one rude comment, we’ll both move to another room.”
To sidestep brewing trouble, sometimes you have to flow with the other person’s thinking. If you immediately challenge it, you could meet with defensiveness, silence, or volume.
Throughout therapy I must be prepared to accept what I’m being told. For example, a husband claims his wife is being hard to please, constantly trying to control his every move. I, on the other hand, have formed a different impression. I see him as having minimal tolerance for anyone, especially his wife, reminding him of his husbandly and fatherly responsibilities. Her “controlling” is more his reaction to being asked to do anything he disagrees with.
Suppose I am to summarily straighten him out with the likes of “Is your wife too controlling, or do you want to answer to no one?” As therapeutically on target as that might be, what is the likelihood I’ll be rewarded with “Golly, Dr. Ray, what an insightful response to my own self-serving rationale. I can tell you have a PH.D.!”?
For the sake of progress, I’ll do better not to debate his thinking just yet. After spending more time exploring it, I’ll be more credible when I do challenge it, perhaps from a different angle.
Many marital clashes fit a similar template: Wife offers an observation or opinion. Husband doesn’t agree. Wife restates her position. Husband argues why it’s even more wrong. Wife offers additional reasons. Husband considers those reasons illegitimate or foolish. Wife feels compelled to defend her personhood. The initial issue is now buried, covered by a mutual mistrust of meaning and motives.
“Accept it” redirects an interchange getting thus bogged down. It only takes one person to acknowledge, if not in mind then in words, the other’s perspective. The course of the argument then shifts from that of “I think…,” “No, you don’t” to “OK, what makes you think that?” Notice that a little acceptance is tied to small step #4, “Ask a Few Questions.” Most of us aren’t inclined to ask anything further about something we believe is outright untrustworthy. If we reject its legitimacy, why seek to understand it? The matter, in our minds, deserves neither acceptance nor clarification.
ADD A TOUCH Pages 125-129
Small Step #10
A common theme emerges in marital therapy: Affection is low at best, absent at worst. One partner, not always the female, craves it more than the other, though routinely the supply is short for both. In order to cope, many spouses learn to live with less. They’ve come to think that’s just the way it is because that’s just the way it’s been, if not since the beginning then since the beginning of troubles.
Of course, lack of affection typically reflects the relationship’s overall temperature. As the atmosphere cools, affection slips into hibernation. Then again, sometimes a marriage isn’t all that cold. Affection, like compliments, chills from lack of effort.
Poll a hundred couples, and a majority, I anticipate, would prefer more physical warmth. I doubt anyone would complain, “There is way too much touching, hugging, and kissing between us. It’s getting old. I think it’s actually hurting our deeper emotional connection.” No matter how much affection embraces our marriage, most of us would welcome more.
An unpopular rule of life states, if you want more of something, you may have to give more of it. A more unpopular rule of life states, changing oneself is easier than changing someone else. Blending these rules, if you’re one who wants more touches, physical or emotional, you might have to reach out first.
Resistance Rationale #1: I’m not an affectionate person.
You don’t need to be. Smothering your mate with smooches isn’t the goal. For some spouses that would be no small step; that would be a running leap across the Grand Canyon. Every step proposed in this book is meant to be within anyone’s reach. Granted, some may be seldom taken, but none requires personality reconstruction.
If by nature you’re a quiet individual, do you never talk? If you’re a couch athlete, are you incapable of running or tossing a ball? If you’re shy, do you shy away from every social situation?
When someone says, “That’s not who I am,” most of the time he’s actually saying, “That’s not consistently who I am.” Almost never does he mean, “Under no circumstances do I ever deviate from my normal pattern.”
If you’re not affectionate, do you never touch anyone? How about your mother? A little baby? Your pet cat? No doubt you shake hands. You may chest-bump a buddy during a sporting event. If a woman, maybe you’ve never high-fived your girlfriend, but most likely you exchange some personal signs of friendship. Some touch is acceptable, initiated even, for nearly everyone under chosen circumstances.
…Ask yourself, “At one time did I touch more?” If yes, that raises another question: Which is you, then or now? If you were more expressive then, were you living counter to your personality? Or did you feel more generally warm to the touch? If so, the old you is the real you. Presently you may not be acting affectionate, but that doesn’t mean you’re not an affectionate person.
THE FINAL RESISTANCE: I DON’T WANT TO Pages 138-140
Very early in this book I observed that anything can be a justification for something you really don’t want to do. Each Resistance Rationale for each small step toward a better marriage has the potential to be driven by a deeper resistance: I don’t want to.
For the most skilled therapists, it’s often not easy to uncover what someone’s real resistance is. Is it the one admitted, or is the one admitted a substitute for the core resistance, that is, “I’m just not of the mind, or feeling, to”? What’s more, questioning one’s own motives does not come naturally. However convinced I am, for example, that my apology will be rejected, misheard, or misunderstood, closer internal scrutiny might reveal something more basic underlying my objections.
…Whatever the resistance, the real-life effect is the same: behavior paralysis. Ironically, I don’t want to bars one from doing the very things that would make his marriage, and his life, more like he’d want.
No doubt you’ve had someone seek your guidance for a troubling situation. Upon advising you hear a string of objections: That won’t work; I’ve tried that; it’s not possible; he wouldn’t listen. After a while, doesn’t it get hard to stifle the urge to shout, “Then why did you ask me?”
But why would someone seeking help, from a professional no less, resist the very help he seeks? My in-depth, therapeutic analysis? Because he doesn’t want it.
Oh, he does want some sort of help. He’s just not sure what kind or how much. The cost in effort or the cost to his self might be too high. Do the solutions involve making the first move, changing too much in himself, or striving to understand someone he presently doesn’t like much? In short, maybe he wants things to change, but he doesn’t want to change.
Sometimes the easier part of doing therapy is knowing what will work. The harder part is persuading someone to do it. I don’t want to lies at the heart of the human condition. It is ingrained in who we are.
Fortunately, it’s not so deeply entrenched that we can’t overcome it. We do have it within ourselves to resist our own resistance. We just have to want to.
1. Accept the reality that what you think are your reasons may not be your reasons. Recognize that other motives are possible and may be beyond your immediate awareness.
2. Look deeper and longer within. Do some self-therapy. If all my objections could be answered, would I still be reluctant to act? If I were to be totally reassured that nothing I fear will actually happen, would that make a difference? Put another way, if every bit of my resistance were dispelled to my satisfaction, would I still be resistant? Searching for answers will help reveal how much I don’t want to is at the bottom of my reasoning, constraining my better instincts.
3. Don’t confuse I don’t want to with I don’t feel like it. They’re not always synonymous. Feelings are transitory. What you might not feel inclined toward today, you could next week or even in one hour.
4. Feelings, particularly negative ones, are not consistent guides to action. They can impel you toward conduct you know is not right and away from that which is. Don’t allow emotions to be the primary drivers of your behavior. They are far too fickle.
The final point is the most critical: Once you realize that I don’t want to could be part of your resistance, tell yourself, “So what?” Meaning, whether or not you want to is a meaningless question. It is irrelevant. The only questions to ask are “Is this good? Is this what I should do for myself and my spouse?”
Doing what you don’t want to do, because it’s a good thing to do, will lead you toward what you wanted to do all along: make a better marriage.
If the last thing you need is another parenting book, this is the parenting book for you.
Tell-it-like-it-is radio host Dr. Ray Guarendi is a firm believer that the secret of good parenting isn’t about knowing what to do. It’s doing what you already know.
With examples from his own experience as a father of ten, insight from his years as a clinical psychologist, as well as a healthy sense of self-deprecating humor, Dr. Ray provides a practical outlook that can help other dads and moms identify and follow through with the basic building blocks of successful parenting:
Paperback, 63 pages ($7.00 each + shipping & handling)
Raising Good Kids: Back to Family Basics
BEGIN A TRADITION Pages 24-25
A tradition isn’t necessarily centuries, or even decades, old. A tradition can be something done enough to become a valued part of someone or “someones.” Traditions are the unique signature of a family, marks of one being connected to a bigger “us.”
Traditions can be annual: the first-week-of-June beach trip, finding a Christmas tree the Sunday after Thanksgiving, or a husband buying a wife a brand-new dual-bag vacuum cleaner for Christmas. (On second thought, skip that last one. I tried it … once.) Traditions can be monthly: a first Sunday-of-the-month family breakfast out (or a kids-picked restaurant) or a Saturday-morning visit to the library to store up books for the month. Weekly: a Friday-night-at-home movie and popcorn. Daily: the piggyback ride to bed, complete with prayers, story, and tucking in. My daughter Liz thinks our family traditions are nonnegotiable, judging by how incessantly she nags for the next one.
Anything done regularly can rapidly become a tradition. The family knows it’s predictable, anticipated it, and spends time talking about its details and how it should be structured. A tradition is people-glue. It forms memories. It helps solidify a family’s identity: This activity we share together is a reliable sign of who we are.
DISCIPLINE: WHY? Pages 30-31
When I was a young shrink in training – a “shrinkling”? – I imbibed a load of parenting techniques. “Have tools, will travel” was my motto. As I counseled more parents, I was forced to conclude: Offering ideas is the easier part; the challenge lies in convincing a parent to implement these ideas. While most parents have a good sense of what makes for solid discipline, many have reasons that stay their hand. They’re tired, or feel guilty of that they’re being mean, or fear parenting “mistakes,” or disagree with their spouse, or think their kids will rebel, or face a mother-in-law who already sees them as the nastiest witch/warlock to fly across the face of the earth.
No matter the resistance, one overarching reality rules: A loving parent is his child’s kindest, most gentle teacher about life. Never again will that little person receive the unconditional love, the benefit of the doubt, or the forgiveness offered by a good parent (good spouses excepted). If a parent disciplines weakly today, the world will discipline strongly tomorrow. And the world hurts. IF a child acts nasty, he sits on the couch. Brutal. If an adult acts nasty, he could get fired, punched, or have to sleep on the couch or in the basement. The stakes are higher as kids get older. To put it bluntly: Don’t let the world discipline your children.
“Discipline without love may be harsh. Love without discipline is child abuse.”
Dr. Ray, father of ten adopted children, considers the most commonly asked adoption questions with insight, humor and a heart for the adoptive family. His aim? To dispel unsettling misperceptions about adoption, to encourage others to think about and act on adoption, and to guide adoptive parents to a more relaxed, rewarding family life for all involved.
A resource for those considering adoption, those who have already adopted and those in the mix as family members or friends of adoptive parents.
2010 Catholic Press Awards: Second place in the Family Life category.
Chapter titles include:
Paperback, 182 pages ($15.00 each + shipping & handling)
Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It
THE GENETIC OBJECTION Pages 43-45
Dear Dr. Ray,
What can we say to those who warn us, “Aren’t you nervous about the genetic makeup of an adoptee? After all, you really can’t know.”
A simple rule of life: You don’t have to answer every question. Actually, you don’t even have to know the answer to every question. I’m a psychologist, one who lives in the realm of questions. Sometimes I just shrug my shoulders, smile a little and answer, “Good question.”
Since you’re probably not a psychologist, you may feel more pressure to give an answer to something asked of you just because it was asked. So I’ll try to help. Good question.
First of all, no parent, biological or adoptive, can fully know what genetic makeup will be expressed in a child. The offspring of two parents is a unique individual, genetically unlike either Mom or Dad. Indeed, it is impossible to gauge – except in certain clear-cut genetic disorders – which genes will interact with which other genes to create the child. Mom and Dad may “know” the gene pool from which God formed their child, but they can’t know the unfathomable combinations all interplaying to make up this absolutely one-of-a-kind human.
Furthermore, even though ambitious attempts to “map” the human genetic code have been proceeding for some years, this knowledge has not trickled down to the everyday understanding of the vast majority of people. Meaning, when someone asserts, “You can’t know what you’re getting,” he is really saying, “No one can know because it’s just not possible yet, if ever.” Human genetic understanding is revealing one overarching reality: The more we know, the more we realize there is to know.
Now you may be saying, “Hold on, Dr. Ray – in some abstract sense your argument may be true, but most people are not looking from this logical angle. They simply mean that a lot less is known about the genetic history of an adoptive child than that of a biological one. And lurking in that history could be some innate trouble that no one can know is coming until it shows itself.”
True, but again, to a degree this is true with any child. One can’t fathom what inborn predispositions are present and how they may be expressed years later. This is an unchallengeable reality of our existence.
For debate’s sake, however, let’s allow the questioner to set the terms of the question. That is, let’s acknowledge that, kid for kid, there may be more uncertainty in the “wiring” of an adoptive child than a biological one.
To address this, adoption professionals routinely explore the biological family history to provide a good medical picture for prospective adoptive parents. If there are potential genetic conditions, physical or mental, every effort is made to identify them. The adoptive child is not a blank genetic slate allowing only speculation of what might be hidden. In many if not most cases, “You don’t know what you’re getting” is inaccurate. You know more than one might think.
The most convincing answer to the genetics objection is still left. Assume little or nothing genetically is known. Assume the medical history is an empty record. Assume you suspect that the family history is suspect. A marvelous and consoling truth of our creation is that, for most of our existence, genetics is not destiny.
Yes, our genes, alone or in combination, do lead to particular dispositions, good or bad, helpful or harmful, for all of us. Nevertheless, the full composition fo who we are is an unfathomably complex interplay of genes and environment, or as the shrinks say, nature and nurture. If a child has a genetic leaning toward learning problems or asthma or impulsiveness, a mom and dad (nurture) are still influencing and shaping in response to that child’s unique makeup (nature).
My children are wildly diverse in their development, intellect, temperament and almost every other aspect of personhood. Of course, most parents of a bunch of kids, birth or adopted, can observe a similar diversity. Indeed, the more kids you have, the more obvious will be the innate differences, even if all flower from the same two plants.
Despite my kids’ genetic differences, all are being raised with sameness in expectations, morals and discipline. We hope this consistency will lead to similarity in character down the road. Genetics may be the foundation of the road, but Mom and Dad are driving the bus. The kids sit in separate seats, but the bus is going in the same direction.
Once more, “you can’t know what you’re getting.” Absolutely true, no one can, be it with a birth or an adopted child. Much of the genetic world lies beyond our control, even understanding. Yes, there may be more unknowns in the histories of adoptive children, but how and where those whose unknowns become known is the big unknown. If one wants certainty in life, having a child is not the place to start.
Last and most critically, whatever one’s genetics, in most expressions, they are powerfully affected by one’s experiences. I think it’s safe to say that most adoptive parents are genetically inclined to shape and influence their kids in the most positive direction possible.
TOO OLD BY KINDERGARTEN Pages 22-24
Dear Dr. Ray,
Some theories say that personality is pretty much established by age five or six. What does that say about adopting kids older than that?
Older Than Six Myself
Before pondering what any such theory might mean for adoption, let’s ask the primary question: Is the theory true? If not, then whatever conclusions it leads to can be ignored.
The idea that personality is settled by the age of five or so has its roots back in the early years of psychology. It started with Freud, and others have since added their own twists to it. Research, experience and common sense have all shown it to be, at the least, incomplete or, at the most, wrong.
Yes, a child’s innate personality, or temperament, is wired in young. It’s genetically part of who he is. Also, many behaviors, traits and habits get a solid start in the first several years of life. To assert that personality is crystallized that young, however, or that it will stubbornly resist reshaping is quite a psychological stretch.
I don’t know about you, but I’m very different now than I was at age five. My wife says I have the maturity level of a ten-year-old, which to me seems pretty high for a husband.
At age five or six, did you have any political party affiliation? Deep religious convictions? Moving on to second grade, what qualities did you value in a future spouse? Could you even read, much less know whether it’s good strategy to call a draw play on third down and seven?
You don’t need a rocket scientist’s personality to know that who we are has virtually unlimited potential to change. For some more than others, change can be a slow, steep slog. Still the potential is there. Barring serious mental complications, it’s there until life is over.
In almost everything we do, we are to some degree free to choose other than we always have or to act differently than we’ve acted in the past. In other words, we are not irresistibly bound to what we were but can recognize and work to alter whatever we wish about ourselves. Most folks, even we “shrink” types, would agree that if we grown-ups can change, kids are even more malleable.
Don’t mishear me. (Is that part of your personality?) I’m not saying that a child’s early life experiences don’t matter. On the contrary, some kids experience neglect, trauma or misguided upbringing, and redirecting their personality, however young they are, can take a long time and great effort. Still, it is not impossible.
All else being equal, if a child has known turbulence at a young age, the sooner one removes the turbulence the better. All four children whom we adopted beyond infancy (ages two, three, four and four) had some nasty or chaotic experiences prior to coming to us. Nevertheless, ever so slowly over the years, what looked to be their personalities began to evolve. The kids gradually reflected more of our values, our expectations. To be sure, shyness essentially stayed shyness, impulsiveness continued as a lack of caution, and talkativeness morphed into verbosity. The essence of personality will remain somewhat durable; the expression of it can be influenced by parenting.
The children’s personalities have come to reflect a complex interplay of their inborn wiring, early experiences and our family life. How it all will look with time only God fully knows. One thing is certain: We’re feeling better with time about the direction.
To briefly reiterate (a personality trait I’ve had since the age of three):
Personality is not established by the age of six.
In a lively question-and-answer format, this book considers issues ranging from curfew to drugs to backtalk and equips parents to give their teens a safer, more stable adolescence and character and virtues for a lifetime. Dr. Ray says “Although our culture primes us to expect a far darker reality teens are full of life, enthusiasm, energy and laughter.”
2008 Catholic Press Awards: Third place in the Family Life category.
Chapter tiles include:
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Good Discipline, Great Teens
FACE THE WORLD, KID! Pages 150-151
Dear Dr. Ray,
I try hard to keep my kids innocent and to raise them more slowly than their peers. Regularly I hear, “You can’t protect them forever. That’s a real world out there. They have to learn to deal with life.”
Yes, you can’t protect them forever. Yes, that is a real world out there. And yes, they do have to learn to deal with life. What does any of this have to do with raising your children at your pace and not the world’s?
What you are hearing makes my top ten list of nonsense notions assaulting good parents today. Mindlessly repeated by so many so often, these notions have assumed the illusion of child-rearing truth. They are “correct” just because everybody is saying they are.
Let’s go back a couple of generations when it was considered intrusive and impolite for people to give you their unasked-for opinions about your parenting. Protecting kids – socially, morally and emotionally – was considered a very good thing. Indeed, a prime duty of grown-ups was to shield children from the ugly and immoral stuff of life while morality was being formed. Keeping kids innocent was a worthy goal, a sign of responsible and wise parenting. Soon enough a youngster would face what was out there beyond childhood.
In the last generation or two, we’ve taken a step backward toward “enlightenment.” It is now more psychologically savvy to help kids deal with seamy reality as it assails them. In fact, if you put this off too long, when the child finally does confront the “real world,” whatever that means, he will be shell-shocked emotionally and morally. He’ll be overwhelmed or seduced by evil or crushed into despair. His very innocence will be his undoing.
I have some questions regarding this “real kids know the real world” assertion. Who is better able to navigate the temptations and challenges of life, a mature child or an immature child? Who is more able to cope with life’s ugliness, a moral eight-year-old or a moral eighteen-year-old?
The opposite of innocence is not maturity; it is worldliness. And worldliness does not equip a child to cope with the world. It just makes him more likely to be comfortable with it.
Most parents accused of being overprotective are not “babying” their children emotionally, nor are they running ahead of their kids, bulldozing all of life’s obstacles and frustrations out of the way. Their protectiveness is morally driven. They want to shield their kids from situations and people who could overwhelm their judgment or their young consciences. A good parent’s supervision, caution and vigilance are healthy and wise.
Only when it’s too late do many parents realize that they weren’t protective enough. Over and over again my experience with families has taught me a real life truth: far more children have trouble as adults not because they grew up slowly but because they saw and learned too much too early.
So stand strong, Mom. Give social freedom later than the peer group gets it. Protect innocence. Lay a strong moral base before you let the world assault it. Your “overprotectiveness” will be rewarded by real life.
IT’S A MATTER OF TRUST Pages 121-123
Dear Dr. Ray,
Two times in two weeks my fourteen-year-old son was not where he told us he’d be with his friends. My husband says two weeks’ grounding. I say indefinitely. What do you say?
Fooled Me Twice
I’ve been married twenty years. I have five daughters. I’ve learned to give the female perspective great consideration.
That said, I have a few questions. Where was your son when he was not where he should have been? It’s one thing to stop at Burger Binge after a game without asking. It’s quite another to head to Bambi’s party, especially when Mr. and Mrs. Buck aren’t home.
I’m going to assume, because of your reaction, that your son didn’t just stop off at church to pray an extra half hour. He headed somewhere he wouldn’t have a prayer of being allowed even if he had asked you on bended knee.
Next question: How do you know you were fooled twice? You may have been fooled more, but you were so fooled you never realized you were fooled. Discipline Reality Number 104: Teens usually do more things wrong than they’re caught at. This isn’t being cynical or untrusting of kids. This is accepting reality.
Almost everybody – young and old – does a lot more than we’re caught at. Since a primordial drive of adolescence is for more social freedom that parents know is good, it’s only logical that periodically (or regularly) opportunity and temptation will overcome a youngster’s conscience and fear of penalty.
I can’t know, of course, where and how often your son has pushed his social boundaries, but you did catch him twice in only two weeks. You’re either vigilant or lucky or both, or he’s sloppy or guilt ridden or both. Either way, at the very least, in the future don’t presume anything. Always have a way of checking.
Now, how long a grounding? Most parents are on the side of your husband. That is, as a youngster abuses a privilege, he loses the privilege for a set period of time, and then life returns to the pre-grounding state.
I, on the other hand, am on your side. And it’s not just because you’re a woman. Your son broke your trust – deliberately, it appears. You gave him freedom commensurate with your judgment of his worthiness. If he has shown you that you underestimated his judgment – when he is with peers, at least – then you need to reassess your judgment.
One option is to curtail your son’s freedom of movement for awhile, as he reproves to you that he can be trusted. More closely monitor the who, what, when and where of his social world. Consider a two week full grounding, followed by a clear holding in of the reins for as long as you judge necessary to teach the lesson and to restore your confidence in your son.
Raising teens is a lot unlike controlling a feisty colt. You have to hold the rope tightly and real close to his bridle. The more inches of rope between your hand and his head, the less you can direct him anywhere. With both horses and teens, hold the rope close, letting it out by the inch as they settle.
Some might disapprove of my comparing adolescent boys and horses. I understand. For one thing, training horses to cooperate is easier.
Also available as an audiobook, read by Dr. Ray. 2011 Audie Awards Finalist
This book focuses directly on discipline, answering more than 100 of the most common and most frustrating discipline dilemmas parents face: Sibling quibbling, backtalk, bedtime badtimes, temper tempests, whining, birth order, “strong-willed” conduct. If kids do it, and parents face it, Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime aims to answer it.
Packed with plenty of real life ideas, this book will improve your self-confidence, authority and peace of mind as a parent. Shunning psychobabble and psychological correctness, its goal is to put the grown up in the family in charge. And when parents rule with love and discipline, children benefit in ways that last a lifetime.
Paperback, 300 pages ($15.00 each + shipping & handling)
Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime
PRESCRIPTION PARENTING Pages 32-34
Dear Dr. Ray,
I recently read that parents should compliment their children three times as much as they correct. Doesn’t that seem simplistic and rigid?
Mothering by Numbers
Formula child rearing. The new, up-to-date, improved way to raise kids. You’ve come across but one small example in the relentless tide of psychological correctness, a movement that is threatening to turn parenthood into a series of techniques and prescriptions for insuring the outcome of a well-adjusted, competent child.
And the formulas are multiplying: one ask, one warn, one tell: more “I” messages than “you” messages; one minute for every year of age in time-out (or is it one year for every minute of age? I get that one all confused). However well-intentioned, too many experts are laying out their own personal yardsticks by which parents can measure their degree of modern, psychologically savvy child skills.
Even the word “parent” suggests this trend. It can now be a verb, as in “to parent,” or “to apply the proper ideas and approaches.” What used to be considered primarily a relationship infused with love, supervision, discipline, and openness is increasingly being codified into what are “appropriate parenting practices” (such as active listening, time-out, “I” messages) and “inappropriate” ones (spanking, saying no to a toddler, written apologies).
Certainly parents need skills and experience and practice. They must be willing to learn, from everywhere, even experts. But solid parenthood will always be grounded on the intangibles: love, good judgment, morals, and common sense. These virtues resist being reduced to a simple set of do’s and don’ts, applicable to all parents, all kids, and all situations.
In defense of the “three compliments for every correction” idea, the intent may have been to underscore a broader guideline: Encourage and praise more than you discipline. Doubtless, this is tougher with some kids than others, but it’s something to aim for. As we noted before, in general, the more you notice the good, the less you have to bridle the bad–up to a point, that is. But all kids will require some discipline, no matter how positive their parents may be.
Like you, I’m very uneasy with such numerical advice. It implies there is a correct “amount” of parenting advice, and that this amount applies pretty much across the board.
Even if this were true, what parent could keep track of the proper ratio for just one child, let alone two or more? I can picture my wife running to the refrigerator after every encouraging word to make a hatch mark in the appropriate column. Actually, after I told her about this idea, she did say, “That doesn’t seem so tough,” and then proceeded to tell my daughter, “Hannah, please eat your toast over the table … and I like your sweater, your teeth look clean, and I appreciate the way you’re keeping your food in your mouth.”
Maybe I could get her to use the three-to-one ratio with me. I’d settle for two-to-one. Then again, maybe I haven’t earned it.
LAUGHING IN THE FACE OF DISCIPLINE Pages 241-243
Dear Dr. Ray,
My daughter (age seven) sings or draws pictures with her fingers when I sit her in the corner. What do you do with a child who seems happy when disciplined?
What do you do? Nothing? Ask her if she takes requests? Threaten to remove her from the corner as punishment?
Just because Melody sings during the discipline doesn’t mean the discipline isn’t working. It means that Melody is making the best of an inharmonious situation, and that’s an admirable characteristic for anybody – child or adult – to cultivate.
I’m pretty sure your daughter doesn’t enjoy the corner. If she did, periodically she’d mosey over there on her own just to sing and draw a few finger pictures. I’m also pretty sure that the only time she visits the corner is at your request or command. If so, she’s telling you something: the corner will be effective eventually. For now, though, she can get along with it if she has to.
Much to their frustration, parents routinely believe that for a consequence to work, kids have to be bothered or upset about it. Not so. By its very nature, discipline needs time – lots of it – to get its message across. Consequences typically have to be repeated dozens, if not hundreds, of times.
In your situation, the cumulative impact of the corner is what will make it work. For now your daughter enjoys herself in the corner. But that is certainly no cause for worry that she’s unusual or that this is just the beginning of life with a child who will sabotage your every attempt to guide her.
A child’s reaction to discipline generally is not a good indicator of whether you’re on the right track. While Spike makes his discipline obvious to anyone within a three-mile radius, Bliss apathetically shrugs you off with a “give me your best shot- I don’t care” style. In fact, apathy is a favorite kid reaction to discipline. Your daughter has just elevated apathy to a happier plane.
The best gauge of whether discipline will be successful is not a child’s short-term attitude toward it, but her behavior in the long term. Let’s say Harmony is singing her way through her tenth corner visit this week for her disrespectful tone of voice. (Try not to take it personally that she gets snotty to you but sings to the wall.) While she may still be amusing herself in the corner, away from it her mouth control is ever slowly improving. And that’s what counts.
A further consideration: Suppose you abandon the corner in search of something that will visibly upset Harmony, or at least stifle her singing. What’s to say she won’t make a good time out of the next consequence you try? Send her to her room, and she dances. Make her do an extra chore, and she plays house. Take away some TV, and she colors a great picture. I mean, the kid is just incorrigible.
If you just have to respond to Harmony, how about something like “You know, you really take your discipline well” or “I think it’s wonderful how you can stay happy even when most people would get upset.” The danger here, of course, is that she’ll make a grand show of how happy discipline makes her just so you’ll fawn all over her. Oh well, parenting often involves trade-offs.
I have one other question. Does Melody sing the same song or vary them? One mom told me her son whistled “It’s a Small World” for weeks after they had visited Disney World. Now that would make me mad.
Also available as an audiobook, read by Dr. Ray.
This book covers the most troublesome aspects of parenthood. It is full of real, sensible, down-to-earth guidance. It restores your confidence in yourself so you don’t feel undermined by all the self-proclaimed experts and enables you to raise your children in a way that is better for them… and a lot better for you. Dr. Ray teaches you the ins and outs of effective parenting by offering absorbing case examples of true-life situations that every parent will recognize. NEW COVER!
Paperback, 241 pages ($15.00 each + shipping & handling)
You’re a Better Parent Than You Think!
CONSISTENT DISCIPLINE DOES NOT EQUAL CONSTANT DISCIPLINE Pages 102-104
Or “If I were consistent, I’d be on him every minute.”
A mother came to my office because, like so many parents, she felt she was forever disciplining yet her son Philip was only getting worse. Mom was afraid that one day soon she would lose all control and really harm Philip in a surge of exasperation and rage. As she spoke, it was evident that her main methods of “disciplining” consisted of nagging, pleading, preaching, threatening, and generally getting upset over much of Philip’s nastiness. Mom spent most of her relationship with Philip locked in one or another of these communication modes, none of which had any impact and all of which heightened her feelings of hopelessness. Since Mom’s most urgent need was to regain some sense of control, both of herself and of Philip, she and I put together a simple system of rules and results. We chose the most persistent of Philip’s misbehaviors and attached automatic consequences to each. Likewise, we decided upon privileges Philip could earn by acting with some degree of thoughtfulness and maturity. Nothing fancy, just an elementary system to start reducing the incessant clashes between Mom and Philip. But as Mom assessed our plan, she commented in doubt, “I’m not so sure this will work. With as much as Philip acts up, I’ll be on his back constantly if I discipline him every time he misbehaves. He’ll never earn any privileges.”
This mother’s idea of discipline was a major source of her spiraling distress. She measured discipline by the quantity of arguments, yells, and warnings she aimed at Philip. In truth, this is not discipline at all. This is the illusion of discipline-an illusion that will thrust you into repeated and ugly face-offs with your youngster. (There is more about illusory discipline in Chapter 6.) Legitimate discipline―calmly placing limits on your youngster’s behavior, backed by predictable consequences-will not put you “on his back” constantly. It will have the opposite effect: it will take you off his back. You won’t be forever reminding, or cajoling, or threatening him to act with some semblance of propriety. Instead, because your youngster will know exactly what your responses will be-pro and con-to certain behaviors, you will be freed from the role of fulltime overseer and enforcer. Once you have laid down definite guidelines, you’ll actually have to discipline less.
Many parents, however, don’t take advantage of this fact. They think that setting explicit consequences for perpetual misbehaviors will drag them into a state of perpetual discipline. They figure they’d better tolerate the trouble at least part of the time, or they will spend all of the time disciplining. This error in logic is easy to fall into, especially if a youngster acts up with clockwork regularity. Suppose your six-year-old son expresses his “aggressive instincts” upon the body of his younger brother almost every time they play within sight of each other. Nothing you’ve tried thus far has prevented their playtime from ending up in a one-sided boxing match. You’ve been entertaining the idea of separating Rocky from his brother and placing him in a dining-room chair for a half hour each time he turns bully, but you’ve not yet implemented your version of a neutral corner for fear that Rocky will live the greater part of his next few years there, thus depriving him of the positive aspects of sibling interaction. Of course, up to now any positive interaction has been regularly shattered by the tormented screams of little brother. If you decide to adopt your plan, at first you will probably have to be prepared to act frequently. You see, Rocky may not take you too seriously, so he’ll be willing to go fifteen rounds on this issue. But if you’re willing to go sixteen rounds, you will watch your use of the dining room chair tapering off. Rocky’s no amateur at being a kid. He’s also no dummy. The mandatory neutral corner will help him think, before he swings, about the repercussions of bopping his brother. Contrary to what you thought would happen, Rocky is not growing old in the chair, and you are not refereeing squabbles nearly as often as you used to.
To say it again (at the risk of being on your back), it is not consistent discipline that makes for constant discipline; it is inconsistent discipline. If your kids realize they have between four and twenty chances before you act, or if they’re never quite sure how you’re going to act, they will learn to either ignore you or challenge, you. This is what leads to your feeling of being “constantly on their backs.”
GUILTY UPON REQUEST Pages 170-173
Or “I know I shouldn’t ask, but. . .”
The appeals process is anchored in the old “divide and conquer” notion. Appealing works best when parents are separated by walls, buildings, miles, anything to keep them from communicating with each other, at least temporarily. But there is another, more versatile strategy that kids use, either in conjunction with or as an alternative to the appeals process. This is the guilty upon request tactic. It doesn’t require that parents be divided to be conquered. They can even be standing side by side, consulting with each other. This tactic has power because it engenders guilt in parents by making them feel hardhearted or unreasonable if they don’t comply with a request.
I first saw this tactic performed several years ago upon two quite softhearted and reasonable parents. Chuck and Darlene had three children, ages sixteen, thirteen, and ten. After a few family counseling sessions, I noticed that all three kids shared ideas on how to raise Mom and Dad. One of their collaborative endeavors was the guilty upon request tactic. Here’s how it operated. One or more of the kids would want something―say, permission to practice hairstyling by giving Fido a permanent, or a ride to the pool where all the kids swim, somewhere in the next county. Now, in the kids’ mind, a direct approach with either request had at best a fifty-fifty chance of sanction. These were not acceptable odds, so something was needed to tilt the draw a little more favorably. The kids knew that the proper approach would do wonders for extracting a “yes” from Mom and Dad, or at minimum a begrudging “OK.” Therefore, they would gear up for a touchy request by assuming an appropriately deferential posture in all respects: nonverbal signals, verbal tone, and verbal content. They stood uneasily, shifting their weight from foot to foot; their eyes were roaming the floor, and their hands were hidden in their pockets. Their voices were subdued; at times they spoke in a borderline whisper (particularly effective in eliciting a request to speak up). They groped for words, implying uncertainty and reluctance even to ask (“I know what your answer is going to be, but..”; “Mom, I probably shouldn’t even ask this, but …”). Taken together, the overall picture was unmistakable: “Mom and Dad, we come to you fully expecting that our request won’t be granted because you deny us most things anyway.” And nearly every time, this well-orchestrated approach had the desired effect. Chuck and Darlene struggled with self-images of being unfit and unfeeling parents. Consequently, they granted most petitions. Even on those rare occasions when they didn’t, they felt bad enough so that they almost never turned down two requests in a row.
Chuck and Darlene’s kids had the guilty upon request tactic down to a science. But many kids who practice this technique aren’t even aware they’re using it. They approach their folks in genuine doubt that their proposition will be accepted. Ironically, this is the very thing that makes their request so hard to weigh objectively. What basically kind-hearted parent can refuse a supplication so humbly preferred? Not too many. And I’m not saying you should. I’m saying that you need to consider any request on its own merits, unfettered by your own guilt. Certainly, there may be nothing wrong with swimming where all the kids swim. But if you know that particular days are notorious for alcohol or drug use at the pool, or if you’ve already made two twenty-mile round-trip jaunts to the pool this week, you need to respond to the swimming query in light of these factors, without striving to avoid appearing the wicked witch or warlock. Unless your judgment is free of extraneous considerations, you may find yourself acquiescing in something that’s not in your child’s best interests, or yours, for that matter.
But what if your kids really do think you’re a nasty person whenever you don’t satisfy a request? Rest assured, this is standard childhood practice; their perception will be temporary. You do far too much for your kids to be chronically judged as selfish or ungiving. At the absolute longest, their perception will linger until you fulfill their next request. Then you’ll return to their good graces again. But, more important, you can’t make decisions according to how your kids will perceive them or you. Your children’s welfare and your rights as a parent come well before any passing shift in your children’s opinion of you. Additionally, the surest road to permanent ogrehood is to comply indiscriminately with all requests. Rare is the parent who can stay abreast of a child’s expectations and wants. Eventually, your time, finances, and energy will be exhausted. And your kids will be very upset at you, for they will never have learned to accept your human limitations.
Are there ways to respond to the guilty upon request tactic? I hope so. No parents should have to feel guilty merely because someone, even their own child, asks them to. One good response is simply to observe a child’s behavior for him: “You look like you think there’s no chance I’m going to say yes,” or “I think you’re trying to make me feel guilty if I say no.” Follow this with the assertion that you won’t let your decision be influenced by guilt, since that wouldn’t be fair to either of you. Most kids, once they realize you’re reading them accurately, will begin to make more straightforward requests. But even if they cling to their old style, at least they know exactly where you stand. Another suggestion: You needn’t run through this explicit explanation every time. After a few replays, you can make your point better by saying, “Aha, the old guilty upon request tactic.”
Of course, nothing takes the place of your own inimitable style. One father chose to answer his daughter’s inquiries in the same spirit in which they were asked. With a gently mimicking tone, he would look down, shift his weight uneasily, grope for words, and counter with, “I know how you’re going to react to my answer; I’m not sure I should even say it.” Dad’s talent for lighthearted mimicry both made his point and provided his daughter with a mirror in which to see herself.
Some kids calculate ways to make parents feel guilty at their request. Other kids get the same result through their genuine childish innocence. Either way, this is a subtle tactic that you need to recognize and resist. Otherwise, it will adversely color your parental decisions. It will also give you an opinion of yourself you probably don’t deserve.
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America’s quiet experts on the family are finally speaking out. Selected by the National-State Teachers of the Year, one hundred outstanding families share their wisdom and experience. They have opened their homes and hearts to talk about their fears and frustrations and how they were resolved. The parents discussed when and where they disagreed with the experts, how they reached unreachable adolescents, how house rules were established, and what discipline proved most effective in handling everything from a child’s first temper tantrum through his first date, and beyond. The children’s perspective on what makes a family strong was sought. In short, this book shows how successful families live and love.
Paperback, 254 pages ($15.00 each + shipping & handling)
Back to the Family
REVERSE RESOLVE Pages 43-45
We’ve listened to many parents tell of childhoods loaded with emotional baggage, and yet somehow along the way to adulthood, they left that baggage behind. Why haven’t they mirrored the parenthood they saw years ago? How have they become responsible parents after watching only irresponsible models of parenting?
Almost without fail, those parents with chaotic pasts spoke, in different words, of the same phenomenon. One father tagged it succinctly, reverse resolve. Here is how some parents explain it:
Reverse resolve is that reaction by which parents refuse to remain victims of their own childhoods and resolve instead to rise above them. It is more than a desire to avoid repeating their parents’ mistakes. It is the determination to use painful memories to fuel the drive to become genuinely good parents despite a lack of childhood training. As these parents left the direct influence of their parents, they were able to reinterpret past events, no longer being controlled by them, but turning them into vivid guidelines for what not to do at all costs with their own families. In essence, they made past pain work to their families’ present benefit. Emotions are powerful motivators. They can drive an individual to do the exact opposite of whatever happened to him to create the emotion. For example, if loneliness was the dominant childhood emotion fostered by a neglectful parent, that feeling can evolve into the underlying self-will never to be even slightly neglectful if and when one becomes a parent. Again and again, the stories of these parents’ pasts illustrate this theme. To be sure, much of the strength in all one hundred of these families arose directly from the parents’ own positive childhoods and role models. Many parents had the chance to learn from and build upon the upbringings their parents gave to them. But not all parents are so fortunate. And if you are one of those parents, then a primary message of this chapter is for you. It bears repeating once more, for it is critical to your success as a parent. By example of their successful family life, these parents are living proof that no matter how you were raised, no matter what abuse or cruelty you witnessed or experienced, the seeds for achieving a quality parenthood still live within you. They cannot be destroyed. Your past does not place a ceiling upon the heights of parenting you can reach. You are not destined to become what your parents were, or even a small part of what your parents were. You have the capability to stretch yourself far beyond the adequate to raise a family the likes of which you never knew. Believing in your potential for excellence is a necessary first step to a quality family life. It primes you to watch, listen, and learn from others how to build upon your own strengths.
OF TIME AND MONEY Pages 131-132
In sharing his thoughts on money and childrearing, Stan from Hawaii said philosophically, “It is more important to have a high level of living than a high standard of living.” Marilyn from Oregon agreed. “Buying things is no substitute for time and love. Kids can’t be fooled. They would much rather have us attend their school program, for example, than miss it because we are working late so they can wear a designer label on their clothes.” Seconding this perception wholeheartedly was a daughter from Washington. “Mom and dad made a mutual decision that mom would be a housewife. They sacrificed the tangibles, like a pool, new cars, or a boat for things that mean so much more, like spending time with their children and nurturing their growth.” One mother’s opinion on overdoing the tangibles was blunt. “The more you give to children materially, the less they appreciate.” On the other hand, she’s noticed that the more time you give to children, the more they appreciate it.
If you are unable to provide your children the standard of living that you’d like, or the one that they’d like you to think they’d like, you needn’t feel guilty whatsoever, according to these parents and their youngsters. It is time that heads children’s list of most precious parental gifts. Whether you’re short or long on money, the more you give of you, the less your kids will care about worldly goods or any lack of. Time is the essence of parenthood.
Time is the cornerstone upon which a family’s well-being is built. Involvement, presence, availability―words that signify a parent’s commitment to family success. Giving quality time in quantity improves every aspect of one’s home life.
In this six-hour, twelve-part audio series, Dr. Ray is interviewed in-depth on a wide range of parenting and discipline matters.
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Also by Dr. Ray: Materials About His Own Faith Journey
A theologically approved, and fabulously insightful, illuminating, and entertaining dialogue between two friends: Dr. Ray Guarendi and Rev. Kevin Fete. In this transcript and study guide prepared from the television series of the same name, they explore the common misunderstandings of Catholicism and demystify the history of Christianity. Anything but a dry presentation, these guys have fun with what is typically a dry subject — great stuff for the making of saints. With a mixture of history, doctrine, and fun debate, they mine what is often overlooked. Far from two guys’ opinions, the programs quote extensively form Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and writings of the early Church Fathers. This book and study guide, along with the companion DVD will enhance any study of the Catholic faith. They are designed specifically for personal and group educational use in parishes, homes, and schools.
Paperback, 290 pages ($15.00 each + shipping & handling)
What Catholics Really Believe
EPISODE 1 Pages 2-3
Dr. Ray Guarendi (DRG): Why is there so much misunderstanding among non-Catholics and maybe ex-Catholics who say things like: “I now realize that Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior, and I didn’t realize this when I was in the Catholic Church”?
Father Kevin Fete (FKF): …[W]hen people say, “I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” there’s this sense that “Jesus, He’s my buddy, He’s my friend.” …Well, anyone who’s Catholic has that sense of Christ in their life, but they don’t use that same type of language to describe it. They might say, “I come to the Church. I receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist. I welcome Christ into my life each time I take Communion.”
As friends of Christ, Jesus laid out some conditions on that friendship. And one of the things Jesus commanded is, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14). Not just say you’re my friend. But, if you do as I command you. And one of the things Jesus commanded is, “Take this bread. Take this cup. Do this in memory of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
DRG: Here’s another stumbling block for you to counter, and this is a stumbling block for many outside the Catholic Church, one of the prime convincers that you and I aren’t Christian.
Father, are you saved? If you were to die tonight, would you know where you are going to go? And furthermore, if you go to heaven, and Jesus says, “Why should I let you in?” what would you tell Him?
And they would say that is the Gospel. There are several verses in Scripture that say you know KNOW that you have salvation. There are multiple verses in Scripture that say, “These are written so that believing you may have life in His name.”
FKF: The problem again is that sometimes we take specific passages, and we quote those and those alone. We don’t take them in the whole context of things. You’ve got to be very careful about quoting Scripture in a limited sense. Because Scripture—if you believe Scripture—itself tells us that even the devil can use Scripture for his own cause. I don’t want to equate people who take that approach and say they’re the devil. But I do want to say that you’ve got to be careful about taking a little piece out and saying, “This is it!”
There are so many other places where Christ says, you know, “If you call me Lord, Lord but you have not been doing the will of the Father, I’m gong to act like I don’t know who you are.” Jesus is the One who said about the Father,
And he will separate them from one another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. (Matthew 25:32-33)
To the other ones He will say, “Because you didn’t do those things, I cast you off to the everlasting pit.” There’s a criterion Christ gives us: “I’m looking at your whole life. I’m looking at everything you do. Yes, you need to profess Me as Lord. Yes, you must believe that I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But if you believe I am the Way, then you will follow My ways. If you believe I am telling the Truth, you have to live my Truth. That’s how you come to share the Life.”
DRG: Whoa, whoa, whoa? You’re telling me that a Catholic cannot say, “Yes! I am saved.”
FKF: Well, they can say it, and I can say I am thin. Okay?
DRG: (laughing) All right. You just have to tell folks at home that the camera puts 10 pounds on you.
FKF: And ice cream did the other 80.
But, we hear in the Scriptures that we’re not to be judging who finds salvation and who gets damnation. Yet, at the same time, in our hearts we want to judge ourselves favorably and say, “I’m gong to be saved.” And we want to do that at zero or no cost…
DRG: Are you saying that I, as a Catholic, cannot stand here and say, “I am saved”?
FKF: Clear cut?
DRG: Clear cut. 100%, no doubt about it.
FKF: I would say you cannot say that.
…FKF: You can believe you are saved.
DRG: I am redeemed….But to make God’s call, to say God has decided…
FKF: To say, “I’m a saint. I am in Heaven. Here I am,” doesn’t fly.
DRG: Now again, there are Scripture verses that seem to imply that I am saved….But, then you’ve got other verses here that kind of shake you up a bit. I’ll read you just a few of them….
You will be hated by all, because of my name, but…by your perseverance you will secure your lives. (Luke 21: 17,19)
…The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. (Matthew 13:20)
But I’ve got another one for you. This is a kicker. Was Judas a Christian at any time?
FKF: I’d say yes. And Scripture supports that.
DRG: Scripture says that….This is where they were replacing Judas after he died:
So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas who was surnamed Justus and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord who knows the hearts of all show which of these two you have chosen to rtake part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas, by transgression, fell.” (Acts 1:23-25 paraphrased)
It didn’t say, “He never was.” It said he was, and it used the word apostleship to describe him. But then he fell. That’s a powerful word, by “transgression” he fell. In other words, Scripture is clear in so many spots that you can walk away. Is that Catholic teaching? You can walk away?
FKF: That’s absolutely right. You have free will. Go is love. God has to let you always be able to choose your response to God. If God forced that choice, at that oint it would no longer be true love, because no longer would it be a free choice. You always have that choice.
Also available in DVD video series.
Dr. Ray Guarendi is an esteemed child psychologist and author who is a frequent guest on national radio and television. On this DVD, Dr. Ray relates the story of his return to Catholicism after 10 years as an Evangelical Protestant. Christian Apologetics has never been so entertaining… or logical.
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