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How Can I Stop Yelling At My Kids? 9 Tips to Calm Down and Stop Yelling.

Why Can’t I Stop Yelling at My Children?  (posted in Calgary)

There’s at least 6 reasons why it’s natural to yell at our children. But no parent wants to yell. So why do we keep doing it?

  1. When our kids were very young, yelling at them worked. We could scare our child with a loud voice and they complied. Over the years, our child got accustomed to our yelling, so we had to yell louder. We were rewarded for using an increasingly loud voice to make our child listen. At some point, however, our child stopped listening and retaliated back with passive-aggressive behaviour such as being uncooperative, talking-back, or becoming increasingly stubborn or defiant. Our family’s in danger of slipping into endless conflict and yelling.
  2. We yell because we feel helpless. Without a plan how to respond to misbehaviour we fall back on the most natural form of making someone listen – yelling. When someone doesn’t understand us we raise our voice assuming we’ve not been heard. People even yell at a non-English speaking person, believing a loud voice will miraculously make them fluent in English!
  3. We have learned to yell as a means of cuing our child that we mean business. Children assume if we haven’t raised our voice what we’ve asked is not important. But by only listening when yelled at, our children are teaching us to yell all the time.
  4. When angry we yell just like dogs bark or lions roar. It’s instinctive, and we momentarily feel better yelling and “getting it off our chest”.
  5. We feel justified in yelling because our child is ignoring us. We wrongly assume our yelling is an aversive or unpleasant consequence our child will wish to avoid in the future. Rather than behaving, however, children retaliate for being yelled at by not listening or being uncooperative later that day.
  6. We may have learned from observing our own parents that yelling is a normal way to parent.

8 Tips to Stop Yelling at Your Children

Ever parent wants to stop yelling at their kids, but they also want their child to start listening and cooperating. Give these tips a try:

  1. What are the early cues that you’re frustrated and about to yell? Learn to recognize the cues so you can take a break and slow down. Yes, you actually need to take a break, even if only to take a minute to leave the room. If you try to stay in the room and try to relax it won’t work. Your surge of adrenaline and anger will convince you there’s good reasons to yell.
  2. We tend to yell when we feel rushed and try to do too much in too little time. Try to give yourself extra time to get things done or get ready to leave.
  3. Remind yourself that yelling is teaching your child to grow up to be a teen who will yell at you in order to get their way. That should scare you into taking that break away for a minute or two.
  4. Decide if the kids are intentionally trying to bother you, or is there another reason for their annoying behaviour that you’ve overlooked. Perhaps they’re upset about something such as being bored or left out of the conversation while standing in a long line. Inquire if something is wrong, and solve the real problem rather than yelling at them to stop some behaviour.
  5. While taking a break, decide if your request is really that important. Are kids just being kids? Are you over-directing your child and expecting perfect behaviour?
  6. Decide if you might be mad about something else but the kids are the easiest target. Maybe you have other sources of stress and your real anger is related to work, your spouse, or demands upon your time. Deal with the real issues and you’ll find yourself more tolerant of minor misbehaviour and able to respond to your children in a calmer manner.
  7. If kids aren’t listening and your directive must be complied with, calmly tell them you’re annoyed or angry and be clear on exactly what you expect.
  8. If kids ignore your calm request, you have to have a plan in place to implement non-punitive consequences. You also have to have a plan in place in case your child ignores the consequences you set. Once you have a clear set of rules and consequences in place. you can let the rules do the yelling for you. Without an effective plan you will fall back on raising your voice and trying to force your children to listen.
  9. Ensure you have a positive reward program or a clear plan in place to praise and reinforce good behaviour and cooperation.

How do I set up a workable set of rules and consequences?

Unfortunately, a short post on tips is not the place to explain how to set rules and put in place consequences for non-compliance, disrespect or angry outbursts. You’ll also need to set up a very clear reward program and ways to praise your kids for appropriate behaviour. The key point is that you need to have such plans in place if you want to stop yelling. If you need help, check out some parenting books, join a parenting group, or consult a child family psychologist or counsellor. You might also want to check out Life Skills 4 My Family, an in-home video training program for parents and children. This program was developed in Calgary by David Ricketts, Ph.D and teaches specific ways to set up rules and consequences as well as positive programs. The program teaches anger management and life skills to all family members.

Study skills, test-taking strategies & test anxiety: 7 Tips for every student.

Study skills and Test Taking Strategies for High School, College and University. Posted in Calgary.

Tips to sharpen your study skills and improve your test taking strategies.

There’s at least 7 steps to developing good study skills:

  1. Planned study times – a major component of test anxiety is lack of preparation and a lack of confidence that one has truly studied.
  2. Ensure you learn to take efficient notes in class and from texts.
  3. Study skills include effective review of notes and memorizing of information.
  4. Use of mnemonic devices to summarize notes.
  5. Settling self prior to an exam – relaxation and visualization of success.
  6. Anxiety management – this is not a life and death situation.
  7. Good test taking strategies.

Tip 1: Setting planned study times.

Good study skills means study time must be treated like a job. Turn off your mobile during your work time- really, you have to do this even if it creates anxiety! The world won’t fall apart if you’re off-line for 2 hours. Once started, you can’t be distracted by personal business or social activities. Take a coffee break or stretch break same as you would at work; schedule 10 or 15 minutes break time but then back to work at the end of the break.

Decide how much time you are willing to devote to an upcoming exam – say 6 hours. Divide that time up over your study days – say 2 hours a day for three days. Try to set specific times to study, but at the least set the latest time in the day you can start. Don’t study late at night. You’ll run out of time or be too tired to absorb the material. Try not to study one topic more than 2 hours. You’ll just lose focus and end up taking 4 hours to do 2 hours of studying. You’d be better to study for 2 hours and take time off to relax, rather than study inefficiently for long periods.

Find a place to work where you can study and not be distracted. It may be easier to study at the library rather than sitting in your room where there’s too many distractions.

Once you’ve put in your hours of study you can take the exam confidently knowing you’re well prepared, used your study skills and have put in sufficient time. The exam is merely an opportunity to test your knowledge.

Consider blocking off time after each class to review notes and work on homework while information is still fresh. This is a great study skills for math classes where immediate use of the knowledge to solve problems will solidify new learning.

Tip 2: Taking notes efficiently is part of good study skills.

Attending lectures without taking notes is a waste of time. Very little information about the lecture or presentation will be recalled even a few days later. During lectures and while reading textbooks develop good study skills by making use of your time by taking notes. Don’t just highlight information. Writing and listening allows you to store the information in two modalities and forces you to really listen and comprehend.

After reading every page or two in the text or in notes handed out by the instructor, make a few notes of your own summarizing the key points in the material you just read. When you stop to make notes, don’t just re-write what’s in the text. Ask yourself if you were the instructor, what questions would you ask your students based on the last two pages? Put the answer in your notes. At the very least, paraphrase the text with your understanding of the material. This forces you to think about the content and not just copy sentences. If information can be itemized such as five key points or 6 different theories, list these points in your notes with numbers, rather than just writing long paragraphs.

By exam time, you should have separate sets of notes for each textbook or handout and a set for lectures. Don’t mix them all up. Keep them organized and well ordered in a binder.

Tip 3: Summarizing Your Notes

Good study skills means you go back over your notes but this time try to summarize the key point in point form. Not everything can be summarized into key points, but many things can. Even a novel may be summarized with the points that the author might have been portraying or perhaps the motives which influenced the characters (for example: jealousy, anxiety, manipulation, sabotage, etc). Turn these points into a mnemonic device such as a short word using all the first letters of the key points. In the above example, this becomes the JAMS novel. All you need to remember the key points is the acronym JAMS. Visualizing broken jars of jam smeared all over the novel sitting on your kitchen table will solidify your recall of the acronym in a test situation. Each letter stimulates quick recall of the four key elements of the story, and each word in turn should cue you to quick recall of other information and points that you’ve studied or reviewed from your notes.

If you identify a number of acronyms which summarize your notes, put them on a small card. Perhaps you can even make up a sentence containing the acronyms so they too are easy to remember. The night before your exam, ensure you know the acronyms and what each letter stands for. Read them out loud without looking at the answers! You can take the card to the exam if you wish, putting it away as soon as the exam is handed out. As soon as you get the exam, write out the acronyms on the back of the exam and write out what each letter stands for. You now have much of your exam material “encoded” on the back of your exam! This will reduce your anxiety and help prevent yourself from blocking on material when you read a question later in the exam.

In the margins of your notes put in key words that will cue you to the larger content of the notes.

Tip 4: Reviewing Your Notes Before the Exam

There’s more to good study skills than just re-reading and summarizing notes and identifying acronyms.
When you’re re-reading and summarizing your notes you may have felt confident you know the material. It all seems familiar and and easy to recall when you’re reading. But re-reading notes is not a test of your recall. It’s only a test of your recognition memory. It’s easy to recall information after you see it, but that won’t help you on an exam.

To solidify your recall of the material, you have to practice recalling it with minimal cues. This is when the real studying begins. Read one page of your notes, turn the page over, and see if you can recall everything on that page. Talk out loud to solidify your memory. Simply recalling the material in your head won’t be sufficient. When you talk in your head, you skip steps, and you may not really be able to explain the material when it comes time to write out an answer. If you can explain out loud what’s on the page, you’ll feel confident that you really do know the material

Once you’ve gone through your notes reviewing each page, go back again but this time glance at the first few words on your page of notes, turn the page over, and see if you can summarize the key points out loud without looking at your notes.

Review your notes one last time, again trying to only glance at the page.
You should then quickly recall the key words you have listed in the margin and, if you have made up an acronym for that page, you should be able to easily recall it. Best time to do this final studying is right before you go to sleep. Your brain will consolidate the information while you sleep. Once you can do this, you’re well prepared for the exam.

If you study with others, consider each person taking responsibility to review, summarize, and then teach one section or unit. Having to teach others is the best way of memorizing the material.

Tip 5: Settling yourself prior to an exam. Relaxation and visualization of success.

A simple but effective study skill is to arrive at an exam with plenty of time to spare – say ½ hour. If you rush to the exam you only create anxiety for yourself which you’ll then misinterpret as test anxiety. Eat a small meal of something nutritious for breakfast or lunch. Some protein and carbohydrate is a good idea. Bring a bottle of water and ensure you have all your supplies before you arrive for the exam. Find a place to relax prior to the exam. A study carrel is good. Talking to other students will only hype your anxiety about the exam.

Close your eyes in the study carrel, relax your muscles by checking each muscle group to ensure they are loose. Start at your head and work down, relaxing the eyes, jaw, lips, shoulders, arms hands, etc. Loosen up each muscle group so you are relaxed like a rag doll. Then visualize yourself walking tall and confidently into the exam room being loose and confident. You’re calm and feel powerful and in control. You’re there to share your knowledge and not to be tested or examined. The instructor is a speck beneath you. You’re well prepared. What you once thought was anxiety is now a feeling of excitement and anticipation of getting started on a personal challenge. Wipe out any thoughts of competition or challengers or what others are doing. You’re not competing; you’re there to answer the questions you know. Questions you have no answer for are of no concern. You’re there to answer the questions you can. Visualize yourself writing your answers, handing in your test, and confidently leaving the room. Double check throughout this visualization that your muscles are relaxed. If your heart speeds up, remind yourself this is anticipation and it will soon slow.

Don’t fall asleep or lose track of time! You don’t want to waste all those study skills! Set a timer on your phone if you need to!

Review the card with your acronyms, then and head to class. Other than reviewing acronyms, don’t try to review material in your head or study in the last half-hour before the exam.

Tip 6: Managing test anxiety is part of study skills.

Managing anxiety is an important part of study skills and test taking strategy. Anxiety may increase if we are unprepared, but also if we listen to self-talk that induces panic. Confidence includes the belief that one can deal with failure or cope with the consequences of performing less well than expected. Thoughts which may increase anxiety include:

Predicting failure – I won’t do well, I’m stupid, I’ll blank out….etc.

Exaggerating the consequences of failure – I’m useless if I fail, I won’t survive without this course, failure is not an option, etc.

Putting unrealistic expectations on ourselves or focusing on “imperative thinking” – I can’t drop this course, I have to get 90%, I have to be … etc.

Develop positive self talk and recognize you will survive or will cope if you don’t do as well as expected. Counselling can help with this process.

Tip 7: Test Taking Strategies. – Being “Test Wise”.

Write out your acronyms and what they mean as soon as you get your test paper. Write down any numbers, formulas, or specific facts you might be asked about but might blank on when you see the question.

Read all directions carefully. Look at the value or marks assigned to each question and allocate your time accordingly. Plan to leave time for review at the end, if at all possible.

On multiple choice, read and consider all alternative answers. Don’t just pick the first one that looks correct. Evaluate each alternative answer as true or false.

The correct answer is apt to be more complete and therefore longer than the alternatives. Consider carefully any answers which are longer. Wrong answers may not flow from the question or may have the wrong tense or perhaps be plural when it should be singular. Read the question and answer sub-vocally to decide if it “sounds right”.

If there is no penalty for wrong answers, guess. Even if there is a penalty, if one or more alternatives can be eliminated, guess. Star the question you guessed on, so you can go back to it later and spend more time on it,

Don’t dwell too long on difficult items. Answer or guess, star it, and move on. Put your time into answering questions you know, not those you don’t.

Randomly answer questions if you run out of time.

Once you’ve finished, take a few minutes to review your answer sheet and ensure no question is answered twice or a line skipped accidentally. Make sure the bubble you’re filling in is the right one for each question. When answering multiple choice questions, try to develop a habit to check every 10th question or so, that the question number and the answer numbers match.

If you have time, go back and review starred answers. If you still have time, review the entire test slowly, checking or changing your answers. Information contained in later questions may have given you the answer to earlier questions. The myth that your first answer is likely to be correct is false. Research indicates that changing answers results in higher test scores

It may be helpful to do essay questions first, especially if they are worth a lot of points. It’s easier to rush through multiple choice than to rush an essay. On the other hand, it’s easy to get bogged down on an essay and cut yourself short for the multiple choice. Allocating your time gets easier with experience.

In essay questions, it is usually wise to express opinions similar to those of the instructor. You look very knowledgeable if you quote books and articles or give examples to back up your opinions. Write assertively, not tentatively. If you’re really stuck, try re-phrasing the question to something you can answer. You’re better to write knowledgeably on a slightly altered topic, than to hand in an essay with little or no real content.

Put yourself in the shoes of the instructor. What do they want you to tell them in the essay? Don’t try to impress them with your new ideas. They want to know you understand the issues covered in class and are familiar with key arguments and ideas.

Have fun!

The study skills outlined above apply to high school and post-secondary students. For help teaching 8-12 year olds study skills and ways to focus on their homework, check out the Life Skills 4 My Family Program. 
This program was developed in Calgary by David Ricketts, Ph.D and teaches both parents and children critical life skills including very structured ways to help children tackle homework independently, fight off distraction, and defeat procrastination.

How to talk to your Ex about parenting and your children. Calgary

Communication Tips for Divorced Parents in Calgary

Have to talk to your Ex about parenting but find it frustrating and stressful? While many parents communicate with their Ex regarding their children’s needs without difficulty, others find communication can be difficult and finding common ground on parenting can be impossible. This creates tremendous stress and resulting conflicts can spiral out of control. The victims in this situation aren’t the parents; it’s the children. This post offers some pointers and ideas to help you talk to your Ex about parenting with less conflict and, more importantly, without the children being caught in the middle. Improving communication with your Ex is the best thing you can do for your children!

You’re divorced: You can communicate with your Ex, but you can’t control them!

First off, you need to recognize you’re two separate families, not one. Your children belong to one family with you and one family with your Ex. This might seem obvious, but perhaps you still try to talk to your Ex as though you’re still together and should be parenting the same. Being two families means you can’t make your Ex parent the way you want any more than you can make your neighbour parent properly. Recognize you and your Ex will not agree on all parts of parenting. If you were both that agreeable, you’d likely still be together!

Joint parenting means your job is to ensure you talk to your Ex about parenting in a non-threatening and non-conflictual manner. The key is providing your Ex with information regarding your observations of your child (not of your Ex or how they parent!), your concerns or feelings, and what you’re doing to solve a problem. You must absolutely refrain from trying to tell your Ex what’s wrong with their parenting, what you think their motives are (i.e., you’re being selfish or you are neglecting the kids etc.), or what they should or should not do ( you must stop… you have to….). Instead, you’re going to communicate with “I statements” and not “you statements”. If you think this idea is unrealistic, there’s no point reading any further. These tips are how to communicate with your Ex, not change them!

Your job is to talk to your Ex and educate them, not tell them what to do.

The key is to educate your spouse by talking to your Ex about your own feelings and beliefs and what you are doing. Educate them about how you parent, not how they should parent. Once you’ve done that, STOP TALKING. Absolutely resist the urge to try and convince your spouse you’re right or to get them to agree with your insightful observations. Never rise to a challenging or provocative statement your spouse dangles in front of you. It’s too easy to grab that tasty morsel and fall back into old marital conflicts and power issues, or fall into the trap of trying to make your spouse see the light. These are fighting words guaranteed to doom you to escalating conflict and eventual harm to the children.

When talking to your Ex about the children, don’t allow yourself to be pulled into an argument about who is right or who has the children’s best interest at heart. If you have communicated to your Ex your concerns, it’s time to stop talking, and recognize you you can’t make your Ex agree with you. That’s why you got divorced in the first place.

Kids will quickly adapt to two homes even if the rules and expectations are quite different in each home. Kids all over the world live with parents who aren’t perfect or don’t parent the way you do. Kids are flexible if they know that both parents have different values and ways of doing things, but that both parents still support one another and aren’t fighting and trying to change each other. Let your kids know they’re lucky to see how two different families operate.

When you talk to your Ex about parenting it’s okay to give advice if your Ex asks for it (what do you think I should do?). But resist giving advice unless asked. This is not easy and will take all your will power to resist. You can, however, sneak in advice indirectly by informing your Ex how you handled a situation in your home, or how you would handle a similar situation should it occur. Your Ex should feel free to accept your plan as their own, or to reject it without losing face. You may even find your Ex will call you the next day having come up with their own “new approach”. Even though the approach is what you’ve been using for years, try to avoid the temptation to say “That’s what I told I was doing yesterday”!

Only give advice if your spouse asks for it. Only ask for advice if you really want it!

When you talk to your Ex, Use “I” statements ( not “You are”….)

Everyone thinks I statement suck. The only problem is they work. Write them out in advance and practise them so you too can say smart things like:

  • I noticed Johnny or Sarah have been feeling …… or doing …………
  • I feel….. or I’m worried, frustrated, concerned that…………
  • The kids have commented that…………1
  • I ‘m doing …………………. to try and help the kids.
  • I’m willing to…………….
  • I’m not sure what else to do but wanted to let you know of this issue.
  • If you have any ideas or suggestions, let me know

Don’t let yourself be drawn into arguments. Stick to how you’re feeling, what your concerns are, and what you’re planning to do. You don’t have to answer questions nor respond to accusations. Just ignore provocations and stick with your I statements. You’re educating your Ex about your feelings, not convincing your Ex you’re right, nor telling them what to do. There’s no need to defend yourself. If you feel as though you’re caving or backing down, save face by reminding yourself you’re doing this for the sake of the children.

When talking to your Ex about your children be careful what you say your kids have told you. You don’t want to be a snitch. Even honest children colour stories or twist the facts. What they recall may be incorrect or incomplete. If you have any doubts, preface you statement to your Ex with a recognition that the child’s comments are likely mistaken. For example, “Johnny was probably mistaken, but he mentioned you talked to him about living full-time with you. I thought I should to clarify what was said”.

When you talk to your Ex about your children, don’t let it escalate. End the Conversation; if not for your own sanity, at least for the sake of your children.

NEVER respond to a message or provocative statement in anger – nothing is lost by walking away or waiting a few hours or even a day to respond (assuming there’s still any reason to reply). Yes it feels good to give as good as you get but the children are dropping dead from friendly fire. Let go of the provocation and when you later talk to your Ex, stick to how you feel, what you see as a solution, and what you’re willing to do. Ask yourself, are you trying to change your Ex or respond to something they said (either currently or in the past)? If so, you’re getting sucked in. Remind yourself your job is to educate your Ex about your concerns for the children, and to keep your Ex informed about what you’re doing to help the kids.

Plan what you want to say in advance of any face-to-face conversation or message exchange. If you’re caught off guard with a phone call or message, delay returning the call or replying until you’ve had a chance to pre-plan what you want to say. If you find it difficult to communicate in person or over the phone, then email but only when you’re calm and never in the heat of the moment. Paste a note on your computer if you have to. Email is better than a heated message exchange. It’s easy to delay responding to an email, but message exchanges can quickly heat up if not burst into a flaming conflagration.

Don’t respond to issues unrelated to the issues you want to discuss regarding the children. You may feel like you’re “losing”, but in reality you’re freeing yourself from old battles and moving on to a problem solving rather than maintaining a dysfunctional (read “screwed up”) relationship. If a phone or live conversation becomes disrespectful, calmly indicate the call or conversation is getting too personal and excuse yourself. Make sure you indicate you’ll call back or talk later. You may have to hang up or walk way if your spouse won’t stop talking or refuses to let you “hang up gracefully”. If you end up hanging up on your Ex out of anger or frustration, you probably stayed on the line too long! Don’t let pride stop you from calling back later. Giving the silent treatment by not calling back won’t change your Ex, but politely ending conversations every time they become disrespectful will be a major improvements in how you communicate with your Ex about your children.

What not to say when talking to your Ex about parenting (you are statements):

Remember you are to avoid saying these things, not use them to start a fight.

  • You are doing this and this and it’s wrong.
  • You must start or stop……
  • Why did you…….?
  • Do not question your spouse – few people appreciate it!
  • What were you thinking……?
  • You’re hurting the children… (accusations don’t strengthen an argument: accusations just start them).
  • I did this because you……. (don’t get defensive. Let it go.)
  • If you don’t …. (threats are the best way to start a fight! )

I tried to talk to my Ex, but they don’t listen!

Once you’ve talked to your Ex about your beliefs and feelings you have little else to do but live with the outcome. If your Ex is abusing your child or putting their physical safety or emotional well-being at risk, you can contact Social Services or apply to the courts for a change in custody or living arrangement. This will only be a viable alternative in extreme situations where there’s proof of actual or potential abuse. Don’t try to make up proof, it never works. You should also speak to your pediatrician regarding your concerns, and seek a referral for counselling and family therapy for yourself and your children. See the bottom of the page for more links to resources in Calgary.

Assuming your Ex isn’t being abusive, you may still feel your ex-spouse’s behaviour is damaging or just messed up. If the children are upset or frustrated by your Ex (i.e. the child is complaining to you that Dad or Mom did this or that), you’ll have to deal with the situation the same as you would if your child is upset at a teacher who alsoseems unwilling to listen to your concerns .

Start by suggesting your child talk to their other parent and communicate their concerns and work out a solution. Role play or rehearse with your child how they can talk to their other parent. Help them practice some sucky “I statements”(remember they suck, but they work). By helping them deal directly with their other parent you’re building their self-confidence, their self-efficacy (a psychologist’s way of saying kids start to believe they can actually change things on their own), and problem solving skills. They’ll also learn they can’t expect you to fix problems with their other parent and you may be breaking dysfunctional (screwed up) communication patterns that existed prior to the separation. Show empathy for your child’s concerns but also confidence they can work things out on their own. They may have to learn to live with different rules or ways of doing things in the other home.

If possible, support your Ex even if the child knows that you don’t agree with their approach ( i.e., Mom and I parent differently and we don’t always agree on handling things the same way. We do things one way here but you need to find a way to make things work at mom’s too. I may not do things the same way as your mom, but it’s important that you learn how to live by her rules). If this doesn’t work, then you may have to help them cope or live with a less than ideal situation.

My Ex isn’t abusive; they’re just a lousy parent.

You may find yourself in the unpleasant situation of helping your child learn to live with a parent who has an anger management problem, a drinking problem, weird parenting, or some other “dysfunctional” strange behaviour. This is obviously difficult as you want to fix things for your child. You have to recognize, however, that your hands are tied. If you’ve tried to talk to your Ex about your children but they still haven’t changed, you should suggest joint counselling or therapy here in Calgary to help resolve the issues between you.

If your Ex refuses counselling, there’s not much more you can do. They certainly won’t change if you fight with them or continue to beat a dead horse (the “dead horse” is intended to describe old issues, not your Ex). If you keep arguing and trying to change your Ex, you not only “stay married” and stress yourself out, but your children will be basket cases. You may also just harden your Ex’s behaviour and make it impossible for them to change without losing face. Children freak out if they live in two homes with their divorced parents in open disagreement and conflict. These children are constantly forced to take sides, they worry who is right or who is lying, and feel they must try to be loyal to both sides.

To maintain loyalty, some children quickly learn to complain to Mom about Dad and to Dad about Mom. This in turn escalates the conflict between the ex-partners. These children often have to lie about how they feel or what they said to each parent. Sneaky children (not yours, so no worries here) may even “take advantage” of the parental conflict to enlist a parent’s support in a battle with the opposing parent. Other children shut down, emotionally withdraw, become anxious, depressed, and experience stress. Some oblivious children may not notice, but I haven’t run into any of those yet. Many children blame themselves for their parent’s ongoing conflicts (if it wasn’t for me, Mom and Dad wouldn’t be fighting and they’d probably be still married). Schoolwork and social relationships may spiral downwards as children waste much of their mental energy trying to figure out how to become marriage therapists.

Your child can’t follow your lead and divorce your Ex, so they may be forced to live with a parent who has significant issues that neither they nor you can fix. In this case, the best you can do is a be a strong supportive parent to your child. Listen to their concerns, give them advice, and have empathy for their situation. After calmly discussing their concerns and putting them to bed, scream into your pillow and then have a drink (only one). But you must do this while avoiding the temptation to run down your Ex or bad-mouth them. Don’t make excuses for your Ex or pretend something isn’t happening, but don’t blow a problem out of proportion either. Be honest about the other parent’s problems if they are obvious to your children, but don’t “bond with your children” by turning your Ex into a patient or worse a common enemy. It’s a fine line and a true balancing act to ensure your child can talk to you about their concerns and you can give neutral advice without falling into the trap of running down your Ex or siding with your child against them. A referral to outside counselling or therapy can support you in walking this fine line, and provide your children a neutral confidant where they can safely discuss their concerns.

Maintain your child’s confidentiality or they’ll just stop talking to you.

If you decide to communicate with your Ex about a concern raised by your child, ensure you ask for your child’s permission to share with the other parent what they said to you. Too often children tell one parent about something that happened in the other home and next thing they know their parent is calling up to question the Ex about what this is all about. The Ex then questions the child why they would talk to the other parent and not themselves. The child finds themselves caught in a no-win situation. They quickly learn to stop sharing anything that happens in either house. Treat your child’s conversations as confidential, coach them to solve problems directly with the other parent and not through yourself, and only intervene directly if:

  1. your child can’t do it themselves, and
  2. wants your help, and
  3. the issue is significant enough to warrant your involvement, and
  4. your not just rehashing issues you know you have no chance of resolving.

Break your child’s confidence only if their emotional or physical well being is truly at stake.

Maybe you’re having a hard time letting go?

You may still harbour resentment and hurt about the divorce. Don’t let these old issues influence your need to communicate effectively. If you can’t separate your old feelings from current communication, you should consider some counselling to help let go of the past. Google divorce groups for adults in Calgary.

Handling scheduling changes.

Have schedules made well in advance and have clear legal rulings on who the children are with on which days and which holidays. Parents can be flexible, and if you get along well there should be little difficulty negotiating changes. If you talk to your Ex and you can’t agree, you’ll need to fall back on the legal agreements. That’s what the agreement is for – a neutral arbitrator of any visitation disagreements. A spouse can ask for a change or make a case, but the parent with care for that day can turn down the request. There’s nothing to argue about as the court decision is final. Most parents negotiate changes to the agreements with little difficulty as long as both feel there is a basic equity in how often each has to compromise or change.

Further Help and Summary

I hope these suggestions prove helpful when it comes time to talk to your Ex about your children or your joint parenting. Please also consider following this link to check out the Life Skills 4 My family program. The program is an excellent way to not only develop you and your children’s life skills, but also to have two families working on the same skills and hopefully using the same strategies and approaches to parenting. With both partners working from a common toolbox, disagreements can be minimized and joint parenting enhanced. It’s much easier for the program to tell parents what to do than Ex-spouses trying to educate each other. Developed in Calgary by myself, David Ricketts Ph.D.

Life Skills 4 My Family: A Home Based Vi…

Even if your Ex won’t buy in, consider the Life Skills 4 My Family Program for your own family. The program teaches both parents and children the essential life skills they need to be a happy well functioning family. It includes very specific instruction far beyond what can be included in this post about parenting and ways to communicate. You’ll find detailed instruction on how to improve both you and your children’s active listening skills, recognize opening lines, express feelings, handle conflict, manage anger, and improve communication skills. And those skills will help even further when it’s time to communicate with your Ex about your children. Check it out.

Parenting styles: the good, the bad and the ugly. What’s your style?


Parenting Styles: The Dictator, the Wishy- Washy, and the Firm, Assertive Parent. Posted in Calgary.

It can be a difficult balance for parents to be the leaders of the family without becoming either the family dictator, or the wishy-washy chairman of a family run by committee. Parents need to find a parenting style that is a middle ground. On one hand, they need to be firm, take charge, and give direction, but on the other hand, they must provide children the freedom and responsibility to make their own decisions and act independently. Along this continuum there are three types of parenting styles:

Parenting Style 1. The Dictator:

Some parents can be dictatorial, giving a constant stream of directives and commands and acting like a drill sergeant. The dictator parenting style is not necessarily mean or abusive; they may just be a parent who is bossy and demanding. Children, like adults, resent such control and either rebel and become oppositional and defiant, or they lose their initiative, lack confidence in their own decisions, and become overly compliant. Some may become passive-aggressive (meaning they at least partially comply but retaliate indirectly by not cooperating in other areas). In adulthood, these children may lack assertiveness, be at risk of falling into abusive relationships, or model their parents bossy and demanding style.

Pick up your toys now, and get to bed (rude and belittling).

Pack you lunch now! I mean it (bossy and demanding).

Do you want to see me mad (threats)?

Get going and put away your clothes now (demanding).

I want this done now! I won’t say it again (said through clenched teeth with implied threats).

Parents don’t necessarily choose to have a dictatorial parenting style, but they may slide into bossy controlling behaviour because it’s the only approach that works. By not complying when asked respectfully, children may inadvertently teach their parent to yell or threaten. Other dictatorial parents may just be modelling their own parent’s behaviour – they assume good parenting means making dictatorial commands and they mistake obedience and compliance for respect. If you’re an authoritarian parent, step back and analyze how you come across to your kids. How would you react if an adult spoke to you in a similarly demanding manner?


Parenting Style 2. The Wishy-Washy Passive Parent:

Some parents turn too much decision making and control over to their children – they’ve lost their leadership role in the family. They constantly solicit their child’s opinions, and bombard their child with a stream of questions and choices about what they want to do or how they want to do it. Parental decisions are made to please the child, rather than to meet the parent’s needs. Some parents with a wishy-washy parenting style may be countering their partner whom they feel is too strict or dictatorial. Other wishy-washy parents may slip into the role because their child always reacts with anger and defiance when direct demands are placed on them. Once again, the child is teaching the parent how to parent – and children aren’t typically the best source of parenting know-how.

Wishy-washy parents give their children lots of decision making power hoping they’ll be empowered and develop into independent thinkers – and in a way it works. The child is empowered; but unfortunately, not in the way the parent intended. Rather than appreciating their say in family matters, the child believes they’ve a right to argue and debate every decision. A choice in how they should comply is confused with a choice in whether to comply or not. Over time, the child takes on the dictator’s role and becomes increasingly demanding and selfish. When their needs aren’t met, they retaliate with aggressive behaviour, whining, tears, or meltdowns until they get their way or at least negotiate a compromise. Parents start to tip-toe around their child for fear of upsetting them, but this only further emboldens the child and the parent’s authority is quickly dissipated. At the extreme, there’s a vacuum in family leadership and having too much decision making power creates anxiety and stress for the child. They’re making decisions beyond their years and trying to control the entire family. Everything is up for negotiation, which is exhausting both for parent and child. Even worse, the child may grow up to be a bossy and controlling adult; what the wishy-washy parent had been trying to avoid in the first place.

Most wishy-washy parents don’t go so far as to let their child run the family, but they many inadvertently give too many choices, don’t make clear their expectations, and lack a firm assertive approach:

Can you pick up your toys, and then get a snack? (No, I want a snack first)

Will you pack your lunch before the show? (No I’ll do it after)

If you watch TV until 8, will you get to bed by 8:30? (No, I won’t be tired)

We’re going out to dinner – where do you want to go? (McDonald s for the millionth time)

It would be nice if you got your lunch packed before the show starts. (So I don’t have to?)

Where do you want to sit in the waiting room? Do you want to take off your coat? Do you want to read a magazine? (endless questions)

A child needs a leader, not an executive assistant. Ambivalent directions, unnecessary questions, and lack of structure create anxiety for a child. They’re unsure what a parent expects, and unsure of the rules. They try to structure the situation by taking over the bossy controlling role, or they cover their confusion by acting silly. If you have a wishy-washy parenting style, you need to step back and analyze how you speak to your child. Are you asking too many questions? Unclear on your expectations? Tip-toeing around issues? If so, you might consider making some changes in how you parent.


Parenting Style 3. A Firm and Assertive Parent who Gives Choices:

Assertive parents treat their children as they might treat a valued employee; with respect and courtesy, but they also make sure expectations and rules are clear. Parents are benevolent dictators. They make the decisions, and they’re the boss of the family, although their primary concern is the well-being of their children. They give their children as much freedom as they can handle responsibly, and, when appropriate, allow kids to make their own decisions and choices. They welcome input from all family members, but decisions are made in everyone’s best interest. They don’t ask for input if they don’t intend to consider it.

Assertive parents state expectations clearly, but kids decide how to fulfill them. It’s like a horse in a corral. They’re free to roam about but only within the confines of the fencing. Younger children might be given two or three options to choose from, so they have at least some say in how to fulfill a request. Older children are free to complete a task whenever and however they wish, as long as the directive or expectation gets completed on time. If expectations are consistently met, parents give children more options to choose from, more responsibility, and less supervision.

Having a say in how a task is completed teaches a child to make their own decisions and to take responsibility for their own behaviour. It builds their sense of competency, promotes taking initiative, and fosters independence. Children, like adults, function optimally when expectations and responsibilities are clearly laid out, but they still have genuine input into what those expectation are, and control or choice over how they carry out their responsibilities. This is just good management, either at home or on the job-site. Some examples:

I expect you to pick up your toys, and after that you can read or have a snack (giving two options).

We can leave now, or you can stay and play for 10 minutes (gives sense of control but only two choices).

You decide when to pack your lunch, but it must be before the show starts (choice in when to comply).

You can watch TV until 8, and then get to bed by 8:30, or get to bed now, and I’ll read you a story until 8:30. It’s your choice (expectations are very clear including time to be in bed).

We’re going out for dinner – it’s your choice between “Restaurant A” or “Restaurant B”.

As long as that assignment is finished by Sunday morning at 10 am, it’s up to you how and when you do it. After that, I’m in charge, and you’ll have to do it my way.

Assertive parents should only give choices they’re willing to support. Similarly, kids are only asked for their input on family matters if parents are willing to seriously consider their opinion. Employees dislike a boss who asks for input only to disregard the feedback and forge ahead with their original plan. If an assertive parent needs something done in a particular way, or if a decision is critical, they don’t give their children a choice in how to complete the task. They inform them what needs to be done and how, without asking for their agreement or leaving room for argument. Being assertive and direct does not mean being be a drill sergeant, nor should kids jump when adults speak. They should, however, cooperate and comply when an issue is important or critical.

If you’re working on your parenting style to be increasingly assertive, you have to recognize that being firm and respectful does not guarantee children will behave – in fact they may simply ignore you. You’ll be tempted to slide back to the wishy-washy or authoritarian approach. The trick is to maintain a firm respectful approach, but implement consequences for non-compliance, as well as programs to encourage and reward cooperative behaviour.

If you’d like help to develop your firm assertive parenting style, check out Life Skills 4 My Family. Life Skills is an in-home family education / anger management video program. Children and parents work together to learn essential life skills including all the skills parents need to be that ideal firm and assertive parent. Developed in Calgary by myself, David Ricketts Ph.D., the program outlines concrete strategies to help parents respond effectively to defiance, curtail endless arguing and debate, and encourage cooperative independent behaviour. All without being the Dictator nor the Wishy-Washy one!

Do Children Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or ADHD Learn from Consequences?

Every Child, including those with ADHD, learn when they experience consequences for their behaviour. Posted in Calgary.

Kids who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD) are more impulsive and have difficulty focusing, concentrating, and staying on task. They may struggle to sit still and have difficulty self-regulating or self-monitoring their own behaviour. Anger provoking situations are particularly difficult because anger compounds everyone’s tendency to be impulsive and reactive. These learning issues result in AD/HD kids often having a history of misbehaviour, more frequent punishment, and greater family conflict.

Punishing ADHD Children Leads to a downward spiral of punishment and revenge

When parents, out of frustration, slip into using punitive techniques such as spanking, yelling, or taking things away, an AD/HD child can become increasingly discouraged and resentful resulting in a downward spiral of punishment followed by revenge behaviour (the child’s revenge behaviour being quite intentional, not impulsive!). Even when parents try to use non-punitive techniques such as time-out, the programs often fail because the impulsive child refuses to stay in time-out.

To discourage parents from “punishing” children diagnosed with AD/HD, some experts suggested that these children are not responsible for their misbehaviour and that punishment is ineffective. Unfortunately, this has contributed to a perception that all consequences are ineffective for children diagnosed as AD/HD. Even books and courses may shy away from recommending consequences and over-rely on recommending alternative strategies such as cuing, reasoning, problem-solving, points and reward programs, diversion, or distraction. Most of these techniques are great interventions and important to implement, but discouraging the use of consequences (because the distinction between consequences and punishments is often misunderstood) means impulsive kids are inadvertently deprived of the opportunity to experience non-punitive, natural consequences for their impulsive behaviour. Non-punitive consequences are necessary for a child’s brain to start inhibiting its impulsive tendencies and to self-regulate (a fancy way to say control) the child’s behaviour.

ADHD kids need to cue themselves to “stop and think” and not rely on adults to think for them.

All kids need to train their brains to inhibit impulses, to stop and think, and to reflect before acting. This is particularly true for kids diagnosed with AD/HD who are accustomed to adults constantly warning them or cuing them about their impulsive behaviour. Rather than learning self-control, they learn to rely on adults to think for them. They “borrow” their parent’s frontal lobes to inhibit their own behaviour. Adults keep reminding and cuing and AD/HD kids momentarily slow down but quickly rev back up. This can lead to exasperated and tired parents who end up yelling or punishing and everything goes downhill.

To develop self-control and take responsibility for their own behaviour, AD/HD kids need clear rules regarding disrespect that are specified in advance, and, if they break the rules, they need to experience brief, consistently applied, non-punitive consequences. If they wish to avoid the consequence, the child must train their brain to monitor their own behaviour, inhibit their own impulses, and self-regulate their own behaviour. They can’t wait for an adult to remind them to behave. This ensures responsibility for a child’s behaviour rests with the child, not with the adult.

Non-punitive consequences are not punishments.

It is very important to recognize consequences are not punishments. We need brief short consequences such as time away, not punishments like yelling, spanking, or taking things way. The  Life Skills 4 My Family program teaches parents how to consequence without punishment. That’s critical for success in raising children with AD/HD.

Consequences are only a small part of helping a child with ADHD

Bear in mind that AD/HD kids need much more than just a set of rules and non-punitive consequences. They also need to learn to control their own behaviour so they can avoid being consequenced. That’s why Life Skills 4 My Family teaches essential life skills such as self-regulating and controlling impulsive behaviour, managing feelings of anger, communicating effectively, not letting others provoke them, being easy-going, and recognizing and modifying negative or maladaptive thoughts.

Equally important to experiencing consequences, AD/HD kids also require positive rewards and celebrations to motivate them to learn new life skills and put them into practice. Positive motivational programs are outlined in detail in the Life Skills 4 My Family program.

Checkout Life Skills 4 My Family for further information about this in-home family education / anger management video program. Children and parents work together to learn essential life skills. Developed and offered by David Ricketts, Ph.D., Calgary.