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with Win and Bill Sweet
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 How can I discipline my child without crushing her individuality?

  Most disciplining is a futile effort to get a child to willingly agree with the adult's agenda. Instead of this approach try these ideas:

• make the effort to understand what the individuality of the child is feeling and expressing in the particular instance and try to accommodate it. If you can do this before presenting your alternative idea, you will have a better chance of cheerful agreement and cooperation.

• see if you can agree with her at least some of the time, rather than always insisting that she agree with you.

• attempt to agree even if it requires changing your agenda and it consumes more of your time.

If you cannot agree, work on a compromise in which she saves face and the required objective is also met. Base your guidance first on the recognition of her feelings and emotional state, then give attention to your desire or agenda. Proceed carefully; you don't want her to take your comments as a personal rejection. For instance, when we wanted our little grandson to leave the preset buttons on the dishwasher in place, we explained that the buttons are not toys and none of us could play with them. This was an opportunity to present equality, which he cheerfully accepted.

A shortage of time is often the cause of disciplining being done in a way that crushes a child's individuality. Factor into your schedule more time than you would normally require to accomplish tasks and events. For instance, when you need to get the two of you out of the house for an appointment, allow extra time during the process for her to explore and dawdle a bit according to what is catching her fancy. Again, this provides an opportunity to build positive emotional space that could result in cheerful cooperation, rather than sulky resentment. Having been given time to express her individuality, she is more apt to willingly comply with your directions when it is really time to go.

Much of what is important to a child seems completely trivial and silly to adults. Consciously acknowledging what is important to your daughter, instead of ignoring it as trivial, honors and nurtures her individuality. This key element in parenting will help both of you cooperate in avoiding what could become hurtful, and instead, creating a cheerful experience of cooperation and pleasurable companionship.

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 Please suggest a calm and pleasant way to get my four year old boy to sit still at the table. He finishes his meal and then fidgets and jumps up from the table to get something or do something. It drives me crazy, especially when we have company. I'm tired of telling him to sit down and be still. What can I do?

  We understand your desire that your son sit still during the meal, like the adults do. However, the truth of the matter is that a four year old boy's mind/brain cannot voluntarily function in that way. It is not natural or comfortable for a child (even considerably older than your son) to sit still for more than about ten minutes. The body simply is not ready for that. Yes, children can be made to do it, but it is very stressful for them. Then the stress builds up and causes problems in the emotional core, problems that will explode at other seemingly unrelated times.

There are many times and many ways in which we parents, not the children, must make the adjustments toward harmony. We must not expect the children to do something they are not able to do without stress. Our task as parents is to gain the knowledge and understanding of their natural developmental capabilities and needs and to honor them.

You may be having company at Christmas dinner. Think about how you can allow your son to be free to move during the meal without it upsetting you. At four he will undoubtedly be able to leave the table and do something quietly in the corner of the room. You can set the stage by putting there some toys or books he enjoys. Explain the plan to him before your guests arrive. Practicing this new routine before Christmas could be most helpful.

We suggest that you respect and honor your son's natural developmental process by graciously recognizing his body's cry for movement and give him the privilege of moving it when it tells him to do so. This applies to other times of the day as well as meal time. Also, it would create a positive environment if you provide your son some periods of time every day in which you give him your complete undivided attention and your genuine unconditional love. These are important nurturing experiences for him. The rewards will be great for you both. 

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 What about teddy bears?

  Teddy bears are wonderful if they don't become a substitute for human comfort and emotional security. In fact, if you notice your child beginning to become inordinately attached to a stuffed animal, increase your attention so that the need for comfort and emotional security from the teddy bear is fulfilled in other, more satisfying ways. We don't recommend taking the teddy bear away. That would create an emotional trauma that is unnecessary. Teddy can simply become one of the favorite toys, but not a "lifeline."

There are many ways to show children that you are there for them. For instance, lots of holding, touching, smiles of approval, undivided attention, frequent rocking sessions with Mommy, Saturday mornings with Daddy, and most importantly, the verbal and nonverbal affirmation of being valued for "who I am, not for what I do or do not do." In addition, give the children freedom to make their own personal choices in some areas of life that are important to them. And for the individual child and the whole family, provide a harmonious and joyful family atmosphere.

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 My 9-year-old son has become fascinated with Go-Karts. He wants to work to earn $3,000 (!!!) for his own Go-Kart. I like to support him for his dreams, but this one seems so ridiculously unattainable for him. What should I do?

  We heartily compliment you on your wisdom to support children's dreams. The classic cultural response, which is usually given too quickly in some form of "No," or "That is ridiculous," can so easily crush the child's spirit. Parents or caregivers can supportively say instead something like, "I really like your thinking on that idea, but I'm not sure how to go about that. Let's just wait and see if some more ideas come to us." or "That sounds like lots of fun. Why don't you give it a try and see what you think." or "Let's go shopping and see if we can find what you'd need to do that."

If children are supported long enough to discover for themselves that their dream or goal is not realistic or practical, they will build valuable wisdom for their future personal guidance.

As far as the $3,000 goal is concerned, we suggest that you allow your son to work in whatever way he can and save for the Go-Kart. We're guessing that long before he saves $3,000 he will have gone on to his next idea and will want to spend his money on that. You will undoubtedly discover that his ideas will gradually become more and more possible and practical. He will learn much by his own experience of finding out what will and will not work. Children only learn how to fear or be disappointed when adults come on strong with commands and criticism.

Even if your son never owns his own Go-Kart he will gain much wisdom through this experience of wanting, your supporting his dream, and his coming to his own conclusions. Most importantly, because of your wisdom in the way you handle this, he will not have suffered emotional trauma—humiliation, rejection, being made to feel foolish rather than clever and creative. Your providing emotional safety by protecting him from needless trauma is the very best you can do.

Protecting children's emotional core in this way is like adding to an emotional bank account. If the account is in positive territory, it serves as a valuable cushion when unavoidable emotional trauma strikes. Every time you can save your son even the slightest emotional upset, you are helping him avoid emotional baggage and experience, instead, the flow of joy.  

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  Is the soccer and Little League setup really safe for children?

  We do not have any way of personally judging whether or not these activities are physically safe for children. However, we seriously question the mental and emotional safety. These activities are extremely stressful for children and the general trend in our society is to unthinkingly allow our children to be over-stressed in the guise of "These activities are good for them." Adverse consequences sometimes show up at the time, but are often ignored.

        Many parents are so eager that their children follow in their own footsteps or engage in activities that they themselves would like to experience that they are completely oblivious to the injuries taking place to the emotional core of their children.

        There is a dangerous over-emphasis in our culture on the value of competitive sports. In their enthusiasm for adult competitive sports, parents tend to overlook the harmful stress these activities cause their children, stress that can linger in consciousness and adversely affect adulthood. Sometimes when we express this opinion, the parent counters with, "But my daughter (or son) loves it." We sadly smile. We would like to say, "Look closely. What is really happening is that your daughter (or son) is very adept at saying what she or he knows you want to hear, because your approval is so important." It is argued that organized competitive sports teach children how to be team members. That can be true only if there are no adults involved.

        If adults are the organizers and supervisors, the children are simply learning that they had better do just what the adults direct. The "team" is really a group of individuals playing a designated role directed by non-participants, just as a marionette moves according to the puppeteer's manipulations. That is not a genuine team. We do not believe competitive sports are emotionally or mentally safe for children.

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  My parents spanked me when I was a kid and I turned out okay. What's wrong with it?

  Physical, emotional, or mental punishment violates the primary principle of parenting: Children have parents to protect them from harm, to nurture and lovingly care for them, to honor their true Self, and to prepare them for the adult experience in a wholesome, non-stressful way.

        One of the most harmful results of physical, emotional, or mental punishment is that it forces the child into a survival mode, which engages and causes the reptilian (survival) brain to overdevelop at the expense of proper development of the neocortex (human brain). When this happens, the capacity to engage in violence increases, and there is a loss of capacity for empathy and compassion.

        For parents who have spanked or used other forms of physical punishment with their children before catching this principle, it is important to know that with understanding and a new approach to parenting the effects of prior spanking can heal.

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  My brother and sister-in-law have a teenage son who is 15. Their life with him has become a nightmare. When I express my dismay, they tell me all teenagers are problems. I'm horrified at this prospect. My children are 2 and 4 now, adorable and sweet. I've begun to have nightmares of horrifying experiences when my children are teenagers, and I'm losing the happiness of our life together now. Do you have any ideas to comfort me?

  Do keep in mind that all teenagers need not be problems. You are fortunate that your children are still so young. There is much that you can do, beginning today, to create a teenage future for your family that will not be a nightmare. Our book, Living Joyfully with Children, is full of ideas and guidelines that will help you, ideas such as "create a household governed by principles, not by rules," "strive to help children feel valuable and valued by others"; "don't overschedule." Above all, enjoy each present moment with your children without dread of the future, but with confidence that you and your family can avoid the nightmares and live joyfully during the teen years by gaining new views now of parents, children, and parenting.

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 How can I get my teenagers to respect me? We're either constantly fighting or ignoring each other. I don't understand it. I always respected my parents.

  We observe all around us startling examples of rudeness, thoughtlessness, disrespect, and dishonor. Your teenagers are reacting to a common pattern in present day society that is different than the pattern of your childhood. Perhaps the most important thing for you to know is that the disrespect is not personal to your children or to you. It is a phenomenon of the common culture. Your teenagers are simply taking it on and playing it out. If they were able to express how they really feel about you (but this isn't cool), you would undoubtedly see respect and appreciation of which even they are not aware.

In a similar situation in another family we suggested the parents respond to these inappropriate remarks calmly with, "I'm sorry you feel that way," and walk away. This was such an unpredictable response that the teenagers were thrown off by it and the power and drama they were expecting became completely nullified. In this case, the behavior did eventually change for the better. This is not to imply a parent doesn't stand firmly on issues that require it. You must. But choose your issues very carefully so the teenagers feel some autonomy in their lives, which will help them feel more respect for themselves. Respecting and honoring themselves will make it possible for them to respect others as well. 

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