In part one of The Confab, we talked with child psychologist Dr. Beth Grosshans about the imbalance of family power and the unruly kids and unhappy families that result from it. Grosshans (with my mother-in-law, Jan!) wrote the book Beyond Time-Out: From Chaos to Calm, which offers parents an action plan to take back the power and get their house back in order.
Today, in part two, Grosshans gets into that action plan for parents, called The Ladder to Effectiveness. It’s basically the five steps “in the discipline sequence.” And each step on the ladder represents the level of parental response to a child’s lack of cooperation, Grosshans says.
Although it may sound easy — oh, just five steps? — it’s not. Like most things around raising children, it’s nuanced and totally dependent on who you are and the choices you make as parents. There’s never a blanket solution. As Grosshans rightly says, “There are no short answers or quick fixes when it comes to parent-child relationships. This is complex and ever challenging business.”
Q: How important is tone when climbing “The Ladder”?
Beth Grosshans: Maintaining a tone free from irritability and anger is critical when implementing the Ladder. Children become more agitated and out of control if you treat them harshly and disrespectfully. If you are tentative and have little confidence in your authority, your child will know it in a minute and will quickly take the power you cede.
You want to create an environment where cooperation is most likely to thrive. Your children will want to please you the most when they respect and admire you. If you are competent and strong and also loving and respectful, then your child’s motivation to cooperate and work with you will be at it’s highest.
Many parents, because they do not move quickly enough into action, become fed up with repeating themselves over and over and not getting cooperation. This leads to parent’s using time-out as a threat. Through clenched teeth they say: “If you don’t stop it and start listening right now, you are going to get a time-out.” Or they may wait until they blow up, and then yell, “That’s it! You have pushed me too far. Now, you have to have a time-out!” This is not the emotional stance you want when redirecting and correcting your young children.
Q: In the book you often talk about being “matter-of-fact” even in the face of a child trying to push your buttons and their limits. How do we keep our tone in check when frustration levels start to rise yet let them know that we (the parent) mean business?
BG: Communicating in a serious, respectful, matter-of-fact tone is best. You want to convey clearly and in a good–natured way that you are your child’s biggest supporter, but that you are also comfortably in charge: you are the leader and he is the one who needs to follow without exception.
The Ladder will help you exercise parental control and remain calm, so that you do not need to resort to a bullying style. The steps of the Ladder always keep you in the lead, effectively responding to your child’s challenges. They leave little room for your child to doubt whether you are up to the job of parenting him. You want your child to learn to be confident of your authority, not feel threatened, shamed, or harshly criticized by it.
Q: What are some of the easiest ways to tripped up (“parent traps”) when attempting to climb The Ladder?
BG: Parents usually have more than just one or two behaviors in their repertoire that fuel opposition and defiance with their kids, and they tend to make these missteps at different times as they scramble to be effective and have an impact on their children. The message here is not that missteps cause outright damage, but that when they are relied on too heavily as a means to gain their children’s cooperation, they wind up fueling the very behavior parents are trying to stop. Here is a list of the top ten parental missteps that encourage acting out rather than extinguish it:
- Over explaining, reasoning, and negotiating.
- Apologizing too often.
- Seeking a child’s permission and approval.
- Not owning parental decisions and directions.
- Being overly focused on parent’s needs and feelings.
- Manipulating with too many bribes and threats.
- Repeating the same direction over and over.
- Blaming the child and looking to him for answers.
- A dismissive and disrespectful manner.
- Being too heavy-handed and using corporal punishment.
Following the structure and the script of the Ladder corrects all of these missteps. The Ladder is a very effective tool when the structure and script are adhered to, it is only when parents use it half way, or half-heartedly that children can find holes to slip through.
Q: What’s the most common misstep of all of these?
BG: I would say it’s over-talking. While most parenting advice is centered around trying to offer parents new ways to “say” things, I am convinced the core lessons of self control, respect and cooperation are learned through action based lessons, not through talking based ones. Never repeat yourself or provide explanations once you have started on the Ladder. With every repetition or delay, you underscore your impotence. Instead, your child should be offered one “I mean business reminder,” and that is all. This is a key sequence in the Ladder: say it once, give a reminder, and then act. One, two, ACT.
Giveaway time! Leave a comment below about the challenge of raising strong, well-adjusted kids and you could win a copy of Beyond Time-Out.