1. I’ve tried Negative-I Messages. They don’t always work. Is there something wrong with me-or with my child?

No and no. Both you and your child are one thousand percent normal. If Negative-I Messages would always “work,” then parenting would be a cinch.

You may want to try other confrontational skills. One effective method is The Broken Record, in which you repeat your command over and over again in a firm, calm tone of voice. Or you may want to think about imposing logical or natural consequences, modifying the environment or modifying yourself.

You have to realize that your child is an individual, who has his own choices and ability to respond as he would like to every situation. Negative-I Messages are one tool which we can use to help him make responsible choices.

2. Do Negative-I Messages impose guilt feelings on my child?

Negative-I Messages can be classified in two groups. Some messages have a concrete outcome. For example, “I feel frustrated when you don’t wash the dishes, because then I’m overloaded and can’t devote more time to spend with you.” These promote healthy guilt feelings which propel your child into positive action. Other messages are value based, such as “I feel upset when I hear you calling your sister a mean name, because then her feelings are hurt.” These messages don’t prompt action. They impart values.

When you give Negative-I Messages, use a sprinkling of both, so you don’t overdose with the guilt or too many expectations and values. And of course, just like too much of any good thing is too much, don’t overuse these messages to avoid having your children just tune out.

3. My seven-year-old daughter is a habitual complainer. Her response to anything and everything is one long whining complaint. How can I help her?

Parents are usually striving to help their children in the very best way possible. In an attempt to do so, parents often classify their child in a specific group/category, so that they feel more comfortable dealing with a child. A mother may say, “My five-year-old is my genius; he always asks the cutest questions. He’s also the absent minded professor type, always misplacing his toys, shoes and what-not’s. My nine-year-old is my cook-in-training. She’s going to be some wife some day. You should see her in the kitchen… My seven-year-old is your classic ‘Middle Child.’…”  The mother feels that once her children are in neat category boxes, she can help them more easily.

However, she fails to realize that CHILDREN ACT THE WAY WE EXPECT THEM TO BEHAVE! So, once you classify your son into the “Obnoxious Child Category” or label your daughter as “The Proverbial Princess,” you are in essence boxing them into this category. In addition, you respond to your children’s behavior according to the way you’ve been anticipating them to react. So, when your irresponsible son loses something, you lose control and say, “Again?!!” Before you talk to your whining daughter, you already preface your words, “And now don’t complain…”

A beautiful gift you can give your child is REFRAMING your perception of your child. Think positively about him/her. Focus on the good qualities and see the advantages of the challenging traits. Often, you will see that your child will behave in a more positive way. And even when s/he does something incorrectly, it won’t glare at you, because you’ll be talking to “a good-natured daughter who has had a hard day” instead of your whining seven-year-old.

4. I know that when my child disobeys my commands, I must enforce a consequence. What about times when no instruction was given and the child simply messed up? What am I to do?

It is inevitable-and it is perfectly OK-that your child will mess up and make a mistake from time to time. We have to treat these mistakes as we deal with our own slip-ups. Empathize, understand and allow them to accept responsibility. Children need the opportunity to solve the problems they are confronted with or have created, in order to learn how to troubleshoot later in life. So no, do not step in and intervene. You will be stunting your child’s growth. Instead, follow these three steps.

1. Show your child where he went wrong by asking pointed questions; “Do you know why you missed the bus this morning?”

2. Give the child ownership of the problem, as well as parental support; “You have a problem. I know that you can handle it.” This bolsters confidence and preserves the child’s dignity. Remember to empathize and understand.

3. Suggest ways of solving the problem; Child bakes with friends, and they leave without helping her clean up. Show her the clean-up steps. Suggest that next time, she incorporate clean-up as part of her agenda while her friends are still here to help.

This is a healthy way to teach children about real world problems and how to solve them. One wonderful anecdote:

My son accidentally left his new baseball mitt outdoors in the baseball field overnight; it got run over by a lawnmower. My immediate reaction was to jump in and buy him another, but I thought, “What would that teach him?!” Instead, I commiserated with him, gave him ownership of the problem and suggested that he think of a solution. He decided to call his cousin and borrow his mitt. After he proved his responsibility with this borrowed mitt, I bought him a second-hand mitt at the Flea Market. I felt like I taught him inner discipline, to act with integrity and wisdom.

5. Are tantrums normal?

Yes. Most kids have them some of the time. Some kids have them a lot of the time. All young children who lack emotional control and self-control have meltdowns from time to time. Some older children who are prone to tantrums may also explode frequently. These children may have difficulty controlling emotions and react stronger than the emotionally resilient child. Included in this category are children with ADHD, difficult temperaments, or lacking physical health. Other children may be challenged by events. Frustration can be exasperated by sensory challenges, difficulties integrating sensory input or motor difficulties. Proper communication can be impeded by speech and language delays. Cognitive ability and flexibility may be impaired by abstract thinking, perspective-taking and a rigid nature, These children need to be tought the necessary skill to help them compensate for their deficiencies.

6.  My seven-year-old daughter is a strong-willed child with an intense personality. She constantly bothers her siblings and disrupts the calm flow of our home. Do you have any advice?

Be careful not to establish a negative communication pattern. Difficult children often receive a lot of criticism and put-downs. When this continues over a long while, the child develops a poor perception of self and a low self-esteem. Try to avoid criticism, whenever possible.


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