Father’s Day, Lessons from 40 years of parenting – a grandfather’s perspective; RULER; Out of the mouths of babes.
In SAVVY, to help children, students and even adults “name their emotions to tame their emotions”, Marc Brackett coined RULER to develop critical and inter-related emotional skills. Honor your feelings, desires and hopes for your child, but help them learn how to express feelings and needs in a way that fits their temperament and personality, not yours. But there is relief in understanding “good enough parenting”.
In SKILLS, I apply RULER to help parents have a discussion with their children about their feelings, needs and values especially in the context of the family’s values. In the immediacy of the situation, there isn’t time to have a feelings, needs and values discussion. But in a quiet moment, parents can help their children “become the best them, not the best you.”
In SOUL, “out of the mouth of babes” is when a child says something that surprises you because it seems very wise. My 6 year old granddaughter had one of those moments of wisdom and pointed out that love for each other and arguing are not mutually exclusive.
In the USA, June 20 is Father’s Day (In Australia, it is September 5). Ten days earlier my oldest child and daughter turned 40 years old. A milestone for her and for me. You’d think that parenting three children would produce a wealth of knowledge on how to handle the following situations (courtesy of my daughter):
- Your 9 year old daughter has some friends over to play and they stay for dinner. Your daughter says she’s hungry and wants to be served first. You are aghast, as you want her to be a good host and let her friends be served first.
- Your adult friends meet you at the beach and happily say “Hi” to your daughter. She half looks up with a silent, awkward smile and no eye contact. You know she is more shy than her extraverted younger sister, but you want her to be more responsive and welcoming to the greeting adults.
- Your husband goes to great culinary lengths to make a tasty dinner of fresh fish and a healthy salad. Your daughter, who you know is caring and loving, takes a bite of the fish and declares “It’s too chewy!”. You know that is jarring to your husband and want your daughter to be more thoughtful and grateful for his hard work creating dinner.
- Your 6 year old daughter is slow to clear the dinner table and carry her plate to the kitchen. You want to speed the clean up process so in exasperation, you pick up the plate and do it yourself. You don’t want to be a yelling, nagging parent, but you just taught your daughter inadvertently that if she procrastinates, you will do it for her.
There are countless other scenarios that you have experienced as a parent or an observer of parent-child interactions. It is understandable that we want our children to reflect the values and behaviors that we hold dear and have honed in our years of trial and error in our own lives. Here are some Tips if you choose to accept the mission of helping your child “become the best them, not the best you.”
Teach your children “RULER” – Recognize, Understand, Label, Express, Regulate
To help children, students and even adults “name their emotions to tame their emotions”, I wrote about social-emotional learning in the SKILLS section of the September 2013 edition of Tips and Topics.
You can read more about the August 9, 2013 interview with two experts in social-emotional learning: Marc Brackett, Director of Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence; and Maurice Elias, Professor, Psychology Director of Rutgers University’s Social and Emotional Learning Lab.
Marc Brackett coined RULER to develop critical and inter-related emotional skills. When a person creates a mental model of what an experience is, then it’s possible to figure out what one’s feelings and needs. This helps you regulate them.
Here is what the acronym RULER means:
- Recognize emotions in oneself and others.
- Understand where emotions come from and the causes of emotions.
- Label emotions and increase your emotional vocabulary.
- Express emotions rather than holding them in.
- Regulate emotions so as to get needs met, be smart in the world to get along in interpersonal relationships.
Honor your feelings, desires and hopes for your child, but help them learn how to express feelings and needs in a way that fits their temperament and personality, not yours
This is a hard Tip to live. I speak not from having achieved this, but from a perspective that strives to “help them become the best them, not the best you.” In the heat of the moment of a sibling argument or some undesired behavior, it is easy to try the quick fix to resolve the situation:
- Threats of punishment like loss of screen time, a yummy treat or some other lost privilege
- A quick hearing on what eactly happened in the sibling dispute, and then issuing a summary decision on who gets what punishment or not; or a timeout.
- Ordering an immediate separation and confinement: “Go to your room until you settle down” or “Stop talking and arguing for 5 minutes, now!”
Quick fixes are satisfying at the time and give needed relief from the yelling, crying, complaining, arguing and discord. But quick fixes don’t last and it isn’t long before the cycle starts all over again. I know this is easier said than done, but it is worth considering other ways to reach the goal of “helping them become the best them, not the best you.”
Reassure yourself with understanding “Good enough parenting”
Carla Naumburg wrote a short but helpful article on The Gift of the Good Enough Mother – Our Kids Need Us to Fail Sometimes
In the article she reminds us that children actually benefit from imperfect parenting.
“The phrase “good enough mother” was first coined in 1953 by Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst. Winnicott observed thousands of babies and their mothers, and he came to realize that babies and children actually benefit when their mothers fail them in manageable ways. (I’m not talking about major failures, such as child abuse and neglect, of course.)”
I excerpt Naumburg’s article that is about parents, not just mothers on whom the original research in the 1950s was done:
- “The process of becoming a good enough mother to our children happens over time. When our babies are infants, we try to be available constantly and respond to them immediately. As soon as they cry, we feed them or snuggle them or change their diapers – in other words, we do whatever it takes to help them feel better. This is important because it teaches our children that they are safe and will be cared for.
- The thing is, we can’t sustain this level of attentiveness to our children forever, nor should we. That is precisely Winnicott’s point. He believed that the way to be a good mother is to be a good enough mother. Children need their mother (or primary caretaker) to fail them in tolerable ways on a regular basis so they can learn to live in an imperfect world…..we are getting them ready to function in a society that will frustrate and disappoint them on a regular basis.
- Children need to learn, in small ways every day, that the world doesn’t revolve around them, that their every request won’t be honored, and that their behavior impacts other people.
- They need to learn – through experience – that life can be hard, that they will feel let down and disappointed, that they won’t always get their way, and despite all of that (or perhaps because of it) they will still be ok.
“If our children never have these experiences, and if their every need is met every time, they will have no ability to manage the challenges that will inevitably arise. They won’t learn that it’s ok to feel bored or annoyed or sad or disappointed. They won’t learn, time and again, that life can be painful and frustrating, but they’ll get through it.
- In short, building our children’s resilience is the gift of the good enough mother.”
- Each time we let our children down, and they get through it, they get just a little bit stronger. That is the gift of the good enough mother, and it’s time we all embrace it.’
As a grandparent, it is easier to have distance from the constancy of parental decisions. Let’s see if I can apply the SAVVY Tips to some of the parenting dilemmas in the SAVVY introduction.
Model how to do RULER
Let’s apply these Tips to the first situation:
Your 9 year old daughter has some friends over to play and they stay for dinner. Your daughter says she’s hungry and wants to be served first. You are aghast, as you want her to be a good host and let her friends be served first.
In the moment, there isn’t time to do RULER. The impulse is to say something like:
- “You wait until your guests get their food first, then you can get yours.” Or
- “That’s not nice. Be patient and let your friends get their food first.” Or
- “Sweetie, be a good host and serve your friends first!”
Step 1: Here are some suggested better alternatives to say to buy time for Step 2:
- “In our family, we like to serve guests first.” Or
- “Let’s talk about this later, but I’d like your friends to get their food first.” Or
- “How about we let your friends get their food first and I’ll be happy to get yours.”
Step 2: When there is a quiet moment for learning after the friends have gone home, that is the time to do RULER. Help her:
- Recognize that she was feeling hungry and focused on getting fed quickly.
- Understand that it is OK to be hungry and want immediate relief.
- Label her desire to be served first as knowing how to get her hunger relieved quickly.
- Express to herself or out loud that “I am really hungry and would love to be served first”.
- Regulate her understandable desire in the context of adopting the family value of consideration of her guests. She says to herself in essence: “I’m really hungry, but in our family we like to serve guests first, so I will let my friends be served first” and says out loud to her friends: “Go ahead and start eating.”
Identify how to teach parental values while having them fit the child’s temperament and personality
Step 1: Values are discussed to help your child clarify their values in the context of their temperament, personality and the family values. By all means we want to pass on the family values, but the parental task is to ask the questions in any moment:
- “How am I helping my child to clarify their values themselves?” versus “How do I tell them to behave according to my values?”
- “How do I convey the values I hold dear and that work for me in a way that fits who they are, not who I am?”
- “As they get older, how do I let them have their values even if they clash with mine?”
Taking another situation:
Your 6 year old daughter is slow to clear the dinner table and carry her plate to the kitchen. You want to speed the clean up process so in exasperation, you pick up the plate and do it yourself. You don’t want to be a yelling, nagging parent, but you just taught your daughter inadvertently that if she procrastinates, you will do it for her.
In the moment, there isn’t time to sit down and discuss values. The impulse is to say something like:
- “Take your plate to the kitchen now or else!” Or
- “If you drag your feet on doing what your supposed to do, you’ll lose any treats for two days.” Or
- To yell some other warning, sigh heavily, or roll your eyes and grab the plate and take it to the kitchen in exasperation.
Step 2: Here are some suggested better alternatives to say to buy time for Step 3 and 4:
- “In our family, we follow through with what we agree to do, so please take your plate to the kitchen now, not later.” Or
- “It is important to me to have a tidy kitchen as soon as possible, so if you can’t clear your plate, I will take it now, but we will need to talk about this later and come to some agreement so this doesn’t happen again.” Or
- “Can you think of a way for you to get the plate to the kitchen immediately without my taking it for you?”
Step 3: When there is a quiet moment for learning after the dinner table and kitchen is tidied up, take the time to have a RULER conversation with your child about procrastination and family values. Help her:
- Recognize what the family values are about tidy kitchens, following through with agreements and proscrastination. Compare and contrast those with what her values are in this situation.
- Understand why the family and personal values are important to you and the implications for daily living, in this case, clearing the dinner table and following through with agreements.
- Label her values and compare and contrast them with the family’s values (they might be the same or different). Your daughter likes to relax for a while after eating and not immediately jump up and start clean up like you do.
- Express to herself, with parental help, what her values are in contrast to the family’s values. (“I like to relax for a little while after eating.”)
- Regulate her values in relation to the family values.
Step 4: Regulate by collaborating on some options:
- You agree to clear her plate for her while she sits and relaxes, but then she will help dry or put away the dishes later. Or
- She can keep her plate there and wash it herself later at her own pace within an hour of finishing eating. Or
- She clears her plate like everyone else does, but relaxes away from the dinner table.
Living with the grand girls for two weeks provides lots of opportunities to hear cute wisdom “out of the mouths of babes”. It also provides situations like sibling arguing and ‘fights’, teasing, sisterly love and playing and opportunities to think “How did I handle that back in the day?” “How would I do it differently today with 40 years of parenting?” “Should I share my opinions with my daughter and son-in-law or keep my mouth zipped?”
After a particularly contentious sisterly disagreement, it was clear the parents were getting fed up with all the arguing and complaining. Being together 24/7 on vacation has its many fun times but also its moments. My six year old granddaughter loves her big sister though you could doubt that sometimes. After one of their ‘fights’, she wanted to buy something special for her big sister to make amends.
So father and daughter set about finding a nice surprise. That was a loving gesture, but her dad, fresh off the latest sister ‘fight’ asked: “If you love your sister so much, how come you argue and fight like that?”
As quick as a whip, she said: “Don’t you love Mom? Don’t you argue and fight too?”
“Out of the mouths of babes comes much wisdom”. I am always concerned when I hear coupled partners say “We get along so well, we never fight”. Maybe they are so compatible and of one mind that everything smoothly syncs up all the time. Or maybe one or the other is suppressing their feelings, thoughts and desires so much that there can be no empowered meaningful exchange of ideas.
Love and arguing are not mutually exclusive. A six year old knows that.