An Interview with Hal Runkel on his book
Stronger Families’ CEO, Noel Meador, talks with Hal Runkel, a licensed marriage and family therapist, international speaker, and relationship coach.
1. How can you take ownership of your emotional state when it comes to parenting?
The great lie of parenting is the belief that we as parents are responsible for our child’s behavior. In reality, parenting is about training your child to manage his own behavior. In order to do that, you need to pay close attention to your responsibilities to your child, rather than getting caught up in feeling responsible for your child. You cannot control your child, but you can control yourself. Aim to act as maturely as you can, no matter the circumstance. Lead by example instead of trying—unsuccessfully—to control his behavior. Keep in mind that overreacting in the moment often produces the opposite outcome you were hoping for.
2. How can you remain calm in the heat of the moment?
Learning to remain calm happens long before a situation gets to the boiling point. First, give up on the idea of trying to control your child, and focus instead on controlling yourself. Next, begin to recognize triggers—situations, conversations, etc. that cause you to overreact. You don’t need your child to act a certain way before you act a certain way; in other words, don’t let your behavior be dictated by your child’s behavior. If you allow your child’s behavior to dictate your own, it’s as though you’re saying, “I need you to behave because I can’t,” and then wondering why he doesn’t respect you. Your child is not the leader of the family; you are. Choose to act in a more mature way.
Another key to remaining calm is to learn to put on your own proverbial oxygen mask first. You can’t wholeheartedly help your child take care of his emotional health without addressing your own first. Be kind to yourself, take time for yourself, and practice self-love. Taking care of your child or yourself does not need to be an either/or. In fact, taking care of yourself is the best way for you to take care of your child.
4. How can you give your child space?
Just like an adult, a child needs space to process and self-correct her own behavior. One good way to give her that space is by highlighting her choices—help her to identify her options by telling her what is non-negotiable (going to school) and what is up to her (how she behaves in the car on the way to school). It can start with something as simple as giving her two options for what to wear that day and letting her run with the choice. This approach is all about helping your child to take more and more ownership over her own life and choices.
Another way to give your child space is by giving her physical space—a closet or a corner of the room or even her entire room—that is hers and hers alone. Set up appropriate boundaries, like prohibiting the use of her laptop or smartphone behind closed doors, but otherwise relax a little on the level of cleanliness or what she chooses to put up on the walls.
5. How can you stay consistent with consequences?
Never set up a consequence that is harder for you to enforce than it is for your child to endure. For example, if you ground your child for six weeks, you just grounded yourself, too, because you will have to monitor him. Chances are, you won’t follow through with the whole consequence. Instead, choose weaker consequences than you think are appropriate and gradually increase the severity. For example, take away his iPad for an hour and then give it back. Next time he disobeys, take it away for two hours.
Keep in mind that consequences are a response to a behavior, but they are not designed to change that behavior. The only one who can change the behavior is your child himself. Consequences are designed to let him know that there is a rule of life that is as powerful as gravity and is bigger than all of us, and he can’t subvert that rule for the rest of his life. Every bad choice has a consequence. If you attempt to shield your child from consequences, you are doing a lifelong disservice to him. Also, resist the urge to have a “Because I said so” attitude in order to justify your actions; instead, approach the consequences with a “Because I love you” attitude.
“My daughter has experienced stress recently with the separation of my husband and I. She’s been acting disrespectfully, but when I ask her what’s wrong, she says she’s fine. I know she isn’t fine, but I don’t know how else to respond to her disrespect than trying to address her pain at the separation. How can I stop the disrespect?”
The big picture is that your daughter is having to deal with a situation that she didn’t invite and didn’t want. One of the unforeseen consequences of separation and divorce is the inevitable loss of connection with your child. Your daughter doesn’t know what to do with her feelings, and, perhaps for the time being, she does not see you as a safe person to talk to. Also, she may be feeling very disillusioned because the separation shattered the illusion that her family is happy and the world is safe. Instead of telling her she is being disrespectful, come alongside her, shoulder-to-shoulder, and recognize the pain she is going through. Verbalize it, let her know you are there for her, and ask her to open up about her feelings.
“My older kids love being active outdoors and participated in sports growing up. My youngest doesn’t share the same interests as me, my husband, and our older kids. When we bring him along, he makes hikes and trips miserable. I don’t want to leave him at home playing video games and watching YouTube. How do I stop his whining during family excursions?”
One approach is, instead of hopelessly trying to stop your son from doing something, get to the place where it doesn’t bother you anymore. Think of it this way: If he whines and complains long enough, he knows you will cut the trip short or the whole family will be trying to get him to stop, and then he has the reins. Another approach is to simply not take him along. If you need your son to behave before the whole family can enjoy something, then take the pressure off and leave him out of the equation.
“My daughter splits her time between her mom’s home and my home. When she comes home from her mom’s house, she has an entitled attitude that she should get what she wants, when she wants it, and says that I’m mean if I don’t give it to her. How do I discipline her when she is entitled, disrespectful, and pouts when she doesn’t get what she wants?”
Don’t force your daughter not to pout; for her, that is an outward expression of her dislike of going back and forth between houses. Verbally recognize the challenge of the situation, but also set up boundaries for how things need to work while she is at your house.
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