I wanted to take some time to promote my new and official website called the Family Podcast Network which can be located at www.thefamilypodcastnetwork.com.

The Family Podcast Network offers podcasts to parents who want professional information on parenting for kids that are tough, and even those that are not. I will be offering 2 podcasts a week free of charge that will be entertaining, informative, research-based and potentially answer the question about your kid or parenting that you have had. Family Parenting Network will offer a network for you to connect with other parents that are experiencing similar or the same things you are and exchange struggles, ideas, and support.


Modern Family and Busyness

Modern Family and Busyness  by Trey Gibson

If, in my field, I was given a prescription pad for families I can definitively look at you and tell you what generalized treatment would help many issues in 95% of families.  You could call it the broad-spectrum antibiotic for families.  But before we get into this lets discuss the symptomology.

In our post-modern ideologies of family’s there is the push to keep you and your children busy in as many activities as possible.  First off, research supports that children do well socially when they are in extracurricular activities (i.e. football, one act play, softball).  This same research supports getting your children into some type of activity.  One thing I recommend is giving your kids the opportunity to choose what they want and let me tell you, there are fewer things more beautiful than a child who is motivated on their own accord to do an activity.  I understand that in some cases we are limited to what is available for instance, here in my home state of Texas it might be hard to get them on a team snow boarding team, but I recommend trying.  I also understand we can be limited by seasonality since certain sports come and go as the year progresses.

Some parents have stated that “they don’t want to do anything except play [Xbox, PS3, DS, PSP etc].  In cases like this I recommend that you give them some options and pick out of those options.  You might look in to a local competitive video-gaming team.  Those teams  are out there and it tells your kid that what is important to them is important to you.

But, with all this said, I am seeing a rising amount of families that are over engaging themselves in multiple activities.  What makes this so difficult is that most of the activities are morally sound and good things.  Being involved in leadership at your church, volunteering to teach your kids soccer team, attending your child’s swim meets, going to men/women prayer breakfasts, attending other kiddo’s birthday parties, and work are all legitimate and worthy causes.  But what happens to the family when every day of the week you have one of these happening?  Something is always pulling you away from either the family or high quality time with each other.  This is one case that I can definitively say on a professional level that too much of a good thing can, in fact, be harmful to a family.

Many families, in their attempt to do all the things that families are suppose to do, are forgetting to stop and just be a family.  They are neglecting to stop and talk together, visit, laugh with each other, and interact.  Families have begun focusing on the activity rather than focusing on each other.  Now, in some cases I do believe that these two things can be combined.  I think that it is possible to play Play Station 3 together and be focused on each other by building each other up, complimenting each other, laughing with each other, and interacting, but so many families are focused on the activity rather than the interaction it brings the family.

This service to the Doing-Master can only be satiated with more doing.  It is perpetual and typically has no end.  No amount of doing is ever enough and a fundamental byproduct of this service is lack of relationship with our kids.  Relationship is the fuel that makes families be successful.  When we are constantlty doing, we are not taking the time to just be a family.

So lets talk broad-spectrum antibiotics on a familial sense.  I recommend that you spend a minimum of 1 hour a week as a family being together.  I leave the “something” ambiguous on purpose.  Families are so different and versitile that I refuse to box them in.  Tons of research from the last 50 years have documented families and especially kids doing better when they eat at the dinner table.  It encourages intimacy through talking and listening and is a very, very beautiful thing.  I have had some families that play the latest game station together, while I’ve had some that dumpster-dived together (I know…I hear ya….but they grew more than most other families I’ve seen).  On the side, I also recommend that you spend an hour a week minimum per kid on an individual basis.  It’s good to get that general attention, but older kids especially seem to need more individualized attention.  This can be bringing them to the store or having them help you fix the lawn mower.  But interact with them.  Talk to them.  And most importantly listen to them.

If you identify with the over-busy family here are a few things to consider:

1.) Write out the top three things that are most important in you in your life.  Take a look at all of your activities throughout the week.  Decide which are really and I mean really important, by aligning the activities with your top 3 importants  and ask which are you willing to cut back on?  Remember, it is important to take care of ourselves and do not put yourself on the back burner.  That creates burnout in parents but also, remember, who is watching us to learn everything they are going to do.  Right!  Our kids.  If they see us sacrifice constantly and never take time for ourselves, guess who else will.?  These can turn into those kiddos who give and give to their friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, etc and never make a good decision for themselves.

2.) Be ready to give up on some things.  Most other people understand the statement “I have gotten too many irons in the fire and I have neglected my family.”  Typically, that is because there are a lot of other Americans in the same boat. Remember, it is ok to have those areas  of “I just cannot bring myself to give that up.”  But make sure that there are not too many of those.  If there are, I would refer you back to your top three most important things.  I imagine that for most of you your family is up there somewhere.  Which of your activities are not in those categories.  Also, do not forget, families often get left on the wayside for religious/spiritual activities and as a spiritual man myself, even that can be a bad thing.

3.) Find things that facilitate interaction rather than just action.  I love watching movies with my family, but there is much less interaction with them.  Eating dinner at the table, playing board games, rough and tumble playing, jumping on a trampoline, can be good places to start.  Bottom line is, you must be talking, reacting, laughing, crying, or any other form of communication.  Learn your kid and let them learn you.  These are great times to pass on wisdom/knowledge/morals to your kids.

4.) Learn to say “no”.  It can be a beautiful word that many see as ugly.  But remember, to every commitment you say no to, you are saying “yes” to your most important commitments and within that choice lies what I believe to be the truest definition of love.

5.) Schedule your family.  It gets very difficult, if you are like me, to stop what I am doing if  I am in the middle of washing a sink full of dishes or breaking down the engine of our lawn mower.  Put your family in the schedule book and treat them like a meeting with someone who is going to give your a free million dollars.  That is a meeting that, short of a life threatening disaster, you would not miss.

Kids As Our Mirrors

More often than not, when a parent comes to me with lamented issues of how their kid is such-and-such way or acting like this-and-that, when you really look for the issue , you find that the parent is the one that has taught the kiddo this habit.  Now, many parents (myself included) do not like this idea and quickly turn to blame others like peers at our kids schools, maybe “that friend” their kid has that we do not like.  Perhaps someone at their daycare.  But fundamentally, kids practice that which they see their parents do.

A few days ago I was watching my children play.  My youngest daughter Cora walked up to my middle child Grant.  Grant began fussing at her and waving his arms to “get away” (she has a propensity to be grabby with his long curly hair).  He began waving them towards her in more of a punching motion and I stepped in to stop him.  I told Grant “son you need to stop that right now.”

That little 2-year old turned towards me, thrust his chest out, crossed his arms, and stuck his little chin out in the ever-classic “NO” body language.  My immediate thought was “oh, heck no!  That ain’t gonna fly little man.”  However, I stopped my knee-jerk thoughts for a moment and looked down at my body.  Guess what I was doing?  Exactly!   My body posture was exactly like his.  Arms crossed, chest stuck out, and chin pointed high.  I could not legitimately get fussy at Grant for doing nothing different than what his Daddy was doing.

That mentality creates a double standard that is unfair for children.  Imagine a boss that that comes in and tells you that you cannot use the office printer to print out your personal insurance card, but later that afternoon they ask you to take some personal items to the post office and mail them using the companies account.  How would you respond?  How would you feel.  Humans (especially we U.S. Americans) have a drive for the just and fair.  Our kids are absolutely no different.

My encouragement?  Take a current behavior (or future behavior) that you are not fond of in your kiddos and try to establish where you taught your kid that it was okay to do that.  This is not to drag you down as a parent, but to establish where the behavior has been learned and correct it in ourselves.  Once you have discovered that area, explain to your kiddo where you messed up and that it is not okay for you as the parent to do it either.  Then apologize to you kid.  It can be a healing moment that is beautiful for the relationship between parent and child.

I want to issue a small disclaimer here.  Some behaviors learned by kids can be picked up from other places.  School. Peers/friends. TV shows. Magazines. Churches. You get the picture and I get that too.  More often than not, however, parents use this approach to exempt themselves from self-evaluation.  Please be honest with yourself.  When you do, your kids by default will learn to self-evaluate as well and avoid victimized mentalities.  We will discuss this in a later thread.

Remember, you can tell a kid to not do something until you are blue in the face but ultimately, if you do not change it in yourself first, you will not see it in your kid.  Kids do not do what they are told.  They do what they see.

When Kids Get it Right

When Kids Get it Right by Trey Gibson

Courtsey of Angie M. Photography

You know the type of job I’m talking about.  You work as hard as you physically know how to do a good job.  You do what you are told, when you are told, in the way that you were told and you experience the stark silence of no attention.  You continue in that job until the one day it happens.  You forget to do one thing, one almost insignificant thing and what happens?  The phone rings and you are chastised in the one instance that you messed up.  The one thing that you forgot to do.

I use to work for a local college campus with a grounds maintenance team called The Toro Team (due to the amount of Toro mowers we had).  We were responsible for cutting, edging, and trimming the grass.  We pruned shrubs, trees, and picked up litter from the grounds.  We helped other departments with setup, we installed sprinklers, and we even were in charge of scaring the large quantities of Grackles that would nest in our trees and defecate on our sidewalks.  We had a phone in the main office of our shop that rarely ever rang.  When it did however, we would all freeze for a moment and look at that phone in contempt.

Typically, when our shop phone rang it was that call we all hated.  The phone call that would typically tell us where we had forgotton to do something, or how we had done a specific task incorrectly.  Maybe we forgot to mow a certain section of grass or possibly we had neglected to blow the grass off of the sidewalk.  The bottom line is that it is never fun to be in a position where you only get noticed when you mess up.  We relished the occasional email that told us we were appreciated for what we did and for keeping the campus looking sharp.

Kids are no different.  They love it when we make notice of when they are doing things right.  It helps kids answer that fundamental question of “is this ok to Mommy and Daddy.”  In most of my dealings with families I will watch kids soak that type of attention up like a sponge.  I will frequently have kids, only minutes after knowing me, say things like “I want to be like you when I grow up” or “Trey, I love you.”  I am not magic.  I do not slip them “LoveTrey” pills while the parents are not looking.  Simply put, I make sure to notice kids when they are getting it right and they eat that up!

Think of it this way.  Behaviors (how a person/child acts) are just like animals.  Which ever one you are feeding the most is the one that will survive.  There are multiple ways to feed those behaviors we loath in our children.  More often than not, children learn one irrefutible fact about their parents: “I get more attention from Mom and Dad when I am getting it wrong (acting up) than when I getting it right.”  Often those pesky behaviors that parents are having trouble with are being fed in some capacity.

Parents will often reply “but Trey, all they are getting is me gripping at them, yelling at them, or taking every possession they own away from them.  How is that feeding them?”  Fundamentally, though it may make no sense to an adult, a child will chose negative attention from us rather than no attention at all.  So what is the solution?

Our kids need to hear from us when they are getting it right.  I would actually call it detrimental to getting our kids to do what we want.  My kids are at that age now where they start picking at each other.  Given time and steam they can turn into a poking fest that reminds me of the exchange in the movie Ice Age between the baby and Sid.  I have been making a conscientious effort, when I hear them playing cooperatively, to stop and tell them how proud I am of them for playing together so well.  Admittedly it is a force of will at this point but what they are learning from this is that “we get a lot more attention from Dad when we are doing what he wants than when we are not.”

Unforgetting What it Was Like

Unforgetting What it Was Like   by Trey Gibson

Courtesy of Martin Howard

The older I get the more I find myself forgetting what it was like to be a kid (as have many of the parents I have worked with over the years).  New, seemingly more daunting things have grimly overshadowed the worst possible child scenarios of my girlfriends breaking up with me, getting bad grades on a test, or getting called “four-eyes.”  I actually grin at the simplistic nature of them now.

Now I worry about what seems to be “more appropriate things” like how to pay the bills, provide food for my kids, clothes on their backs…you know the drill.  In my mind I rationalize that these issues are more pressing than the childish issues that my children experience and the emotions they feel during those experiences.

As a parent it is crucial that we access the empathic side of ourselves.  Empathy comes from the Greek word empatheia which defines as being aware of others feelings and responding to them respectfully.  You’ve heard the old saying…put yourselves in their shoes.  Seems simple right.  The older we get as parents the more difficult it seems to become to empathize, for one reason or another.

I catch myself, when things are tough or stressful for me, wanting to dismiss the things that are important to my kiddos and especially so when they access the whiny tones that poke and prod that section of every parents brain that cause irrational parental thought in even the most solid of parents.  Late at night I have come home from many a parenting training tired and ready to sit on a soft, plush couch for the first time in 12 hours.  My daughter might ask me if we can play Mario Brothers and I instinctively say “no sweetie.  She then tears up and says loudly “but I wanna play Mario Brothers!”

My immediate reaction is to assume that she is trying to illicit the behavior from me that she wants by whining and crying.  I want to harden up and shut her down perhaps by sending her into her room.  It’s late right?  I don’t want to hear this first thing when I get home.

But when I put down the armor and access my empathy, often I realize things like this:  Daddy has not been home all day.  One of the ways that we (my children and I) have relationship with each other is our Wii time.  We laugh.  We talk.  We encourage each other. We build self-esteem.  That is one of the favorite times my daughter spends with me and when I, even with understandable reasoning, say “no” to her requests, I’m not just denying her Wii time, but also our opportunity to bond as a father and daughter.  That can be devastating for her.

Many families that have set foot in my office are at war with their older children in the areas of cell phones.  I have heard many-the-arguments supporting the idea that teens should not have cell phones and trust me, I get it and I hear those of you that feel that way.  But so many parents make a moral (right versus wrong) decision about cell phones with their children that that forfeit the need to stop and really listen to their children on these matters.

Courtsey of Ed Yourdon

Remember the question that I repeatedly pose: who is watching you to learn almost everything they are going to learn about life.  Your kids!  When a parent takes the hard-lined approach of “my way or the highway” with their child, guess what they are teaching their child to do.  Take that same approach.

But we are talking about putting ourselves in our think-cellphones-are-like-crack children.  Think back to the things that were popular for you when you were in junior high.  One of ours were surfers necklaces.  With teen-infused drama voice added: “everybody had em!”  I wanted one so bad I could practically taste the sea salt I knew they had to have on them.  I remember saving and looking for just the right one constantly checking stores, online venues, and even friends willing to part with theirs.  Funny enough I never bought one and look at me now.  I made it!  I’m a successful psychologist who is contributing to society who still has never owned a surfers necklace.

So I get it.  Teens do not die when they do not get the things that they want, like cell phones.  But what would it have mattered had I have had a surfers necklace.  Probably nothing detrimentally bad.  There was a social standard that I would have had that would have made me feel good, but few things that are negative.  Now, am I saying buy your child every one of their hearts desires?  Absolutely not.  There is value in teaching them to earn, save, and buy their own things and plus, lets be honest.  Most of us are not multimillionaires and cannot afford the iPad 2 when it first comes out. 

But where many parents, myself included, go wrong is when we start sacrificing our relationship with our kids for beliefs like “teens just shouldn’t have cell phones.”  What it says is that their feelings and desires are not important.  What is important to them is not important to us because I am trying to keep the electricity on.  Is that important, most certainly yes!  But I would be willing to wager that, in 10-20 more years, we will look back at what works us up now, grin and think “how trivial that is now.”  

Lets end on this.  If we as parents are worked up about things and someone tells us how our worries are insignificant compared to theirs it hurts us and typically we withdraw.  Our kiddos are no different.  Put yourself in your kids shoes.  Remember your surfers necklaces, your hammer-pants, your bell-bottoms before you make your kids desires a war-zone. 

The Power of SHUT UP!

The Power of Shut Up  by Trey Gibson

It is not an uncommon practice in American parenting to use the popular “shut up” with our kids.  I could not honestly sit in front of you and tell you that I have not felt the desire to look at my whining son who is getting irrationally upset with something so trivial that I want to fire off a quick “dude! Shut up!”  So lets address this parental adaptation and the effects is has on our kids and us as parents.

Imagine  you arrive at work after a horrible morning with your kids and/or spouse.  You walk in and they say the ever-classic “good morning” to your boss. You begin to rattle off your rants and raves and effectively use your superior as a sounding board for things that have built up and caused you great distress.  You begin to notice some funny body language in this boss but continue since you have built up a significant amount of frustration.  Finally, with very little notice, they snap and say “good lord!  Would you just shut up!”

I want you to imagine the feelings that reaction would produce.  What would you think?  What would you say and most importantly, how would you feel?  Now I understand that there are those of you that would say “I would be fine” or “I wouldn’t care” but I will venture to say that those are few and far between.  My feelings would be hurt.  I might feel a little bit of fear and possibly start to get angry.  My thoughts might include “well you’re an insensitive jerk-wad” and “you really do not care about me personally.”

Our children feel absolutely no differently than we do on these matters.  Kids experience hurt when their parents say these things.  I have had parents reflect that their kids “don’t really seem to care that much when I say it” but trust me.  I have sat in on the sessions, I have talked to the kids and heard the pains they are often to hurt or to hardened to reveal.

But that is really only half of my concern on this matter.  This is a question that you will see me reiterate over and over in these posts.  Who is watching you to learn everything they are going to do in their lives?  That’s right, your kids.  If they see you do it I will guarantee you one of two things (but more than likely both).  They will either use the same tactic on you one day and what parent wants to hear our children yell “SHUT UP” at us right? Oh!  Uh uh!  But fundamentally, they are just doing what they’ve seen mommy and daddy do. The double edged sword slices both directions remember?

Secondly, if they do not turn it on you…maybe out of fear of the consequences…guess who they will use it on.  Probably someone like their teachers, and inevitably, those dastardly calls come from the principal letting you know what your kiddo did that day.

Bottom line, the use of shut up, while it is admittedly sooooo, so tempting, will not end well for us parents.  I strongly encourage you to avoid it at all costs.  So lets talk about some things to do alternatively:

1. Access your empathy side as much as possible.  Though the fact that not getting to play Wii right at that moment may not be a big deal to you, it could be huge to a 4 year old.  Having a cell phone might not be a big concern for us adults, but to a teen it could feel like social-suicide.  Remember what it was like when you were their age.  Things like that sucked for us too!

2. Don’t be afraid to go and cool off.  I never encourage a family to not work out an issue and just bury the hatchet.  All issues absolutely need to be addressed or they will build up and pop in what I call an emotional IED at a later date typically.  But a quick cool down of walking out of the house or even asking the kid for a moment to relax is perfectly acceptable and an excellent model for our kids to see.  I understand that as parents, we (oh yeah, myself definitely included) don’t always get this right but more on this later).

3. WWF-it.  Tag team your spouse.  You can always ask if you can trade off.  I can sense when my wife is “having enough” of the kiddos and it can typically be a good time to step in.

4. Help your kid pull out of their stall.  Try to pull them out by joking with them or with redirection.  Sometimes your kiddo will have none-of-it and this strategy is not always effective.  But some redirection can be good.  If my son is crying about no Wii time, I might remind him that we are having pizza this evening for dinner and all of the sudden…Wii seems so dismal and insignificant!

5. But what if I have already snapped and dropped the SHUT UP bomb?  Hey.  It’s ok.  You messed up and welcome, again, to being a parent.  Talk to your kids when things are cool.  Let them know, just like you would say to them if they told you to shut up, that what you did was “not alright” and apologize to them for messing up.  Let them hear you say that it is not ok for mommy or daddy to say it and that you will not say it anymore.  Your kids will not expect you to be perfect unless you expect them to be.

Imperfect Parents

Imperfect Parents by Trey Gibson

Over the last 6 years I have worked with a host of parents from multiple different races, backgrounds, income levels, and styles.  One irrefutable fact I have learned is that, regardless of whether you have received 8 years of training in familial therapy and dynamics or not, we all have one thing very much in common:  we are all doing the absolute very best we can and in that top performance, we still mess up as parents.

This seems to be an issue many parents struggle to want to admit (I admit it in myself as well).  Fundamentally we are all susceptible to the human condition in that we make mistakes.  I have been teaching parenting trainings for the last 5 years and when asked “Trey, am I a bad parent” I always tell them that a bad parent is not defined by making mistakes, or how many they make, but upon how willing are they to be honest about them and work on changing them.

I do understand that many things we learn and by default practice with our own children are hard to break, but fundamentally we are fully capable of breaking habits and retraining new ones.  I would be out of a job otherwise.  My desire for parents is not to be perfect at your job, but for them to learn skills, knowledge, and have a solid understanding of both parenting and their kids.

The purpose of this blog is to discuss the issues that parents commonly face and discuss ways to work with those challenges.  The issues I discuss, and their solutions, will in most cases be empirically studied (a bunch of nerds in this field have studied it and tested whether it works or does not work) and not just “what worked for me.”

I encourage comments of agreement and disagreement.  I relish them as a matter of fact.  If needed, create a pseudo-name before you post, but above all, please access your most honest and vulnerable side.  If it is something embarrassing I can promise that I have more than likely done it myself as a parent, or worked with someone (or with several) that have done it as well.  If we, as parents, cannot come together and be straight with each other, who can we be that way with?  As a disclaimer, if your post if offensive, derisive, or obscene I will potentially filter or remove the post.  It is not designed to be rude but to facilitate growth, rather than criticism.