Girl learning to roller skate on beautiful summer day in a park.

ADHD: Accelerated Learning By Taking Small Steps In The Zone Of Proximal Development

I think that helping our children learn is critical, so much of my time is spent thinking about learning and how to accelerate harmonious and relevant learning in our children.

In this article, I’ll share with you an example of how my wife, Rikke, and I help our children learn, – and in the end, I’ll share what you can do to help your child learn faster too.

This is the example I often use when parents come to me to figure out how to help their child learn or unlearn certain skills.

Anxiety around food

My oldest daughter (now 6yo) is very sensitive, and one day a couple of years ago she came home from preschool and said that she had touched a poison berry bush, and was afraid that she would die if her hands touched her lips. That’s what one of the other kids had told her. She was fearful throughout the day and dreamt about it at night.

That started a series of worries about what got close to her mouth and what would make her sick and die. This is absolutely natural for a bright, visual thinking 4-5 yo that reflects on things – and maybe even understood more that she needed to at the time.

Shortly after that she got afraid of her own feces and became afraid of wiping herself even though she already mastered the practice.

It peaked when she started worrying about if food was still safe to eat if it had landed on the floor or even on the table or chair. And with the way she eats, there were plenty of opportunities to ask if something was still safe. In fact, this happened several times per meal throughout the day for weeks.

So we had to figure out a way to help her not only relax about her food but relax about her body and her safety and feel confident in the situation.

We used our own version of micro-level scaffolding.The idea of scaffolding is based on the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development, so let’s start there.

Zone of Proximal Development

The zone of proximal development is the place between the things that the child can already do, and the things that the child can not do and won’t learn even through trial and error. It’s the things that the child can do with guidance. It is also the things that the child can do and fail in doing while rapidly learning how to do them through failure.

An example could be that my 6 yo daughter is learning to ride her rollerskates. She is not getting much help, but she is progressing rapidly by doing it, falling, doing it some more, almost falling, and doing it some more. Like a small child learning to walk, she is just doing it and getting back up for more. She’s in her zone of proximal development.

When I was a child, I lived near a lake that froze over. I remember distinctly my older cousin Rasmus saying that he didn’t want to go ice skating until he had already learned it. He never did, of course. He was outside his zone of proximal development and felt anxiety instead of motivation when faced with skating.

According to Wikipedia:

The zone of proximal development, often abbreviated as ZPD, is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. It is a concept introduced, yet not fully developed, by Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934) during the last ten years of his life. Vygotsky stated that a child follows an adult’s example and gradually develops the ability to do certain tasks without help. Vygotsky and some other educators believe that the role of education is to give children experiences that are within their zones of proximal development, thereby encouraging and advancing their individual learning.

Image: Wikipedia

What that means is that children can be in three states:

  1. I can do this already and I am not challenged.
  2. I can’t do this, but I can learn it.
  3. I can’t do this, and I am not ready to learn it and maybe even fearful about it.

Image: sketchplanations.com

When you look at it like this, it’s pretty obvious that children are most likely to learn something that is in their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

So our task as parents is to place everything that we would like our children to learn in their ZPD.

I think of the ZPD as a spectrum. At the far end of the spectrum, there are the things that are a bit intimidating and at the near end of the spectrum are the things that a child’s curiosity will naturally lead them to investigate or try out.

In my daughter’s case, she had anxiety about the issues of germs and we needed to help her in from the anxiety zone to the ZPD and then into the comfort zone.

Scaffolding

A child will typically not take large steps through this spectrum, so our job as parents is to help the child take small enough steps that the child is comfortable all the way. This process is called scaffolding. You provide the scaffolding so that your child can stand securely and safely and higher up that would otherwise be within reach.

A great example of scaffolding is the way that computer games are built. They all have levels or other ways of progressing to more difficult versions of the game. If you’ve looked over your child’s shoulder while playing his/her favorite computer game, it may not have made any sense at all, yet your child is whizzing about like he is at home in the game. You can never start into a higher level in a computer game. Instead, when you first start a game it is fairly easy, and you only get to progress to the next level when you have mastered what the game designer knows that you must master before moving on. The designer has created a series of small learning points to help you build the knowledge, understanding, and instincts to play the game at the next level. This is done very deliberately. The game is the scaffolding you need to learn fast and progress to the next level.

This example with our daughter is an example of such scaffolding and how we applied it to learning and becoming more resilient.

In overview, we did the following: First get her to know a simple set of rules by answering her questions, in the same way, every time. Then invite her to remember the questions herself and answer them, then only prompt her to find the answers herself, and in the end not helping her at all.

Getting from Anxiety to the ZPD

The first thing on our agenda was to help her feel safe that she knew what to do when helped. To help her be able to solve the problem WITH our help.

We started outlining a very simple rule for our daughter: If the food hadn’t directly touched her genitals or her anus, then she would be fine. We always made a point out of being relaxed when discussing this issue. It should be said that in this period, our daughter was often naked while in the house, so things could actually fall and get into contact with those areas. 😉

So every time she asked us whether her food was safe, we would ask her a simple question: “Did the food touch your genitals or your anus?” If she said no, then we told her that she was welcome to eat it. We asked the question even if we knew the answer. And if she talked about how the food had landed face down on the floor or on her foot, we asked that one simple question again (and again).

We never asked her to eat it or said that she had to eat something because that might trigger the opposite response in her.

We did this for several weeks until she got tired of our response.

The idea was to make the decision making so simple that she always knew what we were going to ask her.

Moving through the ZPD

Next, we wanted to help her become slowly more reliant on herself. This means transferring responsibility from us to her. To be effective (and fast) we needed to do this slowly.

We could have gone to the end goal here and told her that she already knew the answer. I believe in taking it really slow to build her confidence and not get a backlash into fear when she was suddenly faced with new situations. So for the next couple of weeks whenever she asked if she could eat something that had fallen off her plate, we would ask her what the question that we always asked her was.

Specifically, the question would be: “What is the question that we always ask you?”

That would invite her to ask the question and then answer it. Creating the exact mental strategy that we wanted her to construct.

Ask herself the question – then answer it.

By the end of this period, she started asking the question before we had finished asking our question. AND we were seeing a decrease in the number of questions about food from her! She was still dependent on our prompt, so even if she was internalizing the process, she wasn’t fully in the comfort zone yet.

Time to move to the next phase.

Moving into the Comfort Zone

To get to the comfort zone, she would have to reliably (and eventually automatically) be able to ask herself the question and answer it without our intervention.

To get to this point we tapered down the help in the prompt.

In the beginning, we would ask: “So what’s the question?”

Then move on to: “How would you know this yourself?”

And then on to: “You probably know this already, right?”

We ended out with just sending her a big “dumb” smile and an “I don’t know” body language gesture (shoulder shrug + palms open, facing up/forward).

This would prompt her to ignore us and find the answer herself. This last phase probably took about a week, and in that week we saw a gradual decrease to zero questions about food and safety. It hasn’t been an issue since.

After the first full day without questions, my wife and I high-fived in the evening, congratulating each other on having put in the effort to help our daughter become less anxious and more resilient.

Parenting Teamwork

To be able to go through such a detailed learning process, my wife Rikke and I coordinated the effort several times per week. We both calibrated the responses from our daughter throughout the day and compared notes in the evening. Then brainstormed and planned next step responses to our daughter.

I think that this team effort is critical to getting an even flow in the child’s progression towards comfort zone independence.

If you are not able to do a coordinated effort with your partner, from lack of understanding in your partner, lack of cooperation from your partner, temper in your partner – or plain lack of a partner, then you’ll have to sketch out your own plan and try to stick with it.

What learning can be built this way

All of it!

Learning how to clean your room is not done by being told that from now on it’s your turn because Mom has done it for far too long. What does it take to learn how to clean a room? How do you even notice that there’s anything to clean?

Learning to help out in the house. Learning to take out your dishes. Learning to go to bed at night. Learning to turn off the light when you leave the bathroom. And so on…

Learning to understand other people’s body language. Learning to sit still in class. Learning to …

What could you use this way of helping you child learn?

And what would the small scaffolding steps be?

Let me know if this way of building learning in your child resonates with you.

Have a great day. ☀️

All the best,

Anders.❤️

African American boy on grey background

ADHD: 3 Ways Parents Can Avoid Being The Source Of Your Child’s Negative Inner Dialogue

The client was a woman was in her mid-twenties with the ADHD diagnosis. Her studies were not going well. She was failing courses, not attending classes, not handing in homework, etc. And while she really wanted to do all these things, it was like she couldn’t do it. She was bright, intelligent and loved her studies.

She complained about her insecurities, fear and self hate.

We tried to power up her motivation, so she could do the right things at her school. But it was obvious that there was something else in the way. While working, I had noticed a pattern in the way she moved. Every time she said something positive or expressed hope or any type of direction or goal setting, she would twitch her head ever so slightly forward.

When I mirrored back to her what I saw, and asked what was happening with the head, she started crying.

The young woman realized at that moment what was going on. It was as if her father was standing right behind her, telling her to stop dreaming. And he was giving her a whack on the back of the head every time she had any kind of positivity in her. She could physically feel his presence and the blows to her head.

That was why she had been twitching her head. And that was why she was unable to make any kind of progress that mattered to her in her life.

But how did he make his way into her head like that? And how can you avoid being the source of this kind of negative inner dialogue in your differently wired child’s mind?

The Origin of Negative Inner Dialogue

Inner dialogue is normal and completely healthy. The only reason why it may come across as strange is really that we don’t realize that we all have it – and because we don’t talk about it very much.

We all hear voices in our heads. How ever else can you be thinking: “I wonder how I got my own negative inner dialogue?” Or maybe you’re thinking: “Wow, now it makes sense.” Either way it comes from a voice inside your head.

We normally just call them thoughts.

Negative inner dialogue is what happens when parts of your personality have something to say. Parts of your personality are interesting “creatures” in the sense that they can take on any form or function that it wishes. This means that parts of your personality can literally be a devil and an angel. Most often they are just different expressions of your own younger personality. They can be expressed as important people in your life, and most people have the voices of their mother and father inside their minds.

What you’ll notice is that your thoughts have different qualities when you are excited or sad, when you are proud of yourself or when you are mad at yourself. Those are four different parts of your personality speaking to you in your mind.

Once again, they are normal and part of having a healthy mind. You may want to shut some of them up, but they are really there to help you. They may not be helping you, but they are trying.

So where do they come from?

Imagine being a small girl who just started school. You are a happy girl and you have a rich imagination and you love to share what’s on your mind. You love your mom and dad.

But to other people you come across as unfocused and chatty. You talk a lot – about everything else but homework.

Your dad does not have any insights or tools to help you, so he scolds you, tells you that you are going to be a loser if you don’t focus. To help you focus on your home work, he stands behind you and gives you a gentle whack to bring you back to what’s important. Every time you loose focus!

Every time you have one of those happy thoughts that your imagination serves you!

You hate the experience, and it feels like you are being punished and like you are losing your fathers love. Why else would he be hitting you for doing what you love to do?

So in order for you to avoid being whacked on the back of the head by your dad, you incorporate a “dad” part into your subconscious to help whack you from the inside, – so that your real dad doesn’t have to do it!

This is of course a poor strategy, because the inner as well as the outer whack only comes when you have already lost focus to your imagination. But it helps enough that dad doesn’t hit you anymore, and the coping strategy worked “enough” for you to commit it to the subconscious.

All this happens subconsciously. A mental coping strategy has been created and will continue to “help” the girl as long as she has something to focus on and an imagination that likes to serve up funny things. Which means forever.

Unless you change it. I’ll get back to the changing part. Right now I want you to understand what is going on, and how to avoid causing your child to create a lot of negative inner dialogues.

3 Ways You can avoid being the source of your childs negative inner dialogue

Working with clients they often remember very distinct situations that we the source of the negative inner dialogue. Sometimes these situations were part of the daily ritual, like home work in the client story above.

Your primary job is to steer clear of those situations, and find ways to express your values in action in the kindest and most accepting way.

  1. Stop Scolding You Child
    • It’s not a bug surprise that scolding is not only ineffective, but also harmful in the long run. Stop it. Acknowledge that he is really trying his very best, even when it doesn’t look and feel like it. He doesn’t have good mental strategies for handling the situation *yet*.
    • Then start working with your child instead of against your child. When you give your child a full voice, he’ll be able to hear yours as well. And you’ll be surprised at how good he soon becomes at finding solutions when he realizes that you listen. It’s called the coaching approach that you can learn in Transformational Parenting.
  2. Don’t Blame Your Child
    • Do you ever ask “Why …?” questions? They are received universally as a personal attack and as a way of throwing blame around. Start there. Don’t ask why questions. Don’t look for reasons. Accept that he has a positive intention that drives him – and that you don’t understand it *yet*.
    • Instead look for motivation. What was your child trying to make happen? What was he hoping that would happen? Then listen and find ways to help him understand the situation and/or make the right things happen in a better way.
  3. Never Degrade Your Child
    • When a parent degrades a child by name-calling or letting the child know that it’s a failure in the parent’s eyes, it sticks to the child’s self worth like lint to velcro. It takes forever to get off.
    • Instead find ways to uplift your child’s self worth in every way possible. Not only by praise, but primarily by letting your child know that you see him, you love him for who he is, and that you understand that he is trying his very best. Help him keep trying and be motivated by trying even when it’s not working.

What if the damage is already done?

Since you are reading this article on this homepage, the damage is most likely already done. Very few will be able to help their complex child grow into a harmonious young person without getting irritated, frustrated or angry. And most likely words have been said, that were regretted moments later.

All that makes an impact on the child. And we’ve all done it.

I can see it on my daughters. In fact some of their patterns we can trace back to very distinct situations. And we are confident that we’ll be able to help them get through those patterns and build very constructive patterns to substitute for the old ones as they grow older and more aware and conscious.

Becoming aware that damage is being done is the first step.

The second sted is to understand that there are thousands of parts to every personality. Most of them are just fine or even great.

We want more of the great ones, so the third step is to start helping the child produce supporting, motivating, uplifting, powerful parts that will eventually help the child succeed in life.

Creating Positive Inner Dialogue

Positive inner dialogue is created just like negative inner dialogue. By exposure to positive reinforcement from people who really mean it. And for the child to understand that this is special.

You can think of parts creation as something that mostly happens when the child is in a new situation, a surprising situation or some other situation that will stick in their memory. You might be able to think back on some of the pivotal moments in your life, those moments that were course corrections in your life.

Those are the ones that you want to create.

When I got down on my knees with my girl (who had lied to me), looked her in the eyes, and told her with power in my voice that I loved it when she told me the truth, – in that moment – I am positive that she created a part of her personality that sets the truth to a high standard.

I could see the shift in her eyes – and in her behavior afterwards.

Transforming Inner Dialogue

Negative Inner Dialogue, like Positive Inner Dialogue, is a subconscious coping strategy. The problem is that this particular coping strategy is no longer working correctly.

We normally don’t *just* change and transform our subconscious coping strategies. Of course we normally don’t *just* change any of our coping strategies, – that’s why there are thousands of books written on the subject.

But through conscious work, with the power of externalization and metaphors, which I have written about here and here, we can transform even the most evil, condescending, depleting, self hating inner dialogues.

If you have a child with negative inner dialogue, and you are interested in getting the insights and tools to help your child, then read through the archive of articles, – or get on the mailing list so you know when my new course Transformational Parenting is out.

Action Points

To start helping your child produce positive inner dialogue, start by figuring out what that inner dialogue should be saying.

Then start embodying the quality of that inner dialogue in your own actions and interactions with your child.

And when the child embody the quality, make sure that you make it absolutely clear that you value your child and his actions. So clear that he will never forget the moment, when you let him know that the part of him that creates this kind of behavior is fantastic.

And when he exhibits the opposite traits, find a way to honor the parts of him that are struggling to do the right thing.

What parts of your child will you be bringing out?

Let me know in the comments!

And do share this article on social media, if you found it valuable.

Have a great day,

Anders.

Father and son playing at the park near lake at the day time.

How To Master The Practice of Parenting The Differently Wired Child

When I lived in Boulder, Colorado, I was introduced to a way of thinking that have resonated into our way of parenting in our family. The saying is: “If you don’t like the weather in Colorado, just wait 15 minutes. Also if you do like the weather in Colorado, just wait 15 minutes.”

When we later got our now 6 year old daughter, we read about the cycles of development that she would go through as an infant, and these were surprisingly precise. We started joking that “If you don’t like the way the baby sleeps, just wait 15 days. And if you do like the way the baby sleeps, just wait 15 days.” That’s how often things changed back then, and we might as well accept them as conditions, because if we fought the baby’s natural cycles we would be spending a lot of energy on things we couldn’t change.

And if you are a parent to a differently wired child, you know that some things are still changing in ways that you don’t understand.

How do you deal with that?

For me the term “The Practice of Parenting” has become part of my filosophy of parenting our wonderful daughters – and in this article I’ll walk you through what that means to me and how you can apply it with yourself and your child.

The Practice of Parenting

Most often we hear the word practice in sports. You practice becoming better at that particular sport. You do this by doing the sport or by doing exercises that will help you get better at the core elements of that sport. Practice is a part of the constant striving towards becoming better at the sport.

Of course we also hear practice in performers of every kind, in the military, in school, in the arts and many other places.

Then there’s the yoga practice, where “to practice yoga” is not only doing the correct postures (asanas) but an ongoing participation in and engagement with yoga. It’s diving deeper into what yoga is, the filosophy behind it, the history, understanding the asanas, etc. You can even have a daily yoga practice without being on the mat every day, when you let the ideas of yoga penetrate your entire life.

But we don’t hear parents talking about their practice as parents. It’s more often that we hear techniques and methods, but not practice. I think that we should change that.

So what is the practice of parenting?

The practice of parenting is a deliberate effort to being present with the changes that you child goes through and adjusting your skills, tools, and efforts to best match your child’s needs, while having the overall goals for your child in mind. (Share on Twitter)

That means that when the 15 day cycle of great sleep (in the case of my infant daughter) is over and sleep becomes sparse and choppy, you attempt to become aware of it and adjust to it. Adjusting means changing your own sleep rythm to start earlier and getting more powernaps, cancelling arrangements, – and maybe to reach out to learn new baby tricks that will help the baby feel safe in her new understanding of the world.

For older and differently wired children, being present and adjusting might mean something else. Maybe your child develops anxiety over some future episode – and a normal talk about why the child doesn’t have to be fearful when it comes to that episode does not help your child. Then being present might mean to really listen to the child, figure out what the anxiety is really about. Maybe it’s running through different scenarios, maybe it’s offering to join him, make special arrangements, etc. Your child has probably just developed a new understanding of things that let’s him see something that wasn’t clear to him before. And he does not know how to tackle it.

Your job is to figure out how to help him tackle it. You may have to tackle (part of) it for him at first. And then as he becomes ready, you slowly move responsibility over to him, and you let him do the work. Eventually he’ll learn how to tackle it himself.

There are so many steps in those few sentences above. The art is to keep responding to where he is, and then developing the response and he changes.

You can tell when parents have not adopted the practice of parenting mindset. This is when they talk to their kids like they are younger than they really are – and/or when they become really frustrated over seemingly benign things. They have not adapted to the child’s age and/or have lost touch with what the child needs.

Or maybe they still think that their differently wired child *should* be developing like everyone else, and they become frustrated by the apparent lack of normal progress.

If we want to become (or stay) great parents we need to adopt the practice of parenting mindset. Otherwise we will be talking like my wonderful (and sligtly senile) granddad that kept calling me “Little Anders” even after I grew so much taller than him that he could no longer reach to pat me on the head. 🙂

Becoming a great parent

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

– Archilochus

Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson argues in his famous research that “the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”

So the way to develop your practice of parenting is to make a deliberate effort to improve your parenting skills. And while that includes putting in the (significant) effort, it also means that you, your child and your family as a whole will develop so much faster and stronger than if you don’t put in this effort.

You are going to be getting almost immediate response to the changes in your practice.

Here’s how to Practice Parenting through deliberate practice

When your child is differently wired, you are most likely having daily chances to practice, to develop your self and the mastery of your parenting skills and yourself.

These are ways I have found makes me a better and stronger parent, all the while eliminating a lot of conflicts and hardship.

Observe Yourself As a Parent

The first step to practice parenting is to observe, to become aware. That means not only experiencing the conflicts through your own eyes, but also through your child’s eyes, AND to step back and look at the situation from the outside. It is interesting to go through all three perspectives.

  1. Notice your actions and reactions – feel the emotions that you have without judgment. Be honest with yourself and seek the truth even if it sucks to realize that there’s anger, sorrow and other similar emotions at play.
  2. See the situation from the perspective of your child. Step into your childs shoes for a second and imagine that you are doing your very best to go through life in a good way. What is your positive intention in this situation? What does it feel like to be in this situation? How do you like the reaction of your parents?
  3. Step all the way outside the situation and imagine that you are a caring consultant without anything at stake in the situation. No emotions. What do you see, and what would your advice be to the parent in this situation?
  4. Now re-enter your own perspective with your own emotions.

What can you use the outside perspective for?

How you can create a better outcome next time a similar situation arises?

Change Your Ways To Accomodate Life’s Conditions

Often in the situation, we are emotionally highjacked, and can only respond from a lot of very powerful emotions. And that’s often one of the reasons that the situation arose in the first place.

So you need to get your thinking out of the highjacked state. When you do the above exercise and take the second and third mental position as the child and an emotionally un-attached observer, you’ll notice that you get better “advice” from yourself than if you stay in your own emotions.

The key to changing your own ways is *not* to think too much about the situation that is behind you. Because you can’t change it.

The idea of “I wish I could go back and change that!” is incredibly destructive when it comes to trying to change. (Share on Twitter)

What you do instead is to learn from the past situation and apply the learning to the future situations that inevitably will arise. So the past experience becomes a learning experience instead of  another reason to blame yourself. In fact when you blame yourself, you learn nothing. But when you use the situation constructively, your learn from it. (Share on Twitter)

And you can then apply that learning to the future situation like this: “It’s obvious that yelling didn’t work and I guess I knew that already. So I will try a different response next time he does that. What would my inner consultant advise me to do? Okay, – next time, I’ll ask him calmly to pick up his stuff, and if he doesn’t do it, I’ll get eye contact and slowly and calmly say ‘I want you to pick up that LEGO yourself’ every 30 seconds until he does it or stops throwing it.”

Then if you really want to practice – and that’s what this article is all about – close your eyes and do a couple of run-throughs where you imagine actually being in the future situation with you child and experience your own new emotional state and behavior. Adjust and re-imagine as many times you need to feel comfortable going into the future situation.

When you do that, you notice that the change you are trying to create is coming easier to you in the future situation, because your mind already knows what to do.

Acknowledge And Love Yourself

Realize that you are doing your very best, and that it’s okay to feel okay about yourself. Even when some things are going bad. Even when you are not performing like you would like to every minute of the day.

You are in a tough spot, and you haven’t had the insights and tools to go through it in an elegant way. If you did have those tools, you would use them and change things.

Then acknowledge yourself for moving in the right direction along with that wonderful child of yours.

Now over to you!

What did you get out of this article?

How do you practice parenting in daily life?

What challenges do you have with respect to practicing great parenting?

If you enjoyed the article and want more like it, go ahead and join other parents to differently wired children when you sign up for our newsletter. Then you’ll get immediate access to the Free Transformational Tool Box that will bring you further into your practice of parenting.

Have a great day,

Anders

PS: It would be really cool if you will spend a second and share the article on social media, so that other great parents like yourself can get more and better inspiration on how to bring differently wired children up and out.

ADHD: How to get you child to do anything

The other day my youngest daughter got up to stand on her already high chair to get something on the table during dinner. I grabbed her to hold her steady, because I got scared she might fall.

And I said in a demanding voice that she should sit down.

This made her hurt and angry and she fled to the sofa at the other end of the room. From where she refused to join the dinner. She did want the attention of her older sister though, This made it difficult for the older girl to stay seated and for dinner to proceed.

After a couple of attempts to get her to come back to the table, I realized that we I was stuck in a very familiar situation with our youngest daughter. Make specific demands and she will fight you until she falls asleep far too late. She’s headstrong like that.

And I remembered what we do, when we easily dissolve those situations and move on from them.

  1. We stop making specific demands on her.
  2. We acknowledge that she feels hurt.
  3. We don’t nurse her or make it attractive to stay hurt. In practice we almost ignore her.
  4. We make it attractive for her to join us again.

So I did just that. Did not tell her to come over (she knew by now). In fact, did not tell her to do anything. I didn’t even invite her over to the table anymore. As this might at this point be interpreted af further demands.

Instead I decided to see if I could make it so attractive that she couldn’t stay away.

Every evening during dinner we do a round of “What were the best things that happened today?” The girls start off by telling us three things that happened during the day, that they are happy to remember and have been a part of.

So I started that round with the older sister. And I got really into her story, head close to her so she spoke softly. And I asked extra questions to have her tell me about the cave that she had built in the kindergarden play room, and about how she played there with her friends. She was beaming form the story and the attention.

While the story was going on the smaller sister called from the sofa to hear what we were talking about. And I told her in an excited voice that I was listening to the older sisters story about the best things of the day.

Then she proceeded to tell me (still from the couch) that she didn’t like that I have grabbed her while standing on the chair. I agreed that she didn’t like that (acknowledging her emotions), and went back to the older sisters story.

Next thing I know, the younger sister slides onto her chair and asks for her food.

Without mentioning the incident that she just came out of, I gave her the food and asked her about all the best things that happened in her day.

She told us her stories about the bicycle she had been riding and the games she had played. And I gave her the same kind of attention that I had given the older sister.

It was impossible to tell that she has just been in the sofa, hurt and angry with me and my ways. We were just back to normal. Present. Happy. Content.

And I was just so happy on the inside that I am able to change my tactic along the way. This way I get to spend so much quality time with the girls.

What is wrong with scolding/setting clear limits/demanding?

Imagine being scolded as an adult.

Think about the emotions that would start in you. Think about how that would change the relation to the person that scolds you. F*** that person!

We all hate being scolded. And while it may increase the likelyhood of you doing what they want you to do, very likely it ruins your relationship with them. Maybe even for good.

All the scolding and and the threats are the wrong way to go about helping your kids adjust their behaviors.

Scolding will produce only one thing with 100% reliability: Negative inner dialogue in the child.

I find that among my clients negative inner dialogue is one of the most life destroying factors. You can have a great life that you can’t appreciate because you tear yourself and every achivement down in your own mind.

And negative inner dialogue stays with you the rest of your life, unless you manage to transform that internal dialogue to a constructive and supportive inner dialogue. And you don’t “just” do that unless you work with a highly skilled coach.

Most people never get rid of their negative inner dialogue because they don’t know that it’s even possible. Most often my clients are surprised that it’s possible, and that it’s possible for THEM, and even more so that they just did it.

So if you want to avoid creating a lot of negative inner dialogue in your child, then now is a good time to change your strategy.

And if your child is already going down the path of negative inner dialogue, then now is a perfect time to show them that you have a better strategy that works, so they can start adopting the new one. (If they are in a hole, use the ADHD Power Mind series to help them transform from the inside out.)

Why I did it this way

Years back I read a story of  the Hungarian psychologist and chess player László Polgár who wanted to show that he could make chess masters out of all his three girls. He accomplished this incredible feat by not only making playing so attractive that the girls had to beg to be part of the game, but once they were playing and being taught by him, he gave them his full attention and made the game and the learning process as enjoyable as possible.

We need to make good behavior attractive, and if we are to find an internal motivation – instead of some type of external motivation system (candy, ipad time, etc.) – then your presence and being given your full attention will be the most powerful motivator any child can have.

What we need to do instead is to attempt to produce interest, curiosity, longing for presence and attention in the child. It has become our go-to strategy to dissolving minor conflicts that arise from the parent wanting to do one thing and the child not wanting to do it.

Make it fun.

Examples include:

Getting outside:

Child: “I don’t want to go outside today. AT ALL!”

(Me almost: “You have to. Uh. Because it’s healthy and because I say so….”)

Me: “Who wants to go outside and play in the mud pool on the other side of the road?”

Two children: “Meeee!”

Inevitably these situations turn out much better than if the child had just accepted. This particular day we ended up playing in the mud for more than an hour and I returned with two happy, tired and soaked girls. And I used the experience to entertain about stories from when I worked in nature conservation in Australia. Much more fun than if I had brought a cup of tea and my smartphone with me.

Going to bed:

Child: “I don’t want to go to bed. I want to PLAY OUTSIDE!”

My wife: “I’ll be going upstairs and I can’t wait to see if that story, we started reading yesterday will be as fun today as it was yesterday. Do you want to go first up the stairs?”

Child: “Yeah!”

This is how you do it

There are a couple of elements that goes into creating a situation, where the child will follow your lead.

  1. Be the adult in the room. When we get irritated, frustrated, angry (all versions of anger), we don’t act like adults. We are emotionally highjacked by parts of our personality that think that anger will resolve situations to our advantage. It doesn’t, because we are not 4 years old anymore.
  2. Remember the Positive Intention. You stay being the adult in the room when you keep in mind that the child has a positive intention with his behavior.  (Get the Transformational Toolbox to understand the Positive Intention better!)
  3. Stay in this situation. If you “go to the museum” that holds all the other times that this has happened, you are not being present with the current situation. Going to the museum has already happened if you think or say aloud “Oh no, not again!”. Then you just spent a split second letting your mind rile you up by visiting all the previous similar situations where the child did something that irritated you or frustrated you.
  4. Take a look at the situation from the outside perspective. Your mind holds the ability to see things from the “helicopter” perspective or the observer perspective. Go there. This is where you can look at the situation and be a little more objective and where your emotions are not involved in the decision making process.
  5. Bring in your “Fun Mom” or “Creative Dad”. Put these other parts of you to work trying to figure out ways to give the child a way out of the situation that leads to something that the child will love.
  6. Do it with them. Your kids wants to have a great time with you more than anything. Unless of course if they are already teenagers. Then try it out, but you may have to apply other tactics. If you want the kid to go outside, go outside and play. Leave your phone inside or set an alarm and put it in your pocket if you need the timer to get back inside. (I forgot the other day in the mudpool, so we had laaaate dinner.”
  7. When you do succeed celebrate in your mind and with your partner. Cheer yourself so that you remember what you just did. Make that a part of the new museum that you attend when the kid acts out.
  8. As the child becomes older, share the experience with them, so that they learn to reflect on conflict and learn to see their behavior from the outside too.

And remember.

It’s way easier to include than to train you child.

If you found inspiration in this article to do things differently in your family, please share the article on Facebook or Twitter – or directly with the person that you are thinking about.

Have a great day,

Anders.

PS: Also – find more insights and tools in the Free Transformational Toolbox for parents.

ADHD, Learn from mistakes; Boy with plaster on head

ADHD: How to help your child learn from his mistakes

Does your child have difficulty learning from his mistakes? In this article you’ll get insights into one of the most common mistakes that we do as parents, that teaches our children to not learn for their mistakes.

Our neighbor living above us in the apartment building had a 3 year old daughter. She was always running around in the apartment and since she was running on her heels, we always knew which room she was in. Dokdokdokdok. Running around.

No problem. We were starting a family as well and knew that we would have our own girl running around like that soon.

Stupid door?

One day it went dokdokdokdokdok-bang, and we could hear that she fell to the floor and started crying. We looked at each other. She okay?

Then her dad came running – also a heel runner – to help her. And because of her crying, he spoke so loud that we could her what he said to her. And he said something that we have used to completely transform our parenting style. In fact, he said something so profound that we still talk about it almost every week, when we hear references to the phenomenon in daily life.

His words were: “Stupid, stupid door! Poor you!”

We looked at each other and went “What?!”

In that one sentence, trying to help his little girl not feel so bad about the accident, he also managed to take away her responsibility in the crash, – and blamed the static door! As if the door stuck it’s side out just as the girl was about to pass it with a safe margin, and hit her in the face with its full capacity.

Come on. Doors don’t do that! Then why did he blame it on the door? And more importantly – what is the long term effect on the girl and her understanding of herself and her responsibility in the world?

Now, you might think that this is a funny story, poor girl, – but what does it have to do with bigger kids, teens or us as adults? We know that doors don’t do that. Riiiight!? Obviously we do know this – with our adult conscious mind, but parts of our subconscious mind are functioning in a different way as we shall see in the next section.

I think that after reading this article, you will realize just how often you and your kids do this exact thing no matter how old you and they are.

And even better, – you’ll have ways to help yourself and your child change the way you think and learn and take responsibility in life.

What is the problem?

There really are two problems. One would be enough, but as the kids get older, the other one kicks in because of the first one.

The first is that fact that we ascribe actions and intentions to things. Not only to other people which would be bad enough, but to things. We’ll say stuff like:

  • These shoe laces are teasing me.
  • The ice cream fell out of the cup.
  • My bike slid on the pavement, so I fell over.
  • The sofa attacked me and sucked me in.
  • School wasn’t fun today.
  • Traffic was acting up today.

And so on. We make (often static) things the initator of the problem.

It is not because I can’t quite figure out how to tie my shoelaced. No. It’s the shoe laces fault.

It’s not because I was deeply entranced by what was happening in the street that I forgot to hold my ice cream cup upright. No. The ice cream decided that it didn’t want to stay in the cup anymore. So it fell out of the cup.

I didn’t drive recklessly on my bike. The bike was unable to hold on to the pavement while I was speeding where there was gravel on the pavement.

You see the picture, I’m sure.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Often times it’s even more obvious in our language that something is wrong:

  • These shoe laces frustrate me!
  • My bike makes me so angry!
  • School just pisses me off!
  • Home work makes me want to cry.
  • Traffic gets the worst up in me.

And so on.

You see what happened there?

Not only did the thing do something to you, the thing actually caused an emotion in you.

Things can’t cause emotions in you, but the words that come out of our mouths are an effect of what is on our minds. There’s a one to one correlation between the stuff that comes out of our mouths and what we are thinking (often subconsciously) and how we have constructed our understanding of the world.

Notice the difference here:

These shoelaces frustrate me. vs. I frustrate myself over these shoelaces.

See who’s doing the frustrating now?

Home work makes me want to cry. vs. I want to cry when I have to do home work.

So when you hear your child start blaming things for his emotions, you can gently guide him to another understanding over time, by repeating what he said back to him, but with him at the active participant in the encounter. Just like in the examples above.

The other consequence is worse

When we teach the kids that the door did it, then we also teach them that the thing that just happened was not their fault. They don’t have to resume responsibility for the crash, and they don’t have to change anything in the future to avoid further crashes.

When they are not to blame, they don’t have to change a thing. This means that they’ll have a harder time learning from their mistakes because subconsciously they are not to blame. Part of them will internalize this and continue to blame outside things or people.

When we let homework get our kids down and we let shoelaces start cascades of emotions in the kids, then they have a hard time realizing that they are the emoting part. They are much better of realizing the causality of things and their responsibility in the world. That way they can learn from it and change their actions.

That way they don’t have to rely on the things around them to create better emotions in them…

Just saying it out loud makes it kind of ridiculous, right?

To sum it up

The consequences of letting things outside of you be at fault work on a deep subconscious level.

  1. The kid becomes a victim. This is serious. You don’t want you child feeling like a victim. You want him to be responsible. Then talk to her like he is responsible.
  2. The kid does not learn from his mistakes. When it’s not his fault, there really is no reason to adjust his own part in this.

One of the most important things that you need to learn to successfully navigate life, is to learn from your failures. What else is there to learn from? When everything is going well, we are in flow. When things go bad, we have a chance to learn from it.

Your part in your child’s learning process in crucial.

You can do like our neighbor and let the child off and let her become a victim of the situation and the viscious door.

Or you can – without blame – inspire your child to learn from the incident.

So – how to do this.

How do you then “blame” your child without turning it into a blame game?

Here’s how.

When the child goes: “The door hit me! Waaaaaah!”

You remain calm and goes: “I can see that. You ran into the door. That must have really hurt you!” or “Ouch, that must have hurt, when you ran into the door!”

This way you return responsibility to the owner and still show the child the proper care.

Then – when the child is ready (and this may be seconds, minutes or hours) – ask the child what he learned from the experience. And let him guide you to understand what must be done differently next time this situation arises.

This will help the child feel empowered and you put him in the “teacher” role, letting him come up with the best possible solution he can imagine. It may not be as good as the one the you can imagine, but it’ll fit with his understanding of the world and his perceived options in it. If there’s far between his solution and a “good” solution, you may want to assist him by giving him open questions to reflect on.

“Are there any other ways that you can avoid getting hurt falling on your bicycle in the turn – other than never bike again?”

Now over to you

Did you notice this pattern in your family/child/you?

How do you help your child change his/her feeling of empowerment in those situations?

Have a great day!

Anders.

PS. I am doing a followup to this article to tell you about another common pattern that makes it almost impossible for your child to learn anything constructive from his mistakes. Sign up to the newsletter to get the article when it comes out.