Ep 42: Positive Parenting Solutions

Episode Summary

Jane Nelsen, the author of the Positive Discipline books and founder of the positive discipline movement reveals some positive parenting strategies for rebellious and defiant teenagers. Get your teen under control without punishing and lecturing them with these great tips.

Show NotesParenting ScriptsWorkbook ExercisesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

Being a parent is busy work.

The amount of household and childcare responsibilities placed on top of a 40 hour work week can seem monstrously overwhelming. You’re doing so much! It’s no wonder that when your kids neglect to do their homework, you might feel like exploding. They had one job!

Obviously, these emotional explosions aren’t healthy for you or your kids. Even if you feel like you can keep your emotions in check, how often do you find yourself lecturing away at your children? I mean, how else are they going to get the message that their homework is important, and they can’t be playing video games all day?

Thankfully, there are ways to take this business and channel it towards some positive parenting techniques that will benefit you and your children. Not just one or two proven techniques, but a whole world of them! With a simple shift in mindset, you can use the collective creativity of your entire family to come up with an endless stream of ideas for getting chores done.

To help provide some tried and tested wisdom on positive parenting techniques, I spoke with the mother of 7, grandmother of 22, and great-grandma of 13, Jane Nelsen!

Jane is an educational psychologist famous for her Positive Discipline books and seminars. She teaches positive parenting techniques for managing children without resorting to punishments, threats, or other negative tactics (such as the old fashioned “timeout”). Her knowledge is very well received across the country, and she’s even appeared on Oprah! I was so excited to get time with her and ask her about these positive parenting techniques.

Being Busy is a Blessing

Being busy as a parent can be a positive thing. Jane tells parents that having work is a blessing because you can get your children involved in helping out around the house.

She jokes that when she was raised, her parents didn’t even drive her to school. She walked to school even when she was five! (We won’t say how long ago that was.) The point she makes is that when she was growing up, she and her friends found freedom outside of their homes because at home they were expected to do the chores. The kids were expected to help out on the farm.

Today, it seems flipped to where the parents are expected to do the chores and the kids are just expected to do homework. But these are not positive parenting techniques! Jane says she sees children today having very little freedom outside the home, and inside the home they are being micromanaged. Instead of telling kids how to help out around the house, Jane more often sees parents lecturing their children over every aspect of their homework.

What’s the point of this lecturing and micromanagement? This leads us to one of Jane’s key things regarding positive parenting techniques.

Belonging and Significance

One of the key parts of practicing positive parenting techniques is understanding why we do what we do. So why would we give our children more responsibilities? If they won’t even do their homework, who’s to say they’ll do other chores we assign them?

Jane says that the reason behind all positive parenting techniques is that children need to feel belonging, and they need to feel significant. She says that belonging is easy, and comes down to kids feeling unconditional love from parents. Significance, on the other hand, is different.

Significance does not mean giving your kids more love, but more responsibility.

It’s easy to think that you can make your child feel significant by pampering them and lessening their responsibility. But Jane says that children need to feel capable, especially when it comes to serving their home, their school, and their greater community. By giving kids more responsibility, you are helping them develop long range life skills to be happy, successful people.

So, busy parents, don’t feel guilty that you’re working a lot outside the home. See it as an opportunity to increase your children’s significance in the home! It’s not child labor to have them take the trash out and clean the dishes. Children need those responsibilities to learn that they as humans are necessary members of a functioning family.

Giving your children more responsibility might sound like a tense conversation to have. This is where Jane’s positive parenting techniques become next level! Here’s one step you can take to make these conversations super creative and fun for your kids.

Family Meetings

Family meetings are great for establishing positive parenting techniques. It’s important to get your kids involved in them, especially when it comes to family problem solving.

Jane strongly suggests having weekly family meetings to get your children engaged in the process of maintaining the house. She says to get them involved asking:

“What are the things we all need to do to keep the house running smoothly?”

Once you’ve created a list, chat about which chores the parents can do and which ones the kids can do. Then you can help your kids come up with a creative way to keep track of their responsibilities throughout the week. They can build a chore chart with dice, a spin wheel, cans of colored popsicle sticks, or anything else they can come up with!

If your child has a complaint about the system during the week, you can tell them to bring it up at the next family meeting. Help them problem solve and come up with ideas on their own. If they are coming up with their own solutions to their own system for doing chores, they will be so much more likely to execute! For example:

Jane said that her kids used a whiteboard with all the responsibilities listed out for the week, and when a chore got done they would cross it off. They each had to do two chores per day. This system worked until one of them asked, “Why does my sister get all the easy ones?”

At the next family meeting, Jane asked her kids what they thought they should do to solve this problem. After some deliberation, they ended up adding more chores to the whiteboard and assigning them on a first-come first-serve basis. They would race each other home to see who could do chores first! 

Jane says this worked with her kids because it was their idea. And it doesn’t take much adjusting for a child to think something was their idea. In Jane’s example, the whiteboard system didn’t change, just the approach to it did. 

Years of Wisdom

Jane knows so much about raising kids, both from research and from experience. She has so many simple adjustments for learning positive parenting techniques. I felt like our conversation just scratched the surface of her years of wisdom, and yet we talked about so much!

  • The Idea of Being Kind and Firm
  • Connection Before Correction
  • The Mistaken Goal Chart
  • The 4 Ways Children Try to Gain Belonging and Significance
  • The 4 Ways Parents Try to Gain Belonging and Significance
  • The Iceberg: Behaviors, Beliefs, and Needs
  • Positive Discipline Tools for Teenage Years
  • Understanding Teenage Priorities
  • Curiosity Questions
  • The Positive Timeout

Talking with Jane made me so excited to keep learning positive parenting techniques. They’re tried and true! I know that there’s something in this episode for everyone, so please give it a listen.

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1.  When your teen yells at you, respond by being kind then firm:

“I know how disappointing it is to you that your uniform isn’t clean. And I have faith in you to remember to put it in the laundry in the future.”

-Jane Nelsen

2.  Tell your teen no using the kind then firm approach:

(Members Only)

3.  If your teen is questioning the importance of school or considering dropping out:

(Members Only)

4.  When your teen is thinking about drinking for the first time:

(Members Only)

Workbook Exercises

Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview

1.  Get Exact Agreement from Your Teen Beforehand:

One of the reasons that parents can often fall into nagging is that they fail to obtain exact agreement from the teenager about what they are going to do and when they are going to have it done by. But Jane told me that when you get agreement beforehand you don’t have to nag at all. You can simply wait until the agreed upon time and then gently ask your teen, “what was our agreement?” If they resist, all you have to do is put a hand on their shoulder and give them “the look”. They will eventually sigh and go do what the promised. The key is to get their agreement down to the exact time. On a piece of paper, write down something you’d like you teen to do today, like unloading the dishwasher or doing the laundry. Next, write down why this task is important and the time you’ll need it done by. Finally, write why you need it done by that time. This has to be a legitimate reason. For instance, if you want your teen to unload the dishwasher, the reason might be that it’s not fair for you to cook dinner every night AND clean it up. The time you need it unloaded by might be 4pm. And the reason it has to be done by then might be because that’s when you’re going to start cooking tonight’s dinner and you need clean dishes in order to do that. Now go relay these four pieces of information to your teen and make sure get a verbal “yes” that they agree to have it done by the time you say.

2.  Get Your Teen Involved More Around the House:

(Members Only)

3.  Uncover the Mistaken Goals Behind Your Teen’s Behavior:

(Members Only)

Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: This is quite a book here. So, I’m really excited. I got a bunch of pages that I’ve marked, that have things that I’d be really interested to talk to you about. And so, I wonder if we could talk a little bit about, I think parents today feel really busy and there’s so much to do, and a lot of families having both parents working. And what do you think is the answer?

Jane: Well, first of all, let me talk about the busy, overwhelmed parent. And one of the biggest things that parents can learn and understand is that this can be a blessing to work so that you could really get children involved in helping. I was reading the research just last night, I wish I could have found it, where kids used to, when I was raised, I’m 81 years old now. So, I was raised at the time when we walked to school by ourselves even when we were five years old. And this study, where did I read that? Anyway, it was saying how children had a lot more freedom outside the home. We let our kids walk to school, we let them build a playground by themselves.

Andy: Yeah, yeah. Right. Marcella Rutherford, Sociologist.

Jane: But they had less freedom in the home because they were expected to do their chores. They were expected to help out. Where they lived on the farm, it was their job to gather the eggs and to do things from a very young age. But today kids have hardly any freedom outside the home, but the kids, they’re being micromanaged inside the home. And the thing is, is that they’re not told so much to help and how they can contribute, but they’re told to do their homework and how to do their homework and when they do their homework and parents lecture, lecture, lecture.

Jane: And one of the key things of positive discipline is first understanding why we do what we do, the [crosstalk 00:02:00] behind what we do. And the main belief Andy, is that children need to feel belonging and they need to feel significant. Now, most people don’t understand belonging is easy. We know that for belonging, they need to feel loved, they need to feel unconditional love, but significance is different. And some people think that to help their children feel significant, they give them more love. But to feel significant, what they need is more responsibility. They need to contribute; they need to feel capable. And we often rob our children of developing significance through feeling capable and contributing to their home, to their school, to society because we pamper them. We even say, oh, you do your homework, but you don’t have to make your bed, you don’t have to clean the bathroom, you don’t have…

Andy: Right. Right.

Jane: So, that’s one of the main things, is that we have to realize why we’re doing what we do and it’s for the long range of helping our children develop the social and life skills they need to be happy, successful people in life. And then the other thing is realizing, some people see all of our tools as techniques. They just don’t work if you don’t understand the principle behind them. And so, a lot of parents and teachers use them to control their children rather than to help their children develop belonging and significance. Huge difference.

Jane: So, back to busy parents. Instead of feeling guilty that you are working outside the home, see this as a great opportunity to get your children involved in really being significant. They are really needed in the home; they’re needed to learn responsibility. That’s another way to keep it. They need love and they need responsibility, and we’re not giving enough children enough responsible because we think, I don’t know what we think, that [inaudible 00:03:54] them, that it’s child labor if we ask them. Whatever the thinking is, but it’s very mixed up.

Jane: And then the other thing is to get children involved in the process. So, this is one of the reasons why we believe in family meetings. So, you sit down, and you have a family meeting and you have some really good information on your website about getting kids involved in doing chores and how important it is. And one of the things that I would just like to add, is how important it is to get the kids involved. We sat down and we had a big meeting about what are all the things that we need to do to keep our house running smoothly. And we brainstormed all the things that everybody needs to do. And then this idea of, okay, which one’s can children do, and which ones do parents need to do. And you mention on your website about the chore chart and usually that’s rewards, which we say absolutely do not give kids rewards.

Andy: Ah, right, right.

Jane: As you played out, because that takes away from their feeling of feeling significant. They just not doing things for the reward. So, that is very, very bad thing. But to help them create different kinds of chore charts. They get to be creative and there’s so many different ways. You even mentioned throwing the dice, which I thought was one of the techniques we use is [inaudible 00:05:21] will have a number, they can throw the dice.

Andy: Sure. Are you talking about having a spinner in your book also that you could spin?

Jane: Right, or having sticks in a can that have chores and they get to pick a stick. But I have to tell you, I want to tell you one of my favorite stories was with my last two when the others were gone and when I was working and traveling even and we’d decided that I would put two chores a day, major chores, on the whiteboard for Mark and two for Mary. And I was really trying careful to be fair and who would get which chore, and they were supposed to do them when they came home from school. She started to complain, it’s like, how come Mark gets the easy ones and Mary would say [crosstalk 00:06:07].

Andy: Yeah, right.

Jane: So, finally I just said, well… We had another family meeting and I said, well, what do you think we should do? How can we solve these problems? And they said well, can’t you just put four chores on the board of first come first serve. So, I did that and at first, they were racing home to see who could get their first. Then they decided no, doesn’t matter. Just take what you get when you get there. But the reason it worked; it was their idea. That is so key to get children involved, and whenever there’s a problem, what is the solution? And so, we have these family meetings, which are weekly, which I think is the most important thing that parents could do. One of the most.

Andy: I love that and that’s such a cool idea. The chore chart without rewards can become like a record of your contribution that you’ve made to the family or whatever and reinforce that feeling of significance in a cool way. And this idea of family meetings is really powerful, and I like that it just allows them to contribute. And you mentioned that we accept things when we feel like they’re our idea a little bit, and there’s a lot of great research on that. Over and over again, it’s been shown that it doesn’t take much for you to feel like it’s your idea, and so I liked in your example, that we’re still going to use a whiteboard, I’m still going to write the chores and there’s still going to be four of them. They accept all these things as being okay, and all they need to do to feel like it’s theirs is choose this one little aspect of how they’re written up there or whatever. And it’s powerful, it shows the power of that approach.

Jane: Well, exactly. The thing is, is that when they’re younger, the chores chart should even be made by them. Just like the wheel of choice should be made by them, where they can draw the [crosstalk 00:08:01], they create it. This is one of the reasons why I don’t like the fancy ones that you can buy that are so pretty, but I like it when their kids have helped create them and they have drawn the pictures.

Andy: Crayons and… Yeah, right. Can we talk about the idea of kind and firm? And I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about that and how it works and how you do it as a parent?

Jane: See now, the thing that’s interesting about that is we keep going back to why we do what we do, and [inaudible 00:08:44] we keep going back to belonging and significance. And so, kind is the belonging and firm is the significance. So, it goes to the idea of connection before correction. And all the brain research has told us that children do better when they feel better.

Jane: One of the most famous quotes in one of my books, my first book, is where did we ever get to the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Now, I want that to sink in. Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? And that is what all punishment is based on. Make you feel bad and humiliate you, whatever, then you’ll do better. And the truth is for brain [inaudible 00:09:33] is that people do better when they feel better. And that doesn’t mean that they feel better by getting everything they want. It means they feel better because they feel significant. They’re using their power in useful ways. So, kind and firm is, I love you, honey, and no, you can’t go to the concert tonight.

Jane: Validating feelings is a really great way to make a connection. I know how disappointed it is to you that your uniform isn’t clean, and I have faith in you to remember to put it in the laundry in the future. Or I know that you really want to go with your friends right now. Maybe you could get them to come in and help you finish your chores so you can get done sooner. It’s just avoiding the put downs, the humiliation, the lectures, let them know I love you and you still need to do what needs to be done.

Andy: Because it’s like, it’s bad enough already and they already know, you don’t have to rub it in that… Right? They already know that this is a lesson they got to learn and supporting them in it and keeping it kind, keeping it positive, and maintaining that connection. And we talked a lot about empathy and just the importance of resonating on the same level as the other person for a second before you try to move them to anything else, I think is important, and is a cool part of your approach here, but also one of the things that really struck me in your book is this idea of mistaken goals. And you have identified a number of these mistaken goals, and I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you came across those or developed this idea and then how it works?

Jane: Well, Andy, and I can tell you that those mistaken goals is something that Adler discovered and Rudolf Dreikurs, and people used to ask Dreikurs, why do you keep putting children in these boxes? And he said, “I don’t keep putting them there, I keep finding them there.” So, let’s just talk about what they are. It’s quite simple, the mistaken goal chart that we have is just so helpful for parents and teachers to remember that there is a belief behind every behavior.

Jane: So, I’m going to come at this a little, do a little background before we get exactly to the mistaken goals, but again, it goes back to the primary goals of belonging and significance. And since that’s the primary goal, when children don’t believe they have belonging and significance, and it doesn’t mean they don’t have it, it means they don’t believe they have it, and sometimes they don’t, but when they don’t believe they have belonging and significance, they choose one of four mistaken ways to try and get that belonging and significance. For example… Well, let’s just mention, their attention and due power, revenge and giving up, assumed inadequacy. So, some children might believe, I belong only if I get you to pay constant attention to me, so they get into undue attention. Another child believes, I belong only if I’m the boss or at least if I don’t let you boss me. I think that’s [crosstalk 00:12:52], independence, I know [crosstalk 00:12:55].

Jane: And some, they feel really hurt that they don’t belong. And so, they go to revenge. I could at least get even. And some people give up. They think, I can’t belong. Leave me alone. I don’t even want to try. And I just want to show Andy, how the same behavior can be for any one of these four goals. Let’s take the child who doesn’t want to do their homework.

Andy: Okay.

Jane: They really bug you and say, oh, I can’t, just to get your attention. Another child won’t do it because they say, you’re not going to tell me what to do. Another child, and this is one that I’m finding so prevalent today. I’m not going to do my homework because I believe my homework is more important to you than I am, and that hurts. So, I’m going to get even, even if it hurts me in the long term, I will not do it because that’s a way to hurt you.

Jane: And then there’s the child who would say, I really don’t believe I can, I just want to give up. And this is because maybe the parent has had too high expectations and they’re perfectionists and they just have given up; they don’t even try. So, some children will say, I can’t, but you know they can, they just want to get your attention, keep you involved. And the other child, says I can’t, and they believe it. And so, you do different things depending on what they… So, Andy. I want to give you another visual we love to use. We like to use the iceberg.

Andy: Okay, yeah.

Jane: And the iceberg, at the tip of the iceberg is what we see. That’s the behavior that we see. And that’s what most people do. Punishment reward deals just with the behavior. In Adlerian psychology, we know that there’s something that’s deeper. We know that underneath that is the belief behind the behavior. And then at the very bottom, the primary belief is the need for belonging and significance. So, the mistaken goals address the belief, and I want to throw in another thing. This is why Adler and Dreikurs believe that encouragement is the primary way to help children feel belonging and significance, through encouragement. Give them courage. And so, we could call this encouragement model because everything we do in a way is encouraging to help children feel that I belong and that I can be responsible and significant.

Andy: Yeah. Right. So, can you talk a little bit more about four of them, I believe?

Jane: Undue attention.

Andy: Undue attention.

Jane: And you know what? I forgot to mention that we should say that everybody wants attention and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people get attention by serving and doing good things. It’s when it becomes undue, because they need to prove their worth instead of knowing they are all worthwhile. The other one is misguided power. And the other thing, there’s nothing wrong with power, well, there is, it’s how it’s used. Power can be a very good thing. We want to help our children use their power in useful ways, but it’s misguided power when it gets to the useless side and it’s not helping them or anyone else.

Jane: And then the third one is revenge. Where I hurt and so I’m going to hurt back. And the other one is assumed inadequacy or giving up. And when we have our mistaken goal chart, which people can find in the book is, it helps parents know how to, and teachers know how to identify based on how they feel, what happens when they usually intervene, and the very last column is a whole bunch of ideas of how to be encouraging. And so, this is always our goal, is to use tools or methods that are encouraging to children to help feel that sense of belonging and significance.

Andy: Yeah, it’s a great chart and I really did like how you started with what you feel. If something that your kid is doing is making you feel this way, then this is probably what’s going on, and it makes it so easy, I think, to get into it because sometimes it’s hard to see things in other people or to know what’s really driving their behavior, but it’s easy to know what we feel.

Jane: One of the things I like about this chart too, is how adults, they contribute. When a child’s goal is undue attention, maybe it’s because you don’t have faith, your belief may be, I don’t have faith in you to deal with disappointment, or I feel guilty if you aren’t happy. And how parents may contribute to misguided power is when they believe I’m in control and you must do what I say, or I believe that telling you what to do and lecturing or punishing when you don’t, is the best way to motivate you do better.

Jane: Or for revenge, the adult may give advice without listening to you because I think I’m helping, or I worry about what the neighbors will think more than what you need. And then of course the one for assumed inadequacy. I expect you to live up to my high expectations. I thought it was my job to do things for you. So, we really need to look at what we’re doing and what that creates long-term in children, and it’s not about guilt. It’s about awareness so that we can really be aware of what it is we want long-term for our children. And then what are the things that we need to do to encourage them to develop what we hoped for them.

Andy: I like that a lot.

About Jane Nelsen

The author of the bestselling Positive Discipline books, Jane Nelsen is one of the leading experts on positive parenting strategies alive today. Her doctorate degree in Educational Psychology from the University of San Francisco in 1979 is secondary to the education and experience she achieved from her successes and failures as a mother of seven children.

She now shares this wealth of knowledge and experience as a popular keynote speaker and workshop leader throughout the country. Jane is very well received by school districts, teacher organizations, conferences, and parent education networks throughout the world.

Letters come in daily from parents and teachers worldwide who have had much success with the principles outlined in her books, workshops, and lectures.

She has appeared on Oprah, Sally Jessy Raphael, and Twin Cities Live, and was the featured parent expert on the National Parent Quiz with Ben Vereen.

Want More Jane Nelsen?

You can find Jane on FacebookTwitter, or on her website.