John Fuller: So, Mom and Dad, what if your effort and energy in parenting is all aimed at the wrong thing?
Michael Anderson: Most of the parents I work with are relentlessly lovers of their kids.
(Jim Daly: Yes.) And what that leads to is they misperceive that their job is to relentlessly parent their kids. (John: Oh, that’s good.) And when … what our job really is, is to relentlessly love our kids enough to parent them as little as possible and that’s not intuitive.
Jim: I thought you were gonna say that’s scary. (Laughter)
Michael: It is scary, too!
End of Excerpt
John: This is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. And that was part of a conversation we had last year with Michael Anderson. He and his co-author, Dr. Timothy Johanson, want to challenge some of your preconceptions and your expectations as a mom or a dad. And they also want to help you aim at the right things as a parent.
Jim: You know, parenting can be a daunting task, can’t it? It doesn’t come with a manual per say. You’ve got to do it. And so often as parents we feel like, somehow, we’re going to know the right thing to do. And I would say even for Jean and I, that’s not true. You can do so many things wrong. And if you just have a little bit better insight and information about how to approach those young kids, those teenagers with a little different perspective – I hope a biblical perspective – things can go much better. And we’re going to pour into you today. If you’re struggling as a parent, this program is for you. And we’re going to talk about the last time these two were with us and kind of refresh you. But it is wonderful to have our guests back.
John: And again, they are Michael Anderson. He’s a licensed psychologist. And Dr. Timothy Johanson is a professor and pediatrician. And they’ve spent decades studying kids, how they grow up. And they specialize in helping parents with difficult children.
Jim: Gentlemen, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Michael: Thank you, it’s great to be here.
Dr. Timothy Johanson: Thank you.
Jim: You know, you really have hit some amazing things in this amazing book GIST, how did you come up with that title – GIST?
Timothy: Well, that’s a long story. (Laughter) We probably went through over 200 titles.
Jim: The GIST of it, what is it?
Timothy: Well, it ended up being kind of – the trend now is a one word kind of title, whether it’s a movie or a book. And we wanted to have a title that talked about the essence of something. And so GIST came to us from a person who we asked to help with kind of branding and titling this book. And we kind of didn’t like it initially. (Laughter). And as we thought about it, my wife added the subtitle The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids, and it just seemed to fit.
Jim: You know, in that context, last time, just to recap for the listeners that didn’t hear that program – and again, you can download it for free. Come to our website.
It was so eye-opening because there were so many counter-intuitive things there. For example, you encourage parents not to try so hard. And in fact, you talked about – (laughter) stop talking so much, mom and dad. That’s really counter-intuitive to me because you want to correct, you want to give your, you know, godly advice (laughter) to your teenager. And…
Timothy: And a lot of parents really think that if they’re not talking, they’re not parenting.
Timothy: And we really feel that that’s not true, that you should parent as best you can, but with as few words as possible.
Michael: Well, I want to tell you a story that happened that was really powerful to me. I spoke at – Tim and I spoke at a high school. And a woman was waiting in the wings after we spoke. And she wanted to talk. And I could see her waiting and waiting and waiting.
Jim: She was desperate!
Michael: Well, she actually was something else. She came up. And I was waiting for kind of a desperate thing. But she said I came here to tell you a story. I heard you speak three months ago. And I read your book. And I have an 8-year-old daughter. And my husband and I sat down with her. And we said to her, we realized after hearing and reading this book, after hearing Mike and Tim and reading this book that we’ve been parenting you without really seeing your baseline on what you can do. This is an 8-year-old.
And we told her – this is a mom and a dad – starting Monday morning, we’re going to let you get up on your own, do your homework on your own, watch TV on your own. And we’ll watch that for two weeks. And then we’ll step in as needed. So it’s kind of like the rudder of a ship. You know, when the ship’s going the right direction, the rudder does nothing.
Michael: And that’s a difference about our approach versus a parent that’s parenting kids that are going the right direction just as much as a kid that’s not. So she tells me the rest of the story. And she says, that was three months ago, not a week or two or a month. And she said since that time, our daughter has gone to bed on her own, done her homework on her own, cleared her dishes on her own. And we have done nothing for three months.
Jim: Now unpack that a bit…
Michael: And this is an 8-year-old.
Jim: Yeah, describe what’s happening in the brain of that 8-year-old. Why is that working when you’re trying to parent, maybe over-parent – that’s not working? What happened?
Michael: Because she has a chance to show what she’s made of.
Jim: And she wants that challenge.
Michael: And she wants that challenge.
Jim: And they were in essence taking that opportunity away.
Michael: The mom started to cry. And she said last night, we were watching The Voice as a family. And my daughter got up and said, Dad, can you DVR the rest of the show because I have homework to do. And she said it break – and she – I said, what are your tears about? And she said it breaks my heart to think all we would have said and all we would have controlled without ever seeing how capable she was.
Timothy: It’s kind of the difference between – you know, you hear about teachable moments all the time. And we think that’s kind of a misnomer.
To us we were talking about this this morning. It’s a rudder moment like you just described, or it’s a stealing moment, where the parents are actually stealing the opportunity for the child to show what they’re made of. And we really encourage parents not to intervene and steal that and pull them along. The analogy of the ship I think is good. Are you going to be a rudder parent? Or are you going to tow this ship? Are you going to drag your child through the water to get them to move forward? Or are you going to be behind them steering them in the right direction? And there’s a big difference.
Jim: And I hear what you’re saying. And I get it. Let me speak on behalf of those parents with the 8-year-old that they have tried something similar. Maybe they haven’t read your book, GIST yet. But they get the idea. And that 8-year-old or 10-year-old or maybe 15-year-old isn’t responding quite like that. You give them that latitude and they’re not doing the homework.
Michael: That was a possibility or even a likelihood that that would happen with this person.
Michael: But there’s no – there’s nothing to lose. She told her daughter we’re going to give you two weeks and if you’re – if you need help before two weeks, we’ll even step in then. But they were trying to get a baseline…
Michael: …On what their daughter can do without so much guidance, teaching, talking, all these things.
Jim: Yeah, I really appreciate that. And one of the difficulties I think we face in the Christian community – I’d love for you to speak to this – is, you know, when we commit our lives to Christ or maybe we grew up in a Christian home and we followed the rules and it worked well for us, you’re applying that kind of rules-oriented environment because we have a high regard for that. We want to be honoring to the Lord. We want to do the right things behaviorally to show our allegiance to him. Put that in a parenting context, especially in the Christian home where rules are important. And when you step back, there’s so much risk in that. There’s so much danger in that. Speak to that Christian parent about the role of rules and the importance of preparation for their launch.
Michael: Well, I think rules are important. But I just read a book – I’m a big sports fan. I read a book by a great football coach. And he said I’m looking for players that are obedient, but not too obedient because if they’re too obedient, they don’t have the passion in themselves to bring to the field. And I thought that’s a good metaphor for parenting is some of the stuff that – about guidance, are we really putting that scriptural principle on the kid in a wrong way? Tim and I were talking, and I said, you know, imagine I have a daughter. He has a couple of daughters. I imagine that they came downstairs in their mid-teens or junior high with a top on that wasn’t appropriate. OK, we would suggest that we say take the top back up and keep the receipt because that’s going back. Now I can’t think of anything more to say – to teach than that.
Michael: I don’t have to go and talk about why the top isn’t appropriate because they know me. And so I think all this teaching is a little bit of a misnomer because we teach just as much by an example and by the rudder and by consequences. And we’ve misperceived it as a talking thing.
John: Our guests on Focus on the Family today are Michael Anderson and Dr. Timothy Johanson. And your host is Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller. And you can find the book by our guest GIST: The Essence of Raising Life-ready Kids at our online store. We’ll link, uh, to it at focusonthefamily.com.
Jim: Um, I’d like to tackle the other parts of the book that we really weren’t able to get into and that was on communication between parents and their children. Describe the idea of threats that you mentioned in the book. That hits home for me. I probably relied too much on threats.
Michael: If you don’t, then I will…!
Jim: Exactly. No. It’s more – and Jeanne would always say to me, you know, she put her hand on my arm and say, you know, that’s a big threat for a very pretty small infraction. It would be something like, if you don’t pick your socks up again for that 15th time, you’re never eating again ever! (Laughter) That’s not quite it. But you get the idea. Why are the threats really not the tool in the toolbox to use?
Timothy: Well, I think threats, reminders and warnings are things that Mike and I would say are very ineffective. And threats is a very common thing that parents use.
Jim: Now, first of all why do we go there? Why is it our instinct to go there?
Timothy: I think it’s because we’re frustrated with our child’s behavior, and we want it to get fixed really, really quick. And that’s not the right mindset in our opinion. I think threats are things that are vague. They tend not to have a lot of meat behind them. You have to do this or else. Well, what does or else mean?
You know, for the kid, they’re like, does that mean I’m grounded? Does that mean I’m whatever? So I think the threats are pretty ineffective. Warnings and reminders equally are ineffective.
Jim: Give us an example of the warning and reminder.
Timothy: Reminders – we believe that parents who remind a lot create kids who forget a lot.
Jim: So it creates that dependency. The very thing that frustrates you, you’re actually reinforcing.
Timothy: You’re actually reinforcing, and you’re feeding into it. And threats reminders and warnings are really telling your kid that they’re failed in the past, they’re failing now or they’re going to fail in the future. And that’s what the kids feel inside for the situation where there’s lots of threats and reminders.
Jim: What happens long term for that 17-year old now that’s been lived in that kind of parenting environment? Describe that child for me.
Michael: Well, we think about a parenting intervention as whether it elevates the total behavior of the child. One of the reasons I don’t like threats or warnings is that it might get a kid to go out in the front yard and bring his bike in, but that just solved the problem once. And if he leaves his bike out the next time, you didn’t really gain anything. So by not saying anything, without using those three things, but using a cost – kids – you can count on kids to be self-serving…
John: Yes! (Laughs)
Michael: That’s our edge.
John: Count on ourselves or…
Jim: I was going to say do you think God sees us that way? (Laughter)
Michael: But, you know, any time you can count on somebody whose behavior, you can use it to your advantage. And we can count on our kids to be self-serving. So if it costs them to leave their bike on the yard, they’re going to remember on their own. And they’re not going to leave it out the next night which will take another reminder or another threat.
John: So I’m supposed to fine my child like a buck if they leave their bike outside? Is that what you’re saying?
Michael: It might take that. But there’s other ways to be creative about it. It just has to cost them something.
Jim: Give us some examples of that because I appreciate John’s question there because I think, again, if you’re living in the reminder parenting style or the threat parenting style…
Timothy: Well take the example of the bike. A 10-year old doesn’t put his bike away. It’s sitting in the yard. Put the bike up on hooks on the top of the garage. And he can’t reach it for a week and don’t say a thing. Just do it when he’s not around. And he’ll come home the next day, want to use his bike that’s hanging up there. He can’t get to it. And if he wants to ask about it, he will. And you can say you didn’t bring your bike in last night. You’ll have it next Monday.
Jim: And that’s it.
Timothy: And that’s it.
John: That’s unfair, Dad.
Timothy: Don’t argue with that.
Jim: Yeah. You just back away from that.
Timothy: You just back away from that. There’s no reason to engage with a kid who’s saying that’s not fair.
Michael: And with good kids, it just takes two hours. They could lose their bike for two hours. You don’t have to start with a week, because a lot of kids really want to be good. They’re not – it’s not their desire to be bad kids.
Jim: And they want their bike.
John: But the follow-up might be, the next week – I’m just saying, in my home…
Jim: Just a matter of what-if. (Laughter)
John: No, a friend of mine…
Jim: A friend of mine…
John: …Might have a child who would dog just the parent until they scream in frustration about the – if I can’t have the bike, then I can’t do this. And I can’t do that, and then duh-duh-duh-duh-duh. So there’s a tendency to want to shut off that whining, that badgering. What do I do?
Timothy: I call that…
Michael: Well, John, I actually had a daughter like that.
Timothy: So did I. I was going to talk about that. (LAUGHTER)
Michael: All right. So…
John: And you have your daughter’s permission to talk about this.
Jim: (Laughter) Yeah.
John: She still hasn’t gotten her bike, but that’s another story.
Jim: (Laughter) Yeah, it’s hanging up in the garage. She’s 30 now.
Michael: What I – what worked – would work beautiful with her was to say, this is the cost of what you did, but that’s going to be lengthened if you badger me. We used the word badger.
Jim: Oh, interesting.
Michael: So it’s not going – it’s not going to work to your advantage to stay – you know, so you only – let’s say the bike. I don’t remember that was an issue. But you lose your bike for three hours if you stop talking now. If you keep talking, it’s going to be four hours. And if you keep coming down and arguing and all that, then it’s going to be a day or two days…
Michael: …Or three days. So you – you just use it like that.
Timothy: And so disengagement’s really important. And it needs to start at an early age. I tell parents in my clinic, uh, with a 3-year-old, um, who’s misbehaving in a certain way, they’re trying to reguide them and talk to them and distract them and get them into a different mode of thought. And I say, that’s a lot of work for you to do. Just disengage, and let them calm themselves. And when they’re back to a normal state of mind, re-engage.
Jim: And by doing that, you’re giving them coping skills.
Jim: I mean, that’s the – the beauty of it. You’re…
Timothy: Yes. They’re learning how to settle themselves down.
Jim: Yeah. With disappointment, whatever it might be.
Jim: One of the areas in GIST that you touched on, which I think is so critical – because we sometimes laugh at ourselves, the way we distort reality for our kids. You know, everybody gets a trophy. Everybody did wonderfully, even though that kid struck out 14 times (laughter) or what it might – or whatever it might be. Tell me about why it’s important to teach your kids knowing the truth as best as they can know it. It sounds like it’s right out of the scripture…
Timothy: It is.
Jim: I mean, that’s what Jesus said to Pilate. I came to testify to the truth. And the truth is important to God. And the better we know truth and know ourselves that way, I think the healthier we are. Do you agree, Mike?
Michael: Absolutely. And the Scripture says not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. And that means that we have to have an honest view of ourselves. And our kids get that from us, and it creates a lot of problems with kids.
You know, I’ve often said that kids are running out of things that are like a track meet or a swim meet. And if your kid runs track and they came in eighth, you can’t tell them they won. But there aren’t very many things in life like that. So kids need honest feedback. And they get a tremendous sense of stability. They’re – it’s almost a ballast in their life when they know that their parent will tell them the truth. And they’ll tell them the truth about how good a singer they are, how talented they are, how tall they are, how athletic they are. And there’s a way to do that lovingly, and it gives kids a different kind of self-esteem.
Timothy: That’s really powerful.
Jim: Let’s say – you know, if I could, let’s just roleplay that a bit…
Jim: …For the parents out there. So I’m the 8-year-old. I did strike out four times today at the Little League game. I’m not hitting the ball well. I’m batting ninth.
Jim: And you’re Dad.
Jim: And we’re walking away from that Little League game, and I say to you, Dad. Man, I just don’t feel like I can hit that ball. Kids laugh at me because I can’t hit it.
Michael: Yeah. And I would say, this was not a good game. Absolutely. Now, it’s still – we still don’t know for sure if you could learn to play better with practice, or maybe you’re not cut out for baseball. That’ll take some time.
Jim: So that’s a real honest assessment of where that child is at, what they may or may not be able to do.
Michael: Absolutely. And even if your child’s face gets sad when they hear that, you’re – still a gift. It’s a gift because it gives them the confidence to know that – that I can assess my kid. We need to protect kids’ radar. That’s a big part of self-esteem.
Jim: What do you mean by that, protect their radar?
Michael: Well, radar is our ability to see a room, to see a situation, to, um, know ourselves. And the more we lie to our kids, the more we distort their radar.
Michael: And so the kid says, well, I have these friends at school and these kids on the team. And the fact that I’m riding the bench that tells me this. And then my parents are telling me this, and my radar is messed up now. I can’t pick up what’s really happening here.
Jim: Oh, that’s interesting. What are those signs, Tim, where we’re missing it? I mean, we talked about the right way to handle something like that to help the child’s radar improve and to better understand who they are and what their gifts and their talents may or may not be. What are the mistakes we make as parents with that kid? Let us see that. When you’re walking away from that little league game what shouldn’t a dad or a mom say…
Timothy: I don’t think they should say, you just don’t play baseball. You’re a terrible batter. And they shouldn’t tell them that you’re the best player on the team. And that’s the problem with affirmation.
Jim: You’re not saying, tell them, you’re a terrible batter.
Jim: You’re saying guard them that way.
Jim: But be real with them and say, well that’s something you’ve got to work on and…
Timothy: And Mike and I talk about how when you tell the truth your kids, it needs to be loving and encouraging. But most importantly, it needs to be accurate. It needs to reflect reality for them. And some parents don’t like to go there. They want to build up this false self in their child. And that’s very damaging in time.
Jim: Our culture is full of that right now, isn’t it?
Timothy: Especially in social media.
Jim: That false self. Yeah.
Timothy: Facebook is social media. And Facebook is false self.
Jim: Because your best foot forward all the time.
Timothy: whether you’re a teenager or whether you’re 65. (Laughter)
Jim: So we may need a little bit of that truth serum.
Michael: And parents generally don’t realize they’re adding stress to their kids’ lives by doing that.
Jim: How? Why do we need to open our eyes to that? How does that formula work?
Michael: Because I don’t know – I know a lot of things – my career has been talking to kids in stress. I don’t know anything that stresses them more than a kid that has no exceptional traits being told that they’re exceptional.
Michael: Because they don’t have the ability to live up to the expectation. And that’s really stressful. And we have lost – I’m going to generalize here – as a culture, we’ve kind of lost the magnificence, and the beauty and the tremendous wonderfulness of being normal. And we put kids – kids today that come in my office feel it’s an insult to be called normal. And we as adults, we’ve done that!
Jim: And that’s something we want to delve into when we come back next time. And we’re going to get there. And I’m excited about that because, again, this is so important for parents to get a hold of. But it’s so counter-intuitive. That’s why I love your book GIST.
Ah.. before we leave today though, the point I wanted to punch – and you talk about it in the book is this idea of loving your kids. Most parents know how to love their kids. And why is that so important that your child feels loved by you as a parent?
Timothy: Well, I think kids need to be loved in a way that they know you are a straight shooter, that you’re going to tell them the truth. It will give them a feeling of safety and security beyond anything else.
Michael: And kids need – one of the ways we express love to our kids is spending time with them one-on-one and that’s a really important thing – is to enter their life in their interests. If a kid loves the Civil War history, take a trip with your kid to Gettysburg or something.
Jim: Well, what are those important ingredients in expressing love to your child and spending time with them is certainly one, a very important one.
Michael: But spending time one-on-one with them…
Jim: So the family time isn’t always – you need that, but you need one-on-one time as well.
Michael: Yeah. Love is conveyed. When you spend time with a kid one on one, you often see a different side of that child. And you bond with them, and it creates a salient memory. And when they’re older, when they’re an adult, they’ll talk about that trip that Dad and I took or – they won’t really talk that much about a family trip.
Jim: And that’s an area where if you have two or three kids sometimes for Jean and I – we’ve not done that well. Because we do everything together, whether it’s camping or whatever it might be. And that’s probably an area for me, personally, that I have to be more mindful of – spend separate time with Trent and Troy.
Timothy: And family time is important. But it’s overrated.
Jim: Why do you say that?
Timothy: Just to piggyback on what Mike said, kids will remember the individual time with grandpa or dad or mom.
Jim: That’s what they’ll talk about.
Timothy: That’s what they’re going to talk about when they’re 30. They’re going to say, oh, I just loved it when Nonny and I used to cook or bake cookies. Or when dad and I would go fishing.
Jim: You also mentioned the love trap. And I don’t want to get away today without mentioning that. What did you express in the book about love trap and avoid the love trap?
Michael: Well, we want so much to love our kids and for them to know that they’re loved that they have a power – a magic wand and that is to say, I know you don’t love me because you took away the car or you did something. So if you love me you wouldn’t…
John: You’ve you’ve made me unhappy – so you wouldn’t search my room.
Michael: Right. And you know part of that is if you loved me, you wouldn’t create this much pain in me which is kind of a blame thing.
But the love trap is is that when parents buy into that. And your job is to raise your kids and get them ready for adulthood and your job is to love your kid. But that has to be a higher priority than your relationship because your child can ruin the relationship without you. But they can’t ruin your love.
John: So the parent is feeling that they’re not loving well?
John: OK, that’s what you’re talking about.
Michael: The child’s convinced the parent that they’re not loving well. And that’s the Achilles’ heel of a lot of conscientious parents.
Timothy: And it’s because a child believes many times that their parent’s job is to make them happy.
John: Yeah, it’s not.
Michael: And the out – the easiest out of that is let’s talk about that later.
Jim: I’ve got to ask you one last question. But before we do, man, this had been so good, Tim and Michael. What a wonderful conversation.
You’re kind of turning parenting world upside down. But I think you are tapping into something that God used in dealing with his people. Somebody like, King David, for example. He was not living up to the law, to the Godly standards, but the Lord dealt with him in a such a wonderful way. Um, Davide made his mistakes, but he would come back, he would be contrite, and ready to serve again. And I think God’s heart was for David because of that contriteness. He knew that he was guilty. And he admitted it. And that’s a great lesson for all of us as parents. That’s the goal to put that kind of tenderness in your child’s heart. So they know when they’re falling short. The lesson I take away from it is God is always faithful even we’re not. He’s always there with us.
Jim: Um, let me encourage you to support the ministry of Focus on the Family. Let’s do this together. We need to be partners. And for a gift of any amount, either monthly, or one time. We will say thank you for that partnership by sending you a copy of GIST: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids.
John: It is a wonderful resource and we’d love to hear from you. And you can make that pledge or one-time gift at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or when you call 800 – the letter “A” and the word – FAMILY. 800-232-6459.
Jim: Tim and Michael, let me ask you this. For the parent that has that 16, 17, 18-year-old and they have not heard this before. And they have blown it. They have had years of struggle and battle with that now teenager. And the relationship is frayed. You’re seeing this all the time in your practices.
Jim: What is something that we can do differently tonight if we have blown it in this way? Where do we start expressing it differently to our teenager in a way that they can catch it? What can we say? What can we do?
Timothy: I think it starts with us asking them for forgiveness for how we have blown it. I think when we do that as parents and are very honest about that, the kids appreciate that.
Jim: They’ll respond.
Timothy: They’ll respond to that. And I think, what you describe usually is a situation where there hasn’t been a lot of that.
Timothy: And maybe there’s been some that’s been not completely honest.
Timothy: And they really need to say, I really have kind of blown my job here in raising you up. And you’re falling behind in certain ways. And now, we have two years left. And I want to start there.
Jim: Those are great thoughts. Again, thank you so much for being with us. We’ll come back next time and pick up the conversation, hopefully, I know, put more thoughts and ideas and parenting approaches into the hands of the parents and grandparents listening. Thanks for being with us.
Michael: Thank you.
Timothy: Thank you.
John: And we’re looking forward to part 2 of the conversation next time, and I hope you can be with us then.
At our website, we’ve also got a free parenting assessment which takes a few minutes to fill out. It’s a survey that will provide you with an honest look at your family strengths and maybe some areas where you need some improvements! You can check that out at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
And coming up next time on Focus on the Family — how to avoid motivating your child the WRONG way . . .!
Michael Anderson: But we can’t do our best for life. So the only two options left for us are to lie to ourselves that we did our best when we didn’t, or to feel like a failure because we didn’t do our best. So it’s an unhelpful thing to say to our kids.
End of Teaser