John Fuller: I want you to imagine this all too familiar, but very frustrating situation. For the third time this week your child has misbehaved and you’ve tried everything — warnings, lectures, loss of privileges, everything! Nothing is working, though. And for whatever reason, your child is unwilling, maybe incapable of doing the right thing. So you feel like a complete failure as a parent. What do you do now?
Maybe you’ve “been there, done that” — if so, you are going to find some encouragement and practical help and hope for your parenting journey. This is Focus on the Family with your host Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I think you’ve got everybody’s attention now! Because that stress is so common. Every day it’s homework or chores, or some struggle to get your kids to do better — behaviorally or whatever it might be. And about 25 to 30-percent of our effort here at Focus is helping parents do the best job you can do for your kids. And I’m excited as a parent do whatever I can to help in that way.
It doesn’t matter whether your child is 2-years-old or 22-years-old — you’re going to face challenges. It’s inevitable. So, first of all, except that but here at Focus on the Family we want to help. We’ve got lots of resources and tools for your parenting journey.
John: And please don’t hesitate to contact us. Our website is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or call number is 800 – the letter “A” and the word – FAMILY.
Jim: Now I want to be really clear, one of our goals today is to help parents relax! And I know moms and dads are thinking — “What are you talking about, Jim? Relax? I can’t relax! This is too important!” And I get it, we’re going to show you how to back up a little bit and maybe try a different approach — maybe a less conflicted approach in dealing with your children.
Our guests today are Michael Anderson and Dr. Timothy Johanson. Michael is a licensed psychologist and Tim is a pediatrician. So very well qualified people. Both of these men have spent decades studying the way kids grow and learn. And they’ve got some very interesting ideas, out-of-the-box thinking, when it comes to how we should parent our children.
John: And here’s how we began the conversation with our guests on today’s Focus on the Family.
Jim: Now you two have written this comprehensive book for parents that will serve as the basis for our discussion today. The title’s GIST, which I love that, the “gist” of it. Is that what you’re trying to drive toward, the gist of parenting?
Timothy Johanson: Yeah, I think when we wrote the book, it came out of a couple of different places, first for me, the issue of seeing so much stress in families.
Jim: (Laughing) It is a bit of that, isn’t it?
Timothy: There’s a lot of that and over the last 25 years in practice, that seems to have grown each year and I think there’s a lot of reasons for that. And as we wrote the book, we spent an awful lot of time trying to think of a good title that would really encapsulate what’s in the book and it’s … it took a long time, didn’t it Mike?
Michael Anderson: Yeah, even though the book’s 320 pages, it is just the basics. It’s about how you look at parenting and that’s what’s different about this book than other books, because it’s not about how to get your kid to behave a certain way. It’s about how to think about parenting, so the right thing comes natural[ly].
Jim: Let’s talk about that. Why are we drawn as parents to try to get our kids to behave a certain way? And we think that’s the goal. I mean, when you see a well-behaved child, you’re thinking, wow, those guys are doin’ a great job parenting. Is that accurate?
Michael: It might be accurate. It might not be because everything has to progress from something. So, in other words discipline is important, but it’s only important if it leads to self-discipline. Just being obedient isn’t … there’s a great story I want to tell about that. A guy came in my office and he said, I said, “Why are you here?” And he said, “My daughter, you wouldn’t believe what she’s become. The last 90 days she’s changed completely. And she’ll do anything her friends say. She’s smoking. She’s stealing. She’s shoplifting.” And I said, “Well, what was she like 90 days ago?” And he said, “Well, she was an A-student and she was at … in the church youth group and she would do anything we told her to do.” And the wording caught my ear and I said, “Well, she hasn’t changed that much. She just changed who she was listening to.”
Jim: Oh, that’s interesting.
Michael: So, she wasn’t ever thinking for herself. And so, when she stopped being obedient and listening to mom and dad and started to listen to her friends, it looked like a radical change, but she hadn’t developed an identity of her own yet.
Jim: Hm … well, talk about that frustration that is there in parenting today. John’s setup was great and any of us with children typically go through bouts of frustration because we don’t feel like our children are getting it, especially in the Christian community. I think we have a high standard. Not to say that those that aren’t in the faith community don’t, but we tend to want to see perfection in our kids, you know, that they never lie, that they never do something that’s outside of the character of God. That’s—
Michael: Well, there’s—
Jim: –a pretty steep order.
Michael: –there’s some fundamental misperceptions that make things stressful. For one thing is, most of the parents I work with are relentlessly lovers of their kids.
Michael: And what that leads to is they misperceive that their job is to relentlessly parent their kids.
John: Oh, that’s good.
Michael: And when … what our job really is, is to relentless 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.
Jim: Tim, that is kinda scary because, you know, again, I think from a human standpoint, we tend to want to control the environment as parents. We want to ensure that they’re safe, that they’re not stepping over the line, whatever that line might be. Why should we relax? Convince me.
Timothy: Well (Chuckling), well, Jim, I think that’s a great question. I think so many parents, whether they’re in the Christian community or not, really feel like they have to be a perfect parent. And they look at their children and their children’s behaviors and their children’s accomplishments as proof that they’re good parents or great parents or perfect parents.
And one of the points of our book is, we gotta back off on that and you need to understand as a parent, you’re gonna make a mess of things sometimes. I know certainly I have as a father. I have made good decisions and bad decisions and thankfully, my heavenly Father stepped in the places where I’ve been so deficient. But parents need to take that whole mind-set of, I’ve gotta do this perfectly and just throw that away, because that’s not how parenting works and it’s not how it’s intended to work.
Jim: Well, what are some of those outcomes in the old model, if we want to call it that, where we’re really setting down expectations and we’re laying out the boundaries? Boundaries aren’t bad in themselves, are they?
Michael: Well, what parents don’t realize is that kids often don’t do what they’re told, but they almost always do what they’re taught. And what they’re told and what they’re taught are two different things.
Jim: Give us an example of that, a practical [example].
Michael: Okay, a couple months ago there was a 3-year-old standing by his mom in front of a grocery store and I watched this happen. And the mom had groceries in her hand and she said, “Don’t cross the street. Don’t cross the street. Jimmy, don’t cross the street.” And the little boy looked both ways and ran across the street and mom said, “Well, if you’re gonna go across the street, look both ways.” So, what she was saying was, “Don’t cross the street.” What she taught him was, it’s okay to cross the street, because I don’t really mean what I say.
Michael: And it’s true for us as adults, too. I always love comparing childhood to adulthood. So, you guys fly a lot. TSA at the airport has taught you that they mean what they say. United has taught you they don’t mean what they say—
Jim: How’s that? (Laughter)
Michael: –because they have a little basket by the check in and they say your luggage has to fit in here and you can’t take a steamer trunk (Laughter) and put it in the overhead.
Jim: But that guy in front of you certainly brought it on.
Michael: Yeah and so, when United says, “Don’t forget; your luggage can’t be bigger than this, everybody that flies United or Delta knows they don’t really mean that. So, we don’t take them serious[ly]. we don’t take them serious[ly]. But TSA is … when they say, “Take off your belt,” we take off our belt. And that’s the same thing with parenting, is [that] our inconsistencies come back to haunt us far more than we think.
Jim: Well, let me tease that out a bit, because it’s interesting. TSA has authority. They have power to arrest you, to ticket you, to influence your behavior.
Michael: So, does United.
Jim: United could just kick you off the flight, right?
Michael: Sure, they have the … but … but if … if they held tight, if they said, your bag fits in this basket or you don’t get on—
Michael: –that whole problem would be gone in no time.
John: Now see, that sounds like if you’re drawing that analogy for parenting, it sounds like, so what I need to be is TSA as a parent.
Michael: Okay, let me flash that out a little bit. It … what it means is, we need to be careful what we say as parents because we need to back up what we say. And when we’re flippant about what we say, what that leads to is us not following through.
Jim: And that’s so true and that’s the consistency issue being able to lay the boundary out. You don’t have to rant and rave and become emotional. In fact, one of the chapters in your book was “Just Shut Up.” I found that one kind of interesting, because I fight that. You know, you want to overexplain. You want to over verbalize as a parent and you’re saying, yeah, sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, you want to just not say anything.
Timothy: Yeah, I think many parents fall into this. It’s really … everybody can relate to that at some point in time. There aren’t a lot of parents who naturally know how to limit their verbiage to their kids. And the problem with parents lecturing all the time is, it just inflicts shame on your kids.
Timothy: And it creates resentment in their kids. So their kids are growing up in an environment where they’re always getting reminded or lectured for what they’re not doing right and they end up feeling pretty down about themselves and it really affects the relationship. Mike and I talk about the relationship is so important for parents, rather than the behavior, complying to a particular behavior.
Jim: Well, but some parents don’t see it, in my opinion, that clearly. I think they tend to see the behavioral component as … and I don’t think they intend it to be this way, but they see it as more important than the relationship. So, we get it backward.
Timothy: We get it backwards, absolutely.
Jim: How do we … if we can see that in ourselves, how do we begin to back up and disengage with that destructive behavior?
Michael: Before you go onto that I want … just wanted to say I like to think of it as when you talk too much, you spend relationship to buy behavior. And so, you have 40 units of relationship with your son and you talked to him for 20 minutes about cleaning the garage. And by the time you’re done, you have a clean garage, but you have 15 units of relationship left. And that doesn’t happen when you’re quiet.
Michael: And …
Jim: How do you get the garage clean?
Michael: Well, you can … there’s other leverages you have like.
Jim: Like give me an example.
John: This is an important one (Laughter), by the way. Long-time listeners know that the garage (Laughter) is kind of a sacred space for Jim.
Jim: Did you push my hot button or what? (Laughter) There it is. (Laughter) So, what … I mean, how would you go about that in an effective way—
Jim: –where you’re not losing your relational credits?
Michael: If you want to go to Jeremy’s for a sleepover Saturday, the garage has to be clean before you go and I’m not gonna talk about it anymore. I’m not gonna remind you.
Timothy: And that’s it.
Michael: And that’s it.
Jim: And then you’re done and you don’t do the reminding.
Jim: Let’s talk a minute about the shame because I think that’s again, a bit issue—
Michael: It’s huge.
Jim: –in our parenting styles today, that we tend to in that desire to have better behavior, we tend to utter words that we probably regret as parents, like “If you don’t do this, you’re lazy. You’re …” whatever.
Timothy: Yeah, what we say in the book about shame is, shame is really an over-correlation of what your child does with who they are. And parents really need to tease that out and make sure that they’re choosing words when they talk to their child that don’t judge them in a way that’s shameful. So, maybe your child doesn’t clean their room up very well. A shaming parent would say, “You’re a slob.”
Timothy: A non-shaming parent would say, “You need to clean your room.” But the child hears very different things than that.
Michael: And any … any 10 or 12 times of that isn’t gonna matter, but over the course of a lifetime, it really does matter.
My daughter used to say to me, “You don’t trust me.” And I would say to her, “I’m not talking about whether I trust you or don’t trust you. I’m saying I don’t think Friday happened the way you told me.”
Michael: And so, I don’t get … trusting her is a comment about her and we can train ourselves as parents to talk about the incident, the five assignments, the messy room, the version of what happened Friday night.
Jim: And when you’re doing that, again the shaming aspect of it … let me ask the question this way. Why do we as parents, feel that’s a tool that works? Why do we go there?
Timothy: Probably because we were shamed as children growing up in our families of origin. I would bet that that’s the … that’s what they know. That’s what they heard growing up and they think that they have to do the same thing, because they think it’s gonna work.
Michael: One thing is the misperception that my child would be better if he could grasp how bad he … what he just did was. There’s a story in the book about a policeman that pulls me over because I was going 50 in a 40. And when I see his lights in the rearview mirror, I think, “Man, I was speeding. That was terrible. I shoulda slowed down. I wish I could reverse this. I hope I just get a warning.”
And then as he comes up, I think I’m probably not gonna get a warning and then I hope he just gets [sic] a ticket and the policeman comes up in this fictional story and rolls down … I roll down the window and he says, “I want to talk to you about your behavior. I noticed you were speeding. You know, there’s kids in this neighborhood. I’ve noticed you don’t pay attention when you’re going anywhere. I noticed your dog out in the street. I noticed that your garage is getting to be a mess.”
And as he talks, I start blaming him because of my shame. And I’m thinking that he’s putting me down, which triggers defensiveness. And that’s what usually happens with parents that talk too much, is it starts expanding the issue and the kid then clicks into a defense mechanism and when they start defending our … themselves, we feel as parents, that they don’t feel bad enough about what they’re doing.
John: So, we keep talking.
Michael: Yeah. (Laughing)
John: Well, it’s a cycle.
Jim: Yeah and let’s expand on that because I think we’re touching right on an area that I know it happens in our household and probably yours, John and many, many others. You can’t motivate seemingly that child to get that homework assignment done and you’ve been battling this for maybe not just a few weeks or a few months, maybe now it’s year No. 2. It’s seventh grade; it’s eighth grade; it’s ninth grade. What can we do differently that will begin to prompt that child to begin to show the right behavior, to do the homework when it’s assigned?
Michael: Well, we have to be creative there. And part of being a good parent is having fun parenting and because it’s only when we’re having fun, I think, that we can be creative.
Jim: So, have fun.
Michael: Have fun parenting.
Jim: Even in the negative.
John: My child is about to fail school and you’re telling me I should have fun?
Michael: Yes, I’m telling you there’s a better way than talking to them about it. If talking was gonna work, it would’ve worked when they were in third grade. Now they’re in fifth grade. So, we’ve already extinguished that as a possibility.
Timothy: But I … I would also interject that this is a place where a lot of parents just don’t think right about it. They’ve been doing it the same way for five years. It hasn’t worked, but they keep doing that. And both Mike and I see in our offices this dynamic, where it’s like we want to ask and I have asked many parents, so this way of doing it doesn’t work, why would you continue doing it?
Michael: I was trying to … I was trying to make…
Timothy: The light bulb goes, oh, yeah!
Jim: And that’s fair, but then what is it I should do?
Timothy: Well, I think Mike alluded to [it]; you have to think creatively and differently. You can’t do the same thing and this again, is not a book about how to do a particular thing; it’s how to think differently about our parenting— so that you can take your creativeness into it.
Here’s an example. Let’s say your daughter’s responsible for vacuuming the basement once a week. Well, you’ll find out after a while that your 14-year-old daughter just turns on the vacuum cleaner. (Laughter) You and your wife–
Timothy: –you and your wife—
Timothy: –you and your wife are upstairs and you find out also that you go down and sneak into her bedroom and see that she’s putting her makeup on with the vacuum running in the family room. (Laughter) And you wonder with your Golden Retriever dog and I’m, you know, not talking personally about that–
Jim: Not at all, but you’ve got good detail on this.
Timothy: –yes, that [with] your Golden Retriever, there’s a lot of hair in the house. And it’s interesting, every time she vacuums, there’s still hair on the stairs and the basement. And you say to yourself—
John: You need a new vacuum cleaner.
Jim: Well, and—
Timothy: It must need a new—
Jim: –the dog hair’s—
Timothy: –vacuum cleaner.
Jim: –hard to get out, especially when you’re puttin’ your makeup on.
Timothy: Well, thinking creatively is like, okay, let’s do something differently here rather than just remind her that she is to vacuum this weekend? And let’s say your wife and you talk about this and you say, “Let’s go to Party America and let’s get a whole bag of glitter stars and spread them in every corner of the basement and on the stairs. And then that Saturday morning, remind your daughter, “By the way, it’s time to vacuum this weekend. Please do that.” “Oh, yeah, we’ll do that. I’ll … I’ll do that, Dad.” And then you watch your wife prance around the basement before your daughter wakes up, giddily laughing as she spreads the glitter all over the place.
Timothy: That solves a problem
Jim: Does it really?
Timothy: It really does.
Jim: Now at my house what they would come to is, “Hey, you put the glitter there; you … you should be the one to vacuum it, mom.”
John: Yeah, it’s not fair or there’s a fight or there’s a conflict because you … I mean, you’re setting up a conflict.
Timothy: The … and actually you are and that’s okay. It’s okay to say, “Well, there’s glitter on the floor and it needs to be vacuumed. Your job is to vacuum. It’s … it’s … it doesn’t matter if there’s glitter on the floor or dog hair or just a little dust.
John: Well, you’re just being mean, mom and dad.
Michael: Then I would say, “What’s it to you? You have to vacuum anyways. The glitter isn’t gonna create a problem for you.”
Jim: And then say less.
Timothy: And then say less and then zip it.
John: And if she pushes back?
Timothy: Don’t engage in it. I find too many …
Jim: Is there already … is there—
John: That’s the challenge.
Jim: –already consequences in that situation? I mean, since this is a hypothetical (Laughter); are there already consequences set up?
Timothy: Right, some families will set up—
Jim: That if you don’t do your chores—
Timothy: –you don’t get allowance–
Jim: –which includes …
Timothy: –or you don’t get to go on the sleepover. You don’t get to meet your friends at the mall.
Jim: That’s kinda the key.
Timothy: And have that, you know, written out, contracted. I’m a big fan of contracting; we did that with our kids.
Jim: (Chuckling) So, we’ve got the contract, too.
Timothy: Signed, dates, this is what you said you would do.
Jim: The problem is I feel like I’m raising now two lawyers. (Laughter) I mean, my boys are so good at cutting up the contract. “It says, a thing, dad; it doesn’t say, the thing.” I mean, they’re really gettin’ down into the wordsmithing of a contract.
Timothy: You have to really wordsmith it correctly the first time. (Laughter) You can’t leave any vagueness in there.
Michael: Or … or you can say, “I would like to use a contract, but I know you’ll go over it with a fine tooth comb, so I can’t—
Michael: –use contracts with you.
Jim: I actually do applaud ‘em for it. I say—
Jim: –it’s great that you know the contract so well.
John: Our guests today on Focus on the Family are Michael Anderson and Tim Johanson. And they’ve written a really fascinating parenting book called Gist: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids. And you can learn more and make a donation at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: We’ve talked about that shaming aspect and I just want to remind those that might be joining for the first time, that is really devastating in terms of the residual effect of shaming. Before we leave that topic, talk about the 20-something that’s been in that household of shame. What’s the outcome of it? So that if we have the younger child in the home, it helps us to bite our lip and not say those destructive things as a parent, that help … help me with a 13- and 15-year-old, looking down the road, why at 25 and 28 my kids, if I’ve shamed them, what will that relationship look like?
Timothy: I see it in kids that are much younger than that, but it certainly becomes even more of a problem for those young adults. When I’m in the clinic and I have a patient come in who is chronically shamed and it doesn’t take long to figure this out, you can just see their whole body change in the office, while the mother or the father keeps barraging them with shameful things. And I think that is a child that grows up with significant resentment.
Jim: Well, and you know, I admit that I think all of us as parents have those moments. I can remember with one of my boys (Laughing), you know, they weren’t doing well with some of their classes and I said, “You know, if you don’t get goin’, your career’s gonna be a ditch digger.” And I had said this maybe three or four times over the course of the year and he finally looked at me and said, “Dad, hey, as long as I love the Lord, what’s wrong with diggin’ ditches?” (Laughter) I mean, it was like, wow, okay. Touché. (Laughter) I had to stop saying that, you know?
Timothy: There’s the … there’s the young attorney. (Laughter)
Jim: But that’s a great point, isn’t it? We … we’re … you know, my goal, wrongfully, was how to motivate him to do better in school by pointing out his career choices are gonna be more limited if he’s not getting a grade point average that is reflective of his ability. But just talk about that for a second. How when you see the potential there—this kid’s bright–I know he could do much better.
Michael: I think his illustration captures some of the heart of the conscientious parent. I have asked kids … parents in my office working with families of adolescents for 15 years, if we drew up a contract here that if your child had a 3.4 grade point, you would agree to never mention school to them, would you sign the contract?
Michael: So what I’m trying to do there is get … tell the kid that if you want to be free from your parents’ nagging, just maintain this grade point average. And they are forbidden by this contract to ever mention homework if you maintain this grade-point average.
Jim: Oh, that’s good.
Michael: And it works beautiful[ly]. My …
Jim: The parents are forbidden.
Jim: I like that.
Michael: My daugh …
Jim: I … I wouldn’t mind implementing,
Michael: If my daughter were here today, she would say in her entire childhood, she never remembers me or my wife every mentioning homework in her whole childhood.
Jim: Well, she was a straight-A student, wasn’t she?
Michael: No, she wasn’t. (Laughter) But she … but she barely made it over that threshold.
Michael: But here’s the interesting thing. In all these years I’ve asked parents to do that, 90 percent of them won’t sign that contract because—
Jim: The parents won’t.
Michael: –they won’t, because—
Jim: They lose control.
Michael: –because they want the right to badger their kid about homework, whether the kid’s doing well or not.
Jim: Wow, that is heavy duty and unfortunately, we’re right at the end of the day, so we’ve gotta come back next time and explore this a bit more, look at some other examples that help us as parents think differently about how we’re helping and equipping our children to launch well and in a healthy way as adults. Can we stick with it?
John: Well, maybe you’ve been challenged by some of the parenting advice that our guests, Michael Anderson and Dr. Timothy Johanson, have shared. And it’s making you think a little bit differently about your family. I hope so and we hope you’ll make plans now to join us for part two of this important conversation.
Jim: And John, we’re talking to lots of families right now who are in the thick of these challenges — dealing with homework every night, and maybe there’s some conflict and bad attitudes, and even stress like Tim and Michael talked about.
We know exactly what you’re going through. Partly because we have gone through it too. You love your kids dearly, but sometimes they do kind of drive you up the wall cause they are not doing the wise things that you are asking them to do!
What we’re trying to do here at Focus on the Family is provide you with practical strategies and these tools you need to help your kids make wise choices today, today and prepare for bigger goal of adulthood in the future.
John: One resource we have is a free online survey about how you can be a more effective parent. We’ve identified 7 Traits for Healthy Families, and by taking this survey, you can get a good overview of what’s working well, and areas where you as a mom or dad might want to improve a little bit.
And of course we have the book by Michael and Tim — GIST: The Essence of Raising Life Ready Kids. Which is an amazing resource, it’s full of helpful advice and encouragement.
Ask us about the parenting survey, the book, GIST, and how you can get an audio copy of our conversation today as well — we’ll include the next part of the conversation in that — just call 800 – the letter “A” and the word – FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or visit focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: And John, I want to encourage our listeners to partner with us in equipping moms and dads to build stronger, healthier families, that’s why we are here, I’m that’s why you’re listening.
Focus on the Family has lots of resources for parents. I often say that to our supporters that I get a chance to meet that Focus is a treasure trove of help. And we want people to tap us for that help. That is what we exist to do. And if you have been a faithful supporter in the past let me say, “thank you” for your generosity. But if haven’t hear from you in a while, or you’ve never given to the ministry here at Focus, let me invite you to do so today. Together we help one another, but we also help others. And that’s a wonderful thing to do.
Anything you can give will make a huge difference — cause it’s a lot of people doing little. And whether it’s a monthly pledge or a one-time gift. When you send a gift of any amount today, we’ll put a copy of GIST into your hands as our way of saying “thank you” for being there for others.
John: Get in touch today. Make a donation and get a copy of that book GIST when you donate at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call 800 the letter -A- and the word FAMILY.
And coming up next time, you’ll hear more from our guests about how consequences may be the very best way to teach your children . . .
Michael Anderson: It’s not always a bad thing for a young kid to be fired from a job, especially if they need to learn more responsibility. It might be the only thing that’ll get ‘em to take it seriously.
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