Dr. Kevin Leman: The words are a little different, but they all convey sort of the same thing; that you always had my back, you always loved me as I was, you know, you didn’t compare me to my sister or my brother, and they… I think each kid always felt like they were the favored. And so parents, listen to what I’m saying, your rewards make a difference.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s a wonderful reminder for every mom and dad, your words really do matter. Dr. Kevin Leman is a popular guest here, and joins us again today, on Focus on the Family, and he’ll offer help for some of the most common behavior problems you’ll experience with your kids. I’m John Fuller, along with Focus president and author Jim Daly. And Jim, we’ve got your wife Jean joining us as well.
Jim Daly: It’s always good when Jean’s here, I think. Great. I mean, great. It’s always great when Jean’s here.
John: Wonderful. It’s the best.
Jim: (laughing) She keeps me true, right? She’s my North Star, so… But it is good to have Jean here. Of course, Dr. Kevin Leman, we’ll, uh, do more to introduce him in a moment. But man, we’re gonna talk about parenting today. And parenting definitely has ups and downs. Uh, I’m thinking back to how many times Jean and I said to our boys, “Remember to say, please.” I mean, we must have said that 10,000 times, right? “Say please, and thank you.” Finally, I don’t know what age it was, but like at 16, boop! It kicked in. (laughs).
John: It’s true, it took… yeah.
Jim: (Laughs). But it’s one of those things, and parenting is just that way, you keep expressing the right thing to do, you keep encouraging your children, and hopefully, uh, they get it. And today we’re going to talk about, um, those behavior types and what we can do to be the best parent we can be, and hopefully, uh, our children will follow suit.
John: And there are times when we pull our hair out because our kids are not following our plan, and we’re gonna address that with Dr. Kevin Leman. He’s a well-known psychologist and author and speaker, a radio and TV personality, he’s written, I don’t know, 700 books or something like that. I think it’s well over 50, right, Kevin?
Dr. Leman: It’s 60 some believe it or not.
John: Oh, my goodness!
Dr. Leman: It’s crazy.
John: The one we’re gonna be talking about today, Why Your Kids Misbehave, and What to Do About It. That second half is really important, what to do it. Yes, and we’re gonna encourage you to get a copy from us at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call 800, the letter A, and the word, FAMILY.
Jim: John, we also have a little studio audience with us, some Focus staff people, let’s say, Hi, everybody.
Jim: (laughing) And we’re gonna have a little Q&A at the end here.
John: We will.
Jim: And so be thinking of your questions as we move along. Um, also, you said Jean is here, Jean, it’s great to have you here as always. Dr. Kevin Leman, great to have you both. Thanks for being with us.
Dr. Leman: Oh, yes. We’re a winning combination.
Jim: Well, I know that. You guys, I’m a little concerned actually. (laughs).
Dr. Leman: Well, last time we were together, we talked about marriage.
Jim: I know.
Jim: And it’s really helped, in Jean and I’s relationship, thank you very much.
Dr. Leman: Yeah, she called me. (laughs).
Jim: (laughing) There has been time, uh, there have been times when I’ve come home and said, “You know, Jean, I think we need to spend 15 minutes and let the kids go play and she’ll say, “Who, who did you interview with today?” (laughs).
Jean Daly: It’s true.
Jim: (laughing) And it’s true. It’s… Actually Dr. Kevin Leman had that great idea. But you’ve worked with lots of families, Kevin, and you have noticed the ways kids work their parents. I’ve never experienced that, have you John?
John: Oh, golly.
Jim: (laughs) So speak to that issue about how kids work their parents, and I think you had a specific example about being at a restaurant, and seeing a little, a little one work her parents.
Dr. Leman: Oh, my goodness. You know, I’ve often said, we’ve seen the enemy and they’re small. And they’re unionized little suckers.
Dr. Leman: And they have a game plan, and… We were at one of those commercial steak houses, in, in Tucson, where I live most of the year, and a young family came in, it was mom, dad, maybe a 12, 13-month old little child, grandma, grandpa and maybe an aunt. And they were in one of those round booths, but right next to us. I am an observer of people. Let’s put it that way. And I just thought to myself, “Well, this company is interesting.” Because they brought over one of those little wooden highchairs.
Dr. Leman: In fact, you’ve seen people maybe turn them upside down in a restaurant, they’ll put a, uh, car seat-
John: Car seat on them.
Dr. Leman: And the dad tried to put a little cherub into the seat. And instinctively, the little cherub pulled up her legs, okay,
Jim: (laughing) I’m gonna make this hard?
Dr. Leman: That’s when I said, “I’m gonna pay attention because I know how this is gonna play out.” And God bless you, they tried to get that little ankle-biter in there, but she had no part of it. So what do you do? Dad goes and brings her and puts her on the seat. And I knew that child would be passed around, which happened during the meal, came back to dad, dad was trying to feed the baby, the baby took a spoonful offering and threw it over the shoulder. I mean, it was just hysterical, but it reminded me of one of the things I try to share with young parents. And that is, don’t start habits that you don’t wanna have continue throughout your child’s college graduate years.
Dr. Leman: In other words, there is something in the training. There is something to making, if you will. Making, I mean, you’re training, if you’d prefer that word, but training children that, “You will sit in that highchair, okay?” And it’s, it’s a test of wills, and don’t think these little guys don’t have a will of their own.
Jim: Right? Well, let me, let me ask you about that. So, uh, what would be the appropriate way that that mom and dad should have handled that?
Dr. Leman: Um, put ’em in the highchair.
Dr. Leman: Put them in the highchair.
Jim: Even if you have to kinda spend some time working those ankles in there?
Dr. Leman: Uh, the basic premise is, kids will live up the expectations we give them.
Dr. Leman: Now, if you’re a young parent today, and your goal is to create a happy child, we should all bow our heads and pray for you now. Because it’s gonna be disastrous. If that’s your goal, to create a happy child, there’s times the kids need to feel unhappy, experience unhappiness, because of their mouth or attitude, whatever. And so, take the time for training. It’s like, if you have a puppy, when do you start the training? Do you wait till the puppy is six months old or a year old? If you do, you’ll have a miserable dog on your hands. So you really have to take the time for training.
Jim: Kevin, let me… You mentioned in the book, transformation, that’s a good goal. Um, what do you mean by transformation? And especially obviously, with our children, what is that moment of transformation? What does it look like?
Dr. Leman: It’s a process, you know. Uh, I often said that parenting isn’t easy, I’ll give you that. But it is simple. It’s simple. What do you mean is simple? Well, there’s a paradigm that works. And it puts you in authority over your children, without being the authoritarian, without being the permissive parent. And of course, today, most parents come in two basic types; the authoritarian, “You’re going to do it my way,” it’s how most of us in this room grew up, in authoritarian homes.
Dr. Leman: But the permissives are out there in huge numbers today. And they’re just knocking themselves, out trying to make sure their kid is happy at every, every turn. But in terms of transformation, as kids grow, I mean, Steve Covey once said, “Start with the end in mind.” It’s a great thought. You’re creating really a little adult, and not the way we want kids at a young age to perform like little adults, I don’t mean that. But your work toward the end of maturity, if we give kids responsibility. And so many of us are rule conscious. We believe that rules are the way to rear children. Rules are not the way to rear children.
Jim: Let me, let me jump in on that, I wanna get Jean in here. Transformation, that’s something I think you would agree the boys we’ve seen that our own parenting, describe that and then talk about kind of the rules issue that Kevin’s mentioning,
Jean: Like yes, I say to parents, “Be of good cheer, because your strong, passionate,” as Dr. Leman says, “Power-driven child, will probably turn out to be a delightful young person, a productive member of society,”
Jim: Not a car thief.
Jean: Correct. And I’ve seen that, uh, in our home that, well, our oldest son, who is, who is strong and passionate, is a delightful young person.
Dr. Leman: Now is the child that you practiced on, by the way?
Jim: (laughing) Yeah.
Jean: Yes. Yeah-
Jim: Well, transformation is the key there. He’s really… He has turned a great corner.
Jean: Absolutely. And I think, you know, there’s, there’s many factors, but I think two main factors are, I was the authoritarian parent, and rules were important, and respect was important. And parents, you cannot discipline your children enough to respect you. They will respect you less. You cannot force them to respect you. And, uh, I fin- I learned that too late, but I finally let go and stopped trying to control our oldest child. And he responded beautifully. It was a process but I, I needed to be treating him as a future adult.
Dr. Leman: See, the opposite of fear is what? I think it’s love. Love and fear. So those of us who control, okay, we fear that somehow we’re going to lose control, and, you know, when I think about adults I’ve dealt with in life, I’ve never had a woman say to me, “You know what I really love about my husband, I love the way he controls me.” I’ve never heard that.
Dr. Leman: And so, the transformation, I mean, sometimes this little guy is three, four years old, and, and the preschool teachers become your best friend, because she’s calling all the time telling you about the activities that little Timothy got into today. Well, you might have that discussion as husband and wife and say, “You know, there’s time for a transformation.” It comes across as, “Okay, now hear this. Starting tomorrow morning at 08:00, this family is going to change.” And, and a lot of us when we make that announcement, we just revert back to more authoritarian, strong-arm tactics.
Jim: You know, before we move beyond the rules orientation, Kevin, there is a natural, I think a natural bias in the Christian community. We want to live up to expectations as Christians, we, in essence, uh, subscribe to a set of boundaries that we’re gonna live by et cetera. So rules aren’t necessarily a terrible thing. But you, it’s how you treat them, right? The Pharisees, I mean, the biblical examples, Jesus blew the Pharisees up in terms of, “Hey, it’s not about the rules, it’s about the heart.” But elaborate, because I think Christian parents, we tend to want to… How many of us have family rules?
Dr. Leman: Oh, yeah.
Jim: And we put it on the wall, and-
Dr. Leman: We do have family rules, and you teach kids that when you come to a street, you look both ways. I’m reminded of the flat cat, who got hit… No, really, it was flat.
Jim: I bet it was (laughing).
Dr. Leman: Poor little guy ran out in the street, and he got hit by a truck, he was pretty flat. And everybody was devastated. But the lesson was, you know, little chucky would be al- alive today, if he would have looked both ways. And so as a parent, sometimes you use those natural things in life, to show kids why there’s rules in life. Rules are healthy. Okay, if they’re presented like Jim says, you know, in a positive, good way.
Jim: In context.
Dr. Leman: We all need rules. But the point is, as kids grow older, I made the point in my book, our kids never had a curfew, ever. They never had a curfew. People look at me like I had a screw loose.
Jim: Jean and I. (laughs).
Dr. Leman: And the kids would always say it. They would say, “What time do I need to be home?” And I was always coming back with the same answer, “Be home at a reasonable hour.” “Dad, would you just tell me?” They don’t like that answer. They want the rule.
Jim: What were you achieving by doing that? What were you teaching them?
Dr. Leman: I’m teaching them that I believe in them, that they have a good brain in their head, and they’re gonna use good judgment.
Jim: And generally they came home earlier than you, you thought you, they should (laughs).
Dr. Leman: And if they were gonna be late, they were on the phone with a long list of explanations about why. Well the football game was on overtime and the bus was late and, you know, whatever it was, but they just wanna reassure they’re, they’re gonna be okay and not the doghouse. I said, “Honey, enjoy your pizza, come on home. It’s okay.”
John: Yeah. We’re hearing from Kevin Leman today on Focus on the Family, and taking some content from his book, Why Your Kids Misbehave, and What to Do About It. Look for your copy at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or give us a call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. And, you know, Jim, you mentioned having a list of rules printed up. One of the things we’d never did, and I wish we would have, is have a family motto. And Kevin, you spent some time in the book, talking about family mottos, and how that kind of imprints us and how we, we kind of lead and, uh, parent the, the same way we grew up.
Dr. Leman: Oh.
John: One of yours, um, is pretty obvious. And Jim shares this one. It’s, let’s have fun. Talk about that a little bit.
Jim: (laughs) It’s a last-born thing.
John: Yeah. What, what does the family motto of, let’s have fun lead us to, uh, to be like as parents?
Dr. Leman: It can get us in trouble once in a while, for sure. Yeah, you have to understand that you took away as a youngster, a mantra about life. Those mantras are things like, “I only count life when I have fun, when I’m the center of attention, when I get people to do what I asked them to do.” Now there’s your typical baby in the family. They’re social, and, and they can be fun, they’re whimsical, they change from moment to moment, they could sell dead rats for a living.
Dr. Leman: I’ve an early childhood memory of selling bags of dirt in sandwich bags, door to door for 10 cents a bag.
Jim: And people bought it?
Dr. Leman: Yeah, and they were silver dimes back in those days, I want you to know. People bought them. But you know… So, you grow up with that and, and now you’re a daddy and my wife remembers me taking little Hollie, our little Hollie Dolly, we called her our firstborn. And I would say, “Little Hollie is flying to the air.” And I’d throw her in the air like a lot of dads do, and I’d get her off at about eight feet, my wife has done. I mean, it’s like, we got this fun thing, and it walks, and it wets, and it does all kinds of things, you know. And thank God, I married the firstborn, who have rules. Okay? And, and she would, she was a good bouncer for me. So our kids actually ended up in a pretty healthy environment.
John: They never got seriously injured?
Dr. Leman: But when I… This is, I shouldn’t admit this, but when I drove our youngest, Lauren, to school in the morning, we have five kids, okay? I’m driving little Lauren, she’s in seventh grade, to school. And we had different things that we would do, and she always had a little girl for her, pick up little girl for her they were in seventh grade, and I drive them to school. And we had a little handicap driver day. And on the way to the school, we would go through this residential area where the speed limit was 25 to begin with, but all of a sudden, I would crouch down, okay, in my little car, and I get down to about seven miles an hour, I checked to make sure nobody’s behind me. And then I would just creep through the neighborhood, that when a car came, then I would always wave to the car. But I would raise my hand so slowly, that I really never flashed the wave till after the car went by. And these two seventh graders-
Jean: Were they squealing with delight.
Dr. Leman: … would die laughing. That we had special delivery day. Why literally came into the parking lot, they have a flat sidewalk approach, and that’s why I say shouldn’t say this on air, I would drive right up to the door. I was six feet from the door and let the kids out. And they were, and of course the other kids, I became, became known as… Uh, I was very popular on the campus, like-
Jim: Crazy dad.
Dr. Leman: Crazy dad. Thank you. I’m glad you said that Jim, not me.
Jim: Just popped in my head.
Dr. Leman: You know, we did crazy fun things. Would Mrs. Upington, my bride ever do that? No. There are rules, you just don’t do things like that. And so the atmosphere, and that’s what I want parents to understand is, whatever you grew up with, is somehow gonna be communicate to those kids.
Jean: And I would like to add that God puts men and women together, who are unlike each other, who are different, and very often opposite.
Jean: Yes. And now in hindsight, I appreciate those differences in parenting. It’s really important, it’s, it’s-
Jim: Wait a second, wait a second. Say it again. Say it again.
Jean: I really appreciate you, Jim, as a father, the fun, he was the fun dad.
Dr. Leman: But he was the good guy. The fun guy, you were Attila the Hun- [Crosstalk]
Jean: Yes, absolute- oh, yes, yes.
Dr. Leman: But, you know, we learn from each other.
Jim: Well, that’s true.
Dr. Leman: And I’ve learned that I need to grow up, to put it bluntly.
Jim: (laughs) I’m with you there.
Dr. Leman: Life isn’t always a party, you know. And I tell some of these stories, and I, I get a few Pharisee letters because I tell those kind of stories, ’cause somehow people think that I ought to be up on some kind of pedestal. No, of anybody who knows me, I’m, I’m not a pedestal person. I’m a roll up your sleeves, and let’s see if we can get things done, let’s be real. But I would point out for all you young parents that are so worried about your kids liking you someday, our five kids like nothing better, the youngest is 28, than hanging out with us old people. They like their parents, and the proof’s in the pudding. So the fun you put into your family, the investment that you put in, and getting behind the eyes of each of your kids and realizing they’re all different and treating them differently. Almighty God treats us different.
Dr. Leman: Why wouldn’t you treat your kids differently?
Jim: Kevin, one of the things you point out in the book is that we as parents can inadvertently kind of pave the way for our kids to misbehave. I think it’s a really important point. So how do we do that?
Dr. Leman: We train them to misbehave.
Jim: But be specific. I mean…
Dr. Leman: Well, you, when you go into a supermarket or store, Mommies, I’ll pick on you. What’s the conversation with your kids?
Jim: “I want that.”
Dr. Leman: Huh?
Jim: “I want that.”
Dr. Leman: Uh, that’s the first thing. So what does a parent say? “All right listen up. We’re going in the store, don’t ask for a thing. Because the answer is, no.”
Jean: Wait, have you had a recorder in my van? (laughs).
Dr. Leman: Oh, yeah. But that’s what we do. Wha- wha- whatever we just to the kids, “And no wandering around or fooling around, and don’t ask for any candy.”
Jim: Say it again. Just so they can hear you.
Jean: Say it aloud.
Dr. Leman: Well, what happens is, you’ve just said, “I really don’t trust you, you’re gonna misbehave.” And what are the kids do? They misbehave. And they’re in a public place, and you’re the one, I mean, people will look at your kids and shake their head, but they’re looking at you as a parent and say, “Mm-hmm (affirmative), good. Good parent, huh. Not a good… Not a good job, parent.”
Jim: Okay, so what’s the right way to do that?
Dr. Leman: Well, I think you take advantage of situations where the kids are very well behaved, and very respectful, and just a simple comment that, you know, “I gotta tell you, that was really fun today. It was really fun to be with you guys. And I gotta tell you, I’m, I’m proud to be your mom.” “I’m proud to be your dad.”
Dr. Leman: You know, “I look around, sometimes I see how other kids behave, I just got to tell you.” It’s, I call it, slipping your kid a commercial announcement. And you have to slip those messages to kids. And the kids walk away with guess what? “Mom and dad believe in me.” That’s really important, that a son or daughter feels like you have their back. I was in our, our summer cottage this past week back in New York State, I was going through pictures, and I found all the Father’s Day gift, (laughing) Father’s Day cards, it made me cry to this day. But it’s… But I look at what the kids have said, you know, and, and they just… The words are a little different, but they all convey sort of the same thing, that, “You always had my back, you always loved me as I was, you know, you didn’t compare me to my sister or my brother.” And they… I think each kid always felt like they were the favorite. And so parents, listen to what I’m saying, your words make a difference.
Jim: Uh, Kevin, let’s open it up. We’ve got some folks around the table here, I want them to have a moment to ask some questions. So let’s, let’s move to that right now.
Troy: I’m Troy, and I feel like, um, like I’m kind of interpreting two different messages. One is, uh, like you’re sharing at the restaurant, you gotta put them in the highchair, and then another side is, we parents can focus too much on the rules or being too strict on things. I’m curious what that balance is, practically, when I’m in the restaurant. Where do I bend, where do I not?
Dr. Leman: I, I hope you’re hearing balance, because it is a balanced attack. Using a sport analogy, you can have a great offense, but if there’s not a defense, you’re not going to do well. And, and that’s the, the art of parenting. It’s knowing when to throw that flag. It’s knowing when to say, “Hey, timeout. You don’t talk to your mother like that. You don’t talk to me like that.” And it’s action, not words. We use too many words with kids in parenting. We need more action. Sometimes you take the little buzzard by the beak, so to speak, or you pull the rug out and let the little buzzer tumble as I like to say, and you sort of shock him. You sort of blindside him. I mean, “I don’t feel like getting you a glass of milk right now.”
Dr. Leman: “I don’t feel like driving you to your girlfriend’s house right now.” Let them figure out what’s wrong. Let them come around and say, um, “Is something wrong?” “Actually, honey, there’s several things wrong. Are you ready to discuss them?” “Um, yeah. “I didn’t like the way you talked to me this morning.” Now, there’s your balance. I mean, Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, okay? So do we go through life turning the other cheek with people? If you look at Jesus’s life, he was a man of action. He saw the money changers in the temple, he didn’t turn the other cheek. He took action. And so that’s the job of all of us as parents, to be able to discern, “How far do I let this child go? What are our parameters?” Remember, many times, as his parents, you know, we wanna just control everything. You just have to back off, let kids figure out these boundaries here in the families. They, they pretty much know what mom and dad’s expectations are. You don’t have to remind them 1,000 times, like Jim shared earlier about, say please, say please, say please, say please. They get it. Don’t you think the kids are saying after about the 16th time, “What do you think I’m stupid? You don’t think I heard the first 15 times you told me to say please? I got it, dad.” But we’re creatures of habit. Don’t poke your eye out. What was the last time you saw a poke… A kid poke it’s eye out? I mean, we say things to kids that are repetitive from our own mind, it makes the kids sort of shrug their shoulders and say, “I guess that’s what parents do.” But you wanna connect with kids, you need to have a balanced attack. And that would be my… My message back to you is, you are hearing two messages. That there’s times you take the buzzard by the beak and you make things happen, there’s that time to let them figure it out that this isn’t gonna work out really good, and you sit back and you’re almost, almost lost a fair, almost permissive to a point where they see they’re in trouble, and now they need help, then it becomes a teachable moment.
Jim: That’s a good stuff, Kevin. I mean, this is, knowing that balance the wisdom of parenting too.
Dr. Leman: It is.
Jim: I think for Jean and I, and I’m sure this is true for you and Dena, John, you, you, you get better as the years go by. Typically.
Jim: I mean, now that our boys are 20 and 18, I wish we could go back to, uh, newborns, right?
Jim: With the knowledge we have now-
Jean: We’d be perfect parents!
John: You’d be really tired, though.
Jim: But it’s that idea of learning how to be a, a good balancing, uh, couple, and how to know the fight you wanna really fight, and throw the flag as you said. So this has been great stuff. And what a wonderful resource? Uh, Why Your Kids Misbehave, and the best part, and What to Do About It. And I certainly wanna make sure that people are aware they can get that right here, Focus on the Family, we often do this, but for a gift of any amount. Uh, just get in touch with us, and we’ll send you a copy of Dr. Leman‘s wonderful book, as our way of saying, thank you for being part of the ministry. And also at our website, there’s a free assessment tool for parenting called, Seven Traits of Effective Parenting. It’ll give you an idea of where your strengths are, where your weaknesses are, and some helpful hints on resources, and Kevin’s book is a great place to start, on how to strengthen those areas that you need a little more, uh, parenting wisdom.
John: Yeah, donate today as you can, and we’ll send that book, Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do About It. We’ll also include a CD of this entire, uh, conversation with Dr. Leman. Uh, that donation and the book and CD are available when you call 800-A-FAMILY or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Kevin, Jean, let’s, uh, keep going and come back tomorrow, and continue the discussion. Can we do that?
Dr. Leman: We can, let’s do that.
Jim: All right.
Jean: Absolutely. Looking forward to it.
John: Make sure to join us again tomorrow for part two of our conversation with Dr. Kevin Leman and Jean Daly, as we dive into more practical strategies for, how to cope with your child’s misbehaviors. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for our Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back, as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.