Dr. Kevin Leman: When kids fight they know exactly what to say to escalate the battle. And furthermore, they know how to engage you in the battle. You need to stay out of that battle. So you don’t react, you respond and you’re authentic and you learn to say things like, “I’m sure you can handle it.” Turn your back and walk out of the room.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Some sage parenting insights from Dr. Kevin Leman. And he’s back again today on Focus on the Family. Stay tuned for more common-sense advice as you train your children to become responsible adults. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and Jim, once again, we have your wife, Jean joining us well today.
Jim Daly: We do it’s always great to have Jean here. And, uh, we had a wonderful discussion last time about misbehaving-
Jim: … not your misbehavior (laughs) John, but you know, as parents with kids, what gets them moving in that direction? Well, guess what? It could be you as a parent, not handling it appropriately. And if you missed the discussion last time, download it, uh, come to the website, get the app on the smartphone-
Jim: … so you can hear it at your convenience. But it was an excellent conversation. I thought very revealing about everybody’s parenting approaches. And we’re gonna continue that discussion today.
John: Yeah, we’ve got all the details at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And Dr. Leman is one of our favorite guests here. And one of yours as listeners, uh, perennially, it seems one of the best of the best broadcast for us. And he’s a very popular psychologist, TV and media personality. He’s written over 60 books. I think he’s been here at least 50 times, Jim. (laughs) And, uh, as I said, Jean is here and I, I don’t know how many times you’ve been here, Jean. But-
Jean: I don’t know it.
John: … you’ve been on some best, of the best broadcast yourself.
Jean Daly: Well it’s a pleasure being back.
Jim: Yes, it is. It’s always good to have you and Kevin good to have you back as well.
Dr. Leman: Well in my case I think it means I’m gonna die soon cause I (laughing) I’ve been here a long time. (laughing). But you know, we’re, we’re really getting to the crux of this book in our second broadcast because this book really speaks to why kids misbehave. Well, why do kids misbehave? Number one, they’re attention getters, all kids are attention getters. You know, they come out of the womb. They’re completely dependent upon us and as they grow into infancy toward that year old, you begin to see this little spirit, you begin to see this little personality develop. I always tell mommies of young kids, when that child hits 18 months, circle the calendar, because you’re gonna see a test of will start about 18 months in a child life.
Jim: Well, and, and you elaborate on that because you say both good behavior and bad behavior is both a, a, a yell for attention.
Dr. Leman: Absolutely. So again, I go back to all kids are attention getters, just follow me for a second. So if the kid gets positive attention for positive behavior, they’re on the right track. As soon as they don’t get positive attention, they still need attention. So what kind of attention are they gonna get? They’re gonna get negative attention. And the kid tells himself, well, I’m still getting attention, it’s still working. But that runs its course. So as the kid gets more discouraged in life, believe it or not. I’m saying a little ankle biter, 18 months to three years old can get discouraged. Life, isn’t working out the way they think even at that age, they become powerful. So why the attention getter says “I only count in life when I’m noticed. And I put people in my service.”, the powerful kids says I only count in life when I control, when I win, when I dominate. So these are the kids who throw temper tantrums. And how we respond to those temper tantrums is really important because that kid throws a temper tantrum for a purpose. Now, purpose is just a word. Purposeful is a psychological word that comes from the psychology of a guy named Alfred Adler. We won’t go into any detail there, but let’s just say that all social behavior serves a purpose in a kid’s life. So the powerful child is saying, “I am an authority over you parent.” There was a guy named St. Paul who said something very different. He said, “Children, obey your parents. It’s the right thing to do because God has placed them in authority over you.” And I love that translation. That’s a Living Bible translation. And that’s where I try to preach to parents. You need to be in authority without being the authoritarian to deal with this powerful child. Because you need to remove your sales from that child’s win, ’cause if you don’t and you come out with you, “You can’t I am your father.” or your I’m, they’re gonna blow you right against the wall.
Dr. Leman: … in a power struggle. You lose. So you need to weigh, to develop ways of circumventing, that powerful child. Where they realize that, wait a minute, these powerful ways aren’t working, these parents are a little smarter than what I’m giving them credit for.
Jim: Well, and that’s the obvious question. Uh, when you have that confrontation, what should you do with that three-year-old?
Dr. Leman: Well, the kid who’s gonna throw the temper tantrum, you simply step over the child, walk away. If there’s no audience that kid-
Jim: So don’t give them the attention that they’re craving in that way.
Dr. Leman: Right? Yeah. If you wanna make a fool of yourself why don’t you go ahead. Uh, the point is, you’re gonna separate the child. You pick up the child remove them from the scene. That’s the principle I wanna teach. And it just says, “Hey, it’s not gonna work.”
Jim: Yeah. Kevin, let me, uh, pick up on that because in the book you, you do describe parent’s uh, responsibility to make sure their child is getting enough of your time. And that can be so difficult. And we can, as parents with busy schedules, we can justify all of our busyness. But you’re saying in the book, your child needs you and needs you to spend time with them. So sometimes this misbehavior’s rooted just in they’re not getting enough of you.
Dr. Leman: Well, let’s start with this anti-American statement. Activities are not good for your children.
Jim: Now let me ask Jean, does that cut against the mom feeling of keeping the kids busy-
Jim: … as a good thing.
Jean: It does.
Dr. Leman: Busy hands are happy hands. (laughs).
Jim: And I mean, I can remember [crosstalk]-
Dr. Leman: … is better than selling crack cocaine on the street. I get it. Right?
Jean: Well, and even, you know, I felt when our kids were young, I did not want them to spend too much time in sports. And I, I recognize that that wasn’t positive and, and putting that pressure on them at such a young age. However, as they got older I wasn’t sure that was the right decision.
Dr. Leman: Well, now we have team soccer, we have city soccer. The whole weekend is geared around the kids’ soccer or softball or whatever. I’m tellin’ you it’s crazy. Uh, kid’s families don’t go to church on Sunday ’cause they’re off playing in a softball tournament. A- again it’s all so much is just directed toward the children, the children are the centerpiece. We bring up kids to feel like they’re the centerpiece of the world. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again, if you do that, where’s the room for all mighty God in the kid’s life?
Dr. Leman: And I’m here to answer my own question. There’s no room for God in that kid’s life because you got them so busy and you’re so busy. So when we talk about time, where’s the time? The dinner table’s a great time to talk, but other than that, I mean, and I’ve heard on Focus on the Family studies from other authors who said, dads will spend 37 seconds a day talking to their kids things like that. It’s outrageous. So the mantra that imprinting, whatever you wanna call it in this book, I call it the three basic, there’s four, but the fourth one you don’t see very often, so deal with the three. Attention getting, power and revenge are mostly the motivation behind the poor behavior, the maladaptive behavior that you see in your home with your children. But you need to understand that message that the kids are feeling like they need more parent, they need more love, they need more acceptance. And that’s, that’s the art of being a parent is making that kid feel special.
Jim: Yeah. That’s a good way to look at it. And that’s part of what you’ve included in your book there. Kevin, you’re known as the birth order guy and some people may not be familiar with that believe it or not.
Dr. Leman: Really?
Jim: How many millions have (laughs) you sold of that book?
Dr. Leman: Many trees died in its honor. (laughing).
Jim: And, and it’s a great concept. It’s one of those, you know, rare thoughts that you were able to grab and put into a book, the Birth Order book. But just lightly tell us how that functions and how that, it helps to shape who we are. I’m sure we’re not locked into that, but you generally learn certain behavior patterns depending upon where you are in the pecking order of your birth right?
Dr. Leman: Well, firstborn are the movers and shakers in our society. They’re our leaders our political leaders, they’re our senators our Congress people, they’re our presidents of the United States. They’re our astronauts in outer space. If there’s something technical, the engineers, the accountants, you’re gonna see an inordinate number of first born and only born children, they’re sort of psychological cousins to each other. They do very well in life. The child right beneath them is a disadvantage. If that child is a middle child, they’re gonna end up a mediator, a negotiator, a compromiser. They’re gonna be good at seeing life from both sides of the fence, which is pretty good. I love to tell middle children they’re the peanut butter and jelly of the sandwich. The babies of the family, if you name a comedian right now in all probability, you’re talking about a baby of the family. Just name one, they’re, they’re babies across the board, very few exceptions. All the late-night TV guys, I don’t think they’re very funny, quite frankly, but they’re all youngest children.
Jim: Why is that? What, what, what action is in play there that makes them predominantly come from-
Dr. Leman: The achiever role was filled by you first born children. Okay? The next child in line is the opposite of the, of that first born.
Dr. Leman: So there’s two roles, whatever they are. So that baby of the family is that humor guy, he can’t compete and that was true in my life. (laughing) I couldn’t compete with my sister and brother. So I became the best of the worst. I graduated fourth in my class in high school from the bottom. (laughing) I mean, I was taking consumers in mathematics, that’s bonehead math as a senior in high school. I couldn’t get it in college. I finally did get in college on probation. I mean, most of you know my story, I mean, it was terrible. But you know, along came this woman when I was 19 years old, after I was thrown out of college and she was the one, my future wife, who I met in, a manager of a hospital believe it or not, she was the one that God used to turn my whole life around. And God gave me motivation. And I’m thankful for those years I struggled. But, um, we are a product of our environment. And you, as a parent, you’ve taken whatever you gleaned from mom and dad into that role of parenthood. It can work for you, but it can also work against you.
Jim: So what do we do, uh, knowing this and its predictability. ‘Cause that’s what’s genius about it. It’s, it’s generally true. It may not be absolutely true in every case, but I think you’ve done enough research and talked to enough people that you understand it the way you do. But how does a parent help augment that firstborn child to actually maybe not be as uptight or rules oriented, et cetera. Is there, do you want to do that? Or is this just the way God has planned it? And this is why Kings and princes tend to be the firstborns and leaders, as you said, is it wrong to create a leader out of a last born?
Dr. Leman: Well, I tried and failed to, with my firstborn daughter, I tried not to make her a firstborn. I’m here to tell you I failed. (laughs) She is a firstborn. She was an English teacher; she knew what a dangling participle was. I made-
Jim: So high achiever?
Dr. Leman: Oh yeah, yeah. I mean-
Jim: So do you just roll with it? I mean, is there a reason to, to, to try augment that or just let it go?
Dr. Leman: For all you first born and only born children, listening to our broadcast today. You know, you might have a tad bit of perfectionism in your life. And perfectionism is slow suicide, that’s what you have to understand. And I think the smart parent, when the kids are little and you’re tucking him in and this is the kid who’s gotta lineup everything, you know, everything’s gotta be just sorta perfect. Um, kids love stories. Tell ’em stories, make up stories, embellish stories about your life. Share with them about the time you were embarrassed in school. About the time you got picked on, about the time you failed. Whatever it is, let the kids see the imperfect nature of you. I spoke in a church just three weeks ago and I gave a talk on the title of my book, The Way of the Wise, which is, uh, Proverbs 3:1-6. I gave a very simple alter call about the imperfection of all of us. We had over a hundred people respond. I mean, I was sort of shaking my head. I, I was taken aback, by how many people responded to that. We’re all imperfect.
Jean: That’s right.
Dr. Leman: We need each other. Kids need to understand that we have their back. We love them with all their flaws. To our schoolteachers that I have some influence over and we’re talking about a fourth-grade spelling test. Why would you write -4 at the top of that? What’s wrong with +96?
Dr. Leman: What’s wrong with looking for the positive ways of expressing, “Hey, good job.” Good job is what I think, I call Vitamin E, it’s encouragement. Not- we not praise. “Praise God, all others pay cash,” as someone once said. God is worthy of our praise, your kid isn’t. But your kid needs encouragement. Encouragement says, “I got your back. I see how you’re doing in life, I’m proud to be your parent, you’re doing good. And if you get stuck, I’m here to help you.” If that message comes across to your son or daughter, they’re gonna go out in life and they’re gonna be a winner.
Jean: And Dr. Leman, isn’t it important with, let’s say that firstborn, the high achiever to, to acknowledge something other than just their performance to acknowledge, to encourage something about them, their personality, their heart?
Dr. Leman: Oh, you’re the smart one around the table Jean.
Jim: (laughing) She is actually.
Dr. Leman: Tha- that’s, that’s the, the diamond answer right there. Because as I’ve said to my kids, it’s, it’s not what you do, it’s who you are.
Dr. Leman: And, uh, my little daughter, Lauren was talking to a kid on the phone for about 30 minutes. And I asked her who that was I said, “Gee, I haven’t heard that name. Is he a new kid?”, “No, he’s just a kid nobody likes.” And I said, “What?” “It’s a kid at school nobody likes.” And she called them and talked to them about 30 minutes.
Dr. Leman: And this little daughter of mine, the youngest, she’s very sensitive to other kids and she’s the one in, in the lunchroom in school would see somebody sit by themselves and go over and sit next to them.
Jean: That’s beautiful.
Dr. Leman: And if, one thing I’m proud of, all my kids have a sensitivity to other people. And they’ve learned that, my wife is a super wonderful human being, wouldn’t hurt a fly, would give you the shirt off her back. A lovely lady in every sense of the word. A, a much better person than I am. And I see those attributes that we have successfully passed along to our kids. And I think what I’m most proud of, they care about other people. Wow.
Dr. Leman: That’s pretty cool.
Dr. Leman: I reminded yesterday when I talked to the Focus administrators about, you know, God hates the arrogant. He hates the proud. I think all of us have to do that homework to make sure that we understand that other people are important. We come to a stop sign or a red light. We stop. Why? It’s the law? Yeah. Get a ticket? Yeah. Get an accident? The best reason we stop is, so we don’t hurt somebody else. But notice that’s not our first response.
Jim: And those are heartfelt good things about parenting and, and seeing your kids do the beautiful things and you go “Great. Okay. They caught that lesson.”. And I think that happens as you chi- your children get older; you see more of that. Uh, hopefully, that’s the goal. Uh, in the book you described discipline 101 and in there you, you said “Discipline goes hand-in-hand with misbehavior.” So what’s the difference between discipline and punishment?
Dr. Leman: Well, see, and this is sort of framed in our society today because if you just come across as I’m punishing you, let me tell you how a kid thinks today. They don’t think of us on a different plane, they see themselves as social equals. So in their head, okay, if you’re right to punish me, I have a right to punish you back. And discipline, I think takes on a little different color. That we acknowledge that mistakes were made, we turn things into teachable moments. I love to tell a story about our high school invited me to be on their wall of fame. And, and I jumped at the opportunity to do it ’cause I was such a little cut-up in high school. But on the way up, I was talking to my mother who was 90 years old at the time. And I said, “Mom, we fooled a few people.” You know, “Honey, I’m so proud of you.” And I reminded her about the time the police brought me home. I’ll never forget what she said. She said, “Oh, I do remember that, but you were such a good boy.” (laughing) So somehow we still have to come across with the fact that, you know, we love you anyway. And we accept you flaws and all. So discipline is, hey, you take the kid behind the closed door and you have a little talk and you give them the look and they get the message of what happened at dinner or what happened at school was not cool at all. And my expectation for you is that we see a change in your behavior.
Dr. Leman: It’s a teachable moment. And you ask the kid, “What are you gonna do to change that?” We talked about rules afterward. All the Leman children wrote rules, governing the use of the family car. I didn’t give them the rules, they wrote the rules. I didn’t ask them to write the rules. How did that happen? They must have assumed that they realized it was a privilege to have that key to that car. You give a key to a car to a kid that’s not responsible. That’s on you, you’re a dummy parent. Don’t do that. Have expectations for your kids that are reasonable, not unreasonable.
Jim: And what I continually hear from you, Kevin is put that on your child to give you the boundaries. I mean, you’re pretty consistent with that. I like that idea. Although it’s a nail biter for some parents, especially firstborn parent. (laughing).
Jean: Yes. But it, but it helps reinforce the goal: Are you raising a child or are you trying to raise an adult?
Dr. Leman: Again, that’s a gold star observation, but you know what, as you were speaking, I was thinking of my sister, Sally. I was speaking to a Christian education group in Grand Rapids Michigan, in an auditorium with 6,000 people. I’ll never forget this moment because we had breakfast together this, that day and she was doing a workshop at the same event. And she said, “Kevin, what are you speaking about this morning?” It was an hour and five minutes away from time. I said, “I don’t know yet.”. (laughing) And she looked at me and her eyes narrowed (laughs) and you could see. And she said, “Well, you must know what you’re gonna be speaking about, you’re gonna be speaking in 55 minutes.” And I said, “Well, when I look at them, I’ll decide.” And she said, and she said, “You are making my stomach turn.” (laughing).
Jim: We’ve never had that discussion have we Jean?
Dr. Leman: But what you have to understand is-
Dr. Leman: … that the genes of life, if she’s gonna speak to a woman’s group, that sucker is gonna be organized, she’s gonna have her power points-
Jean: Oh yes.
Dr. Leman: … so it’s gonna be lock step and yet if Jim was gonna speak-
Jim: The same thing as you.
Dr. Leman: … uh, he, he’d show up and say, “It was great to be here at the rotary club.” and say, “Actually it’s not the rotary club. It’s the Christians of, uh-” “Oh, excuse me. Yes.” So here the, you know, he’s, he’s like I am, he’s just gonna go there and do it.
Jean: And he’s a much better speaker than I am.
Jim: Yeah. Well, that’s generous. Kevin, let me ask you this-
Dr. Leman: Yeah.
Jim: … uh, parents, we can emotionally overreact obviously.
Jim: And I think it’s really critical as we wind down the time, we’re gonna take some questions in a minute. But, uh, one of the things that we trip on as parents is that we can get sucked into the emotional argument, and we end up, I mean, I did this with the boys when they were younger. I mean, I’d be right down at their level emotionally. I’m going, “Oh my goodness. Who’s the adult in the room?” (laughing).
Dr. Leman: Yeah.
Jim: You know, and, I, I, the question I have for you is just how do we as the parent remember we’re the parent and don’t be, you know, tricked. Getting into that game with your kid.
John: Don’t take the bait.
Jim: Don’t take the bait.
Dr. Leman: Well, don’t take the bait. Well, remember fighting is an act of cooperation. When you fight with your husband or your wife, you know exactly what to say, to escalate the battle. Okay. Same thing is true with kids. When kids fight, they know exactly what to say to escalate the battle. And furthermore, they know how to engage you in the battle. You need to stay out of that battle. So you don’t react, you respond and, and you’re authentic. And you learn to say things like, “I’m sure you can handle it.” Turn your back and walk out of the room. If you see blood 20 minutes later, I’d get involved. (laughs). But let the kids have a track record so to speak in their own home. ‘Cause they’re gonna solve their own problems. And so I would say don’t panic, don’t overreact-
Dr. Leman: … be a listener and listen again. If you can listen without judgment, if you remember this, judgements will separate you from your child, judgments will separate you from your husband and your wife.
Jim: What’s a judgment sound like?
Dr. Leman: You’re wrong. Being prescriptive.
Dr. Leman: You know?
John: You should have done. That kind of thing.
Dr. Leman: Yeah. Any, anything along that line. So if you learn to listen without judgment, okay. Just hear ’em out, lots of times the situation will calm down by itself. So we make things worse, it’s like we throw kerosene on the fire. It just flames up.
Dr. Leman: But just remember fighting is an act of cooperation. And some people are listening right now and saying, “Well my kids sure cooperate.” (laughs) ‘Cause they fight over everything. Right? Well, if you have a trouble getting a kid out the door to school and maybe you’re in a carpool, I have that example in this book, you wanted that to change? I can tell you how to change. It’ll change in one day, leave your 11-year-old home, don’t call ’em, don’t get them up in the morning, take the other kids to school. He’ll be waiting there in the carport, he’ll be out in front of the house, he’ll be mad, he’ll be angry he’s late for school. “Honey, we’ve had this talk so many times. I’m not your alarm clock anymore. From now on you’re either up, you’re on the train or you’re not, and I’m not real happy ’cause now I have to drive you back to school.” But be smart send an email or call the principal, have them call that kid in and talk with them about being late. It works beautifully. Action not words. You’ve already used words, you use them every day, over and over and over again. It hasn’t got you the results. You want the kid to be up in the morning and on the school bus? Use action not words. That’s why the Reason Why Kids Misbehave is such a good practical book ’cause the back part of it is what to do about it. And those are some of the things you do about it.
Jim: Yeah. And you have a whole host of time-tested strategies in there Kevin. It’s a great resource, but let’s open it up now let’s have a couple of questions from our guests here today and, and see if they can stump the expert. (laughs).
Evan: Hi Dr. Leman, my name is Evan. Uh, you talked about the importance of training children and like with a puppy starting when they’re young. For those of us who may not have done well at that when they’re young, uh, is there hope for us and how might we say with elementary school children, um, start to be more intentional about that training, uh, without causing a shock to the family?
Dr. Leman: (laughs) Well, I love your question, Evan, but you know, I think one of the real joys of parenting sometimes is blindsiding those little suckers. (laughing).
Jim: It’s spiritual truth.
Dr. Leman: It really gets their attention. And see you have the heart of a parent. You’re saying, “Hey Leman, okay. I’m with you.” I understand, you know, maybe you got a kid still sleeping in your bed for example. And Dr. Leman says, “Don’t start habits you don’t wanna have continue forever. So get that little sucker out of bed.” And you’re saying, “Well, I’m looking at my life and you know there’s some things that we need to change, but how can I change them without being injurious to little Buford?” And I’m saying, “No, Evan, let’s try a different way. Let’s blindside that little sucker, Evan, (laughs) and really get his attention.” and then say, “You know, something? Mommy and daddy have done some real heart searching. And we think that things have to change here in the family. And you’re gonna see some changes in us that you’re probably not gonna like, because we’re all creatures of habit. We’ve all learned to do things a certain way, but there’s some things happening soon. You’re gonna see that and you’re gonna have to deal with it as best you can.” Now I prefer that over trying to make this a soft, easy transformation into a new world for that son or daughter.
Jim: Kevin, this has been so good. And Jean always good to have you here. Uh, your great book, Why Your Kids Misbehave And What To Do About It. It, we, we barely covered the subject and uh, you’ve already given us so many great insights. Get a copy of the book. Uh, if you can give a gift to Focus for any amount like we normally do, we’ll send you, uh, this book as our way of saying thank you for being part of the ministry. If you can’t afford it, we’ll get it to you trusting others will cover the cost of that, ’cause it’s one of those resources that every parent should have.
Jim: And that’s how much we believe in Kevin’s content. So do that, get in touch with us, get the book and also at our website, you have the seven traits of effective parents. It’s an assessment you can take and it’ll highlight the good things you’re doing and point out some of the weaker areas in your own parenting skills.
John: Yeah, that assessment is free as Jim said, it’s at the website and we’ll encourage you to donate and request your copy of the bundle that we have the book Why Your Kids Misbehave And What To Do About It as well as the CD of this two-part conversation. You can pass that along to somebody and encourage them in their parenting journey. The details are at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast and our number’s 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Well, next time, be sure to tune in as we hear from Gary Thomas explaining the difference between loving your spouse and truly cherishing them.
Gary Thomas: And for me, the big difference is that love focuses me on my obligations. I need to sacrifice, I need to serve, I need to be faithful. Cherish focuses me on the beauty, the excellence, the worth, the wonder of my spouse.
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