Psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Kevin Leman explains how you can avoid common parenting mistakes and implement "reality discipline," in which real-life consequences teach children rather than you lecturing, reminding or rescuing them. (Part 1 of 2)
Girl: No no no no no!!
Mother: Now I’ve told you and told you-- when Mommy tells you to do something, you don’t tell her no. Mommy’s in charge. Understand, honey?
Mother: Mommy is getting very upset... now I’m only going to say this one more time... sweetie, pay attention. Mommy is in charge.
Girl: No, stupid, Mommy!
Mother: Okay, okay! I give up! You’re in charge!
End of Teaser
John Fuller: (Chuckling) Well, maybe you can relate to that. It...it’s kinda sad, but it is funny at the same time, isn’t it? If you’ve got a toddler, or perhaps a teenager, in your home, you might be tempted to wave the white flag of surrender. The assault is so great. But we have some really good news for you. On this Best of 2018 edition of Focus on the Family, there is hope, mom and dad! With some simple strategies, and a little common sense, and lots of prayer, you can have healthier, thriving kids. And we’ll tell you how in just a moment.
Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Uh, John, today we’re featuring one of our most popular guests — Dr. Kevin Leman — who knows how to encourage and motivate parents. On the one hand, he can be pretty blunt — he’s going to tell you, in no uncertain terms, what’s going wrong in your home! But he’s also got a heart of gold for today’s families. He wants help moms and dads be successful, so you can experience loving and godly relationships with your kids. Kevin’s message is spot on, and that’s why it’s part of our “Best of” collection this year.
John: And you can get that as a CD or download package. Every year we identify the broadcasts that had the greatest impact with our audience, and then we showcase them during the month of December. And uh, for those who don’t know, Kevin Leman is an internationally known psychologist, author, and speaker. He’s had a lot of exposure on both radio and TV. He’s the author of more than 60 books! — and addresses marriage, parenting, education, birth order, and more. And today, we’ll focus on one of the books called, Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.
And this note: When we originally recorded this conversation with Dr. Leman, we invited a group of parents to join us here in the studio. You’ll hear from them throughout the program. Here, now, is today’s episode of Focus on the Family . . .
Jim: Kevin, let’s kick it off. Help us understand the overall landscape of parenting today. You heard that intro. Do you think it’s different? Do you think parents are basically facing the same challenges, or are they different today?
Dr. Kevin Leman: Well, I’m old enough to remember when kids used to obey their parents. Now parents obey their kids.
Kevin: So things have changed. The landscape has changed. In that little introduction, we heard no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. One of my bits of advices to young parents, who are raising that little firstborn, the little lab rat of the family (laughter) is don’t overuse the word no. They become anesthetized to that. And by the way, when a kid 18 months, circle the calendar, Mom and Dad, because now they understand what sheer power is.
Jim: Well, let’s talk about these two types of parents. There’s many shades of this. But obviously, you have the control parent, you know, that they’re going to - they’re going to master parenting by controlling the outcome, by controlling the environment. Uh, why do - let’s lean toward moms in this regard. Why do moms typically feel this is a good way to go?
Kevin: Well, most of us in this room, in this studio, we have lots of parents surrounding us. Most of us, I would guess - there might be one exception - grew up in an authoritarian home, as did I. “Hey, you listen up. You going to do what I tell you to do, as long as you live under this roof. You understand me? Hey, you want something to cry about. I’ll give you something to cry about.” (LAUGHTER) OK, some of you, as parents, you had parents who just gave you the look. And when you got the look, your whole body tightened up. Your little heels clicked together.
Well, there’s the authoritarian parent. Well, guess what? There was a time when authoritarianism worked because the parent was so strong, so strong-willed, so hard-fisted that kids wouldn’t dare to get too far out of line. Well, let’s go the opposite extreme.
Meet today’s avant-garde permissive parent. “Um, Britney, uh, Britney, sweetheart, uh, have you chosen to go to bed yet?” You know, my father never said to me, “Hey, Kevin, have you chosen to go to bed?” In fact, he was an Irishman - OK? - 8th grade educated man. And he’d say things like this - “Hey, 8 o’clock.” And he’d point. Now, if you - and that meant it was bedtime, but we knew the sign language, you know. And if you didn’t move, he’d come back and say, “Hey, you want to go to bed under your own power, or do you want to be ricocheted to bed?” (LAUGHTER) But the point was what? - you’re going to bed. So we have these two extremes, and you see this in parenting today. We have the authoritarians.
And by the way, more authoritarians still hanging around in the Christian world, okay, than on the other side of this fence. But so if you bring up your kid to be authoritarian, I’m here to guarantee you you’re going to plant the seed systematically of rebellion in your kid’s heart.
If you bring up your kid permissively, okay, and these are the parents, again, who failure is not an option for their child. “Hey, would you kids knock it off? I’m trying to finish your science project in here.” (LAUGHTER) And they do far too many things. And these parents - the permissives - bring their kids up like their kid is the center of the universe. If your kid is the center of the universe, and you’re a person of faith, somebody pony up and tell me where’s the room for almighty God in the kid’s life? I’m here to tell you there’s no room for God in that kid’s life.
So we ought to move toward the authoritative parent. And I think that’s what St. Paul talked about in Ephesians 6. And the authoritative parent has limits, is firm, has authority. And authority - late, breaking news- authority is a great word. We’ve all seen bumper stickers in our community that says what? Question authority.
Kevin: And so your kid and mine have to learn authority, but we need to learn what authority is, and it certainly isn’t authoritarianism.
Jim: Well, before we get to that endgame - that goal - you mentioned a lot of mistakes that we, as parents, make, and you’re talking about a couple of them. One of the, uh, terms you use in the book is whack-a-mole parent.
Jim: So what is a whack-a-mole parent?
Kevin: Well, it gets back to the enemy. You ever play whack-a-mole? It’s one of those games you find in amusement parks. And something pops up. You hit it with a mallet. And, you know, again, kids - you’re sitting there watching “Friends” reruns, Mom and Dad. (Laughter) OK, it’s the end of the day. I mean, the kids have been tucked into bed.
And all of a sudden, you hear this blood-curdling scream from the back bedroom, OK. And as only your wife can say, she says, “Uh, John, would you do something?” And so John gets up, walks in there, pushes open the door and says, “All right, I’ve had it with you two! Who started it?” “He did, Daddy.” And they point to each other. OK, you will say things, parent - I know you have an MBA degree, (Laughter) OK. I know you’re an elder in your church. You will say things that you would never say in front of your friend or your pastor - ever - and you top it off with “And that’s final!” And you slam the door, and the whole house shakes.
What do the kids do behind closed doors?
Jim: (softly) Laugh!
Kevin: They cover their mouth; try to keep the laughter in, and they say, “Did you see the veins pop out of his neck? I never saw ‘em pop out that far before.” Now, husband John comes back, sits down next to his wife. And as only a loving wife can say, she says, “Honestly, John, I think you’re entirely too rough with the boys.” (LAUGHTER) And then he snaps back at her and says “seems to me, the discipline around here, I wouldn’t have to do that.” Now, I ask you, five minutes earlier, were you at each other’s throats? No, you were watching “Friends” reruns. And so I’m telling you, kids play us. They set us up. And, uh, like flies into the web, uh, we fly in there.
Kevin: And that’s what you have to remember. It’s a journey. And many times, we just get too authoritarian. And here’s the question of the hour - is God an authoritarian? I don’t think you get through a discussion on rearing kids without asking that question. Is God an authoritarian? There’s a lot of people who think He is. Really? Does He grab us by the ear lobe, twist it and say, “You will acknowledge me?” No, but his holy word says every knee shall what? Bow. So he’s the supreme what? Authority, but not the authoritarian. But it’s easy for us, when we’re under duress, for us to slip back into those authoritarian roots because that’s what we grew up with.
So there’s a difference. So if you want to be your child’s best friend, and you want to be liked everyday of your life as a parent, good luck. Read another book. Don’t read this one. (LAUGHTER)
Jim: Now, Kevin, your credentials - you, of course, have the Ph.D. But more importantly, you were one of these children. You... (LAUGHTER) You learned from the best. So we had to get...
Kevin: I didn’t know you were going to turn on me, Mr. Daly!
Jim: We had to get that out on the table. Talk about your attitude as a kid - what you learned with your Irish pop and, uh, all those discipline issues you went through as a child. Let’s not go through every one of them. (Laughter)
Kevin: Well, I got - I got - I graduated fourth in my class in high school. And unfortunately, it was fourth from the bottom and not fourth from the top. I got kicked out of Cub Scouts. I was in a reading group in first grade with a girl who ate paste. (LAUGHTER) I got a 22 in algebra as a final grade as a freshman, took algebra several times, took Latin several times, passed it once because someone by the name Carl Maz (ph) was nice enough to lower his left shoulder during the final exam. So a lot of credentials I bring to the Focus on the Family studio today. But you know what? I was the youngest of three kids. I couldn’t compete with my sister, who was perfect and still is to this day and my brother, who was near perfect. Uh…
You want to understand your kid - get behind their eyes. And I was - I became the best at being the worst. I was the class clown. Kids liked me. Teachers hated me. But you know what? I had a mom who was a real brick. She was the one that prayed for me every day. Come down the stairs in the morning, there she was with her Bible open. She was either reading God’s Word or praying for me.
And, uh, don’t sell yourself short, parents. Your prayer life, your steadfastness - you’re hanging in there. You’re just loving those kids. I know there’s times you want to kill them. Be honest, (Laughter) OK. But you hanging in there and just loving those kids, but if you love your kids - and here’s the principle - you will discipline them. That’s part of it.
John: Hm. Well, some, uh, insights from Dr. Kevin Leman today on Focus on the Family. And, uh, we’re talking about just a few of the things in his book Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours. It is a terrific resource. And, uh, whether you are an expectant parent, or you’ve got kids who are in their teens, this will help you with some of those day to day things that you’re dealing with or will deal with. And, uh, we’ve got the book and a CD or download of our conversation today at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or, uh, call us, and we’ll tell you more - 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Kevin, we’re going to take some questions in a minute from the crowd around us.
Jim: So get those questions ready. But, uh, for the next few seconds, you mentioned four, uh, goals of misbehavior. Uh, what are those four areas of misbehavior that parents should know about?
Kevin: They come out of individual psychology from a guy by the name of Dr. Alfred Adler who, years ago, was a colleague of Sigmund Freud in Vienna. But real briefly, kids misbehave, uh, for a reason. As kids become less encouraged, and therefore discouraged - I mean, all kids are attention-getters. Kids are going to seek attention positively or negatively, but all kids are attention-getters.
But when encouragement goes down in the home - and I’ll be glad to talk about the difference between encouragement and praise - a kid will go beyond it. Let me - let me show you with a little noise to boot.
A classroom teacher, OK, and a little third grader starts tapping his pen, making noise. Teacher says, “Thomas, Thomas, please.” And he stops. What’s the best predictor - before that classroom is over, what behavior is probably going to reoccur again? (Pen tapping) You guessed it. So that’s the attention-getter. It’s purpose of behavior - he makes that noise to draw attention to himself.
Now, you’ve got the powerful child. If he continues to get discouraged, he becomes powerful. Now - this is the kid that wanders around and you to tell him to sit down. OK, you give him a command to sit down. He sits all right, but he takes his arms, and he folds them, he’s got a defiant look on his face. Sort of OK, I will, but I’m going to tell you, I’m the boss here. A kid throws a temper tantrum. What’s the purpose of nature of the temper tantrum at the mall?
By the way, what do you do when a kid throws a temper tantrum? Step over the child. There’s a great temptation to step on the child. (LAUGHTER) That is very illegal. Don’t do that. But watch what happens many times — the little tyke will come, and he’ll dive in front of you a second time.
He’s saying, hey, parent, I’m an authority over you. What St. Paul clearly says in Ephesians 6 is this - children obey your parents – that’s the right thing to do because God has placed them - here’s that word - in authority over you. So he’s saying, hey, I’m the boss. I only count life when I win.
So you see attention-getters. You see powerful kids. Then you see revengeful kids. In all my years of 40 years of private practice, I’ll bet I didn’t see two revengeful kids in all those times. And those are kids that are so hurt by life they feel like they need to strike back at life. Then you’ve got the kids who, they’re just inadequate. They just give up.
Kevin: You see very few of those, believe it or not. So most of the kids that we deal with are attention-getters or powerful-driven kids. The power-driven says, I only count when I dominate, when I win, when I control. The attention guy says, I only count life when I get other people to serve me, and I’m the center of attention.
Jim: Man, those are good thoughts. Um, before questions, can you answer this for me? Formulas in how we parent, especially in the Christian community, um, do we need a little realization there that sometimes you can do things really well and your child still has their own free will? Is it all that formulaic, or is it unpredictable to a point?
Kevin: That’s how much God loved us - He gave us free choice. You can be the best - I’ve met some of the most godly, wonderful parents, and you really wonder how they could have spawned such kids because the kids just seemed to be diametrically opposed.
And these are loving parents, who’ve done, you know, Leman-style really great parenting. But, you know, kids, they got a wire up their tail. They turn left when everybody else is turning right. Some kids just see themselves as victims or martyrs. You see it in adults. Uh, if I had all those answers, Jim, I would write a book called “All Life’s Answers.” But...
Jim: No, but it’s true.
Kevin: ...I would co-author it with Jim Daly and John Fuller. (LAUGHTER)
Jim: Well, thank you so very much. But it’s so true because parents can carry a lot of guilt, too, because they’ve done the right thing, the good thing, but they’re still not getting the result that they had hoped for or prayed about for years.
Kevin: If you’re a parent, write this one down - guilt is the propellant for most of the lousy decisions you will make as a parent.
Jim: That’s good.
Kevin: You got to get over the guilt.
Jim: Well, with that, let’s open it up, uh, to our guests around the table here. And just give me your first name, and state your question.
Erin: Hi my name is Erin (ph), and I have a 7-year-old, a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old. And my question is...
Jim: Where are the children? (LAUGHTER) No, I’m kidding!
John: Over at Whit’s End!
Erin: They’re in school. Uh, I have a question about something that my husband and I try to do in the evening. We call it family Bible time. And we try to bring the kids together and read a Bible story and, um - already laughing.
Jim: No, it’s just - yeah.
Kevin: I’m smiling.
Erin: Um, and so, um...
Jim: It’s a good thing.
Erin: ...Sometimes we let them act out the Bible story, but we’re just trying to expose them and have family time together where we pray and read the Bible story. And it’s not going very well (Laughter) because my husband is more authoritarian and wants them to be respectful and to mind.
Jim: That doggone husband (laughter).
Erin: And I want them to have a positive experience with the Bible and with prayer and not have - I’m struggling because I don’t want the discipline of trying to get them to mind to have a bad association with...
Jim: I don’t think any couple...
Erin: ...The things of God.
Jim: ...Has ever faced this!
Kevin: Erin, I...
John: Yes, first time ever!
Kevin: Erin, I love you. (Laughter). I love you, Erin. I want to tell you that. I want to tell you the Lemans, OK, Sandra and Kevin Leman failed at that so miserably, so early. I figured out a long time ago, this isn’t working. One of the things - so I’m telling you when you have seven, five and three, you try to line them up. And everyone’s going to pay attention, and we’re going to have Bible story. It reminds me of my mother. My mother sent me to JOY club. It was... (LAUGHTER) It was horrific. And I’m so old they had flannel graphs. You talk about exciting - it was exciting.
Jim: JOY club, I love that!
Kevin: Oh, it was - but you know what? Here I am. I’m not making fun of it. I still remember what JOY stood for - Jesus, others and you. My mom tried. But I’ll tell you what we did, and what I might suggest for anybody to try - you know, kids love stories. They love stories at bedtime. You can tell kids stories that has biblical implications, that demonstrate biblical principles to kids in a fun way.
It makes you creative, imaginative, and you can tell the kids the same story.
Now, if you choose to do that, I’m going to warn you, Jim, talked earlier about the judge and jury. If you change that story or you leave something out, you’re going to hear from your little Judge Judy... (LAUGHTER) ...Who’s going to say, “Daddy, you left out a part” or whatever. But kids love stories. And we tried the devotional thing around the table with no success whatsoever. I marvel at people who can pull that one off. (Laughter) So I want you to know, Erin, you’re not alone. Try to be creative one-on-one with the kids, rather than the three of them together. You’re outnumbered three to two.
Jim: There you have it. Also, “Odyssey’s” a great great storytelling...
Kevin: Oh, yeah.
Jim: ...Children series that we do.
Jim: And that’s a good thing to be able to listen to that together and then talk about the principles involved. Uh, Kevin, some of that comes down to temperament as well because you have a structured parent and perhaps a less structured parent. We tend to bond and marry those that are a little different from us.
Jim: So that could be some of the conflict. I know, for Jean, she’s a biochemist. She - she’s a science person. She loves formal devotions, and the boys always struggle with that.
Kevin: Yeah, Jim, on a personal note, I wouldn’t get into a debate with that woman. (LAUGHTER) Let’s move along.
Jim: Thank you (laughter).
Kevin: But, you know...
Jim: But it’s a desire...
Kevin: It is.
Jim: ...On her part to get...
Kevin: Erin says...
Kevin: “...My husband is authoritarian.” OK. Now, one thing you have to figure out, as parents - there has to be some negotiation here. Because if you two are not on the same page - OK? - you could read Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, you could memorize it, you can bring Kevin Leman to your house for a month, but I’m here to tell you, it’s not going to work...
Jim: It would be fun.
Kevin: ...Unless the two of you - it would be fun, but you must be shoulder to shoulder. The authoritarian has to move toward the authoritative. But the permissive - and usually, a wife might become more permissive to think she’s balancing out the authoritarianism in her husband. That’s not true. That sends the kids a double signal and not a healthy one.
Jim: That’s good. Let’s go to the next question.
Lori: Hello, my name is Lori (ph), and, um, I’m an only child. And my husband I have a daughter, who’s also an only child. She’s 12 years old.
Kevin: Lori, before we go any further, we’re going to take a few minutes, and we’re going to pray for you and your husband... (LAUGHTER) ...And your...
Jim: Yeah, pray for your husband...
Jim: ...For sure.
Kevin: Yeah. Oh, my goodness!
Lori: We tend to be parenting - our parenting style is more toward the permissive side, but not extreme permissive, just more toward that area. So I wanted your opinion on something. Our daughter, who’s in seventh grade, and she’s a great student, you know, straight A’s...
Jim: Of course.
Lori: ...Blah, blah, blah, blah, very respectful.
Kevin: That’s what I expect.
Lori: (Laughter) But, um - let’s see, how do I say this? So for instance, last night, she came home. And she had a lot of homework to do, and she had to go to a function after school. And normally, she unloads the dishwasher. However, me being the parent, I thought, oh, she has all this stuff to do. I don’t want to ask her to unload the dishwasher because she needs time to do all these other things.
So I didn’t ask her to unload the dishwasher. And so when she has a lot of homework to do or she’s real busy, I just - you know, sometimes I’ll even clean up her room for her, things like that. So I’m just wondering your take on that because I don’t want to stress her out. I want her to...
Kevin: I’m going to surprise you, I think. I’m...
Kevin: I’m going to - I’m going to - you only child, you. Um, I’m going to surprise you because I’m going to give you a Dr. Leman five star because I think you have to realize that some kids have a lot on their plate, and there’s nothing better than perceiving that situation, going in and doing things you normally wouldn’t do, OK? Because, Honey - and she says, “Mom, did you clean up my bedroom?” “Sure did, Honey. You got a lot on your plate this week. I just thought it would help.”
Now, is that an excuse? Are you going to do that every week? Are you going to give your kid room service and food service? Or my question to every parent is- are you rearing your kid in a home or a hotel? Most parents rear their kids in what? Hotels. Meaning what? We give them room service and food service, and we snowplow the roads of life for them. But I’m saying, hey, this isn’t cookie-cutter here, folks. You’ve got to know who you’re leading. You’re the leader in your family. And sometimes you see situations like that where you step up, and you do kind things for each other.
Jim: Kevin, let me - let me ask you a question because I know this is, uh, happening in some homes where that more authoritarian parent is saying, hey, this kid needs to learn. And therefore, they need to throw that banana peel away. Maybe it is finals week. But where’s that balance, uh, of showing that kindness and the error of showing no kindness because you aren’t learning how to - how to grow up?
Jim: So how do you - I mean, I like what you’re saying. I agree with what you’re saying. But sometimes there’ll be one parent in the home that, uh, is so set on teaching you the right thing to do that there’s never any grace or any let me help you with that.
Kevin: Well, I had a breakfast with a friend this morning, and I posed the question about grace. You ever wondered why grace is so bountiful? Could it possibly be ‘cause you and I need it on a daily basis? (Laughter). Again, I think that parent who is so rule-oriented, he’s going to have, or she’s going to have Pharisee thinking - there’s a right way to do things.
You lose some great teachable moments. I think you want to teach your kids to be humble. You never look bigger in your kid’s eyes when you say, I misspoke. I was wrong. Would you forgive me?
One of my chilling moments of being a parent and an author of 59 books is this - my 11-year-old daughter, Holly, looked at me at the breakfast table after I’d run over her feelings big-time. And she said, “Do you know what you ought to do?” And to show you how stupid Kevin Leman is, I said, “What?” And she said, “You ought to read your own book.” (Laughter) And that one got me. And she was right. And I apologized profusely to her. So again, keep in mind this balance. That’s why I bring authoritative to our minds today. We want to be authoritative. We want to stand in authority. God didn’t put you on this Earth to be run over by your smart-mouth kid.
Don’t ever allow it. And for all you women, look at the news today, look at everything that’s in the news today about men and women. You women, who are raising sons, you represent all of womanhood to this young guy. Don’t ever take any guff from little Buford or his little brother Harlan (Laughter) ever, ever, ever.
John: Obviously, we were enjoying our time in the studio with Dr. Kevin Leman - always brings a lot of insights and energy. And he’s been talking about his book, Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.
Jim: John, we mentioned at the beginning that this program with Kevin was one of our most popular this year, and that’s why we’re airing it again today.
Focus on the Family wants to strengthen your family, to help you thrive in your marriage and parenting, too! And we’re seeing God at work through broadcasts like this one. For example, we recently heard from a listener in Springfield, Missouri, who shared the following comment with us. He said: Your program caught my attention and I found myself going to work earlier so I could hear the whole program. The wisdom and advice is refreshing and encouraging. And it’s convicting. The day before discovering your program I was praying for more information to better lead my family — thank you.
And that’s it. We’re so grateful that God is using us - and you - to help needy families. And I invite you to join our team if you haven’t. Please “Give the Gift of Family” with your support to Focus on the Family. And especially now, when we have a matching gift opportunity. That means any donation you make to Focus will be doubled! So can we count on you to help us encourage and equip even more families in the days ahead?
John: We’d love to hear from you. Our phone number is 800-232-6459. 800, the letter “A” and the word FAMILY. Or you can donate online at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
And if you can make a generous gift of any amount today to this ministry, we’ll send a complimentary copy of Dr. Leman’s book, Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.
By the way, at the website we have a free parenting assessment for you. And we’ve identified 7 keys traits to having a healthy, godly family, and the assessment is easy to fill out; it takes just a few minutes - I think you’ll find it helpful. Check it out at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
And coming up next, Dr. Leman offers more “rules of engagement” for parenting your children!
Kevin: When you’re fighting with your kids, you’re cooperating with them. You’re the adult here. You don’t have to go there. You can say it once, turn your back, walk away.
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Kevin LemanView Bio
Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order Book, Have a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours. He and his wife, Sande, reside in Tucson, Ariz., and have five children and several grandchildren. Learn more about Dr. Leman by visiting his websites, drleman.com and birthorderguy.com.