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 2 of 2)
Call to Action:
Jim Daly: Hi, this is Jim Daly and I wanted to give you a quick update after being in Washington D.C. last week about the Pro-Life Movement. We were back there for the March for Life and many other activities and meetings. And one thing became clear—last year the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. It would make most abortion illegal after the 20th week of pregnancy, which is the point in fetal development that a pre-born child can likely experience pain. There’s only seven countries in the world that don’t have a similar ban and that includes North Korea, Vietnam, China, Canada, the Netherlands and Singapore. It’s time for the U.S. to catch up and to recognize that these babies in the womb need protection. Of course this isn’t the only step, but in a culture that’s becoming more and more pro-life, this is a giant step forward to hopefully someday recognizing all life as sacred right from conception. As many as 25,000 pre-born children are aborted after the 20th week of pregnancy each year in the United States. Won’t you join us to protect innocent life? This Monday, January 29th, the Senate is expected to vote on this critical issue. I think now is the time—I don’t do this often—but now is the time to call the Capitol switchboard and let your opinion be known. The number is 202-224-3121. 202-224-3121. Let your Senators know—they take notice of the number of calls on a given topic. Let’s work together to remove the U.S. from this group of seven countries who so willfully disregard the sanctity of human life.
End of Call to Action
Dr. Kevin Leman: Kids can work you. They can play you like a violin. On the back ofMaking Children Mind Without Losing Yoursit says we have seen the enemy, and they are small. (LAUGHTER)
John Fuller: That’s for sure.
Kevin: And they’re unionized.The ankle-biter battalion is on the move, so you better have a game plan.
End of Excerpt
John: Well, Dr. Kevin Leman describing some of the common challenges that we face as parents. And there are a lot of challenges, aren’t there? If you wish you could improve the ways that you and your children interact with each other, just hang on because we have more encouragement from Dr. Leman today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, we had a great conversation last time with Dr. Leman about where we are as parents and where we can get a little off track with how we’re raising our kids. Do you feel like that sometimes?
John: Multiple times it seems.
Jim: Not a day.
John: Well, yeah, actually, days sometimes...
Jim: (Laughter) Multiple times a day. Well, we often try to make life easier for them. I am guilty of that. What little thing can I do? Sometimes that’s good. Kevin Leman last time talked about that. If you missed the broadcast last time, get the download, get the smartphone app. There’s lots of ways you can listen. And we want you to hear it because we think it’s going to improve your ability to parent the way you need to parent and the way God wants you to parent. That’s the key. So get that download. Get it on the smartphone, whatever you need to do. It was a great discussion.
John: Yeah. And we’re talking, once again, about Dr. Leman’s bookMaking Children Mind Without Losing Yours.Just in little print here at the top, Jim, says more than 1 million copies sold. I guess it was pretty popular, wasn’t it?
Jim: That says something. That’s right.
John: It’s revised. And it’s got some new content in it. And we’ve got it at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or call us and we’ll be happy to send a copy to you. 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: There must be about 10 million more parents that need this, I would think.
John: Something like that, yeah.
Jim: Kevin, it’s great to have you back.
Kevin: Hey, thank you, Jim.
Jim: Hey, last time we had a great discussion. I loved it. And there were so many helpful hints there. But you wanted to talk about the distinction between praise and encouragement.
Kevin: Yes. You know, I call it Vitamin E — encouragement. And everybody knows that praise is great for kids. You’ll see me on a network television program, and they’ll introduce me as hey, Dr. Kevin Leman’s coming up with why praise is destructive with children. Stay tuned. We want to hear from this nut. (Laughter) And I go out there and make a case for why praise is destructive with children. Now, first of all, let me say this, if you want to praise something, praise God. God is worthy of your praise.
Your husband, your wife, your kids are not. You use encouragement rather than praise. And you’re going to see a tremendous difference. Let me give you just a couple simple examples.
Your kid brings home five A’s on the report card. OK. You’re the traditional, authoritarian-based parent. “Oh, five A’s, oh. I am so excited. I’m calling Aunt Sally and Uncle Jack right now. Oh, you’re the best kid in the whole world. (kissing sounds) Here’s four kisses and a $20 dollar bill.” Now, people are saying, hey, Leman, what’s wrong with that? The kid got five A’s. And I mean, you’re happy and you’re calling aunt and grandma. And you gave him a 20. What’s wrong with that? A lot of things. Let me show you how to use encouragement in that same situation. “Wow. Five A’s. You hit it out of the park. It look like all that hard work you put in really paid off, honey. Congratulations.”
And guess what, parent. You just saved yourself $20. (LAUGHTER)
Jim: Doesn’t sound as fun.
Kevin: I want you to hear the takeaway. The takeaway for the kid is somebody acknowledged the hard work I did. It’s not blue smoke. It’s not the carrot on the stick. And it’s just part of our society. That’s how we respond.
Single mom coming home from a dental appointment on a Saturday morning and she’s thinking about everything she has to do. And if you’re a single mom, especially, you know what life’s like. I mean, you get one day to get everything done in life. And she’s thinking about her home and the kitchen and the dishes and Friday night’s dishes and Thursday night’s dishes are there. And she walks into a clean, sparkling kitchen.
And there’s her 13-year-old son with a dish towel over his table. The traditional mother, “Oh, my goodness, did you clean this up? You’re the best boy in the whole world.” (kissing sounds) Still kisses and there’s a $10 bill, OK? Encouragement. “Wow. Did you clean this up, honey? What a thoughtful thing to do. I was so dead tired and have so many things to do. I appreciate that so much.” The takeaway goes right to the kid’s heart. Trust me. And so you want to think in encouraging terms. Simple things like “Hey, good job. Now you’re getting it. Wow.” Those are all encouraging words. Don’t overdo the praise thing.
Jim: Kevin, I’ve got to ask you this because I think so many parents fall into this trap, which would be hey, you did a pretty good job here, but you may have missed this spot or that spot. And that’s age appropriate, too. A 8-year-old, 9-year-old’s going to do a different job than a 15-year-old. But distinguish between those parenting approaches as well.
Kevin: Well, there’s parents who are just natural improvers. They can improve anything. Um, and I can relate this as a husband. We built one home in our entire marriage from the ground up. And when you build a home, you have no money left for anything - OK? - especially landscaping. (Laughter) That’s the last thing. And our backyard was covered with weeds. I live in Tucson, Arizona. We got some mean weeds in that town.
And one morning I got up at 5 o’clock, put a swimming suit on, went out in the backyard and weeded that entire thing. I was like a little boy at 10 o’clock that morning waking Mrs. Uppington, my bride, to tell her what I had done. And she’s a hard woman to get out of bed. Well, she struggled to get out of bed. She puts on her little bathrobe, comes out with me and she goes, “Oh, Lemey. Oh, my goodness. It is wonderful.”
Now, she’s a firstborn. And she is capable of finding a flaw. (Laughter) And I can’t make a story up like this. She looks down along the concrete patio, and there’s a little weed about 2 inches tall that looks like he’s going to grow up and become a weed someday, OK?
And she found a flaw. And some of you parents are like that, you know? And some of you husbands are like it. You’re lucky enough to have a wife who cooks dinner. You sit down to dinner and you say, what’s with the carrots? Well, be careful. You might be wearing carrot shortly, OK? And so it is with our kids.We can find the flaw. We say but if you did this. And I call that ‘should’ing (ph) on your kid. Don’t ‘should’ on your kid, OK?
And that shoulding says what? You could’ve measured up. You didn’t measure up. You want the kid to realize that his effort is what’s important. That’s the vitamin E. When you become the praiser, the evaluator, the critical eyed parent, you’re setting your kid up for failure. Watch out for that critical eye. It’s called a carnal self. I remind you Saint Paul said - called himself wretched. If he’s wretched, what are you and me? So we all are subject to that carnal self. Don’t bring it out on your kids.
Jim: So Kevin, you also mention in your book.Making Children Mine Without Losing Yours,which I still am not sure you can accomplish that, but I’ll read the book, (laughter) the - the reality discipline. This idea that reality discipline is the right way to go. You touched on it last time. Let’s go there again. Give another example of what that means because so many parents want to save their kids from problems.
Kevin: What’s great about this, it keeps you out of the daily battle with your son or your daughter. For example, 12-year-old is supposed to clean his room on Tuesdays and Saturdays, OK? And it’s Tuesday night. It hasn’t been done. A smart parent, without warning - warnings are disrespectful acts. There’s another one that throws parents for a loop. Don’t warn your kids. Somewhere it’s written you’re supposed to warn them. I don’t know where it is, but it’s not good advice.
Bushwhack them. (Laughter) Surprise them, OK? So hire 10-year-old sister to go clean 12-year-old’s room and pay for it out of 12-year-old’s allowance. That’s what I call let the reality of the situation become the teacher to the child.
To be real frank, he doesn’t care for his sister that much to begin with. And for him to find out that creep was even in his room, he’s not a happy dude. Now he loses $5 out of his allowance for housekeeping services rendered? You have his attention. But see, he has a choice, just like you have a choice. Run your car through the carwash for $10 or wash it yourself.
And that’s why I call it reality discipline. You got a kid that doesn’t get up in the morning. And every morning you do battle with this kid. Now, how do you feel once he gets on the stupid school bus half-dressed and without breakfast? Do you feel good about the conversation you had with your kid all morning — yelling and screaming and saying things you wouldn’t say in front of your friends? No. Well, don’t wake them up, again, without warning. Let him suffer the consequences of being late. And here’s the note you write, dear teacher, dear administrator, Buford has absolutely no reason to be late for school today. He chose to sleep in. Do whatever you - feel free to do whatever you think is right for kids who are tardy, love Mom.
Jim: (Laughter) Love Mom (laughter).
Kevin: And what you’ve done is you’ve taken the tennis ball life and put it back in who’s court?
Jim: Yeah, I like that.
John: Kevin, I like those a lot. But in that first scenario, I can - I can hear some parents say, yeah, what I’m doing is setting up a big fight now because he doesn’t like his sister, and I just gave him a reason to really not like her. How do I manage all of that emotional spillover?
Kevin: OK. And there’s kids who’ll say OK, let’s up the ante, just like John just said. And now he’s snarky and nasty to his mom and to his sister, OK?
Within 20 minutes, the kid wants something. And you give him vitamin N. Mom, would you do this? Mom, can I do that? No, you can’t. And they come back at - they just don’t put their hands in their pocket and walk away and say well, I lost that one. Again, they’ll come after you with badger-like fierceness, OK?
And let them work for it. Let him figure out why you’re not acquiescing to his request. And a good answer is I don’t feel like doing anything for you right now. Turn your back. Walk away. Let them see visually that you are one unhappy dudette, mom, OK?
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.And notice they’ll come after you because they don’t like that. They want to engage you in battle. If you get in a power struggle with your kid, guarantee you lose.
Jim: Kevin, that’s great advice, first of all. Last time you mentioned this idea of saving your kids. One of the things we’ve encountered, now that our kids are teenagers, is how many - I think, as we observe school projects like the infamous science project or whatever it might be...
Kevin: “Well, Jim did help a little….”
Jim: No. You know what? Jean and I - I told Jean - I said when our kids get to that point where they’re doing the science project, we are not helping other than encouragement and giving them just any kind of advice they might ask. But that’s it. And so the first science project was hilarious. I mean, we - in this town in Colorado Springs, we do have children who belong to astronauts. (Laughing) And they come in with the rocket ship. You’re going, there’s no way that 9-year-old did that.
Kevin: Oh, yeah.
Jim: You know dad was on it.
Jim: But talk about that idea of bailing your kids out, helping your kids doing their homework. It should not be done for all the reasons you’ve talked about. But be very specific as to why and what damage you’re doing.
Kevin: Well, first of all, I’m going to give you the Leman 5 star for you and Jean staying out of that because it’s so easy to get into because we tend to project our unfulfilled dreams and wishes - now hear the psychologist in me - on our children. And we want them to succeed. We don’t want them to fail. We want them to get in the right school. We believe that grades are important. So once kids hit - your kids are what? 17 and 15?
Jim: Correct, yeah.
Kevin: And once you hit that area, we’ve got college coming and it’s really easy to jump in.
It destroys self-confidence - OK? - in kids. That’s why routines are important. We got a question on yesterday’s show about what advice would you give to a young mom about to have a little firstborn. And one thing I didn’t say is create routines. Routines for kids give self-confidence, OK? So again, when kids learn early that mom and dad are not going to step in there and snowplow the roads of life for them, they build confidence in the fact that hey, I can do this.
Jim: Kevin, one of those areas that can be cloudy for parents, particularly Christian parents, this idea of unconditional love. It’s a wonderful thing. We want to live in that spot where we receive it and we give it. But when it comes to parenting, that can also be real permissive. And you don’t have a spine when it comes to the job of parenting. So distinguish between unconditional love from a parent to a child and the responsibility of raising a child which sometimes requires conditions.
Kevin: Yeah. You love a child for who he is, OK? You don’t love what he does lots of times. I think of my sweet mother who endured all the things she did in bringing up me.
And one of my favorite scenarios in life was when - as you get old and near death - this is a reminder for all these young parents around - when you get old and near death, they start giving you awards. (Laughter) I mean, they gave me an honorary doctorate degree and the University of Arizona gave me their highest award they can give to one of their own. But I got a call and a letter from my high school. Now, this is a high school (Laughter) I graduated fourth from the bottom in my class. And they want to put me on their wall of fame. I said, I’m there. I’m there. I’m going. And my mother lived to be 95 years old. So here I am driving my 90-year-old mother up to school. Here’s the actual conversation. “Hey Ma, we fooled a few people, didn’t we?” “Oh, honey.” She says “I am so proud of you.” I said, “Remember the night the cops brought me home?” (Laughter) She said “Oh, I do. But you were such a good boy.” (Laughter)
“Remember that time I got caught with the stolen sweaters?” “Oh, I do.” But her - every answer to everything I brought up, everything I did, all the maladies of life that came to mind, she had the same response. But you were such a good boy. And all I could think of was Romans 8:39 that says nothing separates you from the love of Christ.
And that’s how a parent love is for the kid. Nothing sep- do you like what they do? Do you like some of their actions? You like their smart mouth sometimes? No. That’s why you discipline them. But you - you guide, you know.
I wrote a bookcalled The Way Of The Shepherd, a leadership book, 5-star rated on Amazon, which means somebody likes it. But you know, the shepherd goes out of their way to bring that one little lamb back in. You know. He uses the rod to guide the sheep. He uses the rod to separate the fur. He uses it sometimes to give them a little shot in the tail to move along when they need to move along.
I’m here on the behalf of all the sheep in North America. They’re not stupid. They know the difference between real love and real appreciation and a phony. So you got to be real with your kids. You love them to death. Yes, there’s times you’d like to string up every one of them for different things they’ve done. But that love permeates everything else. Love never fails.
Jim: All right, well let’s open it up to our guests around the table here. Just give me your first name and state your question.
David: Hi. I’m David. And I first wanted to thank you for your work. My wife and I have two daughters, 24 and 23. And they’ve turned out pretty good. And we’ve used a lot of your principles. And you kept us laughing, kind of take the heat off. And no grandkids yet, but we’re thinking about that. Do things change as you become a grandparent and using these principles?
Kevin: Well, David, thank you for the question. Let me point out one of those reasons why those kids turned out so well is if you’ve ever read a Leman book, they underscore the daddy-daughter relationship and the mother-son relationship. When dads step up to the plate, be the dads they need to be, those daughters just flourish.
So when those little - we have four grandchildren, OK? And it’s just - it’s a blessing. The old adage is, you know, you can love them and give them back to their parents and go on enjoy life and shuffleboard is true to a certain extent. But you know what? I love to engage our grandchildren. I say things to my grandchildren sometimes that are sort of street education. And I see my daughter sort of cringe.
Jim: (Laughter) I can’t imagine that.
Kevin: But then she’ll come around and say “Dad, I am so glad - I am so glad that I have a dad like you who cares about my kids to bring up these things because I have an eighth grader now.” Little Connor’s got size 14 shoes. And what’s going on today in seventh and eighth grade in schools, parents need to know. It’s not like it was years ago. So it just deepens everything. I think a lot of parents who followed Kevin Leman through the years, they’re looking at their kids now and seeing how they’re rearing their children.
And they might be the ones that go out and pick upMaking Children Mindand give it to their kids saying you need to read this book because they’re scratching their heads saying what’s happened here? This isn’t how they were reared. So young people today have their own mind about how kids ought to be reared. And it’s different - it’s different in many ways from how their parents raised them.
Jim: All right. Let’s move on to the next question.
Erin: My name is Erin and my question is what parenting pitfalls are there for two parents who were firstborn children?
Jim: That’s a good one.
Jim: Quickly hit the attributes of a firstborn — that will help the audience better.
Kevin: ...Well, firstborns are reliable, conscientious. They’re achievers. They know everything there is in life. Um, I finally worked up enough courage to say to my firstborn wife - and this will help answer the question - I said “you’re bossy.” (Laughter) And without missing a note she looked at me and she said “I’m not bossy, my ideas are just better than yours.” (LAUGHTER) So here’s the thing, you have to understand that firstborn tend to be perfectionistic. They have a need to be right.
And they’re the great correctors. They’re the great - I call the women Martha Luthers because they’re the great reformers, OK? They’re always reforming something.
And it’s so easy to see your kids and see imperfection in their life and you just pounce on it. This kid - if you’re critical - OK? - if you’re a critical-eyed parent, and most critical-eyed parents are firstborn or only born children, your firstborn’s going to pay for it. So here’s the caveat. Here’s the warning.
Does your firstborn start a lot of projects and doesn’t finish them? Do they draw a picture and tear it up in front of you and say it’s no good? OK. Um, do they say negative things about themselves and other people? Watch out because you have what I call a discouraged, defeated perfectionist, one who is going to be great at doing themself in in life. It spawned from having that critical-eyed parent.
Now, let me ask you this. Is God a critical parent? Is he looking for imperfect people with the biggest Wham-O slingshot on record, popping them off one at a time? No. He says “come to me.” And by the way, you know, if you want to get close to God, you’ve got to move toward him. He doesn’t move toward you. There’s got to be a submission there. And there’s another word that people hate today, submission. You want to be a great parent? I think you have to live a submissive life.
Jim: Kevin, this has been so good. And the questions are great. And this is where parents are living, and Jean and I. I know you, too, John, and your wife Dena. We’re living the dream every day with kids still in the home, right? And I hope you have been encouraged. And we want to get this resource into your hands,Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.
Our way of doing that is support the ministry here at Focus. Help us resource parents. Help us with our counseling department, all the things here. And our way of saying thank you will be to send you a copy of Kevin’s book,Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.Is that a money back guarantee, Kevin? I don’t know (laughter).
Kevin: Well, I’ll tell you, I quote myself. I say if you see things in this book you like, underline them. I say if you see things you don’t agree with, cross them out. See a page you disagree with, rip it out. But use this to help you become a better parent...
Jim: It’s a manual. That’s what I love about it. I have one more question for you. But John, how do people get a copy of the book?
John: Well, the best way is to stop by our website to focusonthefamily.com/radio or just give us a phone call. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459.
Jim: And here’s the question, Kevin. So a parent has been listening - or maybe a grandparent that knows their grandkids and their adult children are in trouble in this area — speak to both audiences - what can a parent do who has a 17-year-old, an 18-year-old, you know, an older teen, and they have been the authoritarian parent, and they don’t see how to back up, maybe they’re feeling that conviction right now, that making them do everything perfectly has not won the day, and there’s a lot of bitterness and a lot of anger in that relationship, what can they do to begin to retrieve that and to have a normal, healthy relationship?
Kevin: Well, a complex question in many ways. But let me try to address that. First of all, you grandparents, you know, we just passed the Christmas season. But you know, we got Valentine’s Day coming or maybe a special birthday. In this day and age, how about this - how about making a DVD, a video, of your life to each of your grandchildren talking about the struggles you’ve had emotionally, spiritually, the time that you doubted the very existence of God, how you came to terms with Christ, how your life changed, what advice you would give to them as they go through life? You want to give your kids - your grandkids - a real gift, one that they’ll treasure? If there’s a proverbial fire in the home, the one thing they’d grab is that DVD of grandma and grandpa, what a great way to keep your life active in your kid’s lives.
For those parents who are struggling, you’ve been too authoritarian, you need to come to a place of forgiveness, you just start with a simple apology. Ask for some forgiveness, see what’s happened. Sometimes, though, when you have those authoritarian, know-it-all parents, you end up with kids who are really deeply divided from you. You got a 14-year-old, 15-year-old whose four-letter wording you every day, life is hell on earth, to put it bluntly, what do you do? I would suggest toilet paper. Wait a minute, toilet paper? Well, I prefer two-ply. If you want one, that’s OK. But what I would do if I got a 14-year-old, a 15-year-old that’s way out of control, I would, just for effect, get 18 jointed pieces of toilet paper. I would say honey, I need to talk to you. What do you want to talk about? Honey, I just need three minutes and then you’re a free man.
I’d hold up those 18. I would drop all but four off, assuming the kids 14 years old. I’d have this direct conversation. “You have four more years to live in this prison. You made it very clear that you don’t like living here. And let me speak for your mother and myself, you have not been a real pleasure to be around for the first 14. It hasn’t been good. I’d like to see things change. I’m willing to meet you halfway. And if you don’t, you need to understand this - that in four more years, you’re going to leave this home and you’re on your own and we wish you the best.”Sometimes you have to bring it right down to the street war kind of thing. You have to lay things on the line.
And again, would you rather slowly leak that life to death? Or would you rather bring it to an explosion point? I’d rather bring it to that explosion point, try to deal with it as best we can. You only do that with God’s help and with a presence of mind to keep in mind there’s a balance here. So you’re sort of giving them a tough shot, but you’re also opening your arms to say I am willing to do some changing and meet you halfway.
Jim: And that’s a big, big discussion. We’re here for you. We have counselors. We have other resources, certainly Kevin’s books. This one,Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, is a great resource.
John: And once again, we have copies of that here at Focus on the Family. And our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Or our website is focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Kevin, it has been great. Thanks for being with us. And for the audience, let’s show that appreciation to Dr. Kevin Leman.
Kevin: Thank you, Jim. (APPLAUSE)
John: And thank you for joining us today on Focus on the Family and look for more advice and encouragement for your parenting journey at our website. There’s a free Parenting Assessment that focuses on seven traits that are key to effective parent-child relationships. And best of all, the assessment is free.
Coming up next time, Pastor Ted Cunningham urges Christian couples to find a godly community to support your marriage.
Pastor Ted Cunningham: Who is it that you’re letting into your marriage and into your life? This is why I’m grateful for Focus on the Family being a good back-up singer to marriages. Who leads your duet off-key?Don’t just turn ‘em down, maybe you need to just mute ‘em altogether.
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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.