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Rethinking Your Parenting Strategies (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date 05/10/2016

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Psychologist Michael Anderson and Dr. Timothy Johanson explain how many parents waste time and energy on parenting strategies that don't work, and offer practical suggestions for more effectively disciplining children and raising them to become well-adjusted adults. (Part 1 of 2) 

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Episode Transcript


John Fuller: Imagine this all too familiar, but very frustrating circumstance. It's the third time this week ythat our child has misbehaved and you've tried everything. I mean, there have been warnings and lectures andlosses of privileges, everything. Nothing though is working though and for whatever reason, your child is just unwilling, maybe incapable of doing the right thing, so you feel like a complete failure as a parent. What do you do? I'm John Fuller and we'll examine some good ways and some bad ways to deal with that kind of frustration today on "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: Hey, John, you're soundin' like you're speaking with some conviction there.

John: Oh (Laughter), it's happened a time or two.

Jim: I know and this guy's livin' it. (Laughter) I think, boy three times a week is pretty good if you're misbehaving only three times a week. Somebody out there is listening going, "Wow, mine's three times an hour, three times a day, whatever." But you have captured everybody's attention at this point. Every parent has experienced a challenge like that at one time or another and for some of us, it seems like it happens much more frequently than it should. It may be battles over homework or chores or getting your kids to obey the first time when you tell 'em to do something. Okay, you guys, this is at my house with me.

John: Exactly, yeah.

Jim: We know exactly how you feel, mom and dad because we're there, too. And that's why Focus on the Family is here for you, to help you work through family issues and conflict and hopefully, equip you to develop healthy relationship with your children, so that they can thrive and you can launch them in a good way.

John: And Jim, we have a brand-new online store where folks can find parenting resources, books, CDs and so much more. And we'll invite you to stop by. We'll link over to it from or call us and we can tell you about all the different great resources we've assembled, 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Jim: And let me remind everybody, when you purchase through our online store, 100 percent of those proceeds go to help save marriages, help parents do a better job parenting, even help save a child from abortion. So, you know, you can certainly go shop at other places online, but your investment when you shop at the Focus on the Family online bookstore, all those dollars go to help families in some way. So, thank you for doing that.

Today we're gonna feature one of those resources that John talked about from out Best of 2016 collection and every year, we identify those programs that you have responded to, where you the listener have called us or written us or e-mailed us sayin', "That was great; let me get a copy of that." So, as we move through the month of December, that's what you hear, is the best of the best and we've got one for you today. It's a great conversation that we recorded earlier this year with Michael Anderson and Dr. Tim Johanson. Michael is a licensed psychologist and Tim is a pediatrician. Both of these men have spent decades studying the ways kids grow and the way they learn. And they've got some very interesting ideas and I think out-of-the-box approaches when it comes to parenting.

John: And it's a much-needed conversation for so many of us, Jim.

Jim: (Chuckling) Sign me up.

John: I enjoyed the first time. I'm lookin' forward to this time as well. Here now, one of our Best of 2016 programs with our guests, Michael Anderson and Dr. Timothy Johanson on today's "Focus on the Family."


Jim: Now you two have written this comprehensive book for parents that will serve as the basis for our discussion today. The title's GIST, which I love that, the "gist" of it. Is that what you're trying to drive toward, the gist of parenting?

Timothy Johanson: Yeah, I think when we wrote the book, it came out of a couple of different places, first for me, the issue of seeing so much stress in families.

Jim: (Laughing) It is a bit of that, isn't it?

Timothy: There's a lot of that and over the last 25 years in practice, that seems to have grown each year and I think there's a lot of reasons for that. And as we wrote the book, we spent an awful lot of time trying to think of a good title that would really encapsulate what's in the book and it took a long time, didn't it Mike?

Michael Anderson: Yeah, even though the book's 320 pages, it is just the basics. It's about how you look at parenting and that's what's different about this book than other books, because it's not about how to get your kid to behave a certain way. It's about how to think about parenting, so the right thing comes natural[ly].

Jim: Let's talk about that. Why are we drawn as parents to try to get our kids to behave a certain way? And we think that's the goal. I mean, when you see a well-behaved child, you're thinking, wow, those guys are doin' a great job parenting. Is that accurate?

Michael: It might be accurate. It might not be because everything has to progress from something. So, in other words discipline is important, but it's only important if it leads to self-discipline. A guy came in my office and he said, I said, "Why are you here?" And he said, "My daughter, you wouldn't believe what she's become. The last 90 days she's changed completely. And she'll do anything her friends say. She's smoking. She's stealing. She's shoplifting." And I said, "Well, what was she like 90 days ago?" And he said, "Well, she was an A-student and she was in the church youth group and she would do anything we told her to do." And the wording caught my ear and I said, "Well, she hasn't changed that much. She just changed who she was listening to."

Jim: Oh, that's interesting.

Michael: So, she wasn't ever thinking for herself.

Jim: Well, talk about that frustration that is there in parenting today. John's setup was great and any of us with children typically go through bouts of frustration because we don't feel like our children are getting it, especially in the Christian community. We tend to want to see perfection in our kids, you know, that they never lie, that they never do something that's outside of the character of God. That's a pretty steep order.

Michael: Well, there [are] some fundamental misperceptions that make things stressful. For one thing is, most of the parents I work with are relentlessly lovers of their kids.

Jim: Yes.

Michael: And what that leads to is they misperceive that their job is to relentlessly parent their kids.

John: Oh, that's good.

Michael: And what our job really is, is to relentless love our kids enough to parent them as little as possible and that's not intuitive.

Jim: I thought you were gonna say, that's scary. (Laughter)

Michael: It is scary, too.

Jim: Tim, that is kinda scary because, you know, again, I think from a human standpoint, we tend to want to control the environment as parents. We want to ensure that they're safe, that they're not stepping over the line, whatever that line might be. Why should we relax? Convince me.

Timothy: Well (Chuckling), well, Jim, I think that's a great question. I think so many parents, whether they're in the Christian community or not, really feel like they have to be a perfect parent. And they look at their children and their children's behaviors and their children's accomplishments as proof that they're good parents or great parents or perfect parents.

And one of the points of our book is, we gotta back off on that and you need to understand as a parent, you're gonna make a mess of things sometimes. I know certainly I have as a father. I have made good decisions and bad decisions and thankfully, my heavenly Father stepped in the places where I've been so deficient. But parents need to take that whole mind-set of, I've gotta do this perfectly and just throw that away, because that's not how parenting works and it's not how it's intended to work.

Jim: Well, what are some of those outcomes in the old model, if we want to call it that, where we're really setting down expectations and we're laying out the boundaries? Boundaries aren't bad in themselves, are they?

Michael: Well, what parents don't realize is that kids often don't do what they're told, but they almost always do what they're taught. And what they're told and what they're taught are two different things.

Jim: Give us an example of that, a practical [example].

Michael: Okay, a couple months ago there was a 3-year-old standing by his mom in front of a grocery store and I watched this happen. And the mom had groceries in her hand and she said, "Don't cross the street. Don't cross the street. Jimmy, don't cross the street." And the little boy looked both ways and ran across the street and mom said, "Well, if you're gonna go across the street, look both ways." So, what she was saying was, "Don't cross the street." What she taught him was, it's okay to cross the street, because I don't really mean what I say.

Jim: Hm.

Michael: And it's true for us as adults, too. I always love comparing childhood to adulthood.TSA at the airport has taught you that they mean what they say. United has taught you they don't mean what they say--

Jim: How's that? (Laughter)

Michael: --because they have a little basket by the check in and they say your luggage has to fit in here and you can't take a steamer trunk (Laughter) and put it in the overhead.

Jim: But that guy in front of you certainly brought it on.

Michael: Yeah and so, we don't take them serious[ly]. But TSA, when they say, "Take off your belt," we take off our belt. And that's the same thing with parenting, is [that] our inconsistencies come back to haunt us far more than we think.

Jim: And that's so true and that's the consistency issue being able to lay the boundary out. You don't have to rant and rave and become emotional. In fact, one of the chapters in your book was "Just Shut Up." I found that one kind of interesting, because I fight that. You know, you want to overexplain. You want to oververbalize as a parent and you're saying, yeah, sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, you want to just not say anything.

Timothy: Yeah, I think many parents fall into this. Really everybody can relate to that at some point in time. There aren't a lot of parents who naturally know how to limit their verbiage to their kids. And the problem with parents lecturing all the time is, it just inflicts shame on your kids.

Jim: Hm.

Timothy: And it creates resentment in their kids. So their kids are growing up in an environment where they're always getting reminded or lectured for what they're not doing right and they end up feeling pretty down about themselves and it really affects the relationship. Mike and I talk about the relationship is so important for parents, rather than the behavior, complying to a particular behavior.

Jim: Well, but some parents don't see it, in my opinion, that clearly. I think they tend to see the behavioral component and I don't think they intend it to be this way, but they see it as more important than the relationship. So, we get it backward.

Timothy: We get it backwards, absolutely.

Jim: If we can see that in ourselves, how do we begin to back up and disengagewith that destructive behavior?

Michael: Before you go onto that I just wanted to say I like to think of it as when you talk too much, you spend relationship to buy behavior. And so, you have 40 units of relationship with your son and you talked to him for 20 minutes about cleaning the garage. And by the time you're done, you have a clean garage, but you have 15 units of relationship left. And that doesn't happen when you're quiet.

Jim: How do you get the garage clean?

Michael: Well, there [are] other leverages you have like.

Jim: Like give me an example.

John: This is an important one (Laughter), by the way. Long-time listeners know that the garage (Laughter) is kind of a sacred space for Jim.

Jim: Did you push my hot button or what? (Laughter) There it is. (Laughter) So, I mean, how would you go about that in an effective way—

Michael: Okay.

Jim: --where you're not losing your relational credits?

Michael: If you want to go to Jeremy's for a sleepover Saturday, the garage has to be clean before you go and I'm not gonna talk about it anymore. I'm not gonna remind you.

Timothy: And that's it.

Michael: And that's it.

Jim: And then you're done and you don't do the reminding.

Michael: Yeah.

Jim: Let's talk a minute about the shame because I think that's again, a bit issue—

Michael: It's huge.

Jim: --in our parenting styles today, that we tend to in that desire to have better behavior, we tend to utter words that we probably regret as parents, like "If you don't do this, you're lazy," whatever.

Timothy: Yeah, what we say in the book about shame is, shame is really an over-correlation of what your child does with who they are. And parents really need to tease that out and make sure that they're choosing words when they talk to their child that don't judge them in a way that's shameful. So, maybe your child doesn't clean their room up very well. A shaming parent would say, "You're a slob."

Jim: Right.

Timothy: A non-shaming parent would say, "You need to clean your room." But the child hears very different things than that.

Michael: And any 10 or 12 times of that isn't gonna matter, but over the course of a lifetime, it really does matter.

Jim: And when you're doing that, again [regarding] the shaming aspect of it, let me ask the question this way. Why do we as parents, feel that's a tool that works? Why do we go there?

Michael: Well, one thing is the misperception that my child would be better if he could grasp how bad what he just did was. There's a story in the book about a policeman that pulls me over because I was going 50 in a 40. And when I see his lights in the rearview mirror, I think, "Man, I was speeding. That was terrible. I shoulda slowed down. I wish I could reverse this. I hope I just get a warning."

The policeman comes up in this fictional story and I roll down the window and he says, "I want to talk to you about your behavior. I noticed you were speeding. You know, there [are] kids in this neighborhood. I've noticed you don't pay attention when you're going anywhere. I noticed your dog out in the street. I noticed that your garage is getting to be a mess."

And as he talks, I start blaming him because of my shame. And I'm thinking that he's putting me down, which triggers defensiveness. And that's what usually happens with parents that talk too much, is it starts expanding the issue and the kid then clicks into a defense mechanism and when they start defending themselves, we feel as parents, that they don't feel bad enough about what they're doing.

John: So, we keep talking.

Michael: Yeah. (Laughing)

John: Well, it's a cycle.

Jim: Yeah and let's expand on that because I think we're touching right on an area that I know it happens in our household and probably yours, John and many, many others. You can't motivate seemingly that child to get that homework assignment done and you've been battling this for maybe not just a few weeks or a few months, maybe now it's year No. 2. It's seventh grade; it's eighth grade; it's ninth grade. What can we do differently that will begin to prompt that child to begin to show the right behavior, to do the homework when it's assigned?

Michael: Well, we have to be creative there. And part of being a good parent is having fun parenting and because it's only when we're having fun, I think, that we can be creative.

Jim: So, have fun.

Michael: Have fun parenting.

Jim: Even in the negative.

John: My child is about to fail school and you're telling me I should have fun?

Michael: Yes, I'm telling you there's a better way than talking to them about it. If talking was gonna work, it would've worked when they were in third grade. Now they're in fifth grade. So, we've already extinguished that as a possibility.

Timothy: But I would also interject that this is a place where a lot of parents just don't think right about it. They've been doing it the same way for five years. It hasn't worked, but they keep doing that. And both Mike and I see in our offices this dynamic, where it's like we want to ask and I have asked many parents, so this way of doing it doesn't work, why would you continue doing it?

John: Uh-hm.

Timothy: The light bulb goes, oh, yeah!

Jim: And that's fair, but then what is it I should do?

Timothy: Here's an example. Let's say your daughter's responsible for vacuuming the basement once a week. Well, you'll find out after a while that your 14-year-old daughter just turns on the vacuum cleaner. (Laughter) You and your wife are upstairs and you find out also that you go down and sneak into her bedroom and see that she's putting her makeup on with the vacuum running in the family room. (Laughter) And you wonder with your Golden Retriever dog and I'm, you know, not talking personally about that--

Jim: Not at all, but you've got good detail on this.

Timothy: --yes, that [with] your Golden Retriever, there's a lot of hair in the house. And it's interesting, every time she vacuums, there's still hair on the stairs and the basement. And you say to yourself—

John: You need a new vacuum cleaner.

Jim: Well, and—

Timothy: It must need a new—

Jim: --the dog hair's—

Timothy: --vacuum cleaner.

Jim: --hard to get out, especially when you're puttin' your makeup on.

Timothy: Well, thinking creatively is like, okay, let's do something differently here rather than just remind her that she is to vacuum this weekend? And let's say your wife and you talk about this and you say, "Let's go to Party America and let's get a whole bag of glitter stars and spread them in every corner of the basement and on the stairs. And then that Saturday morning, remind your daughter, "By the way, it's time to vacuum this weekend. Please do that." "Oh, yeah, we'll do that. I'll do that, Dad." And then you watch your wife prance around the basement before your daughter wakes up, giddily laughing as she spreads the glitter all over the place.

Jim: Yeah?

Timothy: That solves a problem

Jim: Does it really?

Timothy: It really does.

Jim: Now at my house what they would come to is, "Hey, you put the glitter there; you should be the one to vacuum it, mom."

John: Yeah, it's not fair or there's a fight or there's a conflict because I mean, you're setting up a conflict.

Timothy: And actually you are and that's okay. It's okay to say, "Well, there's glitter on the floor and it needs to be vacuumed. Your job is to vacuum. It doesn't matter if there's glitter on the floor or dog hair or just a little dust.

John: Well, you're just being mean, mom and dad.

Michael: Then I would say, "What's it to you? You have to vacuum anyways. The glitter isn't gonna create a problem for you."

Jim: And then say less.

Timothy: And then say less and then zip it.

Jim: Yeah.

John: And if she pushes back?

Timothy: Don't engage in it. That's the challenge.

Jim: [Are] there already consequences in that situation? I mean, since this is a hypothetical (Laughter); are there already consequences set up?

Timothy: Right, some families will set up you don't get allowance or you don't get to go on the sleepover. You don't get to meet your friends at the mall.

Jim: That's kinda the key.

Timothy: Right and have that, you know, written out, contracted. I'm a big fan of contracting; we did that with our kids.

Jim: (Chuckling) So, we've got the contract, too.

Timothy: Signed, dates, this is what you said you would do.

Jim: The problem is I feel like I'm raising now two lawyers. (Laughter) I mean, my boys are so good at cutting up the contract. "It says, a thing, dad; it doesn't say, the thing." I mean, they're really gettin' down into the wordsmithing of a contract.

Timothy: You have to really wordsmith it correctly the first time. (Laughter) You can't leave any vagueness in there.

Michael: Or you can say, "I would like to use a contract, but I know you'll go over it with a fine tooth comb, so I can't use contracts with you.

Jim: I actually do applaud 'em for it. I say it's great that you know the contract so well.

John: Well, our guests today on "Focus on the Family" are Michael Anderson. He's a licensed psychologist and Tim Johanson. He's a pediatrician and they've written a great book called Gist. We've got details at

Jim: We talked about that shaming aspect and I just want to remind those that might be joining for the first time, that is really devastating in terms of the residual effect of shaming. Before we leave that topic, talk about the 20-something that's been in that household of shame. What's the outcome of it? Help me with a 13- and 15-year-old, looking down the road, why at 25 and 28, my kids, if I've shamed them, what will that relationship look like?

Timothy: I see it in kids that are much younger than that, but it certainly becomes even more of a problem for those young adults. When I'm in the clinic and I have a patient come in who is chronically shamed and it doesn't take long to figure this out, you can just see their whole body change in the office, while the mother or the father keeps barraging them with shameful things. And I think that is a child that grows up with significant resentment.

Jim: Well, and you know, I admit that I think all of us as parents have those moments. I can remember with one of my boys (Laughing), you know, they weren't doing well with some of their classes and I said, "You know, if you don't get goin', your career's gonna be a ditch digger." And I had said this maybe three or four times over the course of the year and he finally looked at me and said, "Dad, hey, as long as I love the Lord, what's wrong with diggin' ditches?" (Laughter) I mean, it was like, wow, okay. Touché. (Laughter) I had to stop saying that, you know?

Timothy: There's the young attorney. (Laughter)

Jim: But that's a great point, isn't it? My goal, wrongfully, was how to motivate him to do better in school by pointing out his career choices are gonna be more limited if he's not getting a grade point average that is reflective of his ability. But just talk about that for a second. How when you see the potential there—this kid's bright--I know he could do much better.

Michael: This illustration captures some of the heart of the conscientious parent. I have asked parents in my office working with families of adolescents for 15 years, if we drew up a contract here that if your child had a 3.4 grade point, you would agree to never mention school to them, would you sign the contract?

Jim: Hm.

Michael: So what I'm trying to do there is tell the kid that if you want to be free from your parents' nagging, just maintain this grade point average. And they are forbidden by this contract to ever mention homework if you maintain this grade-point average.

Jim: The parents are forbidden.

Michael: Yeah.

Jim: I like that. I wouldn't mind implementing [that].

Michael: If my daughter were here today, she would say in her entire childhood, she never remembers me or my wife ever mentioning homework in her whole childhood.

Jim: Well, she was a straight-A student, wasn't she?

Michael: No, she wasn't, (Laughter) but she barely made it over that threshold.

Jim: Yeah.

Michael: But here's the interesting thing. In all these years I've asked parents to do that, 90 percent of them won't sign the contract because—

Jim: The parents won't.

Michael: --they won't, because—

Jim: They lose control.

Michael: --because they want the right to badger their kid about homework, whether the kid's doing well or not.


John: This is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller and our guests today were Michael Anderson and Dr. Timothy Johanson and they were talking about their excellent book, GIST: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids.

Jim: John, this was one of our "best of" programs this year and for good reasons. Michael and Tim have given us so many practical and simple strategies for better parenting, things like stop the lecturing and don't shame your child. Just give them the consequences when they misbehave and try to back off from trying to control them all the time. I mean, this speaks to my heard with two teenage boys. I know exactly what they're drivin' at, but the key theme I heard loud and clear was this. We need to focus more on the relationship with our child, rather than enforce certain behaviors or performance. Does your child know that you love them or do they only know that you're angry about the mess in their room? Or maybe it's the poor grades, whatever it is, what are you concentrating on?

John: This is such a great perspective, Jim and I'm sure that there are some parents listening who feel like total failures. (Laughter)

Jim: Like us.

John: You just described, yes, you just described how I interact with my child. I can't help but point out the mistakes. No matter what I do, nothing's working though.

Jim: Well, we can all take heard. We all feel that way as parents at some point, but here's the good news. God's got a plan for your family and that's why Focus on the Family is here to help you. I'm reminded of a story we heard recently from a man named Augie, who grew up in a very dysfunctional family where he never learned how to be a good husband or a good father. He believed in God. He went to church, but his family life was a mess and it all came to a head when his family stayed with his in-laws. Augie's father-in-law was the pastor of a church and during the visit, Augie's 2-year-old son got frustrated and he started swearing in front of his grandma, using the same kind of language Augie used when he lost his temper. Augie describes what happened next.


Augie Martinez: I knew something was wrong. I didn't know what to do, how to do it, where to go, but I knew that something had to change. This had been ruminating in my mind for six hours, this sense of worthlessness as a father, this sense of despair and in that moment I supposed what really happened was, I just cried out to God. I stumbled across WAGP, which is 88.7 and sure enough, the first program I ever heard on there was "Focus on the Family." And I started listening to it and the exposure was wonderful, because you know, a lot of our society pretends that "churchy" stuff only, you know, is only in a certain building on Sundays and that's it and it has no other place in society.

So, Focus became my dad. It became this source that spoke to me every morning and said, "This is God's plan. This is what we're supposed to be. This is what you should be doing. This is what God designed for you. How are you matching up to this?"

End of Clip

Jim: Well, I am hopeful that Focus on the Family has helped you this past year, maybe with a resource, a broadcast like the one we've heard today or through one of our websites, just help that you were looking for. Focus is a treasure chest of help and hope. And there are so many parents like Augie, who need that kind of help, as well.

And in this month, we're inviting you to give the gift of family, to help us share some Christmas joy with these hurting folks. December is a critical month for us financially. About half the budget for the year is raised right now. And that's why we're so grateful for some generous friends who have provided a matching grant for us. And that means any gift that you make today will be doubled by their gift. And if you're able to make a donation today, let me say thanks by sending you a complimentary copy of the book, GIST.

John: Yeah, we really appreciate your partnership with us and you can donate at or when you call 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

And when you get in touch, ask about our Best of 2016 collection of programs which we have available on CD or as mp3 downloads for you. There are a lot of great programs, as Jim mentioned and we'll recommend you check it out.

Now coming up tomorrow, more from our guests, Timothy and Michael about parenting strategies that may challenge you like letting your kids fail on purpose.


Michael Anderson: It's not always a bad thing for a young kid to be fired from a job, especially if they need to learn more responsibility. It might be the only thing that'll get 'em to take it seriously.

End of Excerpt

John: Yeah, well, some great perspective from our guests on the next program and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back for the next edition of "Focus on the Family."

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More Episode Resources


Timothy Johanson

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Dr. Timothy Johanson is a board-certified pediatrician in Minneapolis and Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Arizona Pediatric Residency Program. He graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Medicine and completed his pediatric residency and chief residency at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Dr. Johanson is actively involved in teaching residents and medical students and has been awarded the Community Pediatrics Teacher of the Year award from the University of MN School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics. He has been the recipient of the "Best Doctor" award from Mpls.St. Paul Magazine, a yearly peer-voted honor. His passion for parenting drives his desire to help parents struggling with highly spirited and challenging children.


Michael Anderson

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Michael Anderson is a licensed psychologist with an active practice in the Twin Cities.He has worked in the field of social work and family psychology for 30 years, focusing on children, adolescents and their parents. In addition to parenting his own three children, Michael and his wife have been short term foster parents for 13 adolescents. Michael is a frequent speaker on the topics of mental health and parenting, and has consulted with school boards, teachers, coaching staffs and youth leaders in implementing the principles in his book (co-authored with Dr. Timothy Johanson), GIST: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids.