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Ep #118: When one child’s behavior is affecting the whole family negatively


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When one child requires more attention, it can throw the family dynamic off or cause other children to adopt the negative behaviors to get increased attention. As a parent, it can be hard to navigate how to deal with all the family’s needs in a way that works for everyone. When things aren’t balanced, often parents feel a lot of guilt and stress, and in trying to make things fair or right with their other children, they may actually be inadvertently adding to the imbalance.

Our children have different personalities and different needs. As a parent, we want things to be equal for our children. We think we are equal by spending equal amounts of time, giving equal attention, or dealing with them in the same way. Fair doesn’t mean equal. In fact, for some children, too much time actually could make them feel anxious or nervous. What is important is that how we interact with them fulfills their needs.

Convey this idea to our children that fair doesn’t mean equal is essential. Once children understand this, often attention-seeking behaviors will decrease.

When a child requires a lot of attention, it’s helpful for parents to reframe that negative behavior. Finding the positive from that behavior allows you to help them turn that into strengths instead of using it negatively. For example, suppose a child is upset. In that case, you can reframe that as they can advocate for themselves, which allows you to find opportunities where they can positively advocate for themselves.

Episode Transcript

Each child, again, is different. They have their own temperament, they have their own emotional needs, and when you start comparing, it actually creates a divide between them. This is episode 118.

We welcome you to the ADHD Smarter Parenting Podcast. Here to heal and elevate lives is your Parenting Coach, Siope Kinikini.

Hello my friends, how are you? Welcome, welcome. The second week of January, we’re way excited here at Smarter Parenting. This podcast has to deal with, “What do you do when one child’s behavior is affecting the whole family?” And so this has been a consistent question by a lot of parents, “What do you do when one child acts out? It feels like everybody else is under the rule of one child?”

During this podcast, there are three specific things I want us to be able to communicate about, and I want you to be able to leave knowing new ways that you can approach this situation and ways that you can address it that will be effective.

Now I’m going to introduce you to a family, to Luis, Andrea, their son Simon, who’s nine, Bella, who’s seven, and George, who’s four. So Luis and Andrea have three children, the oldest is Simon, he’s nine-years-old, Bella is seven, and George, who’s four-years-old, all interact with each other, and yet one of the children seems to draw all the energy in the home, all the attention in the home. And Andrea and Luis contacted me, trying to figure out in what ways can we work through this issue, because they felt overwhelmed with their attention to just one child and felt almost neglectful to the other children in the home.

I know they’re not the only parents that feel this way, this happens in other families as well, and so I felt like it was an important thing to share. I want to thank Luis and Andrea for allowing me to share their story.

So the three things that I want you to be able to understand during this podcast, and that we will discuss, are understanding the dynamics of the family, understanding the dynamics of the children that are involved, and the ways that you should consider that in your own family. Number two, I want you to recognize the strengths in each of the children, and strengths that help children overcome weaknesses in other areas. You’d be surprised to know that sometimes when we strengthen one side, it compensates for weaknesses in another area, but we’ll talk about that. And then the third thing is I also want to introduce you to additional skills in using to address a child’s behavior when they suck all the air and the energy and all the attention out of the room.

So those are the three things. First, understand the dynamics of the family and take some time to step back and evaluate. Number two, recognize the strengths that are happening in each of the children, even in the child with problem behavior, and in what ways you can tweak that to compensate for the weaknesses that they have. And then number three, I want to introduce you to additional skills that you use because this is a topic that requires you as a parent to adopt a lot of different skills.

Now, fortunately, the skills that we use on Smarter Parenting come from the Teaching-Family Model. They’re all connected. Interconnected with each other, so using one skill with another skill, they all work in harmony together. It’s like having a toolbox with specific tools that work together to get the job done, whereas if we do what I refer to as hodgepodging parenting, which is, “Oh, I’m going to take a little bit of this and take a little bit of that,” sometimes those ideas conflict with each other and they undermine each other, so that’s the benefit of using a whole entire system.

I had mentioned before that when you use something like the Teaching-Family Model, it provides you a very clear path where it provides an established way to approach raising your children where everything works in conjunction with each other, rather than having one thing work, and then it opposes another side of it. You can get a million different ideas on how to approach parenting, but using one method where all the skills interact and work together, that’s a powerful thing for you to have, and it’s a powerful thing for you to be able to use because they all work in harmony.

So, let’s go back and let’s talk about Luis, Andrea, Simon, Bella, and George. We’re going to talk about their family, and I wanted you to understand the dynamics of the family. Now, according to Luis and Andrea, Simon is the most demanding, Bella is the most kind and patient, and she does well on her own. And Andrea feels as though she always needs to intervene with Simon because he just acts out, and it takes more of her energy to deal with him than it does to deal with Bella and George. And George, she notices, is starting to adopt some of these behaviors to get more attention from Andrea. Now, Andrea feels guilty that the other kids don’t get as much time with her as Simon does because he’s so demanding, he just wants all her attention.

So, as I was talking to Luis and Andrea, we started to explore the dynamics of the family and also just explore child development in general. One of the important things to understand in the dynamics of a family and with children is that every child has their own temperament. Some are more emotionally needy than others. Some are more relaxed. And what causes this? I mean, what really is the impetus for this?

Well, everyone has a different personality, and everyone deals with things in different ways. So where Bella will be more relaxed and calm when there are stressful things happening, Simon will be reactive and he’ll act out. And, because of this, some days for parents, it feels impossible to like your child. When Simon is acting out, Andrea reports, “Yeah, I don’t like it. I don’t like it, and I feel like I don’t like him.” Very, very common with parents who struggle with children that are high-demanding children, emotionally demanding children. She loves Simon, but she doesn’t like him, and this is because each child has their own temperament.

And so we had to explore what are the temperaments of each of the children, so we can understand what their needs are? Because if Bella doesn’t require as much attention, then we need to start thinking, in what ways can we maximize the time that we do spend with Bella to meet the needs that she desires? Not all children are going to need the same amount of time, and that’s one thing I want to warn parents about, are they feel like everything needs to be exactly equal for each of the children.

Remember, you’re dealing with children with different temperaments, and so it’s going to require some adjustments. One child may need more of your attention. One child may need less of it. So you want to be able to meet the needs more than you want to say, “I’m going to spend two hours with this child, two hours with this child, two hours with this child.” You don’t want to do it that way. You want a lot more flexibility because it can become punishing spending two hours with Bella because you want it to be regimented that way. So keep your mind open to this idea that “Hey, let’s look at each child, their needs, and in what ways we can address it.”

While I was talking to Luis and Andrea about this, I wanted them to understand that we need to celebrate their differences, and that means it may require a parent to work with their child in unique ways. Teach them that it’s not always equal and that it may look like it’s unfair, but you work with each child based on their needs. I’d mentioned this before, the things that need to be present in all of your parenting, regardless of how much time you spend, because time may vary based on the child’s needs, but what you do need is consistency, and you need patience.

And by consistency, what I mean is you just want to be able to be predictable to your child. Your child acts out in a specific way. You want them to know exactly how you’re going to respond in response to the behavior. You need to be able to follow through with what you say. You need to be able to be reliable to what they need, okay? So, consistency. And then, of course, you’re going to need some patience. Patience for your children but also patience for yourself as a parent. You need to be patient with yourself and say, “Okay, I’m struggling with a child. I don’t like this child right now. He’s driving me bonkers and crazy, but I’m going to have the patience to work through this and do what we need to do.”

Now, one of the issues that did arise in our discussion was that Simon always felt like things were unfair if Bella received a reward for specific behavior. If she was doing something well, she would get a reward. Usually, it would be like a cookie, or she would earn a ticket, and by ticket, they have a structure in their home where they use a token economy. So you behave well, you can get a ticket, and at the end of the week, you can cash in your tickets for a reward.

And so he felt like if Bella received a ticket for something, he needed to receive a ticket for something. He had this obsession with fairness, and then he would react when he felt like, “It’s unfair, you’re rewarding her, and you always focus on her, and she’s always a perfect child.” So she brought that up during our discussion, and again, we had to go back and look at the temperament of each of her children, that is the temperament that Simon has. So, understanding that that’s the dynamic that he’s starting to perceive, that he is a certain way and that Bella is a certain way, he’s going to react, and almost, if parents aren’t careful and they start putting labels on those things, like, “Yeah, well Bella’s reliable and you’re not,” then children become self-fulfilling prophecies.

So, this required a lot of communication on our part to help them understand that the temperament of each child is going to require just a slight adjustment in the way that you work with them, but also in the way that you communicate with them. We’ll talk about how we addressed this issue with Simon feeling like things were unfair, okay? So that’s going to come up a little bit later in the podcast, but I think it’s important for you to keep that in mind.

Now we’re going to cover the second part, which is recognize strengths in each child that may overcome weaknesses in other areas. Like I mentioned before, sometimes children have strengths that we do not recognize as parents, and those strengths, when we focus on reinforcing those strengths, they can bleed into the weaknesses that your child may be experiencing in other areas.

In order to do this, in order to recognize the strengths in each child, you have to step back, and you have to reframe your approach to them and find the positive side of what they manifest. What is it that they are exhibiting? Now, when I did this with Andrea and Luis, they stated that Simon was loud and boisterous, but loud and boisterous also means, in a reframe, that he is willing to advocate for himself. He’s willing to stand up and communicate what he feels and how he feels.

This is a positive thing because in many cases, you do not want children that are pushovers. In the long run, this may serve him in a lot of different areas. He can become a lawyer because he’s an advocate. He can become somebody who fights for the rights of other people in other areas. I mean, there are a lot of beneficial things to being able to express yourself and say, “Hey, I don’t think this is fair, boom, boom, boom.”

When I was helping them reframe this mindset, Andrea immediately recognized that, “Hey, wait, you’re right, there are positives and negatives,” and I want parents to be able to recognize that. The things that you look at as negatives in your child, when you reframe them, you can find a positive spin to it that if we focus on the positive spin and we focus on the positive side of it, and we reinforce it, will bleed into other areas.

Now, let me explain how this works specifically with Luis, Andrea, and Simon. The reframe gave Andrea and Luis greater latitude in addressing his behaviors. The things that he disagreed with. The example that they brought up was that Simon would argue with his mother about going to church. He didn’t want to go to church. He didn’t like sitting there for a long period of time. He especially did not like dressing up, like wearing church clothes, he didn’t like it.

This is where I had them step back and I said, “Okay, well, let’s choose our battles and let’s figure out, he is communicating with you what it is that he’s struggling with, and let’s communicate with him that it’s a strength for him to communicate these things in words that are clear and concise, so you want to praise him for that. You want to be like, “Hey, good job.'” You’re praising him for being able to advocate for himself. Think about it. I had them listen to what he was saying and address what he was saying.

This is where I told them, I told Andrea and Luis, to “Choose your battles.” Now, a lot of parents have heard that, but you definitely do want to choose your battles. Is it worth the battle to get him to go to church and then to have him act out at church, or is it better to say, “Okay, you are communicating with me that these are the two issues that you’re struggling with, let’s see if we can’t work something out, okay?”

As we discussed this, we started to Role-play. I Role-played with Andrea and Luis on how to communicate this with their child, and what they reported during this Role-play was that they realized Simon would be willing to compromise, that there was some compromise involved in here that would allow him to feel as though he is being heard and understood and supported by his parents in order to get what he wanted, but also that he understood what his parents wanted. They had to come up with an idea and a compromise. I also had them write this down in a contract because having it written down in a contract where you both sign actually cements the idea that, “Hey, we’re coming to an agreement on something that we disagree with,” and it made it more binding for Simon. This was something that he felt good about.

What they came up with was that Simon didn’t need to wear a tie, he could wear a polo shirt instead, but he still had to wear nice jeans or nice slacks in order to go to church. And that the parents would provide him with breaks where they could get up and walk around every 20 minutes or so, so he didn’t have to sit there the entire time. And the benefit of doing this is that by being able to compromise with your child in finding their needs and strengthening the way that they manifest things, is that you are showing them a broader range of how they can engage with other people in the world and communicate what they are frustrated about and what they’re working through, and come to a conclusion that is both beneficial for you and for them.

Now, for parents who are saying, “They have to do exactly what I say,” I’m going to give you this warning. Some children do respond well to that, but again, children, as we understand them, have different temperaments, and we have to adjust based on a child’s temperament in order to teach them. So this idea that we can just put a cookie-cutter approach to every child and expect the same outcome is ludicrous. Let’s think about that.

If we were to say, “Hey, you’re going to do it this way, you’re going to do it this way, you’re going to do it this way.” It doesn’t allow for individuality, and for some children, it actually is repellent and it will cause problems down the road in the relationship that you have with your child. You want to be aware. We’re raising children to become fully-functional, emotionally well adults, we’re not raising robots. A robot or a machine, yeah, you have the pieces and they all fit and they all work, but people are more complex than that, and children are more complex than that.

So with them, what I had to do with Luis and Andrea was work with them on the skill of Effective Praise. Now, this skill has some very specific steps, and I’m going to go through the steps because it is always important for you on this podcast to hear what the steps are so you can practice it with your own children.

There are only four steps. Step one, you want to show approval or find a positive. Now again, this is part of that reframe. For Luis and Andrea, it was, “Hey, you’re communicating with us. You’re using good words. You’re telling us what it is that you want. Thank you.” Okay. Number two, describe the positive behavior and be specific. “You’re communicating that well with us, Simon, and you’re very specific about it.”

Step number three give a meaningful reason. “When you communicate that way with us, we want to listen, and we want to work with you, and we want you to be happy.” Okay. So we’re giving a meaningful reason in step number three. And then step number four is optional, which is give a reward, which is, “You’re communicating well with us, here, I want to reward you for communicating well.” Again, we’re encouraging Simon to communicate because what he has been doing is acting out and not communicating. He’s been doing other ways of communicating his frustration or his emotions, rather than communicating them through words. So by reframing it and saying, “Hey, you’re focused on communicating your emotions with us,” and then reinforcing that, “Hey, this is a great thing,” we’re actually moving into the area of weaknesses where it’s not self-serving for him to throw a tantrum or to act out. Those things aren’t as effective as using words and communicating well with his parents.

I practiced that together with Luis and Andrea. I had them comfortable in praising, and anytime that Simon communicated his feelings and emotions, they were going to use these four steps. Of course, the fourth step is optional, but you want to reinforce this idea that, “Hey, communicating is what we want you to do. This is absolutely what we want you to do. How we want you to approach situations and problems.”

Now for Simon, praising him for speaking his mind gave him permission to speak his feelings and his thoughts, and reframed it in this way, and we can address different ways for him to communicate his feelings and thoughts instead of the only one way, which was reactive and acting out. Andrea and Luis were able to adopt that and use that skill in communicating with him, and it decreased a lot of the acting out behaviors that Simon was exhibiting.

I’m going to move on to the third thing that I wanted to discuss with you in regards to approaching this, where you have one child whose behavior is affecting the entire family, but before I move on to the next part, where we start talking about additional skills that you want to use in addressing a child’s behavior that is affecting the whole family, we need to take a break.

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Okay, welcome back, so the other skills that you want to use in addressing a child’s behavior when they are the primary focus of everything that’s going on is you want to focus on Effective Negative Consequences and Effective Positive Rewards, you want to also focus on Effective Communication, okay? You want to be able to help them communicate their frustrations, communicate what they’re feeling, and to give them permission, and also demonstrate and model for them that when you feel uncomfortable when you feel frustrated, the best way to approach it is by using words—communicating them in other ways other than acting out.

Now, I do need to give some warning here about what you should avoid when you’re dealing with a child that requires more of your attention than other children. The first thing is do not compare your children. Do not compare Bella and Simon with each other. That’s one thing I needed to focus on with Luis because he would say things like, “Hey, well, Bella’s calm, why can’t you be calm?” You don’t want to do that because each child is different. They have their own temperament. They have their own emotional needs. When you start comparing, it actually creates a divide between them and one that doesn’t need to exist. Do not compare children. Focus on what a child needs in their own sphere, and just focus on that, and don’t do the comparing thing.

The second thing is to don’t compare and don’t choose sides. You don’t want to do that. You want to be able to verbalize, “Hey, my child here needs me for this, and this is what they need. This is my other child and their different temperament, that’s okay. This is what they need.” The application of being able to do this and demonstrate this in the home with children is that your children are going to be able to understand that people are different and that you can deal with different personalities. You can deal with different temperaments in different ways.

Now, I had mentioned before that there was this idea in Simon’s head about fairness, where he struggled with things being unfair. He felt like, “Hey, that’s unfair. If Bella gets this, I should get this. If Bella gets this, I should get this.” Well, as you progress in your communication, you want to start talking more about fairness. What is fair? And that life is not fair. You want to be able to prepare your children for a future that they can understand, and by saying, “Hey, it isn’t fair, you’re right.”

You can use multiple examples. In the example I used with Andrea and Luis, I talked to them about buying a new dress. I said, “Well, you’re going to give Bella a new dress, so I guess you should buy Simon a new dress.” And Luis just laughed, he’s like, “Well, Simon wouldn’t wear a dress,” and I’m like, “Well, but that’s fair, right?” And he’s like, “Yeah, I guess.”

During the communication, we started to evaluate what’s fair and what’s equal, and what is necessary, and how do we confront these thinking errors that Simon is feeling? He’s like, “Well if she gets a cookie, I deserve a cookie.” Well, okay, let’s talk about that. Is it always that way? If somebody does something well and they’re rewarded for it, does everybody in the house get it? And you can also flip that on the other side. If you’re acting out, then I guess everybody’s being punished? And bring those things to the forefront so Simon can start to process and think this through.

Now, you may think that nine-years-old, because Simon is nine, that he may have a hard time understanding this. What was reported later is that Simon started to understand this actually better than his parents did because he knew that amongst his friends, things weren’t always fair when they played. He started to be able to generalize this in other areas of his life, where if he and his friends were playing a game together and one person had a toy that was amazing, and nobody else had it, it’s not fair. They related it also to Minecraft because Simon likes to play Minecraft, and when you’re starting off in the game, you start off with pretty much nothing, and you can be with other people who have a lot of different things. Now, is that fair?

That opens up the conversation for discussing, “Okay, what is fair? What is equal? What can we do? And how do we address this thinking error that you have, Simon, that if Bella gets something, you deserve it as well?” It doesn’t work that way. The world doesn’t work that way, so being able to discuss these things is helpful. Now, we could never get to that point if we did not understand that each child has their own temperament. We could not get to that point if we did not understand that children need different things emotionally as well.

So, some children are more relaxed, and some people, some children, need more attention. These are the things that we need to help children understand. People are different, they require different things, and so Simon requires something different than Bella, Bella requires something different than Simon. You, as parents, need to be able to differentiate those. Look for the positive in the behaviors they’re exhibiting, and let’s strengthen those by using Effective Praise in order to build up the side of it that is helpful. Children behave in certain ways because they feel like it’s helpful for them. If they’re acting out, there’s a positive for it, because they are getting something from it. If you can determine that, you can flip it if you can reframe it.

So we’ve talked about Luis and Andrea, Simon, Bella, and George in this whole process of working through helping them deal with Simon, whose behaviors tended to drive everything in the family. One thing I do want to say in talking with Andrea and Luis is that they are a great team. They’re great parents. They love their children. They want to help their children be successful, so I’m grateful that they reached out for some help, and I’m glad that I was able to help them. They came by way of a different agency in Utah, and so communicating with them and helping them through this process has been a joy, and in also working with them in the dynamics of what their family is experiencing. So super grateful for them.

But this is something that I want you to be able to do. Again, I’m going to reiterate the three things that I covered during this podcast so you can rethink them and then apply them. The first thing is you need to understand the dynamics that every child has a different temperament and has different emotional needs.

Number two, you need to recognize the strength in each child, and each child will have different strengths, and in what ways can you reframe it, praise them for it, which will affect other areas of their life in positive ways?

Then number three, I introduced you to some additional skills. You want to use Effective Negative Consequences. You want to use Effective Positive Rewards. You want to use Effective Communication as a way to help open up the communication and the feelings and expressions that your children are having. And really, nine-years-old is not too young to begin this process. Nine-years-old, they can start to comprehend things, right and wrong, they can make good judgments on things. And, so, it’s this guiding them along this whole process, and that it’s okay for you as a parent to adjust and to change.

So, you can compromise with them. You can use a contract with them as well to keep them to their word. And you are going to be changing. The things, though, that you do need to be absolutely focused on, that doesn’t change as your child changes are consistency. You need to be consistent, and you need to be patient. And by “Consistency,” meaning you need to follow through with what you say, you need to be predictable to your child, that’s what I mean by “Consistency.” Your child should know exactly where you stand and how things work, don’t leave them room to guess things out. And the patience to work with them, and that changes. As your child gets older and their demands change, you’re going to change, so just be patient with yourself in regards to that.

So thank you again to Luis, Andrea, wishing you the very best, and also everyone else. Smarter Parenting has a lot of great things in store for this year, so stay tuned, and I will see you again next week, have a good week.

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Podcast Transcript

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