Helping Kids Feel Like a Part of the Family

Full Transcript Below:

Stephanie: Today, our topic is contributing to the family and how to be a unit, and this is a nice follow up to the – how to regulate your kids electronics podcast, I think. Because, if we don’t have electronics, what in the world will we do?

Sarah: How will we fill the time?

Stephanie: How will we fill the time? And it’s not just about how we fill the time, it’s about, you know, how do we develop relationships with one another if we are not watching a show or everybody’s not got their face glued into a smartphone.

Sarah: Right, you know, I think this is a really important aspect of parent coaching that kind of takes second to regulating your children and making sure that the rules are being followed and they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And it is equally if not more important than the other piece of it.

Stephanie: Yeah, I think of stage one in parent coaching as getting behavior under control with kids, and that’s a variety of different behavior depending on what your child’s issue is, but then at the same time we’re developing the relationship. And stage two is really all about that, developing the relationship healing some of the, you know, problems that, and really the emotional trauma that each of you has experienced – maybe even from one another. Between you and your kids and all the other arguments of the fear that parents have had if it’s a child that has self-harmed or has been suicidal, gone into the hospital, experienced severe depressive episodes. So, it’s all about how do we spend time together and get along, and how do we feel like we belong to this family. But we want to overlap stages one and two, and we don’t want it to be an either or, it needs to be a both at the same time. If in stage one I’m removing electronics, because we’re doing that elimination thing, does this make a difference in this kids mood, then we got it fill it with something, and if we’re filling it with something then hopefully we’re doing things that will help develop the relationship. Such as…

Sarah: Board games, family dinners…

Stephanie: Family dinners are super important. I remember when my daughter came home and said did you know that there are a lot of people that don’t have dinner together. It made me feel really good that she thought that we were doing that, and she felt proud about that. It’s so easy to you know grab your dinner and go into your own room, or to do your work at the same time. And the kids, depending on their age may even argue for that. Did you have dinner at the table growing up?

Sarah: I did. Up until high school when things got crazy with sports and extra-curriculars, my mother made it a priority that we had dinner as a family.

Stephanie: Yeah, that’s awesome.

Sarah: That was kind of before smartphones, that really wasn’t even an issue at the time. But I do remember if the phone did ring during dinner we were not allowed to get up and answer it.

Stephanie: Yeah, I had, there was a period of time in my life that it was impossible with sports and things to have dinner at the table and so instead of doing that, with my kids we, I got up extra early and we did breakfast at the table. Like, a real breakfast at the table, and wait for everyone to sit down and do it, and I mean it was a little more effort, obviously, but the important thing is to have time together and you can do this at a restaurant, you can do this with fast food, you know, just not trying to do multiple things sitting at the table and having a discussion. One of the rules that we have and that I recommend parents implement is, no discussions at the table that are going to interrupt or impair digestion. So, that means that you can’t bring up topics that would make someone anxious or angry or nervous or you know, this is not the time to discuss bad grades or your behavior with your sister, or their punishment…

Sarah: …from what happened the night before.

Stephanie: Yeah, or ask them about what they’re going to do when they grow up, or do they have the scores that they need to have. I mean nothing that’s going to create anxiety, we want this to be a positive experience. So, board games…really? Like real board games?

Sarah: Yeah, I love board games.

Stephanie: Yeah I recommend that all the time, what’s your favorite?

Sarah: Pictionary. I love Pictionary.

Stephanie: Oh I love Pictionary. Board games, need to, I hope it goes without saying, not involve electronics. But you want to choose a game that everyone can play, my family likes to play Scrabble. It’s educational sort of too, and it can be funny, it doesn’t take a lot of, mental energy really to do it. Also, besides Pictionary we like to play Monopoly but, in my opinion you have to play that game with someone that’s not mean. But the point again is all grouping up together and doing something that is tangible, you know using the five senses, we can touch the pieces on the board, you’re visualizing something that’s not a blue screen, and you’re having actual conversations, and you’re laughing and getting engaged with one another.

Sarah: One thing my family used to like to do, other than board games was to go out and ride bikes together, or we used to like to rollerblade, that was a cool thing back then.

Stephanie: Yes, something physical
Sarah: Something that the family can enjoy and participate in.

Stephanie: Yeah, and one of the other recommendations that we give is physical activity, so that is a two-for, you’re spending time together and you’re getting that physical activity. We like to go on walks, there’s a park near the house that we’ll go and take the dog for a walk on and, the thing is that adolescents will complain, they will say, “I don’t want to, I’m too tired”, all of a sudden they may have homework to do, which is a great way to go ahead and get them started on the homework. So, they’ll say all these things and at the same time we’ve got to insist, because a lot of parents will say, “well they didn’t want to”, well it doesn’t matter what they want to do.

Sarah: And just because they say they don’t want to doesn’t mean they actually don’t want to.

Stephanie: Good point, because some of these super cool adolescents are not going to admit to wanting to spend time with their not super cool parents. I’m super cool and I’m sure you’re super cool but not all of our listeners will be super cool. If they’re listening to this they probably are, but if you’ve got an adolescent saying they don’t want to. You don’t want to necessarily think that 100% the absolutely don’t want to, and it really doesn’t matter anyway. The point is the physical activity and the togetherness.

Sarah: Going along with this, is a thing that we encourage our families to do is to make sure that the children are continuing to the household. And so, this is not necessarily just fun, sometimes it’s playing a board game or going to the park but doing things that allow your child to feel like they matter.

Stephanie: And that if they weren’t there the family system would not run as smoothly because otherwise it’s like you’re living in a hotel and the parents are like the concierge…

Sarah: …the maid.

Stephanie: …the entertainment…

Sarah: …the chef.

Stephanie: Yeah the whole nine yards and so, it feels like that’s not even your real house. With the contributing, the other two-for here is that if you are trying to shape your kids behavior using the warning-chore consequence protocol they’re going to rack up chores, and for a kid that’s not used to chores that could feel in the beginning really aversive, meaning they really don’t like it, they really are afraid of it, they feel like it’s going to be the worst thing in the world. But, what I’ve heard time and time again is these kids will do these chores and then feel a sense of confidence, a sense of mastery like they, they did something, and they feel more grown up. And that will also help give you things to do, and if you could come up with some of these chores as things to do together, and Sarah has some really nice plants out front and she and her husband work on those together. So that would be a good example of something that you could do with your child that would be a chore for them and spending time together and contributing a little yard work.

Sarah: Stephanie what do you tell the parents that say like well there’s just really not a whole lot to do around the house. I hear that a lot actually.

Stephanie: Oh my gosh do you…and why do they not have?

Sarah: You know my hypothesis is that the parents are just so used to doing everything that they don’t really let it get messy or have anything accumulate, they just kind of keep it that way, and it’s just become their status quo. I’ve had to teach parents to stop loading the dishwasher and assign it to the child, because I think it’s easier to do it ourselves than to get into a power struggle about the child doing it, or who’s turn is it this time to unload the dishwasher and things like that, which I’m trying to coach parents – maybe that’s good short-term but not really in the long term.

Stephanie: So, I’ve had that happen once before but it was mainly because the adolescent was so fast at cleaning chores, so we just came up with bigger projects to do. This kid was pretty good at building things and repairing stuff and so the parents just said, then build us this, or repair that.

Sarah: That’s cool.

Stephanie: Yeah, I think you’re right. If you have a lot of parents that do that I would start going through the list, of well, who’s doing the laundry? Who’s doing this kids laundry? Who’s dusting the baseboards? Who’s cleaning the car? Who’s taking the car to get vacuumed? You know, who’s getting the groceries? Who’s cooking? Let me tell you, cooking is a big one, planning dinners, coming up with recipes. We had one adolescent who didn’t know how to cook, but learned during the process, and really took to it. So there’s no way to really find out if you’re interested in something without trying it, and if you give them a task and they have to figure it out in order to get their electronics back or get off restriction in some way then, you know, they’re going to make it happen. So, I would just rack my brain and think about other problems within the household that you haven’t solved, that may mean…I know my mom asks every time we come over, can you fix this on my computer, or on my phone.

Sarah: Yeah, which is still contributing, you know, it’s showing your worth, and helping out, and feeling good about yourself.

Stephanie: Yes, and if your kids drive then they can run errands. So, the part that you mentioned about feeling like a part of the family. I think is so important in this, and when you are a part of the family that’s what you do. I mean you would never stand for, you know, your husband, just you and him, but for him not doing anything.

Sarah: Absolutely not.

Stephanie: Yeah and so, he’s contributing, and you’re contributing and you feel a sense of togetherness because you’re working on something.

Sarah: Right, and I think, you know, a lot of the families we work with, the adolescents have had some pretty significant mental health issues, and their mental health has been the sole focus of the family for so long. Doing this helps them to feel like less of a mental health patient, slash a problem, slash an expense, a burden on the family and more like just a member of the family.

Stephanie: You are just rocking the good points. I mean that is exactly right, they get this scapegoat kind of thing where everything is involved with their treatment and they’re developing their personalities right now, a lot of adolescents are developing their personalities as in who am I, and what kind of message are we giving them if we’re not giving them tasks to do? We’re suggesting they can’t, they’re not capable, we don’t trust them to do it, and if we give them things though we’re basically saying “I need you”. And, for some kids that’s really important, that they feel like even when they’re depressed, they can contribute. And speaking of depression, as we know, one of the most important things in severe major depression to do, that will lead to rapid improvement of symptoms, one of the most important things is behavioral activation. It’s referred to as behavioral activation and basically what it means is to get going.

Sarah: Doing stuff.

Stephanie: Yes, do things. So those walks, playing those games, doing those chores, even though you don’t feel like it. You can’t wait until you feel like it, you have to do it and then feel like it because we’re getting that reinforcement, all of the chemicals that are going around in the brain whenever we do physical exercise, so it doesn’t matter if they want to do it or not, we’re going to do it as a therapeutic measure.

Sarah: Right, I tell my patients all the time, move the body parts and the brain will follow. If we wait for our brain, I know I wouldn’t do a whole lot.

Stephanie: Yeah, so some of this, the damaged relationships, that, or the not even just damaged but sometimes the distant relationships that have happened because of depression, mood disorders, busy parents whatever. The only thing that’s going to repair that is time and activity together, not discussions over and over about the problem. If discussions are happening they need to be about life in general and a lot of times parents don’t know how to approach talking with their kids. Just talking with their kids. So, I really think we need to have a separate discussion about how to talk to your kids, versus, things to say and not to say.

Sarah: Yeah, not to treat your child as a to-do list of project but to treat them as a person.

Stephanie: Yes, so we want to balance that of course. Alright well, I hope that this was beneficial and that you will be able to go forward and spend time with kids and get that two-for of doing things together and getting your projects done.