Someone experiencing smiling depression would — from the outside —appear happy or content to others. On the inside however, they would be experiencing the distressful symptoms of depression.
Depression affects everyone differently and has a variety of symptoms, the most distinguished being deep, prolonged sadness. Other classic symptoms include:
- changes in appetite, weight, and sleeping
- fatigue or lethargy
- feelings of hopelessness, lack of self-esteem, and low self-worth
- loss of interest or pleasure in doing things that were once enjoyed
Someone with smiling depression may experience some or all of the above, but in public, these symptoms would be mostly — if not completely — absent. To someone looking from the outside, a person with smiling depression might look like:
- an active, high-functioning individual
- someone holding down a steady job, with a healthy family and social life
- a person appearing to be cheerful, optimistic, and generally happy
If you’re experiencing depression yet continue to smile and put on a façade, you may feel:
- like showing signs of depression would be a sign of weakness
- like you would burden anyone by expressing your true feelings
- that you don’t have depression at all, because you’re “fine”
- that others have it worse, so what do you have to complain about?
- that the world would be better off without you
A typical depressive symptom is having incredibly low energy and finding it hard to even make it out of bed in the morning. In smiling depression, energy levels may not be affected (except when a person is alone).
Because of this, the risk of suicide may be higher. People with major depression sometimes feel suicidal but many don’t have the energy to act on these thoughts. But someone with smiling depression might have the energy and motivation to follow through.
Depression doesn’t just affect adults, it also affects millions of children and adolescents.
Some of the symptoms that accompany childhood depression include irritability, social withdrawal, and low energy. Children with depression may also struggle to manage their behavior.
In 2013, 11 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds experienced a major depressive episode. Many younger children are also diagnosed with depressive disorders, such as persistent depressive disorder or disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, every year.
Children with depression may require a slightly different approach to discipline. Here are seven tips for disciplining a depressed child.
Work With Your Child’s Treatment Team
If you suspect your child has depression, speak to his pediatrician or a mental health professional. Depression is treatable, but without appropriate intervention, it may get worse. Treatment may include therapy, parent training, or medication.
Work with treatment providers to learn about the steps you can take to best support your child’s mental health. Inquire about the specific strategies you should use to address behavior problems like non-compliance and disrespect.
Establish Healthy Rules
All kids need rules, but children with depression sometimes require specific rules that support a healthy lifestyle. A depressed child may want to stay up late and sleep all day, or he may want to spend all of his time playing video games because he lacks the energy to play outside.
Set limits on electronics and discourage your child from sleeping during the day. You may also need to create rules about personal hygiene as children with depression sometimes don’t want to shower or change their clothes. Keep your household rules simple, and emphasize the importance of being healthy.
Provide Structure to Your Child’s Day
Kids with depression often struggle to fill their time with meaningful activities. For example, a child may sit in his room all day, or he may put off doing his chores as long as possible.
Create a simple schedule that provides structure to your child’s day. Set aside time for homework, chores, and other responsibilities and allow him to have limited electronics time once his work is done. Children with depression sometimes struggle with sleep issues, so it’s important to establish a healthy bedtime routine as well.
Catch Your Child Being Good
Positive discipline is most effective for children with depression. Look for opportunities to praise your child by saying things like, “You did a great job cleaning your room today,” or, “Thank you for helping me clean up after dinner.” Praise will encourage your child to keep up the good work.
Create a Reward System
Rather than focus on taking away privileges for misbehavior, emphasize to your child that he can earn rewards for good behavior. A behavior chart or a token economy system can motivate depressed kids.
Choose one or two behaviors to work on first—like taking a shower before 7 p.m. If he follows through, let him earn a token or sticker that can be exchanged for bigger rewards, like a trip to the park. Or, provide small, immediate rewards for compliance, like 15 minutes to play on the computer.
Separate Your Child’s Emotion from the Behavior
Discipline your child’s child’s behavior, not his emotions. Don’t scold him for being angry or lecture him about being in a bad mood. Instead, send the message that emotions are OK, it’s what he chooses to do with those emotions that matters. Teach him healthy coping strategies so he can deal with uncomfortable feelings, like anger, frustration, embarrassment, or sadness.
Consider the Implications of Negative Consequences
Children with depression need negative consequences for breaking the rules, but you should choose those consequences carefully. Taking away your child’s ability to socialize with friends, for example, could make his depression worse.
Short-term consequences, like time-out, can be very effective for younger children with depression. Consequences that take place over several days, like being grounded for a week, can backfire because children with depression may lose their motivation to earn their privileges back.
Becoming close to another person is one of the most thrilling experiences in the human repertoire, both the bedrock of emotional security and a passport to self-expansion. If the relationship is a romantic one—and intimacy is as much the essence of deep friendship as of lasting love—it carries the added charge of desire. Although the term intimacy is often used as a euphemism for sex, anyone with a dear friend knows that physical attraction is not essential for any two people to create a true bond. Intimacy is what you share with another human being who truly “gets” you.
With its inherent expectation of responsiveness, intimacy keeps open a channel for sharing the moments that are too saturated to contain—unburdening ourselves when distressed or disappointed, exulting when joys and triumphs swell our hearts. The antithesis of intimacy—social isolation—bodes badly for us. Science has long established that the lack of close relationships is as much a risk factor for mortality as smoking. The wider our social circle, the better our chances of warding off obesity, high blood pressure, and other corrosive conditions. The depth and nature of our ties to one another matter, too: The degree of support people feel they have from family, friends, and significant others counteracts serious health risks.
Small wonder the quest for intimacy is everywhere, from earnest online dating profiles to bursts of social media confessionalism meant to elicit a long line of supportive affirmations and emojis. While such missives may, in the short term, assuage the yearning to connect that most humans harbor, real intimacy can seem elusive in a world where quick text exchanges and apologies for being too busy to get together often supplant real-time, real-space interactions.
Intimacy is our emotional slow food, the lovingly home-cooked meal in a world of drive-thru orders. One of the most basic facts of intimacy is that it takes time to achieve. The process of opening to another, of self-revelation, takes patience as well as bravery, and the unhurried pace is a necessity for the creation of trust.
Friendships hold just as much capacity for intimacy as romantic relationships. It’s why people who often start out as friends wind up as lovers and why lovers seek friends to confide in when romance falters. As one new groom recently told a New York Timeswedding reporter, being friends first with his bride allowed him “to be more vulnerable in conversation than if I had approached her in a romantic way.”
Typically, we expect more intimacy from a romantic partner than from a friend, physically as well as emotionally, but intimacy threads through both types of bonds in shared secrets, caring touch, moments of laughter and tears, knowing silences. It’s not only about how two people act together, it’s how they make each other feel: connected and understood. Intimacy is what we’re after when we’re stressed or sick and need comfort, yet it’s also the reason why we value being with loved ones in easier times. Intimacy is “what most people want in their social life—it’s what people search for,” says psychologist Harry Reis of the University of Rochester, a key thinker about the nature of intimacy and the processes that underlie it.
What does it take to truly become close to another human being, whether in love or friendship? And what does it take to maintain the vitality of intimacy over the long haul?
Intimacy begins when a person shares something emotionally meaningful with someone else. Risk is at the heart of the matter. The person is taking a chance on a hunch that the listener could be trustworthy—but there’s always the possibility the emotional import will be missed, ignored, unreciprocated. As a result, the first steps of intimacy tend to be cautious ones. Social penetration theory, which defines the processes of relationships, holds that in building intimacy, whether with a friend or a romantic prospect, we engage in exploration. We venture forth with impersonal and superficial information to gauge the reaction of the other. A supportive response encourages an advance in self-disclosure, the proffering of more emotionally significant substance.
Researchers liken the process to peeling an onion, removing the layers of our selves and offering attention and support as the person we’re getting close to does the same. As exchanges become ongoing, the two people alternating between confessor and confidant, they build trust, affection, and, at some point, identity as a pair.
The process feels emotionally edgy because we’re gradually letting down defenses we may have maintained since childhood or adolescence, when we learn to hide those aspects of ourselves that trigger social rejection. You can’t really get serious about a love relationship or call someone a close confidant until you’re ready to tell the person about the darkest moments of your life. Indeed, every step forward in intimacy is a gamble. The information you’re revealing could be used to hurt you.
But you’re betting on the sweetness of the payoff. In addition to the catharsis that self-disclosure carries, “if someone responds positively, there’s a feeling of delighted relief,” says James Cordova, a professor of psychology at Clark University. Listening with an open heart and responding with tenderness proves you worthy of the faith placed in you.
Dating is nothing if not a process of gradual and—here’s the important part—reciprocal self-disclosure, and the risks of self-disclosure can feel particularly acute during dating. While establishing closeness in friendship often happens in fits and starts and hews to no blueprint, dating, perhaps more than any other activity in our culture, is encumbered with expectations and entangled with issues of identity, commitment, and time: What do I want out of this? What are we as a couple? Do we have a future?
If you try sharing something personal and it doesn’t go over well, you may feel the sting of judgment, says Steen Halling, a professor of psychology at Seattle University and the author of Intimacy, Transcendence, and Psychology. It’s easy to make a misstep in the pace of intimacy building: A person probes too soon for your deepest secrets or unloads too many of his or her own. In rushing to get to know you, the person fails to truly see you. “You’re on the receiving end of an agenda and become one of that person’s projects,” Halling explains. “That makes you think, ‘Do I have any say in this?'” There’s a difference between being willing to build intimacy and being willful about it, determined to make a relationship happen.
Not everyone in the dating game is seeking intimacy. The traditional notion of romance emphasizes trust, honesty, connection, and other markers of closeness. But people may date for many reasons: to ease feelings of social isolation, to have fun, or to build their own self-esteem, finds Catherine Sanderson, a psychology professor at Amherst College. They may prioritize other goals, such as career, over a close relationship, which takes an investment of time. Having goals that are self-serving doesn’t mean a person is wrong or has intractable “intimacy issues”—even if those goals clash with your own. Better to seek an intimacy-focused relationship elsewhere.
Too, there are people who seem chronically unable to get close to others, routinely dodging opportunities for intimacy. They may have acquired an avoidant attachment style through early life experiences with caretakers who rebuffed them or ignored their needs. Research led by psychologist Phillip Shaver shows that the risks inherent in building intimacy are particularly threatening to such people; the process stirs their vulnerability to rejection, punishment, and loss of control. Evading closeness “comes from a long history of difficulties and the need to protect oneself,” says Debra Mashek, a psychologist at Harvey Mudd College who researches close relationships. “It’s an adaptive response.”
Even when two people are open to establishing romantic intimacy, being too purposeful can be counterproductive. That’s when the classic date scenario—eating dinner out together—can get awkward, says Halling. The set-up applies pressure to share information and scrutinize each other’s verbal and nonverbal responses, whereas a less stilted act, like taking a walk or doing something entertaining together, could ease self-consciousness while still allowing the opportunity to connect.
Online dating seems to offer an end run around some of the awkwardness of meeting face-to-face. Online exchange allows—even encourages—prospective partners to make intimate disclosures. But extended messaging can dull the thrill of exchange without hinting at the kind of rapport two people will have, says Paul W. Eastwick of the Attraction and Relationships Research Lab at the University of California, Davis. Let the messaging go on too long and expectations rise unrealistically. “Once a face-to-face meeting occurs, those expectations can be violated, which can be distressing,” he says. Cyberspace simply can’t deliver up the whole person, the “warm complex animal gestalt,” as one online dater puts it.
Does Sex Improve Intimacy?
Short answer as of 2017: Yes.
When two people start dating, the question of when to have sex seems pivotal, in part because there’s a widespread expectation that sex brings partners closer together. Desire for emotional closeness and feelings of connection are among the top reasons both men and women cite for having sex, report psychologists Cindy Meston and David Buss. Women are no more likely than men to be motivated by a need for closeness, and men are no more in it for pure pleasure than women, the University of Texas researchers find.
Getting physical certainly stirs up the neurochemistry of attachment, mobilizing oxytocinand opioids that generate positive feelings and encourage more of the same. Once we link those feelings with a particular person, we want to stay with that person. Clinch and repeat.
The sheer presence of sexual desire, even when triggered by someone completely unknown, in fact pushes people to do the work of intimacy, says Omri Gillath. He and colleagues at the University of Kansas exposed a bevy of participants to erotic photographs, a known sexual stimulus. Some groups knew what they were looking at. Others were exposed to the images subliminally—flashed so briefly before them that the photographs didn’t register consciously. In both cases, exposure to the images made participants—particularly the ones who didn’t “notice” the photographs—more willing to disclose personal information, make sacrifices to benefit their current romantic partner, and work out conflicts effectively. All those effects are markers of intimacy building.
Sex really does send us down the path of emotional closeness, Gillath contends. He even conjectures that pornography, often assumed to interfere with real connection, might actually play a role in fostering it. “The studies suggest that when we’re sexually aroused, or when our sexual system is activated, we’re more open to intimacy.”
Intimacy in Passionate Love
When romantic intimacy is in full bloom, the intoxication of what happens in bed is rivaled by the charge it gives our lives. The pace of self-disclosure quickens. The drive to connect feels all-consuming. New lovers will stay up until 4 a.m. telling each other everything about their parents, their favorite elementary school teacher, the places they’ve lived, their likes and dislikes. The risk of disclosing every detail of their lives is more than offset by hitting the emotional jackpot of a partner’s interest, attention, and affection. The shared information nudges them down the path of seeing the world through each other’s eyes, abetting the merger into a “we,” the formation of a shared identity. A couple.
Two people essentially enter a zone of shared selves, a willing emotional nakedness. From their joint research on relationships, Karen Prager of the University of Texas at Dallas and Linda Roberts of the University of Wisconsin-Madison have identified three components of deeply intimate connection: self-revealing behavior, unwavering supportive attention, and a sense of exceptional knowingness as partners immerse themselves in each other’s lives, feelings, and routines.
Intimacy changes us. Getting close to someone else enhances our sense of our own abilities and possibilities; it enlarges us. The self-expansion model of close relationships, developed by husband-and-wife psychology researchers Arthur Aron and Elaine Aron, maintains that in becoming close to someone else, we fold his or her identity and resources in our own self. We gain from the availability of the other’s point of view and skills as we sort through a problem. We gain experiences—such as shared meals and outings, especially in the early stages of passionate love—and, later, resources, such as a shared home and bank account. Not least among the additional resources is a long-term commitment to the relationship. Closeness with a significant other also increases our belief in our ability to reach goals and helps us feel more in control of our lives.
“We take on the resources, perspective, and identities of another,” says Mashek, who studies self-expansion. “Your partner becomes a part of you, and you become part of your partner. You and me becomes we.” The rapid expansion that marks the initial rush of intimacy building is an unforgettable time. Getting close can seem enchanted, magical—particularly because staying close, for many couples, is anything but.
Men, Women, and the Work of Intimacy
Intimacy can be challenging to maintain over time. The reasons are rooted in the way closeness begins. Two people come together loving each other’s strengths and quirks. Each promises to be the person the other can confide uncertainties and weaknesses to, and each has permission to let his or her guard down in turn. But having stripped off all emotional armor leaves partners particularly vulnerable to perceived slights from each other, as, over time, the supportive focus on each other competes with the demands of daily life. That means that a grouchy comment or a bout of moodiness from a mate, however normal, can really sting. It takes restraint not to reply in kind or emotionally withdraw.
As a result, closeness tends to diminish over time, which Cordova sees as a normal process of decay. Parenting responsibilities or other everyday stresses exhaust a pair’s emotional resources and lead them down a path of least emotional resistance.
Once that process sets in, reversing its course can feel daunting. Couples often believe that they have to fix all their problems in order to feel close again. In fact, Cordova finds, simply paying more attention to each other is the best salve.
Figuring out how to enhance intimacy takes time, effort, and no small dose of what University of California, Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild calls “emotion work”: managing or even suppressing your own feelings so that you can provide emotional support to others. In committed heterosexual relationships, emotion work is itself often a source of stress because men and women tend to have different ideas about the optimal level of closeness and amount of “emotional space,” says University of Texas sociologist Debra Umberson. She finds that same-sex couples share more similar ideas about intimacy and personal boundaries, and consequently share emotion work more equitably.
Friendship: Are Men Missing Out?
At first glance, the research on friendship seems to confirm traditional gender stereotypes about intimacy—that women value emotional closeness more than men. Male buddies tend to spend time together doing things—playing sports, listening to music—while female friends place talk, often of personal matters, at the center of their time together. Women say that intimate conversation is the most important facet of friendship, helping them understand who they are, improve their sense of self, and solve problems with other loved ones.
But men are not born to shun deep intimacy. In fact, studies show, both men and women value friendships with women—precisely because those relationships tend to be especially emotionally intimate. Outside the Western world, male-male friendships tend to be highly intimate and expressive.
North American men are well aware that sharing personal information will bring them closer to a friend than will doing an activity together, finds Beverley Fehr, a professor of psychology at the University of Winnipeg and the author of Friendship Processes. What stops them from engaging more often in self-disclosure with other men, she says, is fear of rejection. Sharing makes men feel too vulnerable, perhaps because it conflicts with another value men hold—competitiveness.
What would happen if men were put in a situation where they were expected to share private information with other men? Fehr wondered. Would they benefit the way women do?
She turned to a tool widely used by relationship researchers: “36 Questions,” developed by Arthur and Elaine Aron. The questions, which couples ask each other, are designed to create a temporary feeling of closeness, even between strangers, in an experimental setting. Beginning with “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” the questions gradually escalate in emotional intensity. Question 18, at the halfway mark, gets highly personal: “What is your most terrible memory?” The final question puts interlocutors in intimacy central: They’re asked to share a personal problem and get the other’s insights into how to handle it. By the time they finish their questioning, lab partners are not only sharing emotionally fraught information, they’re essentially acting just as people in real relationships do—being responsive to each other’s needs.
Fehr brought into her lab pairs of men who were already friends and launched them on the 36 Questions. As the conversations progressed to a pointedly personal question, she observed a common response. “Typically, the men looked stunned,” she reports. “Then they fell silent. Then they uttered either the ‘f’ word or commented, ‘That’s deep.'” But to her amazement, they all really opened up in their answers.
So far, Fehr has found that the prompted self-disclosures have increased feelings of closeness between friends as well as boosted satisfaction with the friendship. Time will tell whether the men reap the same lasting benefits women do from friendships— heightened self-understanding and self-worth, an added sense of meaning.
Keeping It Going
Maintaining intimacy in a friendship is not a topic that gets a lot of attention, in part because our society tends to value friendship less than romance. Counseling services abound for committed couples on the rocks, and family and friends rally around them to help them stay together. But faltering friendships trigger neither the same mobilization of resources nor efforts to shore them up. And friends themselves seem to have absorbed the message; they tend to be more passive than couples about resolving conflicts. Friendships can end dramatically through betrayals of trust or an act of disloyalty. But most often they wither from neglect.
Yet they are remarkably responsive to resuscitation—by picking up a phone or meeting for coffee. The way friends stay close, says Fehr, is by going back to what drew them together in the first place: sharing information about their lives, offering support, and spending some time together.
Sometimes, though, intimacy between friends is revived in unexpected ways. Halling finds that experiences of reunification can be startlingly significant, often so profound they deliver transcendence. “You feel close to a person because you are truly open to them, and the feeling of being alone in the world is suspended for a time,” he says.
Murray Suid, a 74-year-old screenwriter, met Bryan, a charismatic professor, when the two were in a Bay Area men’s group in the 1970s. They became friends, then they lost touch. Two decades later, Suid was living in Los Angeles, and Bryan began making regular trips there for cancer treatment. Suid volunteered to ferry him from airport to clinic and back again. The prognosis for Bryan was grim, and he often talked about how scared he was. Suid, in turn, confided that his old friend’s ordeal was stirring up his own fears of death.
Suid had always thought of dying as something that created a wall between people. But “I found that instead it was a door, enabling two men to feel close to each other in a way that hadn’t happened before,” he says. Twenty years after Bryan’s death, Suid still treasures the drives back and forth to the clinic for their otherworldliness. “The intimacy wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t had the chance to talk, with me in the role of just being his driver,” he says.
That’s the thing about intimacy. It can offer up otherwordliness without fanfare, although Halling finds that moments of deepest connection tend to spring from a shift in circumstances. Going on a trip, being in nature, even working on a project together can pave the way for unselfconscious union, when time falls away and the present moment shines in sharp focus. “We’re open to the person, and touched and surprised by who we see,” Halling says. “It’s an experience of awakening.”
When Intimacy Is Imbalanced
Sometimes, the slow dance of self-revelation—the core of intimacy—becomes a bit lopsided. One partner may be more forthcoming or attached than the other. That doesn’t mean the relationship has to be scuttled. It is possible to help a skittish partner open up..
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.
Self-disclosure is a process not an all-or-nothing proposition. Intimacy takes time. “The more comfortable partner should positively reinforce any attempts,” says psychologist Catherine Sanderson.
SEEK OTHER CONFIDANTS.
Don’t expect your partner to fulfill all of your intimacy needs. “Nurture connection in friendships by being genuinely interested in your friends’ worlds,” psychologist Debra Mashek advises.
SHIFT THE FOCUS. The direct gaze can be intimate—but also daunting, especially for people who struggle with opening up. Spend time side-by-side instead. “Some intimate conversations occur when driving and the focus is not directly on each other,” psychologist Steen Halling says.
NURTURE YOUR SOLO SELF.
If you’re inclined to want to do everything with your partner, try some adventures on your own, suggests Mashek. Go to the movies or take a fun weekend trip alone.
OPEN UP ABOUT OPENING UP. Don’t hide your interest in how your partner is feeling. If your partner seems to be shutting down, let yourself wonder out loud about the reason, Halling recommends.
BE COMPASSIONATE. People who are reluctant to self-disclose may have been, early in life, punished for talking about emotions or expressing vulnerability. “We have to be kind, encouraging, and full of care for the genuinely fragile heart that we have invited into an intimate relationship,” psychologist James Córdova says. “We have to use our imagination to empathize with what it must be like to be afraid.”
By Lisa A. Phillips
“Treat or Treat!!”
Kids do all kinds of things that we don’t like, things that drive us nuts. Sometimes they do things that are dangerous, things that scare us half to death. They cross lines and test boundaries. My oldest son climbs on everything. My second son is overly aggressive with his affection, especially with his baby sister. My third son struggles with hitting, pinching or biting when he becomes angry.
This is all part of growing up. This is all part of being a parent. These little people we call our kids are trying new things and trying to figure out the world around them. In order for them to do this successfully requires that we set and help them understand limits, boundaries and consequences.
I love the way that Genevieve Simperingham explains our kids process of learning how to interact appropriately and empathetically with the world around them. She says,…
“Children mostly learn that they’ve crossed a line through the feedback of others. The image comes to mind of travelling in another country, there’s a lot of strict cultural rules about what’s okay and not okay and we only learn that we’ve been inappropriate when we get the feedback – how scary! We’d truly hope they had compassion for our lack of prior immersion into their culture and see our clumsiness as lack of awareness rather than lack of care or respect.
Children learn about empathy mostly through the direct experience of being empathized with and feeling how that helps them feel better.”(Setting Limits with Love, Genevieve Simperingham, www.peacefulparent.com )
Limits, Boundaries and Consequences, Oh My!
Limits, boundaries and consequences all work together with love and empathy to teach and help our kids perceive and interact with the world in positive ways. In this article I’ll address each concept of limits, boundaries and consequences and some practical ways to understand and utilize them in positive, peaceful ways.
Setting Limits: A limit is an imposed request or restraint on our child, and is most often coupled with stating a clear consequence. Sometimes the natural consequence is simply built into the limit itself. Some examples may include…
- Lead with a positive, empathetic response: “You may go play as soon as your room is clean.” In this example, play is limited on conditions of the child completing his chore. The natural consequence is that he may choose when he will do the chore and thus postpone or move him toward his playtime.
- Set limits with love and firmness: Tell them how you feel and what you don’t like as well as what you do like. Then reassure them of your unconditional love and regard for them. An example might include, “I know you’re frustrated right now. I don’t like when you hit me. I like it when you ask me for the things you need.” When your child asks to do something, for example, “Mom, can I go to Jimmy’s house?” You could respond with, “That sounds like a great idea another day. Right now we are getting ready for dinner.” If they continue to protest and ask why simply and empathetically say, “I know you really want to go. Sorry that’s not going to happen tonight.” If it still continues, just state the famous Love and Logic phrase, “I love you too much to argue.”
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- Don’t limit emotions, limit behavior: Stop the behavior through direction, separation and redirection. It’s okay for your child to be upset about it, but it’s important to separate the emotions from the negative behavior we wish to limit. For instance, it is okay to be angry, but hitting is not okay. “No throwing toys, because that hurts people and the toys.” It may require that we take the toy or separate our child from the situation, but no punishment or further action is required.
Setting Boundaries: A boundary is a statement or action of personal limits. It communicates, “This is where I end and you begin. This is what I am willing to do and what I am willing to allow you to do or not do to me. Dr. Henry Cloud describes it like your own fence around your personal property that keeps the bad stuff out and your personal treasures in. This doesn’t mean we never let anyone inside our boundary, it simply means that there is a clear boundary and a gate by which you can let others come and go in a way that is comfortable and wise.
- When kids make demands or requests of us. My kids often make demands at the dinner table. They say things like, “Dad, get me some water” or “I want a different glass or plate or utensil.” These demands are often made of my wife or me when we are busy preparing one of our small children’s food or finally sitting down to eat our own meal. Sometimes, parents respond simply by not responding. They ignore the request. Sometimes parents snap back at the kids, “Can’t you wait a minute? I’ll do it, just wait!” Sometimes parents just give in to the demand against their will. There is a better way that acknowledges the child’s request but asserts our own personal boundaries as well. We can say, “I would love to get that for you as soon as I done fixing your sister’s plate or after I am done eating. If you don’t want to wait, you are welcome to get it yourself.” If you are not willing to do the task for your child at all you can say, “Thanks for asking. I’m eating right now. If you would like water, you are welcome to get it yourself. Thanks.”
- Use “yes” as a boundary setting tool. When a child asks you to buy something for them at the store, say “Yes, you are welcome to buy that with your own money if you would like to earn the money and bring the money with you when we come to the store.” In essence we are saying, “no, I’m not going to buy that for you with my money” but we are not putting a limit on what they can do with their own money. This can artfully place appropriate boundaries out of what we are willing to do while also teaching them and motivating them to do things for themselves.
- When a child hits or is aggressive. We can firmly state our own personal boundaries. “I will not let you hit me.” This may include backing away to get out of arm or leg range, putting a hand out to stop hits and kicks or gently holding a child if they are receptive and need you to help them calm themselves.
Establishing Consequences: A consequence is simply the effect that follows any given action. Consequences are inevitable. They are natural and constant. There is no action that does not have a consequence. Kids sometimes struggle to see and understand the natural consequences of their actions and definitely struggle to anticipate consequences. It can be helpful for parents to teach kids about consequences and help them anticipate consequences that will arise, whether natural or imposed consequences.
- Educate them about positive and negative consequences: Consequences are not necessarily something we have to impose upon our children. It’s not something that I do to my children but it’s just part of living. Consequences are best learned as they are woven into our limit and boundary setting. It’s important to teach our kids that consequences are not just negative things, but that all of their choices have consequences. Positive choices also provide positive consequences. I’m not referring to rewards that parents give but just regular everyday benefits of making good choices.
- Allow natural consequences: Too often parents jump in and either overshadow the real life natural consequences of a situation by either giving a harsh punishment or unnecessary reward instead of simply letting them experience the natural consequences. If they choose not to complete their homework, poor grades or other consequences at school may follow. If they refuse to get shoes on before it is time to leave the house (when age appropriate), they get to carry their shoes with them to the car or go without shoes. When they refuse to go to sleep, they get tired. On the other hand, they feel good when they do something kind for a brother or friend and they get to move on to play time when they complete their chores. We all experience consequences in our everyday lives and we learn from them without any lectures or punishments.
- Follow through with realistic, rational consequences: When people think of consequences, they most often think of groundings, taking privileges away, spankings, lectures and other punishments, but these are neither necessary or effective for teaching positive skills and values. The more natural, realistic to life and related to their behavior the consequence is, the more effective it is in teaching the desired lesson. When a child makes a mess, the logical consequence is that he cleans up after himself. When a child damages something, a natural consequence is that they replace it. As referred to in the limits section, the natural consequence of a child refusing to do chores is that they postpone their own play time. When we follow through with natural consequences and show empathy we take the focus off of us and allow our child to learn from the consequence. It give us opportunity to help our child learn to solve their problems rather than causing them to blame us and see us as the problem.
5 Important principles to remember when setting TRU limits, boundaries and consequences:
It can be helpful to evaluate the limits, boundaries and consequences we set and how we set them in accordance with the principles of TRU parenting. Do our limits and the way we deliver them teach our child what we want them to learn? Do they build on our relationship? And do they allow me to upgrade myself and improve my own boundaries? The following are 5 specific guidelines to help set limits, boundaries and consequences that meet the principles of TRU parenting and promote positive ongoing cycles rather than simply demanding immediate compliance only.
1. Lead with the positive and with empathy: The connection and relationship between parent and child is one of the most important elements of setting positive, clear limits, boundaries and consequences. When we approach a limit with understanding and with words that ignite positive, agreeable feelings, we find that kids are much more cooperative. My wife’s cousin recently shared the following story with me about my wife and second son. She reported…
“Eli (my 6 year old son) was teasing and upsetting Emma (my 2 year old daughter). Camille (my wife), was watching and recognized what was going on. Instead of saying “Eli stop” or “Don’t tease your sister” she kindly said “Eli, I don’t think we have hugged today come over here and give your mom a big hug” He happily jumped up and gave her a big hug for a few seconds and then magically he went about playing and NOT teasing his sister.”
I thought this was so awesome! This is such an incredible example of empathy and my wife recognizing my son’s underlying need. She set a limit by redirecting his behavior to a more appropriate avenue and left the formal teaching for a later time. The need was met and the behavior stopped, all in a way that taught positive principles, built the relationship and Upgrading my wife’s state of mind and being. I know, my wife is amazing!
2. Don’t be afraid of “NO” but don’t overuse it: Sometimes the best way to define or set a limit is with a good old fashion “no.” However, I’ve found that when “no” is overused on every nitpicky little irritation, it loses its value and creates a negative atmosphere.
3. Don’t set limits while sitting: Be actively engaged. When we sit back and bark out limits and orders from our arm chair, our limits have no power. Move toward your kids and reach out to them. Deliver limits and boundaries at their level both physically and developmentally.
4. State what you will do or not do and do or don’t do it: Try to focus on what you will do rather than on what they should do. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Be a Mom or Dad of your word. For example, if your child wants a different color cup than was placed on the table you can say, “I would love to get it when I’m done eating if you would like to wait. I’m fixing food right now and eating my dinner. You are welcome to either get it yourself or wait for me to be done with my dinner.”
5. Teach and plan during the good times: Use weekly family nights, play time or other fun and positive times to be together to teach and plan appropriate social boundaries and show them what consequences might come in different situations. Use role plays and games to help them learn limits, and cause and effect relationships. It doesn’t have to be a struggle to set clear limits. It really can be fun.
Other great resources on setting limits with our kids…
You know what the most annoying thing in the world is when you are a parent? Other people telling you what to do as if they know better.
Backseat parenting drives me crazy. Until I’m the one doing it. I have dear friends who spank their kids, and I always try to talk to them about the science of it. They always respond with, “I know what’s best for my kids, just like you know what’s best for yours.” Which is exactly what I’d say if someone told me that I was doing it wrong. Every kid is different. Every kid has their needs.
However, during those discussions, I’d say there is science that backs up doing something other than spanking. They’d always ask for specifics. I never had them. Until now. So here’s an infographic explaining what 36,000 people and 88 studies found.
The biggest takeaway for me? Even if you spank with control, discipline, and good intent, your kids are more likely to have depression and engage in aggressive behavior in adulthood.
For those of you who spank your kids, let me just declare: I am in no way attacking your parenting skills or blaming you for anything. Parenting is hard. I’ve wanted to spank my kids on numerous occasions. But learning about the science can help you in the future.
Maybe it’s what you grew up with. Maybe it’s what you have always known. But the science is hard to ignore. Take from it what you will, but just know I’m not here to judge you — I’m only here to ask you to consider an alternative.
I think we can all agree that we want what is best for our children.
I was in the supermarket last week, listening to a multitude of beeps from scanners, when a new sound caught my ears. It was a kid, a preschooler, begging for one of those baby bottle suckers with the sugar inside. She wanted the cherry flavour.
“Mummy, can I have this?” the little girl asked.
“No, honey,” the mother smiled.
“But mum, I don’t have one.”
“We have plenty of lollies at home,” the mum reminded.
“But I don’t have this one.”
“I said no,” the mother replied, while looking through an entertainment magazine.
With having no luck breaking her mother down verbally, the little girl upped her ante. Her face turned red and words about unfairness and meanness erupted from her mouth.
And then her next strategy: crying. In between her cries and words, she delivered gasps of air, purely for effect.
“Just put it in the cart,” the mum replied. “But you can’t have it until after dinner.”
“Can I just have one bite in the car?” the little girl asked.
“We’ll talk about it when we get in the car.”
The little girl’s tears turned to smiles within less than one minute of her setting eyes on what she wanted.
Now, I’m far from a perfect parent, but I cringed knowing what this mother had just traded. Basically her soul. She traded a nasty temper tantrum for a life of bargaining between her and her little sweet pea. And the sad thing is, it doesn’t have to be that way, nor should it.
I wanted to hand the mum a laminated card with these five fail-proof sayings burned into the paper. They’ve worked for me for years and remind me of chocolate. Every single one of them is good and I pick which “flavour” depending on my mood.
Next time your mini cross-examiner is giving you the run-down, take charge, be a mum, and above all, be consistent.
If you say no, you better mean it. By changing your mind, your child has gained more than a lolly; they’ve gained the knowledge you can be broken down easier than a cardboard box.
Have fun practicing these phrases with your little interrogator:
1. “Asked and answered.”
This is the motherload of all chocolates. Although I use the four below, I use this one ten more times then I use anything else. Let’s replay the scenario from above.
Child: “Mummy, can I have this?”
Mother: “No, honey.”
Child: “But mum, I don’t have one.”
Mother: “Asked and answered.”
Child: “You never get me anything.”
Mother: “Asked and answered.”
If the child keeps at it, you become a robot, saying the same three most blissful words over and over and over again.
2. “I’m done discussing this.”
Child: “Can Ashlyn spend the night?”
Mother: “No, she just spent the night here last week.”
Mother: “I’m not discussing this again.”
Child: “But …”
Then, from the mother, all action, no words. Smile pleasantly, tilt your head to the right, give the best devil eyes you can, and then simply walk away.
3. “This conversation is over.”
Child: “Can I ride my bike?”
Mother: “No, it’s raining outside.”
Child: “But I’ll wear my rain coat and it’s only sprinkling.”
Mother: “This conversation is over.”
Child: “But pleeeasssee?”
Mother: “Asked and answered.”
Become your usual robotic self. Remember, you’re a rock.
4. “Don’t bring it up again.”
Child: “I want these shoes.”
Mother: “No, those cost too much.”
Child: “But I don’t like those.”
Mother: “You’re getting the shoes in the cart and that’s final. Don’t bring it up again.”
Child: “I need them!”
Mother: “You brought it up again. There went your dessert for tonight.”
Yes, you’re going to get more crying with that response, but remember: getting your child to understand you mean business is a marathon, not a sprint.
5. “The decision has been made. If you ask again there will be a consequence.”
Child: “Can I watch the iPad?”
Mother: “No, you know you’re not allowed having technology at the table.”
Child: “I won’t get food on it.”
Mother: “The decision has been made. If you ask again there will be a consequence.”
Child: “But I promise!”
Mother: “I told you not to bring it up again. No iPad for the rest of the day.”
Prepare for a few tantrums until your child learns they’re not going to get anywhere. This is part of their normal testing stage.
Your child will eventually realise nothing changes your mind. This is how you will earn your child’s respect and set up a relationship where your child accepts your decisions the first time.
Don’t forget: their best friend, Timeout, is only a few short steps away.
Here’s a success story: After years of using these phrases with my four-year-old, I’m reaping the benefits everyday with no tears or fighting back.
Here’s the conversation I had with my daughter, Charlotte, while writing this article.
Charlotte: “Can I have a cookie?”
Me: “Yes, you may have one.”
Charlotte: “Can I have three?”
Me: “This conversation is over.”
Charlotte: “OK, I’ll just break it in half so I can have two.”
Sure, I see some passive-aggressiveness in that last comment, but I still won the battle. She happily ate her one cookie and I happily continued typing at my computer.
You can have these blissful conversations, too. Laminate a card or start memorising, but trust me, they’re almost better than chocolate.