Trigger Warning: Suicide
One November day in Gaston County, NC, traffic was at a stand-still on I-85. It was unfortunately caused by a 16-year-old who took her life on the highway. As cars grinded to a halt, a pick-up truck was rear-ended by someone not paying attention. The driver of that truck lost his life.
If someone had recognized the warning signs of suicide in this young girl and gotten her help, two deaths could have been avoided that day.
This incident really affected me. I’m from Gaston County and with all the advocacy work I do in Charlotte as a member of NAMI Charlotte and as a new state board member of NAMI NC, I felt that I had neglected my hometown as a mental health advocate. Also, I know what it’s like to feel the pain of wanting to take your own life.
I felt that way twenty-two years ago on Valentine’s Day, 1995. Thank goodness, my aunt heard my cry for help, knew the warning signs and saved my life. When you go through something like that, I feel you are obligated to turn around and help others who are dealing with the same pain. I knew I had to do something in my hometown.
Starting The Conversation In School
I went to Ami Parker, Director of Counseling Services for Gaston County Schools, and told her, “I don’t want to see what happened to the young lady on the Cox Road Bridge happen to another child.” I asked her to consider a Mental Health Awareness Week in the Gaston school system. And Ami didn’t hesitate. She even took it a step further, planning for the children to take the lead.
She knew kids would respond better to kids and the conversations they would start amongst themselves—and they did. They went online and got information to present to other students that would get them involved. Because of this, kids from middle to high school were truly engaged in the week-long Mental Health Awareness Week. They created posters and banners from everything that said, “See the person, not the illness” to “Our school is StigmaFree.”
I can’t tell you how proud I am of the kids being so engaged and involved. One middle schooler told me that she rode the bus with a boy who cut himself. She had told him to “quit cutting” himself, but he didn’t. In this teachable moment, I told her that she did the right thing, but he needed more help than she could give. And she needed to let someone know he needed help. The young girl agreed that she would.
This is exactly why events like these are so important. It starts conversations among children. If we can start conversations with children, maybe those conversations can spread to parents.
Steps To Spread Awareness To Schools
If you want to have a Mental Health Awareness Week in your local school, start with the school’s counseling department, like I did. Make sure you’ve done your research on mental health, stigma and suicide, so when you talk to a counselor they’ll see you’ve done your homework. Most counselors would be glad to help you bring this deserving cause to the attention of the principal and teachers. I am so proud of and thankful for Ami Parker and her willingness to be proactive with bringing awareness to mental health. And I’m sure there are more people like her out there. We dedicated our event to the young girl who died by suicide in November, in hopes to stop others kids from going down the same path.
Kids are our next generation. We should be teaching them about the importance of mental health and the warning signs of mental illness. If we teach them well enough, maybe stigma won’t exist once their generation grows up. Maybe they will know when to ask for help and when to offer someone support. Maybe lives will be saved. With the looks of things, I think Gaston County schools are off to a very good start.
By Fonda Bryant
Fonda Bryant is very active in the community bringing awareness to mental health. She has been a volunteer with NAMI Charlotte for over three years and recently was elected to the state board of NAMI NC. She also volunteers with MHA of Central Carolinas and with the AFSP. She speaks to the rookie classes of CMPD, and is vocal about mental health, whether on television, in the newspaper or radio, her passion for mental health knows no boundaries.
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…
When I picked my son up from his first day of 4th grade, my usual (enthusiastically delivered) question of “how was your day?” was met with his usual (indifferently delivered) “fine.”
Come on! It’s the first day, for crying out loud! Give me something to work with, would you, kid?
The second day, my same question was answered, “well, no one was a jerk.”
That’s good…I guess.
I suppose the problem is my own. That question actually sucks. Far from a conversation starter, it’s uninspired, overwhelmingly open ended, and frankly, completely boring. So as an alternative, I’ve compiled a list of questions that my kid will answer with more than a single word or grunt. In fact, he debated his response to question 8 for at least half an hour over the weekend. The jury’s out until he can organize a foot race.
Questions a kid will answer at the end of a long school day:
- What did you eat for lunch?
- Did you catch anyone picking their nose?
- What games did you play at recess?
- What was the funniest thing that happened today?
- Did anyone do anything super nice for you?
- What was the nicest thing you did for someone else?
- Who made you smile today?
- Which one of your teachers would survive a zombie apocalypse? Why?
- What new fact did you learn today?
- Who brought the best food in their lunch today? What was it?
- What challenged you today?
- If school were a ride at the fair, which ride would it be? Why?
- What would you rate your day on a scale of 1 to 10? Why?
- If one of your classmates could be the teacher for the day who would you want it to be? Why?
- If you had the chance to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you teach the class?
- Did anyone push your buttons today?
- Who do you want to make friends with but haven’t yet? Why not?
- What is your teacher’s most important rule?
- What is the most popular thing to do at recess?
- Does your teacher remind you of anyone else you know? How?
- Tell me something you learned about a friend today.
- If aliens came to school and beamed up 3 kids, who do you wish they would take? Why?
- What is one thing you did today that was helpful?
- When did you feel most proud of yourself today?
- What rule was the hardest to follow today?
- What is one thing you hope to learn before the school year is over?
- Which person in your class is your exact opposite?
- Which area of your school is the most fun?
- Which playground skill do you plan to master this year?
- Does anyone in your class have a hard time following the rules?
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.
Failure is excruciating. But it’s not as excruciating as watching your child fail. It’s not just that parents are biologically programmed to care about them. We really want them to succeed, partly so they have a great life and partly because, frankly, their success reflects well on us.
But as parents increasingly navigate their kids’ lives so that they avoid failure, those kids lose an important life skill, and one one they will inevitably need: how to find the courage and motivation to get back up. So how do you help kids fail, or rather, how do you help kids deal with failure? Brené Brown, whose new book Rising Strong is about coming back from failure, has spent nearly her whole career studying shame and courage, and in a recent interview with TIME she gave this advice: first, don’t try to fix it.
“If my child, you know, tries out for a team, or you know really wants to get into a certain college or gets shunned at lunch,” she says, “am I willing to sit with her or sit with him and not fix it, but just be with her or him in the struggle? Am I willing to look over and say, ‘God, I know how crappy this feels right now?’ “
Brown wants parents to let kids feel the sting of failure and learn to overcome it. Even when parents can fix something, she sees more value in teaching kids to feel the emotions failure produces. “Teaching them how to get curious about it, teaching them how to name it, teaching them how to ask for what they need,” she says. “That’s the gift that parents give.”
Brown, who has two kids, also thinks it’s helpful to give kids a reality check, to retell their stories to them. “I’ve got a 16 year old daughter who sometimes can compare her life with Instagram,” she says. “And the stories she makes up: this is what everyone looks like, the fabulous stuff everyone is doing, the time with the entire posse of friends. A lot of times I’ll say, let’s reality check the story you’re making up right now.”
Brown then recounts her daughter’s story a slightly different way. “You’re at home studying chemistry, and you’re making out that everyone is out having a fabulous time. Where are your friends tonight? They’re studying for chemistry. Right. And did anyone ask you to do something tonight? Yes, they did. And why didn’t you go? Because you’re making a choice to study for chemistry.
Getting kids to cast themselves in their own narrative helps kids recall what they consider success and reminds them what their aims are. “We don’t want to be victims in the story. We don’t even want to be heroes in a story,” says Brown. “We want to be the author of the story. And you can’t do that unless you own the story and dig into it.”
When a child says “please” and “thank you” during the early years (18 months to age 3), it’s pretty much a rote expression, automatic and mechanical. If you think about it, you probably had to prompt your child by saying, “What do you say?” so he would remember to express thanks. At that age, most young children don’t fully understand the social graces behind saying “please” and “thank you”; they just know they’re supposed to say them.
At around ages 4 to 6, when a child begins going through the developmental phases that ignite independence and assertiveness, is when refusing to say “thank you” can rear its head. Not saying “thank you” isn’t really about misbehaving, it’s more about the fact that the child doesn’t have a fully formed habit of saying “thank you” when he receives something he doesn’t like. They’re not old enough to understand all the complexities of using social graces. They need to be taught, without punishment, so they can learn.
Teaching a child to be grateful, like most things in parenting, is not a one-shot deal; it’s an ongoing process. Most parents are embarrassed when their child doesn’t say “thank you,” and rightfully so. However, if all you do is correct and punish after your child hasn’t said “thank you,” then the teaching moment easily can become a power struggle, not a lesson.
- Model, model, and model some more. Let your kids hear you say “thank you” a lot. When you’re given a gift or someone does something nice for you, say “thank you.” Say “thank you” to the cashier or the dry cleaner. Let your child know that when normal things happen, you express gratitude.
- Point out details. Make a habit of pointing out the little details you like about things. Share what you like in the pictures they draw, and compliment how nicely they’re eating, how quickly they got dressed, and how they stopped what they were doing so they could listen to you. This not only builds rock-solid self-esteem, but it also helps a child understand how to pick out one detail he does like from a gift he didn’t like so he can genuinely say “thank you.” After all, no parent wants to hear, “Saying ‘thank you’ for something I hate is lying!”
- Donate. We had a rule in our house: about a week before each birthday or holiday, the kids had to survey their toys and clothes and pick out a few things to donate to those who were less fortunate. To avoid possible last-minute hesitation about giving something away that was theirs, the kids were in charge of packing up the stuff and I was in charge of delivery. We also made sure to praise them for their generosity so they could see how the whole process worked.
- Practice makes perfect. This is especially true when it comes to teaching appreciation. Give your child opportunities to do nice things for others in the family. This teaches him about learning to extend kindness and about receiving appreciation in return.
If your goal is to release a respectful, well-mannered child into the world, then please know that refusing to say “please” and “thank you” does come up over and over again as they age. If you’re embarrassed, try saying, “Please excuse her, we’re working on social graces, again.”