Helping Your Kids Grow Through Challenges with John Boye

How to Help Kids Grow Through Challenges

We’re continuing to talk about growth this month. Today we’re talking about helping our kids grow. Our guest is therapist Jonathan Boye. He works with families and kids in the areas of relational struggles, parenting, depression, ADHD, and trauma.

As single parents, we have all watched our kids go through some very hard things. Oftentimes we jump in to try to soothe the problem or make it go away, which isn’t to our kid’s benefit. How can we help our kids grow in the midst of these challenging situations so that it's not just removing the challenge, but it's actually using the challenge for their benefit?

What have you seen parents do that impedes helping their kids grow? Are there common mistakes that parents make?

The first thing that I have to tell you is that before I answer that question, is that you are human, being human is okay. Mistakes are okay, and there's an abounding grace in your life. God trusts you and trusts you with His kids.

We spend so much time with all the negatives of life. And the reality is that God came for our sins but ultimately, He came back because He loved us and saw value in us, and that's why He wanted to redeem us. We don’t take enough time to think about how much of a gift we really are to Him and to this world.

I use a model called the Congruency Model, it's about how our bodies and minds and spirits get pulled away due to trauma. It's when our emotions get impaired. At times when we have shame, we shame others. When we're really frustrated and can't deal with things, we send kids away and we create loneliness. Sometimes our parenting is all about fear-based because we're so scared ourselves that we scare our kids not to go down a particular road. As we talk about the model, you're going to also hear in each stage there are some things that we have to tweak as humans and as parents.

What are some practical ways that we can approach what you called the attending phase?

The first thing with attending is that it's all about relationships. In this phase where the mistakes happen is that as parents, we tend to think relational means friendship. And we are not friends with our kids. Parents are the authority and guide kids. Parents are responsible for kids but they're God's children. Parents have a responsibility for God's children.  As a parent, you have to evaluate yourself and evaluate your parenting. In the nonprofit and business worlds, they do a SWOT analysis so I thought, “ Why can't I use this for counseling?” What are your strengths as a parent? Write it down. What are your weaknesses? Where do you feel as though you’re not living up to this and that you need some work? You fill out your strengths, your weaknesses and then opportunities. I change the T, which is threats, in SWOT to an F for fears. I want you to write down your fears for your kids. Parents meditate so much about their fears they actually manifest them in their children's lives. We want to change that. Write out the fears and the last question is, “What is the accomplishment?” And “What is the positive outcome? And how do you speak that into your children's lives?

An example is having the fear that your child will start using drugs. The opposite, positive thought is your child is going to stay clean. Spend more time talking about him living up to a higher standard. The rest of my model helps to dig deeper so that you can get to the truth.

Do you have any helpful tips about what we could do to just carve out that space?

Forced Family Friday Night Fun. You're in a car, you're driving down the road…  play the ABC game with your kids, look for license plates. The name game you say a famous person’s name and then you have to come up with another famous person's name based on the last letter of whatever the famous person’s name is and see who you can keep going.

Just those moments that can be very simple but you’re engaging and talking.  It's sitting down at dinner and saying, no screens. I know at my home that my biggest frustration sometimes is my kids getting on the phone and scrolling. And the sad thing about it is I have conviction and guilt too because I do the same thing because I would rather play Candy Crush. I have to be intentional and put my phone down.

It doesn't have to be grandiose things but be intentional about making sure that you're doing little things. A lot of times parents chase the big things. I'm going to do a date every Friday with this child. That's great but there are little things that you can carve out along the way that cumulatively make a big difference.

Cooking dinner together, saying a high and a low around the table or praying together. It takes a little bit of time to pray together to give her a sense of you're not alone.

What about providing direction for our kids?

I find that parents are one or the other. They're too much of a friend and the attending, or they're too much the authoritarian and have too many rules and regulations and are not relational enough. In both cases, you have to find balance. I do believe that you cannot establish rules and directions if they're not bought into you and so relational and attending always has to come first. If you find that relationally you're struggling with your kids, spend a little bit more time there than in the guidance and the discipline.

When you move from attending to guidance, what you’re doing is trying to help them to understand their boundaries. I do a lot of different things. What's the family mission statement? What are the five goals that have overarching values? Do you want your family to live by and post them? When you're having conversations, go back to those five values. I look at redirection and I also look at what your routine looks like. What are your standards?

For example, your car. Do you want it to be clean or are you okay with it being messy? If it’s a pigsty, the best intervention is to get a note card and write out the car rules. And so, when the kids into the car, they have to read the car rules. If they consistently follow these rules for the next five days, the car rules stay on the back of the headrest, and they no longer have to read it but then they're in a pattern of cleaning out the car. But as soon as they mess up, you go back to reading it for five days. It's very simple. Spell out things for them because a lot of times parents will say, “My kids should just know.” But kids' brains are not as fully developed and aware as ours.

So don’t assume, even though you’ve told them a thousand times, you have to reinforce and reinforce and reinforce. The other thing is when we talk about reinforcement, it's not that punishment based is not the best method, it's that positive reinforcement is actually the best message. Find what they're doing right. Some parents don't want to have to tell them thank you for flushing the toilet but if it gets them to flush a toilet, say it. If they pick up their towel by themselves, say “Wow, your bathroom was great.” Find every moment to praise your kid.

I always say affirmation, correction, affirmation.

What are some ways that we can help our kids who put so much pressure on themselves to be perfect?

The best advice I can give you is to be as transparent about yourself and your own mistakes. Sometimes parents are so afraid to talk about their mistakes and a lot of kids think their parents are perfect. The more human you are with your kids, the better they'll understand that. Role model for your child. I always encourage parents to ask more questions than give advice because you want them to learn. In therapy sessions, I use socratic questions - you keep asking questions to dig deeper and deeper.  I'm an existential therapist and so we have this term called phenomenological, which is a big word, but it just means that I'm getting into the world of you. I'm putting your shoes on so that I can understand what it is that you're experiencing so that I can have something to give back to you.

Also, parents need to be aware of their own need to take away the pain. It’s okay for our kids to feel guilt, shame, fear, loneliness, and all these things because emotions are guides to help us to get to what will feed our needs.

How do we deal with our kids when we know we're being played?

You do have to recognize when your child is manipulating you. Parents end up using more energy than the kids do because we end up making parenting about us instead of about them. And so a lot of times we will punish our kid. We'll say, okay, you just made me feel uncomfortable. I'm going to make you feel uncomfortable. And what we end up doing is creating revenge because the kid learns that when someone does something uncomfortable, I'm going to make you feel uncomfortable. I do believe in consequences, but consequences are about redirection. I'll have families come in and we will create a grid and talk about, for example, respect. What does disrespect do to relationships naturally? What does it do to the kid? And talk about if there were no consequences, how is that going to affect me as the parent and the kids also answer.  

Then the next category is logic. Logically what did you want? You wanted your child to be respectful. Then list five things you could have said differently. Simple, right? Sometimes it's just logically teaching our kids what they need to do.

Parents end up grounding, taking things away and forgetting the thing because the power is only in the moment. If your child doesn’t respond to a logical consequence, use an imposed consequence, which is defining what grounding is together as a family.
For example, when you've consecutively done X for three days, then you can have your things back and you're off grounding. So if your child says, “I'm not doing that now,” he's grounded himself for four days. He's imposing it on himself versus a parent imposing it. It also takes the pressure off you.

One other intervention that I do with a group of people is I'll have someone leave the room and I'll say pick an object in the room. The person who left the room comes back and has to figure out what the object is, but the only way they can figure it out is by everyone in the room telling them no.

Everyone's screaming, “No!” They're frantically trying to figure out the object in the room. And I said, let's try it again. Go out, pick an object, come back in and every time they're facing it, say yes. It's silence with people saying, “Yes.” And they find it quickly. It's the positive, not the negative. Parents need to do that.

How do we help our kids grow when they're taking the victim mentality in their challenge?

Just like adults, kids have needs. And just like adults, when our kids’ needs don’t get met, they go to a place of control. They develop controlling behaviors. For example, kids look at pornography because they want unconditional love and they aren’t getting it anywhere else. Or they get defensive toward someone else because they don't want to deal with their shame.

As parents, we have to identify what's going on inside of our kids and identify. We have to drop down into pain to engage it, to understand the root cause. The reality is parents are reacting to behavior, but they never take the time to find the heart of the issue. What is the missing need?

When parents say, “Do it because I told you to,” that's just an authoritarian control of behavior. We need to take the time to engage in our children and to understand their world and explain to them whether it takes 15 times or a thousand times. Our job is to teach them until they are released into the world on their own.

Kids need self-esteem, love, and connection, not just correction. Not just shame, not just fear-based, not anger or not just consequences. They need someone to tell them you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are a gift to this world.

Listener Question

My child always acts out after a weekend with his other parent. How can I make that transition easier for both of us?

You can ask your child how he is feeling when he transitions back to you. Why are you reacting? Taking time to sit down and look for the root issue.

The root issue could be the transition itself. A lot of times people meet in parking lots and transfer their kids and there's no talking and there's discord that can create a lot of anxiety and uncomfortableness in making a kid feel like they're in between. He could be reacting to this situation.

Or the root issue could be he has adjustment issues going from one home to the other. Maybe he doesn’t feel peace because there’s not the same standards or structures. If you can, try to work with your co-parent to create structures that are the same in each household. If you had a contentious divorce and are not able to have a conversation with your co-parent, then just listen if your child has a complaint. Do your best not to create any negativity around the other parent.  

Another root issue could be fear of abandonment, especially if there is uncertainty with how often he sees the other parent. He might be experiencing grief each time leaving the other parent and it’s showing up as acting out. The transition times may be touching on the wound.

On your transition day provide some safety of knowing when he’ll see you again and affirm his time with the other parent. This will help him deal with his abandonment feelings.

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