Tag Archives: boundaries

Live your life in episodes

Did they find the body? Did she say yes? C’mon, Chris Harrison, who gets the final rose tonight?!?!!?!

I was remarking to my wife last night as we began binge-watching Designated Survivor, that you can tell when a show was made for TV, because they build in suspense by adding commercial breaks at critical points in the action.

Why is binge-watching so addicting?!

I can’t speak for you, but what I love about binge-watching shows on Netflix is the continuity of story, emotion, and drama. I love that there are no commercial breaks in the action. I love that I don’t have to wait a single second to continue having the emotionally engaged experience that I’m having. I don’t even have to wait between episodes, because Netflix now allows me to “Skip the Intro” to many shows! It’s literally seconds between episodes. It’s almost hard to tell where one episode ends and another begins. This is great when watching Netflix, but not for our lives and relationships.

What we lose by binge-watching our lives

Unfortunately, we often tend to live much of our lives as though we are starring in a Netflix Original show. We don’t build in breaks in the action. We don’t tend to slow down, digest what we just saw, heard, or experienced. We just push through to the next thing.

What would happen if you built in a commercial break in the action? What if you slowed down enough to talk to your spouse about that thing you’ve been worried about? What if you called that friend you’ve been meaning to get in touch with? What if you finally called a therapist to work through what happened to you a few years back? What if you said “no” to yet another request and just took a nap instead?

If we don’t take a break from the action, there’s no chance to process, sift through, and move on from difficult feelings, relationship struggles, and the drama, and sometimes trauma, of life. Sometimes we just need to be assertive with ourselves and others, and set up some healthy boundaries.

Live your life in episodes

As much as we may love to binge-watch our shows with no commercials, and no breaks between episodes, it’s not healthy to live our lives like that. Live your life in episodes. Yes, there will be common themes, and some story lines will follow from one episode to the next. But allow yourself some space, resolution, and healing, by not living it all at once. Breaks are healthy. Sleep is healthy! Saying “Yes” and “No” can both be healthy at the right times and with balance.

What about the bad episodes?

Even if you do this, your life will have some bad episodes. Perhaps you’ve made some bad decisions, or someone else made decisions that impacted your story in a negative way. Maybe there are some episodes you’d just rather forget even aired in the first place. Whatever your story may be, remember that you can choose to live your life in episodes. You can choose to move forward from those hurtful episodes to more joy-filled ones. Only you can make the choice to stop re-watching the same episode over and over. It may require some help, but you’re the only person with the remote control, and the only one who ever will.

Grab the remote!

It’s time to think about which episode you keep replaying, and whether you might need to start building in some commercial breaks to engage differently with the people around you. Think about what your next step is, and take it today. Maybe it’s calling a friend, a psychologist, or your satellite provider, or maybe it’s just taking a well-deserved, long-awaited nap. Whatever your step is, it’s time to pick up the remote control and make a change.

How to stop a tantrum without candy (and produce a pleasant person in the process)

You may have seen a child throwing a tantrum in a restaurant and asked the person next to you, “Why doesn’t that mom just take her kid outside? He’s making a scene!” Maybe he wanted the chicken nuggets and got sushi. Maybe he wanted chocolate milk and got regular milk. Who knows? The important thing is that your romantic dinner date has now been interrupted. So again, why won’t that mom just take that obnoxious child outside already?!

If you are a parent, you may be reading this and thinking, “Hey! I’ve been there before, and sometimes there’s just nothing I can do! My son just won’t let me have a meal at a restaurant in peace unless he gets his way.” Or, you may be thinking, “Even if I take him outside, when we come back in he’s just going to start screaming again if I don’t give him what he wants. There’s no winning with this kid!”

If you’ve found yourself in this situation, read on for some thoughts on how your child may be trying to train you, and how a shift in parenting style can minimize the frequency of these situations in the future.

Let’s first take a look at a simple example to illustrate how NOT to encourage positive behavior from your children in public. I was recently in the checkout line at a grocery store and there was a family of four in front of me. The parents, a grandmother, and a young girl of about 3 or 4. The girl, seated in the shopping cart, initially was calm and quiet in her request for some M&Ms candy. The parents said “No” and the girl was obviously displeased with this answer.

The girl then began to rapidly escalate her behavior from quietly asking for the candy to whining and eventually crying about not getting her way. Out of apparent embarrassment and a desire to quickly quiet their daughter, the parents said, “Fine. Just be quiet,” and put the M&Ms on the checkout conveyor belt. I cringed inside knowing the potential long term impact of their actions.

Anyone want to guess what this girl is going to do the next time she is in the checkout line? You guessed it: Cry for more M&Ms. If the parents continue to avoid temporary pain/embarrassment, what do you suppose the long term effect will be? What might happen when the girl is 16 and she wants to stay out several hours past her bedtime with her boyfriend the night before taking her SATs? How much power/authority will her parents have at that point to impact her behavior?

Sadly, the pain-avoidance behavior of these parents will have gradually stripped them of vital parental influence. They will have lost the power struggle via surrender. They did not establish themselves as authorities in their daughter’s life early on and consistently throughout her childhood/adolescence.

So what is a parent to do in this type of situation? Should you just let your son scream for an hour in the restaurant, disrupting the meals of dozens of other patrons? Should you buy the M&Ms but tell your daughter she has to wait until she is in the car to eat them?

There are clearly many ways for frustrated parents to respond that are potentially unhelpful. Fortunately there are also several responses that can be helpful and encourage prosocial, cooperative, desired behaviors. While there is no magic cure, no one thing you can do in all situations, there are ways to approach your child that may improve their behavior over time.

  • Keep calm (responding when your blood pressure is raised and the primitive, emotional part of your brain is activated will all but ensure that your response will not be optimal from a long-term change perspective)
  • If the situation permits, ignoring an unwanted behavior until it extinguishes (stops) on its own is preferable. I know this is likely an unreasonable strategy in many public settings, so please read on!
  • Stop doing what you are doing and focus completely on your child during this confrontation
  • Make eye contact by leaning/kneeling down to the child’s level. This reduces the physical intimidation factor and demonstrates respect (give respect to earn respect- modeling is an important part of their social education). This also increases the odds that your child is actually paying attention to you when you speak.
  • Establish the desired/expected behavior very specifically (“Taylor, I need you to sit quietly while we are in the restaurant.” or “We are not buying any candy today, Avery. Please sit down in the cart and use your inside voice.”)
  • Don’t be afraid to say “No.” to your child. They will hear this word often in life, and they need to be emotionally prepared to handle disappointment. This starts with you, and you need to get comfortable with their discomfort. (You should also get used to hearing them say No, as the toddler and teen years will be filled with many No’s from both sides!)
  • Respond to emotional outbursts with logic and consistency. This should, over time, demonstrate to the child that tantrums will not automatically result in their desired outcomes of excessive attention and getting their way.
  • If necessary (if the above steps do not initially produce the desired behavior), temporarily leave the situation, repeat the above steps, and request a commitment of compliance (“Are you going to talk nicely to your brother at the dinner table?”). Then head back inside and give it a go.
  • In all steps above, avoid bribing your child (If you do _____ I’ll give you ___). Establishing a reward for positive/desired behavior ahead of time can be useful, but setting it up after the child begins fussing can reward the fussing, rather than the desired behavior.
  • If everything above fails, it may be necessary to leave the situation permanently (at least for that day). Reevaluate whether your child was emotionally/ behaviorally/ cognitively ready to participate in the situation. Here it is useful to consider what kind of restaurant a 2, 5, 10, or 17 year old may be ready for. If we set a child up for failure in an overly demanding environment we have let them down. They have not failed us by simply acting in ways that are developmentally typical for their age. Expectations need to be appropriate.

There are obviously more steps that can be taken and many nuances to what you can do in the unlimited variety of complex situations in which your child (whether 6 or 16) may throw a tantrum. The above steps are a good starting place for most basic situations and can be useful even in some more complex settings.

Unfortunately there will likely be temporary sacrifices you end up making, such as avoiding a favorite restaurant, going to the movies, concerts, etc. while your child is not adequately prepared to accompany you. However, by consistently following through on the above steps you can give your child a fighting chance at being a respectful, reasonable, logic- and consequences-driven adult. With practice for them, and much patience from you, they may make progress much faster than you’d think!

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Photo credit: Mindaugas Danys; “scream and shout”, used under Creative Commons limited license