Healthy Love, part 1
By: Delana H Stewart
Recently, I read the book Loving Your Child Too Much by Drs. Tim Clinton and Gary Sibcy. In their own words, the book is about keeping “a close relationship with your child without overindulging, overprotecting, or over controlling.” In this four part review, I would like to provide you with a snapshot of their instruction to us as parents. I will also supplement their book information with a video DVD lecture I viewed by these authors.
One of my personal favorite quotes from the authors is “Every child deserves at least one person in his life who is absolutely crazy about him” (p. 3). It is natural to love our kids with all the love in our hearts, but healthy love does not always occur with certain “decisions we make in the name of love” (p. 7). Clinton and Sibcy present the “Love Comparison Chart” on page six of their book. Here is a condensed version of that chart:
|PARENTS WHO GIVE HEALTHY LOVE||PARENTS WHO OVERPROTECT||PARENTS WHO OVERCONTROL||PARENTS WHO OVERINDULGE|
|See children as gifts||See children as fragile||See children as little versions of themselves||See children as possessions|
|Nurture kids to be unique||Nurture kids to be safe||Nurture kids to be perfect||Nurture kids to be entitled|
|Are respectful and supportive||Lack respect and are overly supportive||Lack respect for their child||Are overly supportive|
|Are kind and firm||Are kind, not firm||Are firm, not kind||Are kind, not firm|
|View mistakes as opportunities to learn||Allow no opportunity for mistakes||Allow no opportunity for mistakes||Believe mistakes do not matter|
|Give appropriate supervision||Give too much supervision||Give directions and commands||Give no supervision|
|Encourage feelings and teach empathy||Avoid unpleasant feelings||Do not encourage feelings||Believe feelings are everything|
|Get into their child’s world||Censor and pry into their child’s world||Force their child to enter their world||Let their child rule the world|
|Teach balance of grace and biblical truth||Teach that the world is dangerous||Teach a theology of works and performance||Teach pride and selfishness|
You can see from the chart that our best intentions as parents differ from what we often actually do to love our kids. My personal struggle is with falling into being over controlling, when I desire to give healthy love. Do you see yourself on this chart? How do we as parents protect our children from the evils of this world without overprotecting? How do we help our children take ownership of their behavior and succeed in life without over controlling? How do we give security and happiness and provide well for our children without overindulging? Before answering these questions in the following review articles, let us look at the ways in which we as parents overprotect, over control, or overindulge.
According to Clinton and Sibcy, we overprotect when:
- “We lie about real life” rather than telling truthful answers in age appropriate ways.
- “We rescue them from every thing.”
- “We take responsibility for things they should do themselves.”
- “We fight their battles” or encourage them to avoid situations.
- We don’t push them enough (pp. 20-22).
We overindulge when:
- “We always give in.”
- “We bribe them.”
- “We give excessively.” For example, kids need to “learn to do without or improvise.” Kids should be first making attempts to obtain a certain item on their own.
- “We’re permissive.” We should make sure adventures are safe and activities age appropriate. We should give adequate supervision. And we should ask questions.
- “We give undeserved or excessive praise.”
- “We always defer to our kids” e.g. putting our child’s will ahead of our own (pp. 23-26).
We over control when:
- “We’re constantly getting after our children.
- “We make all the decisions.”
- “We’re too uptight.” Controlling parents often find it “difficult to relax or have fun.”
- “We don’t let our kids express themselves.” Kids need to learn respectful ways to express their feelings, as well as develop ability to negotiate and problem solve.
- “We pry.”
- “We’re manipulative.” We may use guilt statements such as, “you’re ungrateful, you’re disrespectful, you’re a disappointment.”
- “We set unreasonable expectations.” Simply, we expect too much (pp. 26-29).
Authors Clinton and Sibcy give the following reasons we as parents may give unhealthy love:
- We feel out of control.
- We’re dealing with loss.
- We’re scared (perhaps because a child is sick, leaving for college, or getting married).
- We feel guilty (perhaps because we are working too hard or traveling too much).
- We’re trying to fix our parents’ mistakes. Yet, even though many parents try to compensate by not being like their parents, the reality is that most of us parent in the way that we were parented “especially during times of stress.”
- We feel like we missed out, so we try to give our kids what we did not receive.
- We want to give our kids the upper hand.
- We’ve been duped by marketing.
- We’re compensating for an absent parent.
- We’re trying to get back at our spouse.
- We’re needy or insecure (pp. 33-43).
Finally, we must take a serious look at answering the question: “What’s the harm?” Of course, there is no harm in giving our kids too much healthy love, but if loving them too much means overprotecting, overindulging, or over controlling then there is harm.
Overprotected kids lack discipline, social responsibility, and the ability to negotiate or resolve conflict. They often become underachievers trailing others in personal, spiritual, and social development. Their lack of security causes them to become dependent, whiny, and lacking in confidence for facing life’s challenges. They also end up in unhealthy or abusive relationships and may seek ways to numb pain, due to the difficulty they have regulating their emotions. Overprotected kids often tend to be immature, angry, and impulsive. They have difficulty making wise financial decisions, maintaining loyalty, and keeping a job. (pp. 47-49).
Overindulged kids are selfish, throw tantrums, and interrupt frequently. They lack empathy and respect, as well as exhibiting poor social skills. These children have little sense of accomplishment, do not learn the benefits of hard work, do not stick with goals, and derive happiness from things instead of achievements. Additionally, overindulged kids’ lack of self control leads to not living within healthy limits and leads to self-destructive behaviors, such as: bad grades, drugs/alcohol, promiscuity, and eating disorders. Finally, they have a sense of entitlement, believing they deserve everything that they want (pp. 50-51).
Over controlled kids eventually rebel or become over controlling of their own children. These kids have problems in relationships because they expect way too much of themselves and others. They also expect criticism and rejection. They blame themselves for everything. Some over controlled kids pretend to comply, yet develop sneaky behaviors. Others may become passive aggressive, dragging their feet, procrastinating, sulking, dawdling, half listening to their parents. These become sarcastic and resentful. Many over controlled kids worry too much about what others think. They are affirmed by what they do instead of who they are. They seek approval and praise to feel accepted. They are fearful of disapproval and rejection. The smallest teasing or gentle suggestion may make these kids “bristle or tear up.” They may spend hours obsessing about whether they have offended someone. Over controlled kids also have trouble relaxing or having fun. They are very driven, and end up as adults who work around the clock. They are unhappy if they do not get straight A’s. They look at everything competitively and allow little time for fun or leisure.
In the following three articles, we will look at how to give healthy love without overindulging, overprotecting, or over controlling. There is hope for building and maintaining a close, caring relationship with our children, providing effective discipline, and helping our children resolve behavioral problems. Clinton and Sibcy emphasize that “as parents, our primary, God-given responsibility is to help our kids become more like Him…and we can do that when we give our kids a healthy, godly love (p. 231).
Healthy Love, part 2
By: Delana S
In the first segment, we looked at ways that we as parents love too much, according to Drs. Tim Clinton and Gary Sibcy in their book Loving Your Child Too Much. They introduced us to the concepts of overprotecting, overindulging, and overcontrolling, as well as a glimpse into what healthy love looks like. In this section, I will share with you more excerpts from their book, giving us tangible ways to build healthy, loving relationships with our children. Some will find that this just whet’s their appetite to borrow or buy the book to read in detail.
The Golden Rule
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
Clinton and Sibcy express the golden rule this way: “We can’t expect our kids to respect us if we don’t offer them that same respect and love” (p. 62). In other words, parents who think that disciplining disrespectful children means yelling at them, treating them rudely, calling them names, etc., are actually modeling for their children how to give disrespect for disrespect. Children raised by this method may learn to not be outwardly disrespectful, but inwardly they will never develop a healthy respect for their parents. In effect, the parents who do this teach their children to treat people the way they are treated, rather than to treat people the way they want to be treated! Following the “Golden Rule” in parenting means that “no matter how poorly your children are behaving, you will repay them with love and respect” (p. 63). This certainly does not mean that we do not discipline them. We can discipline, correct, and provide consequences to our children in a respectful way. Imagine that a police officer pulls you over for speeding. He delivers the consequence: a speeding ticket. Imagine if this same officer yells out you, calls you an idiot or a moron, and then hands you the ticket. That would not be very professional now, would it?
The authors provide biblical examples of common ways that parents upset or exasperate their kids. Some show favoritism (Esau and Jacob). Some neglect their children (David and Absalom). Others control or protect too much, try to live their lives for them, or discourage them through name calling, negative comments, teasing, etc. To be more Christ-like in our parenting, Clinton and Sibcy recommend that we train through example, instruction, discipline, and love.
Kids Who Receive Healthy Love Have Learned:
|1||It’s okay to feel what I do, be it anger or frustration or love, but I have the responsibility to express my feelings in a godly way.|
|2||I can feel strong emotions and still make good choices.|
|3||I understand I don’t need to have everything I want.|
|4||I am accountable for my actions.|
|5||My parents respect my choices, though they don’t always agree with them.|
|6||I don’t like being disappointed, but I can learn from it.|
|7||Life can be painful, but through God’s grace, I can find joy.”|
(From p. 70)
Next, we learn from Clinton and Sibcy five elements which comprise positive relationships: empathy, assertiveness, respect, warmth, and responsiveness. Some of my favorite examples of empathizing with our children come from the book Parenting with Love and Logic by Cline and Fay. The Boundaries with Kids book by Cloud and Townsend also offers some insights into the area of empathizing. As in one of my previous articles based on this book, the law of sowing and reaping (done with empathy) helps a child to own his problem. Instead of being mad at the parent (who is mean because s/he gets angry and yells or screams) they connect the consequence to their disobedience and say “too bad for me.”
Recently, I took my daughter to the ice rink. She has been begging me for months to take her ice skating again. This time, however, no sooner do we get onto the rink then she begins to whine and complain. I try to help her focus on having fun, but she keeps complaining that she has an itchy bite on her foot. Parts of her body (especially legs and feet) often itch when she gets frustrated. She whines all the way around the rink. Pulling off the skate, I show her that there is no bite on her foot. I rub her foot and feel inside her sock and skate to make sure there is nothing uncomfortable there. Upon returning to the ice, we make it 6 inches before she sits on the ice and demands (loudly) to go home. I have just invested in a 1 ½ hour nonrefundable time slot for skating with her. I tell her that she may sit out for a little while, which she does. After I skate around one lap, she tells me that she wants to take off her skates because she does not want to return to the ice. I remind her that she begged for me to bring her skating and that I paid a lot of money for her to skate. She still refuses, so I tell her that the consequence for not skating will be no videos/TV for five days. I remind her that means five sleeps, and she says she understands. I continue to skate for 45 minutes while she watches.
On day three of no videos as each day before, she asked me to watch a certain show. I told her how sad I was that she chose no TV, and that I would miss watching our favorite daily show of Little House on the Prairie together. She told me that she was sorry for not skating with me. A lady at the rink that day told me that perhaps my daughter was just not in the mood for skating. Well, she couldn’t wait to get there, I thought! But, be that as it may, I wanted her to learn the value of choosing to waste the money I spent on that time. I could have required her to pay me back for that cost (rather than the ban of videos/TV). However, it would take a really long time for her to earn the amount for skating (and the lesson would be lost). Sometimes a financial cost for cost would be the right choice. In any case, I wanted it to feel like a big sacrifice on her part so that she would not only learn the value of not wasting an expensive gift, but that she would also learn not to let a little frustration cause her to give up trying so easily.
Clinton and Sibcy emphasize the importance of validating our children’s feelings while not giving up power or authority. I was too frustrated at the rink to do this, so it was good that she was sitting on the bench and I was skating like a mad woman! After cooling off from my frustration, I am now able to embrace my daughter in a hug and tell her I would feel sad too if I had to go without something. She knows I love her. She knows I have forgiven her tantrum at the rink. Yet, she still has to live with the consequence.
The other four elements of a positive relationship are assertiveness, respect, warmth, and responsiveness. Be assertive by setting clear limits that have understood consequences when the limits are broken. Be respectful. Kids learn through the example of how we treat them and others. Warmth sends the message that we love, value, and desire to spend time with our children. Convey this through tone of voice and positive attention. Finally, be responsive. Every child is different…what works for one will not necessarily work for another. Kids learn from infancy how to get parents’ attention. Parents who desire to give healthy love will respond timely to their children’s needs…and this also means on time and consistent when discipline or consequences are needed, as well.
In the next section, we will look at specific ways to love without overindulging, without overprotecting, and without overcontrolling. Additionally, we will take a look at kids that require extra effort. If you do not have a strong-willed child, I’ll let you borrow mine for a week! As she would say, “Nah, just kidding!” Actually, though she is still (and likely always will be strong-willed—which can be a good trait in some circumstances) she has monthly required less and less effort as I have learned how to parent better.
Healthy Love, part 3
Loving Your Kids Without Overindulging, Overprotecting, or Overcontrolling
A summary and application by Delana S of the book Loving Your Child Too Much
Last time we looked at healthy love and what children look like when they receive it. We also talked about the five elements of positive relationships: empathy, assertiveness, respect, warmth, and responsiveness. According to the authors of Loving Your Child Too Much, “Rules with relationship lead to respect, but rules without relationship lead to rebellion.” This time let’s look at some specific ways in which we can love our children without overindulging, overprotecting, or overcontrolling (Clinton and Sibcy, p.74).
Loving without Overindulging
Clinton and Sibcy point out that though children say they want material things, often what they ultimately want and need is the time and attention of their parents. Parents who overindulge do not just bestow multiple material items on their offspring, but “they also give them an effortless childhood, one with too few limits and not enough responsibility” (p. 83). Children need to learn the value of earning things; they also need to learn that enduring hardships is associated with normal living. The authors offer several tips for helping kids to learn to take responsibility, as well as to show appreciation for what they have been given. First, instead of solving or attempting to solve all our children’s problems, they suggest that we become active listeners. An active listener validates their child’s feelings (e.g. “When she took your toy, it seems that made you very angry (or sad).” Once the child is calm, then address the issue. Finally, coach your child by showing him how to work through the difficult situation. We should make suggestions to help our child put things in context and help him manage emotions and responses. Validating our children’s feelings is not agreeing with the way they acted or reacted in any given situation. It is mainly helping them to know that we are listening and understanding their dilemma.
Another way in which we help our child take responsibility is to offer support and brainstorm with her. She needs to learn how to develop a plan to achieve and earn the things she desires. She wants that new doll at the store (or perhaps like my daughter she wants a lot of things every time you take her out) but she did not bring her money with her—or she does not have enough money saved up. This is the time to ask, “What do you think you can do to have enough money for that doll? How much money would you make in a week if you accomplished your daily tasks every day (without grumbling) for which I agreed to pay you? What additional things can you think of to earn some money?” For the child who forgot the wallet you might say, “Sure you can have item x, did you bring your wallet? No? Well, maybe next time you can buy it. Could I buy it for you and you pay me back later? Well, that is called making a loan. When we borrow money, we have to pay it back with interest. So, that can of Dr. Pepper that you really want is 3 AED. I’ll buy it for you now, but you will pay me 3.50 AED when we get home.” These kinds of conversations really help our children know what it is like to grow up and live in the real world. Older kids can learn the envelope system of banking: they put their allowance or earnings into these envelopes—tithe, savings, Christmas fund, spending. Teens might be entrusted with more money where they have to make decisions about clothes, etc. This nicely leads into problem solving, or negotiation and compromise, another vital skill for our children to learn. This is when we say to our child: “I know you want to____, but I want to____. How can we work this out?” This even works when siblings come to you arguing about something. One wants to do something one way, and the other wants to do it a different way. Coaching them in coming up with an agreeable solution is better than solving it for them. Our children can also learn that the parents’ solution to the problem might have disagreeable results for both parties.
Helping children accept responsibility means that we as parents have to learn to stick to our convictions! This means that we have to stand firm or do not make a rule. We should not threaten consequences on which we do not intend to follow through. Additionally, when our kids do put forth the effort to act responsibly, we should praise them. Praise them for the completion of a project or for coming up with a good solution to a problem.
Authors Clinton and Sibcy offer some final tips with regards to responsibility. They say that “overindulging is too much of a good thing, or a good thing given too soon.” When celebrating a birthday or Christmas, parents should limit the number of presents, space out gifts, give gifts the whole family can enjoy together, and give gifts that support a child’s ambitions (e.g. baseball mitt, art supplies, instrument). And, most importantly, we need to teach our children to show appreciation for gifts so they come to realize that the gift is not an entitlement but a blessing. Teach them to write and make thank you notes/cards. Take a picture of them with a gift that they can then email the photo to the giver of the gift. Brainstorm as a family other ways to show appreciation. Dialogue with your children about why someone chose to give them a particular gift or what that person may have had to give up in order to provide that gift. Additionally, teach your child how to give back by helping sponsor a needy child, serving food at a local mission, or encouraging them to make handmade gifts.
Loving Without Overprotecting
One of my favorite quotes from Loving Your Child Too Much is this: “Suffering is always uncomfortable, but it isn’t always bad.” The authors talk about legitimate pain being necessary to work through in order to “achieve a greater good or a higher purpose.” They give examples of athletes experiencing pain, aching muscles, breaks, bruises, and defeat. Similarly, in learning how to persevere through the trials of life, we develop character. Though we as parents must protect our children, we also must help our children learn to think for and protect themselves. The authors give age appropriate examples of freedoms and restrictions. For example, when a child is birth to 3 years old we protect them by installing childproof locks, plastic plugs, and teaching them not to touch hot stoves or talk to strangers. At the same time, we can allow them to crawl or walk around without being hypersensitive to what they put in their mouth. For a 4-7 year old, we purchase their clothing and determine how far they can go from home. At the same time, we can allow them the freedom to choose clothes from their closet, decorate their room, and attend play dates away from home. Through the years we have to work ourselves out of the job of guardian and disciplinarian and into the role of mentor and counselor by the time they leave home.
Loving Without Overcontrolling
Reading this book helped me to see that I have the tendency to fall into this category…trying to control my kids and make decisions for them. I tend to eye things critically, judgmentally even. The authors have taught me that I need to let my kids express their opinions and tastes (as long as they do so respectfully). I need to ask them more often: “Why do you think that’s the right solution?” I must examine my motives and allow my children to complete their own developmental tasks. Through the past several years I have been working on one of the keys mentioned in this book—understanding and accepting my kids without trying to change their personality. The authors share nine inborn characteristics that appear at birth and remain through adulthood. Those traits are these: adaptability, activity level, distractibility, intensity, predictability, persistence, mood, sensory threshold, and introversion v. extroversion. Based on this list, the authors give a temperament rating scale including things like anxious v. laid back and embarrasses easily v. happy in the spotlight. I went through this scale and discovered that in almost every characteristic that my daughter and I are direct opposites. This scale helped me to understand better why we do not see eye to eye on many things. Additionally, Clinton and Sibcy say that “when we overcontrol, constantly criticizing or commanding our kids, we are stifling their God-give qualities.” Wow! What can we do? We must find ways and teach our kids ways to express themselves appropriately within their own temperaments (pp. 121-139).
Part four will be a final review article on the book Loving Your Child Too Much. It will cover topics such as these: strengthening bonds, restoring balance, emotion coaching, effective discipline, and dealing with extra-effort kids.
Healthy Love, part 4
By: Delana S
The authors of Loving Your Child Too Much (Clinton and Sibcy) may not understand the specific stressors you and I face, but they know that stress effects relationships and say in their book that: “Attachment wounds can spring from obvious stress, such as intense marital conflict and divorce, or more subtle stress like family relocation, the birth of a sibling, or financial stress” (p. 148). They emphasize that in stressful times parents must strengthen bonds with their children, and they offer six ways to do this. First, we must maintain stability at home by establishing a routine where we eat at usual times, in the usual way, with usual foods. We develop rituals for doing homework or schoolwork, bathing, and going to bed. And most importantly, we maintain a sense of humor. Second, we take the time to explain things to our children rather than leave them in the dark. We should give them a summary of the situation, taking into consideration each one’s maturity level. Answering their questions honestly and asking them if they have any questions is also helpful, as long as we do not overwhelm them with too much information. Third, during stressful times, we should emphasize what will not change. Point out to them things that will stay the same. Four, during certain crises (e.g. death of a loved one, loss of a job—effecting finances, etc., offer reassurance and let them know things they already do (or can do) that make you feel better. Five, schedule special times and specific important events for your kids to look forward t to. And, six, build special moments into your day that allow you to spend undivided, positive attention for a few minutes with each of your children. [My husband thinks number six is pretty important for him to receive from me, too!]
Many of us have heard–or read in books–that the marriage relationship is like a bank account, each partner has an account and each one makes deposits and withdrawals. Clinton and Sibcy use this analogy in terms of relating to our children. They call this “emotional bank accounts.” There are lots of ways we make deposits into our kids’ emotional bank accounts, but one of the best is spending time with them. “We make withdrawals on the account whenever there is conflict or stress in the relationship” (p. 161). In order to stay in the black, we need to keep the balance positive. We can do this by setting aside 20 minutes three to four times a week to play with our children (one on one is best—and some kids need less, while others need maximum play sessions). We need to schedule this time so they can anticipate it; and we need to not make this play time contingent on anything—such as behavior—as it should not be something that is earned or can be lost. During this play time, we need to follow their lead and not give any commands or “life lessons.” We should point out special qualities we see in our children that are unique, while avoiding general statements such as: “You are such a good girl.”
Clinton and Sibcy know that there are easy kids and difficult kids. They encourage us to keep each of our children’s temperaments in mind with regard to effective discipline. Some children respond well to positive attention and ignoring certain bad behavior…stating that whatever we give a lot of time and attention to is the very thing that we seem to reinforce. So, they recommend frequently praising good behavior by being specific, immediate, combining it with touch, and seeking out opportunities to praise them. For years, I have had a poster (still is above my computer today) that lists 101 ways to praise a child. Regarding discipline, the authors say: “Discipline is not punishment. It is the process of teaching kids right from wrong by setting limits, making those limits clear, and enforcing them. As parents, we are not punishing wrong behavior when we discipline; we’re shaping character” (p. 199). Adversely, punishment is rather doling out a penalty for wrongdoing. For discipline to be effective, we need to make sure our kids understand the rules and the reasons behind the rules (or boundaries). We need to discern the difference between intentional defiance and childish irresponsibility, as well as make sure that we are not making impossible demands. The authors provide many examples of these in their book.
The final chapter of their book is devoted to understanding extra-effort kids: do you have one, what do you do if you do have one, and the various causes or characteristics (strong-willed, ADHD, impulsive, inattentive, opposition-defiant, angry, or combination). A few of the many tips they provide are: use a friendly, respectful tone, use more words to explain understanding and reason, empathize and problem-solve, and reduce commands. I had not thought about before how many commands we give our children in a day! Commands are very difficult for strong willed children whose personalities do not like being controlled. Think about it a minute: Get up. Get dressed. Eat breakfast. Brush your teeth. Comb your hair. Get your books. Time for school. And, that is just the first hour! So, rather than issuing commands, I am trying to guide my strong-willed daughter with gentler, less commanding words (and sometimes it works…but not always). Additionally, I have provided incentives to help her with her morning routine and staying on task. Today, she actually got up and made her bed and dressed herself without whining! I wish that all days would start that way.
Relating to our children is an art, not a science, but I found several things in Loving Your Child Too Much to be helpful on this journey. Can you love your child too much if you are giving healthy, godly love? The authors conclude with these words:
“And always remember, you can never love them too much.”
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