Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Laws of Childhood - part 3

View Transcript

Boys Town's Patrick D. Friman, Ph.D. on raising happier, healthier and better behaved children. (Part Three)

Dr. Friman: You can use words for lots of things. I am just concentrating on two uses.  One is using words as tools. You're using words to get some work done or to teach the child something. Don't use very many of them just one or two words for every year of life in your disciplinary teaching interactions, because they can't process much more than that, unless you can make your language really concrete and it's very hard for us to do that. They don't need any more words than a short, two or three word explanation. "Because I said so" is fine if you are bereft of a good one. Remember, as a parent-centered family, you are in charge. You're the king, you're the queen, and you're the CEO/CFO. You don't have to explain everything when you run the show. I mean if it pleases you, explain everything, but it doesn't have to be explained.

Words as playthings. That's different. When you're just playing, use as many words as come to your mind. You are loving with words. You're creating fun with words. One of the things I like to do more than anything else in the world is get together with people and trade words. Not so that we can get to the bottom of whether or not the health care law is good or bad. Not so we can get to the bottom of whether the Republican Party is better than the Democratic Party. I don't care about getting to the bottom of things with people when I'm hanging out with them. I just want some words to flow around and to find fun with those words. That's one thing humans can do. We can play with things that don't necessarily have sharp edges. They just have round edges and they make people laugh and they make people think. It's a way to have fun and you can do that with little kids, and you should.

You don't have to get down on their level when you're doing that. I hang out with kids and I just start talking about whatever I've been thinking about lately if I can't think about anything that they're thinking about. I might tell them about Zeno's paradox. For example, a three-year-old child and drops a little dolly on the floor. She's at the house with Uncle Pat and she points at the dolly and says, "Uncle Pat, can you get the dolly for me?" I would say, "Well, I can't. Let me tell you why. Zeno, a philosopher that studied lots of different things came up with a paradox and let me tell you about it in mathematical terms. He said that between point A and point B, any point A and any point B, to get from one to the other you have to go halfway. In between any two points is an infinite series of halfways. You keep on going halfway and you never get there. You can't get from point A to point B. Now you've dropped your dolly and let's say that's at point A. I'm here at point B, and I desperately want to help you out, I truly do. But acknowledging the pertinence of Zeno's paradox here, I would have to go halfway and there is an infinite series of halfways between here and there so I can't get there from here. So pick up your own dolly."

Sometimes when you're playing with kids they ask you the impossible question. You don't have to answer it. You don't have to run to the dictionary or the encyclopedia or run through all the lessons that you learned in school that might be pertinent to that question. You can just make something up. Something will come to you that will be relevant. Children will ask questions like, "Uncle Pat. Why does paint stick to walls?" At which point I would just start talking. I'd say, "I'll tell you why paint sticks to walls. Because that's all it ever wanted to do. You know when paint is born it just wants to do one thing. It just wants to stick to walls. Come here let's look at the wall. Let's look at this wall right over here. You see there it's all painted. Now look really close because that paint is extremely happy. Look. See there? You can kind of see it smiling. You know why it's smiling. Because all this paint ever wanted to do was to stick to this wall. That's what it wants to do with its life. What do you want to do with your life?" You just play and make stuff up. Use a tone of voice that's fun. Go on and on and on. You don't have to try very hard, you're just having fun. Use as many words as come to your mind if you're playing.

Once you get serious you narrow it down. Just one or two words for every year of life. Simple, concrete language that is very understandable and the strategic use of silence which allows children to process what you've said. You don't have to keep talking. Silence is really powerful. Let me give you an example. Feel that? That's silence. It impacts us. It makes stuff happen. You don't have to fill up all the silence with language when you're trying to teach a child something.

I used to work with really young infants and I'd give them a test. They have these developmental tests for infants that are as young as four or six weeks. One was called the Bailey and I wanted to learn it. I went all around the University of Kansas Medical School when I was a first-year graduate student and looked for all the women that had young children.  I asked them if they'd let me test their infant and many of them did. I'd be sitting in the room with a mom and a little six or eight week old child and the child would be on their lap. One of the tests I would do was to put a block on the table and the child had to grasp it to pass the test. Once they have the block, I put another block on the table. They have to pick it up with the other hand to pass that test. They don't automatically do that. Sometimes they put down the one block and pick up the other block and then they think, "I'm right back where I started from."

That's one test. Another test is when they get the second block then put a third block on the table. Now both hands are occupied. It's like calculus to them, which is fine. I silently sit there while they study the problem. This is how they are going to learn to solve the problem. But guess who interferes with the silence? The mom’s come over saying, "He knows it. He can get this. Honey, pick up. . ." It's ruining the whole thing. Yes, she or he can pick up that third block if mom, who's 25 years old, helps but that doesn't count for anything. All we've learned is how to get mom to help with blocks. Whereas that child is perfectly capable of studying that problem and solving it all by him or herself if we allow a silent context to create the learning environment. That's what I meant by silence.

Okay. Those are three laws. I have a bunch more and I just make these up. Here are some others. Boys Town sells a DVD called the Ten Laws of Childhood. They sell it at bookstores. Do we have it outside?

Woman: We have some here in the back.

Bob, what do we have for the folks at home? So we have the DVDs and we can get them on our website too and there are other laws on there. I have some of the laws here. For the rest of the evening I thought I would take your questions which you can manufacture just out of your own little laboratory at home. Or, you can pick one of these laws and we can talk about that. I will allow the strategic use of silence for you to formulate what you might want to ask.

Man 2: We actually have two six-year-olds as I speak. We have a six and a seven-year-old tomorrow. I'll let you do that math. But the middle one is a pretty sensitive boy and the older one is a girl and the younger one is a boy. The older one and the younger one generally get along better because they relate better. The middle one is a real boy. He's got all the characteristics of a boy so he doesn't fit in as well as the other two because they get along better. But he's really super sensitive.

Dr. Friman: The middle one?

Man 1: The middle one.

Dr. Friman: Okay.

Man 1: So when he gets left out he feels hurt. He strikes out in the best way he can, or knows how, and that's usually through anger.

Woman: He bullies.

Man 1: He bullies.

Dr. Friman: Okay.

Man 1: Well, he's a really sensitive child and so he's truly hurt, yet when we start to discipline him somehow, someway he perceives us as being angry when he's really just sad. So we're stuck with how to discipline a kid who's truly hurt from a sensitive standpoint. How do we encourage him not to bully in a situation like that?

Dr. Friman: Okay. You packed a lot on the end there.

Man 1: Sorry.

Dr. Friman: That's alright. It's a good question. I just wanted to find out if I have to repeat the question. Do I have to repeat the question? No. I mentioned that I didn't have kids so if I seem insensitive it's because I have no soul. You develop a parenting soul by having kids.

Man 1: I'm really insensitive, too. That's why we can't relate to this.

Dr. Friman: We're going to get along fine here. This can be boiled down to just a simple problem which is your middle child, for whatever reason, is behaving inappropriately. Although there is sensitivity and they're hurt and that's legitimate, the expression of that sensitivity and hurt is not legitimate and at some point he is going to have to learn there are legitimate expressions for all of our emotions, and there are illegitimate expressions for all of our emotions, regardless of what they are. There are people in this room that have been hurt or that are sensitive and have been hurt by things that their spouses have done, that their principle at the high school where their child goes to school has done, by somebody in traffic, by what's happening in politics. They are hurt by it, they're offended by it and they're angered by it. That's perfectly legitimate. All of our feelings are valid but the expression of feeling has a narrower legitimacy and a narrower validity. I presume that you have an idea of how you'd like him to express his hurt and his sensitivity, whatever that is. You promote that, you might talk to him about that at times when he's not hurt, but when he shows you something else, that needs to have swift and sure discipline. Did I answer your question?

Man 1: Yes.

Dr. Friman: Do I seem insensitive?

Woman: No.

Man 1: No. I kind of knew the answer except I wanted a different one.

Dr. Friman: Well, it's easy for me because I don't. I don't know if it would be easy for me if I were in your shoes. I would know the right thing to do; I just don't know that I would have the gumption to actually do it well without some support from my partner.

Man 1: Team effort.

Dr. Friman: Team effort, yes. Well yes, if you see him wavering then you've got to get in there.

Woman: It's not usually when I'm there.

Dr. Friman: Okay.

Woman 2: Thank you. We parent pretty "Boys Town" at our house with our five-year-old here.

Dr. Friman: Pardon me?

Woman 2: We parent very Boys Town-esque in our home.

Dr. Friman: Oh, got it. Okay.

Woman 2: With our five-year-old who is here this evening. Then, about 10 months ago we took into our home a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old. My 17-year-old nephew for probably the last four to five years of his life was actually the parent model for his younger brother. We recently relocated his younger brother to a treatment home here at Boys Town. Our 17-year-old still has this "I'm the parent" attitude. "I don't have to tell you much about what I do or where I go and it's really quite frankly none of your business." Outside of stringing him up, what are my options, or what are our options for him at 17?

Dr. Friman: Okay. I have two ideas about this. One idea is that it's important to be understanding with respect to how life has worked for him up till now. He used to be the foreman on the job. Now he's been demoted down to just ordinary worker bee. He still has a foreman mentality I think. A technical word for it that shrinks use is he's adultified and parentified and that's a difficult thing for a kid to unlearn. He doesn't have to unlearn the attitude and he doesn't have to unlearn the inclination but he has to unlearn some of the actions. He is now no longer in charge, you guys are in charge. You can talk to him about that that you understand why he looks at life that way. He lives with you right? You're his guardian.

Woman 2: Yes.

Dr. Friman: Okay. And he's 17?

Woman 2: Yes.

Dr. Friman: Let me paint a picture of reality for you. Now this is reality, his reality. You owe him just the following; shelter, you've got to give him shelter. You have to give him food and you have to give him access to education. You probably don't have to give him access to modern plumbing but it would be a good idea. You have to give him access to fluids and all life-sustaining materials. And clothing. It doesn't have to be stylish clothing just clothing. You don't owe him anything else. He's in a corporation now. He's at corporate headquarters. He's got a CEO and a CFO. He doesn't even have a job there but he's taking on the assumption that he's not only got a job there but that he's on the board of directors and maybe he should be CEO or CFO. He needs to be disabused of this. You're probably going to have to show him, not tell him, that he doesn't have the status in your family that he thinks he does. You can change his bedroom tonight. You have other rooms. Move him out of the room that he's in and put him in another room and strip it down bare and tell him to earn the rest of his stuff. Take away his electronics and tell him he can earn that stuff. Take his bedtime and move it from 11 to 9. Tell him he can earn his way to 11. Does he have a car and driver's license?

Woman 2: No.

Dr. Friman: Okay. He can earn a car and a driver's license but you tell him how. Go along with the program. Like I said, get a little education and some skills and you're going to move up in the organization. Go along with the program and you're going to move up in the organization. But keep going down this road and you're going to go down in the organization. You want freedom and privileges and all these things you have been taking for granted? You now have to earn them. I mean it sounds hard-core but you're not going to talk him into this and you're not going to talk him out of this. He can only learn his way out or learn his way in and the only way that is going to happen is by stuff that he does and stuff that you do in response to it. It would be good if you found out ways for him to win. In the Boys Town way, every time that you catch him in the act of doing something you don't want him to do, you sort of owe him four or five instances where you catch him doing stuff that you do want him to do and you acknowledge those in a way that he can hear. That's difficult with a 17-year-old. Nice job cooperating Tommy, nice job cooperating. They hate that stuff; they just hate it when you talk like that.

Woman 2: Yeah. Giving him the idea of [Inaudible] the feedback was great, but he was like, whatever.

Dr. Friman: Oh absolutely. Our family teachers have got to follow a model which has a lot of fundamentals in it and when they master those fundamentals, when they are really good at it, they can start to develop some of their own ways of saying and doing things. First, everybody has to use the same program. You don't have to use the same program with this kid. You can talk to him like a regular person.

Woman 2: Right.

Dr. Friman: So there's another way to say that. I don't know the kid but when I work with teenagers in my clinic, and I spend hours with them, I kind of get a sense of their patois or the way they speak and the way they listen. Then I try to coach mom and dad about how to adjust their language so the kid can hear it better when they are praising him. Did I answer your question?

Woman 2: Absolutely.

Dr. Friman: Okay. Thank you very much. Thanks for the question.

Woman 3: Hello. We have a nine-year-old girl, eight-year-old boy and a five-year-old boy. Our middle child is what I would consider. . .

Dr. Friman: The eight-year-old?

Woman 3: Yes. A typical middle child.

Dr. Friman: Okay. What does that mean?

Woman 3: Well, it doesn't fit that pretty baby that was up there.

Dr. Friman: Okay. Got it.

Woman 3: I think that clears it up.

Dr. Friman: Okay.

Woman 3: He's a nice kid; I shouldn't say that, he's not all bad. But when he does act out we do put him in a time out. I guess our questions are when he's yelling and screaming, slamming doors or doesn't stay in the time out, how do you enforce it? How do you keep him there? Another question, I'm going to do a part two on that is we have taken away stuff that means something to him.

Dr. Friman: You take what?

Woman 3: We take away stuff that means something to him, like a DS or privileges. How long do we keep it? How do we make him earn it back? Like you were talking with them about earning privileges and things like that. How do you determine when they've. . . I mean do they do one thing good and you give it back? I guess I'm trying to reach him.

Dr. Friman: You are on the right track by focusing on taking the stuff as the penalty but immediately thinking about a way for him to earn it back.This city is littered with Game Boys that nobody knows where they are because they were taken away in a fit of anger, "I'm going to take this away for a thousand years," and they put it up somewhere. Pretty soon the kid forgets about the Game Boy and mom doesn't know where it is and it doesn't do any good for anybody. When it would have been better when it was first taken away to say "I'm going to take this away and then tomorrow we'll talk about how long it's going to be taken away and what you need to do to get it back." You plant the idea in his head that he can get it back. We're going to go over what that takes tomorrow and then start down that road. The first problem with the timeout...are you putting him in a room?

Woman 3: Sometimes it's in a room and sometimes it's in a chair.

Dr. Friman: One way to handle that can be tricky with an eight or a nine-year-old but not impossible. Is there more resistance when you're there alone or is it the same whether there are two of you?

Man3: I think it's the same.

Dr. Friman: Okay. Well, you can have a chair be your timeout and however many minutes that you use. If he won't sit there, then you put him in his room until he gets it together however long that takes. Then he owes you the timeout in the chair still. It's an unpaid debt and nothing else happens that night until that debt's paid. If he's being pretty rambunctious in that bedroom and it looks like you're going to have to get physical, which will wear out. Meanwhile he still owes you that time. As much as possible stay cool. Stay as much like robots that look like mommy and daddy but don't talk that much as you can. Don't let him agitate you but do strip his evening of anything fun and he still owes you that time. Now, I'd recommend another form of discipline for him, however, since he's eight. Timeout starts to produce diminishing returns after age six. For a kiddo his age, I'd recommend using a form of grounding that I often recommend. Not time-based grounding but job-based grounding. He breaks a household rule and you have a little deck of three-by-five recipe cards with jobs written on each card. Depending on the gravity of his offense, you dole out some cards and he has to do those jobs to get ungrounded. Does that make sense?

Woman 3: Mm-hm.

Dr. Friman: The jobs would have to be menial, nothing that's necessary for the running of the house because he might not do it for a while; you don't want the dishes to sit in there for a month. So menial jobs. The tub, the grout, the basement sink, your car tires, the inside of your windshield, the inside of your back window, the outside of your back window, the outside of your windshield one fender on your car, every window in the house. Do you see what I'm saying? Each one of those would be a job and they would have to be done according to your specifications. He can't come to you and say "I'm done." You say "I don't know if you’re done or not so let's have a look." And depending on how Blanche DuBois you are that night. You know that character. She said, "I'm not vindictive, but I do believe in justice." Depending on how you are that night you might be very exacting or you might be very liberal. It depends on how mad you are. So give him jobs and ground him until they are done. What does that mean? That means he can't go out. He can't use anything electronic and he can't have dessert and anything else you can think of that's fun including board games. He can do homework, sit in his room or do the jobs. That's it. Meanwhile you can have an ice cream party for everybody else in the living room. He's invited, as soon as all the work is done.

That's what I'd recommend for discipline. The other thing is the negotiation. I recommend negotiating with him about his discipline. You know what happens when you turn discipline over to kids. They come up with stuff that's way worse than parents do. Your thinking 10 jobs, he's thinking, "Cut my hand off. That way I won't do it anymore." You go, "Well no, we'll just take a finger. We're not going to cut the whole hand this time." So I'd sit down with him and negotiate what it's going to take for him to get his stuff back. If he's making too stringent of a deal you can be merciful. If he's making too liberal of a deal you can be rational and just get him involved.

Then I recommend the pawnbroker model. In a pawnbroker shop, the stuff is in the glass case. It's right there and sometimes it's your stuff. There's a price tag on it. This is what you must pay to have that thing. People come into pawnshops and they look at the stuff that they want to have and they try to do what they can to get the amount of money it's going to take to get the thing. Well, that's what I recommend with anything you take away. Don't hide it. Put it somewhere where he can see it and put the price tag on it. "You want to buy that? Fine, make your bed 15 times, bring me two B's and do 16 hours of homework then that thing is yours." Or whatever it is you want to put on the price tag. Did I answer your question?

Woman 3: You did.

Dr. Friman: Okay. Thank you for the question.

Woman 4: Dr. Friman, there's one more question.

Dr. Friman: Okay.

Woman 5: We have an eight-year-old son who is also a middle child.

Dr. Friman: What is it with the eight-year-olds?

Woman 5: My husband coaches baseball and I do the scouts, and he is always what we deem the worst kid in the group. We are either pulling him out or sitting him out.

Dr. Friman: How mortifying.

Woman 5: So, should we not volunteer to do those things anymore or maybe we have too high of expectations for him? He always seems to just test our limits when we are the leaders of stuff.

Dr. Friman: Well, when you say he's the worst kid, I'm not sure what that looks like. What does he do?

Woman 5: Not following instructions. Whatever we say, he'll just see if he can get by with not doing it.

Dr. Friman: Does he do that at home?

Woman 5: Yes on a normal basis.

Dr. Friman: Okay. So the only thing that concerns you is out of home practice. You're happy with how he follows your instructions in the immediacy at home.

Woman 5: We can deal with it at home.

Dr. Friman: Well, that wasn't quite the answer I was looking for. Because I want to draw a distinction here between what I call managing and teaching. He needs more teaching and less managing. When you manage a child's problem in a public setting or a home-based setting, you're not teaching them anything other than you're going to manage him when he gets out of hand. But when you actually teach them then they learn to manage it themselves. You can manage him at home but are you teaching him at home to follow your instruction the first time you issue it or shortly thereafter or else? Yes? You'd be the only ones. Nobody does the first instruction. The first instruction to a child issued in an ordinary tone of voice is a meaningless event. Everybody repeats themself. I'm not saying you shouldn't, I mean a kid can have another chance but I wonder if you couldn't tighten up a little bit at home first so you get some fundamentals down. There are a couple of ways to do this. One is some practice outings where you both go but only one of you is on the job and the other one is on him. He starts to test and you just take him home and give him the grounding or whatever. Tell him "We're going to try to go out in public again two days from now and we'll see how you do." That's one way to do it.

Another way to do it is to have a ticket system with you where you are telling him "Okay, I just saw what you did there. That's going to be one job when we get home. That's another one. That's another one. One more and we're going home." You need something other than, "Psst, psst," or whatever signals you're using to tell him that he's actually winning the war because he's got your attention. You need some kind of signal or communication to him that he's screwing up and there is going to be a penalty for this and if it keeps up, it's going to happen fairly swiftly. By the same token, it would be nice for him to get feedback that he's actually doing pretty well and to win somehow for doing well. Some of it may be attention-seeking so he's kind of telling you he wants more attention. We just have to find a way for him to get it. Some kids don't like attention. Some kids really love it and we have to find appropriate ways for them to get the attention that they desire or they are going to get the attention in inappropriate ways. This is a little bit of a complicated problem and I'm exploring around the edges of it. Is that enough to work with?

Woman 5: Definitely was.

Dr. Friman: Thank you for the question by the way.

Moderator 1: I think that's all we have time for.

Dr. Friman: Oh, okay.

Moderator 2: Folks, I think we've run out of time but thank you very much for coming. One request. Inside your folder, you have a little evaluation form. If you have a pen, we ask you to fill it out. If you don't have a pen, we've got somebody walking around the room who can get you one. It should only take you about two minutes to do. Also, we have Dr. Friman live tonight, but we do have him on DVD. It's 20 dollars which is a discount price for tonight if people are interested, and just a tip, it has his other seven laws on it. He's got 10 laws and he talked about three tonight. Thanks very much for coming. There are some other materials out there as well. Thanks very much for coming.

Dr. Friman: I want to thank you for coming. It just really means a lot. I mean you've got better things to do than be here tonight. You just sat through dinnertime for example. I just want to really acknowledge that. Like I said, I'm not a parent so I can't know what it's like to be you but I certainly know enough to acknowledge what it is to be you and to see the representation of your commitment to your children as indicated by your presence here. Thanks a lot for coming, very, very much.