Carl Grody, LISW - Child, adolescent, and family counseling -- (614) 477-5565
Grody Family Counseling is a strength-based, solution-oriented practice.  We don't see you, your family, or your children as problems to fix; we see you as people who overcome hurdles in ways that you don't even realize.
Our job is to help you recognize your skills and strengths that get lost in the chaos of family, parenting, relationship, behavioral, and/or mental-health issues.  Sure, we'll work on what's causing the issue(s), but we won't label you, your family, or your children as problems.  We help you figure out where you are, what you want, and how to get there.
Call today for an appointment to see if Grody Family Counseling is the right counseling fit for you.
Carl's Latest Blogs
Q&A: One ... Two ... Uh-Oh
     Q: My kids have always responded to me counting out a warning, as in, “You need to do this before I get to three. One … two …” But what happens when they don’t listen anymore? What do I do when I finally get to three?
     A: Before I get into specifics, let me share a story from my parenting life.
     On this particular day, I told my daughter to clean her room. She, of course, said no. Before I knew it, it escalated to this: “Either start cleaning your room by the time I get to three, or you won’t get any dessert tonight. One … two … three! OK, no dessert. Now, I’m going to count again, and if you’re not cleaning your room, you’ll lose TV for the evening …”
     Nope, it didn’t work. I kept upping the ante, and within a few minutes, she’d lost cookies for five years, the chance to see a movie until after college, and the chance to see her friends until roughly the next Ice Age. (Not the next movie with Ray Romano, but the actual next Ice Age.)
     Back then, I was Mr. Mom and hadn’t become a social worker specializing in family therapy, but I didn’t need training to realize I was floundering. I backed off, apologized to my daughter for losing my cool, and told her we’d wipe the slate clean while we figured out how to resolve the issue of her room.
     So when I say your question is common among parents, I mean it. Here are a few tips that might help you not only when you get to three, but to avoid having to count in the first place.
      Avoid power struggles. The fact that parents count to three means the kids aren’t doing what we want in the first place. When that happens, we think we have to prove to the kids (and ourselves) that we’re in charge. In fact, the opposite happens. Kids realize that if they can get us in a power struggle, we might not be all-powerful after all. (“Ignore that man behind the curtain; I’m the all-powerful Wizard of Dad!”)
     Ironically, if you win a power struggle with a kid, you still lose. The child doesn’t walk away thinking, “Dad was right after all. I’d better clean my room.” Instead, the child thinks: “Dad won that argument by being more stubborn than me. If I can just be as stubborn as Dad, I can win the next time.”
     Power struggles are about nothing but the power struggles themselves. The child doesn’t learn the lesson that you’re trying to teach, and you just drive yourself crazy. That’s why we should avoid power struggles whenever we can. (Nobody’s perfect, though. If you catch yourself in a power struggle, it’s okay to be the one who calls timeout so everyone can calm down. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s role-modeling for your children what to do when things start getting out of hand.)
      Consistent boundaries help keep you out of power struggles. It’s our job as parents to set rules and expectations for our children, and to communicate those in clear, easy-to-understand fashion.
     It’s also important not to argue about those expectations. Attention increases behavior, so if you give attention to your child for arguing about whether he has to clean his room, you’re encouraging him to argue.
     Set your expectations simply: “I expect for you to clean your room,” and then walk away from the conversation. When kids realize that you won’t argue, they’ll eventually stop trying and instead work on meeting your expectations.
      I can hear you now: “Life doesn’t work like that. That’ll never work with my kids. What if they just refuse?”
     That’s when you use the “First, then,” rule. It sounds like this: “First you clean your room, and then you can go to the movie with your friends.” Or, “First you do your homework, and then you can play the game.” Let them make the choice, and let the consequences do the work for you. You’re not saying they can’t go to the movie; you’re saying they can earn it. If the kids choose not to clean their rooms, they’re also choosing not to go to the movie. It’s really up to them whether they earn the reward or the negative consequence.
     But don’t try to force your choice on them if they decide not to do what you want. That leads to another power struggle and keeps them from experiencing the natural consequences of their choice.
      When you first try this approach, expect an “extinction burst,” which is a fancy way of saying that things will get worse before they get better. This is natural and understandable. The kid needs to test you to see if you mean what you say.
     A good example is what happens when a young child wants a candy bar in a store. The parent says no, so the child starts crying. If the parent gives in, the kid learns that crying gets him what he wants. So the next time the parent says no, the kid starts bawling again; when the answer is still no, he tries the next extreme behavior – maybe kicking and screaming, or smacking a magazine rack, or throwing candy bars at the parent. That’s the extinction burst. If the parent holds his ground, the kid eventually learns that he can’t get the candy bar by acting out and gives up. But if the parent gives in again, the kid learns that the more extreme behavior works, and he’ll do it again the next time.
     The best way to handle an extinction burst – heck, to handle a good old-fashioned fit – is to give it as little attention as possible. After all, if a kid throws a fit and nobody pays attention to it, what’s the point in doing it?
      If those approaches don’t work, you might have to give negative consequences to your child. If so, be careful what you threaten to do because you’ll actually have to follow through.
     The severity of the consequence (“You’re grounded for a month!”) isn’t as effective as the certainty of it (“You knew that behavior would get you grounded.”). If the child knows that a certain behavior leads to a certain consequence 100% of the time, he knows where the boundary is and is less likely to test it.
     Again, the key is to be consistent (and to remember that if you ground your child for a month, you just grounded yourself for a month, too).
     Kids of all ages want rules, structure, and routine. It makes them feel safe to know that their parents care enough to hold them to a set of expectations and rules. It confuses them, though, when they can lure parents into power struggles or positions where the parents start to openly question what they should do. That encourages children to act out just to determine where the boundaries really are.
     If you still feel like you need to count to three with your kids, remember this – if you’re not sure what happens at three, it’s best not to start counting in the first place.
In Praise of Praise
     Praise has taken a beating lately.
     Several recent studies show that over-praising children can make them less able to handle adversity, less successful, and feel less confident. The headlines are enough to scare and confuse parents trying to motivate their kids while also building and maintaining self-esteem.
     Those studies, though, didn’t say that we should stop praising children. They said we should be careful how we do it. Here are a few tips that might help:
      Praise the process instead of the results. Tom Lehrer, a math professor who was also a comedian back in the 1960s, joked that the key to new math was to understand what you’re doing rather than to get the right answer. That’s a good approach with praise, even though it feels backward.
     Let’s compare two children – one gets A’s without trying, and one gets B’s by working hard. The parents of Mr. A tell him how smart he is, but he doesn’t receive praise for the process because he really doesn’t engage in it. Finally, he hits a class where he can’t breeze through; since he never learned to study, he’s suddenly lost and doesn’t feel so smart after all. He starts to believe his intelligence is a fraud, and he’s afraid other people will figure it out, too. His self-esteem dips and he stops challenging himself because he’s afraid to fail.
     Our B student, though, has to work for good grades. When he doesn’t understand something, he knows studying will help him eventually get it. He’s learned to rely on the process of working hard; in the long run, he’ll end up with better grades than Mr. A. More importantly, he’ll feel better about himself because he’s learned tools to get what he wants – in this case, good grades.
     That’s why it’s important to praise process over results. Don’t say, “You got another A? You’re so smart!” Instead, try this: “You’re such a hard worker. That extra studying seems to be paying off.”
      Attention increases behavior. If you praise your child for doing what you want (studying, cleaning his room, being nice to his brothers and sisters, etc.), those behaviors will increase. If you point out what your child does wrong (bad grades, fighting with brothers and sisters, throwing towels on the floor, etc.), those behaviors will increase. It sounds simple, and it’s not always easy to do, but attention to a behavior is like air to a fire. Blow on the fire, and it becomes a huge blaze. Keep air away from the fire, and it eventually extinguishes.
      Be specific with praise. Children see the world differently than we do, so we have to teach them specifically what we expect and how it’s supposed to be done.
     For example, suppose a mother tells her son to clean his room. Two hours later, she finds him lying in a pile of clean clothes on his bed playing a video game. She might be angry, but he thinks he cleaned the room. After all, the clothes are no longer littered across the floor. It doesn’t do the mom any good to get mad; that won’t help her son understand what she wanted from him. However, the mom could use specific praise to help her son feel good about himself and still learn what she wants. She might say, “Thank you for picking the clean clothes up off the floor. Now, I’d like for you to put them in the closet.” And when he does that, she should praise that specific behavior, too.
     This also works with bigger issues. A common complaint of parents in sessions with me is that their kids don’t respect them. When we explore this, it often turns out that the kids don’t know what parents mean by respect. If parents think it’s disrespectful for children to chew gum while talking, for example, they need to be specific about that behavior, and then they need to praise the child when they’re not doing it. (Remember the attention principle above.) When we explore in session what respect means to both parents and children, families work together to identify behaviors they like and don’t like. That makes it clear for everyone and often makes a huge difference for the family.
      Keep praise appropriate to the situation. One recent study focused on parents whose praise is “inflated” – in other words, over-the-top phrases like “Amazing!” or “Perfect!” or “What an incredibly beautiful drawing!” When you react with that much enthusiasm, you’re actually putting pressure on the child to achieve that level of praise again, and as seen with Mr. A above, they probably don’t know how to do it.
     Over-inflated praise also sounds to kids like their behavior’s an exception to what they normally do, which makes them feel like they do something wrong the rest of the time. Think about how you’d react if your boss dropped by your office and said, “Hey, I just wanted to say that the margins on your report were simply the best I’ve ever seen! Keep up the great layout work!” You’d start to wonder if your other reports looked like trash, or if there wasn’t anything else good about the report, or if your boss was just a sarcastic jerk.
     The praise is important, though. Remember, it’s how we teach other people what we want and expect from them. The key is to treat it in a matter-of-fact way, like you’re noticing something that you expect from them all of the time. For example, if your kids fight a lot, don’t walk into the room when you discover them getting along and act so surprised that you’re going to throw a party. Instead, say something like this: “I’m glad to see you guys getting along.” And then keep walking. Unless you decide you want to reward the behavior to reinforce it …
     But that’s another article.
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