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3 parenting lessons from a psychiatry professor

Why parents should be gardeners instead of carpenters. And why your kids are not trying to upset you, even if you sometimes feel they are.

For our book How To Get Kids To Listen, I asked Dr. Jean Clinton, a child psychologist, how I can get my kids to listen to me and cooperate better, without having to yell or nag.

Now, Dr. Jean Clinton is not just a child psychologist, but also a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences and has been a child psychiatrist for about 35 years. She also has 5 children and 7 grandchildren.

So she has a lot of experience with children...

During our discussion, she shared 3 important parenting lessons with me.

Lesson 1: Don't focus on blind obedience or compliance

Here's what Dr. Clinton said when I asked her for her best technique to get kids to listen:

We don't really focus on getting children to listen. That implies compliance and obedience. And so, compliance and obedience are not really values that are as important as helping kids develop their emotional capacity and potential and self-regulation.

Dr. Jean Clinton

By keeping this in mind, I have been able to worry less about getting my kids to do exactly what I say, and instead now try to focus on how I can teach and develop them.

Lesson 2 - Our role as parents is more like that of a gardener than a carpenter

So, it starts from a place of respecting the child as competent and capable and that we are shepherding them. More like gardeners than carpenters.

It's not that we want a particular outcome that's fixed, but rather we want to be the nurturer, the creator of the condition so that thriving happens. So, back to your question. The most important thing is to observe and be respectful and build relationships and connections with kids.

Dr. Jean Clinton

Focus on creating an environment for your child to develop into who they are, instead of trying to mold them or change them to become who you think they should be.

Lesson 3 - Kids will do well when they can

Kids will do well if they can. The idea that kids do things to get us upset, I think, is a very wrong reframing of things. You know, in 35 years of child psychiatry, I've never met a kid who said, "I'm waking up this morning and screwing my life up." They don't do it. I think if we have a belief that children will do well if they can, as well all behavior has a reason and happens in a context.

Dr. Jean Clinton

The last lesson is probably the most important. When my kids are are upset, it is not to annoy me, but because they are struggling with some issue that they are unable to deal with.

Now, instead of thinking about punishment, I rather try to discover the real reason they are behaving badly.

By following this advice from Dr. Clinton, I have been able to have more empathy for my children when they get upset, and I have also started taking it less personally when they start throwing tantrums or behaving badly.

During the interview, Dr. Clinton also shared what it really means when your child starts throwing a tantrum, and the steps you need to take when you notice your child is becoming upset to prevent a meltdown.

You can find the full interview with Dr. Jean Clinton - What it really means when your child is not cooperating - in our ebook How To Get Kids To Listen, available for free download here.