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When it comes to discipline and encouragement, are you focussing on your kid or the outcome of their actions? Listen in to learn more about how to focus on the act instead of the actor on this episode of Have a New Kid by Friday Podcast.


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Doug: You are so lazy. Look at this room. This is a pig stye. Is that the way we’re supposed to talk to our kids? Is there something wrong in what I said? Sounds good to me, but I fear what Dr. Leman’s going to say as we ask him the question, “What do you mean when we say focus on the act, not the actor.” Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea: And I’m Andrea.

Doug: And we are so glad that you are with us today and adding to your parenting abilities. If this happens to be your first time, I want to let you know this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please go seek a local professional for help. Well, Dr. Leman, I am excited to ask this question because recently I have been struggling with this concept on how to focus on the act and not the actor because I can feel my ire growing towards some of my children’s behaviors. So what do you mean when you say focus on the act and not the actor?

Dr. Leman: Well, it’s almost a knee jerk reaction for many of us as parents who grew up in authoritarian homes because our parents really didn’t realize it, that they were being demeaning to us when they said things like, “How could you be so stupid? I mean, didn’t you see it sitting there? Why didn’t you have smarts to pick it up? What am I, your maid? Am I your slave?”

Dr. Leman: We’ve talked down to kids for centuries. So, what we try to teach parents by a way of our podcasts is there’s a difference in making it personal. When you say you’re so dumb or you’re so stupid or you’re so… Rather than focus on the action itself, just saying, “Wow, that room needs some attention. That is so much better.” Okay, so you’re focusing on the act. When the kid cleans the room and it’s spic and span perfect clean, and you say, “Wow, that room looks great.” There’s a difference in saying, “Wow, that that room looks great,” and, ” You are the best boy in the entire world, I have never seen a cleaner room than that.” We personalize it. And that says to a kid, okay, mom and dad likes me. They internalize that. They take it personally because I cleaned my room.

Dr. Leman: So it becomes a qualified I love you. I appreciate you. Rather than just flat out commenting about how nice the room looks. Well, I bet that feels good to have that job done. Congratulations. That’s encouragement. So what we’re really talking about here, we talk about the act that we tell people, focus on the act, not the actor that helps you separate that. What we’re really talking about is the difference between praise and encouragement. And I’ve said many times, God is worthy of your praise. I want to praise God. I have no problem with that. I do that in my daily life, but your son, your daughter, your husband, your wife, is not worthy of praise. What they need is vitamin E, which is encouragement. So that focus on the act versus the actor is just one of those little thumbnail things you keep. It’s one of those little pocket notes, so to speak, for reference as you go through life and you ask yourself what I just said, did that focus on the act or the actor? And it’s hard to do that because we all grew up in a praising reward, punishment society. And now we’re asking people to look at things differently. So it’s not easy to do, Doug or Andrea.

Andrea: So here’s a real-life opportunity too, for me to see if I did this right the other day. We recently had to remind one of our kids the chores weren’t getting done. And they knew what the chores were, they had decided whose chores were what, and this one child wasn’t following through. And so we had a little talk about, okay, who’s chores, blah, blah, blah. We notice this isn’t getting done. And then I noticed that they really picked up, and they’ve been doing their chores regularly, and no reminders. And so I thought, I should go and thank them. And I went to them and I said, “Hey, I just wanted to say, thank you. I’ve noticed that you’ve been brushing the dog. You’ve been taking the trash out. And I just realized I haven’t said anything to you. And I really wanted to thank you for stepping up and taking care of these things.” Did I do that wrong?

Dr. Leman: Five-star.

Andrea: Okay. How is that not focusing on the actor?

Dr. Leman: You’re focusing on the job that got done. You noticed that the chores are done. You’ve noticed you’ve been brushing the dog. So it’s the act. The chores are the acts. They’re getting done and all you’re commenting on you. By the way, I never really respond. I’ve seen a difference. That’s encouragement. The kids saying mom and dad recognize that I’m pulling my fair share. Now, just for the sake of our listeners, what kind of chores does that child do? We know they brush the dog, they take the garbage out. What else?

Andrea: Well, they have dishes on a rotation and they have to clean the floors and the bathroom on a rotation with the other kids. Plus he has some pigs to take care of.

Doug: We’ve actually applied your chore thing, so we’re not even fully sure of what the kids’ chores are supposed to do because they make them themselves. So if there’s a problem, we bring it up, but I want to follow up on something. Andrea, you would say, being vulnerable for you, isn’t this nice of me to do this for you?

Andrea: Oh, thanks, Honey.

Doug: You betcha.

Andrea: Yeah.

Doug: Giving encouragement or affirmation is not…

Andrea: It’s not my highest gift. Yeah.

Doug: It can be difficult.

Andrea: Yeah.

Doug: So what did you notice after you did this for him?

Andrea: Well, first of all, I saw him just kind of melt.

Doug: In a bad way or a good way?

Andrea: No, in a really good way, like the smile and the sense that wow, mom recognized that I’m doing this. So, I could tell that he was very happy. And then secondly, for me, it just reaffirmed that I can go and say something to them and that it means a lot if I just take 30 seconds and go and say, “Hey, I’ve noticed, and thank you.” And that it actually means something. It’s powerful.

Dr. Leman: Yeah. Well, I’ll give you an example. We’ve all been affected by the Corona virus, and we have seven schools, and by order of the governor and the state Board of Education, Arizona, like many other States, just close their schools for the school year. And so we had remote learning going on, but one of the things I’m so proud of is that our teachers really rose to the occasion. They made special effort to connect to the scholars on an individual basis. Calls to the home, picking up the old honker, and calling. And of course, with our remote learning, the kids were able to see their friends or schoolmates, which was encouraging to the kids. But as one of our brightest people on our staff said, “During this tough time for all of us, what families are going to remember about Leman Academy of Excellence is that there was a personal connection.”

Dr. Leman: They’re going to remember that kid who had a birthday, he went to the door and he found his birthday pencil. We give a kid a pencil on his birthday and a little crown. The teacher delivers it to the door. It’s going the extra mile. And that’s what kids and families are going to remember about these tough times is how people within schools did what? They use the power of the spoken word and the written note.

Dr. Leman: I’m a nut on handwritten notes. I think that’s a wonderful way to do business today is to get yourself good at giving that personal note. And it just says, hey, we care about you. And so back to our conversation, your kids, parents, need to give back to the family. So just like the interpreting, they have chores that have to be done, and everybody helps. Everybody pulls the rope in the right direction. There are too many parents who do everything. Your kids live in fantasy world because they do nothing. They don’t even pick up their room. There’s parents who pick their rooms up for their kids every day, make their bed, put the toys away. They do everything. These are the kids that are going to enter the job market someday and the boss is going to say why don’t we keep this guy around?

Doug: So, Dr. Leman, how about when it comes to discipline or when you have displeasure to your kids? Does focus on the act, not the actor apply?

Dr. Leman: Sure. It’s easy to demean a kid for behavior, or forgetting things, or whatever, but no, it’s a consequence. And just an honest statement that we function as a family. When you don’t do simple things that we ask you to do, that makes it tougher on somebody else in the family. The discipline might be later that evening, the kid wants to go out or do something, and you give him a little vitamin N. No, we’re not going anywhere. You’ve thrown them a curve ball, there’s no warnings, but it goes back to the fact, hey, you know what? You really need to be a little better at listening to what we ask you to do. We don’t ask you to do a lot, quite frankly, probably don’t ask you to do enough, but when you don’t do simple things we ask, it affects the whole family. So you’re not going anywhere tonight. And I was suggesting you just think about the next time you get asked to do something by your mom, that you might respond differently. So you’re not freaking out. You’re not named calling, but you’re being an authority.

Doug: Yeah. I want to come back in how this has helped me even at work in just a moment, but I want to make sure I get to the parenting advice moment, and the Reveille book moment that they are given away, Have a New Sex Life by Friday, between now and the end of the month of September of 2020 for a $1.99. So those of you that want to see your sex life improve, as well as your relationship, it’s not just about sex, it’s about more than that. Between now and the end of September for a $1.99. And now, a no-nonsense parenting moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.

Dr. Leman: An unhappy child is a healthy child. Think about it. Is the goal of being a parent to create a happy child? Every time I speak to an audience, I’m greeted with parents who say, “Oh, Dr. Leman, I’m so glad you’re here because we to want happy, happy, happy children.” Hey folks, there’s times your kid needs to be unhappy. Why? Because they just obeyed you, they talked back, they were dragged on their sister or their brother, they stole something. So the goal, as a parent, is not to create a happy child, but a child that grows, matures. Toward what? Toward adulthood. Remember, raising an adult, not a child. I’m Dr. Kevin Leman.

Doug: So Dr. Leman, I know this is just a parenting podcast. The focus of it is, yet this is one of the concepts that’s really helped me out quite a bit is because I used to always give false praise to people. You’re a great person. It’s great to be around you. And Andrea, and you both, have said those are empty words. But to say, “Hey, this meal was really great, Honey, I appreciate that,” Is much deeper. And at work I’ve learned, both positively and negatively, to focus on the positive, specific acts people do. And when I get frustrated with people to focus on the specific negative things that they do. How can we help parents begin to look for those? How do you help a parent think about, look for the positive acts that kids have been doing so you can give them encouragement? How do we change that mindset?

Dr. Leman: You get good at catching yourself. You learn by your mistakes and you learn to correct those mistakes. I go back to St. Paul who says to us, he says, “I tell myself not to do these things. And yet I do them.” St. Paul, he had a problem with it. So if Doug Terpening or Kevin Leman has a problem with it, I can see that. It’s difficult. It is a mindset, but it is a retraining of how we think. The false praise thing is ridiculous. People see through false praise. The kid in a basketball game misses the rim. It doesn’t even hit the rim on a shot, and the parents are yelling, “Great job.” Really? Great effort. Sometimes it’s best not to say anything. Failures are part of life. I think, getting people to be emotionally, sort of matter of fact, when failure or things go wrong, probably helps. Something like, “I see your room still need some work.” And you’ll walk away.

Dr. Leman: Is that helpful? I think so. But notice there’s sort of a flat tone in there. You’re just making a statement. The statements help. It describes a situation that needs work, but you’re not adding how many times do I have to tell you, blah, blah, blah. Because as soon as you go down that rabbit hole, the kids are going to just shut you off. In fact, they know about everything you’re going to say before you say it, to be quite frank about it.

Dr. Leman: So I think it is a mindset. And I think as husband or wife worked together as a team to help each other, you both have strengths and weaknesses in a marriage. Try to help each other to create an environment that’s more conducive to good wholesome family living. That ought to be a goal, I would think, for most of us.

Doug: And for all of you out there, I think what Andrea and I have experienced is we used to be more critical-like towards our kids. And as we’ve switched to more Vitamin E and pointing out the good, it’s amazing the change. Huh, Andrea?

Andrea: Well, I think it pulls out the positive too. Like in my little scenario, I can’t help but believe that it’s going to encourage him to keep brushing the dog because he’s like, “Oh, somebody noticed. They care.”

Doug: Yep. Yep. Well, for all of you out there, I would encourage you to focus on the act and not the actor and be aware of false praise versus real encouragement out there. And it does bless your kids. We all love it, right? We all love a real encouragement, even as adults. Why would our kids not love to hear it from us too? So, thank you, Dr. Leman. And a quick reminder, again, you can get the book, Have a New Sex Life by Friday for a $1.99 between now and the end of the month. Well, we love being with you and adding to your toolbox. It was great being with you and adding to your parenting toolbox so you can love those kids more and more.

Andrea: Have a good one.

Doug: Take care.

Andrea: Bye-bye.

Doug: Bye-bye.