Jane Nelson’s eldest son ran away from home when he was 14, hitchhiking across the country from California to Florida. It was a sign, Nelson says now, of her total bankruptcy as a parent.
Not long afterward, Nelson took a college class on Alfred Adler’s psychological theories. Nelson learned to replace threatening, yelling and spanking with positive parenting skills.
Her five children (which later grew to seven) started doing their chores, the fighting among them declined by 80 percent and the morning and bedtime hassles in their household melted away.
“I am not a naturally born good mother, but I wanted to be,” Nelson said in a recent telephone interview. “What I found was that I would vacillate between being too strict and being too permissive.”
In the years since, Nelson went on to become a marriage, family and child therapist in Sacramento, the author of 11 books, including her “Positive Discipline” series, and a frequent guest on television talk shows.
Nelson will give the keynote speech for Family-a-Fair at 7 p.m. Friday at the Spokane Convention Center. It’s called “Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World,” also the title of a book she co-wrote with Stephen Glenn.
“I would never want anyone to get the idea that this means perfection overnight,” Nelson said. The key for all parents who want to improve: practice.
“If we practice nagging and yelling, we get better at that,” she says. “If we practice respectful methods, we get better at that.”
Nelson’s approach is designed to foster mutual respect among parents and children. She teaches parents to be kind and firm at the same time.
“Where did we ever get the idea that in order to make a kid do better, first we have to make them feel worse?” she asks.
She suggests “cooling-off” periods for times of high conflict. When it’s the parent who loses it, Nelson recommends recovering with an apology and a new focus on finding solutions rather than placing blame.
For parents of teens, she advocates skipping the lectures. Instead, she recommends guiding children through a conversation that can help them become more competent and capable.
She calls it asking “the curiosity questions.”
“You help children think through what happens, what they can learn from it and how they can use the information in the future,” she said.
She used that technique with her youngest son, Mark, when he wanted to quit school in the eighth grade.
Here’s a replay of that conversation:
Nelson: “Mark, what would happen if you didn’t get an education?”
Mark: “There’s a lot of millionaires who didn’t finish school.”
Nelson: “You’re right, there are. Do you know any?”
Mark: “Well, no.”
Nelson: “Do you know anyone who did quit school? What are they doing now?”
Mark: “Oh, one’s in jail and one’s working at McDonald’s.”
Nelson: “What kind of job can you get if you stay in school?”
Mark: “I could be a pilot or an engineer.”
Finally, the conversation concluded like this:
Mark declared, “OK, I’m going to go, but I’m not going to like it.”
“Mark, that is profound,” Nelson answered. “A lot of times in life we do things we don’t like because there’s a long-range pay-off.”
The bottom line on this tale? Last December, at the age of 25, Mark graduated from the University of Colorado as a chemical engineer.
All seven of Nelson’s children have grown up to be remarkably self-reliant, according to their mother.
Self-reliant kids develop what Nelson and co-author Glenn call “The Significant Seven” perceptions and skills:
To feel capable.
To be able to contribute in their relationships and feel genuinely needed.
To feel able to influence what happens to them.
To feel able to understand their own emotions and develop self-discipline and self-control.
To work with others and develop friendships.
To respond to the limits and consequences of daily life with responsibility and flexibility.
To display wise judgment.
Now, with seven children ranging in age from 25 to 40, Nelson believes she’s succeeded.
With her eldest son, who ran away at age 14, it took years of positive discipline and communication to heal their relationship. It paid off.
“He called me a few years ago and said, ‘You know, Mom, you’re my best friend,”’ Nelson said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo; Staff illustration by Molly Quinn
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S ON AT THIS YEAR’S FAMILY-A-FAIR? Family-A-Fair will feature entertainment, education and more than 170 exhibits for families at the Spokane Convention and Ag Trade Centers this weekend. Fair admission is $2 for adults. Kids ages 12 and under are free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Jane Nelson will give the keynote speech for Family-a-Fair at 7 p.m. Friday at the convention center. It’s called “Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World.” Admission is $6. Nelson will also present a workshop called “Why Children Misbehave and What To Do About It” Saturday from 8:30-10:30 a.m., repeating from 1-3 p.m. Cost is $10. Highlighting the entertainment stage will be Schemer’s Incredible Schemer Show at 11:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. Saturday and recording artist Jack Grunsky at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Sunday. Students of local dance, drama, gymnastics and martial arts programs will also perform. Other fair components include: The Story Bus, where TV weatherman Tom Sherry will read “Meteorite!” and Miss Spokane will read “Princess Smartypants.” The movement and dance area, where kids can take mini-classes in dance, gymnastics or martial arts. The Child Care Room, where toddlers through 6-year-olds may stay for up to an hour while their parents visit the exhibits. The Art Activity Room, where kids ages 6 to 12 may participate in hands-on art projects. For more information, call Family-a-Fair at 456-3733.
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