Parenting and Self-Government: Interview with Nicholeen Peck
Special Guest Nicholeen Peck, Featured in BBC’s “World’s Strictest Parents”
[Karen] Welcome everyone to this episode of I Believe Podcast. We’re so excited to be with you today, and we’re glad that you’re back. We have a special guest—two guests, actually—Nicholeen and her daughter, Paije Peck. They have been featured on the “World’s Strictest Parents,” a BBC documentary, and we’ll introduce them momentarily. We’d like to welcome you and ask you to engage the conversation on Facebook or Twitter, Google+, or YouTube. We’d love to hear from you if you have questions on anything that’s covered today. We will post links and other materials for you as well. So again, thanks for joining us on I Believe.
Have any of you felt overloaded as a parent, or overwhelmed? Maybe feeling like you don’t even want to talk to a particular child in your home, it’s gotten to that point? Do you feel out of control in terms of your own emotions, maybe; or are you just interested in finding better ways to have a more unified and loving family, and you’re lacking in some way in that respect? I think you’re in the right place today and I’m confident that you’ll benefit from this cast on deliberate parenting.
Let me take time to introduce our special guests.
Nicholeen Peck is a Christian mother of four children, one of whom is Paije, who joins us, and we’ll hear from both of them today. Nicholeen has been teaching principles of effective parenting since 1999, and self-government—principles of calmness. She has worked extensively with foster children, and just seen such success in the family arena that she’s been asked to present these materials. She hosts a website, teachingselfgovernment.com; she’s an author of a book, which is very wonderful, called Parenting: A House United, as well as other materials and books. She’s been a popular speaker; she’s also been invited to speak at the UN this year for “The Year of the Family,” I believe, so that’s very exciting. So we’re very glad to have her, and her collected daughter, Paije, who’s 15, and who has been practicing and promoting these parenting principles. So welcome.
[Nicholeen] Thank you. So we’re really happy to be here. We absolutely think it’s essential that families focus and teach their children what they believe. I love the title of your show, I Believe, I think that’s fantastic. People need to have core beliefs, and parents are the best people to teach those.
[Karen] Thank you for that statement. So why don’t we get started.
“World’s Strictest Parents”
Why don’t we start off this way: if you can share with our audience, Nicholeen, a little bit of what led up to the unsolicited appearance on the BBC documentary the “World’s Strictest Parents”? Maybe even address what the “World’s Strictest Parents” is all about as you tell that story?
[Nicholeen] Ok, sure. I did not like being called that at first. I thought, “Should I be insulted?” that I would get that name. But actually―so a long time ago, when Paije was just a baby, my husband changed careers and had to go back to school. There were some things that happened there, and I looked around and thought, “I have two little babies, and I just don’t feel like it’s time for me to go and do something else.” So I really prayed. I really asked God to direct me, and to tell me what I should do.
And it ended up that I started doing foster care for a place called the Utah Youth Village. The Utah Youth Village takes some of the most troubled teens in Utah and they have treatment homes that they train and set up for these youth. And our home became one of these treatment homes. I did that to help provide for my family while I was parenting my younger children and my husband was going to school and starting a new business and things like that. It was a tremendous blessing in many ways. Not just so I could stay and raise my other children; but, we met some other wonderful youth who really are just pieces of our hearts and family forever. But also, we learned some things about relationships that absolutely changed things.
As I started doing foster care and these youth started changing in dramatic ways, people started saying, “Hey, what are you doing? Will you come tell us? Will you come speak at our convention and talk about parenting?” And I thought, “Wow, I never saw that coming.” But other people’s families started to change, drastically.
And then the BBC found out about me, and they did a show called the “World’s Strictest Parents,” and they wanted, I guess, a family from Utah to be on this show. So they contacted me and I thought, “I’m not sure if this would be such a great idea.”
[Karen] Putting yourself out there into the world.
[Nicholeen] And, you know, in editing things can happen, and this could be scary. In the end, though, after just searching my heart and praying about this, I felt like we could help families.
There are so many families who are struggling. There are so many families who are craving some of the principles that we teach and live by. Maybe if they can see it, they can have hope that they can make a change. So we decided to go ahead and do the show. And it became the most-watched episode on the BBC of all of those shows [in the series].
A “Strict” Parent
And I decided I love being called a strict parent. Because I looked up the word strict. After they asked me to do it, they said, “Would you consider yourself a strict parent?” And I thought, “Well, no I don’t yell at my children or anything like that.” Then they said, “Well, would you let your kids get tattoos and go hang out at the pub?” And I said, “Well, no.”
[Karen] Definite no.
[Nicholeen] And they said, “Would you let them smoke and do drugs and stuff?” And I said, “No.’ And they said, “Well, then you’re strict.” I thought, wow, is that all it takes nowadays? I think there are a lot of strict parents, then.
And I realized ― after we had that conversation, I looked it up in the dictionary. And it said that strict meant to live by a certain set of principles. And I realized, I actually do love principles, and I try to live by them; I probably am one of the world’s strictest parents, and I’m sure there are many others out there, too.
[Karen] And I love that definition of principled parenting. That’s great, what a great story.
You know, I was glued to watching that story when I heard about it, and I know our audience will be, too, and we’ll link to that. But it might be fun for us to share a few clips from that story. These are two teens who came to live with Nicholeen and her family: Hannah and James. They went through amazing changes. And we’d like to show for you just a clip of it now. Maybe an episode of when Hannah and James experienced a temper tantrum in your home; they were pretty much used to that MO in their own homes.
[Karen] And then maybe a clip of when Hannah learns something else about true happiness and about her own identity. So first notice how Nicholeen remains calm in this first clip, and I think that’s something all parents notice at first, and we’ll see the change that comes over Hannah and James later on.
[here is shown a clip of Hannah and James in the Peck home; Nicholeen remains calm in the face of a tantrum and attitude]
[Karen] Nicholeen, would you like to comment on that clip right there?
A Home with Rules
[Nicholeen] Yeah. So here you’re seeing that clearly they’re not very happy about being in a home that’s got rules. They’re not really sure what to do with the fact that we so deliberately communicate with each other.
When we first started sharing with them how our home is run and the principles we live by and the way we communicate; when we explained the way we communicate, they said, “Oh yeah, that makes sense.” You don’t see this in the clip. But when we gave them a no answer—because one of the skills we teach is learning to accept a no answer, and we teach that as a deliberate skill you have to learn, because without it you’re just going to always react to whatever emotion you have because of the no answer. And then you’re always in bondage, of course.
So we taught them the no answer, and they said that was fine. But then we gave them a no answer, and said, “No, you actually can’t smoke in our house, and you can’t wear things that are that revealing, you need to fit in with the family standard.”
Because the BBC told us—if any visitor came to our house, we wouldn’t critique what they wear. But the BBC told us, “You have to pretend like they’re your own children.” And I said, “OK, that’s fair.” So we did.
And we had to say, well this our standard, so no, we can’t wear this. At that point they had tantrums. In fact, they had tantrums for two days. There was one point—well, they ran away. They ran away like five times.
One time they ran away from the director of the show, not just from me. He was trying to talk to them, they got mad at him, and ran away. I said to him, “Hey, where are Hannah and James?” And he said, “Oh, well, they ran away from me this time.” He said, “Yeah, Nicholeen, they’re really legit. We picked the hardest kids we could find for you.” I said, “Oh, OK.”
So finally they came back after the 5th time—after that time of running away from him, in fact—and you hear them knocking on the door, saying they’re ready to talk about it. Well, they came inside, and we started talking about things really calmly, and then all of a sudden they started blowing up again. And it was like, you’re kids are going to be ruined, it was just whatever they could pick at.
And then, one of my favorite parts of the whole filming, it’s not on the actual show but it’s one of my favorite parts, both of them in unison —it was almost as if they had planned it, it was really amazing—they both said, “Calm, calm, calm! You’re always so calm! It makes me so mad that you’re so calm!” And they were absolutely suggesting that if I lose control, they would choose to be calm, which we all know would never happen. In fact, after that they never yelled again.
We Can’t Talk Unless We’re Calm
[Nicholeen] Because I said to them, like I always do, “It seems to me that you want to tell me something. I would like to know what that is. But we need to choose to be calm first. Then we can talk about it.” I always say the same thing. One cardinal rule in my family is: we can’t talk unless we’re calm.
And by the next day, I was making jam with Hannah—this also isn’t in the program, but I believe that this lesson is one of the key lessons, I wish they would have put it in the show— we were making jam, just talking, and I said, “You know, Hannah, for two days you really had a hard time. You were angry, and running away, and yelling. Now all of a sudden, you’re just happy, and fine, and we’re getting along so well. What happened?”
And she looked at me and she said, “You know at my house, if I yell, I get my way, or somebody yells back. But here, you were just so calm, it [yelling] didn’t work. So I chose to be calm too.”
[Karen] That’s excellent.
[Nicholeen] I think we have a clip, actually, of her being OK.
[Karen] Yes, many,where she finally realizes that. and to hear how that [calmness] distilled up on her is very powerful, I think. And like you said, you get used to a certain method, and think if you speak louder then you have more power, and that whole power struggle thing takes place. But where you don’t engage in that, as you have done, you stop the collusion, you can see the change that’s occurring in their lives, which is a beautiful thing.
[Karen] Another part of that change, which I love, is reflected in the second clip, in which Hannah, instead of thinking she’s only going to be noticed and is of worth if her skin and everything is showing, comes to a different conclusion. So if you’ll address that after we show this.
[here is shown a clip of Hannah in a formal gown, talking about her self-confidence]
[Karen] So, would you like to speak to this, either of you, about the change in Hannah here?
A Change of Heart
[Nicholeen] You know, when I told them we would be going to a very fancy gala where there would be dancing, and we would have a very nice meal, and there would be a lot of people there dressed in very fancy clothes, they were very excited. And I explained that we were going to go and get some nice things, but they’d have to be in the dress standard that our family would consider appropriate.
And it was so great, because they were both like, “OK.” James said OK and Hannah said OK. And then they said, “Nicholeen, as a special gift for you, because we’re going to be with all of your friends tonight, we’re going to take out all of our piercings.” That was cool. That was really cool.
And then when Hannah was at the dress shop, and she was putting on this dress, she kept looking in the mirror and saying, “I’m gorgeous, I’m gorgeous! I look like a royal!” And she fell in love with herself—covered, and still beautiful. Which means she was able to see her inner beauty instead just of what she was used to seeing in magazines portrayed as beautiful. It was neat.
[Karen] That’s so fantastic, that you were able to facilitate that. And I think what’s happening is these counterfeits the world is throwing out—the life at the pub, and the lust vs. love, and “I’ll be what the world wants me to be” image—these are the real answers to those counterfeit substitutes. And you offered that to them in a model where they could feel and experience them for themselves, and like it, and want it. That’s so powerful. Thank you for sharing that.
Paije, you were involved in this transformation and process in just being with the family and watching Hannah and James during that time. So do you have any thoughts you want to share? What did you think about this whole thing?
[Paije] Well, I was amazed at the end of the program—well, during the whole program—after the first few days how they were willing to give up their ways to adopt ours. Just being in our home, they felt something different and they knew that their home was lacking this, and they knew that they needed it.
“I Want This”
[Nicholeen] Yeah, at the very, very end of the show, you see James and they ask him, what’s one thing you’ll remember? And he says, family. And that’s so important to him. Both of them said, more than one time while they were in our home, “I want this. When I have a family, this is what I want.” And Hannah said to me on multiple occasions—because she had a daughter, as you might know already— “Do you think that I could teach Tanisha like this? Do you think that I could be a mom like this? Do you think that I could have a family like this? It was clear to me that they thought a happy family maybe was almost a myth, and didn’t exist.
And I almost kind of think that that mentality, that idea that a happy family can’t exist—which I think is a lie—is being pushed in many, many ways through the media and in society. And people are feeling like they don’t even have any hope to work toward that.
[Karen] I think that’s well-said. There’s no ideal to strive for, or—yeah, there’s a new normal. And I think what we’re saying is, look, you really can—you don’t have to be perfect; we’re not perfect as families—but we can have a unified, loving family.
And to speak to what you said, I think we ought to show this next clip of Hannah and James leaving. I think it captures some of the thoughts and feelings they were having as they did pull away.
[here is shown a clip of Hannah and James leaving the Pecks; they are emotional and talk about the ways the Pecks have influenced them]
Proactive vs. Reactive Parenting
[Karen] Well, moving on, Nicholeen, if you can address the proactive vs. reactive forms of parenting, and then we want to move right in to self-government: what it means, and what the steps are. And we’ll go from there.
[Nicholeen] Absolutely. So there definitely are two different ways to have a relationship.
- You can either proactively, deliberately, assertively decide how you want to relate to another person; or,
- You can just react to everything that they do.
When you relate to another person, it should not be done as a reaction but as a choice. Because, you know, you value that person, you’re choosing to show love to them, and to understand them, and to care; but also, recognizing your role in that relationship, and as a parent, that means to have to train them.
[Karen] That’s perfect. So in order to do that, we want to address what self-government is. So why don’t you tell us what it is, and then we’ll move on from there.
Self-Government: A Definition
[Nicholeen] Exactly. My definition of self-government is: being able to determine the cause and effect of any given situation, and possessing knowledge of your own behaviors so you can control them. So there are two parts:
- You have to understand cause and effect, and then
- You have to understand yourself, and assess yourself.
And that is hard thing to learn. Most people don’t naturally do that. They’ll assess other people and judge other people, but they don’t want to look at themselves. As soon as you start looking at yourself and assessing, then you can make a choice of how you want to behave differently. So that’s important.
[Karen] And to make those choices, you also have to have a vision of what you want your family to be and become. Can you speak to the inspiring mission and vision in your family so that you can then create the self-government within that framework?
[Nicholeen] Yeah, absolutely.
So a family has to have a reason to care about having self-government. So we have what’s called a family vision. This is a picture of what kind of a family that we want to be. And there’s feelings and tones associated with this, and ways that we will communicate at that time. And we set it as a 20-year vision. And right now it’s a 10-year vision.
So this is for 2024 our family Christmas party, when we’re going to be all gathered together, and who’s going to be there. Now we don’t know their exact names:of spouses, and possible grandchildren, and things like that. But we have an idea in our minds of what it might look like. And the feelings and everything that’s going to be happening at that time. And we’re working toward that.
[Karen] Because having that vision, it of course affects every other decision you want to make as a family to get there. I think that’s so, so important.
And I was also thinking about this submarine that’s underwater for so long, has to come up and align itself with the North Pole every once in a while. You have to come back and regroup, and remember what you’re all about as a family.
Family Mission Statement
So you have a mission statement. We had one in our family that I think in retrospect was maybe a little bit too long. You have yours memorized, and I think that’s a great idea. Paije, would you mind sharing with our audience what your family mission statement is?
We, the Peck family, will love, support, and be united with one another. We are dedicated to building an atmosphere of trust, faith, and learning in our home. We spread love and happiness to others. We know we are children of God and endeavor to return to his presence as an eternal family. We have patience and wisdom in our relationships. Heavenly Father guides and loves each of us so that we can fulfill our life’s missions.
[Karen] Very well-said, and very nice. How has that affected personally you over the years? Have different parts come to mean different things? Or in particular moments it’s been helpful?
[Paije] Well, like I mentioned, we say it every morning. So just kind of having that in the back of my mind every day helps me to make better choices, basically.
[Nicholeen] There have been times, too, where the children might be getting short-tempered with each other or something, and I’ll say, “Wait you guys, stop talking. Do you remember that ‘We, the Peck family, will love, support, and be united with one another’? Does this feel very loving and united right now?’” And all of a sudden they’ll say, “Oh, no, Mom. Let’s refocus.”
[Karen] Right, it’s a good checking point, a good hallmark. Wonderful. Anything else about inspiring vision for others, parents who are trying to create their own family mission moving forward?
[Nicholeen] Yeah, I think one thing that’s probably really important to talk about—because, as we discussed, we’re going to talk about everything today in the ideal. I love speaking in the ideal; everybody’s always working towards the ideal.
But somebody will always say, “Well that’s really great, but my husband would never go for that!” …Or whatever it is. It [family mission statement] doesn’t have to be something where you chain the family down, and you make it this grueling, like “Oh, great!” process. But it can be something as easy as this: here you are having lunch together as a family, or you’re on a family car ride, and you say: “What kind of a family do you think we are? Or what kind of a family do we want to be?” I just want to write it down; I want to write something so I can always remember who we want to be.
That’s what we did—we just threw out words, you know: united, loving, learning. We just made a list, and that’s all it was.
[Paije] I think it was nice because it wasn’t just her and my dad writing it; we, all the kids, helped, and we all put in what we thought we should be. Which I think is very important, because it shows the kids that it’s not just Mom and Dad’s vision for the family—it’s everyone’s vision for what they want [the family] to be.
[Karen] That’s great. So the components of self-government: you want to inspire this mission, you want to set up a self-government in your home.
So let’s talk about the steps or the skills that are involved in setting up this self-government, what we’re teaching our children to do. Maybe you could model some of those and tell our audience the basics, and they can find out more by reading your book.
A Family Government
[Nicholeen] Yeah, there’s so much we could never discuss it all in this time. The main thing is:
- Having a vision is really important, then
- Setting up a structure in your home. We call it a family government.
And that family government needs to have a certain structure and a certain kind of a tone. You know, the tone of acceptance—accepting when things go wrong and not taking them personally—a tone of calmness; definitely love, and trust. Trust in the goodness of other people. Because if you believe that somebody is bad, and trying to do things to push your buttons, then you can’t actually help correct them and teach them in a way that is going to be proactive at all. You’re automatically reacting.
[Karen] On the defensive, right?
[Nicholeen] Yeah. So you need to set that up. And structurally, you’re going to want to have meetings and things, and learn certain skills.
The Family Standard
And then after that, definitely talking about, you know, parents need to focus on character for their children—character development—and having those core principles as a foundation in the home.
We made what’s called a “Family Standard.” I’ve noticed that when parents get really frustrated with their families, it’s usually because the children are making some decision—it’s often a moral decision—that they [parents] would not make. Or maybe they thought, our family would never do that; that’s considered immoral. And then they have a lot of confusion and contention and frustration based upon that.
So once you’ve got a structure and a tone in place, a vision of what you’re going toward, some basic skills that you’ve learned, then you can say, OK, now let’s set the standards for our home. And let’s learn to work, which is going to help our family develop good character. There’s a lot of other things you can do for that [good character], too. So those are what I think are the fundamentals.
So when we talk about skills―there are four basic skills that we teach:
- Following instructions;
- Accepting no answers, or accepting criticism;
- Accepting consequences;
- Disagreeing appropriately.
[Karen] So let’s model, if you can, or speak to those four skills that you just mentioned with self-governing.
Hope for Parents in Teaching Self-Government
[Nicholeen] Absolutely. I do want to mention one thing, too, just to give parents hope. And that is, as you said, it’s really hard to teach something you don’t already posses.
So a parent might say, “Well, great,I’ve got so much self-government work to do on myself; I can’t possibly teach my children.” And that’s what I come across every time I teach self-government principles. Parents will come up to me and say, “Woah, I’m the one who needs to learn self-government. I’m the one who’s angry and out of control, and yelling at the children, and I know I’ve got to stop that. I’ve got to be calm.”
[Karen] They don’t know how.
[Nicholeen] Right, they don’t know how. But the thing is, if you’re working on it yourself, you can teach it. Even if you’re not perfect, that validates you. Both parents and children can work on self-government together. And it is happening all over the world.
[Karen] Well, and I think your children pick up on that. You just say to them, candidly—at times I’ve said to my child, “I’m really working on this particular thing.” You don’t have to have arrived in order to make it work. But they [children] do sense when there’s an effort vs. no effort.
[Nicholeen] Exactly. That’s exactly true.
[Karen] So please share these four skills; if you could role-play those that would be great for our audience.
[Nicholeen] Paije, why don’t you be the one who tells us the steps to the skills today? The first, I think, most important skill is following instructions. If a child can’t follow a simple instruction from their parents, then the parent can’t parent them. Plain and simple. I mean, there is no respect there. If a child can’t follow instructions, then you know you need a little bit more intensive intervention, and we’ll talk more about that and the steps to help get a person to that place.
Skill #1: Following Instructions
Paije, what are the steps a person needs to be able to do to follow instructions? There are five things.
[Paije] Yes. So the first one is to:
- Look at the person;
- Keep a calm voice, face, and body;
- Say OK, or ask to disagree appropriately;
- Do the task immediately;
- Check back.
[Nicholeen] And just briefly on some of those, the reason why is if they look at you—the eyes are the windows to your soul. And when we’re talking about training someone on these skills, it’s not behavior modification.
[Karen] Thank you for saying that, because I would have.
[Nicholeen] No, this is about changing their hearts, which means they have to turn their will toward wanting to respect you and follow you. That means you have to be calm when you give an instruction; they have to be able to calmly look at you and be OK with you, their parent, giving them a correction. And as you saw, one of the steps was disagree appropriately. If they don’t feel like they should do whatever it is, then they can disagree in an appropriate way, and we’ll get into that skill in a minute. And then checking back—offering the parent the opportunity to praise them for what they’ve done.
Really, this is about unity. If a parent can exercise their role and give an instruction to a child, and a child can exercise their role as a learner and say, “Yeah, I think I can do this for you,” and then do it and check back and get praised, they are completely unified in their roles in the family. And a lot of happiness follows that.
So this isn’t behavior modification; the parent’s heart must be in the right place. You can bark any order, and somebody can be afraid, and follow it, but that isn’t really self-government; that then is reactive parenting.
[Karen] Well-said. And it breeds resentment instead of the unity that you’re talking about.
Skill #1: Role Play
[Nicholeen] Exactly. So when a child or a foster child is out of control in my home, meaning they won’t follow any instruction, I go through a process called the Rule of Three. And I give them an instruction in this process. And I give it them multiple times, as needed. And the instruction is always a calming instruction, so I’m just going to give that to her right now, so that we don’t have to pretend to sweep your floor or something. Anyway, Paije, I’m going to give you an instruction. That’s a pre-teach; that gets her mind ready and thinking, “Oh yeah, I know what to do; I know how to follow an instruction.” I need you to close your eyes and take three deep breaths, OK?
[Paije] OK…. OK, I did that. Is there anything else?
[Nicholeen] No, Paije. You very assertively looked right at me, you kept your voice completely calm, your whole body calm, and then you said OK, you did it immediately, and you checked back. It is so mature of you to be able to control your body in that way. You’re really getting self-government.
[Paije] Thank you.
[Nicholeen] You’ll see I praised her, I did multiple things right there. I pre-taught her, I gave her an instruction in a way where I said, “I need you to,” not like, “Will you please?” Because that would be really passive of me, not as assertive. I could still add a please at the end, I could say, “I need you to follow this instruction, please.”
Skill #2: Accepting No Answers, or Accepting Criticism
[Nicholeen] So the second skill is really close to the first one. If you learn following instructions, the other three skills are a breeze, because a lot of the steps are the same, and you’ll hear that. So Paije, share the four steps to the skill accepting no answers or accepting criticism.
- Again, look at the person;
- Again, keep a calm voice, face, and body;
- Say OK, or ask to disagree appropriately;
- Drop the subject.
[Nicholeen] So drop the subject, that’s important. There’s those youth that will come back to you, “But Mom, why…” Or maybe they’ll sit and just pout; not talk to you; go hit their brother. They might get angry about it, or they might just yell right at you. That’s all not dropping the subject. They’re not able to just say OK, and be OK.
Skill #2: Role Play
So we’re going to go ahead and just do one. Paije, ask me a question, any question you want, and then I’ll give you a no answer, and you can show them how hard it is to do this skill.
[Paije] OK. Mom, can I tie Porter to a chair in the backyard and leave him there?
[Nicholeen] Um, Paije, I’m going to have to give you a no answer on this…no, that wouldn’t be very safe.
[Nicholeen] That’s all. Really, it’s just not—that was quite mean, what you wanted.
[Nicholeen] For sure Mom would say no!
[Karen] A dramatic example for our audience.
Skill #3: Accepting Consequences
[Nicholeen] And then the next skill is accepting consequences. So go ahead.
[Paije] OK. So again, you:
- Look at the person;
- Keep a calm voice, face, and body;
- You say, OK [or ask to disagree appropriately];
- You do the task [consequence] immediately;
- Check back, and;
- Drop the subject.
[Nicholeen] Yes. So the task meaning the consequence. You do that consequence immediately. And actually, I noticed right there you forgot to say disagree appropriately, because it’s always, “Say OK, or ask to disagree appropriately.’ They can always do that. Although on a consequence the kids generally don’t ask to disagree appropriately because they know they’ve earned it.
[Paije] Unless they think for some reason they haven’t earned it, then they might.
[Nicholeen] Yeah, that’s true. So let’s―I’m going to do a correction really quickly. When I correct, I describe something that happened, then I describe what should have happened, and then I tell them what consequence they earned. And then oftentimes we’ll even practice it the right way, because that’s really important to practice doing something the right way, so you can deliberately choose it later.
Skill #3: Role Play
Paije, just a moment ago, I gave you an instruction to vacuum the floor for your chores, and you looked at me, and you kept a calm voice, face, and body, but then you didn’t say OK, and you didn’t actually go and do the task. So I know you’re choosing not to follow instructions. What you should have done was all the steps to following instructions; since you chose not to, you’ve earned to do an extra chore. OK?
[Nicholeen] OK, so your extra chore is going to be to straighten the pillows on the couch, OK?
[Paije] OK. Mom, I did that. Is there anything else?
[Nicholeen] No, Paije, not for this chore. But you actually do need to go do your vacuuming. I really appreciate you checking back; you did that so quick. And I know that you’re totally calm and happy; I can just feel it. So that’s a good job on choosing freedom. Because really, your happiness, you choosing that, it keeps you free. OK, so then she’d go and do whatever it was.
Skill #4: Disagree Appropriately
And then the last one—let’s do a disagree appropriately. Tell them the steps to disagreeing appropriately.
[Paije] OK. Again, you:
- Look at the person (you always have to look at the person);
- Keep a calm voice, face, and body;
- Explain that you understand the other person’s point of view and why they may be giving you a no answer;
- And then you explain your point of view, and why you think your point of view is good;
- And then you accept whatever answer is given,then;
- Drop the subject.
Skill #4: Role Play
[Nicholeen] Right. So let’s just do a little example where she asks me something, I tell her no, and then she’ll disagree appropriately.
[Paije] Mom, can I have a bowl of ice cream?
[Nicholeen] No, I’m going to have to say no on that because it’s really almost dinner time.
[Paije] Can I disagree appropriately?
[Nicholeen] Sure, go ahead.
[Paije] OK. So I understand that you do not want me to have a bowl of ice cream, but we are in the middle of movie, and everyone else wanted ice cream, and they already got some, so I was thinking that it would be OK if I had some during the movie.
[Nicholeen] That’s a good point. I forgot that they really did come into the kitchen and get ice cream. And for some reason I thought you already had some. But now, knowing that you didn’t, I guess you can, but try to not have so much that you ruin your appetite for dinner.
[Paije] Right. OK. Thank you.
[Nicholeen] So whenever a child asks to disagree appropriately I always say yes. Unless they’ve just disagreed. Sometimes you still have to say no, and they need to be ready to say OK about that. We did one here where I would say yes. Because if it’s not a major deal, if it’s not something morally or fundamentally wrong, if it’s a bowl of ice cream…
[Karen] I hope our audience understands that principle. You can learn how to do that. Not to go stomping away, or to ruin the relationship, but to voice your opinion in a respectful way.
[Nicholeen] Yeah, exactly.
It’s Not Too Late or Too Early
[Karen] And I think, again, to encourage those parents who may not have set up this kind of structure in their home before, it’s not too late at 15, 16… you’ve had experience with these families who have changed even at that point. I just want to reiterate that.
[Nicholeen] Yeah, we really have. In fact, so many people will ask me, they’ll say, “Oh, this seems like it’s kind of for little kids”; because i’ve written books to teach it to little kids―and then other people with little kids will say, “Oh, this seems kind of advanced, and I think it might be just for people with big kids.” It’s funny how everyone is looking for the excuse, maybe I won’t try it; it’s new, you know.
So I started Paije and Quin and all of my children from the time they were just babies, just little. And they learned to say, “OK,” and, “Can I disagree ’propriately?” they hardly even knew what appropriately was, but I taught them how to say it, and they learned to say, “I understand you don’t want me to have a cookie, but I really want a cookie.”
[Karen] That’s still modeling the form.
[Nicholeen] That’s right. And it was just tiny.
[Karen] And I think it’s important, we can flip back to that as well, the younger generation, we can see more and more they aren’t wanting to set any limits, or setting less [fewer] limits, and thinking that they’re creating more of a free atmosphere in their home. But babies need structure as well, you know. They eat, and do their thing, but they also need set times to sleep, for example, or else the parents are being dictated by the baby―the tail is wagging the dog at that age, and what’s going to happen when that baby is 15 or 16, right?
Progressive Parenting vs. Aggressive Parenting
So you do work with these younger moms who have more of a progressive sort of idea?
[Nicholeen] Yes, and that’s a really good word to use: “progressive.” I learned the term modern progressive parent after I was on the BBC show. I started following the conversations about the “World’s Strictest Parents” show, and there was a professor over in Leeds, in England, who wrote an article called “What Can We Learn From the ‘World’s Strictest Parents’?” And I thought, I’ve got to see this.
And he talked about how there was a kind of parent called a modern progressive parent. And he said they have kind of an emptying out of the adult identity, meaning that our society as a whole is not really keeping in touch with what it means to be an adult. They’re putting kids on the same level, and sometimes an even higher level.
So I hear all the time, “Well, our 3-year-old runs our house.” And I think, “Oh, no; that’s awful!” Because their rules are off, and at some point they’re going to go, “Oh, no! I’ve made a monster. What should I do?” And I actually see that all the time. Parents saying, “Oh, no, I can tell I’ve been too lenient, I can tell I haven’t given enough no answers. I haven’t given a structure to this child that they can grasp onto for safety.”
And really, truly, I’ve been to workshops where I’ve been teaching these things, and there have been parents who have just been crying, grown women, saying, “I was raised like that. I was abandoned, pretty much. I mean, sure, I had parents, but I tried everything bad I could do just to get their attention. Just so they would tell me no. And they never did.”
[Karen] They wanted those limits.
[Nicholeen] Yeah, and, “I messed it up. I messed up my life.” And you know, the reverse of that [leniency], the reason why people do that—it’s not that they’re bad. But they’re thinking, “I had this firm, aggressive, bully parent, and I am not being that for my child. I am not.”
[Karen] So we overcompensate and become indulgent, then you haven’t solved it either.
[Nicholeen] Right. And then some people think the answer is somewhere between the two of these things. In fact, I think most people vacillate between these two ideas. They think, “Oh, I want to be their friend,” which is a really popular idea, to be [friends] with your children; —and I’ll tell you what, Paije and I, we are best friends, literally best friends, and its because we know how to communicate with each other and we respect each others’ roles. And then we can talk about anything.
So some people say, “I want that friend relationship,” so they go modern progressive and really lenient, and essentially abandon their child because they don’t give them any point of reference of how to make their decisions.
And then when things go really bad, they just go, “Ahh!” And they attack and they go back to the bully way. Or the bullies feel bad, so they go that way for a minute, and then they come back.
The Answer: Traditional Parenting
But really, that answer is in that traditional, strict form of parenting. Which, like we’ve mentioned before, is very deliberate. And that is on a different plane; it’s not even on the same scale [as the other forms of parenting].
[Karen] That’s a good distinction to make, I think.
[Nicholeen] Yeah, because that plane, that traditional, strict [form], has principles. It’s about my heart being in the right place as a parent, understanding my role—who I am, what I’m doing. And this is about their heart changing, and being in the right place, too. For them to be able to connect and unite with me. So it has nothing to do with just handling somebody’s behavior, although that’s part of it. It has everything to do with who you are in the family, and how you connect with each other.
[Karen] Perfect. How long did it take for you, Paije, before this became a way of life? Or can you even remember when it started to become internalized for you as a method of parenting?
[Paije] Well, like she said, she was implementing it when I was like, 1 or 2 [years old]. Because she started doing all this in 1999, and I was born in 1998.
[Karen] So you were right there.
[Paije] So it’s a way of life. I never knew any different.
[Karen] Do you ever get tired of hearing the same phrases in your home?
[Paije] It depends. Sometimes I do, but I know they’re there to help me get myself back where I need to be. If I’m about to flip out, some phrases will make me think, “OK, I don’t need to flip out; if I do, I’m going to get in trouble.” So it puts me back in the mindset where I need to be, gets me calm, and helps me remember what I need to so in that situation. So the phrases aren’t there just to be annoying or to help the parents remember what to do; it’s there for the children as well, to help trigger their memory, to help them remember what they need to do.
[Karen] So, at 16, do you ever find yourself, Nicholeen, dropping the language at this point and just say, “Hey, I’d appreciate it if you’d…” Or [finding that] you don’t need so much of the structured language; that at some point it becomes a more organic method of communication?
[Nicholeen] Yeah, the thing is, once you develop a vocabulary amongst a [group] or with a certain person, it just kind of stays. So for the most part, it’s always there.
[Karen] And it feels natural enough.
[Nicholeen] Yeah, right. And there’s a time when they’re older, and they’ve really just learned how to communicate, and they understand how to correct themselves and stuff, that really, they don’t need to earn extra chores for things anymore. I mean, they kind of graduate from that to natural consequences.
Addressing Attitude Problems
So you have somebody with an attitude problem. Tell us how you see that, how you would address that.
[Nicholeen] OK, so two things. So let’s say attitude problem, that’s a good one. So if Paije has an attitude problem, the first thing I’m going to do is I’m going to ask myself a question, and I’m going to say, “Am I calm?” If I’m calm, then I’ll go ahead and carry on with it, because my heart has to be able to touch her heart in a really good way so that she’s going to choose not to have an attitude. So if Paije has an attitude problem, for whatever reason it happens to be, we’ll just make that up. So go ahead and have your attitude problem.
Attitude Problems: Role Play
[Paije] I don’t know why you won’t let me do this; I don’t get it.
[Nicholeen] OK, so right now, I can see that you have your arms folded, that you’re rolling your eyes, that your jaw is set really tight, and you’re not wanting to look at me, so I can tell that you’re not accepting this no answer. You should have a calm face, voice, and body. When I gave the no answer, you should have looked at the person, kept a calm face, voice, and body, said OK, and then dropped the subject. Since you didn’t do that, you’ve earned an extra chore.
OK, so I’ve done a correction here, and she’s still clearly out of control. She still clearly has an attitude problem. And I might just say, “It’s very clear that you have an attitude problem. I would love to know what you have to say.”
[Paije] Really? ’Cause it didn’t seem like that before.
[Nicholeen] But we can’t talk about it until you choose to be calm.
[Paije] Oh, I am calm—look at me.
[Nicholeen] So she’s ready to go all the way. So that is how I would talk to a person who has an attitude problem. And then I would begin the Rule of Three at that point, if she already knows it.
The Rule of Three: Role Play
[Nicholeen] So Paije, I would like to know what it is you have to say, but we have to choose to be calm first, and then we can talk about it.
[Paije] I don’t think you really do, because you’re not even listening to me right now.
[Nicholeen] It seems to me that you might be out of instructional control.
[Paije] See what I mean? You’re just talking over me.
[Nicholeen] So I’m going to give you an instruction. If you choose not to follow the first instruction, you will be choosing to earn a major maintenance. Then I’ll give you a second instruction.
[Paije] I don’t need one, I don’t need two; I don’t need any instructions. I just want you to talk to me!
[Nicholeen] If you choose not to follow the second instruction, then you will be choosing to do some problem-solving exercises that we call SODAS. Then I’ll give you a third instruction. If you choose not to follow the third instruction, then you will be choosing to lose your privileges for 24 hours.
[Paije] You’re not even listening.
[Nicholeen] Here is the first instruction: I need you to close your eyes and take three deep breaths, OK?
[Paije] No. What kind of an instruction is that? That’s for little kids.
[Nicholeen] OK, just now I gave you an instruction, you didn’t look at me, you didn’t keep a calm face, voice, and body, or say OK, or ask to disagree appropriately, you didn’t do the task immediately, and you didn’t check back. Since you chose not to, you’ve earned to do a major maintenance as soon as you’re ready to follow instructions.
[Paije] I do not need a major maintenance. I am just trying to talk to you, and you’re handing out chores.
[Nicholeen] Now I’m going to give you a second instruction. If you choose not to follow the second instruction, then you’ll be choosing to do some problem-solving exercises, or SODAS.
[Paije] Yeah, whatever.
[Nicholeen] Then I’m going to give you a third instruction. If you choose not to follow the third instruction, you will be choosing to lose your privileges for 24 hours. Here is the second instruction: I need you to close your eyes and take three deep breaths, OK?
[Paije] Make me.
[Nicholeen] Just now I gave you a second instruction, and you didn’t follow the steps to following instructions. What you should have done was you should have looked at the person, kept a calm face, voice, and body, said OK or asked to disagree appropriately, done the task immediately, and then checked back.
[Paije] I am calm, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I am perfectly calm.
[Nicholeen] Since you chose not to, you’ve earned to do your problem-solving exercises, or SODAS, as soon as you are ready to follow instructions.
[Paije] You think i’m actually going to do those? You’re hilarious.
[Nicholeen] Now I’m going to give you a third instruction. If you choose not to follow the third instruction, then you will be choosing to lose your privileges for 24 hours. Here is the third instruction: I need you to close your eyes and take three deep breaths, OK?
[Paije] There. You happy?
[Nicholeen] Just now I gave you an instruction, and you looked at me, but you didn’t keep a calm face, voice, and body, you didn’t do the task immediately, and you didn’t check back.
[Paije] I just did it! Now you’re continuing on like I didn’t even do anything.
[Nicholeen] Since you chose not to follow the instruction, I know you’re choosing to be out of instructional control, and you’ve chosen to lose your privileges for 24 hours. Your 24 hours may begin as soon as you are ready to follow instructions.
[Paije] Now you’re giving me a lecture. I do not need a lecture.
[Nicholeen] I’ll come back to check on you every few minutes to see if you’re ready to follow an instruction; until you’re calm.
[Paije] Fine. Just go away now so you can come back.
[Nicholeen] Now, she went all the way, she never calmed. But actually, that never happens at our house—ever, anymore.
[Karen] But with foster children, or others?
[Nicholeen] With foster children it happened. And somebody has to go all the way through and accept their consequences for no privileges for 24 hours, as well as the major maintenance, as well as the problem solving exercises. And when we say “no privileges” at our house, not only do you get no electronics, no snacks, no friends, no extra-curricular activities—like dance class, or whatever it is—but you also do chores. Whenever you’re not sleeping, not eating your three meals, not at school, you do chores. And you do problem solving exercises for the whole time. And they have to accept it. Her time can’t even start until she’s ready to be OK.
[Karen] And you would visit her until she’s ready to be calm and accept that, at which point it starts.
[Karen] So eventually they want to cut back.
[Nicholeen] They have to accept it at some point, otherwise they just keep―
[Karen] Adding upon themselves.
[Nicholeen] They just keep making their own life hard, and they know it.
[Paije] And we do work because—who was it? Samuel Smiles?
[Nicholeen] Yeah, Samuel Smiles, in the book Character.
[Paije] Yeah, he said that work is the antidote for a sick character.
[Karen] That’s a great quote, a great comment. I appreciate your modeling that for us, and sharing that.
I just want to address a couple of other questions I think our audience might have —you know, scenarios they would encounter on a day to day basis, and think, “I wonder what Nicholeen would do if…”
[Nicholeen] Yeah, oh, great! So you can use all of these principles with other people. You can use them at the supermarket, if you teach a church class, a school class, if you’re a schoolteacher, or if you’ve just got neighbors over to visit. I use them all the time. You’re not going to necessarily give everybody a chore. That might not be your jurisdiction.
[Karen] They won’t come to your house anymore.
Using Self-Government with Others
[Nicholeen] Well, and your structure hasn’t been set up like that with them, so that won’t work. But you can use pre-teaching with them, and you can tell them, you can assess, you can describe, and you can say to them, “Right now I can tell that you’re getting really frustrated. and that you’re probably feeling kind of anxious inside? What you should do is you should just look at the person in the eye—look at me in the eye—and then say OK, and then choose to be all calm and OK, and then just drop the subject.” And you can just tell them the steps right then what they need to do.
And then you can even say, “You know, if you choose to do that, these are the positives: we’ll high five, you’ll have plenty of time to go play with everybody else, or whatever it happens to be; and if you don’t, if you don’t choose to say OK and to be OK, probably we’re going to have to have a talk about it, which is going to take a little bit more time, you’re not going to be able to go play with the other kids”—whatever it happens to be that would be the negatives at the time.
[Karen] Sure. And I like the fact that you describe behaviors, or have them describe behaviors, so that they can see what’s happened. Sometimes there’s maybe one person who instigates, and maybe you don’t know all that. How do you balance out some of those dynamics?
[Nicholeen] Yeah, so I would call that group problem solving. If there’s a group of children together who all of a sudden are squabbling, and you think, “Oh, it’s not very clear what just happened here, but obviously we need to stop what’s going on and figure this out.” So when I group problem solve, I’ll come upon the group, and I’ll say, “OK, everybody stop talking.” So I give instructions a lot. And when you do that, instead of saying, “What’s going on?” then people can respond better to an instruction. It’s amazing how that assertive communication makes a difference.
So I say, “Everybody stop talking.” And if we’re in the living room, we might move to the kitchen—I like to leave whatever was happening wherever it was so that we can look objectively at it. So we move to a different area, if we can; or if we’re standing, we’ll sit, or vice versa. And then the person who seems to be affected the most emotionally—maybe they’re crying or something—they’re obviously carrying the most anxiety. Then I ask them first, I’ll say, “I’m going ask them first what happened; you’ll all get a chance to tell.” And then that person will narrate back to me: “Well, this is what happened, so and so said this, and then I did this,” and they go through the incident. And then we ask the next person, and the next person to do the same thing. And then at the end, I tell each of them how they could have handled it differently, because even though there’s one person who instigates—maybe they need to earn an extra chore, possibly; or learn a little bit more cause and effect— the other children probably could have disagreed appropriately. Usually there’s something they could have done differently [to prevent] it from turning into a multi-person fight. So everyone gets talked to about that. And then we go and practice it the right way, back in the area where it was. We reenact it again so they can practice, OK, this is how we would do it. Then I praise them, and we usually move on from there. Unless people really did need to earn some sort of a negative consequence.
Bad Sibling Relations: Boundaries
[Karen] That’s great. And what about siblings teasing each other? That happens a lot; I don’t think it’s really that much different from other behaviors, but perhaps it’s symptomatic of something else.
[Nicholeen] Sure. Well, you know, siblings should be able to disagree appropriately with each other. Just like children should disagree appropriately with parents and teachers and everybody else. It’s a skill for life. All of these skills are skills for life. So when siblings are not agreeing with each other and they’re having a hard time, then I would bring back, we need to be disagreeing appropriately, this is what happened, this is what should have happened, and let’s practice it the right way.
[Karen] Sometimes teasing is a little different than disagreeing appropriately.
[Nicholeen] Oh, that’s true, like just poking at each other. Right. I call that bad sibling relations, yeah. And it’s a boundary issue, is what it is. And when something is a boundary issue—so they’ve crossed over the boundary and touched another person, right?—or said something that was mean to another person, then that’s a no answer. Because any boundary line that you don’t cross—that’s no, you don’t cross that. No answer. So when I talk to them about the issue, I’ll talk about boundaries and remind them that all boundaries are no answers, and they know how to accept a no answer.
[Karen] And everybody defines their boundaries in that sense?
[Nicholeen] Do you mean at my house?
[Karen] Just in general. And you know that you don’t cross that line; I mean, that’s an emotional line for someone. You must know that person well enough to know that this is a boundary line for them.
[Nicholeen] Right. And those things are learned incrementally—boundaries. And so you’re going to have to have those discussions with children multiple times over the years, unfortunately. Whenever you train someone—a child—you have to do a lot of repeating. You know, because new circumstances arise and they don’t necessarily apply it [what you’re teaching]. Or habits are really hard to break.
[Karen] Well said. So we mentioned this before, I think, in passing, and I just want to reiterate—you could potentially use these tools with the wrong motive, and then it would become another form of compulsion. We’re not going there. This is, again, based on the idea that families have missions, that we’re here for a purpose—God’s given us a purpose— and we’re to allow the space and create the environment where that can be most fulfilled. So it has to presume—all of this presumes that kind of an understanding and willingness to have that kind of a vision. Is there anything else, as we close, Nicholeen, that you’d like to share with listeners who might be smack-dab in the middle of raising their children and not quite sure how to make the transition, or what the next steps are, or just in general about this way of parenting?
Closing Advice for Parents
[Nicholeen] Yeah, you know, there is nothing harder in life than parenting. Nothing. I am convinced of that. And it can feel like you’re drowning. It can feel like there’s no way out, and that it’s the cross that you have to bear; it’s this thing that you have to just carry every day, and it weighs you down. And I know that feeling. I’ve been there. With multiple foster children who were teenagers and who were out of control, and toddlers who were screaming and who were out of control―and feeling like, “I’m so tired of hearing myself talk, it’s not even funny,” because I have to handle all of these things.
But whenever you start something new, it feels very bumpy, it feels very hard. But if you deliberately start something new, on purpose, and you’re assessing as you go, over time those bumps flatten out and you are on that superhighway. You know, soon you can realize that goal. You have to trust that it’s possible first, otherwise you won’t be able to make it through the adjustment of starting something new.
Whenever people start this, I tell them, “It gets worse before it gets better.” Because those really strong-willed children—bless their hearts, they have the potential to be so amazing—they are going to try and thwart this, because they know that principles are bigger than their fits. So they will push it harder at first than they’ve ever pushed it before. And then they’ll go, “OK, I see the beauty of this.”
[Karen] Wonderful. Well, this has been absolutely a pleasure to have you on I Believe Podcast today. I’m so thankful that you’ve come and spent your time. and so thankful for all you’ve invested in helping to strengthen families. I think, really, it’s very impactful. We invite those that are listening to ask questions of Nicholeen; we’ll post those videos on our site; we’ll also have links to several other helpful sites as well. Again, thanks for being with us today on I Believe Podcast.
Links to Nicholeen’s Sites:
The BBC Show: http://teachingselfgovernment.com/videos/
The Blog: http://teachingselfgovernment.com
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Living out a great season of my life, thanks to Jesus Christ, and two wonderful daughters, a great life's work. Loving this opportunity to share faith online... I'm a single Mom, convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, second-gen Italian, from the East coast originally. Love the fine arts, dance, frozen yogurt, temples, scriptures, writing, jazz, helping others reach their potential, king salmon, ....and not in that order. God is good. I feel it deeply when people have a misconception of Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ, His Son, that lessens or cheapens Them and blinds one's ability to feel His presence or to trust in an ultimately good eternal end to life's circumstances.