An Unhappy Child is a Healthy Child (Episode 346)


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Is it healthy for a child to be unhappy especially when it comes to discipline? Find out more on today’s episode of Have a New Kid by Friday Podcast.

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Doug: An unhappy child is a healthy child. No, no, don’t run away. Don’t run away. Please stay. Stay, stay, stay. I’ll say it again. An unhappy child is a healthy child is the phrase that turned my parenting around and you need to hear why.
Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea: And I’m Andrea.

Doug: And we are so glad that we are here and I am so excited for you to be blessed and grow in your parenting. If this happens to be your first time, welcome. 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 a child, please go seek a local professional for help.

Well, Dr. Leman, I have to say that this was a little bit selfish on my part. This is the last recording of 2020 and I got all nostalgic and all that la la la kind of stuff at the end of the year. And I was just reminiscing back when I heard you talk for the first time in Dallas, Texas at the conference and you got up and said, “An unhappy child is a healthy child.” And I thought, what? And then you just made me laugh the rest of the time as I realized that what you said was right. And I bought the book and changed our parenting and we love our kids now and have a ball with them. This is, thank you, thank you, thank you for writing the books. Thank you for speaking. I know I’m not supposed to do this on air, but I’m going to do it anyways because we have an amazing time with our kids.
For everybody else that’s listening that wasn’t at that conference to hear you speak, help us. What does it mean when we say, “An unhappy child is a healthy child?” And why is that good for us as a parent?

Dr. Leman: Well, first of all, in our culture today, we are driven toward making sure our kids are happy at every turn. We give them far too many things in most of our homes. Now again, I’m very aware in many homes, parents don’t have much to give to their children, certainly materialistically, but I’m talking about giving kids love and acceptance and a sense of belonging and a sense of competence. Those are really important things that kids learn about themselves. When you realize that there’s times in life where a kid is disrespectful, dishonest, bratty, you name it, there is nothing wrong with them being unhappy at that point. They should be unhappy. They deserve to be unhappy. They deserve not to go to where they thought they were going. They deserve not to get the $5 for doing the job that she or he did not do. They can be downright miserable. They can be really unhappy.

What they don’t have the right to do is be downright miserable and unhappy in front of you because certain kids, especially powerful kids will make the entire family unhappy because they’re unhappy. I’m saying there’s something very healthy about an unhappy child. The good parent, really just a function of their job is to make sure that their son or daughter is very unhappy at times because the disapproval of the parent is really important to help shape the will and spirit of a child. We’re not a ATM machine where they just come punch it up and we give them things. But we are in authority over our children. And authority is a very bad word in our society today. We live in a time now where we want to just dump the police. We have little respect for authority. We have little respect for people’s property.
Take a look around. 2020 has not been the greatest year for a lot of different reasons. Life isn’t perfect. You get thrown curve balls from time to time. But our job is to train up a child. And by the way, most of us don’t train up children. We train down children. We just nitpick at them. Put them down. We’re not talking about that kind of unhappiness. We’re talking about unhappiness that’s a direct result of their behavior, of their words. When they’re unhappy and they’re wailing like a stuck pig, just tell yourself you’re being a good parent and keep moving forward.

Andrea: I like that. At the end they’re unhappy because of a result of something that they’ve done. I think that’s a good way of summarizing it.

Doug: The reason this phrase is so powerful though, is what you started off with, which is that we want our kids to be happy, happy, happy. Where does that come from, this overarching culture that our kids always have to be happy?

Dr. Leman: Well, I think it starts when that baby’s placed in mommy’s arms at birth or maybe you’ve adopted your child. And the first time that you laid eyes on them and you fall in love with that little guy or little girl. They’re yours. It’s the enormous responsibility and they’re downright pretty helpless. They can’t feed themselves. They can’t walk. They can’t do a lot of things and so the nurturing process takes over of mothering and fathering and to the extent of, I don’t care if you are 14, stand still, I’m going to tie your shoes. We have parents just over indulge their children. And I’ve mentioned several times on our podcast because it’s so ridiculous, those stars in Hollywood who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their college age students in the right college. Really? Are you really that stupid parent? I don’t care how much money you got. You’re just flat out dumb. That’s somehow supposed to help their child.

Parents’ perceptions of what is a good parent today are myopic. They’re crazy. They’re way out of line. And you got parents who want to be their child’s best friend from morning till night. Well, I got news for you parents, your kid will develop their own friendships with kids their own age. You want to be a good friend to your child, then discipline them with love. That’d be a good first step. Keep in mind parents, your kids are going to live up to the expectations that you give to your children. Well, what are your expectations? Are they way too high? There are some parents that have way too high expectations for kids. There are parents who have no expectations for kids. They just sort of grow up on their own. There’s parents who are wise, who know the right time to say, “Hey, have a seat. You and I need to have a little talk.” And in that talk, you share your, what? Your love for your child, but you show your uneasiness or your concern about things you see in your child’s life.

And like Andrea said last time, when you reprimand a kid and you set them straight, usually kids will come around. Great kids will come around and say, “Mom, I’m sorry. Thanks for what you did. I love you.” Because kids do not like it when you’re unhappy with their behavior. Not to split hairs too far, but you always love your children, but you don’t have to love what they do. You don’t have to love their running off at the mouth or their greedy behavior or their disrespectful behavior. When you call them on it the kids usually again, will come around and say one form or another, “Thanks.”

Doug: Now that we’ve got bigger kids that are out on their own and cutting their own path, what has become incredibly apparent is that if there is one thing that I could go back and change in my parenting, well, there’s always hope for things is that I wanted my children to avoid pain as much as possible and I didn’t even realize I was doing it. But what I realized is once my kids leave my house, if I haven’t put into them the ability to deal with hard things and be unhappy, they’re going to crumble when they’re out there because the world is not going to treat them like I treat them. And I’m so glad that we’ve started to help our kids understand, you got to develop a, oh, what’s the muscle?

Andrea: Psychological muscles. I love that phrase.

Doug: What is a psychological muscle? Because it’s one of our favorite phrases.

Dr. Leman: Well, I invented that term and it seems to me, like you said that life isn’t always the way you want it to be. You’re going to get cut from the basketball team. You’re not get that part that you just know you earned in the play at high school. I’m now thinking of older kids and the disappointments are going to come. The downsizing in your kid’s company and they’re just starting off and they just got their bachelor’s degree at the local university, they got their first job and they’re there six months into it and COVID-19 arrives and they get laid off.
The psychological muscles, I think is built over time by learning to handle the small disappointments of life one disappointment at a time. And as that child succeeds in dealing with it and realizing it’s not the end of the world, it’s not failure, it just means we’re going to change course and go in a different direction, that they build psychological muscle for bigger hurts, bigger curve balls that surely await all of us in life. To me, it’s just part of growing up, taking your lumps, learning that you’re not always going to win. And again, we have parents who are just driven to make sure their kids win even if it means they do something illegal or way out of line to help their children succeed.

Doug: Well and this is why I do this podcast quite frankly, is that the culture out there is telling us not to do this with our children and in my opinion, and these resources that we keep telling you about, I hope you realize, oh, I don’t have to be a tyrant. As you say, Dr. Lehman, you don’t want to go to either extreme. And these books give you the format to do that, but it is super hard to buck our culture. It is so difficult, which is why I’m going to jump in right now and say, there’s one of the best books, the book that started this all, Have a New Kid by Friday for $2 and 99 cents. You only have a few days after this is released to get it. I realized that between now and the end of December of 2020, wherever eBooks are sold. But even if the ebook is over with, we should go get this book. It is so easy and quick to read. This is like, sit down with a cup of coffee twice and you have read it kind of a thing.

Andrea: And it’s fun.

Doug: Laughter, joking. If you go to Amazon and read the reviews, you’ll be like, wow, the New York Times bestseller. Go get it. If you are not a reader or if your husband is not a reader, go to and you can get the DVD series for 25 bucks. Watch it with him, get popcorn and ice cream for him, laugh with Dr. Lehman as he’s in his sweaters and do it. And you will be so thankful that you and him can be on the same page and you and him going to have common language or you and her going to have common language. Either way. Go get the book and you’ll be blessed. And now a no nonsense parenting moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.

Dr. Leman: You know parents, you ever get to that point where you’re in a conversation with your son or your daughter and you really don’t know what to say. You’re just sort of angry and disturbed and frustrated and you just don’t know which way to turn. Let me give you a pocket answer so you can say something. Just a simple, wow. Hey, tell me more about that. Well then I’m going to get more of that from my son. Yeah, you will. But it’s much better to say, “Tell me more about that,” maybe a couple times so you really get a clear understanding of where your son or daughter is coming from. And then, a simple, “Honey, you’ve given me a lot to think about. Hey, would you mind if we continue this discussion tomorrow? I think I’d really like time to take this all in and sort of figure it out because I really want to know what your perspective is because you know what? You’re important to me and I love you.”

Andrea: Dr. Leman, I love what you commented on earlier when you said we want to shoot for our kids to have love, acceptance, belonging, competence, that those are things that we want to build into our kids. How does that go along with this idea of unhappy kids?

Dr. Leman: Every parent ought to accept their kid for who they are. Number one, is different from number two. You have kids from 21 to 15 if I’m thinking right. Each of them have unique qualities that make them who they are. Accepting your kids in a kid’s mind is my mom and dad have my back. They encourage me. They like me the way I am. Your kids not only feel accepted, but your kids feel that they belong to the Terpening family. We heard Doug say, “Our kids as old as they are, they like us. They like hanging out with us old people.”
And then the C part is really important. You want every kid to feel competent. Well, how does a kid learn to feel competent? It means they try new things in life as they grow older and they get good at some things and they tend to follow whatever they’re good at. They’ll build on that. That being said, what happens when you poured this stuff into a kid and all of a sudden the 15 year old is running off in her mouth? Or the 17 all of a sudden is downright defiant and disrespectful? What do you do? Do you say, “Well, boys are boys. Kids are kids,” and walk away? No, you go after it, you straighten it out. You say, “Hey, I’m very unhappy what’s going down here.”

In the classroom I have seven charter schools. In the classroom I’m always telling our teachers, it’s called relational discipline. Let that scholar know that you’re unhappy with what just went down there in that classroom. Give them the look. Kids don’t like it. Young kids, older kids, they actually want to please adults. And so keep in mind parent that these kids really want to please you. And so once in a while, you just got to sort of rein them in a little bit and whether it’s the look or sage words of advice or wisdom or flat out discipline or sometimes pulling the rug out from underneath them to get their attention, you maintain your position of being an authority over your children and they will rise up and call you blessed some day. It’s not such a secret formula. That ABC is powerful stuff. It’s the building block of a good kid, acceptance, belonging and competence. But when they go awry, you need to step in and exert your God given authority you have over your children.

Doug: Yeah. And one thing I want to clarify, which we’ve sort of hinted at, but I want to say it super clear is we’re not saying that you want your kid to be unhappy all the time.

Dr. Leman: They’re unhappy as soon as they learn you’re unhappy quite frankly. If you’ve got a good kid going in the right direction and all of a sudden they misspeak in anger and say something to you, do you think they really feel good about what they just said? No. As they’re held accountable for what they said, they’re already apologetic. You’re just helping straighten it out. You’re not letting it go too far, because if you do, they will learn that you’re not the standard bearer that they thought you were, that you vacillate, that you’re weak, that they can work you. And in my latest book, Why Kids Misbehave and What to Do About It, I think I make the statement that most kids play their parents like a violin. And I think most kids are capable of doing that. When you exert your authority, you just sort of put a very natural stop sign in front of them and give them some alternative paths that they can take.

Doug: And for all those young parents that are out there, Andrea would definitely come to me and say, “These kids are just crazy.” And I would look at my watch and I’d be like, “Oh it’s the annual every two to three months we want to see who’s in charge around here.” And they just wanted to see if they’re the new ones that get to call the shots or if you’re going to keep doing it, Andrea. And then Andrea would take care of it and it’d be gone. For all of you brand new parents out that you’re like, oh man, but I was supposed to be my kid’s friend and all these sorts of things. I’m telling you, it works unbelievably, but you need a foundation against what you have right now.

Andrea: As you really do get to be their friend, you really do get to have a ton of fun with them. But for me, this phrase helps because it just helps me remember my job isn’t to make sure they’re happy. My job is to make sure that they’re getting all these ABCs and they’re learning how to build psychological muscles. And then in the end, we can have a ton of fun together and we’re not fighting those battles.
Doug: Well and just to give you a real life example, our 21 year old was doing something around here that we were, it wasn’t a big deal, but it was finally time, Andrea, and I said, “We got to stop this.” Told him, “Son, you got to stop this.” And last night he came in, he said, “Dad, I really just miss hanging out with you. Can we go out and have breakfast someday?” I’m just telling you, this stuff it just, they know it. You’re just telling them what they need to know already and you’re going to bless these kids when they’re adults. Go get, Have a New Kid by Friday, wherever ebooks are sold. You only got a couple days after this is launched to get it or just get it and read it on your own. And it’s great to be with you. Add to that parenting toolbox so you can love those kids more and more.

Andrea: And Happy New Year’s everyone.

Doug: Yes. If you’re getting this one at the launch. Take care, have a great day.

Andrea: Bye-bye.

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