As parents, we all want to feel connected to our kids. But it’s not always easy. Especially for those of us who have a child with special needs. Which is why I often recommend The LAB Method to parents I meet who are striving (but struggling) to build secure connections with their children. You see, what makes The LAB Method unique is that it offers specific language for parents to use, borrow, and make their own—language designed to help them relate to their children more easily. Personally, armed with the principles of The LAB Method, I find myself more able to move through the many sticky moments we face in everyday parenting, partnering, and relating.
In my first article I described The LAB Method as a program that creates tools to help humans grow closer and wiser. What began as a framework to support partners and parents in building deeper, more secure connections with their children, has grown into an ever-evolving method to guide individuals in modern-day relating. The LAB Method is designed to be adapted to your home, your values, and the ages of your children. It is a method that can be used with all ages and for all time, and I feel so fortunate to have the framework of The LAB Method to help guide me.
“…as parents, we’re always looking for resources to help us navigate the challenging terrain of raising children—both with and without special needs.”
The name of the program says it all. The acronym “LAB” stands for Leadership, Attachment, and Boundaries—in other words, the method provides new ways for parents to talk to their children during tough moments, helps children build secure attachments with their parents and caregivers, and fosters healthy boundaries between parents and children to promote an environment built of trust and safety. This is what it is designed to do for most families. But in our family, it does so much more than that.
Take, for example, the principle of leadership. Personally, when I think of leadership, I immediately connect it with the idea of hierarchy. Hierarchy is a word used to describe the order among parents and children within the family system.
This image reminds me that parents are meant to be in a leadership role and that children are meant to follow. Of course, sometimes kids flip the hierarchy and the roles get reversed, but most parents don’t realize that kids are supposed to do this. This behavior is normal—simply a part of the developmental journey—and I’ve found that most parents are relieved to hear that their children are not bad kids for trying to flip the hierarchy. When parents remember this, they are more able to manage their reactivity and re-assert the hierarchy, which in turn will help teach their children how to follow.
One of the quickest ways to track hierarchy in your home is by using the principle of leadership. In other words, to notice whether your children ask for what they want and need or whether they make demands.
For example, here’s how you can use leadership to re-assert the hierarchy with a 4-year-old child:
Child: I want that. Give me that.
Mother: Okay, but can you put that into a question? Let’s practice how that might sound in the form of a question. Let me know if you need help.
And here’s an example of how to use leadership to re-assert the hierarchy with a 12-year-old child:
Child: Mom, I’m going to Sam’s house after school today.
Mother: Hmmm…I think you forgot to put your request into the form of a question. Can you please try again?
Child: Mom, come on. I just want to go to Sam’s house. It’s Friday. Please.
Mother: Honey, I am happy to hear your request. Please just put it into a question.
Child: Mom, can I go to Sam’s after school today?
Mother: Thank you for asking. That sounds fun. Let me look at our calendar and see what else we have going on. I’ll let you know in a few minutes.
Now for the attachment component of LAB: The LAB Method is based on the fundamental belief that when children have secure attachments to their caregivers, it protects them against many of life’s common psychological pitfalls. Not only has The LAB Method taught me what comprises secure attachments, it guides me every day on building secure connections between me and my children. The LAB Method believes—as do I—that raising kids who are securely attached is one of the greatest predictors of individual and family wellness. As you can see, once children know to ask rather than to demand, they’re reminded that the parent is the leader and the hierarchy is reset once again.
One of my favorite attachment principles is remembering to do everything in the context of connection. It’s not easy, since modern-day living involves multitasking, busy schedules for parents and kids, and technology that makes it hard for us to unplug. But if we’re able to slow down and stay connected to the kind of parent we strive to be, we can parent from a more relaxed place.
In fact, I recently had an opportunity to practice attachment when my son greeted me at my car as I drove in from an early morning workout. His driveway greeting was definitely unusual, and as soon as I parked and saw his tear-filled eyes and quivering lip, I knew something was wrong. I immediately wrapped my arms around him and tried to comfort him as he worked through a big wave of emotion. As he talked through his tears, I learned that he had snuck onto my computer and visited a site that ended up giving my computer a virus. He was scared that he’d broken my computer and lost all my files. And he was scared of how I was going to react.
It’s important to note that, growing up, anger was an emotion I learned to avoid. And as a result, I’ve had to play a lot of catch up in regards to learning how to talk through my anger instead of acting out. But now, thanks to The LAB Method, I can usually communicate my anger in a healthy way that keeps my relationships safe and intact.
On this particular day in the driveway, here’s the language I used with my 12-year-old son:
“Owen, I love you. No matter what you did or do, I will always love you. The most important thing right now is for you to feel safe and that I care for you. We will figure out how to fix my computer, and we will learn together. First, lets take care of you and these big feelings. I am right here. I love you no matter what.”
Once Owen settled down and we had time to look at my computer together, I talked to him about his choice to get on my computer: “It looks like you forgot the rules for computer use. Lets go over them so you can remember.”
Now, a lot of you reading might be curious about consequences and wondering whether I’d punish my son for what he’d done. I think he lost technology privileges for a day. But it was more important to me that Owen sat down with me and talked through what he’d done, and what he could do the next time he’s tempted to sneak onto my computer. Incidentally, I have anti-virus software that took care of the problem as soon as it began. But, had I needed to see a technician, I probably would have asked Owen to attend the appointment, and then given him work to offset the associated costs. I find that this type of consequence is far more impactful than taking something away from him or grounding him.
Last but not least, we have the principle of boundaries. Now, as mothers, how often do we find ourselves sitting in our bedroom, or working in our office, when one or more children barge in, ask questions, or just sit down and make themselves at home? Of course, our maternal instinct tells us we should let our children feel welcome no matter where we are. But what most of us don’t realize is that it’s totally okay—and even helpful— to set boundaries. To teach our children that, as parents, we need space, privacy, and time to ourselves. Boundaries are pause points for consent, permission to feel differently, or any physical barrier that keeps us distinct from each other. They might come in the form of a closed door, a clasped purse, or a locked smartphone. Setting boundaries supports the early stages of individuation and differentiation in human development. Individuation is the process of realizing you are your own person, separate from another. Differentiation is the process of having a sense of self while also being in a relationship with another.
In my house, when my children find me behind a closed door, they know to knock first. And if they forget, then I simply remind them in a steady, calm voice:
“Honey, it looks like you forgot to knock before walking in. Can you please close the door and knock first?”
In fact, once I started to think about my daily life as it related to setting boundaries, I realized that there were literally hundreds of opportunities to teach boundaries to my children in our home. And as a result, I’ve learned that setting boundaries for myself and my children is essential to establishing—and maintaining—healthy lines of communication.
“I use [The LAB Method] because I want my kids to see me moving through my day in a conscious way, not a frantic way.”
As you can see, I allow the principles of The LAB Method to guide me every day as I navigate my relationships with my children. I use it because I want my kids to see me moving through my day in a conscious way, not a frantic way. And it is in ways like those described above that I am constantly incorporating aspects of The LAB Method into our daily life. In short, The LAB Method is constantly steering me toward being a more peaceful, preserved leader.
Interested in trying The LAB Method in your own home?
I suggest you consider starting with the Family Talk Deck. The Family Talk Deck is a collection of 30 cards that refresh how you speak with your kids in a way that allows you to hold the reins and build trust at home. The cards empower parents to lead peacefully and turn stuck moments into opportunities to grow closer. If you hear yourself pleading, shaming, bribing, or blowing your top, grab a card and practice a new kind of talk that builds remarkable, lasting connections—which, as you can imagine, is hugely helpful in our family.
The LAB Method has even created a deck specifically for families living with epilepsy. Included are 12 “Nuts and Bolts” cards to help you adjust to living with epilepsy and 30 “Situation and Solution” cards to help support you as you care for your child through some of his or her more difficult epileptic episodes, as well as through the more quiet periods of reflection and recovery.
To learn more about The LAB Method, visit www.thelabmethod.com.