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Sunday, January 31, 2016

How I Parent (which should not be taken as How to Parent)

There have been a few articles circulating on the webisphere about how to parent.  One will say parents are too easy on the kids.  The other will say parents' expectations are too high.  One will say parents need to be aggressive.  Another will say we need to focus on compassion.

It's all very confusing. 

I'm not going to lie- I've gotten help parenting from two books.  One was "Babywise" which discussed the importance of putting a baby on a schedule.  Despite some of the negative buzz on this book, it did NOT say a ridiculous, minute by minute schedule.  In fact, it even made fun of that by saying that people should use their common sense and adapt.  The second book, which is slightly embarassing, was "Family First."  It's embarrassing because it's by Dr. Phil.  THAT Dr. Phil.  It's fantastic. 

Both of these books helped frame how I parent.  I had no clue about how to parent.  The baby classes taught diaper changing and swaddling but not parenting.  Pregnancy and delivery never scared me nearly as much as what you do the next 18 years or so.  THAT terrified me and continues to terrify me daily.

So what makes me think I should give out advice?  Well, I get asked a lot about how I get my kids to behave and be nice.  I have great kids.  They make me look like a great mom.  They make it easy. 

My son's school did this fantastic team building, anti-bullying program recently.  He came home and said "You know, you're a pretty terrific mom.  I didn't have anything bad to say." And I got a hug, so there's that.  He's 13.  I can count the hugs.  I also commented on one of his former teacher's Facebook thread when she posted an article on affluenza.  What followed were a few comments on what a great kid I have.  From teachers.  So I'm going to say he's turning out okay. 

My daughter is more of a flutterfly.  She's smart- tests ridiculously well- but academics bore her creative mind and grades are more challenging.  However, her teachers have always loved her and she has a ton of friends.  I adore her.  So I'm going to say that so far, so good, she's turning out okay.

Neither kid is perfect, but I'll address that in a bit.

But here are my thoughts on what makes a good environment for kids to grow.

Have a Routine
My kids have been on a schedule since they were six weeks old.  Not minute by minute but there's been a routine.  Bedtime was a bath with lavendar, a story, hugs, kisses, soft music, good night, lights out.  My daughter slept through the night (well, 6 hours) at 2 months, my son at 3 months.  To summarize "Babywise" - how would you feel if you had to scream and yell every time you were hungry, wet or tired?  Good point.  My kids have always been chill because they know what to expect.

We do this today.  Tuesday we are usually having tacos.  We watch certain shows together.  There's a routine, a pattern. 

Any time we get off this pattern- especially if I have to work more- it gets frustrating and we all seem off.

Having a routine means everyone gets enough sleep, gets fed and we have time to connect.

And in that routine- down time.  Every one needs some time for nothing.  My kids are not overscheduled robots.  "Hanging out" is underrated.  I also think it encourages them to entertain themselves.  My kids are never at a loss of what to do.  I've heard "I'm bored" a handful of times- they always have something to read, make, play with, think about-- they manage their own entertainment.

Do Not Negotiate with Terrorists

My kids learned early on that no means no.  I'm also okay with saying maybe when I'm not really sure and don't want to jump to no (like when I'm in the bathroom and they want to do something immediately....um... give me a minute).

But no means no.

Always.

Or as I say: "Before you ask me again, think about it.  My answer will still be no and then I'll be annoyed.  So your choice is to let it drop and move on, or ask again and have a crabby, irritated mom.  Now what were you going to ask?"

I am a terrible mommy friend when I see friends cave on this.  It. Makes. Me. Nuts.  You said no.  Your child will live.  I am dumbfounded when they ask "Why is my kid still having temper tantrums"--- um, because they work.

I know it's easier to cave.  And hey, if you choose to cave, just know that you are doing nothing to change behavior.  If you're good with that, fine. 

I think it's crazy.

If your kid is having a complete meltdown, walk away or leave wherever you are with your kid.  No one likes to watch this. 

There is a good chance your kid is tired or hungry.  And if you stick with the whole routine thing, you circumvent a LOT of this type of tantrum.

Sometimes, it's not because they are tired or hungry and it's because they want something.  This is what I did- for each kid- and it completely eliminated all future public temper tantrums.

One was in Target (my son), the other Jo Ann Fabrics (my daughter).  Both kids were about 2 1/2.

I sat down on the floor, started kicking my heels and started yelling "I'm so upset... my kid won't listen to me..." and on an on I went for about a minute or two, having my own temper tantrum.  Both kids shut up, looked at me and then I said "It looks ridiculous, right?"  They nodded.  "How about I promise never to do that again, if you don't either?"  Worked like a charm.

I also used a lot of common sense.  Before we went into the store I would say "You are not getting anything today.  We are going to get X, Y, Z and nothing else, okay?"  I also tried not to take them when they were hungry or tired.

The louder they screamed, the more they didn't get what they want.  They soon learned it didn't work. 

So if your kid is having temper tantrums, it's because they work.  They are training YOU.


Let Your Kid Be Your Kid
You probably think I'm some Tiger Mom now with rules, time tables, zero tolerance- no love whatsoever.

Wrong.

I think parents should let their kids be whoever it is they are. 

I shudder when parents of shy kids force their child into something like theater or dance-- especially younger kids.  I think it's really awful, to be honest.  If your kid is terrified of being in a crowd, forcing them on stage does NOT create a stronger soul- it just terrifies them all the more.

Or the completely uncoordinated kid being forced on a sports team so the parents can relive their childhood dreams.

Now if your kid WANTS to do that- my daughter stunned us with her desire to play soccer- then go for it.  But if your kid is crying all the way to ballet class, every week- don't sign them up again (don't bail mid-season, though-- I'm all about finishing what you started).

So what if your kid is the quiet, thoughtful child that likes to read and doesn't need a pack of friends?  Or if your kid is bouncing off the walls, don't sign them up for an activity where they'll be sitting for an hour.

Try new things- you never know.  And revisit them.  Your uncoordinated 5 year old might be an excellent swimmer at 13.  Who knows?  But know your kid.  Your kid is a not a mini- you.  I love that my kids are readers but they both have very distinct likes and dislikes from me. 


My daughter was too independent as a kid to do things that were class like- she'd rather play on her own.  My son is great at taking direction and did really well in team sports at a very young age.

They are them. I am me.  Ask them what they like.  Your job is to expose your kid to the world- not force them into stuff.

And again, we always finish what we start.  You sign up for guitar lessons, you finish through the month.   If you want to take them in the future, I'm okay with that as well.

Don't Encourage Your Child to Lie

Of course- who would do that?

I see it a lot.

My husband has a temper.  We've talked about how he reacts to the kids and he has done a 180 because he's seen this work.

Your kids will screw up.

I screw up all the time.

If you lose your head over spilled milk, incomplete homework or whatever- your kid will start lying.  I promise. 

Our kids know that lying is the absolute worst thing they can ever do.  I'm serious.  Scratch the car- it can be fixed.  They lie, now I don't trust them, and it takes a long time to get fixed.

My daughter would have a cookie in her mouth and say she didn't take one.  So we are pros on this.

Basically, if you're certain they are lying, call them on it.  Tell them that if you find out they are lying you are going to be twice as angry and the punishment will be worse.

And when they tell you the truth, don't lose it.  Thank them.  Thank them for being honest.  Think about it.  Then hand out a punishment.

We always need a minute to regroup.  Or a day.

Our kids know there are consequences.  Usually the waiting period is scary enough.  More on this is a minute.

But if you are constantly yelling or screaming or reacting at your kid, you are pretty much telling them that it's easier to lie.

I also think that taking a minute to think, rather than yelling, teaches them that it's okay to make a mistake.  They are safe.  They are loved.  They are growing up.

But if you lie... you lose the benefit of the doubt.

The Punishment Needs to Fit the Crime
Don't overreact and ground them for life.

Make the punishment fit the crime.  Also make sure it's enforceable.

No TV ever again.... not gonna happen.  Bedtime at 8- that you can make happen.

My son lost computer privileges for 3 months when he was 10 and we caught him chatting in an online group.  Because that was serious.  At 13, he appreciates how serious and creepy people can be on the internet.

Watching a rated R movie because we were too stupid and gave you the Netflix password-- that's a verbal "You know better" lecture and we change the password.

Eat Dinner Together as Much as Possible
Our evening dinner is a big deal.  It is also very hard to stick with as a mom with a business.  I'm constantly asked to go to events and when I say "I can't miss dinner with my family" I get weird looks like "It's just one night"- it's not just one night. 

Dinner is part of our routine.

We talk.  We catch up.  We laugh.

As the kids approach the teen years, I know this time is limited.  But for now, I want them to know they are a priority and our family is a priority.

My kids bicker because they are siblings, but at dinner, we are one unit.

Don't Do Your Kid's Homework or Projects

I could rant for hours on this.

My mother-in-law even commented that she had thought I was being mean in kindergarten when I used to make my son do his own homework.  He would say "But Mommy, the other kids jsut have their parents do it..." and I would say "I already went to kindergarten."

But now, he does his own work.  Without reminding.

And the projects... sigh.  That's been the hardest.  My kids walk in with their less than perfect whatever and see the other kids' Smithsonian Exhibits... but now they know.  And I can see the impact, especially as my son is getting older.  The pride he feels when he receives an award or a good grade- it's his.  My daughter just won a costume contest at Halloween for a costume she designed. We helped her as needed, but it was hers.

I think it's good to help, but so many parents don't know when to stop.  Your kid will be so much happier and have such a sense of accomplishment in doing their own work.  They will become more independent.  More confident.

If you step in every time to "fix" things, they will feel incompetent and grow dependent.  You're undermining them, however, well intended.  That A is yours, not theirs and they know it.

Let Them Fail

I'm big on this.  It's not your test.  It's theirs.  If they felt it was unfair, they need to say something- not you (now if it's an ongoing thing, obviously talk with the teacher).

The project didn't get done?  Oops.  That's gonna suck.

When my daughter's Daisy troop took ice skating lessons, the first thing Kat, the teacher taught, was how to stand up.  The second thing, how to fall down.  The third thing, how to stand back up.

I think it's a great analogy for life.

If you don't let your kid fail, they will never learn how to get back up.

It's better that they learn it as a kid than at 25 the first time their boss says "This sucks- do it again."

It's completely okay to not be perfect.  No one is. 

Plus, you learn a lot more from failing, than succeeding.  Learning how to take and manage risk is all part of this.  If your child fears failure, they will never learn how to assess risk.


Listen, I'm not a perfect parent.  My kids may end up crack heads for all I know.  But something tells me that allowing them to be themselves, knowing that we are here for them, knowing that they can figure it out on their own-- I can't imagine that that won't somehow make them responsible, successful adults.

More so than overscheduled lives, perfect grades and designer clothes.

1 comment:

Kimberly Coats said...

Excellent blog and excellent parenting. That's how I was brought up and that's how I deal with my 20+ young Rwandan men and women here at camp. Today, Jonathan (son of our Rwandan mechanic, 7), said to me as we were in the store, "Mukucuru (old lady term of endearment), may I please have peanuts instead of a candy? You know, sugar is really bad for you and I want peanuts...and a water. Is that okay?" Everything you do affects your kids. The routine is one of the most important things to get down as well as dinner. Every night in camp all 20-30 eat dinner together!