Category Archives: parenting

My Summer To Do List For My Kids (And Myself)

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There’s 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem for our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it ~ Phineas and Ferb theme song

Ah, summer.

When you unschool, or even homeschool, summer means a slightly different thing than it does when your kids go to school.  If you’ve done it right, summer break doesn’t really a mean a “break”, because there’s nothing to take a break from.  And when you live in Phoenix, summer means a slightly different thing than it does in other places as well.  When everyone else is gearing up for lots of outdoor activities, we’re making plans that involve A/C… unless said outdoor activities include being covered in water of some sort.

Still, there’s something romantic and lovely about the idea of the lazy, hazy, carefree days of summer.  A time to be free, a time to play, a time to practice feeling good in your own skin.

For a lot of parents, there seems to be a temptation to see summer as a time to micromanage.  A time to prize structure over spontaneity;  control over freedom. There’s a post that seems to go around Facebook every year as summer approaches that highlights this fact, encouraging parents to print out cute little checklists to keep their kids on task all summer long.  There are many variations, but the general gist is usually something like this:

NO ELECTRONICS UNTIL YOU:

 

Brush your teeth, get dressed, and clean your room

Read for 30 minutes

Play outside for 30 minutes

Draw, build, craft for 30 minutes

Practice your karate/musical instrument/dance steps for 30 minutes

Finish your chores

Help your mother with her chores

etc

Obligatory disclaimer:  I have seen things like this posted by a LOT of moms, including several whom I really like and respect.  What follows is not about any individual people, but about concepts and ideas.  Having said that:

Lists like this really, really bother me, for a multitude of reasons.  First, I don’t think they accomplish what these well-meaning parents want them to accomplish. They’ve decided that video games/electronics/screen time are a less valuable pursuit than everything else. But by setting it up as a hierarchy in which kids have to perform certain tasks in order to earn it, they’re actually flipping the script and making the electronics MORE valuable, and grossly DE-valuing things like reading, being creative, and playing outside.  Those are all fun and wonderful things in their own right, and their system reduces them to nothing more than pesky little chores that they have to check off a list before they get to the real fun. Second, lists like these emphasize compliance over relationship.  And sure, they might “work” in the short term.  If your child is one who is motivated by electronics, he might very well do whatever it takes to earn them. But what’s the cost?  Mom has set herself up as more of a dictator or a boss than a partner, and all those things she wanted her child to do and like? The appreciation she wanted to foster for reading, for playing outside, for building things with their hands? Those things have become nothing more than tasks to endure in order to get to the elusive screentime.

Now I don’t make a summer-time – or any-time – list for my kids, because I don’t like lists (I’m totally lying.  I ADORE lists.  But my love affair with lists is just that – mine – and not something that I have the right nor the desire to impose on my kids)  But if I did make a summer list for my kids, it would be the same as mine, and it would look something like this:

Rest – No, we don’t pay any attention to the school year in our lives, but for some reason the first few months after the new year are always super busy ones in our household.  Tegan (age 8 at the time of this writing) just finished a play that’s been in rehearsals since January.  Everett (age 12) just had his final football game of the spring season.  And the last six weeks or so before the conference – starting around mid-August – are going to be insane with preparations.  So I’m all in favor of any and all of my family members using this time to take a much-needed breather.  To kick up their feet, to rest in both body and spirit, and to just BE for awhile before the next busy season is upon us.

Do what makes your heart happy – YouTube, Minecraft, video games? Jumping on the trampoline, reading, writing, playing with legos?  Visiting with friends? Playing catch in the backyard?  Researching, working, resting, figuring things out?….. It’s all there for the taking.

Travel – Our travel plans are different every summer, depending on any number of factors (finances, logistics, husband’s work schedule, etc)  but we all love a good travel adventure!   This year, Paxton (15) is flying out to Michigan for a month to visit, write with, and practice with his band, The Cringes.  A few weeks later, the rest of us are headed that way for a two week road-trip, visiting friends along the way, and ultimately bringing him home with us.

Try new things – I LIVE for trying new things.  Mine are usually of the creative sort, but I try not to shy away from learning anything that strikes my fancy. Spencer (19) has been applying for jobs lately, and has recently been talking about learning Spanish.  Everett has expressed an interested in trying soccer (I think the only sport he has yet to try).  Tegan wants to get back into gymnastics, and try some sort of martial art.  Summer is a great time to start thinking about that kind of thing.  I mean, why not??

Keep doing “old” things – As wonderful as new things are, there is something to be said for familiarity as well.  I hope we keep working on, and playing with, and learning from the things we already know and love.

Step out of your comfort zone – I just realized I’m talking in a little bit of a circle now.  “Do something new”.  “No, do something comfortable”.  “No, do something uncomfortable”.  But a life well lived is a mixture of all the above, isn’t it?  A few weeks ago, I took a giant step outside my own personal comfort zone (someday I will share a little here on my blog) and it was at once horrifying and difficult and one of the most important things I’ve ever done.  I’m a big believer in the fact that if we want to grow, if we want to learn in deep and meaningful ways, if we want to be the best selves we can be…. sooner or later we’re going to have take risks, do the scary thing, and trust in the outcome that we can’t yet see.

Live and love deeply –  When you boil it all down, is there anything else more important?

This list is by no means a comprehensive one, but it’s a start.   This is the only kind of list I need to get me through this summer.  And if my kids’  lists looks totally different than mine?  That’s okay too. It’s their list to make.

Will we still do chores around the house?  Yup.  Will we still pursue our hobbies and/or creative pursuits?  Yup.  Will we still read books and play outside and build things with our hands?  Yup, yup, yup.   But because we’re doing those things of our own volition, when it feels right, when it makes sense to US, (rather than just as a means to an end) they will mean something.  They will be appreciated on their own merits.  They will be something we learn from, rather than something we endure.

Oh, and as for those coveted electronics?  We’ll use and enjoy those too…. without jumping through any hoops to get to them.


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Filed under gentle parenting, parenting, summer

I’m Not The Meanest Mom

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I realized something recently.  As adults, we like to hear stories of other adults performing some sort of kindness.  We like the feel-good stories of people helping their fellow man, standing up to injustice, or showing love to a total stranger.  It restores our faith in humanity.  It makes us feel good, and it motivates us to be kinder ourselves.  Kinder.  Gentler.  More compassionate. You know what we don’t see all that often?  People sharing about the times they weren’t all that kind, or respectful, or compassionate. And sure, we’re human. We’ve all done it:  We have a bad day, and we inadvertently and regrettably take it out on some poor nearby soul.  But we don’t rush to share those days, because we recognize – both on an intellectual level and on a heart level – that it’s not exactly something to brag about.

But when it’s a parent being unkind towards a child?  We* (as a society) not only tolerate this bad behavior, but we embrace it.  We actually cheer it on.

When it comes to kids, we glorify violence.  We celebrate cruelty.

So while we seem to have it right when it comes to adult on adult behavior, our collective treatment of our children is abhorrent, and getting more concerning by the day. Baby, we’ve got a long way to go.

I feel like it started with the laptop shooting dad, but it has multiplied at an alarming rate since then.  This trend of publicly parenting through bullying, shame, and intimidation is everywhere.  I feel like I can’t go a single day anymore without seeing another one.    Parenting has become a contest, but a sick one.  A contest not to find the sweetest mom, or the most competent mom, but the meanest mom. Everything is backwards.  Meanness is exalted, spitefulness is praised.   Parents boast about how mean they are to their kids, and instead of gently suggesting alternatives (or possibly better yet, denying them any attention at all), we put them on a pedestal.  We feed this very cycle of unkindness.  A quick perusal of the comment threads on any one of these public shamings tells us everything we need to know.  Hundreds, and yes, thousands of positive comments, singing the praises of meanness, shouting their rallying accolades, and devouring anyone who dare stand up for the children.

How can we do this to these little ones, the most vulnerable members of our society?  The people who need the most empathy and the most tender care, are being maligned, minimized and mistreated.

And we’re watching it happen.

I don’t know the answer.  I don’t.  I know we need to keep talking about it.  I know we can’t quietly sit back and accept it.

But it starts at home.  It starts with our own kids.

And listen, I’m the first one to admit I’m not a perfect mom.  None of us are.  I struggle sometimes with patience.  I sometimes let sleep deprivation get the better of me and am unnecessarily short with my kids.  I have to constantly remind myself to live in the moment.  I have to constantly remind myself not to sweat the small stuff.

Yes, I apologize to my children often.

But the big difference between me and the “meanest mom” supporters is that I’m saddened by mean behavior (by or towards anyone), not buoyed by it.  So no, I won’t pat you on the back for celebrating meanness.  No, I won’t be offering any “Atta girl!”s or “Way to go!”s or “Good job, mom!”s.  No, I won’t praise you for being unkind.

And I get it.  My opinion is the unpopular one.  The cool kids are all worshiping at the alter of childism.  Well, I opt out.  I don’t want to be a part of your club.  I don’t stand in solidarity with anyone who rallies around the idea of mistreating children.  I don’t care how loud your voices are.  I don’t care how many members you have.  I don’t care how good your cookies are.

I Opt Out.

In my life, in my world, I will celebrate kindness.  I will cheer for compassion.  I will stand up for grace, and forgiveness, and gentle communication.

Children learn from our actions.   Throwing away a child’s ice cream (because in his childlike excitement he forgot to say “thank you”) doesn’t teach him to say thank you, it doesn’t teach him what it means to be polite, and it doesn’t teach him gratitude.  It teaches him that if someone doesn’t behave in the way we want, that it’s okay to bully them, and that it’s okay to take someone else’s things.

Children learn from our actions.  Spanking a child for misbehaving doesn’t teach him right from wrong.  It teaches him that “might makes right”, that pain and fear are effective motivators, and that it’s okay to use physical force on someone who’s younger and more vulnerable than you.

Children learn from our actions.  Sending a child to time out when he’s having a hard time doesn’t teach him to think about his actions. It teaches him that mom is going to isolate him from her attention, her love, and her touch, at the very moment when he is needing them the most.

Children learn from our actions.  Publicly shaming a child a for making a mistake doesn’t teach him not to do it again.  It teaches him, again, to use bullying to solve his problems.  It teaches him that he can’t trust the one person he should be able to trust the most.  It teaches him to feel worthless, and ashamed, and humiliated… making him even MORE likely to repeat the behavior in the future.

Children learn from our actions.  Punishing a child (as opposed to kindly communicating, listening, and guiding) does not teach him respect.  Or responsibility.  Or accountability.  It teaches him to be bitter.  To be angry.  To be spiteful.  It teaches him to be extrinsically motivated by the fear of mom’s negative repercussions, rather than intrinsically and positively motivated by his own internal sense of right and wrong.

If you want to raise kids that are polite, respectful, and kind, start by being polite, respectful, and kind to your kids.

It starts with you.  It starts with us.

Let’s stop glorifying bullies, and start treating our kids the way we’d like to be treated ourselves.

Kids are people too.

#NotTheMeanestMom


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Filed under bullying, gentle discipline, gentle parenting, headlines, mindful parenting, parenting

My Dear Daughter, Your Value Doesn’t Change With What You’re Wearing

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The following was recently passed around Facebook.  (Emphasis at the end is my own.) The author is unknown:

A girl bought an iPad, when her father saw it, He asked her “What was the 1st thing you did when you bought it?

“I put an anti-scratch sticker on the screen and bought a cover for the iPad” she replied.

“Did someone force you to do so?” “No” “Don’t you think it’s an insult to the manufacturer?” “No dad! In fact they even recommend using
a cover for the iPad” “Did you cover it because it was cheap & ugly?”

“Actually, I covered it because I didn’t want it to get damage and decrease in value.”
“When you put the cover on, didn’t it reduce the iPad’s beauty?”

“I think it looks better and it is worth it for the protection it gives my iPad.”

The father looked lovingly at his daughter and said, “Yet if I had asked you to cover your body which is much more precious than the iPad, would you have readily agreed???” She was
mute…..

Indecent dressing and exposure of your body reduces your value and respect.


May God guide us all.

My first reaction was one of disgust.  As my eyes scanned the comments looking for other people who felt the same way I did, I was just met with “Amen”s and “How true!”s.  More disgust.  Had we read the same thing?  The tome that reduced a girl’s body to a physical object?  One that lost its value if it wasn’t clothed in a certain fashion?  One that wasn’t worthy of respect if it wasn’t properly covered up?  I think the thing that bothered me most of all (“bothered” isn’t even the right word… it creeped me right out) was that the father “looked lovingly at his daughter,” before he gave his edict to cover up, like she’d covered up the iPad.  Misogyny and control aren’t love.

Ultimately, reading things like this makes me so overwhelmingly sad.  Sad because they illustrate how far we still need to go.

Sad because they remind me of the prevalent thinking of girls being somehow “less than.”

Sad because they only cheer on the patriarchal society that sees to it that the men get to dictate what women should or should not wear… or do… or think.

Sad because it speaks to the larger issue of a world that somehow simultaneously heralds women as nothing more than sex objects, and disparages them for said sexuality at the same time… calling them whores.  Or loose.  Or easy.

Sad because this is exactly the kind of teaching that leaves girls feeling devalued and worthless, like they don’t deserve love.  They’re nothing more than their bodies, right?  So if they showed too much skin, or looked too attractive, or God forbid engaged in premarital sexual activity… who would want them?  (Many abstinence-only trainings go so far as to compare girls who’ve lost their virginity to used chewing gum.)

Sad because it contributes to a culture of victim blaming that leaves the 1 in 4 women who will experience a sexual assault in their lifetime feeling ashamed, as though it were somehow their fault.

At the time of this writing, my daughter is only eight.  But I fear for her future if this is the kind of thing that people aspire to teach their daughters, and pass on to their sons.  Is this really the message we want to send to today’s young girls? That they’re nothing more than a body?  A body that must be properly covered lest it “lose its value”?

My message for my daughter is very different.   At the end of the day – away from the white noise of society, and the church, and advertising, and television, and social media, and politics – this is what I want my daughter to know:

You, my dear daughter, are amazing.

You are strong, and kind, and creative, and intelligent, and funny.  You have a big, beautiful, giving heart.  You make people laugh. You take care of those around you.  I don’t doubt for a second that you can achieve absolutely anything that you put your mind to.

I hope you know how incredible you are.  I hope you know how much you have to offer.  I hope you know that your value, your worth as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a human soul… it’s infinite.  The world is a better place just because you are in it.

At some point in time, society is going to try to reduce you to just your body, but you don’t have to listen!  I need you to know that you are so much more than your body.  Your body is just a physical place to house your beautiful soul.

I don’t mean to diminish it though, because your body is pretty freaking amazing too!  It lets you run, and jump on the trampoline, and pump yourself high on the swings.  It lets you swim like a mermaid, and give fierce hugs, and bake cookies with your brother.  My hope is that you are kind to your body: That you will treat it well, and feed it good foods, and give it plenty of exercise.  Not for me!, and not to reach some aesthetic ideal, and certainly not for society, but for YOU, so you can keep it healthy and strong so you can do all the things you want it to do.  I hope you take your body on grand adventures.  I hope you build and create things with your hands, I hope you aren’t afraid to get dirty, I hope you use your skills and your time to help others.  Maybe one day you’ll climb to the top of a mountain, or ski down one instead. Maybe your body will one day give birth to a baby, or carry you onto a plane to go adopt one.

Yes, your body will take you to amazing places.  It is is going to grow, and hurt, and heal, and love, and fight.

One day you’ll feel the thrill of a first romantic kiss, and the physical ache in your heart at a romance gone wrong.

It seems grossly superficial and irrelevant to even think about how you are clothed (really, in the grand scheme of things, what on earth does it matter?) but sooner or later someone’s going to make you think that it’s important, and I want you to know this:  I hope you dress in a way that makes you feel beautiful and comfortable and confident.  I hope you dress in a way that reflects you.  I hope you dress in whatever makes you feel best able to grab life by the horns and leave your own unique, indelible mark.  The one that says, “I was here.  And I mattered.”

You will change lives just by existing.  I know, because you’ve already changed mine, and you’re not even nine years old.

And the thing is, no matter what you’re wearing, no matter how much you weigh, no matter what your hair or your face or your body looks like, you STILL HAVE JUST AS MUCH VALUE.

Because your value?  Your worth?  That’s inside of you, and no one can take it away.


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Filed under acceptance, parenting, perspective, respect, self image, Uncategorized

When You Can’t Walk Into Their Room Without Tripping

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Photo Credit:  Matt Gromes

The newest parenting-related picture to go viral on Facebook is a photo of a huge stack of filled trash bags.  Mom captioned the photo with the explanation that her teenage daughter wouldn’t clean her room, so the mom bagged everything up, and was making her daughter pay her $25 a bag to get her stuff back.  It was hard to tell just how many bags there were, as they were all stacked on top of each other, but there were clearly enough for the daughter to owe her mother at least a few hundred dollars.

As is usually the case, the comments were overwhelmingly positive, and the mother was almost universally praised.    I’m always kind of amazed at the feedback on these things.  I’d like to think – really, I need to think – that there are people out there who don’t feel right about it, but who just don’t know what else they would do in that situation.   Or maybe there are people who want to offer some alternatives, but they are shamed into silence by the “Stop being so judgmental!!” crowd.  (By the way, when you publicly boast online about how proud you of are how you’re punishing your children, you are explicitly inviting feedback.   It’s the way the internet works)

Dialogue is a useful thing.  Lots of parents can relate to the struggle of kids and messes, but not every parent chooses punishment and/or shame as a parenting tactic.  There are alternatives to navigating even the messiest of messy rooms, that do not involve bagging up all their stuff and throwing or giving it away, or making them earn it back.

As with everything else, it all begins with relationship:

1. Recognize that everyone is different.  Personality and individual constitution play a big role here.  Some people are naturally very tidy.  Some make a mess everywhere they go.  I am very much the latter.  And while I’ve come to appreciate how much better I operate in a clean, uncluttered environment, it is something that I have to continually work on.  I am 42 years old, and I still have to make a conscious effort to keep things picked up.  Harping on me or shaming me would not only not encourage me, but would also make me angry, and even less likely to put forth the effort.  Kids are no different!  If you make them feel badly about themselves, they’ll live up to the negative.  Instead, help and encourage them, and see what a difference it makes, both in their behavior and in your own peace with the situation.   Accept them the way they are, and resist the urge to compare and pit one against the other. Comments like, “Why can’t you be more like Henry?” are hurtful, and leave scars that last well beyond childhood.

2.  Adjust your expectations.   I am not a big fan of the phrase, “Pick your battles,” but bedroom cleanliness is one area where it may apply.  It’s okay – and yes, even a positive thing! – for them to have the freedom to keep their own personal space the way they like it. Some things shouldn’t be negotiable, for good reason (for example:  leaving food or trash laying around can attract bugs;  too much clutter on the floor can become a safety hazard)  But there is a whole range of happy compromise in between hospital corners and things-are-growing-faster-than-bacteria-in-a-petri-dish.  Adjusting your own expectations and working with your child, rather than against him, go a long way towards both keeping the peace in the home and your relationship intact.

3.  Model taking care of your own things.   I have found, again and again, that when I’m in a good routine myself, the kids tend to magically follow suit. Show them what it looks like to take pride in your home.  Pick up after yourself. Put things away after you use them.  Don’t grumble about housework.  Treat it as an act of service for yourself, and for your family.  Your kids learn far more from watching you than they do from any speeches you may give them about cleanliness.

4.  Ask them to pick up before things get out of control.  I think we have a tendency … (and when I say “we”,  I mean “I”) … I think we have a tendency to let things fester and not say anything about them while they build.  Then, we inevitably get resentful, the situation gets blown out of proportion, and we finally burst.  We finally say something, or ask for help, and we’re not very nice about it.   It is a whole lot easier – and more peaceful for all involved – to say, “Can you please pick up these legos on the floor so I can tuck you in without hurting my feet?” than it is to deal with the fallout of a room that’s reached a level of “We need to rent a dumpster and fill 87 trash bags if we want to see the floor again.”   Getting into good habits, working together, and talking to your kids instead of barking orders helps the entire household run more smoothly and peacefully.  Plus, it is far less work to deal with little messes as they happen than it is to deal with giant messes that have been accumulating over time.

5.  When it does get bad, ask if you can help.  So, you’re thinking, “Picking up before things get out of control sounds nice in theory, but that ship has already sailed.”  I so get it.  Speaking as both a mom and as a person who has a natural tendency to let messes take over:  I think that when it gets to that point, it isn’t so much that your kids don’t want to pick up as it is that they are overwhelmed at the enormity of the project and don’t even know where to start. The struggle is real!  Ask if you can help.  Break it up into smaller jobs and tackle it together.  Do whatever works well to get the job done.  Make it a game, set timers, play some music.  If they don’t mind you touching their things (some of my kids would rather do it themselves, some welcome the assistance), you can even surprise them by doing it for them.  It’s a huge gift to give them, and my daughter in particular is always so thankful.  Then, once you’ve gotten it under control again, re-visit #4.  Repeat as necessary.

6.  Help/encourage them to periodically cull through their belongings.  The less “stuff” you have, the easier it is to keep it organized.   Every so often (ideally a couple of times a year, or at least before big gift-giving occasions like Christmas) help them go through their things to see if there’s anything they don’t want anymore that they can then sell, donate, or give away. Personality plays a large role here too.  Some kids have no problem giving up toys that they don’t play with anymore, even if they just got it a year ago. Others really like to hang on.    Respect where they’re at, and work with them on solutions.  Help them find new homes for the things they don’t want, and help them organize and store the things that are staying.

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It is a frustrating feeling indeed when messes get out of control.  But giving into that frustration and unloading it via yelling, punishing, or shaming your kids doesn’t help anyone… not you, and certainly not your child.   Instead, take a deep breath, – or 10 or 100 – take the emotion out of it, and work together on solutions.   You’re not going to change your child (and really, would you want to??!!), but you can help him with strategies he can use, both now and in the future.

And as for you as the parent?   Remind yourself as often as necessary that kids are all different, and that that’s okay.  Tell yourself that you’ll respect your kids where they’re at.   Work with your kids on keeping their rooms tidy, but recognize that the space is ultimately theirs, and that that’s okay too.  Decide what is non-negotiable and let go of the rest.

And if all else fails, just shut the door.

 

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When Your Kid’s a Bully: Why Bullying The Bully Is Never The Answer

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There’s a new post going around Facebook, in which a mom outlines the response she had when she learned of her daughter participating in the bullying of another student.

Mom must have been devastated.  Let me just start there.  As a parent, it’s incredibly hurtful to know that your child was the cause of someone else’s pain.  I feel for this mom.  But her reaction, while no doubt well-intentioned, was… misguided, at best, and will only serve to contribute to the cycle of bullying.

Here’s what the mom shared, what kind of effect it’s likely going to have on her daughter, and what I would have done differently:

The first thing she did was “pull(ed) over in the middle of the street and whoop(ed) that ass.”  Next, she walked her into school, and forced her to apologize to the girl she’d bullied.   Then, she made sure she was kept inside from recess, where she had to write a letter of apology to the girl’s mother.  Finally, she shared the whole story online, so I’m assuming others could “learn” from it.  In short, she 1) used physical violence to solve a problem, 2) shamed her daughter in front of her friends/classmates, and 3) shamed her daughter online.  If any of those three things were done by another child, we’d all recognize it for what it is: bullying.  Why do we have such a hard time recognizing it in adults? And why, when there are so many other options available, do we not only accept said behavior coming from a parent, but we praise it?  This mom is now being lauded as mom of the year.

Incidents like this one (and indeed, it’s unfortunately not unique) shine a light on the ever-present hypocrisy of mainstream parenting. Your kid physically hurt someone?  Physically hurt them back.  Your kid shamed someone?  Shame them back.  Your kid humiliated someone?  Humiliate them back.    In as simple of terms as I can put it:  This does not discourage bullying behavior.  It enforces it. The saddest part of this is that the mom realizes that the key to stopping bullying begins with us as parents… but ironically fails to see how she’s contributing.  She ends her post with this:

Parents teach your kids that bullying is not okay!!!
Kids are committing suicide these days!!!
I WILL NOT RAISE BULLIES AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU!!!
IT STARTS WITH US…. LETS BE AWARE!!!

She and I agree on these points to be sure.  Kids do need to learn that bullying is not okay.  The suicide rates are staggering and alarming.  It does start with us.   But you cannot bully a kid into not being a bully.  It doesn’t work that way. Bullying your child erodes your relationship, breaks your trust (at a time when they need it more than ever), and overtly teaches them that  bullying is okay. Your children learn far more from how you treat them then they could ever learn from your words.   Physical punishment, forced insincere apologies, and public humiliation cause more disconnect, more resentment, and more self-esteem issues…. issues that will no doubt surface later in a possible myriad of ways, one of which being:  yup, bullying!  Hurt people hurt people.

As parents, we have a choice.  We can take all our own issues, and baggage, and hurts out on our own kids, and effectively continue the same negative pattern. OR, we can be the grownups, do the work we need to do, and treat our children how we’d like to be treated. The cycle can be broken.

And I know what many of you are thinking:  Well that’s all well and good in theory, but WHAT DO I DO if my child is bullying someone?

It’s a fair question, but it’s unfortunately not one I can answer definitively for anyone else.   There are no surefire prescribed steps to curb bullying. Kids are different, relationships are different, circumstances are different.  If it were my kid though?  This is where I’d start:

1)  Find out why it’s happening.   Behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  Is someone bullying them?   A classmate, a teacher, a sibling, a parent?  Are they feeling unheard?  Anxious?  Stressed out?  Feeling poorly about themselves?  Is it peer pressure?   Is something going on at home, or in their lives in general?   You cannot even begin to help them until you understand why it’s happening.

2) Listen.  Keep an open, safe, line of communication between yourself and your child.  Hint:  One of the best ways to halt healthy communication is to come out of the gate with harsh words and punishment.  If your child is hurting someone else, chances are he’s hurting too.  Let him tell you about it.  Be his soft place to fall.

3) Talk about how the other person must feel, help your child understand empathy, but don’t force apologies.   You can’t make your child feel sorry until/unless he IS, and forcing the issue is going to cause even more resentment (possibly towards you, and possibly toward the one to whom he’s delivering the apology)  An insincere apology is just empty words.  If my child was unkind to someone else, *I* would be sure to apologize – because I would absolutely be sorry – to both the child and the parent.  I would tell them I was sorry, and let them know that I wasn’t going to ignore the situation.

4)  Model appropriate relationships and kind behavior.  I will say it again.  Your kids learn far more from your behavior than from any words you could ever say.  Show them what kindness looks like.  Show them what friendship looks like.  Show them what respect looks like.  Don’t make fun of others.  Say you’re sorry when it’s warranted.  Treat people (including your own children!) the way you’d like to be treated.

5)  Connect.   Above almost all else, a child who is bullying someone else is needing a healthy connection.   Be that person for your child.  Be the person that your child trusts with his big scary feelings.  Be the person your child can count on, unconditionally, no matter what.  Be the port in your child’s storm.  Nurture your relationship.  Make it a priority.  Make your child a priority.

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A child who is acting out with unkindness towards someone else already has some pretty big upheaval going on.  He NEEDS you to stay calm, he needs you to help him problem solve, he needs you to talk to him, to listen to him, to love him.  He does NOT need to be shamed, or humiliated, or physically harmed.  Most of us recognize that that wasn’t the right course of action for the daughter in this story…. so why on earth would it be the right course of action for a parent?

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5 Phrases To Use When Your Child Is Having a Hard Time

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There’s an article getting passed around on social media right now titled, “5 Phrases That Will Make Your Kids Stop Crying and Begging.”  The author sets the stage of a child who’s upset because she wasn’t allowed to get the candy she wanted at the grocery store.  Using phrases such as “Asked and answered,”  “This conversation is over,” and “The decision has been made. If you ask again there will be a consequence”  will halt such tantrums on the spot, she tells us, and remind the child who’s boss.  By the way – and I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler alert – when she says, “consequence”, what she really means is “punishment”.

Now I tend to be a parent who says, “yes” as much as possible.  An occasional cookie or two before dinner, or an inexpensive impulse buy at the checkout lane don’t really rank on my list of things on which to draw a hard line.  But even if they did?  Even during those moments when I do absolutely have to say “no” to something?  (And yes, to be sure, there are moments when I need to say no)  That is a time to help them learn to work through their disappointment in a healthy way.  It’s a time to hear them, and to empathize with them.  It is NOT a time to ignore their feelings and shut them down.  It is not a time for punishing them for being human.  Being sad or disappointed sometimes is normal and okay!

Approaches like the one outlined in this article not only teach a child to squash their emotions. They are also extremely adversarial, and set up an “us vs them” mentality between parent and child.  While some parents would advise that it’s simply a matter of learning to pick your battles, I never want to view any interaction with my child as a battle.  We’re on the same team!

Here then are five alternative things I might say when my child is crying or disappointed.

  1. I’m sorry.  

    When a dear friend is venting to you because he got passed over for a promotion, do you shut him down with a “This conversation is over”?  Of course not.  You tell him you’re sorry. To a toddler, that cookie is just as important as the promotion, and his feelings of sadness are real.  I think adults probably tend to forget that, because social media has made it so easy for parents to share and pass off children’s big feelings over seemingly small things as funny or cute.  But their feelings are genuine, and because they are young, they know no other way to express them other than through crying or yelling. As a parent you can either shut them down and essentially tell them to stop feeling what they’re feeling, or you can help them work through it, and by extension eventually learn more mature or sophisticated ways of expressing their emotions.  I always strive to go with the latter, and it all starts with empathy.

  2. I hear you.  

    Or I know, or it really stinks.  I’ve been in and out of doctors’ offices a lot this year, especially the last few months.  And while some of my symptoms are things that the doctor can see, or quantify on paper, some are completely subjective (like pain and fatigue.)  This past week, one of my doctors said the best thing I’d heard in months.  She said – and meant – “I believe you.”  Seriously, it was huge for me.  Anyone who’s ever suffered from a mystery ailment knows how incredibly frustrating it is to think that everyone around you is starting to believe that you’re just crazy.  I think that one of the biggest things we need and desire as humans sharing this world is just to be heard.   We want to know that someone is listening, that they are hearing what we are saying, and that they understand.  Children are no different.  Telling them that you’re sorry is a great place to start, but when you tell them that you hear them… that you understand… that YES, I know you wanted that cookie and it really sucks sometimes when we don’t get what we want… you’re taking it one step further, you’re validating their feelings, and you’re letting them know that you get it.   That is a hugely powerful and healing thing, to kids and adults alike.

  3. It’s okay to be sad.  

    Did you ever notice how often adults apologize for crying?  They’ll be engaged in a conversation, and be overcome with emotion.  They’ll well up, or a tear will escape, and they’ll shake their head and mutter, “I’m sorry,” while quickly brushing the tears away.  I can’t help but wonder if it’s because it’s such a common practice to tell kids to stop crying. Are we creating a whole society of emotionally stunted adults?  It’s okay to be sad.  It’s okay to cry.  Giving your child a safe space to feel what they feel, and letting them know – whether through words or actions – that what they’re feeling is okay goes a long way towards helping them work through their emotions.

  4. How can I help?  

    A couple of weeks ago, Tegan (7 at the time of this writing) was terribly disappointed about a cancelled play date and sleepover that she’d been so looking forward to for days.  It had been a long time since I’d seen her that disappointed about something. She didn’t want to play, didn’t want to use the computer (ordinarily one of her favorite things) and didn’t want to talk to any friends.  I hugged her, told her how sorry I was, and finally asked, “Do you want to do something with me to take your mind off it, or do you just need to be sad?”  She answered, “I just need to be sad.”  So she was.  I sat with her on the couch, and I gave her space to be sad.   I think our first response too often tends to err on the side of trying to cheer someone up, probably because we’re uncomfortable with expressions of big feelings (see number 3). But sometimes what a person needs is to just be sad.  And sometimes they do want to be cheered up!   The only way to know for sure is to ask, and in the case of a younger child, read and respect what they’re telling you non-verbally.

  5. Next time…. 

    In the case of the cancelled sleepover, there really wasn’t anything I could do to make it better, other than tell her I was sure we’d be able to reschedule for another time.  (We were, and we did, and she had a great time).  Sometimes though, depending on the child and the circumstance, it can be helpful to be specific about future plans:

    “Next time we come to the store, we’ll get a balloon.”

    “Payday is Friday, so we can get ice cream then.”

    “We don’t have time to stop at the playground today, but we can go this weekend.”  Etc.

    And then be sure to follow through!   The foundation of a good relationship with your children – of a good relationship with anyone – is trust, and letting them know 1) that you’re on their side, and 2) that your word is good goes a long way towards establishing that trust.

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Our interactions with our children should never be about manipulation and control.  They should be about connection, and about helping these little people entrusted in our care to navigate the world with kindness, compassion and respect.   Dealing with, and working through,  emotions is a big part of being human, so the last thing we want to do is deny our children that experience…. especially when they can do it with their most trusted adult at their side.

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Instead of Punishment: Where to Start

You've decided to stop spanking.Now what-

 

I have four kids who’ve never been spanked.  I would like to say that they’ve never been punished at all, but while we’d resolved from the very beginning not to physically hurt our children, moving away from punishments completely took a little more time.  Thankfully, our youngest three have grown up with no punishments of any kind (which, as it always stands to be said again, is not the same thing as growing up without discipline.  The two words are not synonymous.)

For lots of other families though, the decision comes much later…. after they’ve already used spankings and/or timeouts and other traditional parenting methods.  They’re convicted by something they’ve read, or by a friend or family member, or maybe just because they feel an inner stirring that something isn’t right.  Whatever the reason, they resolve to stop spanking and punishing, and feel really confident about their decision.

And then – not always, but often – there’s that moment of sheer panic.

One question that I get a lot, in various forms, is this:

If I don’t spank, what do I do?

And I get it.  I do.  It’s one thing to embrace a philosophy, and quite another to feel equipped in that moment when your child sticks a pen through a sofa cushion just to see what will happen… or shoves (another) sandwich into the slot in the VCR… or throws her brothers shoes into a lake… *

The question is a good one, and the answer far too involved to fully cover in one blog post.  My hope is that the following list will serve as a good place to start.

1.  Change your perspective.

The reason that there’s no one single answer to the question, “What do you do instead of spanking?” is that moving away from punishments requires an entirely new mindset.  It’s not a one-for-one deal.  Punishments (and their cousins, rewards) reduce your interaction with your children to a transaction:  you apply some sort of prescribed action, and you – hopefully – get a desired result.   But that’s not the way respectful relationships work.  At least it shouldn’t be! You shouldn’t try to control your children through punishment, fear, and manipulation tactics any more than you should do so to your spouse, or sister, or best friend.    So while it is imperative that you learn and practice peaceful tools for dealing with stressful situations (more on that in point two), your entire perspective also needs to shift before you can really understand gentle parenting.  It’s not about control; it’s about connection.  It’s not about rules; it’s about relationships.  You’re going to have to ask yourself, possibly over and over again, “Is what I’m about to do/say going to bring me and my child closer together, or draw us further apart?”  But wait, that sounds like work.  Wouldn’t it be easier just to spank?  Well… yes!  It takes time, and care, and effort to parent without punishments.  In order to commit to parenting with more mindfulness and respect you need to be all in.  You need to realize and recognize that your children aren’t yours to control, but are their own unique, living, breathing HUMANS, who deserve to be treated with as much care and consideration as you’d extend to any other person that you loved.   The parent/child relationship is one of the most important relationships you will ever have.  And just like any key relationship, it needs to be nurtured in order to stay healthy and strong.   Shifting your focus to your relationship with your child – and to making it sweeter, and kinder, and gentler – takes effort, to be sure, but it is by far one of the most rewarding things you can do….. for you and your child both.

2.  Equip yourself with positive tools.

So you’re working on changing your perspective, you’re focused on the relationship… and then the 2 year old gets angry and hurls a remote control at her brother’s head.  What do you do? The nice thing is that the more connected you are with your child, the easier it is to react with patience in the moment.  You’ll know your child, you’ll know yourself, and you’ll figure out how best to problem-solve together. Before you can problem-solve though, you need to diffuse the immediate issue.  Here are a few great places to start:

Breathe.  It sounds like a cliche, but it’s not.  Unless someone’s in imminent danger, your very first response (especially if you’re angry or frustrated) needs to be breathing!  Take a deep breath before you speak.  Take 20, or 100.  Intentional breathing sends oxygen through your body, releases endorphins, slows your heart rate, calms your adrenaline, and reduces stress and anxiety.

Listen.  Behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  Really stop and listen to what your child is trying to tell you.  Are they tired?  Frustrated?  Angry? Not feeling heard?  Just experimenting?  Find out the WHY behind the behavior, and you’ll know better how to proceed.

Empathize.  One of the most powerful and healing gifts someone can give us is empathy, and children are no exception.  Let them know that you hear what they’re saying, and that you understand how they’re feeling.

Redirect.   So much of what young children are punished for is completely normal and age-appropriate explorations.  Children learn from these explorations, so the last thing we want to do is punish them for it!  Instead, when your child does something unsafe, unkind, etc, consistently stop the behavior with a simple explanation (the younger the child, the fewer the words you should use), and move them on to a new activity.  With time and patience – and a parent by their side – they learn.

Take a time-IN.   Sometimes, what everyone needs is a change of scenery.  Pretty much the opposite of a time-out, which separates you from your child at a moment when they’re most needing connection, a time-in gives you both a chance to breathe, re-group, and get re-connected, together. A time-in can consist of any sort of new activity that you and your child find enjoyable.  There’s a long list of suggestions here.

3.  Walk beside them as they learn to safely navigate the world.

One of the things that I hear people say a lot is that they only spank for the most serious of infractions, such as safety issues.  I call it the, “But how will they learn to stay out of the street??” defense.  And it sounds reasonable enough.  If ever there was a time to spank, it’d be when their life was on the line, right?  But I couldn’t disagree more.  I actually think that safety issues are one of the weakest arguments for spanking, and here’s why:  any good parent’s gut instinct is going to tell them to react, and react in a hurry, if their child is in harm’s way.  Your toddler’s headed for a busy street, you react. Your baby’s about to stick a fork into an electrical outlet, you react.  And your facial expression, your words, your tone of voice, and your body language as you quickly move them to safety teach them everything they need to know…. without teaching them that they also need to fear pain at your hands as they’re learning. Navigate life with them.  Hold their hands when they cross the street.  Show them how to safely carry scissors and make toast and start a fire.  Help them keep their footing on the rocky trail. BE THERE with them as they figure out how life works, and they will naturally gain confidence and independence, all without ever having been punished for getting it wrong.

4.  Show them what respect looks like.

Along the same lines as number 3, children are not born knowing how to interact respectfully with the people around them.  They count on us as their parents to show them.  They don’t need punishments to learn that words are more effective than hitting for solving conflicts.  They don’t need punishments to learn that it’s unkind to call somebody stupid.  They don’t need punishments to learn that it’s impolite to tell Grandma that the dinner she spent two hours making tastes “gross.”  What they need is a parent who shows up; who shows them what it means to be respectful; who intervenes when they’re doing something that makes someone else feel sad, or scared, or uncomfortable; who interacts with them, and for them as they learn the intricacies of sharing our planet with others.  One of the biggest misconceptions that I think people have about gentle parenting is that it is the same thing as permissive parenting.  The two are actually polar opposites.  One is conscientious, and the other is neglect.  If you see a parent who is sitting back and just watching as her child does something that is disrespectful or somehow harmful to someone else… that is not a gentle parent.  That is someone who is failing to be a parent.

Show up.  Be there.  Help them navigate.

5.  Don’t sweat the small stuff (and it’s ALL small stuff).

A couple of years ago, a video went around Facebook that showed the aftermath of two unattended kids with a 5 lb bag of flour.  There was flour all down the hallway.  On the couches. On the chairs.  On the kids.  In the carpet.  In the drapes.  Flour everywhere.  All five pounds of it.  Part of me for sure felt sympathy for the mom who filmed it because I’ve been there.  And oof.  The clean-up.  But another part me said, “Eh.  Small stuff.”  If you’re going to have kids, you’re going to have messes.  Things are going to be broken and spilled and smeared and dumped and spread.  It’s all part of the experience. And the greatest thing I learned between child one and child four (besides to stop and take a picture before I do anything else, because those photos are treasured later) is that that stuff just doesn’t matter.  People matter.  Love matters.  Messes, accidents…. it’s all just “stuff.” Not worth getting upset over, and certainly not worth yelling or punishing over. And just like with anything else, with time and patience and consistency, they really do learn to keep the flour in the bag.

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6.  Know their triggers (and yours).

Stop me if this sounds familiar.  You head out bright and early with your toddler to run a long list of errands.  You know he’s going to be missing his morning nap, but he’ll catch a few minutes of sleep in the car.  He’s pretty amiable for the first few stops.  He helps pick out the apples at the grocery store.  He enjoys his lollipop from the bank teller.  He starts getting antsy at the dry cleaners, pulling at your pant legs, whining, and rubbing his eyes. Back in the car, you reach in your bag to get his little tupperware container of Cheerios, but realize you left it on the kitchen counter.  You know you should probably head home, but you decide to squeeze in just one more stop.  You’re in the drug store when he reaches meltdown mode.  He cries when you pick him up, and cries harder when you set him down.  Tired, hungry, bored, and overstimulated, he doesn’t want to walk, doesn’t want to be carried, and eventually settles for sitting on the floor as the tears fall and the screams escalate.

We’ve all got our triggers.  And we’ve all got our breaking points.  If adults get cranky and unreasonable when they’re tired and hungry (and we all know adults for whom this is the case, or we *are* an adult for whom this is the case) how much more understandable is it for a child? Taking care to ensure that basic needs are met, that kids are fed and rested and attended to can go a long way towards more peaceful outings and more pleasant interactions for all.  My kids are older now – at the time of this writing they are 18, 15, 11, and 7 – but even now I know who isn’t at their happiest in the mornings. I know who is very sensitive to the feeling of being left out.  I know who works best when their surroundings are neat and tidy.  I know who has a hard time handling even a small lack of sleep.   Being aware, and respectful of, both our own triggers and the triggers of our children allows us to treat each other with more care, and more kindness.  It is categorically unfair, not to mention incredibly unkind, to ignore someone’s personal “buttons”, and then punish them for the reaction that we knew was coming.

7.  Practice the golden rule.

A lot of parents seem want to want to demand respect from their children, just because they’re the adults, but don’t treat their children in a manner that’s particularly deserving of that respect. The age-old adage of treating others the way you’d like to be treated yourself applies not just equally, but more when it comes to your children.  They are looking to you as their example. They are learning from you how to treat people.  If you want your children to be respectful, treat them with respect.  If you want your children to be polite, be polite when you speak to them (and to each other!).  If you want your children to embody kindness and compassion and humility and generosity, show them what it looks like.

8.  Take care of YOU.

There seems to be a general push by society to get away from your kids.  From the importance of regular “date nights”, to putting them in daycare and preschool at a young age, to extended vacations without them… there’s no shortage of advice telling us to separate.  I tend to believe the opposite:  I think it’s very important that we’re with our kids as much as possible (especially when they’re young), and that true independence will happen naturally and easily when it’s allowed to happen on their time, not ours.

That doesn’t mean though that I don’t think self-care is important! On the contrary, it’s almost impossible to properly care for someone else when you’re not first taking good care of yourself. Even when you need to force yourself – or more accurately, especially when you need to force yourself – caring for your own needs (be they physical, social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, creative….) is an integral part of parenting well.  I can’t speak for all moms, but I find it way too easy to lose myself in my kids, and go go go until I’m exhausted and cranky and burnt out.  And I learned somewhere along the way that when the kids and I get off-track, when people are out of sorts, when behavior starts getting wonky…. nine times out of ten it’s because I’ve been neglecting myself, which then caused me to be snippy and impatient and disconnected.  When I focus on taking better care of me, I’m able to then have the proper wherewithal to give my kids what they need as well.  Kids need a parent who is fully invested.  And in another cliche that’s turned out to be true:  You can’t fill your kids’ cups until you’ve filled your own.

 

BONUS: Looking for more specific suggestions for when your child hits, or tells you “no”, or has a hard time transitioning? Download my free PDF, listing ten of the most common (and most frustrating) toddler/young child behaviors, along with specific examples of what you can say and how you can respond gently and without punishment.

Moving beyond punishment, and parenting with connection instead of control, takes deliberate and mindful choices, as well as an ongoing commitment and effort (at times, a lot of effort).  And the reward is not in some hypothetical promise of how my kids are going to “turn out” some day. No, the beauty of gentle parenting is in the relationship that I enjoy with my kids right now… a relationship that’s sweeter and closer and more connected than I know it would be otherwise. Having children that are kind hearted and respectful and compassionate?  That’s just a bonus.

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P.S. I am working on a month long, premium course that dives much deeper into each of the eight points above.   Make sure you’re on my mailing list if you’d like to receive a notification of its release.

*   Examples may or may not have been taken from my own life.

 


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Twelve Ways to Raise Children That Are Generous and Kind

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I read an article this morning that outlined the many ways the author felt that parents were creating “entitled and rude” children.  This isn’t about one specific article though (such articles are a dime a dozen.  If you Googled, “entitled children” you’d have no shortage of results).  It’s not even about dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of articles.  It’s about this pernicious and widespread belief that children need to be FORCED into being grateful, and generous, and kind…. as if such a thing were even possible.

Is there a problem with entitlement in our society today?  Sure, although I’d argue that it’s more prevalent among adults than children.  But the answer to the problem isn’t more rules;  it’s more connection.

Less coercion;  more compassion.

Less demanding;  more listening.

Less requiring; more modeling.

If mainstream media is to be believed, the key to raising “good” kids lies in things like strict bedtimes, prompted “please” and “thank you’s”, forced household chores, and making darn sure you don’t buy them everything they want.   Many of these articles would be more appropriate advice for an employer/employee  relationship than that of parent and child.

What I believe is a little bit a lot different.  And while I can’t speak for any other kids out there, I can speak for my own, who are pretty much the opposite of entitled and rude.

Here then are twelve parental strategies that I do stand behind, every one of which I believe contributes to raising children who are gracious, generous and kind.

1.  DO be generous with them.  There is much ado made about not buying your children the latest and greatest gadgets, toys, and electronics, lest they become too spoiled.  And yes, absolutely, buying “things” in place of your time and attention is problematic.  But if we want our children to grow up to be giving and generous to those around them, wouldn’t it only make sense that we are first giving and generous towards them?   It’s human nature to want to give to those we love.  As parents, we’re in the unique position of being able to give through our time, our presence, our love, and, when circumstances permit it, through the various material things that make life more fun, interesting, and enriching.  I love being able to give to my children, whether it’s picking up their favorite kind of juice at the grocery store, or surprising them with a wished-for video game snuck into their Christmas stocking.  I couldn’t imagine actually withholding something from my children – or from anyone for that matter – just to teach them some kind of lesson.

2.  DO let them see you being generous to others.  A popular blogger recently posted a video of herself leaving food for a homeless person.  While I definitely don’t think that those sorts of things are meant to be made public, I do think that it’s wonderful – and important – to involve your children in the giving you do to others.  Let them see how it’s a part of your day-to-day life.  Take them with you when you volunteer. Talk to them about what it means to truly share with the people around you.  Show them ways you can bless other people.  I am a huge, huge fan of Christmas, and exchanging gifts with loved ones.  But for the past several years, my favorite part of the holidays has been deciding who to gift outside of our own little circle, and it is a family decision every time.  Kids don’t need to be told, or coerced, or forced into giving to others.  They just need to see it.

3.  DO treat them how you want to be treated.  Sometimes I fear I will sound like a broken record, because it’s something I repeat so often.  But mindful and gentle parenting can be summed up in this one little point. If you want your kids to be kind, show them kindness.  If you want your kids to be respectful, show them respect.  If you want your kids to be polite, show them what it means to be polite.   If you want your kids to be generous, show them generosity. So often parents want to demand respect from their kids, without stopping and asking themselves if they’ve even showed them what true respect looks like.  As parents, we are the first and biggest influence on how our children treat others.   Be nice to your kids, especially if you’re going to expect them to be nice to others.

4.  DO be their soft place to fall.   Life is sometimes full of foibles and disappointments… from the small (the movie you desperately wanted to see is sold out;  you failed your math test), to the major (your long-term relationship ends;  you get laid off at work), to the vast chasm in between (you get cut from the basketball team; you drop and break your $600 phone).  Over and over I see parents cautioned against trying to “fix” their child’s problems or disappointments. We should let them fail, we’re told, because it builds character. Because they’ll be better for it in the long run.  Because they need to learn life isn’t always fair.  Well, life isn’t always fair;  this much is true.   And we can’t always fix everything for our kids.  What we can do?  We can be there for them, every time.   We can be that soft place to land.  We can be that shoulder to cry on.  We can be the one to give them the time and space they need to process.  We can be the one, when the situation lends itself, to help them figure out what to do next.  And they, in turn, will become the ones who will be that person for someone else.

5.  DO be their friend.   Oh what a bad rap that word gets when it comes to parenting!  But a friend is simply someone who is there for you.  Someone you can trust.  Someone who listens. Someone who encourages you, cheers you on, and holds your hand.  Someone who gives honest advice.  Someone who has seen you at your best, and your worst. Someone who lets you be you, and loves you unconditionally.   I will always, always be that person for my kids, with no disclaimers and no apologies.

6.  DO let them have a voice.  I think that one of the most important things we can do for our kids is to empower them to form their own opinions, forge their own paths, and make as many of their own decisions as possible, so that – among so many other reasons – they know they are valued, they can gain confidence in themselves, and they will have the ability to stand up for what is right.  To that end, my kids are always free to say anything to me.   They have a voice in this house, and everyone’s voice matters.  We don’t operate our home as a dictatorship, but as a TEAM.   If my kids are sad or scared or frustrated or angry, I want to know about it!  I want to honor it, and I want them to know that we will always provide that safe place for them to express themselves…. no matter what it is they may be in need of expressing.

7.  DO listen to them.   Let them know that what’s important to them is important to you, whether they’re talking about Barbies or a TV show or a special rock they found outside.  Kids generally desperately want to invite you into their world.  Accept their invitation!  It’s not just important for your relationship right now, it’s also an investment into the relationship that you want to continue to grow stronger and closer into the future as your children mature.  “Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”  ~ Catherine M Wallace

8.  DO spend time with them.   At the time of this writing, my children are 18, nearly 15, 11, and 7.  I’ve lately been going through the profoundly bittersweet realization that my role in their lives is changing.  We still spend time together (one of my very favorite things to do is to go watch arena football games, and it recently occurred to me that one of the big reasons why is that it is something all six of us still do together as a family)  We still enjoy spending time together.  But it is in a wholly different way than during the toddler years, when I was largely their main companion.  It’s a cliche, but those years really do go by so fast.  So, so fast!   If I could give just one piece of advice to new parents, it would often be:  Have the tea parties.  Play dress-up.  Jump on the trampoline. Get on the floor with the legos and the ponies and the Matchbox cars.  Spend hours coloring in the sheet fort in the living room.   Play with your kids.   Show up, and really be there.  One day you’ll blink and they’ll be teenagers, opting to stay home to hold down the fort and take care of the pets while you take the two little ones camping. They’ll start spreading their wings – and it’ll be good!  But oh, so bittersweet.

9.  DO let them know that extrinsic rewards such as grades, fancy degrees, and big paychecks are not how they should define their worth.   We have homeschooled since day one.   My children have never been to school, and I have never bought into the system that says that you can measure progress or intelligence or knowledge by a letter grade on a test.  My kids – and yours! – are so much more than that.  They’re more than a GPA.  They’re more than an ivy league school. They’re more than a BMW parked in the driveway.  I don’t ever want my children to use any of the above as a yardstick to measure other people, so I’m not going to start by using it as yardstick to measure them.  I want them to see the people beneath the fluff. I want them to see the things that you can’t put down on paper.  The things that aren’t listed on report cards. The things that matter.  I want them to see hearts.  Kindness.  Generosity. Determination. Strength. Resiliency.   Joy.  I don’t want them to aspire to be what the world defines as “successful”, but to what they define as successful.  They have their own paths, and the best thing I can do as their mother is honor it. Encourage it.  Support it.  NOT stifle it by trying to manipulate or force them into a box of my own choosing.

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

~Emerson

10.  DON’T punish them for being kids.   Better yet, don’t punish them at all.  A writer friend of mine has likened young children to aliens.  The first time I saw that comparison, I’ll admit it caused a bonafide head tilt.  But the analogy is actually pretty spot-on.  Children are brand-new to this planet.  They’re learning how to navigate the world.  They’re learning how to get what they want. They’re learning how polite society works.  They’re learning how to communicate. They’re learning how to handle frustration.  They’re learning how to treat others.   Our job as parents is to patiently and lovingly stand beside them and guide them and be their partner in learning. Punishing a child who’s still learning (and we’re all still learning) is unkind at best, and incredibly damaging at worst.  Instead, work with your child, not against him.  Help him problem-solve.  A child who is having a tantrum, for example, is trying to tell you something. Lean into the moment and truly listen.

By the always wonderful L.R. Knost:

Discipline is helping a child solve a Problem. Punishment is making a child suffer for having a problem. To raise problem solvers, focus on solution not retribution.

11.  DON’T try to force them to be kind or have good manners.  I always cringe a little bit when I hear a well-meaning parent chirping at their child with, “What do you say??”  when they think a “thank you” is warranted.  It feels awkward and embarrassing and – ironically – not particularly polite.  If you want your child to use “please” and “thank you”… use “please” and “thank you” with your child.  If you want your child to interact respectfully with family members and strangers and waiters and bus drivers and mailmen and doctors, interact respectfully yourself.  If you want your children to be generous and kind and patient… if you want them to listen to others, to respect each other’s differences, to be caring and thoughtful in their interactions… show them what that looks like. There is no greater influence in a child’s life (or at least there shouldn’t be!) than the one he experiences in his own home.  That’s where it all starts.  Let him live it.  Let him experience it.  The only way a child can pass on loving kindness to someone else is if he first knows what it feels like to receive it.

12.  DON’T treat them like second-class citizens.  I saved this one for last because it’s at once the most important concept to understand, and for many people the most difficult.   Our society has been so ingrained to think that it is normal and okay that most people never even question it.  Most people never even see it.  Our children are not ours to micromanage, control, or manipulate.   They’re not house pets that need to be trained, nor robots that need to be programmed.  I always find it so ironic that articles proclaiming to show you how to raise respectful kids often prescribe such blatantly disrespectful behavior on the parents’ part.   Children are human beings that we have invited into our lives.   They didn’t ask to be here.  They are our invited guests.  Our job as parents isn’t to shape them or mold them but to love them.  Honor them.  Respect them.  Listen to them. SHOW them what it means to walk in kindness and love.  SHOW them what it means to navigate the world with respect for self, and respect for others.  SHOW them what it means to be a person of value (hint: they’re a person of value right now.  So am I.  So are you.)

Parenting well is about love.  It’s always been about love.   Somewhere along the way the love got lost amongst the rules.  The requirements.  The rigidity.  The idea that our kids are somehow our property, instead of what they actually are:  living, breathing, heart beats and souls walking around the earth, deserving of as much respect as anyone else.  Except, more respect actually, because they are our children.

Want to raise kids that are loving and kind?  Immerse them in love and kindness.


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Six Things My Kids Are Allowed to Say to Adults

167183_471596638308_3379574_nThere’s a blog post out there garnering a lot of attention titled 6 Things My Kids Aren’t Allowed to Say to Adults. After seeing it come through my Facebook newsfeed for the 27th time, I finally took a look.  Then I took another look. Then another.  Interestingly, each time I read it (3 times in total), there was another new edit, update, or clarification from the author. Clearly feeling the stress of negative comments, she defended, expanded on, and added specific examples for all of her original points.  She added a disclaimer.  She closed the comments.

As someone who is intimately and painfully familiar with the frustration of feeling like my words are being misconstrued, I am definitely sensitive to this mom’s plight.  Unfortunately, her additions to the post just made me disagree with it all the more, and were actually the impetus I needed to write a response.  Still, it somehow seems important to me to state right from the start that what follows is in response to words, ideas, and concepts…. not to one individual person.  I don’t know her, and had never read her blog prior to this one post.

I will list the six specific words/phrases in a minute, but the biggest reason that I disagree (and the overwhelming thought that clung to me as I read) is this:

I’m not interested in raising robots.  My kids are not mine to control, or to train.  They are human beings.  Lovely, perfectly imperfect, unique human beings with their own personalities, their own thoughts, and their own opinions.  I want to recognize and embrace and honor who they are, not who I want them to be.  I want my kids to feel free to say anything to me, to express any emotion to me….. and I want them to trust that I’ll always provide a safe space for them to do so.

{A quick but necessary little side note here, because for some reason my being open about my faith seems to invite people to employ Bible verses as weapons:  I’m aware of the scripture that reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” It’s a great verse!  I don’t refute it.  I do however refute the way it is so often twisted to advocate for a dehumanizing, literal “training” akin to something that you would do with dogs.  Children are not dogs.  This scripture – and others like it – simply serve as a reminder of our responsibility as parents.   Not just as Christians, but as caring, invested parents in general.  It’s our responsibility to parent in such a way that models kindness and respect, both for ourselves and for others.  It’s our responsibility to parent in such a way that models grace and forgiveness, both for ourselves and for others.  It’s our responsibility to parent in such a way that models love and gentleness, both for ourselves and for others. Those are the values that I want to live out loud, and by extension, show my children.  Those are the values from which I trust that my children “will not depart.”  And if we live it, they will learn it….. no “training” necessary.}

First and foremost, we were created as human beings… with a full range of personalities, emotions, and styles of communication.  I want my kids to be authentically themselves at any given moment, not some straight-edged, boxed-in version of themselves that I created through force, coercion and control.  And if there is anyone that I want them to feel free to be REAL with, it’s me!!

(Have I mentioned I’m not interested in raising robots?)

Here then, is the original list of words the author won’t allow her children to say, and why I feel very differently.

1.  “No”

A word that the author calls “the ultimate defiance towards authority,” I find the word, “no” to be a hugely important word for everyone to have at his or her disposal.  My youngest is now seven, so it’s been awhile, but I remember well when she and all three of her brothers discovered the word as toddlers.  In one memorable incident, we were all hanging out on our king bed one night, and it was getting late.  We told Tegan (who was barely two at the time) that it was probably time to put on her pajamas.  She looked at us with a little gleam in her eye, took her finger, and clearly traced the letters N O on the surface of the bed.  Not only were we not offended by her “defiance”, we thought it was awesome!  We had no idea she could spell, or even knew what the letters looked like, and she was immensely proud of herself.  What a powerful word!   We laughed, she laughed, and then she put on her pajamas.

Being able to set boundaries for yourself – in all kinds of situations – is an invaluable skill, and it often starts with the ability and the confidence to say no.  I’m a recovering people-pleaser, so I have often found myself burnt out and spread too thin.  Learning to say “no” as an adult was a huge step to protect my space, my health, and my sanity.  My kids know how to say no, and they are welcome to do so.

Does that mean then, that every time I ask them to do something, they say no?  NO!  (Ha, see what I did there?) They really never say no in that context, because our house doesn’t work like that.  We operate as a partnership, not a dictatorship.  We respect each other.  If I say to one of the kids, “Hey, can you help me pick up for a couple of minutes?” they’ll gladly help, much in the same way that I’ll gladly help when one of the kids asks me to bring them a drink when I’m in the kitchen.  Mutual respect and communication go a long way towards maintaining peace and unity within the home.

2.  “Just a minute”

She wrote:

When I tell my kids to do something, I expect them to obey immediately.

But “just a minute”  is something that we say as adults all the time.  All. The. Time.  I do try not to say it too often, because I want to stay present and engaged with my kids, but if I’m asked to do something when I’m really involved in a project, at a minimum I’m going to need to jot down whatever thought/word/project I was working on a sticky note (because I’m 41 and sleep deprived and my brain is full…. so if I don’t write it down, I risk losing it forever)  So while I’m happy to help with whatever’s asked of me, this is real life, so I don’t often jump up the exact instant that I’m asked…. which makes it categorically unfair to expect something different of my kids.

The author did say that her children were allowed to ask if they could, for example, finish reading their chapter in their book before they did whatever it was she’d asked them to do. But why should the onus be on the kids to ask permission?  Why can’t we as parents have enough respect for our kids to recognize that their time is just as valuable as ours?  Why can’t we as parents have enough respect for our kids to recognize that they don’t exist to be at our beck and call?  Unless time is of a serious essence (ie: someone’s on fire), “just a minute” is a perfectly acceptable response.

And I don’t expect my kids to be “obedient” (I actually can’t stand the word obedience)  What I expect is that my kids will treat me with the same level of care and respect that I extend to them. And they do.

3.  “Yeah”

She wrote:

Opinions on this may vary depending on your geographical location, but where I’m from, it is incredibly disrespectful to answer any adult with anything but “Yes ma’am”; “Yes sir”; “No ma’am”; and “No Sir”. My kids will definitely be corrected if they answer with a flippant “Yeah” in response to any question.

I agree with the author that opinions on this one likely vary based largely on geography.  I was raised in New England – not in the south – so I was not raised to address adults with “Yes, Ma”am” and “Yes, Sir” (what the author requires of her children.)  I’m actually not a fan of being addressed in that way myself.  It sounds awkwardly formal, and it makes me feel old.  I certainly wouldn’t want my kids to feel pressured or required to respond to me in that manner, particularly not in their own home.  If they want to answer me in the affirmative, “Yeah, yes, yep, yup, uh-huh, and right on” all work for me.

I don’t worry that they’ll not know when to use more formally respectful language either.   I speak in a different way to my friends to my husband to my mother to my boss to a police officer.  I adjust my level of formality and familiarity depending on the situation, as do most of us. We learn about being polite in a variety of settings as we grow, and as we mature.  It’s really not that complicated.

I’m their MOM, the most familiar person in their life. They really don’t need need to address me the same way they’d address a judge if they were arguing a speeding ticket in court.

4.  “I don’t want to”

Very similar to #1.  When the author tells her children to do something, the only acceptable response is immediate obedience.  “I don’t want to” is rarely an issue in that context in our house – remember, this is a partnership, not a dictatorship – but when I ask my kids to do something (that’s one huge difference between myself and the parenting philosophy employed by this author:  I ASK.  She TELLS)  When I ask my kids to do something, I’m genuinely asking, and while nine times out of ten the answer is yes, they always have the option to respond how they’d like.

Like the word, “no”, “I don’t want to” is a hugely important and empowering thing to be able to say, across many different circumstances.  I never want to give my children the disadvantage – and possibly put them in an unhealthy or unsafe situation – by telling them it’s not an appropriate thing to say.

And to hopefully head off some inevitable comments:  No, I don’t worry at all that my children will grow up to tell an employer “I don’t want to” when they’re told to complete a reasonable but unpleasant or boring task.   (Although, to be honest, if my children ever find themselves miserable, unfulfilled, or generally unhappy with their life choices, whether it be work or anything else:  I would hope that they would have the courage and the confidence to say, whether through words or actions, “You know what, I don’t want to do this anymore”, so that they could seek to create change.)

5.  “I don’t like this”

She says:

If they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat what is set before them.

I’ve written at length about my philosophy of food when it comes to my family (most recently here), but in short: We try to make foods we all like.  We’re all members of the family, and we all get to have a voice:  from the foods we buy, to the snacks we have on hand, to the dinners we cook.  Everyone gets to have, and express, an opinion.  And on the rare cases when we happen to have a dinner that someone doesn’t like?  No problem! They’re free to have a sandwich, make an egg, fix a bowl of cereal, whatever they’d like – something that the author deems a no-no.  My kids eat all kinds of foods, and are always game to try something new.Sure, they each have a few things they don’t care for.  Don’t we all?  As an adult, I generally simply avoid buying/eating the things I don’t like.  Why wouldn’t I extend my kids the same courtesy?  If they don’t like something, they’re always free to express it, especially in the safety of their own home.  Now, if we were visiting new friends for dinner, would they stab something with a fork, hold it up for the whole table to see, and announce, “This stuff is gross”? (something that a grown adult actually did to me once, after my woefully botched first attempt to make seitan when I was a vegan)  Absolutely not!  As with #3, it’s simply a social nuance that they learn with time, maturity, and involved parents.

One more point about the food.  There was much ado made about the fact that there are starving children out there who have nothing to eat, and therefore children should be thankful for what they have, and eat whatever’s placed in front of them.  Yikes.  Yes, it’s wonderful to have an attitude of gratefulness.  And yes – unfortunately – there are starving children out there. It’s an important thing to be aware of, to be sure.  Even better is to do something about it, and to help out whether by donating your time or your money to people who are in need.But using it as a vehicle to shame and coerce your children to eat what is put in front of them?  That isn’t fair, respectful, or helpful to anyone.

6.  Nothing 

She says:

When an adult speaks to my children, hiding behind mama and refusing to speak is not acceptable behavior

Much like saying “Yes, Ma’am” when the situation calls for it, and not telling the nice neighbor that the food she just made you is gross, learning to talk and interact respectfully with adults is something that comes with time and practice.  Just like adults, some kids are naturally outgoing from the beginning, and others start out by wanting to hide behind mom.  Both are okay!  I’m 41 years old, and I can think of many a social situation where I wish I could hide behind my mom.   But I don’t.  I’ve learned to shake hands, and smile politely, and say “It’s nice to meet you”, even if my voice shakes when I say it.  And kids will learn too.    But requiring them to interact in a way that they’re not ready for is no different than requiring them to hug and kiss grandma even if they don’t want to.  It’s a violation of their right to personal autonomy, and it seriously blurs the line of when they can and cannot say “no”, and who they do or do not have to listen to.

Their body = their choice

Their voice = their choice

If your child doesn’t want to talk to me for whatever reason, please don’t insist that they do!  I don’t need or want a forced “hello” or a forced “thank you” or a forced “I’m sorry.”   I’ll just be happy to know that you’re honoring your child’s wishes, and respecting his right to trust and make judgments about new people in his own time, in his own way.  It’s an important skill to have, and forcing them to interact in the way that you deem appropriate is stripping them of the practice they need to hone that skill for themselves.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

If you’ll indulge me while I say it for a third and final time:  I’m not raising robots.  These are HUMAN BEINGS. This is a relationship we’re forming here, not boot camp.  The idea of censoring, controlling, and requiring certain narrow words and reactions from children not only saddens me but quite honestly genuinely frightens me.  It feels more like programming than parenting.  Kids aren’t ours to program.  They are ours for but a short time, to nurture, protect, and guide through our example…. but also to sit back and watch, while they unfold into the perfectly unique and already-laid-out version of themselves, which I guarantee you is far better than anything you or I could ever orchestrate on their behalf.  

My kids can say anything to me.  They can express any emotion.  Share any feeling.  Give any opinion.  In short, they can be real.

No matter what else a home may be, shouldn’t it at least start with being a place where you can be yourself?

 

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Mom Guilt, And Why You Need To Lose It

Photo Credit:  Nina H

Photo Credit: Nina H

Last week, another blogger whose opinion I greatly respect and admire, posted an update that read in part:

I will never, ever forgive myself for allowing my precious baby to be circumcised. I don’t believe I should ever be forgiven by anybody for it. The buck stops here.

I genuinely think it was the first time I ever disagreed with her (which is exactly what I said when I commented). She and I both share the same – very real – regret.   It is my biggest parental regret to be sure.  I’m thankful we were given the opportunity to make different decisions for our younger boys.

But I’ve forgiven myself.

I believe very strongly that you have to forgive yourself if you want to be a healthy and vibrant and positive parent….. whether your regret is an unnecessary cosmetic surgery, or inadvertently snapping at your daughter when you were sleep deprived.   You simply cannot be the parent (or the person, for that matter) you were meant to be if you stubbornly refuse to forgive yourself for your offenses.

Forgiving yourself does not mean you’re letting yourself off the hook.  It does not mean that what you did is suddenly okay.  It does not mean that you’re not taking accountability for your actions.

It means:

to give up resentment against.  To stop wanting to punish.  To stop feeling angry or resentful for an offense, flaw or mistake.

In other words, it simply means you release yourself from the negative and destructive feelings – you guys, these feelings are so destructive! – about the event in question.  It means that you show yourself grace… that you recognize you’re a human being who makes mistakes, and that you deserve to conduct your life without carrying around a heavy burden of guilt.  No good ever comes from guilt.

If you let guilt take residence, it eats you from the inside.  When it remains unchecked, you become that guilt.   Everything you do, say, and feel is then filtered through that guilt.  It colors everything.  It darkens everything.  It affects the way you interact with yourself, with the world around you, and with your children.

When my kids make mistakes (and they do make mistakes, because they’re human), I don’t want them to ever live under guilt.  Self-reflection, yes.  Self-responsibility, yes.  But never guilt. So it’s not something I want to model for them.   I don’t want my children seeing mom view life through a lens of guilt.  I want my children seeing mom owning her mistakes, learning from them, and doing better the next time.

I want to tell my kids,

You’re not a product of your mistakes.  You’re a product of your triumphs.

Our mistakes teach us.  They help refine us.  They help shape us.  But they do NOT define us. Living under guilt and failing to forgive ourselves for our mistakes makes our life become about the very mistake that we want to move beyond.  And how can you ever truly grow and heal and move beyond a mistake if you refuse to release it? (Spoiler:  you can’t)

Guilt does not serve you.  Guilt is self-centered and narcissistic.  It wants to steal from you.  And as long as you allow it to stay, it will do exactly that.

If you’re going to offer your children grace, and kindness, and forgiveness (and I’d like to believe that if you’re here reading this that you do in fact want to offer those things to your children), you need to first extend it to yourself.


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