Archives for August 2012

How long is your leash?


As wrong as it seems to compare our children to dogs, I see so many parallels. Children need to be trained just as much as dogs do. And we can compare the freedom we give our children to the leash we use with dogs. Yes, I mean leash in the figurative sense. The thought of putting my child 0n a leash brings up so many images, including a hilarious episode of Modern Family. But think of the leash as a measure of your child’s freedoms.

When my kids are being uncharacteristically disobedient, I tell them and my husband that they are going to be on a short leash. This is my short way of saying that I will:

  • Limit their choices
  • Make most of their decisions for them
  • Require that they hold my hand everywhere we go
  • Call their names and require a “yes, mommy” and eye contact at every turn
  • Require that they ask permission for almost everything
  • Give no leniency when they act up

They don’t need to be on a short leash for long. It works very well in reigning in their behavior. They quickly go back to the obedient kids they are. As with most everything in parenting, they will be as obedient as I expect them to be. If I actively train (or retrain) them, they will be obedient. If I slack off, they will too.

In addition to keeping our children on a short leash, we also need to recognize when to lengthen their leash. When our kids are characteristically obedient, they have earned the freedom to be on a long leash. They are kids, so they can’t be free of the leash completely, but the leash can be long. If we give the freedom and flexibility to explore their world–with the trust that they will treat it well–we can give them that freedom.

Make play a priority

Life and a sick child have gotten the better of me, so I only have the energy to leave you with this one thought. It’s an important one, though, so pay attention. As you think about what activities to sign your kids up for this fall, and as you look ahead to school starting (if it hasn’t started already), think about play. Yes, homework needs to be done, and music classes can be very enriching. But please stop yourself before you sign up for much more than that. Take a look at this amazing graphic.

I agree with every single word. Let your kids be kids. Let them play outside and inside every day. Make play a priority!

Sometimes it’s better left unsaid


Do you have a child who easily tunes you out? Do you feel like all you do is repeat yourself? Do your words get the behavior and attitude that you want from your child?

Sometimes, it’s better if we keep our mouths shut. It’s so cliche, but actions do speak louder than words. There are several scenarios where staying quiet has more power:

  • Your child suddenly whacks his baby sister in the head. He knows better; you don’t need to remind him.
  • The child throws a toy across the room in a fit of rage. Quickly carrying him by the hand to his room for a timeout will speak volumes.
  • You tell him to wash his hands for dinner, and he turns around and screams “no!” in your face. There should be no question in anybody’s mind whether this is acceptable.

Imagine your toddler throws a fit in public. You might be tempted to give him a piece of your mind. Or you might want to ask the people nearby whose kid this is. It can be tempting to publicly admonish our kids because we want other people to know that we don’t let tantrums go unaddressed. But really, does the grocery store checker care how you parent your child? Probably not. And it’s bad enough that the people around you have to hear your screaming child. Do they really need to listen to your threats and demands?

Besides, our discipline is often much more effective when we don’t say a word. When he’s throwing a fit in public, simply take him by the hand, hold it firmly, and walk quickly out of the store. He’ll get the hint. Take him home, put him on his bed for a timeout, and then when he’s calm you can start talking. The other benefit of keeping quiet is that it keeps you from flying off the handle and threatening consequences that you eventually regret.

It’s also important to keep quiet when you’re about to hand over a logical consequence. If the child knows his behavior is wrong, don’t warn him. Don’t give him the option of choosing the consequence over obeying. React calmly and swiftly and he’ll be all the more respectful of  your authority. And if your child is in the middle of a tantrum, it’s especially important to keep quiet about consequences. Threatening consequences to a kicking, screaming child will not get him to settle down. It will only make him more mad.

So the next time your child frustrates, angers or embarrasses you, think twice before saying a word. If your child thinks you’re all talk and no action, the reversal of your ways will surprise him (in a good way).


A tiny gripe: natural and logical consequences are not the same


Can I clarify something? I often see people misusing the term “natural consequences.” The grammar snob in me cannot let this go. Natural consequences and logical consequences are two very different things. Both forms of consequences happen as a direct result of the child’s actions. But how they happen is very different.

Here’s the difference: Natural consequences are imposed by someone or something other than the parent. Logical consequences are imposed by the parent or other authority figure (like a teacher).

Here are a few examples of logical consequences:

  • The child whines when you say it’s time to turn off the TV, so you take away his TV privileges for 2 days.
  • The child doesn’t eat his veggies at dinner, so you don’t allow dessert.
  • The child refuses to clean up, so you take his toys away.

Now, here are a few examples of natural consequences:

  • The child runs downhill on a slippery surface and falls and hurts himself.
  • The child pulls a cat’s tail, and the cat scratches him.
  • The child mistreats a friend and loses the friend.
  • The child chooses not to eat dinner and is starving in the morning.

Do you see the difference? You have no involvement in natural consequences. And you know what? Natural consequences are so much more powerful because they come from someone other than mom. Funny how our kids are so willing to listen to somebody or something other than us. So whenever your child is approaching a situation that may end in a natural consequence, give him fair warning, but let it happen. He’ll be much more likely to learn from it.

He should know better


Do you ever get tired of repeating yourself? Do you ask yourself and your child whether he should know better by now? It’s important to realize that we have a very different perspective on life than our children do. We may have heard ourselves say “don’t jump on the bed” 200 times, but your child may honestly think he’s never heard you say that before.

When was your first memory? I only have a few vague memories from before the age of 5. And true, short-term memory is much different from long-term memory. But can we really expect our 4-year-olds to remember what we said two weeks ago? If it’s a regular issue, sure, we might expect them to remember. But if it’s an issue that only comes up every now and then, they may honestly not remember your rule.

If there’s any doubt, better to treat it as childishness than foolishness. Don’t assume your child knows better and is willingly disobeying you. There’s nothing more frustrating to a child than being held accountable for a rule that he has no memory of.

Perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned from this is that we must always see ourselves as our children’s teachers. Whether it’s an innocent situation of how to behave in front of people they’ve never met or how to behave on a daily trip to the grocery store, we must teach them what we expect. This is particularly true when we discipline our kids. No discipline will be effective if it isn’t followed by teaching.

The Ezzos say it best:

“One of the most basic goals of any correction is that it should promote learning and understanding. Correction requires explanation. Without the why (explanation) of wrong there is no correction, just a random redirection of behavior. Whether a child’s actions are innocent mistakes or malicious disobedience, explanatory teaching will always be necessary. The parent’s job is to give verbal explanation that moves the child from what he did this time to what he should do next time. Whatever the wrong behavior, use it to impart knowledge. If you complete your talk and learning didn’t take place, correction didn’t happen,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 159).

No matter the situation, we should always consider whether the child really knew better. And whether he did or not, we can never stop teaching.

Do you unknowingly negotiate?


Do you ever negotiate with your kids? Do you let them engage you in a negotiation conversation? We all know that negotiating with our kids is wrong, right? Parenting is not a democracy. Our kids’ votes do not hold equal weight with ours. But sometimes, it’s easy to get wrapped up in conversations that are thinly veiled negotiations.

Just recently, I noticed my husband getting caught up in a negotiation with our oldest. We’re weaning William off melatonin (which he needed for a while as a result of his sensory processing issues), and he’s been getting out of bed, impatient that he’s not falling asleep. I sympathize with the child since it can be hard to break an old habit. Honestly, it’s gotten to the point where the melatonin had greater psychological effects than anything else. Anyway, my husband brought William upstairs to put him back in bed, and I noticed that he got into a fairly long and involved conversation with William about it all.

My kids know they are not to get out of bed after we say good night. It’s never been much of an issue with William because the melatonin always put him to sleep right away. But still, he’s 8 now, and should know better. Nonetheless, my husband quickly got wrapped up in William’s pleading and complaining. It became a bit of a negotiation with William wanting to stay up late.

I take a very firm stance when my kids attempt to negotiate with me. I end the conversation before it even starts. If it were me, I would have said, “Good night, William,” in my I’m-done-with-this-conversation voice and closed his door.

Scenarios like this aren’t your typical negotiation attempts. When I think about negotiation, it’s the child trying to get 4 cookies instead of 2, and you agree to a compromise of 3. But with both scenarios, the parent is accepting something other than the original instruction.

After offering a scenario about a child wanting to play with his trucks during lunch, the Ezzos say:

“The issue is not whether playing with a truck at lunch is right or wrong, but whether his mom is characterized by always negotiating something less than her original instructions. When parents become characterized by continually accepting a negotiated compromise, they undermine their attempts to bring their child to first-time obedience. If all is negotiable, then no instruction is absolute. When we negotiate the standard in the heat of battle, there is no true surrender, only an agreed upon suspension of conflict. Without a complete surrender, there will always be a member ready to wage war,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 125).

That’s huge! Most of us know that negotiating with our kids is wrong, but have you ever stopped to think why? To think that it could completely undermine all of our hard work in first-time obedience makes the issue all the more important. If you’ve read my eBook, you know that saying what you mean and meaning what you say are crucial in setting the stage for first-time obedience. No child is going to obey you the first time if he can quickly and easily change your mind.

So stick to your guns and don’t let him negotiate with you! And be on the lookout for those conversations that seem like innocent conversations but are really negotiation attempts!

Obedience and respect require training


We all know that, as parents, we take on a position of authority with our children. This idea is very natural to most of us. But understand that obedience and respect for authority do not come naturally to our children.

In Growing Kids God’s Way, the Ezzos say:

“Your children will not automatically obey, respect, or honor you. These activities run contrary to their natures. They must receive training and guidance from you,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 93).

When our kids hit about age 18 months, they begin to assert some independence. It is in their nature to follow their own free will. They want to do what they want to do. It’s not easy–for anybody–to submit to another person’s will. It goes against our nature.

But for us to accomplish anything with our children, we must teach them to obey and to respect our authority. This goes for everything from staying in bed after bedtime to teaching important moral qualities. In fact, having our children obey us is the first step in teaching them to show respect for others.

“Teaching children to respect and honor their parents is basic to teaching them how to show respect for others. It starts with the parents….There is something special about the role you serve as a parent. For that reason, we give this warning. Do not allow your children to mock your position as their guardian by their impulsive thoughts, words, and deeds,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 92-93).

It takes real work to teach our children to obey and to respect our authority, but without it, we are left with very little. As parents, we are tasked with training our kids to be good people. That requires serious moral training. If they do nothing but ignore or mock us, none of this important training will happen. There are too many selfish, disrespectful kids (and adults!) who feel a sense of entitlement and that others are there to serve them.

If you want to raise a child who is selfless and thinks of others before he thinks of himself, start with obedience training. If you see any signs of disrespect, nip it in the bud. It’s when our children are little that this important work needs to happen.

And I cannot end this post without mentioning my eBook, Live in Harmony with First-Time ObedienceTeaching our children to respond with a “yes, mommy” when we call their names is the first step to instilling kindness and selflessness in our children. Teach them that they cannot do simply as they please. Teach them that by obeying you, they are learning to show respect and kindness for everyone in their lives.

Homeschooled vs. homeschoolers

I came across this amazing YouTube video about homeschooling. This brilliantly witty woman makes the distinction between those who are homeschooled and those who are homeschoolers. It’s worth a few good laughs, but she also makes a good point. Take a look!

Click on the image to watch!

Take the ego out of parenting


There’s a post on Motherlode, the NY Times’ parenting blog, that’s in response to the article “Raising Successful Children.” In it, the author talks about the ego in parenting. This paragraph sums up the post nicely:

“Sometimes, though, I begin to suspect that we do all this discussing and ruminating, as Ms. Levine put it, ‘out of our own needs rather than theirs.’ How egotistical is it to think that my parenting skills shape my children’s every action? They are not, as one commenter to this blog noted recently, Labradoodles. Some of what they do, and the choices they make, should be down to them,” (Motherlode, “The Ego in Raising Successful Children“).

The original article and the Ezzos tell us that we need to give our children the freedom to fail. Our children need to learn from their mistakes while they are young and while the stakes are low. So why is this so difficult for parents?

Ego. We created these little beings. We are responsible for how they turn out, right? This would certainly explain the competition in trying to make our kids better than everybody else’s. When our kids are the smartest or most talented in their class, is it a reflection on them or on us? I think many of us would say that we were instrumental in making that happen.

On the flip side, do we take responsibility when things go awry? When our teenager becomes rebellious and starts failing classes, do we take responsibility? Probably not. How convenient is that? We take credit when things go well, but then we get to shift the blame to the child–or more likely, his teacher–when things go wrong?

How about we completely take the ego out of parenting? Can we create these little beings, create a healthy environment (modeling good behavior), teach them when issues arise and leave it at that? At what point are our children responsible for their own actions?

“It’s our resistance to that statement [the quote above] that leaves us in exactly the parental position Ms. Levine laments: afraid to see our children fail. That’s perhaps the ultimate parenting catch: someone out there will put your child’s every failure, whether it’s rudeness as a preschooler to failing algebra in high school, on you. You, in fact, will put any and all such failures exactly there: did you not teach them any better?

And yet we still have to let them fail. We have to let ourselves fail, or appear to fail, in order to have even a shot at doing this parenting job right. A blow to the ego? Indeed. But didn’t we agree that this isn’t supposed to be about us?” (Motherlode, “The Ego in Raising Successful Children“).

If we can resist the temptation to “overparent,” we can more easily take the ego out of parenting and hold our children accountable for the choices they make–whether they turn out well or not.

Don’t rush your child to grow up


On Wednesday, I talked about a NY Times article that discusses the idea of “overparenting.” The article talks about parents doing too much for their kids. Rushing our children like this, the authors say, has harmful effects on the child’s developing sense of self.

I flipped open my Growing Kids God’s Way book tonight and discovered a passage that discusses this idea directly. (I love it when I flip open a book and it gives me exactly the message I need at that moment.)

“All too often, parents rush the process of growing up. Too soon, Dad and Grandpa are signing R.J. up for junior hockey, simply because he was mesmerized by the latest ESPN commercial. … Never mind the fact that R.J. is only four years old and hates the cold. Dad is left coercing, correcting, pleading, and dealing with tears, while R.J. is clearly out of his league,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 178).

It is fantastic when children develop a true passion for a sport or any other extracurricular activity, but when the primary motivation comes from the outside, the child’s sense of self is hindered. The book goes on:

“Maybe you have not rushed your child to the hockey rink lately, but have you rushed him in other behavior activities that are way beyond his intellectual and social readiness or interest? … Think about their readiness to learn. While it is true that the brain grows best when challenged, it is also true that such challenges must be developmentally and age appropriate. Too often, parents push their children into higher learning activities only to discover that their children’s abilities are impaired because they were rushed. … Children in our society are rushed morally, behaviorally, sexually, intellectually, and physically,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 178).

It’s a curious thing, this need of parents to rush their children. We always want the best for them, and we get caught up in this trap that our child has to be better and smarter than every other child. What are some ways to speed the process along? Teach them to read at a year old! Sign them up for competitive chess at age 2! Fill their summers with camps that promise unparalleled enrichment!

Can you detect my sarcasm? Let your child be a child. I remember when my oldest was little. It was easy to get caught up in this competition. He knew all of his letters before he was 2 and he was reading at age 4. But I have since learned that there’s really no point in it at all. Who’s to say that a child who learns his letters at age 2 is going to be smarter than the child who learns them at age 3 or 4? The only thing it tells you for sure is that the parents are motivated to push the child. It really doesn’t say much about the child.

And back when William was little, I heard other parents (parents of children older than mine) say, “What’s the rush?” In my ignorance (or arrogance), I thought, Well, they just don’t understand or care that their child be the best he can be. I have learned so much in my (almost) 8 years as a parent! I’m now the one saying, “What’s the rush?” It’s true, what meaningful advantage will your child have by learning everything a little bit sooner? And do you want to run the risk of burnout by age 6?

Perhaps more to the point, what will your child miss out on by learning academics or being pushed into sports before he is developmentally ready? Most kids are developmentally ready for academics around the age of 5. (There’s a reason schools don’t take them before they’re 5.) When they are 2, they are still figuring out the world. When they are 3, they are learning to play imaginatively (and think critically). Let him develop naturally, and you’ll be sure he doesn’t skip over any critical developmental phases.

In fact, academics will come more easily and naturally when the child is ready. Start early and you’re in for months or years of heartache. Equate it to potty training. If you start before they’re ready, you’ll deal with months and months of accidents and a discouraged mom and child. If you wait until the child shows signs of readiness, you can potty train him in a week. I did!

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now. But before I do, I have one request. When you think about starting a new activity (physical, academic, whatever), give some thought as to whether he’s really ready and what might be the harm in waiting a little while longer. Before long, I bet you’ll be the one saying, “What’s the rush?!”