Archives for October 2012

Kids do what works


Kids do what works. It’s very simple, but for some reason, this idea can be difficult for parents to recognize. If your child has a chronic behavior problem that you can’t seem to shake, ask yourself whether you’re encouraging it somehow by proving to your child that it’s working.

To determine whether a behavior is working for your child, it’s important to understand his motivations. In many cases, our kids seek positive attention from us, but even negative attention is attention. Consider the following behaviors:

  • Whining
  • Crying
  • Sibling squabbles
  • Tattling

These behaviors typically incite some sort of reaction from us. Be careful that you don’t respond to these behaviors like this:

  • Whining = Giving in to the whining or responding in any way to the child’s whining voice
  • Crying = Again, giving in to the child’s protest
  • Sibling squabbles = Taking sides, giving one child more attention than the other or somehow validating the argument
  • Tattling = Disciplining the child who did the initial wrong without disciplining the child who tattled

There are many more behaviors that we see in our children that become chronic misbehaviors simply because the child has learned that they work. But before you label your child as a manipulator, understand that all of this happens on a very subconscious level for the child. Recently, I was talking to a friend about William’s complaining about school work. (We’re homeschooling.) The complaining had become such a habit that it was a daily problem. She suggested that I simply walk away or turn my head. It worked! Not only that, but a few days later, he had to work alone by necessity, and he actually decided that he did better when he was left alone. Without consciously recognizing that he was whining and complaining, he realized that it was getting him nowhere, so much so that he asked to work alone.

One other thing to look out for when identifying chronic misbehaviors that work is to realize that you are not the only one who might be feeding the fire. Your spouse, grandparents, and even the child’s sibling might encourage the misbehavior. So if you hear whining from your child and see it directed toward your husband, you know that he is probably the one who gives in to the whining. It is then his task to work on his response to any and all whining.

Also beware that if you don’t nip a misbehavior in the bud, the child’s sibling might actually do it, too. If your youngest cries to get what he wants and his sibling sees this happening all day every day, then he or she will start to do it as well. Who wouldn’t? If it works for baby brother, why wouldn’t it work for big sister?


Family chores


To encourage selflessness in our children, it’s important to have them do chores for the family. When we ask them to clean up, it’s common for a child to retort, “But those aren’t my toys!” or “But I didn’t make that mess!” Frankly, that’s all the more reason to have them follow through with the chore.

When you think of chores for your children, have them clean up messes that are specifically not their own. If the dog made a mess, have the child clean it up. If a sibling made a mess, have the child clean it up.

When my boys and I were doing laundry recently, I had them both help me sort the clothes. But rather than have them work on their own hampers, I had them switch. I had William sort Lucas’ clothes, and I had Lucas sort William’s clothes. Then they both helped me with mine. William seemed a little confused and almost began to argue, but he obeyed nonetheless.

Keep this in mind the next time you assign a chore to your child.

Hands on the car!


If you’re a parent, you know the struggle that often happens when getting our kids out of or into the car. Busy streets, crowded parking lots, bags of groceries, babies to hold, it all adds up to create a potentially dangerous situation.

Learn this simple phrase: “Hands on the car!”

When you approach the car, particularly when you can’t get the child in the car right away, teach him to put his hand on the car and wait. This allows you time to gather up the baby, groceries, or whatever without wondering where the child has wandered off to and what danger he might be in.

There are some parents who have the child hold onto mom’s pocket. This can present a challenge when mom needs to move back and forth between a shopping cart and the car. Or say the child runs ahead from the house to the driveway. Being trained to put his hand on the car will keep him from running into the street.

Another option is to settle the child by having him put his hands in his own pockets. This again, doesn’t keep the child from moving out into the street or parking lot.

Or you might sometimes have the child hold onto the shopping cart. This could work, but it could also turn into mayhem if the child is tempted to move the cart or jump on it (and tip it).

So teach the child to always put his hands on the car and wait. And check out this site. They sell magnets to put on the car to indicate where on the car the child is to put his hand. Brilliant!

Is shyness an excuse?


Is shyness an excuse? For that matter, is any temperamental strength or weakness an excuse for questionable behavior? If your shy child clams up when someone compliments her, is that okay?

I was painfully shy as a child. Well, I was the comedian of the family within the safety of my home. But get me around strangers and I would clam up. Luckily, I don’t have a shy child, but if I did, I would work on that temperamental weakness just as I would any other.

Here’s what the Ezzos say:

“Shyness is not an acceptable excuse for disrespect. It cannot be used as a legitimate excuse for disrespect, because temperamental strengths and weaknesses do not exempt a child from right moral responses. If someone says hi to your child, the correct response should be, at least, hi. If someone compliments your daughter’s dress, teach her the basic courtesy response: ‘thank you,'” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 101).

If this is an issue with your child, take the time to work on it:

  • Instruct the child in how to respond in certain situations.
  • Explain when such situations might arise (before you leave for a social event).
  • If the child clams up, don’t make excuses for the child.
  • Just say, “I”m sorry, we are working on this.”
  • Don’t verbally berate the child in public. It’ll only make it worse.

Shyness isn’t the only temperamental quality to consider. My children are creative and extroverted. Shyness is the least of our concerns. But there are times when my children are loud and creative in the wrong situations. I often tell my children, “Be bored!” when we’re headed into a grocery store or restaurant where they might be tempted to make some fun where there isn’t any to be had.

Think through other temperamental qualities in your child and determine how you might work with the child to overcome any weaknesses.

Virtues not vices


When you see a wrong behavior or poor moral choice, do you focus on the vice? Or do you focus on the opposite virtue?

We are told to always speak with positive language (e.g., “tell the truth,” not “don’t lie”) but this also applies to bigger moral issues. The Ezzos teach us:

“Children of all ages are better served by substitution than suppression,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 118).

Say you see one of the following vices: lying, cheating, stealing, hoarding, jealousy, tattling, anger, etc. Stop, identify the vice and then work on the opposite virtue.

“Suppression of wrong behavior is often achieved by encouraging the opposite virtue. If you want to suppress jealousy, give equal time to elevating the opposite virtue: contentment,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 118).

Here’s a list of vices and their opposite virtues:

  • Envy: Charity
  • Anger: Self-control
  • Revenge: Forgiveness
  • Lying: Honesty
  • Hoarding: Sharing
  • Tattling: Speaking kindly of others

Think of it as redirection. When our toddlers keep touching the TV after we’ve told them not to 136 times, we redirect their behavior by giving them something else to focus on. So if your child is lying, focus on honesty, teaching him various forms of honesty throughout the day. If you see a child envious of a friend, redirect his vice by focusing on charity.


Use a visual timer

Source: Amazon

It’s a simple idea, but timers can have great power in getting our children to move through their activities at a reasonable pace. But I have learned that I can’t just use any old timer. I have to use a visual timer.

There have been many times when I’ve said, “You have 10 minutes to clean up your toys,” and then I set the microwave timer. The problem with this is that they really have no idea how long 10 minutes is or when the timer might go off. They tend to dawdle and I feel compelled to remind them that the timer is ticking. I’ve been known to shout out, “5 minutes left!” But again, how long is 5 minutes? It’s only when that timer goes off that they start to rush through the job.

So here’s a fix. Get a visual timer. I have a timer that counts down the minutes. This is particularly useful for William (age 8) since he can read the minutes and knows the difference between 20 minutes and 2 minutes. This sometimes works for Lucas (age 5), or I’ll use it when they’re doing an activity together. Another visual timer is an hourglass. Fine one in your game closet and test it to see how many minutes it counts.

I’ve also discovered that our oven timer is better than our microwave timer. It isn’t necessarily visual, but it gives a warning beep one minute before time is up.  There are even some timers out there that change colors as time elapses. The timer in the picture above has this feature and is only $13 on Amazon. I’m tempted to get it for myself!

Change “go” to “come”


How often does the word “go” precede your instructions for your child? These instructions sound like this:

  • Go wash your hands for dinner
  • Go upstairs and clean your room
  • Go brush your teeth
  • Go put your shoes on

How well does your child obey when you tell your child to “go” do something? Even if you get eye contact and “yes, mommy,” the child might not be so willing to comply, especially if he has better ideas in mind.

Here’s a simple idea. The next time you hear yourself say “go” do X, try saying “come.” It works like this: instead of telling your child to go put his shoes on, try saying, “Come with me to the shoe basket so you can put your shoes on.” Hold out your hand to give him an indication that he is to hold it. It almost immediately changes the tone from one of confrontation to one of cooperation.

Be sure to understand that this does not mean you do the activity for him. You are not putting his shoes on for him. You are simply bringing him over to his shoes so he can put them on.

Other variations of “come” instructions might include:

  • Come with me to the table so you can sit down for dinner
  • Come with me to the bathroom so you can wash your hands
  • Come with me to your room so we can see what toys and books need to be picked up
  • Come to the bathroom so we can brush your teeth

The other benefit of this type of instruction is that it allows you to take your child by the hand and lead him to where you want him to be. It allows you to guide your child without giving an instruction, worrying about first-time obedience, or following through with a consequence. Because of this, it’s especially useful when you’re in a time crunch (no time for timeouts) and for tasks that your child typically resists.

Learn the art of hovering


Hovering over a child can be a very useful trick. But I don’t mean the helicopter parent type of hovering. In the spirit of the idea that actions speak louder than words, hovering can have a great effect on our children.

Next time you see your child misbehave or begin to cross a line, just stand near him. Let him feel your presence. Like a security guard tailing a shoplifter, just stand near him. If he knows you’re onto him, he may stop.

Say you’re on the phone and your child is supposed to be cleaning his room. Simply drift over to his room to see how it’s going. If he’s not cleaning, don’t say a word. Just stand there for a minute. If he makes eye contact with you, just raise your eyebrows and say “humph,” as in, I’m making a mental note of what’s going on here. And walk away.

If your child is doing homework, but you see him doodling instead of working, just stand behind him. If he doesn’t notice you, put your hand on the table or sit down next to him. You can look at his work. Just don’t say anything. He knows what he’s supposed to be doing. If he see that you’re there checking up on him, he’ll get back to work.

When you employ this technique, resist the urge to nag. Nagging only gives our children an excuse to complain and argue with us. If they know what they’re supposed to be doing and you hover nearby, they will get the hint.

Are you a parenting procrastinator?


Time is a funny thing. Our kids have entered our lives and have changed our lives permanently. But often, with every passing birthday, we’re shocked by how quickly that year went by. Lucas just turned 5 a few days ago, and it’s strange how it seems like he was born just yesterday.

This time thing can play tricks on us when it comes to parenting, too. When they’re little, we think that we have years and years to work on building their values and morals. For example, we may think that we just need to teach the mechanics of sharing for now, and that the reasons behind the act of sharing can come later.

But the Ezzos are clear on this fact. All moral training should take place no later than the child’s third birthday. So yes, you should teach the mechanics of moral actions like sharing, but you should also teach the moral reason why we share.

The book says this:

“There will be plenty of times in the early years when your explanation is simply, ‘Because Mom said so.’ But by the time your child hits three years of age, instructions that are tied to moral behavior should include moral or practical reasons why,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 81).

I suggest that around the age of 2.5, or soon before the child’s third birthday, you take the time to think through your moral beliefs. Think about how you might explain moral actions to a questioning child. Then when that third birthday comes, take the time to explain the moral reason why, even if the child doesn’t seem to want to know. Simply explaining it to him from an early age will help build that moral foundation that is so important to a child’s future.

E-book readers for kids

By Hank Osborne,

What is an appropriate age for e-book readers? How do you monitor Internet access and control inappropriate use of these devices? When can you feel comfortable with turning your child loose without being at their side?

These are all great questions that I hear from parents and face within my own family. My oldest son is turning 10 next week and we are considering an e-book reader as a birthday present. He is an avid reader thanks to his mom’s dedication to teaching him to read, spell, and write in cursive in kindergarten. Lately he was blazing through some classics, and we want to give him the tools to continue to feed his appetite. I have a 2nd generation Kindle. This is one of the earliest models that came with free Whispersync. My wife and I have been considering this as a hand-me-down birthday present.

So what’s the big deal with giving a 10 year old boy a 2 1/2 year old Kindle? In short, there are no technical solutions to limit adult content while searching the Amazon store. The Kindle Free Time parental controls offered on the Kindle Fire do not even solve this problem that exists across all Kindle models and apps. Traditional Internet filters don’t help much because most of these tools only work on certain browsers like Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, etc. The Kindles perform store searches within the Kindle app rather than use a browser to access So what can a parent do?

The answer is not as simple as wrapping up my old Kindle and handing it over. The following are steps that can be taken regardless of the model of Kindle you might want to hand over to your child. Most of these steps will not solve the underlying problem, but will help deter access to inappropriate material.

  1. Deregister the device from your Amazon account.
  2. Register the Kindle to an Amazon account that you create for your child, controlled by you. Make sure that only you have access to the email address associated with this new account.
  3. Disable (turn off) Whispersync device synchronization.
  4. Don’t give your child access to a credit card or debit card.

To address the underlying concern, we have to move away from technological solutions. We have to be proactive in our training on how to use technology responsibly. I recommend that parents teach kids to use technology in much the same way I learned to drive a car. The picture shown above is of me driving a car at 9 years old. And that is my two-year-old sister in the passenger seat. I did not get the freedom to drive the car simply because I know how to operate the controls. There was a training process involved over a long period of time. As with cars, just because your child knows how to use the technology does not mean he is ready to use the technology without supervision and boundaries.