Parenting

Insights and inspirations about parenting.

Things a parent should never trust

A toddler playing quietly in the other room

Any leftovers in the frig you want saved if you have a teenager

A teenager who says they’ll be home “by midnight”

Filtering devices on the computer

Spreads of fashion magazines models

A child who says, “Everyone else’s mom lets them do it.”

Photos on Facebook or Instagram of everyone on vacation but me, all having the time of their lives

Movie ratings

A teenager with a new driver’s license

“Pinkie” promises

A recipe or picture of a beautiful dessert that looks easy to make

A weight loss program

Instructions to assemble [fill in the blank] in 4 different languages

A nurse who says to your toddler, “This shot won’t hurt a bit.”

A child who says, “Sure, I cleaned my room.”

Pictures of mothers with young children, both wearing white

More Play (Less TV) This Summer

Is that even possible?

It seems that kids are turning to electronics 24/7 for summer vacation. Television and other handheld devices are more inviting than ever.  They are an easy way to keep kids occupied while we work from home, or just want peace and quiet. And they’re easier to clean up than Play Doh.

Sure, gaming is fun and TV has some educational programming, but many parents want more than that for their kids. Aren’t they supposed to learn how to play with others? Socialize? Problem solve (other than how to shoot angry birds to kill virtual pigs)? Engage in creativity and sports? We have this intuitive sense that gaming and TV are like Twinkies: great for a treat, but not for a steady diet. Sadly, many kids are becoming sugar junkies on technology.

The featured photo for this post is a spinner for kids to use for balance in their lives. It could be used for summer or the whole year. Whether or not you are turned on by this “spin” on the Fidget Spinner craze,  I’d like to suggest five ideas for more play and less TV this summer.

  1. Bring out the goods. The expression comes to mind: “You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.” Kids might need a jump start to squeeze creative juices from their stagnant minds. This means it’s up to us, the adult, to supply plenty of material and equipment like sidewalk chalk, Nerf guns, water colors, and roller blades. It doesn’t have to be expensive either. When my kids were small, from time time I’d have an open-ended “make and take” activity on the kitchen table when friends were over. I’d put out rubber stamps and ink pads, various kinds of paper, scissors, glue sticks, glitter, markers, stickers, and decorative punches. They made crowns, cards, paper dolls, you name it. “Trashables” extends this creative process by offering empty egg cartons, paper towel rolls, empty cereal boxes, aluminum foil, etc. Fort building is another popular activity that only requires blankets and chairs.
  2. Practice a 1:1 ratio. For every one hour of physical activity, a child can earn one hour of screen time. It doesn’t have to be a huge sporting activity, but a water fight, bike ride, or hide and seek will do. You’d be surprised how they get so involved in the fun, the hour extends and the time is forgotten.
  3. Be involved. Kids may need your guidance to get ideas. Once they get started, they can continue on their own. Teach them how to play hopscotch and “Around the World” basketball. Draw a “road map” with sidewalk chalk on the driveway or sidewalk and let your little ones drive their toy cars around, and teach them trampoline games. Kids are growing up not knowing HOW to engage in self-guided activities so they resort to TV and gaming to inform them instead. I’d also like to promote summer programs that parents can initiate such as library summer reading programs. Go with your child to the library weekly to get a handful of new books to read and audio books to listen to.  In order to do #3, it’s a given that the parents unplug for a while too (and perhaps find out they are just as addicted as their kids!)
  4. Keep a routine. I like the Fidget Spinner idea where each day the kids know the routine and how to get to “PLAY.” This other idea was shared on the internet and has a similar process:rulesThis may scream,”Too much structure!” because you would rather let your kids do their own thing. It’s summer, after all, right? I read a lot of negative comments that were posted about this idea. Stuff like, “Hey I played computer games 24/7 when I was a kid. Now I’m a computer programmer. I don’t think playing with cardboard boxes would have got me where I am today.” I would respectfully respond that working with computers successfully is one small part of a person’s overall well being and ability to have a fulfilling life and relationship with others.
  5. Recruit other kids and parents. It may not make you The Most Popular Parent on the Block, but encourage your kids’ friends to put away their devices when they come over. Teach them other ways of playing. Talk to other parents about research that overwhelmingly reports the perils of too much technology and TV. It’s hard to fight the tsunami of usage if you are doing it alone. My friend’s son is having a device-free summer and all the friends support and respect him. They know they need to come up with other ideas like skateboarding and playing basketball. The board games have been dusted off and been a gold mine of connection and fun.

If you aren’t convinced, search the internet for plenty of stories and tips where parents did the unthinkable: unplugged their kids from TV and/or electronics. Here is one such testimonial, among others that will give you the inspiration and willpower to do was is best (but not always easiest at first!).

 

 

Morality and the Teenage Brain

Two of the greatest times of brain and body development (or “plasticity” as psychologists call it) is early childhood and adolescence. Think about the incredible physical changes and growth from birth to 5 years old and during the teen years. Even though we can’t see it, similar rapid cognitive development is happening in the first five years.

If you ever said to your teen, “How could you be so stupid!”…let’s just clarify.  They aren’t stupid. They just don’t have fully developed brains to make really mature decision. The brain is not fully developed until about 25 years old. Because the brain develops back to front and core to outside, the last part to develop is the front, called the pre-frontal cortex. Executive function controls that region where reasoning, moral development, and planning takes place.

Teens do impulsive things. They can use poor judgment and reasoning. To top it off, they are going through stages of moral development. The “Heinz’s dilemma” is a frequently used example in many ethics classes. One well-known version of the dilemma, used in Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, is stated as follows:

A woman was near death. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.” So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man’s laboratory to steal the drug for his wife. Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not

Kolberg was most interested in the reasons the teenagers gave for their answer. The “why or why nots” gave a window into the formation of the adolescent’s value system. The stages he outlined are simply put:

  1. Early adolescents tend to be more obedient, or self-serving. The do not question authority and think and do what their parents have told them.
  2. Mid-adolescents, teens start to question, which looks a little like rebellion. Furthermore, the new ability to think abstractly enables youth to recognize that rules are simply created by other people. As a result, teens begin to question the absolute authority of parents, schools, government, and other traditional institutions.
  3. By late adolescence, most teens are less rebellious as they have begun to establish their own identity, their own belief system, and their own place in the world.

Some youth who have reached the highest levels of moral development may feel passionate about their moral code and may choose to participate in activities that demonstrate their moral convictions.

As intriguing as the moral dilemma scenario is in Kolberg’s study, there are other, more playful ways to ask your teenager questions that gets him talking about his thinking. Here’s a fun exercise to see where your teenager is on the stages of moral development. Play this “Would you rather…” game together, each answering the questions and examining your rationale. No one is wrong and no judgments should be made. You can start with making up easier choices for younger children, like “Would you rather be a cat or a dog?” and then use these during different years of adolescence to see if their reasoning matures.

Would you rather…

Save the life of a starving African child you’ve never met

OR become a Jedi, get the Force and a light saber?

 

Change your last name to Hitler

OR never eat candy again?

 

Have no Internet

OR no cell phone?

 

Live in a world with no problems

OR live in a world where you RULE

 

Win the lottery of 20 million dollars

OR amputate your right arm if it cured cancer?

 

Have the superpower of flying

OR reading everyone’s mind?

 

Know the date of your death

OR the cause of your death?

 

Have all the time in the world (endless supply)

OR endless supply of money but only 10 years to live?

 

Be the smartest person in the world

OR be the most handsome person in the world?

 

Have a piercing

OR a tattoo?

 

Be able to talk to all animals

OR speak all languages?

 

Never have your mind get old (but body does)

OR never have your body get old (but mind does)?

 

Be able to go back in history and stop 9-11

OR stop the Holocaust?

 

Have mermaids be real

OR unicorns be real?

 

Have a Pinocchio nose when you lie

OR never get to shower again ?

 

Be a genius that no one likes

OR be an idiot that everyone loves?

How To Fight Fair

Why do you think a man will agree to play sports with the possibility of getting hurt? Why do people march willingly into battle, even in the face of the enemy?

These are examples of conflicts that contain something that protects us and gives us confidence in the face of uncertainty.

Rules.

In sports, there are understood rules. There is a referee to keep players protected. If someone gets a little too heated and loses his head, the referee will call a foul, or a technical. In war, there are rules of engagement that give structure to an otherwise hostile event.

So it is with couples who fight. If they become out of control and unpredictable, their fighting is unproductive, even destructive. However, if couples established agree-upon rules, the conflict can be resolved much easier because both parties feel safe.

These are some rules that couples can sit down and adopt before the conflict arises. If followed, they change “fighting” to a constructive discussion that leads to mutual understanding.

  1. No yelling. Fighting can be passionate and if it gets too loud, it just turns into a screaming match. When one person yells, it’s like a barking dog. The other dogs have to join in, and they just get louder and louder. One person trying to out-do the decibel level to be heard over the other. Then they both end up yelling on top of the other person so that no one can hear the other.
  2. No name calling. Along with yelling, using derogatory statements or mud slinging is against the rules. I call “foul” because you have made this a personal attack and lost reason. We don’t attack the person, but the issue.
  3. Stick to the issue. When hot heads take off running, the contentious couple often start bringing up other grievances. It’s not fair to air a laundry list. Tackle one issue at a time.
  4. Similarly, don’t bring up old arguments. It’s like going back to the landfill, digging up old garbage, and flinging at your partner. The past is over, and the present is what you need to focus on.
  5. Take turns talking. This is probably the one that couples struggle with the most (along with the next related point). If you want to be respected for your opinion, you have to offer the same to the other person. You can’t ask for what you aren’t willing to give.
  6. Listen. When it’s your turn to listen, use all your energy to be in the moment. Don’t let your thoughts distract you. Don’t be formulating your rebuttal while your partner is talking. Even if you don’t agree with what the other person is saying, they deserve to be heard, just like you. Their point of view is their reality, even if it’s different that yours.
  7. Pick a good time to talk. Discuss your disagreement when you both agree it’s a good time to talk. You both need to be rested, relaxed, and ready. That means you might need to say, or email, “Honey, there’s a problem about overcharged on our credit card we need to go over. When would be a good time for you?” The wrong way to go about this is to corner your partner, like when they walk through the door after work (“We need to talk right now about your mom coming to visit!”). This is a sure-fire way to put your spouse on defense and the sparks to fly. I’ve never been a fan of the saying, “Never let the sun go down on your anger.” If I were to try to hash out a problem with my husband when it’s 11:00 p.m. and we’re both worn out, I can promise you that the problem would just grow and we would make it worse. Go to sleep! Get refreshed and pick a better time when you’re on the top of your game.

If you create a list of rules of engagement, both parties will be more likely to feel fairness, a shared amount of power, and safety when disagreeing. It may be easy to agree to the list when you’re both calm, but when emotions start to rule over reason, one of both may resort to hostility again. In that case, it’s very important that you also discuss what will happen in the heat of the moment. One of your can form a “T” with your hands, to indicate a “foul” or “technical” to remind the offending party that they broke a rule. Or just reaching over and gently touching the other person’s hand and saying, “Honey, remember we agreed not to call names” is a kind reminder.

Connecting with your kids through cell phones

Let’s face it: cell phones get a bad rap. I’m the first one to line up and criticize the addictive behaviors kids are learning through over-dependence on cell phones. Kids exhibit withdrawal-like behaviors when they’re not plugged in for over 15 minutes. And let’s be honest: moms and dad are sometimes worse.

Electronic devices such as cell phones can distance us from meaningful relationships. They entice us to live in a virtual world, to disrupt healthy sleep patterns, to introduce electronic bullying, stalking, and predatory opportunities, and might even expose young children to harmful levels of radiation.

Okay, now the good news. Like all technology, cell phones are amazing if we tap into the good stuff and manage the bad. After raising 5 teenagers, these are the ways cell phones have enriched our family relationships:

  1. Wonder where your kid is? “Find My Friends” is an app that lets you see your kid’s precise location. No way to lie about where they are. If your kids balk at the “stalking parent” approach, make it a condition of having their phone in the first place. They have nothing to hide, right?
  2. Speaking of finding friends, there are so many times when I need to find my child to pick them up at school, or find them in a crowded public place. Finding them via text or calling saves me HOURS of wasted time. I remember years ago, before cell phones, my family went to Disneyland. We split up and had one Walkie Talkie per group. We thought we were so cool!  So did everyone else at the park who couldn’t find their group. Cell phones have made everyone go a little less crazy finding their kids.
  3. Cell phones offer some really fun games. We love group games like Headbandz or Charades, but any solitary game can pass the time waiting at the doctors, or attending a sibling’s LONG and BORING musical Jr. high concert.
  4. Speaking of games, there are tons of educational benefits awaiting on a cell phone. When my kids had to memorize a huge list of words for school, we used a flashcard app, and I’d test them on it. Educational games are great, but be careful to limit their time and not let the games replace human contact. We tend to justify “learning” games, but human-to-human interaction has been proven as the best learning relationship.
  5. Safety and escape plan. There was an interesting blog post that highlighted the need for kids to have an emergency plan in case they got in over their heads with social pressure. He called it their “x-plan” which means an escape plan using their cell phones. Teens can type “x” to their parent’s number which is a secret code for “help me I need to get out of here.” If you get that “x” text, you call your teen back immediately with a bogus story. “Hey something has come up and I need to pick you up right away.” The teen can feign disappointment, but he’s secretly relieved to get out of a party that has turned into drinking, sexual activity, or anything he’s not comfortable with.
  6. Speaking of safety, I  have such a peace of mind knowing that if my teen was on an outing and got lost, perhaps even where it would turn into a critical situation like in the mountains, he would have his cell phone with him to dial 9-11 or phone a parent to help rescue him. My daughter did just that on a side of a road in the middle of Nowhere, Idaho after hitting a deer.
  7. The camera function on a phone is indispensable! Teens have become genius at capturing important information and images using their cell phones. It might be written instructions, a map, or a recipe that they can pull up later to easily reference. It’s the best! If you have a child who has missed a family event, like dinnertime, you can take a picture of the plate of food, text it to them with the message, “We missed you at dinner. Hope you can make it tomorrow.”
  8. Google Maps. Needs I say more? Never get lost again. For someone who is directionally challenged, this would have been a life saver as a teenager.
  9. Send your kid “love notes” via cellphone. Emojis are the new adolescent language. Teenagers can turn cold and prickly during their pubescent years, but will still accept texts with happy, loving messages.
  10. Another spin on #9 is to set up a family group text and send daily inspirational messages. You can do this through “Messenger” as well to include videoclips. These are private messages to your kids with a scripture of the day, an inspirational quote or meme, or anything that brightens their day.
  11. Put on music or podcasts while you and your kids are cleaning the house. It makes a huge difference to take your mind off the drudgery of cleaning by singing and dancing along or learning interesting stuff from a podcast.
  12. Now that I’m a grandma and have kids around the country, can I just end on this major point? Face time, Google hangout, or Skype on my phone is a way for us all to stay connected no matter where we are. I love technology when it melts the miles between us. You can even prop up the phone while you are playing a game or eating dinner to have the faraway child feel like part of the family, if only for a while. For free!

My husband and I were very careful to monitor our kids’ cell phone usage, as well as other electronic devices. We even started them on phones that were call and text only, no WiFi. But as they grew older and learned responsibility, the world opened up through these devices and became a tool for connection. The trick is to be ever-vigilant and in control rather than the other way around. Parents should be their kids’ best examples of putting away devices when a real face time is needed.

Differences Among Us: What an Opportunity to Teach Children Compassion.

There’s a lot going on since the presidential election and installment of our new President.  A lot of talk, a lot of debate, even hostility between people who should be friends. Conflict brings out the best (and worst) in people.

But conflict shouldn’t be seen as something to avoid or to divide us. It should be viewed as a natural part of life, an opportunity for maturity and growth as individuals, friends, communities and nations. Difference is what makes us stronger and gives us an opportunity to teach children compassion.

Brene Brown is a women who has a strong message about diversity and kindness. I wish there was more kindness going on right now. Respect for one another. Believing the good in others. Understanding another’s point of view rather than proving how I am right and you are wrong. Parents owe this to their kids and to themselves.

Here is a link to her message about how to teach children about compassion with all the political rhetoric.

Raising well-behaved children

We usually wait until something annoys us before we pay attention.

It’s the “Squeaky Wheel” syndrome.

For example, if we sailed through all green lights this morning to work, we probably didn’t give it much thought or paid attention to our amazing luck and good timing.

But if we hit EVERY red light, we are super annoyed. The universe is against us! We notice more when things go wrong.

It’s the same with children. They may sit behind you in the car quietly, but the minute they kick the back of your seat…BAM! You suddenly come to life in the form of Cruela de Vil.

Remember that a basic human need is to be recognized.  If children don’t receive a healthy dose of positive reinforcement (8:1) per day, they will resort to any kind of recognition, even negative, or give up.

This is a sign of a discouraged child.

Rather than wait until they misbehave, “catch” your child being good. It’s the difference between raging at red lights or being grateful for the greens.  It takes more effort because you have to pay attention to the good and put energy into recognizing what is going right. But it pays off in the long run with well behaved children.

It’s a universal law: we get more of what we focus on. And it’s universally practiced in raising good kids and kids who want to be good.

To catch your children being good, I’ve listed the first letter of the word in an acronym.

Call kids by their name (and I mean by good names!). Not their full name you use when they’re in trouble: “Andrew Scott McFarland!” but use their name to recognize who they are. I love to use endearing pet names. “Muffin Cakes” “Tiger” or “Lovey Dovey” can turn a child to putty in your hands. What pet nicknames did your parents use that made you feel loved?

Ask questions about what they are doing/feeling. Open ended questions that invite longer conversations. Don’t give up if your child just mumbles. Ask at different times of day and in different ways. “What was your best and worst part of today?” “If your day was a movie, what would the title be?” My kids tend to clam up right after school but right as I tuck them into bed, they are bubbling with information. But don’t force or interrogate. If they don’t want to talk, respect that.

Thank them. Thank them for what they have done, are doing, or will do. In other words, “Thank you for picking up your socks,” you might note, and if they haven’t done so yet, say the same thing.  They might respond, “I didn’t pick them up.” And you get to smile and say with delight, “But I know you were going to so I wanted to thank you in advance.” This really works. It’s shaping behavior through what you expect with positives. People respond much better with positives and the potential you see in them.

Compliment them. In private and in public. In most cases, children swell with pride to hear adults sing their praises in public. Compliment what they have done, but also who they are…the lasting characteristics. And compliment what they are working towards, not just accomplished. This uses encouragement and praise, the dynamic duo.

Help. Offer to give them support when they are floundering. But don’t do it all for them. Show your confidence in their ability. Just support or scaffold what they need help with and let them do what they can.

So catch your child being good at least 8 times for every 1 correction. Start counting today to see how much you notice the good over the bad. The more you focus on the good, you’ll be amazed at how many green lights you and your child will sail through in life.

Father’s Day Trivia

How are your facts about fathers? Here are 20 trivia questions about fathers to celebrate with the special men in your life on Father’s Day.(Try not to peek at the answers at the end until you have tried them all). It would be a good game to play on Father’s Day to honor men who nurture, provide, and love children.

When you are done, consider asking more questions, but personal ones to your dads to learn more about them, their likes/dislikes, fears, funnies, history, favorite memories, and dreams for the future.

Questions:

1. Who do the “Founding Fathers” of our country refer to?

2. Who is known as the current “Holy Father” according to the Roman Catholic Church?

3. Roses are the official flower for Father’s Day. A red rose is worn in the lapel if your father is living, and this color rose if he is deceased.

4. Who is known to have initiated the Father’s Day celebrations, or who is called “The Mother of Father’s Day”?

5. In the USA, Father’s Day is celebrated on this day.

6. Who is the “Father” of our country?

7. Father’s Day the fourth-largest card-sending occasion with this many cards given out last year.

a. 80 million

b. 60 million

c. 95 million

d. 150 million

8. “Father Time” is also known by this name.

9. In Greek Mythology, this King of Thebes killed his father and married his mother. His name has become synonymous for this hidden desire to do the same to one’s parents.

10. The myth of “Father Christmas” has been taken from this country.

a. Denmark

b. Sweden

c. The Netherlands

d. Germany

11. Name the top 5 gifts for Father’s Day (besides a card).

12. This 1950’s TV show about fatherhood starred actor Robert Young.

a. “Father Knows Best”

b. “Father Does Best”

c. “Father Loves Best”

d. “Father Laughs Best”

13. Which actor voiced the famous movie line, “Luke, I am your father”?

14. According to Greek mythology, who was the father of gods and mortals?

15. Who was the famous literary father of the young girl nicknamed “Scout”?

16. Who was the father of Disney’s Arial, the Little Mermaid?

17. Which President signed into law that Father’s Day would be nationally recognized?

a. Woodrow Wilson

b. Richard Nixon

c. Theodore Roosevelt

d. John F. Kennedy

18. What is the word for “father” in these languages?

Afrikaans

Arabic

French

Hungarian

Italian

Polish

Spanish

Welsh

19. This 1991 movie called “Father of the Bride” starred this comedian.

20. What famous evangelist said this: “A good father is one of the most unsung, upraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.”

Answers:

1. Those at the 1776 Philadelphia convention who signed the Declaration of Independence.

2. Pope Francis

3. White

4. Sonara Smart Dodd, daughter of a Civil War veteran, who wanted to honor her father.

5. The Third Sunday of June

6. George Washington

7. c. 95 million

8. The Grim Reaper

9. Oedipus Complex

10. c. The Netherlands

11. Necktie/clothing, tools, sporting goods, electronics, candy

12. a. “Father Knows Best”

13. James Earl Jones

14. Zeus

15. Atticus Finch

16. King Triton

17. b. Richard Nixon

18. Afrikaans : vader

Arabic : babba

French : papa

Hungarian : apa

Italian : babbo

Polish : tata

Spanish : papá

Welsh : tad

19. Steve Martin

20. Billy Graham

Back to Basics

Being raised with a small farm and a big work ethic, I have always appreciated how a back-to-basics approach to parenting is the answer to what ills many families today.

Simplifying our over-complicated, over-stimulated lives is what children need.

They need to count the stars, find shapes in clouds, run their hands through shifting mud, make shapes in the sand, listen to birds calling their young, and count their footsteps through pastures and fields.

Children with very little are rarely poor; it is those with too much who are creatively poor, who lack imagination and are short on grit.

Watch this insightful video that beautifully contrasts “The Poorness in our Wealth.”