Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Parents are Role Models for our Youth

Sometimes we forget just how important our influence is on our children. Below are four tips to think about as you go about your day. It will help guide you in how you approach your children, and help you to encourage them to be the best they can be through positive guidance and acceptance.

When children approach you in the morning or after school, greet them with eye contact, a friendly, warm face, and a welcoming voice.
Sometimes we’re busy getting dinner ready, we’re distracted by our own day-to-day moods, or sometimes we’re holding onto a previous, negative situation. Start each day, and each welcome, on a positive, fresh note.

Keep discussions with other adults about a difficult situation, a problem with a child, or a personal struggle clearly out of earshot of children.
Sometimes we need to vent, however, when a child hears you talking with a stern look on your face, he might assume you are discussing the most recent problem you and that child might have just experienced. It is important to problem-solve child-related situations with your partner or support system out of earshot of the children. In addition, children need us to model that we don’t gossip.

Every child has positive attributes or behaviors that we need to notice, even more than the negative ones.
A while ago, I heard a story about researchers who were observing the mating and migration habits of zebras. They would paint a spot on the rump of a zebra. In a few weeks, they would return to the area, only to find the zebra was gone. After setting up video tracking devices, they found that the spotted zebra became the target of lions because it stood out from the pack. Don’t put a “spot on the zebra” by constantly shouting out negative commands to your misbehaving child. Redirect in positive ways, privately deal with conflicts, and work to balance the positive to negative comments to be at least 3 to 1. If another child is on-task, and one is off-task, comment positively about the child on-task rather than calling out the one off-task. Chances are, the off-task child will get on task to receive your attention!

We encourage children to ask for help if they need it; know when you need to get help and where to get it from!
Sometimes, we think if we can’t handle it ourselves, it will reflect badly on how we view ourselves, or make us doubt ourselves as parents. Find adults in your life to help follow up with a problem where you need support. Brainstorming difficult situations with supportive adults often leads to wonderful solutions You are not alone!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

But Mom, EVERYBODY has one!!!

There just doesn’t seem to be an end to the “I want” - when children just HAVE to have the latest, greatest toy. Most of the time, the toy gets put off to the side within a few days or weeks, only for the next “I want” to come along. How, as a parent, do you deal with this?

Our society bombards us with the newest, fastest, biggest, latest, greatest products everywhere we turn. It’s no wonder that our children get caught up in the frenzy. Whether it be a TV ad, movie prop, friend’s toy, or store display, our children are always wanting more, more, more! It’s hard, also, as a parent, to think about denying our children the newest technology or most popular toy on the market. When we finally succumb to the pressure and buy the item that is so sought after, we see, within a short time, that a newer model is already making our product obsolete! There is no end in sight!

So, how do we, as parents, not get caught up in the fury? How do we say “no” to our children, when the neighbor has said, “yes, yes, and more yes!”? Are our children going to be at a disadvantage if they don’t know how to text by age 6, help Mario find his brothers by age 7, or burn a DVD by age 8?

One strategy is to help your children make a wish list. These are things that they want, but cannot go out and purchase right now, whether it is logistics, financial, or need/want reasons. The wish list can be for the holidays, a birthday, or something they can purchase when they have saved their money. Teaching children to delay gratification is an important life lesson. In addition, as children work towards theirs goals, they might change their minds and decide on something else!

Another strategy is to help kids learn to manage money at an early age. Don’t dismiss this because your children are older now and you feel it’s too late. These skills are life necessities. First, establish an allowance that fits within your budget and is a manageable amount for your child’s developmental age. Some experts say $1 per year is a good baseline. From that money, the child should divide it into fourths: donations, long-term savings, short-term planning, and immediate spending. Each month, decide on where to take the donation money, and have your child be involved in the process of making the donation. You can research charities in your area and give him two or three choices to choose from at younger ages. As your child gets older, have him research where to donate the money. In addition, put the long-term savings money into a savings account in the child’s name. Have your child put the short-term planning funds in a safe place, and this is the fund that the child uses for her wish list goals. And the immediate spending is really for the child to use right now.

Parents sometimes want to point out how children should spend both the short-term and immediate money – noting practical ways, avoiding purchasing “stupid” wasteful items, etc. I think that the best lesson in spending is to experience purchasing mistakes. My daughter, Carly, and her friend were famous for going to Target and finding the most ridiculous things to purchase. They would each save until they had ten or twenty dollars, then head off to Target with money in hand. The purchases included Tamagochis, listening devices, a pen recorder, a .5 mp digital camera (yes, that’s ½ megapixel!)…the list goes on. Frequently, their interest lasted the day, until the kids were bored or realized the limits of the item. It was important for her to have control over her choices, good or bad, and be able to share her mistakes without ridicule or criticism. Today, at 16, Carly is a much more thoughtful purchaser.

In addition, your child might ask for that cute shirt from Abercrombie (that costs $42), but when you immediately buy it, YOU will own the passion about that shirt. If it sits in the closet amongst the other shirts that maybe get worn once or twice, you find yourself constantly asking about why the shirt isn’t being worn. You end up in a power struggle over the shirt! But it has no true value to the child. However, when you ask him to use his money for it, he has to think about if he really needs or wants the item before spending HIS money. In addition, when the child does make a purchase, the item has more internal value, and therefore is taken care of better and used more (provided, of course, it is a worthwhile purchase, unlike the items listed above). But remember, both the worthwhile purchase AND the frivolous purchase, when made by the child, have value – one as an internal, feel-good value, and the other as a valuable lesson in learning to think before spending.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why Do Kids Misbehave?

There are four main reasons for misbehavior in children, as described in the STEP Manual (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting by Dinkmeyer & McKay). These are attention, power, revenge, and feelings of inadequacy. I will briefly describe each, and then share some key ideas in dealing with misbehavior in a very positive manner.

Attention – you’ve seen this many times. As soon as you get on the phone, those previously quiet kids become out of control and immediately and persistently need your attention. Parents spend so much of their time actually rewarding misbehavior for attention, that they actually teach kids to misbehave to get the attention! The more you talk, explain, and negotiate to quiet the attention-seeking misbehaving child, you are actually letting her know that making the wrong choices gets rewarded! At that moment, a child doesn’t think about whether the attention she is getting is negative or positive.

Power – you have it, they want it. From answering “no” to your every request, to avoiding their chores, homework, eating, and yes, even toilet training! Many moms and dads get sucked in to “one-upping” the child in power struggles. Many parents today were the ones raised by parents who felt kids had to respect their parents – or else. So they are taken aback when a child comments back or mouths off to an adult. The parent might typically answer back with a punishment that withholds some toy or activity for a period of time. When the child answers back again, the parent typically says, “fine, then make it 2 weeks!” Back and forth it goes, with the child eventually getting grounded for life for a small infraction, but a BIG mouth! The parent never (obviously) can follow through, so the child learns that back talking gives them the power to engage in a fight with an adult.

Revenge – someone takes his toy, he hits, screams, or kicks to retaliate. Verbal revenge typically sends parents through the roof – you send a child to timeout, and he screams “I hate you!” over and over while sitting in the corner. We find ourselves arguing back and forth with the child who is SUPPOSED to be taking a timeout! In addition, at very young ages, children’s physical responses are much quicker and get a much stronger response than their verbal ones do. The young child with emerging language skills who has a toy taken away by another child will get an adult to run to the rescue a lot faster when she hits or bites the offending child. By the time the child has figured out what to say, the offending child might be long gone! Likewise, when we raise our voices to deal with problems with our children’s behavior, they learn to yell when they are angry or frustrated. We sometimes model exactly the behaviors we want to extinguish in our children!

Inadequacy – hopefully you don’t see this often, as it represents the child who doesn’t feel good about himself, so his misbehavior just reinforces how “bad” he feels or how “bad” he believes he is. A child who hears many negatives (“don’t do that” or “stop it”), or who has developmental challenges, or grows up in an environment that is in turmoil, whether from family dysfunction or problems with society (work stressors, violence in neighborhoods are examples) sometimes cannot separate out the environmental or developmental factors from himself. This is the hardest type of misbehavior to address in counseling, first because the child might feel so hopeless at such a young age, it is heartbreaking, and second, because the child doesn’t have enough self esteem to believe he has a right to happiness or good things.

Positive Interventions That Are Easy to Carry Out

Your eyes are the key! Most of the time, when we are dealing with a misbehaving child, we give them our guidance, and then keep looking at her, almost as if we expect a response. Say what you need to say, and move on – with your eyes as well as your conversation! Look away, walk away, break the eye contact. This is an especially powerful tool with kids seeking power. Let’s say you just told your child he cannot have a cookie before dinner. Don’t wait for the next response, which most likely will be to object to your decision. Change the subject, and direct your eye contact elsewhere. For example, after telling the child he can't have the cookie, turn your attention to getting dinner ready and state, “Hey, I’d love your help with seting the table. Here are the plates.”

Don’t fall victim to the “Okay?” syndrome! Watch how many times, during the course of a day, you end your directives to your children with a questioning tone (voice raising at the end of the sentence) or with the word “Okay?” This gives a child the false belief that he has a choice in the matter! For example, you tell your child, “It’s time to put your shoes on, OK?” When she responds with “no,” you’re left with a dilemma. Either you insist she puts them on, because you really need to leave soon, displaying that choices aren’t really always choices, or you have to step back, wait a minute, then instruct again – without the questioning sound at the end.

Give appropriate choices, as often as you can, to empower children to make choices and to teach them that when you don’t give choices, there is no discussion. From the time they can understand and respond to your prompts, begin teaching simple decision-making. Asking if he would like apple juice or milk, does he want to wear the blue shirt or the green shirt, or would he like the basketball or the tennis ball to play with all help to teach a child he has some control in his world – when the control is offered. Keep choices down to two or three for kids under the age of five. As kids get older, make sure to increase number of choices when you see they are able to handle the options. Be careful to allow for a small amount of time to decide, but don’t sit and agonize as your child makes you wait and wait! If you ask about the milk or juice, for example, if she doesn’t give you an answer, give one reminder (you need to let me know if you want apple juice or milk). If she doesn’t respond, say, “I’ll choose for you this time – and then go get your choice for her. Don’t discuss it; simply state, “Since you can’t decide, I’ll give you milk." And then get the milk. If you wait for a response, typically that will result in your giving the child eye contact (power) and the child will provide a response; “NOOOO, I want juice!!!” When she gets mad at your choice, simply say, “Next time, when I give you your choices, you need to make a decision so I don’t have to.” If she chooses not to drink the juice, that’s her choice! Don’t then engage in the next power struggle over that!

For the inadequate child especially, but for all others as well, make sure to notice the positives. Catch the child doing something great, and point it out. Encourage him to try something new, and let them see you make mistakes, identify them, and then shrug them off as if to say, “we all are not perfect.” Help your child feel good about him or herself by encouraging choices, providing attention under positive circumstances, and deescalating power struggles and negative attempts to get your attention.

Please share your comments on this blog, and how you can use these tips to positively deal with your child’s misbehavior. And remember, children’s misbehavior, and how we address it is, in a big way, how our children learn to make smart, healthy choices in life.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

“Mommy, I’m Bored!”

How often do you hear those famous words? What is our job, as a parent, when our children complain of boredom? We tend to want to tell them “when I was a kid” stories – how activities for them weren’t scheduled throughout the day, every day. How we had one car for our WHOLE family, and dad took it to work. How we didn’t lock the door to our house, and we could leave at 9 in the morning in the summer, stop home for lunch at noon, then stay out until 9 p.m. and the fireflies were dancing around the house with us. I remember riding my bike to our local park alone, about 8 blocks from my house, to play on the swings. Typically I would run into several friends, who also had found their way, all by themselves, to the one park in the area for us to play. On rainy days, I made the most amazing tents between my sister and my beds with various blankets in the house. Complete with a flashlight, pillows for comfort, books and dolls, we could nestle in the hot tent for hours, imagining together with my sisters. We had an agreement too. If I played doll families with them for an hour, they would come outside and play HORSE basketball with me. The tomboy of the family, I would shoot baskets, hit tennis balls into the garage door, or toss a baseball in the air to catch into my mitt for hours on end.

Another game I played as a child with my sisters, and I am sure we all “cheated”, was “FIND THE BALL”. We kids would close our eyes and make noises. My mom would toss a kickball-sized ball somewhere into the yard. We would then walk around the yard, eyes closed, searching for the hidden ball. My mom would yell directions (“Sheri, go left”, “Susan, tree in front of you”) until one of us would come upon the ball. Yes, we all peeked, but no one shouted “unfair”. We played and laughed, bumped into each other, and took turns as the “direction caller” from time to time.

Life WAS different then. We weren’t structured from morning until night, we didn’t need carpools or playdates or plans. And we knew how to create something from nothing. I remember the one time I said I was bored, and came into the house one too many times during one summer, my mom locked the screen door and told me to come back at lunchtime! How do we bring back the imaginations, the spontaneous enjoyment, and the healthy exercise for our children, and teach them to entertain themselves?

First of all, we do need to supervise our children differently than we had to back when we were kids. The parent who sends her child off into the neighborhood without knowing exactly where they are would be considered negligent. Too many reports of children gone missing or sexual predators living among us have taken away the security we all felt in the past. This is one of the main reasons that children are over-scheduled today. Talk to any grade school child, and they will recite from Monday through Friday what activities they have after school. The second reason kids are in activity after activity is that parents don’t want their child disadvantaged in their abilities in a sport or activity. To keep a competitive edge on the others for potential high school playing time or that coveted college scholarship, parents have their children “in training” at very young ages. However, this doesn’t mean children can’t play as we used to. And participating in structured activities, while developing a sense of teamwork, is not the only way to provide healthy physical, social and emotional developmental opportunities for your child. We need to give them the tools to use their imaginations while keeping them within our eye and earshot.

So your job is to let the creativity begin. While the internet and gaming systems offer lots of exciting visual graphics and sounds, help kids to work on social skills through interactive game playing, we need to encourage cooperative vs. competitive games and imaginative toys as well. Cooperative games are ones where there is no individual winner, where participation, teamwork, and interaction are emphasized. Examples include The Secret Door by Family Pastimes, building a tent, creating an obstacle course, and any arts and crafts projects. If you visit and type in cooperative games, you will find a list of resources from various websites to learn how to unleash the imagination and bring on the games and fun!

Sometimes, our children do need our guidance in getting started. They are so used to someone dictating the agenda, and having scheduled chunks of time, that we need to help them fill the gap time with enjoyable, social fun. Some easy ideas are water balloon fights, sidewalk chalk, Chinese jump rope, bike riding (map out where you want to ride, use common land markers for the kids to spot, then go on your “treasure hunt”).

As a child, my favorite party memory is Halloween at Mary & Kay’s house. My friends used to have the best Halloween party. The highlight was the story. We would gather in their basement, and each person would be given a word, which requires a sound or action. Whenever that word was spoken during the story, the person with that word would have to provide the appropriate sound or action. I remember the ghost sailing past us all on the clothesline each year! Learning how to use down time for imaginative play, and enjoying the interactions between friends is what we need to remind ourselves to share with our children.