Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Top Five Parenting Questions

After spending roughly 25 years providing counseling services to children and families, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the most common questions parents have asked during the course of counseling.

1.    Is this genetic? Did we do something to cause or create this problem in our child?
I think we’re taught from early on to look at cause and effect or problem and solution, so it’s natural for parents to want to get to the root of the problem when it comes to their child. However, finding the cause is not as important as directing the plan for managing the situation. Placing blame on a poor gene pool or looking into whose family has had the most dysfunction does not lead to healthy coping skills or problem management. Rather, understanding your child and meeting your child’s needs as best you can will most often take you down the healthiest path. When your child knows that you are walking with him, that you are supporting him through the struggle, and that you love him unconditionally, he will be more equipped to handle the rough road that may lie ahead. Don’t get me wrong; there are some conditions in which it is essential to know about genetics, and I encourage you to explore those as your medical team requests. But for the vast majority of behavioral and emotional concerns, beating each other up for something that is out of your control does not aid the situation. In many instances, the combination of one’s predisposition (genetics) and environment (experiences) dictate how that person will interpret her world.
2.    How can I expect my child to do certain things, like be a good student or not drink alcohol when I made those choices as a child?
First of all, we have learned a lot since we were children about the developing brain which influence the advice we offer to parents. When we set expectations for behavior we want in our children, they know what to reach out and achieve. They will make mistakes – we all do. And we teach them about consequences for those behaviors just like we show them the rewards of good choices. When we were younger, there were no seat belts so we did not wear them. Does that mean we don’t need our children to wear them? Of course not. We have learned that seat belts are a necessary safety feature, so we teach our children to use them even if we did not. Underage drinking? Drinking and driving? When we were younger, there were less cars on the roads and there was very little known about the effects of alcohol on the young brain. Now with stricter laws, more crowded roads, and the experiences of deadly car crashes resulting from teen drinking, we teach our teens to make smart choices when it comes to alcohol. We don’t need to share experiences with our children to guide them appropriately. We have adult brains with adult common sense and our children rely on us to help them in guiding them to make good decisions for themselves.

3.    Why doesn’t my child act his/her age?
Most likely, the behavior you are seeing IS age appropriate. Part of development is in making of mistakes, failing, falling on our faces, and misbehaving. So much learning can take place when consequences occur that teach children about the logical or natural cause and effect in life. So often, parents try to derail disappointment or give in to tantrums that we miss out on the beauty of life’s most natural lessons – acting his or her age and managing the consequences or privileges that follow.

4.    How can I make sure my child will go to a good college if he/she is not doing his/her homework?
One of the things you can do is to let your child NOT do his or her homework, and see the consequences. Certainly, the young child, under third grade, needs a lot of coaching in homework skills, work habits, and focus. As the child gets older, as a parent, you take steps backward each year to help your child gain independence in managing his or her work. This will mean homework gets left at home or work gets turned in incomplete. Rushing the papers to school doesn’t teach your child the independent skills to manage at college, now, does it? Bribing, nagging, and cajoling your child to do his or her homework doesn’t mirror how students learn to do their work at school. You can insure your child will make it into college by allowing him or her to own his or her work and be responsible for it, complete or not. Better to watch failure in junior high or high school, when lessons are not as costly as a $25,000 college year.

5.    My spouse and I don’t have the same views on parenting. How confusing is this to our child?
One of the neatest things to observe in children is their adaptability. They know what to expect at school, from grandma and grandpa, and how each parent responds to different situations. While the best way to manage parenting issues when two parents are available is to co-parent – communicate about discipline and guidance away from the child, present a united front to the child, and work together to manage the issues – when it comes to the day to day events, each parent’s creative  approach actually helps teach flexibility to your children. For example, I had a certain bedtime routine with my children. Bath, jammies, brushing teeth, stories, and a kiss goodnight, all by a certain time, worked well for me. My husband, on the other hand, had this unique song and march, his own creative stories and plays, and maybe a little less rigidity on the exact bedtime. Our children cooperated with both – but, truth be told, I even loved my husband’s style on this more than mine! When it came to cleaning up the toys, we had different styles again. But the common theme was that we both believed in some routine for each, and had the children participating in these events. So the discussions about what we wanted as our goal was done, and then each person allowed the other to develop his or her own style for carrying out the message. Your children will learn to adapt to each of your styles, but the consistency of the message will make their development as smooth as possible!

As Thanksgiving Approaches...

As Thanksgiving approaches, I realize it’s time to update the blog. We all use this time of year to reflect on our lives, feel gratitude for those around us and see appreciation in the blessings of our lives. I want to see if we can take it one step further, and make a bucket list of sorts. Not the extreme things we ‘have to do before we die’ list. But the ‘how can I make myself a better person’ or ‘what can I do to make the world I live in a better place’ kind of list. I’m going to share a few of my thoughts, and I hope my followers will add their ideas on self and world improvement.

1.     I had a conversation at a football game with some people from Canada, and I realized how very little I know about that great country north of ours. So one of my goals is to educate myself on Canada.

2.     I watched Marlee Matlin on television the other day. She has an app that teaches sign language. I want to learn this! I’ve already downloaded the app and can say, “My name is Debbie. What’s your name?”

3.     I ran into a friend – actually, I should say I walked into a friend who had been running that morning. He was up EARLY in the morning, while I was cuddly in bed getting a few more zzz’s. I also noticed a bunch of people I know that did the 5k run for chocolate and other 5k events. While I don’t see myself running with that dedication, I do want to strengthen my core and increase my flexibility and stamina.

4.     While shopping the other day with my husband, the clerk wanted to give me an extra plastic bag and I rejected it, while my husband wanted to sort our items into the different bags to bring to the girls at school. I am on a mission to use less plastic and recycle more. So, every chance I get, I will bring my reusable bags to stores. If I need to use plastics, I will fill them up to use as few as possible, and then recycle them.

So these items are the beginning of my list of want-to-dos. I am hoping these small additions to my life will help me feel more enlightened and enriched, and bring me a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude in the year to come. Please share your ideas as well, and have a very happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Latest on Cell Phones, Facebook and Other Technologies

Three years ago, I blogged about technology, and while so much of it still rings true, I realize that each year, younger children are accessing technologies, and we need to attend to what this means for your youth.

I will digress with a bit of history. When my twins were turning thirteen, we were purchasing their first cell phone. There was no camera, no internet and no texting. It was a phone. The intended purpose for them to have a cell phone was for those moments when they were out and about; they had an easy way to reach us. They actually shared the phone! When they turned fifteen, they had earned the privilege of having their own phones, with limited texting added. I can only imagine parents reading this and laughing. I feel like my kids’ experience with their first cell phone is as outdated as mine - my first cell phone was a box phone that I carried in a big black bag whenever I went to my car! And I thought I was cool!

I am aware that children are exposed to technology earlier and earlier these days. Watching a toddler maneuver apps on an iPad in the mall recently, I realized that the next generation of children will be more skilled at computers than coloring in a coloring book. Schools are even doing away with cursive. Students learn the basic letters and are learning to write their names, but the years spent learning cursive are making way for keyboarding and computer literacy. Children are taught in school to prepare Powerpoint presentations and are turning pages of a book with the flip of a finger on their e-readers. Backpacks, once weighted down by books going to and from school, are becoming lighter as school books are now on CD or accessible through the internet.

So my advice to parents is to supervise and assist our youth in getting connected, but remind them of two things always: 1) it is a PRIVILEGE to have access to the latest and greatest technology and 2) imaginative play, running around outside, and face to face interactions with peers still provides the healthiest opportunity for the development of strong social skills. Papers still can be written by hand, house phones, a.k.a. landlines, do ring up their friends, reading a book by the fireplace is still one of the best, most relaxing pastimes around, and spontaneous play outside in the fresh air is F-U-N. In other words, balance is key!

Set healthy limits. It is okay to set time limits on the computer, television, or X-Box. It’s also important to put all electronics away during certain parts of the day. As a role model for your child, practice disconnecting from the electronic world when interacting in the real world (dinners together, in line at a grocery store, out with friends, holidays…). And most importantly, find time to play – without electronics. Whether it’s a card game, board game, sports, art, or dramatic play, show your children how to HAVE FUN interacting in real time! If you start this when your children are younger, they will grow up knowing these non-electronic activities are also important parts of life!

I will end by sharing one of my favorite memories: when I was a child, I used to love to create forts. Fashioned between my sister’s and my beds, blankets topped the forts and were held in place by books and pillows. Flashlights, cards, more pillows, and toys were inside. Another blanket acted as the door to the outside world, and we hid away and played in the fort. I remember giggling often. Two D batteries to power up the flashlight were all the electronics needed for hours of fun!