Stick to Your Guns

We are all looking to have grounded, well-mannered, non-entitled kids. I read many articles and posts about how this current generation of kids is entitled. There are several theories out there that conclude how this has happened. Parents doing everything for their kids, helicopter parenting, buying kids everything they want….. I’m sure the list goes on. The remedy would then be the opposite. Simple. Don’t helicopter in and solve their problems. Don’t do everything for your kids. Don’t buy them any toy they want. Learn to say no to them. What I have learned in the past few years though, is that there are very few “absolutes” in life. No one perfect way to do things. What works for you, may not be what works for other families.

 

To me the jury is still out on this entitlement thing. There are plenty of hard working wonderful kids out there. Are the entitled ones just louder? Do they demand more attention? Were there no entitled kids 30 years ago? I was thinking about this during a recent outing with the kids. I know I do a lot for my kids. I try not to say “no” to everything. I do say no to buying things, but I do get them a glass of milk, or a snack or help them get dressed. The two schools of thought on this seem to be 1. That they will never get their own drink, never learn to get dressed, never learn to clean up etc. etc. or 2. They will learn to do nice things for other people. I lean towards number two. I like to help them, but try I do so only when they ask me, if it is possible for me to help. For example, I can’t get a drink of water for them when I’m in the shower. One reason I help is that they learn to help when asked. I don’t have to argue, I don’t have to threaten, and now, most times they do help when asked.

 

I also want them to be able to ask for help. One of my many flaws I have is to try not ask for help. Don’t put people out or be a bother. Some may see that as a virtue. But again, there must be a happy medium, not an absolute rule – “Don’t ask for help”.Sometimes you may need it.

 

Conventional wisdom says one of the things we can do to avoid entitled kids is to not “give in” to them. And for the most part I agree with that. Don’t buy them unnecessary things when they ask. And stick to your guns. This is apparently the most important part. Don’t tell them no, and have them get upset, and then give in to what they want. That is the cardinal sin. They learn that throwing a fit gets them what they want, doesn’t it?

 

Which brings me to my story. The kids, two of their cousins, uncle and aunt, and I were on a 1 km hike on a nice little trail. It wasn’t too hot, nobody was dying of thirst or hunger. My 5 year old daughter asked “Can you carry me?” I said no. She just finished running after a bird, she was happy, and everyone else was walking just fine. Not only that, she is heavy now. The ground was unstable, and I would not want to fall while carrying her. Oh, I had a myriad of reasons to say no. She cried, she whined she said her legs were sore. I stuck to my guns. She ran ahead a bit, not looking like she was about to pass out. Even laughed a bit. HA, I was right, she does not need to be carried. She is just being lazy. A minute later she asked again, and so as not to have an entitled brat, I said no. She cried a bit, she whined, she asked a few more times, she blocked my path. I calmly informed her that I was not going to carry her. She is 5 years old I thought to myself. She can walk. And when I decide to say no, I mean it. I patted myself on the back. Most of the way back to the car, she asked, she cajoled, she begged. I was stoic. I did not get upset. I was calm. I tried to explain why I wasn’t carrying her, and I let her have her anger. Before we got to the car, she had seemingly forgotten about our argument only minutes before. She joked with her brother, ran through a small puddle, walked through the parking lot with a smile. Another pat on the back for me. I win. I’m right. I’m the adult here. No lazy, entitled kids in this family. She was not tired of walking at all.

We arrived back at the car. Time to pack up the kids. There were 7 of us and it was tough to get the kids in the backseat all seated and buckled in. Space was a little tight. By the time we had all the boys buckled in with snacks and water, we were almost ready to go. My daughter had settled into the front seat playing with something while we got the back seat organized. “C’mon, sweetie, we have to get going, can you get in your carseat now, please?” I asked so nicely. She kept playing with whatever it was she had, and in the calmest voice said. “No.”

The Wooden Spoon

 

 

I’m taking a bit of a detour on this one. I came across a a blog post on social media the other day. Here is the link if you are interested. http://addins.kwwl.com/blogs/anchormom/2015/04/the-entitlement-generation To summarize, it railed against “the entitlement generation” and insinuated that they way children are raised today is the reason kids are “entitled”. The way her parents raised her would solve that problem in a hurry. The comments after the article were full of people praising her article and her methods. She was responding to an email that she had received from a stranger that stated “If your parents had to use a wooden spoon on you, then they clearly did not know how to parent you”. She took issue to this comment and wrote an article explaining the virtues of how she was raised.

In the article, her parents raised a doctor, an HR executive, and a Journalist, so “they must have done something right”

You know, I’m sure her parents are great people. This lady also seems like someone who in many ways I could look up to and admire. By her own admission, she is a successful well-rounded adult. And I agree with many points that she brought up. Her parents made them responsible for their actions. Her parents were not their “friend”. They were told no often. Her parents let them fall, so they learned how to get back up. Hey, I agree with this. We all need to be held to account. We need to go through tough times, to see that we can make it through. She made it clear that she and her siblings were raised with corporal punishment in order for her parents to achieve those goals.

BUT, here is where I start to have a bit of an issue. It is with this quote in the article.

 

I’m nowhere near a perfect parent. I learn something new everyday. But I do know…I want to raise my kids the way I was. Because I don’t want to send spoiled, entitled brats into the world.”

 

What that is saying to me, is that without the wooden spoon, her kids, and by extension, most kids that don’t get the wooden spoon will be spoiled entitled brats. I know I am oversimplifying, but that’s the message I get. The question I have for her is did she grow up ok “because of” or “despite” how her parents raised her.

Look, none of us are perfect parents. Many of us are raising our kids the way we were raised and because we feel like we turned out OK, we try to emulate that. Sometimes that’s a good thing. But if you are truly trying to learn as a parent I would encourage you to look at other possible methods and ideas before deciding that the way you were raised will be the way you do it.

Her parents “taught” her respect. “if we talked back to our parents, we got the back of my mom’s hand to our mouths…if we used a bad word, we got soap in our mouths…”

Not to mention, the article has connotations of getting hit with a wooden spoon.

I’m not here to say that she is failing as a parent. I would be willing to bet, that her kids are wonderful, respectful, intelligent human beings. To be honest, this is the only post of hers that I have read, so I want to be careful not to judge too much.

My parents never laid a hand on me. Very rarely were we yelled at or punished. I have never been grounded. And I, too, feel like I turned out OK. I take responsibility for my actions, and I feel like I am a resilient, caring, hardworking individual. My parents taught me respect by being respectful. I am not saying my parent’s methods were better or worse, but I will say I never had soap in my mouth. It is very possible to raise well adjusted kids with very little, if any, punishment.

There are just so many factors that go into the making of a well-adjusted, hard working, resilient adult. Corporal punishment is scientifically proven to be bad for children in general. Yes it worked for her parents, but I’m not willing to take that chance. There are many kids who are spanked, that do not turn out to be doctors and lawyers and have very little respect for people. Socio-economic status, friendships, education, where you live, extended family, traumatic experiences in childhood, religion, and culture all play into how a child will ‘turn out”. If your parents were white, middle class Christians in America, no matter what your parents did to you, you probably ended up ok. But if you grew up in poverty or in the shadow of racism or in a single parent household or all of the above, a wooden spoon was probably not a huge incentive to be “good”. I am disappointed that some parents will read this and think that this is the answer if they are struggling with their youngsters. Even though some of the child’s actions may be completely normal and age appropriate.Using force to control them may work in the short term, but short term parenting is not the goal.

 

I do not want my kids to be entitled. I say no fairly often. They do make mistakes every now and then. What I try to do is control myself when that happens. I can’t imagine physically harming my children in any possible way. I try not to yell. (emphasize try) How can I expect them to show emotional regulation when I can’t control my emotions. I think everyone understands the hypocrisy of shouting “stop shouting!’ at your children. I am choosing my methods because after researching how children learn and how they behave, I feel like I am giving them the best odds of being resilient, caring, compassionate, hardworking, respectful adults. It still may not work out. There is no guarantee my kids will not end up in jail. If more research comes out that says there is a better way, I will evaluate that method. This is what learning is.

If your kids are fairly well behaved, respectful and doing well in school, then I am sincerely happy for you. Maybe you don’t have to change anything. But are you doing the best you possibly can for your kids if you haven’t at least looked at ideas or methods that might help them be even better? More importantly, is their mental health ok?  After all, sometimes, strict parents raise sneaky children.

post

Connections

IMG_4217

 

The dreaded teen years…… for some of us they have arrived, for some of us they will be here before you know it. For us, we have about 6 years to prepare. Is it by default that this formative age is going to be a massive struggle and battle of wills? Is this a projection of our own teen years? Will it be a self -fulfilling prophecy?
If you expect your children to be a handful, chances are they will be. The question for many is how to mitigate the possible issues. Mitigation starts early. As early as possible, perhaps even at birth.

From what I have come to believe, the two most important things that will help parents and children navigate through their lives peacefully and with respect are modeling, and a loving connection with your kids.
I think modeling is a pretty easy concept. Kids can spot a hypocrite a mile away. They are designed to do that. So if you want your kids to eat healthy, then eat healthy. If you want your kids to be active, be active. If you want your kids to love reading, read to them and read in front of them. If you want your kids to have less screen time, then don’t watch TV in front of them. It’s a pretty simple formula, really. It may not happen the next day, but over time, they will learn, either good habits or bad. Your kids are watching you and learning from you, even when it doesn’t seem like they are paying attention. I often hear the phrase that “ kids are pretty smart”. Yes they are, and if you think they are not picking up on the fact that you are telling them to do one thing and then doing the exact opposite, then you are setting yourself up for potential battles. And we all know “actions speak louder …….”

Connecting, on the other hand, is a much harder concept to grasp. I will go out on a limb here and make the assumption that we all love our kids. We all want what we think is best for them. But by loving them, does that automatically create a connection? We have to foster a kind, gentle and open relationship with our kids, so that when they have a problem, they will come and talk with us. That’s why when a 4 year old has a screaming meltdown over a broken toy, we should try to empathize with them. For them it’s a big deal. Huge even. When they are teens and a really big deal does happen, they will have the confidence to come to us without being judged. Connecting and listening with empathy should start as young as possible.

I have heard many times that “We can’t be their friends…..” and by that statement I feel that as adults, we imply the opposite. We need to be the “ authority figure”. If we don’t tell them everything they need to know, they will NEVER be able to figure it out on their own. (That is not taking the “kids are pretty smart” philosophy} And I will agree that as parents and adults we need to set limits on our kids, not just “be their friends”. I am not advocating permissiveness. I am advocating listening to children and working on things together. Collaboration, discussion, negotiation, kindness and respect are the key to solving any problems that you may have. After all, shouldn’t this be what we all strive to do in the “real world”.

Our kids don’t have to like our decisions, but they have to have their opportunity to voice what they want and to do so in a safe environment. If this happens from a young age, then some of the issues of the teen years might be easier to handle. Wouldn’t you rather your kids come to you and have a discussion about drugs and alcohol when they encounter them? That is my goal. It may not happen, but I am choosing the methods that I think will have the best chance to get me to that goal. Let me put it this way. In an unscientific assignment of numbers, let’s say that by lecturing, grounding, punishing and yelling at kids, it will produce a teen that has a 60% chance of staying away from drugs, doing well in school, living a productive and happy life, and have a close relationship with their parents and siblings. By being respectful, empathetic, gentle and constructive, maybe we increase our odds of happy productive adults to 75%. I realize these numbers are completely arbitrary, but which would you choose? Most sane people would choose the latter. I feel that there is a much better chance of them “turning out well” by being kind and respectful. I don’t have numbers, but it simply makes sense to me. Nothing is foolproof, and there are many influences in a children’s life. Socio economics, stability, peer groups, etc. have influence on your children. My kids could end up in jail, for all I know. The future is a huge mystery to us all.

We can tell them, teach them, punish them and lecture them on the dangers of life, but will that stop them from experimentation? For some kids it might. For others who will push limits anyway and have no safety net because they may be afraid of what their parents will think or what their parents will do to them if they “get caught”, life can be a scary proposition.

Next – some great resources.

Kids Really Are Amazing!!

Starting a blog is not as easy as I thought it would be. In fact, it has taken me over two years to write this, my first post. By my math that is less then one word per day. Hopefully I can improve on that pace. I hope it wont be two years until the next post.

Why did it take so long?

Hey, it’s hard to put yourself out there for ridicule and judgment. Things like admitting that I can’t buy extra virgin olive oil at the grocery store because it reminds me too much about high school, and other potentially embarrassing things are hard to say in a public forum. I think that many people struggle with the same issues on a daily basis, at work, at home or in some social situations. I want to try and overcome these obstacles, and try to set an example for my children to follow their passions. After all, I am frequently telling my children to not be afraid of trying something new, perhaps I should follow my own advice.

With this blog, I want people to think about their own status quo and evaluate their own beliefs, thoughts, and goals about parenting and the education of our children. I plan to dive into topics that a lot of us may have questions on. What can I do if my child talks back to me? Homework vs. no homework? Are schools able to meet the needs of a changing society? I will try to pass on some the tremendous amounts of resource material that I have encountered for raising and educating children.

6 years ago, my life changed so significantly, that it forced me to evaluate ideas that I had previously believed, and also to change my goals in life. 6 Years ago I became a father of a wonderful boy.

As it turns out, parenting is hard. Who would have thought that? My parents had it so easy it seemed. Could there have been any better kids than my two brothers and I? And then, to make matters tougher, 2 years later, we went ahead and had a wonderful little girl. That was enough punishment for us.

I say “punishment” half in jest, half not. Most parents can relate to this on a substantial level. It is both the most rewarding and frustrating job I have entertained in my entire adult life. And for some of you kind enough to read this, I’m sure those feelings are ones that happen fairly frequently. Now that my kids are entering the school system, I want to ensure that they are receiving adequate knowledge, problem solving skills, critical thinking skills and creativity to be happy productive members of our society. Are the adults of our future going to be creative and resilient enough to tackle new problems in the future, problems that do not even exist in our existing realm of knowledge?

I am not writing this as a recipe for “good” kids or to criticize parenting skills. We are all doing our absolute best as parents to raise our kids and help them toward a quality education and to help them become quality people. Nor do I believe there is a one size fits all approach to parenting. There can be many ways to get our children to a successful adulthood. My goal is to put forth some ideas on parenting, education and politics that may be different than what is happening in the “mainstream”. You may choose to disagree with me or with the content, and I am ok with that. I hope to generate discussion and healthy debate amongst us, so that we may learn from each other. I ask that you keep an open mind and open yourself up to new ideas and thoughts. I will do the same. I am reminded of a quote from Malcolm Gladwell,

“I sort of feel that’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being — to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.”

Look at what your beliefs are and challenge them with alternative views, and see if they hold up to your own scrutiny.

Coming next – Parenting – How to control your kid

How to Control your Kids

Almost as soon as our firstborn was caught by the Doctor and swaddled up in a tiny blanket, I started to read books on how to do this parenting thing. I have come across many different ideologies for raising kids in the years that followed. Most of the early literature that I read started down the path of “training” your children. “Discipline” was paramount, and controlling the behavior of infants and toddlers was the goal. As I sifted through some of these books, it occurred to me that controlling our children was more for the parent’s sanity, than for the good of the child. Many of us may have been raised this way in some form or another. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” was a mantra that I had heard before, and to some people raised in that manner, it may be the only way to “get” your children to do what you want them to do.

But there was one thing that nagged at me early on. I did not want my kids to ever fear me or to fear adults in general. I did not want my kids to fear that what they were doing would bring anger, hostility, or punishment from me. I wanted them to know they are loved unconditionally and valued as people, all the time.

So how do we control them without punishment? Is it possible? If you are looking for that magical answer at this point, you are going to be disappointed.
There is no doubt in my mind that as adults and parents we can control children through a series of punishments and rewards. The question is, should we? And for 8 to 10 years, you may have a model child who listens, obeys and does not act up in any given situation. Other parents speak highly of your children’s manners and you are happy with how your kids “behave”. But as kids get older, it becomes tougher and tougher to control them. They start to learn that they have a voice and they no longer want to be controlled. It is the inevitability of human nature. So, for the most formative years of their lives, they are controlled, punished, put in timeout, but did not learn one thing about self-regulation or how to handle big emotions. They just know that they have been bad. How is lacking self -control going to help them in their teen years?

I get angry with my children. I am not claiming that they are not incredibly frustrating at times. How I react in those moments of anger and frustration is the most important thing, I believe. I think children generally want to do well. They rarely intentionally try to upset or anger us as parents. The reason why they can frustrate us is that often they are busy doing their own thing and do not understand why what they are doing is “wrong” (as labeled by adults) or, why they would have to stop the activity. It makes them incredibly frustrated when they are told that they have to leave the playground or not eat that chocolate bar. Melting down may ensue, (by both parents and children in some instances.) But as young children, it is developmentally appropriate to be extremely upset at things adults may see as “little things”.

Imagine being at a restaurant with your friends, having a good time, watching the superbowl. The game is tied at the two minute warning. It’s a great atmosphere, the food is good, the beer tastes fantastic and then your significant other calls you and says it’s time to go. No emergency, it’s just time to go. Personally, I would be upset, and I might even beg for 5 more minutes, or at least until after the game. Even if I was permitted 5 more minutes, I still would not really be happy to leave.
The difference between myself in the Super Bowl situation, and my daughter having to leave the park, is that she screams bloody murder if she has to leave before she is ready. That is intensely annoying and frustrating for me, but age appropriate for her.

Many people at this point feel that now at this young age is the time they need to be “trained” or “taught”. The thinking is that if they are not taught to “behave” at a young age, they will be melting down at 13, 14 or 15 years old, maybe even as adults. I have a different view based on some of the fantastic books and blogs that I have been reading over the years.
I really try to empathize with my kids when they are upset. It does not necessarily help them to stop being upset, but it does give them a voice, it tells them I am listening and it tells them I understand. How they act as 4 year olds is not how they will act as 8 year olds if we give them a chance to develop the internal regulation that will come naturally to most.

I try my best to react with empathy and compassion as often as I can when our children get upset. I don’t always manage to do this. The demands of work, laundry, cleaning, homework, driving to activities, lack of sleep etc. will sometimes upset my applecart. And it’s not pretty. But all I ask of myself is that I try my best. The kids are counting on me.

Up Next – Connecting with your kids