Tuesday, October 30, 2012

When You Find Yourself in Times of Trouble...

 I cannot write a post today, without thinking of the millions of people affected by Hurricane Sandy and the super storm that it morphed into as it slammed the east coast of the United States last night.  My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the individuals who are dealing with the destruction and massive cleanup that faces them in the coming days.

The families that are facing a day or days without power and the tough job of cleaning up homes, businesses and communities, I say to you:  Remember your children are watching.  During times of stress and disappointment: your children are watching.  When you feel and anger, fear and helplessness: your children are watching.  When you take your stress out on your husband, wife or neighbor: your children are watching.

Children get their cues on how to behave from you.  So if you are stressed, overwrought, angry or depressed, you can expect the same from them.  This can be your finest hour of parenting or your worst.  The choice is yours.

During times of difficulty, choose to rise above the situation.  Choose to be the parent who can smile in the face of adversity.  Choose to be the neighbor who is reaching out to comfort others.  Choose to lend a hand, or a meal or a kind word to those who were hit harder than you.  Choose to be the person who creates a feeling of warmth and calm in the midst of frustration and chaos.

You will be teaching your children such a POWERFUL message.  Everything will be fine.  Everything will eventually be normal again. And while things are not how you would like them to be, you are able to choose to make the best of it--for you, for your family, for your neighbors, for our future!
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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Games Parents Play

We all know that good parenting is a difficult game.  The hours are long, and the tasks are mentally and physically exhausting.  But when parenting is done right, the rewards are magnificent.  Parenting small children is more physical and older children more mental, but in my 10 years of working with parents and as a result of being a parent for 23 years, I have formulated a short list of the most common parenting mistakes I routinely see and hear about. 

1.  The Blamer:  This parent finds an external excuse for anything and everything that his/her child finds difficult.  Problems at school?  "The teacher doesn't like my kid!"  Child having social issues?  "My child is being picked on."  Child uses foul language?  "Where did he learn that fu#$%^@ language!"  This parent cannot turn the lens and examine any problem that may be caused by his/her child.  Unfortunately, the child learns this behavior and has difficulty problem solving for him/her self.

2.  The Angry Parent:  The Angry Parent (usually carries this parenting style from his/her upbringing) and cannot seem to have a conversation with the child.  Interactions often times, involve yelling, name calling and other insulting behavior.  This type of behavior damages a child's self concept and leads to many other issues.

3.  The Doormat Parent:  This parent has never learned the word "NO".  He or she cannot bear to bring even the slightest discomfort upon the child.  The child is in control of the household and although keeping the child happy is the ultimate goal of this parent, the child ends up pushing limits in an effort to find where and when the parent will finally draw the line.  Kids need and want limits.  Without them, they feel a lack of confidence and don't think that their parent's really care about them.

4.  The Shopper:  These parents love to spend money (whether they have it or not) to make up for the guilt they feel at being inadequate parents.  The thought process goes something like this:  If I buy you things, I am showing I love you and therefore you must appreciate and love me.  The problem lies in the fact that the parent is conveying love and happiness through material possessions and ultimately, there will never be enough to satisfy the child.  Someone will always have something newer, better or cooler that their child will covet.

5.  The BFF:  This parent wants their child to fill social and emotional needs that should be met by other adults.  Parents who play the role of the child's friend often continue in the role well past the point of mortal embarrassment of the child.  Healthy parents do not unload adult problems on to children's shoulders, nor do they engage in trying to cultivate the social life of the child and be popular with the children's friends.  It is important to know your children's friends, but not to be one of them.

Healthy and fulfilling parent/child relationships are not easily accomplished.  I have found myself tempted to fall in to more than one of these categories.  But ultimately, aiming for the balance of being the authority in your child's life and the primary nurturer constructs the foundation for long term success of you and your child in the game of life!

Photo Credit: Kelly Knize


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

You Give Your Children Everything, Really?

I will boldly admit that this is the most difficult blog I have ever written.  It has been an emotional week.  A week that I would rather forget than ever live through again.  Every time I spoke with someone this past week, I heard catastrophic news.  A father in law dies in a helicopter crash, a daughter fights malignant cancer, a young mother stricken with a stroke, and the worst, most personal news of all, the sudden and utterly unexpected passing of the dear mother of my teenage daughter's best friend.

Anne Tomkins* was the epitome of a loving and caring mom.  She was quiet and calm.  She was a teacher by education and worked as a loving teacher's aide in a special needs classroom.  A job that she was over qualified for, but that she did in order to devote herself fully to her own teenage children.  She was a believer in reading and education, the arts and religion.  She was Jewish, and elegant, and kind.  She required her children to go to Saturday School, and make their bat and bar mitzvah's.  She shared her faith with them, and yesterday I saw the impact that it had.  Her children were thrust into an uncomfortable situation.  Grieving the sudden loss of their mother.  And yet, they were in a place that they could experience comfort.  They knew this synagogue.  It was familiar to them.

I am a Christian and my husband and I have raised our four children in the Catholic faith.  I am not always comfortable admitting that I am a Christian--which I am sure is sinful.  Christians can be so boorish, so judgmental, so closed minded, so out of touch.  And Catholics? What about the abusive priests, the male dominated culture, the mistreatment of nuns, the closed mindedness on relevant issues such as birth control, gay marriage, abortion?  Honestly, I am uncomfortable on many of these topics.  So you could brand me as a hypocrite.  You could call me out on so many levels.  But my faith is strong, and raising my children to discover their faith is one of my proudest accomplishments.  Yesterday, I witnessed the same in a synagogue.  These two teenagers are "good" kids.  They are kind to others.  Have caring hearts.  They have friends who love them and are there for them, and that is a testament to a good teenager in this day in age.

Children are born into our world as innocents.  They are beautiful and miraculous.  They make us swoon and giggle and sit in awe as they learn to smile and take their first few precious step.  And yet, by the time many are teenagers, they have lost their way.  Yesterday, I read a post online about a girl who committed suicide due to bullying.  And the comments on the post were more than shocking.  Young people cursing this girl.  Evaluating her looks, and commenting on her behavior.  Calling her names.  She had killed herself to escape this world and yet the ugliness and hate raining down on her continued.  I was horrified.

The contrast between the world of teenage hate and of loving kindness is dramatic.  So in this parenting post I am loudly proclaiming that parents need to gift their children the gift of faith.  Help children discover and develop their spiritual lives.  Do you want to protect your children from bullies?  Help them develop social and emotional skills? Learn life lessons that will benefit them all of their days, like empathy, honesty, and devotion?  Then get your family back to church, synagogue, mosque or temple.  Embrace what is good in this world, and teach loving kindness.  Do what Anne Tomkins* did.  Live by example and teach your children to have faith.  Before it is too late.

*Not her real name out of respect for her surviving family


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Stop The Good Cop/Bad Cop Parenting

I was speaking to a group of young parents recently when the discussion turned to the "Good Cop/Bad Cop" Style of parenting.  Often times, couples fall into these roles of parenting without any conscious decision making.  One parent is the softer touch, the good cop, who is "easier" on the kids and their behavior.  And one parent is the disciplinarian, the bad cop, who is left with the limit setting and enforcement of family rules.  This dynamic-while wildly popular, has been shown, through research at the University of California, Berkley, to be less effective than parents who have a united plan of action regarding the behavior standards they require of their children.  Here are a few reasons why the Good Cop/Bad Cop Method is not the best choice for parents:

  • Unfairness: One parent shouldn't be the one to do all the heavy lifting in relationship to disciplining the kids, while the other one only gets the "fun" role of saying yes all the time and ignoring all the rest.  In addition, one parent shouldn't be associated with serious trouble.  You know the old "Wait until your father gets home strategy".  This strategy is as outdated as it sounds.  Parents need to present a united front in dealing with the discipline of their children.

  •  Confusion: By sending mixed signals, children do not have a clear understanding of the family's rules and expectations.  If one parent says yes, and the other says no.  Children are left caught in the middle.

  • Manipulation: Children are very clever and will quickly solve the confusion by figuring out which parent is more likely to give them what they want.  It is much better for the children to understand what is expected of them by both parents, than to learn how to manipulate situations in order to get what they want.  Children need limits and develop important social and emotional skills when they understand that there are rules at home that they are expected to follow.

  • Conflict:  Research tells us that children brought up in homes that use the Good Cop/Bad Cop method are more likely to fight about parenting approaches, and fighting between the parents hurts the child.  Parents need to agree on what to do with regard to discipline issues and if there are disagreements, handle them in a mature fashion outside of the earshot of the children. 
 Parents can get on the same page by drawing up a list of "House Rules" and agreeing to enforce them both equally.  In this way, parents will be building a foundation of harmony and teaching their children valuable lessons about teamwork, family identity, and respect for one another.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

5 Secrets About Your Child's Friendships

 Everyday we see articles and reports about children being bullied at school.  And as parents, I think we all believe that friendships are the perfect antidote to bullying.  If our kids have friends, then whether or not there are some mean kids picking on them is immaterial.  So our quest is to guarantee that our children have friends.  There is a problem with that logic.  And therefore, I have created this short list of secrets about what do in regard to your child and his/her friends.  I am quite knowledgeable on this topic, as I have raised four well adjusted and happy young adults.  I have witnessed loads of hurt feelings, cattiness, invitations that were expected and not forthcoming, and online bullying.  My husband and I have spent many a sleepless night, debating friendship issues.  I have earned my stripes on this topic...so here are my simple secrets that I learned the hard way...

1.  Avoid Criticizing Your Child's Friends.  Instead of criticizing, it is your job to get to know them.  Get to know them, by inviting them over frequently.  Learn what it is your child likes about them.  When you are critical of their friends, you are criticizing your own child's judgement and pushing them away.  They will hold back information about the friends you have criticized in an effort to stop your criticism.  This is exactly what you don't want.  So hold your tongue.

2.  Teach Your Children The Characteristics Of Friendship.  Talk about characteristics such as loyalty, being a good listener, caring about each other's feelings, and honesty.  If children are never taught about these character traits, they don't understand how important they become in a friendship.  Also, your children need guidance as to how to be a good friend to someone else.

3.  Parental Friendships Don't Always Transfer.  Often times, we believe that if we like someone, our children will like their children.  This is not always the case.  Let your children choose their own friends, just as you choose yours.  Sometimes the apple clearly has fallen very far from the tree.  I will leave it at that.

4.  When It Hurts, There Is Always Home.  Home should be a nurturing place that a child knows he/she can find everlasting support and love.  A child struggling with friendships, needs to know that his/her parents never waver in their faith in him/her to find the right friends, and the fact that he/she is worthy of peer relationships.  Parents who criticize children because they don't have friends or the right friends are as guilty as the bullies in school.

5.  Facilitate Positive Relationships.  If or when your child is struggling with friendship issues, it is vitally important to help them find environments that make them feel accepted and affirmed.  Try to get them in to a church group, volunteer opportunity, scouting or sporting group, somewhere that they have relationships with peers or others that appreciate them and make them feel worthy.  This will help build confidence and expose them to an environment outside of school.