All posts in Independence, Character Traits & Values

Communication 101

coupletSo much of what we do here at Parenting On Track™ is focused on enhancing the relationship we have with our children. Once we become parents, we tend to focus on our kids, and sometimes this concentration can come at the expense of the relationship we have with our spouse. Even though this may be the “norm”—it doesn’t have to be!

It’s so easy to forget that the relationship we have with our spouse is the BEST model we can give our kids for how to love, care for, and, most importantly, communicate with other people. We all know, but it’s easy to forget, that our children are watching us—all the time. They see how we react to, or interact with, each other: are we kind, aloof or somewhere in between? Do we laugh together, or do we laugh more easily and frequently with our friends? Do we thank each other for the small things—or does it take a momentous event to get a nod of acknowledgment?

You may have to take some time to think about the answers to those questions, but it’s guaranteed your children wouldn’t. They know how you and your spouse communicate and, chances are, when they find themselves in their first relationship, they will act similarly to the way you do now.

So, now you may be wondering what you can do NOW that would make an impact in this area? What can you do that would open up the lines of communication with your spouse and show your children how people in a healthy, loving relationship communicate with each other (without saying, “Hey Honey, we need to be nicer to each other… now. Oh yeah, and in front of the kids, ok?”).

The first answer I come to is Appreciations. Appreciations is the part of the Family Meeting where each family member appreciates every other family member for something that they did during the past week. It is the time that we get to tell each other how our individual traits and contributions positively impact the family as a whole. This is a great time to single out our spouses, in front of the kids, and give them an appreciation for something special about them that maybe we take for granted; or appreciate something that they do every day that makes our life easier; or perhaps just appreciate them for who they are.

Start now and use the Appreciations section of the Family Meeting to jumpstart your communication with your spouse. If it helps you to say the things that often go unsaid, or to give voice to those feelings that you never mention—isn’t it worth it?

This Connection is a Little Fuzzy

I’m not sure when small children became something that needed fixing. Personally, I don’t believe that any child is broken. Their behavior might be problematic and their intentions with their behavior might be mistaken—but they certainly aren’t broken. Not only that, but I think most parents I know want to get away from (or avoid altogether) reacting to problems as they arise and move to avoiding them in the first place.

If I just described you, you aren’t alone—and I have some good news. You can avoid problematic behavior in your house, and you can do it today. I could list for you a whole host of things that you can do today to steer your family clear of problems, but instead I am going to give you just one—an easy one. Connect with your kids over the positive things they do.

Sounds easy, right? It might be easier said than done, and here’s what I mean by that. Watch yourself for a few days, and try to notice how often you connect with your kids over the negative or problematic things they do and how many times you connect over the positive things they do. I think you will find that you, like so many busy parents today, are quicker to point out what they are doing wrong than what they are doing right. You do this because you think that by pointing it out, you will get rid of the behavior. Guess what? Just the opposite happens.

Most children just want attention and to connect with their parents. When we give them attention over mistaken behavior, we are giving them what they want, and they will do more of it to get our attention. So I am asking you to turn that around and start to give more of your attention to the positive things they do. Shower them with it!

Here are some examples:

  • Thanks for making your bed today—it is so helpful to me when you contribute to keeping the house clean.
  • I see you are playing with your brother—I really appreciate it when you two spend time together doing something you both enjoy.
  • I really enjoy going to the market with you.
  • You got a high mark on that homework assignment—your hard work certainly seems to have paid off.
  • Would you join me in ________________ (you fill in the blank); I could really use your help.

Connecting with our kids over the positive things they do and the way we feel about them is one of the easiest (and most rewarding) things you can start doing today. I guarantee positive results!

For additional information check out the Parenting On Track™ Home Program.

Parenting is a Journey? I Think I Need Directions!

journeyHave you ever felt more like a firefighter than a parent? You don’t seem to have time to put any real thought into caring for your children because you are too busy putting out small fires all day long, hoping that you aren’t faced with a wildfire that consumes the family before you make it out the door to school.

Or maybe you feel like a referee, putting one child in the penalty box while the other one gloats on the sideline? And I’m sure you have all, at one point in time, felt like the maid: too busy picking up toys and doing laundry to enjoy the small moments of fun with your children. None of these images is all that positive when associated with the job of caring for our small children, so I am going to ask you to remove all of those negative images in order to leave room for a new, “improved” positive vision of what your life as a parent could look like.

Parenting is a journey. The journey begins when you bring your first-born child home and continues until your youngest reaches 18 and moves into his/her second phase of life. And every journey requires a ROADMAP. The journey of parenting is no different because, without a roadmap, it is impossible to parent from your best.

A Parenting Roadmap can look like any map you would use to plot a course from Point A to Point B. I like to imagine myself up on a hill with a birds-eye view, visualizing the road below as it winds its way through mountains and valleys and through my child’s life from 0 to 18. Maybe your map looks like a board game, or an ordinary roadmap.

No matter what image or map you decide to use, remember that each one has three things in common:

  1. The starting point
  2. The final destination
  3. The distance in between

As a parent, designing your Roadmap, you want to make sure you:

  • Identify your starting point (where are you today?)
  • Identify your final destination (where do you want to go?)
  • Plan for the distance in between (what will it take to get there?)

I’m pretty sure that when you began your parenting journey (or thought about beginning it!) your images did not include feeling frustrated, stressed, confused or discouraged. I’m asking you to put aside those negative feelings and attitudes and focus on answering a few simple but powerful questions:

  • How do you want to spend your time with your kids? (The choice is yours.)
  • What are your values and how can you better live into them?
  • How can you enjoy the experience of your children’s childhood with them? (This includes more than playing with playdough and make–believe.)

Those may seem like tough questions to answer, but creating a Parenting Roadmap will help you focus on the outcome, evaluate and track your progress, and enjoy more and worry less. The choice is yours.

For more information on creating a Parenting Roadmap, see Ch. 5 of the Parenting On Track™ Home Program.

Get More Play in Your Day!

play-postThere has been a lot of talk in the media in recent years about the importance of playtime in the academic lives of our children. While we once thought that playtime should be restricted to after-school activities, current research tells us that is no longer the case.

New research suggests that play and down time may be as important to a child’s academic experience as reading, science and math, and that regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence behavior, concentration and even grades.” (See Parker-Pope article below).

Unless you are a teacher, you are probably thinking, “What has this got to do with me and parenting?” The answer: it can mean as much as you want it to. Most parents I know are looking for ways to help their children succeed academically, and this usually means helping them with their homework or hiring a tutor, etc… So I am excited to tell all of you that it can also mean—go out and PLAY with your kids!

Maybe you already do this, and, if so, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. But maybe playtime is lacking in your routine and you need some help fitting it in. Here are some suggestions on how you can do that.

First, sit down with your family and talk about this very topic. Tell them what you have learned and discuss how you think “playtime” together could become a new value that your family develops. Find out what your children think and what some of their ideas are on the subject.

Second, involve your children in deciding when and how you will “play” together. This can be done during your weekly Family Meeting. Set aside five minutes of the Family Meeting to further discuss ideas on what types of activities everyone would enjoy, and then schedule a time during the following week to do one of those activities together. Make sure you follow up at the next Family Meeting to see how everyone thinks it went and to schedule additional activities.

Investing your time and energy in “playing” with your children will not only benefit them academically, it will benefit you all as a family, emotionally, if you use the playtime to connect with each other.

When your kids are grown and have left your house, they might remember that you helped them with their math homework—but they will definitely remember that you took them fishing on Sundays, hiked the trails to look for bugs, or kicked the ball around in the backyard before dinner.

The 3 R’s? A Fourth Is Crucial, Too: Recess” by Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, Feb 23, 2009.

Makeover—Or Tune-up?

  • 12 Steps to Enlightened Parenting
  • 50 Ways to Be a Better Parent!
  • 101 Things You Can Do to Improve the Relationship with Your Kids!


Sure, articles like these have some great ideas, but who has the time and energy to introduce 12, 50 or 101 new “ideas” into their day-to-day parenting? And do the authors of these articles think that we are all such lousy parents that we need to change that many things to get it right?

Here’s my two cents on the subject, for what it’s worth. How about one new idea? Just one new idea that is so powerful, you will experience change immediately, and it will continue for as long as you use this One-New-Idea? Yeah—now we’re talking.

Here it is: Identify your Number One, I will fight for this one, I’m not giving in on this—VALUE.

Here’s an example. We all want respectful kids, right? We bark, “Don’t use that tone of voice with me! I am your parent. You will show me the respect I deserve!” etc.

How about “Showing” our wee ones the respect we expect from them? Listen, I know from experience, that if we as parents, actually clarified our number one value and then practiced living it every day, our children would begin to model that same value. We wouldn’t have to spend time “talking” about our value, our kids would be exposed, every day, to parents who live the value.

Here is your chance to try this One-New-Idea concept out.

I challenge you, for seven days, to see how often you, yourself, live into a value like respect. I think you will find, like most of us, that it is really hard to do. On the other hand, it is incredibly EASY to let ourselves off the hook when we behave in disrespectful ways. Maybe we had a tough day, or we are really tired, or we got some bad news, or we have asked the kids 27 times in a “kind” voice to please TURN DOWN THE TV. The truth is, there are often two sets of rules in a household. The rules for the parents, and the rules for the kids, and more often than not, the rules for the kids are much more rigid than the rules for the parents.

Once you have taken my seven-day challenge and experience for yourself how difficult it is to live your Number One Value on a consistent basis, let yourself off the hook. BUT—you also have to let the kids off the hook and understand that it is just as difficult for them to follow through 100% of the time as it is for you, the adult in the house. Dang, can’t you feel the tension floating out the windows just thinking about it?

So throw those long lists away. Simplify, with a powerful idea that will have a dramatic impact on you personally, your children individually, and your family as a whole. I am certain that this will make a difference in the way you parent on a daily basis, because let’s face it: you don’t need a complete makeover, just a small tune-up.

More tune-up ideas can be found in the Parenting On Track™ Home Program.

How to End Overparenting

overparentingI recently read somewhere that today’s parents are, on the whole, guilty of hovering and acting obsessive, neurotic and all-consuming when it comes to their jobs as parents. I think that about sums it up.

The term used to describe this is “Overparenting,” and I think many parents would agree that they are guilty of this. When did it become popular for parenting to be a constant vigil of scrutinizing every detail of their children’s lives? It’s just crazy, if you ask me. So, what could one do if, say, he or she were guilty of this overparenting thing?

It’s easy: just back away. Ok, I think it’s easy, but I know that when you’ve inadvertently made your job as a parent stressful and demanding, it can be hard to just turn away. So, here is one place and one thing you can do to start the process of turning your children’s lives back over to them: Introduce—Problem Solving.

For those of you familiar with the Parenting On Track™ Program, you know all about Problem Solving and its place at the weekly Family Meeting. For those of you who don’t, here is a quick and dirty lesson (the long version can be found in Ch. 9 of the Parenting On Track™ Home Program).

Problem Solving is meant to be a tool for your children to use in learning how to become competent problem solvers, thus removing you (or your spouse) as a participant in their daily quarrels. If used regularly, Problem Solving will encourage your children to look for solutions, instead of fighting, and find the courage to follow through on agreements, instead of tattling or getting mad.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Children have a problem; they write it on the board. (Key here is that they describe the problem in one sentence—no-name, no-blame. That one skill, in and of itself, is worth a six-figure income.)
  2. At the meeting, one problem is picked and discussed, and then a solution agreed upon—by consensus. No majority rule here.
  3. The solution is tried for one week, with a discussion on how it went at the following Family Meeting.

Easy! All that matters is that you are no longer the referee of your children’s fights. The children discuss all aspects of their problem; all the children help come up with solutions, participate in choosing one to try, and then agree to use it during the week. In the end, you will have given your children power over their lives and allowed them to figure out what works best for them.

It’s not too late. Start today by adding Problem Solving to your weekly Family Meeting, and you can let go of some of the stress and control you’ve felt you needed to exercise over your children’s lives. Won’t it feel great to know that as you let go of controlling your children, your children are learning self-control? That sounds like heaven to me!

Appreciations – What’s the Point?

appreciation-postI Appreciate …

  • “I appreciate that you shared your poster with me, so I could have one on my side of the room.” – Child, eight years old.

  • “I appreciate that you included your brother in what you were doing this afternoon when he was bored. You were able to make both of you happy.” – Mom of two, ages five and two.

  • “I appreciate that you stopped doing your own homework to help me with my history project (to sibling). I know you had to stay up a little late to get your own work done.” – Child, 15 years old.

  • “Thank you for playing with me (to a sibling).” – Child, two years old.

  • “I appreciate that you don’t embarrass me in front of my friends (to parents).” – Child, 12 years old.

  • “Dad, I appreciate that you put up the swing set for us, because you had a lot to do to fix up the house.” – Child, four years old.

These are some real life examples of appreciations that have been shared during the Family Meetings of families I know.

Imagine if you and your family shared appreciations each week during your weekly Family Meeting. Is it reasonable to think that these kind words and caring attitudes would eventually spill over into the conversations you have during the rest of the week? And imagine that soon, this kindness and appreciative nature would spill over into your conversations with colleagues at work, and your children’s conversations with friends and teachers at school?

Imagine if we all sent our children out into the world looking for the good in people and then appreciating it. Imagine the impact it would have on everyone concerned. It all starts with one appreciation, once a week, at the Family Meeting.

More information about Parenting On Track™ Family Meetings and Appreciations can be found in Chapter 9 of the Parenting On Track™ Home Program.

What Family Meetings Mean to Me

family-meetingsThere aren’t any strategies in the Parenting On Track™ Program that I don’t use with my own family. One strategy that has played a particularly important role in the evolution of my family has been Family Meetings.

When my children were very young, Family Meetings helped us define, at the very core, what kind of family we wanted to “be”.  The result of that early work is seen in the individuals, family members and community members we have become.

Initially, Family Meetings were a way for us to come together each week and invest in the health of our family. It was the place that taught my kids about kindness through appreciations and that their contribution to family work made the whole family run more smoothly.  They learned about money and, instead of fighting when we shopped together, we looked forward to this shared experience. It was only later that I realized the impact that allowance had played in my children’s healthy relationship with money.

As life got more challenging, Family Meetings became a safe place for us to bring both individual and family problems. Because everyone in the family was invested in finding a solution, there was little or no time spent on blaming or sabotage. Instead, my children became proficient at identifying problems and coming up with solutions that worked for everyone.

The older the kids got, the more Family Meetings began to change. Because there were fewer and fewer problems to work on, it left time to talk about vacations, community service, college, travel and other interests in our kids’ lives. Because all five of the kids got along so well (weekly appreciations will do that to a family), they looked for ways to appreciate other people in their lives that might otherwise go unnoticed. Because contributions were a way of “being” and not just doing, they spread their wings and began working outside of the home to bring in money and gain experience that would be useful when they could get “real” jobs at 14.

Without Family Meetings, we might have done what so many other families end up doing—trying to deal with daily life as it comes toward you like a crashing wave. Sometimes you can ride those waves, but sometimes those waves can crush a family of seven. We never had to worry about that with Family Meetings. In a way, Family Meetings became the lifeboat that we traveled in together, navigating both the rough waters and calm seas. The key part was that we did it together, every week at the same time and place, as a family.

Because I think Family Meetings play such an important role in the nurturing of a healthy family, I decided to take the month of March to put out a series of articles about the components of Family Meetings and the role each of those components can play in promoting healthy relationships within your family. So, stayed tuned; next week we’ll talk about Appreciations.

Learn more about Parenting On Track.

A Guide to the “Tweener” Years

Yes, the tweener years can be a bit scary, if not downright terrifying. After all, the shift from skinned knees, broken arms, hurt feelings, the crazy play-date and rude manners to relentless demands for freedom, grunts from under the iPod headphones, endless text messages to friends, staying out past curfew, and the occasional extreme mood-swing can be overwhelming—but it doesn’t have to be.

Have you ever read the book by Dr. Seuss, “Are You My Mother?” If so, replace the bird in that story with a tweener. And replace the question “Are You My Mother?” with “Do You Know Who I Am?”

Brings a smile to your face doesn’t it?

Imagine, YOUR tweener asking that very question dozens of times each day. It might seem as if they are asking the world for an answer, but in truth, it is a question they ask themselves over and over again in every situation. They ask it as they explore music, clothing, friends, interests, and left to their own devices, eventually, like the bird in Dr. Seuss’s story, they would find the answer to “who” they are all on their own.

Unfortunately, in an attempt to be “helpful,” parents insert themselves into the story and begin answering the question for their tweener.

“No, that’s not you. You love school, and you are a 4.0 student.”

“No, that’s not you. You love sports, and you are a great athlete.”

“No, that’s not you. You are you kind and patient, and you like your siblings.”

As parents, it is not our job to answer these questions for our kids. When we do, we create friction in the relationship that can make the tweener years all the more difficult for everyone. Our job is to help our children see all the possibilities. Because HOW they answer this question creates a bridge from tweener to adulthood.

So let’s go back to the question, which is really this: “How do I know that I have a place in this world? And let’s look at one way parents can stay in the conversation without taking over the story.

After years in the trenches, and five teens who still like me and, more importantly, like themselves, here are four things I did and continue to do on a regular basis.

Encourage your children to manage their lives by training them when they are young. Why, because confidence develops in kids when they know how to manage their own lives. This confidence spills over into the tweener years, which makes them easier for everyone.

  1. Encourage your kids to make mistakes, take risks and solve problems. Don’t worry about the outcome; their willingness to participate in life will keep them moving forward with confidence and enthusiasm.
  2. Encourage your kids to take responsibility for their choices when the stakes are low, so they are willing to take responsibility when the stakes are high. Confidence comes from not only making choices and decisions, but knowing you can handle the outcome.
  3. Most important, encourage your children’s personal preferences before they ever reach the tweener stage. You can’t imagine how many fights you won’t have to have by letting five-year-olds:
  • Pick their own hair style.
  • Pick their own clothes.
  • Pick their own lunch.
  • Help create menus.
  • Choose what sports they want to play or interests they want to pursue.
  • Listen to their favorite music—get an iPod if you can’t stand their choices.
  • Solve problems in a way that supports who THEY are, not who YOU are.

All in all, the tweeners were some of my favorite years. I saw uncertain, wobbly children turn into confident, happy, excited young adults. And as the first of them leave my home, I am filled with inspiration and hope for my children, for myself and for the world.

More information on encouraging your children and inviting them to participate in their own lives can be found in the Parenting On Track™ Home Program.

Bribing: It doesn’t always work!?

The majority of parents I have talked to during my 20 years as a parent educator have told me that, at some point in time, they bribed their kids. No kidding! Who hasn’t?

But recently it was brought to my attention that there are lots of bloggers and blog readers out there who have been discussing the effects of bribing on their kids. Since bribing seems to be a universal parenting tool, I thought I’d share my two cents’ worth.

Personally, I think bribing is insulting to not only the kids but to the parents as well. Yes, I know it works from time to time, but that’s the problem. It only works some of the time. I consider myself a lazy parent.
Here’s my list of “musts” when I consider any parenting strategy:

  • It has to work 90% of the time.
  • It has to be something that other people will use with my kids.
  • It can’t make things worse.
  • It has to be respectful to everyone.
  • It has to teach my kids something so they can build skills to use when they leave my house.
  • It has to work so well that soon, I am only using it 5% of the time.

Bribing, I’m afraid, doesn’t do any of that.

Here is what it does do:

  1. How would you feel if, at the end of dinner, when you were feeling full as a tick (my husband’s description, which says it all), your child said, “Mom/Dad, I’ll make my bed every morning this week if you eat the rest of the broccoli.” Absurd, right? Well, that’s what we sound like when we try to bribe our kids.
  2. We have already established that bribing works sometimes—they always eat their veggies for an extra helping of dessert—but what about the times it doesn’t work? Then what? More bribing? Bigger bribes? A full-blown temper tantrum? Face it—you got nothin’.
  3. What about the way it makes your child feel when you take away their decision-making power by trying to bribe them into doing something? What do you think this manipulative “parenting tool” ultimately does to your relationship with that child? And, who else might use bribing as an effective strategy on your child? HMMMMM—now there’s a truly scary thought.

Bribing is a “last ditch” parenting strategy. If it worked, we would use it all the time for everything. We know it doesn’t work to create lasting, sustainable change, so why use it at all?

One dad blogger, who wrote about bribing, captured my sentiments exactly.  For those of you who know me, you’ll understand why this blog had me howling.

Show Me The Money!

The economy is bad. We all know it, and we are all worried about it. We are a nation of consumers, and the credit card companies and mortgage lenders have convinced us to feel good about spending money we don’t really have. And so here we are in 2009, in one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression.

What’s a parent to do about all of this? Start training your kids about money NOW.

Don’t wait! Your children are never too young to learn the value of money and, more importantly, to begin to develop a healthy relationship with money.

You cannot teach your children how to manage money by just talking to them about it, or by lecturing them about it, or by sharing your own wisdom with them (nice as that would be). Kids have to practice. Yes, practice how to handle money from the youngest of ages.

Think about it: wouldn’t you rather have your child, at age five, practice spending and saving money for the first time with the small amount of allowance they get, than have your child, at age 18, practice for the first time with his or her brand new credit card?

At Parenting On Track™, we believe that learning how to spend, save and give away money is a life skill that takes many years to acquire. You, as parents, have the opportunity to give your children the chance to practice this skill as soon as they are old enough not to put the money into their mouths. You do this by giving them an allowance at the weekly Family Meeting and, well, that’s it.

Once you have given your children their allowance, you no longer have any say over what they do with it. Take a deep breath; there’s more. On the other hand, you aren’t required to buy anything for them beyond their basic needs. So, this means that

  • When they ask, in the grocery store, for that piece of candy, you get to say, YES. “Did you bring your money?”
  • And when they want that designer jacket that all their friends have, you say, YES. “Do you have enough money saved to buy it?”
  • And finally, when they ask for their own cell phone, you can say, YES. “Will your allowance and part-time job cover the monthly bill?”

The best way to teach your children the value of money is to allow them to learn it for themselves. For more information on allowance, money management and helping your children create a healthy relationship with money, check out the MP3 on Money Management on our website. It’s never too early or too late to invest in promoting a healthy relationship between your children and money.

Traveling with Toddlers

Traveling as a Litmus Test

I just returned from Flagstaff, where I visited our oldest child at school. It was a glorious experience, but that’s not what I am writing about today.

Having traveled, coast to coast, numerous times with all five of my children when they were young, I consider myself to be tolerant, patient and accepting of how difficult it can be to travel in a confined area with wiggly toddlers.

But when three out of the four stewardesses suggest that Benadryl might be in order, you know it’s bad.

As it turns out, it wasn’t just one very rowdy, loud three-year-old—it was twins.
I could tell you all about their antics, but you either have a child that has left you breathless, exhausted and at times mortified at his/her behavior or you have witnessed such a performance firsthand, so the details of the story really aren’t what’s important.

What’s important is, if you think for one minute that your little terrors will magically turn into darlings because you brought them out in public, do yourself a favor and

  1. Face the fact that you have been indulging your children at home and they will expect the same when you travel with them—and more.
  2. You have been controlling them and they are smart enough, even at three, to figure out that you can’t and you won’t control them while you are in public, so this is their chance to exact revenge on you.
  3. They will continue to do MORE of what they do at home, with more intensity, perseverance and volume than even you can imagine.

At one point, I looked around and watched a few of the other passengers and realized that most of them were giving the “hairy eyeball” to the boys. If anyone deserves the “hairy eyeball,” it’s the parents.
So, who cares right? Here is my point:

  • Imagine these three-year-old boys as nine-year-olds and you begin to wonder: Will anyone, including their peers, tolerate their selfish, demanding, uncooperative behavior?
  • Parents may get by on these road trips by giving in and bribing, but at the end of the day, it is the kids who really pay the price.
  • Kids don’t grow out of, they grow into—confirmed to me by a 13-year-old on the same plane who was behaving just as badly as these twin three-year-olds.

The bottom line—choose not to be those parents on the plane. Have the courage to find out what your children need to learn in order to travel calmly, agreeably and respectfully towards other passengers. And then, train them.

You can start by taking a two-hour ride on a bus, a train or a plane and find out firsthand how much training you still have to do in order to feel confident, excited and relaxed about traveling longer distances with your children. This “research trip” will give you a starting place on which to base your training.

Once you have a starting place you can:

  • Begin to build a Parenting Roadmap. (Not familiar with this concept? Check out Chapter Five, in the Parenting On Track™ Home Program.) This Parenting Roadmap will allow you to clearly
  1. Identify a starting place;
  2. Identify a destination; and
  3. Plan for the distance in between.
  • By following your Parenting Roadmap, you will be able to track your progress, keep things in perspective, and enjoy the process of training (rather than worrying about it.)
  • By taking the time to train (further discussed in Chapter three, in the Parenting On Track™ Home Program), you will be able to recognize and celebrate small victories on your way to your final destination.

Check out these and other strategies, so that you can look forward to having those cute children that everyone smiles at (and continues to smile at) during your travels.

Child-Driven Play is Serious Stuff

Child-Driven Play is Serious StuffA lot of the parents I meet could be called “nervous” parents. They don’t want to see their children get hurt – but then, who does? They are the parents who are quick to say, “watch out for the …; please don’t, that’s dangerous; you might get hurt if you …” If you are one of these parents and you’re beginning to wonder if all this worrying is doing more harm than good, read on.

The one note of caution that I have is, don’t overdo it. While it is a parent’s natural tendency to be concerned about their children, there comes a time when letting go and allowing them to experience life on their own terms is critical. Yes – critical. If you don’t allow your children to begin making their own decisions on which risks they are willing to take, you are depriving them of one of the best experiences life has to offer – natural consequences.

Many parents are making this same mistake – they hover over their children, feeling like they need to impart their wisdom about what risks to take safely or they need to help their children learn how to play the “right” way. While it is developmentally helpful for you to play with your baby and toddler, once your child is three or four you should just leave them alone. Experts on the role of play in a child’s development say that:

“Child-driven play – not adult play … has the greatest benefits to children because it contributes to ‘cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being’.”
(See Suttie article below)

Furthermore, child-driven play allows your children to learn the natural consequences for the risks they take and the choices they make.

Stepping back and allowing your child to experience the natural consequences of their actions can be difficult, and that is why Parenting On Track has an audio on Natural Consequences available for download on our website. This information packed audio will give you further insight into why natural consequences are important and how best to use them with your children.

Letting go and allowing your children to play uninstructed by you (in a reasonably safe environment, of course… no one’s advocating sending them off to play in quicksand or out in the middle of the highway) may mean a few more bumps and bruises, so you might want to buy some extra band-aids. But think about the freedom your children will get to experience, and the self-reliance and self-expression they will develop because of that freedom.

For more information on child-directed play and why it’s so important read:

“Confessions of an Anxious Parent” by Jill Sutie

New York Times Magazine “Taking Play Seriously” By Robin Marantz Henig Published: February 17, 2008

Bullying – What’s a Parent’s Role?

Bullying...School started just over a month ago and, already, I’ve gotten questions from parents about “bullying.” What can a parent do about a child that is being bullied, witnessing the bullying or is even being a bully him or herself? Parents are worried and looking for answers, and the “experts” seem to have thrown their hands in the air because they don’t know what to do.

I know… scary stuff, right?

I think the reason others have not come up with an answer to the problem of bullying is because there is no “quick fix.” There is no one sentence, slogan or catch phrase that will just make it all go away overnight.

Instead of a quick fix, and we know those really just amount to a whole lot of false hope, I can offer you a REAL solution – one that starts with a powerful new perspective.

Rather than asking, “How do I get rid of the bullying quickly?” try asking, “How do I deal with bullying?” Yes, it’s a small change, but an important one because from this new perspective we can begin to tackle this problem realistically.

My answer to our new question, “How do I deal with bullying?” is to change the climate, first at home, so that changes at school can follow.

For the child that’s being bullied

It can be helpful to start by asking, “Why is my child being bullied?” Now, it may be that there is some form of bullying going at home which is contributing to the problem. Remember, we’re coming at this from a whole new perspective, so let’s just take a deep breath and look at this together.

Demanding, dictating, telling, making decisions, thinking your way is the only way… or the only “right” way… all of that can feel a lot like bullying to a young child. And, by the way, it doesn’t matter if you have a sweet, syrupy voice. If it is your way or nothing, and if your kids can’t challenge you or stand up to you, how are they supposed to learn how to challenge or stand up to anyone else?

When these kids go out into the world without having practiced the fine art of non-physical, self-defense, the “Bullies” can spot them a mile away. Mind you, there are varying degrees of bullying and it can come from a variety of sources – from peers to adults, basically anyone looking to influence or intimidate impressionable kids. And these ill-equipped kids are easy for them to spot – they look scared, don’t know how to say NO or to say YES, cannot or choose not to articulate their preferences, or stand up for what they believe, and this makes them easy targets.

Bottom line? Protecting your child from bullying starts at home, and it is well within your power to start making a difference today!

And what about the child that may become the bully?

Now, back to that same child, the one who experiences what is, in effect, bullying… though you as the parent may feel you’re just “looking out of their best interests” or “making things easier” by making the “right” decisions. Imagine that this child decides that no one else is EVER going to push them around, so they decide to become the bully… just to make sure they have the power and, therefore, cannot lose. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense, and I imagine some of us could look back and find instances where we’ve done exactly the same thing. In this scenario, the child doesn’t really choose the bully position – they actually choose NOT TO BE BULLIED by taking that powerful position for themselves. And, based on their experience, they think they’re faced with an Either/Or proposition – with no options available for them in the middle.

Okay. My eyes are open. Now what?

In order for your kids to have the confidence to stand up for themselves, look people in the eye, walk and talk with confidence, express their opinion, support other people’s opinions, walk away from fights, and stand up when necessary, they are going to have to practice – you guessed it – in your home.
And, of course, the parents… yes, that’s you… have to be fully on board to help make it happen.

For help changing the climate in your home to facilitate and support the development of these important life skills, check out our downloadable Parenting On Track™MP3 – Parenting Styles. This audio will help you to immediately change the climate just by learning a little bit about what your parenting style is, and how you can make positive adjustments to it. If you like what you hear, the Parenting On Track™Multi-Media Home Program can help you make even greater changes – changes that can significantly improve the health of your family today and long into the future.

I know bullying is a tough topic, and some of you may have strong opinions you’d like to share. I invite and encourage you to share your thoughts right here using the blog comment forum below. Thanks again for visit and your continued support. Parenting On Track™ is… OK, OK, I say it… on track to reach more families in 2008 than ever before!

That’s Right. It’s Not Your Routine!

It’s Not Your Routine!How many children have you heard recently talking with glee, pleasure and pride about all the fun wheels, stickers, emergency bags, homework nooks, or checklists their parents have created for them? Right, I didn’t think so.

Routines, it seems, require oodles of conversation among parents. The most popular at the moment seems to be Morning Routines and Homework Routines. This is no surprise as school has just begun, but come the holidays… well, you know, it all falls apart during the hustle and bustle of holiday fun, and then we’re back to the same conversation when the dust finally settles.

Now, if you are looking to read about what other parents say on the subject of routines, or if you have a fabulous story to tell about a clever way you get your kids organized in the morning, you may want to skip the rest of this article. It’s not for you. If, however, you are willing to challenge yourself, your decisions and your intentions about the purpose of your routines, you’ve found the perfect place, and I’m so glad you came!

It has been my observation that, more often than not, parents who talk about all the ways they are “helping” their children “create routines” under the guise of “making the children’s lives easier and supporting them to become more successful people,” are spending time and energy so that they, the parents, have something to feel good about.

If you are starting to balk about where this is all going right about now, go back to the first question I asked – Are your children talking about their routines and “routine helpers” with glee, pleasure and pride?

It seems to me that if parents were really creating routines for their kids, the parents wouldn’t go around talking about it all the time. It seems to me that personal routines, though indeed personal, are mainly created with the wrong people in mind.

Consider this…

Doesn’t it seem reasonable that if the intention behind creating routines was to teach our children how to create their own routines, then THE CHILDREN would be the ones talking about them?

As a mother of 5, I know first-hand the value of routines. The difference is this, what I taught my kids to do was HOW TO CREATE FOR THEMSELVES systems, routines and emergency bags ONCE… and then, I sent them on their way to discover and create the routines that worked best for them. I couldn’t, in all honesty, tell you what those systems and routines are, but I do know this…

My kids have been finishing homework and their household chores, and we have been leaving the house on time and for years. And it ain’t because I decided that I was going to micro-manage my children’s lives for “their own good!”

One of the driving principles of the Parenting On Track™ Home Program is that of raising independent, responsible, resourceful, resilient, problem-solving children. How do you suppose kids learn those skills? By using routines and systems that we create for them? Nope. By trying one, failing; making changes, failing; getting back up, failing; getting back up and finally arriving at the perfect solution, the perfect system, the perfect routine for them.

I ask you which of the two choices below is more important to you – really.

  • Children who brush their teeth every day because they like to get stickers?
  • Children who can manage their time and feel empowered because they figured it out for themselves.

So the next time you think about setting up a routine for your children, ask yourself the following:

  • Who is the routine really for – You, or your kids?
  • Is it about developing a routine or controlling the situation?
  • Routine… did anyone ask the kids?
  • Left on their own, what routine would your children create?

For more information about how to blend training with letting go and empowering your children, learn more about the Parenting On Track™ Home Program today.

Is It Really Worth It?

worth it

As I write this article, my oldest child is transferring from a small college in upstate New York to a very large college in Flagstaff, Arizona, my 16 year old is getting ready to leave for 6 months to live in Argentina as an exchange student and my youngest son heads to boarding school in Pennsylvania.

While I watch my children slowly make their way out of my house and into their own lives, I am reminded of how often my choice of parenting principles has served not only me, but my children.

The sheer number of forms necessary for these three children to accomplish their goals is, at times, incomprehensible. This does not take into account the number of phone calls to schools, physicians, consulates, airlines, police stations and computer stores to gather information, send checks or verify shipping instructions. Fortunately, all three of them have taken the lead in every aspect of their plans.

There hasn’t been much nagging, reminding, lecturing, saving or screaming and, let me tell you something, if you think it’s tough dealing with a 3 year old at 5:00 PM who missed his/her nap… it’s NOTHING compared to how BAD it could be if these three young people were not completely competent, confident and capable!

Instead of a painful, stressful experience, this summer of planning has been filled with moments of:

  • 1 parent, 3 teens on 3 different computers at 11:00 pm, all talking and Googling at the same time while someone fills out multiple forms to save time and energy.
  • 2 parents on one speaker phone with 1 teen 600 miles away filling out forms, asking questions and setting up security codes together so we all have access.
  • Pumping fists, high fiving and chest bumping as we complete yet ANOTHER complicated packet of information together or confirm an illusive plane reservation.
  • And many, many moments of complete exhaustion and frustration shared by all of us where, just as we get ready to throw up our hands and slide not so gracefully down the rabbit hole, someone… some smart, intuitive, child suggests that it may be time for a ….. CREAMIE.

We wonder sometimes, whether every tough decision we make when our children are young to:

  • Ignore
  • Walk away
  • Allow for natural consequences
  • Hold weekly family meetings – even when nothing exciting is going on
  • Allow choices that we KNOW will make a mess for a few weeks

When I watch these 3 amazing children, take the first precarious steps into their world as adults, I am awe struck at the grace, confidence and enthusiasm they all exhibit in their own ways.


Family Matters

In August of 1999, Kevin O’Connor, a talented reporter with the Rutland Herald sat through a series of Parenting Classes I was presenting at Rutland High School.

My husband had this article framed and gave it to me as a gift. It has intense sentimental value for both of us. It was this article that brought us together.

As I read through this article (with my 5’11”, 15 year old daughter on my lap), I was struck at all the things that have changed in my life and all the things that remain constant.

Here is a snapshot…

Things that changed since the article was first published.

  • I am 8 years older and have the gray hair to prove it
  • I have 5 children, all of them teenagers and at this writing one is starting her first year of college and the other is spending 6 months in Chile as an exchange student
  • I moved, built a house, acquired a second dog, play both golf and tennis and talk about retirement with fondness instead of disbelief.

What hasn’t changed is

  • The solid nature of this parenting philosophy I adopted nearly 18 years ago
  • The strategies that applied when my children were 2,  still apply as they reach adulthood
  • Concepts that support my family as we experienced the sometimes difficult challenges and choices of life
  • Our commitment to each other as individuals and our family as a whole.

9 years later, we still know what we know—that Family Matters.

I hope you enjoy this brief look into the beginning of Parenting On Track.

From the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, August 29, 1999

Family Matters: Vicki Hemenway is helping Vermont parents stop lecturing and start living.

By Kevin O’Connor

Family Matters

You’re trying to tame your wild child at the supermarket checkout when, searching your wallet for that elusive $20 bill, you unearth something else.

The baby picture.

“You know your children are miracles – do you remember that part?” Vicki Hemenway says. “They start out perfect! Absolutely perfect! But the first time they say, ‘No, I don’t want to, I don’t like those, you can’t make me, you start to forget a little bit, right? By the time they hit pre-teens, you have all but forgotten you ever liked that child.”

Hemenway empathizes. She’s a mother of three who lives in Ludlow. She’s also a parent educator who’s consoling a standing-room-only crowd of 100 ground-down grownups in Rutland.

“You can see the optimism in children’s eyes, can’t you? They really think they can do anything. They’re right, they absolutely can – with the right training. It doesn’t include nagging, belittling, scolding, sarcasm, punishing, power struggles, being right, taking away opportunities, saving them from mistakes, making them feel we don’t trust them. All of those things turn them into that person you don’t recognize.”

Meet the woman who’s helping hundreds of Vermont mothers and fathers stop lecturing and start living.

Hemenway has taught parenting to at least 100 study groups in the past 10 years, most recently under the sponsorship of Rutland Regional Medical Center and independent doctors under the Vermont Physicians Clinic umbrella.

The 41-year-old offers more than motherly advice. She’s a
teacher/preacher/double feature, inspiring parents to act with courage one minute, bringing down the house with a standup routine about checkout candy racks the next.

Most parents tell Hemenway they want children who are capable, cooperative, responsible and respectful.

“If we left children alone, they’d end up there all by themselves,” she responds. “Guess who talks them out of all those things? We do.”

Want to save your children from making a mistake?

You’re making one yourself.

“How will you know what they can do unless you give them an opportunity to show you what they can’t do?” Hemenway says. “The minute they show you they can’t do something, it just means they haven’t been taught, so teach them.”

Like to constantly remind your little ones to wear their hats and coats?

It may be cold comfort.

“What’s the message we send our children when we do that? I absolutely do not trust you have the ability to figure out it’s 30 below and you’re probably going to need them.”

The bottom line for parents who think they have a problem:

You may be it.

“If you paid a lot of attention to your children when they were babies up until the age of 2, they were trained to think they needed a lot of
attention in order to be noticed,” Hemenway says. “If power and fighting and loud voices are a part of your family atmosphere, that’s what your child is familiar with – they want part of the power, too, so they fight with you. If you’re sarcastic or use humiliation, revenge is going to be something familiar to them.

“Most of us are not outwardly cruel. We talk about our children on the telephone where we can be heard. We comment unnecessarily, we butt in, we editorialize, we’re opinioned, we moralize. When they’re telling us a story, we go, ‘Uh-huh, I’m sure it’s a great story, hon, but I really have to finish with these potatoes.’ Yeah, potatoes are very important. If you’re not listening to a 4-year-old’s story, don’t expect them to talk to you when they turn 13 and all of a sudden you want to know all the juicy details.”

What’s a parent to do?

A growing number in the Green Mountains are turning to Hemenway.

More than 600 Rutland County families have taken a course in the past two years alone, leading Hemenway and friends to open a business, Shared Ventures, and expand offerings to personal and professional relationships ranging from school to work.

Hemenway offers perspective on why people behave as they do, then shares practical words to make life easier for everyone.

“My goal is to help parents remember why they had children and to enjoy every single day with their kids,” she says.

Hate saying no to your children, for example? The words “as soon as” let you say yes.

“Yes, you can have a phone in your room … as soon as you can pay for it,” Hemenway demonstrates.

Giving children an allowance also has its payoff.

“I am the nicest mother in the store. My answer is always, ‘Yes! – did you bring your money? Yes, you can buy that TV! – do you have enough? Sure, buy that Nintendo! – how many weeks will it take to save up?”

Hemenway can draw smiles. She also can raise eyebrows. She doesn’t believe in punishment. Or praise. Or any new mittens for naughty kittens.

“How many pairs of gloves do you buy your children each winter?” she asks parents. “And each time you say, ‘This is the last pair of gloves I’m going to buy you.’ What do you think you’re teaching children? If you want them to know you’re serious about the big stuff, you’ve got be willing to be serious about the little stuff.”

Parents who point a finger at problems with their children don’t necessarily like to be reminded the rest of the digits on their hands are curled back at them.

“Even if parents have suspicions, they might have something to do with it, hearing it out loud completely surprises them,” Hemenway says.

Still, they listen. A third of the 75 parents in her spring class on adolescence didn’t want the six-week study to end. They successfully lobbied for a month-long extension.

Adults who work in area schools and daycare centers are seeing how Hemenway’s classes are changing parent-child dynamics – if not always seeing why. As a result, Hemenway has reserved a 100-seat lecture hall for a fall series aimed at bringing educators into her fold.

“Parents are sharing with teachers, ‘We’re in this parent education class, we’re not supposed to save our children – if they don’t bring their lunch, please don’t feed them, they’ll learn,’” she says. “Teachers who don’t understand why see it as almost neglectful. If we don’t get educators on
board, it will be difficult for parents to continue this philosophy. These same techniques, when applied to schools and businesses, will make everyone’s lives more pleasant, productive and satisfying. We definitely see this as a movement.”

Welcome to a beginning parenting class. Hemenway introduces herself as the mother of a 5-year-old son and 7- and 10-year-old daughters. She began her own study of parenting just before the birth of her oldest.

“I didn’t want to fight with my children for 18 years. That’s not what my idea of parenting is. I want to enjoy all of the things they go through. I want to watch their growth with enthusiasm. I didn’t think I could do that on my own.”

Hemenway discovered the work of the late Alfred Adler, an Austrian-born physician and psychiatrist who advocated treating everyone with equal dignity and respect. She also read such contemporary titles as “Positive Discipline” by Jane Nelsen.

Hemenway learned some parents are authoritarian.

“It’s order without freedom.” She demonstrates in her best drill sergeant voice: “Did you brush your teeth? You got five minutes ’til bedtime. NOW!”

Other parents are permissive.

“It’s freedom without order.” She singsongs: “Do you think maybe if we put the yummy gummy bear toothpaste on and we do it with the flashlight so you can see . . . “

Hemenway urges parents to be democratic.

“Order with freedom. It’s respectful to me and it’s respectful to my children. We both win.” She says in a firm and kind voice: “Would you like to brush your teeth now or after we read a story? You know it’s working when your kid can’t tell if you’re asking, if you’re telling, if you’re mad, if you don’t care.”

Kids won’t pull up their socks in the morning?

Hemenway tells parents to put themselves in their children’s shoes.

“Every individual interprets every situation completely differently. That would account for some of the trouble you have in understanding those small people. It doesn’t look the same to them. What does the grocery store look like to you? Serious business – I got a list, 32 minutes, $92, 72 coupons. What does the grocery store look like to a child? Toys R Us – things echo, the carts go fast, you can slide. It’s a football field, an ice arena, a ballet stage. It is a cornucopia of stimulation.”

Next time you’re upset because you’re trying to get out the door and your child isn’t, Hemenway has a suggestion.

“The first thing you say is, ‘What else could it be?’ Maybe this child isn’t trying to drive me crazy. Maybe those socks really do bother them. Maybe they’re worried about a test. You’ll start to learn all kinds of amazing things about your children when you start looking at the world through their eyes. It doesn’t mean giving up control—although does anybody think they have it?”

Hemenway likes to read parents the dictionary definition of the word “cooperation.”

N. To act or work together with another or others for a common purpose.

“It does not mean, ‘Do what I say when I say.’ Parents say, ‘I want a child who knows how to cooperate.’ The first question is, ‘What are you doing to help them learn it?’ Ask yourself how many times are you willing to work together with this other person toward a common goal.”

She moves on to the word “responsible.”

“The definition is a child is able to respond to a situation effectively. How many of you come in and drop your coat, your keys, your briefcase, your books, use the dinner table as your office space, but you’ll walk into your kids room and tell them everything needs to be put away?”

And “respect.”

“Have you ever tried to get a child to treat you respectfully until you treated them with respect first? You can’t get someone to treat you with respect if you haven’t shown them what it looks like.”

The vocabulary lesson continues.

“How many of you say, ‘You need to . . . ‘ in your house? They don’t need to brush their teeth. Their teeth are not bothering them. They’re bothering you. You have to tell them that. The sentence is, ‘I want you to . . . ‘ Think about what you really want to ask your children. It’s how you develop cooperation—being honest about what you’d like to see happen.”

Hemenway asks parents to picture themselves waiting at the checkout as their child rattles the candy rack.

“You know there are nine people behind you looking at you like, ‘What kind of parent is this who can’t even control their child in the grocery line,’ so you say to your child through gritted teeth, ‘Honey, you need to stop touching that.’ “

But they don’t need to, do they? Hemenway notes one of her children fears embarrassment.

“Ask yourself, ‘What’s my goal right now? To get them to stop whatever it is they’re doing or to give them useful information about why it won’t work very well for them?’ It’s far more effective for me to lean down and say, ‘Are you willing to have the candy roll all over the floor and pick them up while people are waiting?’ That made sense to her. I didn’t tell her she needed to stop. I gave her information she could use to make a decision. She stopped all by herself.”

When children misbehave, parents respond loudly.

Hemenway suggests something lighter.

“Usually parents think, ‘In a minute I’m going to tell them to go to their room.’ Instead, you could stop what you’re doing and say to them, ‘You know what, I just have to do One Potato Two Potato right now – will you play with me?’ What kind of day do you think I’m going to have versus the parent who screams, ‘That’s enough – I’ve had it!’ Humor cuts through the tension. It gets back to putting things into perspective.”

Still tongue-tied?

You could pose a question.

“When you’re frustrated, take a deep breath and ask your children what you should do. You keep saying you’re doing it for them, and they have the least amount of say in it. Children base their behavior on what they believe to be true, not on what is actually true. Most kids don’t know why you decide what you decide. They don’t know there’s a thought process involved. Give them the information you have. Have a conversation about what they think works. That’s how they learn how to make decisions.”

Or you could say nothing.

“Do you know how difficult it is for parents to say, ‘I need five minutes to think about this before I say anything?’ What happens if my child decides to fight with me and I walk away? I’ve ended it. It’s not that you walk away and let them do whatever they want, it’s saying, ‘I’m not fighting with you—when you calm down, I would be willing to talk about this problem.’

“Your children aren’t interested in taking your power. They just want to develop their own sense of power. That really means how to make decisions, how to take responsibilities, how to feel capable. Timeouts are for parents. You need the timeout. Go relax on your bed, call somebody you love, do something that reminds you that life is good. Taking that extra three
minutes to do it correctly in the long run saves you 30 minutes of fighting.”

Like what you hear? Don’t tell Hemenway “good job.”

She hates praise.

“We’re walking around putting stickers on everything. Most of us don’t see the harm in it. It’s very detrimental to the health and wellbeing of children. We teach children if they aren’t getting praise, they probably aren’t doing it well. It’s about pleasing everybody else versus how do I feel about it.”

When children ask Hemenway about their work, she turns the question around.

“You might want to ask them what they think. If they’ve only given 20 percent and they ask, ‘So, Mom, how do you think I did?’ and you say, ‘Great job,’ you’ve just told that kid all he has to do is 20 percent. Maybe they didn’t think they did a good job. You’re assuming you know they tried their hardest and they did their best, but you haven’t asked them. What difference does it make what you think? Once they leave your house, they’re supposed to be able to make decisions based on what they think. If you’ve been trained to ask somebody else, when are you going to start making decisions for yourself?”

Hemenway says parents who think they’re praising children instead may be patronizing them.

“If you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, don’t say it to your child. You would never say to a friend, ‘You’re sitting so nicely,’ ‘Are you going to go to the bathroom before we order?’ ‘You did such a nice job on your salad!’ or, ‘Honey, you were so good at dinner!’ Then why would you say it to your child?”

Hemenway instead encourages parents to encourage children.

“The definition of ‘encourage’ is to give courage, to inspire. The more courage children have, the more likely they are to, if not do the right thing, take responsibility for it. It takes courage to say no, to say yes, to forgive, to listen, to defend, to retreat, to love. Praise does not
address any of these issues. Praise is about the deed – it’s, ‘You’re such a good boy when you share your toys.’ Encouragement is about the doer – it’s, ‘You’ve been working really hard at getting along with your brother.’ The motto should be, as the adult, I will help instill in my child a sense of courage to deal with adversity, decisions, success, failure, rejection, embarrassment, loss, pain, humiliation, and move on.”

Just as Hemenway doesn’t praise children, she doesn’t punish them, either.

“The last time you were being punished as a kid, were you thinking to yourself, ‘Wow, I really think my parents might be on to something here!’ Or when you’ve been an adult and a boss or a co-worker humiliated you because of a mistake you made, were you thinking, ‘Gosh, I know that person is treating me like I’m 5, but I think they might have a good point!’ Punishment does not teach mutual respect, cooperation, confidence, trust, independence, equality, optimism, faith or recovery. If you know all that, will you still use it?”

Instead, Hemenway tells parents to help children see the consequences of their actions.

Example: Your child has written on the wall. You could scream and send them to their room. Or you could say in firm and kind tone: “I see you’ve chosen to write on the wall. The sponge and the bucket are under the sink. If you run into any trouble, come get me.”

Child constantly miss the bus? Introduce them to Mom’s Taxi.

“They can hire you with part of their allowance. That’s what would happen in the real world.”

Hemenway can guess what you’re thinking.

“Don’t make excuses like, ‘It might be too hard for them.’ If you don’t hold them accountable, why would they think anybody else would? You keep saying, ‘I want them to take responsibility for themselves and their choices.’ Then
let them.

“Never do for a child what a child can do for themselves. You take away opportunity after opportunity for them to practice being responsible because you’ll do it for them. It’s easier, it’s faster, you’re better at it. But how are we going to train our children to be as good as we are if we don’t give them a chance? How many times do you think it would take a child to go to school without their coat and teachers to say, ‘Sorry, if you don’t have your coat, you don’t go out,’ that your child would start to remember to bring their coat? It takes courage to let your children make mistakes, but that’s what makes them strong. They have figured out how to solve a problem. Leave them alone. Let them practice. Let them travel that road at a young age when the consequences aren’t dangerous.”

Hemenway has two words for parents who take her advice:

Be consistent.

“Parents will say they want their children to follow through on what they say, and I have watched parents change their mind in 10 minutes. Ask yourself how many times you have said no five times to your children, only to have them wear you down to say yes. So how are they supposed to learn about following through and consistency?”

You may get crying, stomping or screaming at first. But Hemenway says hold firm and they’ll learn.

“Follow-through gets rid of all that drama, because they already know no matter what I try my mother isn’t going to change her mind. Do you know what a great gift that is to a pre-teen? What’s wrong with them saying to friends, ‘Do you know what my mother will do, and I know my mother will do it because the last time I left my $70 Gap coat on the soccer field and somebody took it, I didn’t get a new one. We went down to the Goodwill and I bought one until I saved my money up for a new coat.’ That’s one of the few ways kids have of saying no and getting out of trouble.”

Here in class, a father wants to know why his 2-1/2-year-old bit him while

“Because they have teeth,” Hemenway responds. “Sometimes it’s that simple.”

Sometimes it’s not. A mother recalls bringing clean clothes to her daughter when the 9-year-old had a temper tantrum practicing the flute.

What’s a parent to do?

Hemenway has a different question: “Does your daughter do laundry yet? Wash it, dry it, iron it, fold it, put it away?”

“No,” the mother says. “I don’t even do that.”

Hemenway’s 10-year-old washes, dries and folds the family laundry. She also writes checks to pay the family bills.

“Then I sign them, my 7-year-old puts them in the envelopes, my 5-year-old licks the stamps and they take them to the mailbox,” Hemenway says.

Again, she can guess what you’re thinking.

“It’s a family,” she responds. “Do you only do things for yourself in your family or do you do things for everybody? Work is worth. Instill a strong sense of worth in your children by providing an opportunity to contribute in meaningful ways. Start them young. Most of you wait until they’re 10 or 12 and then you wonder why they don’t want to. Why would they? You’ve been waiting on them for 12 years.”

Hemenway is talking about children’s need to belong when another mother raises her hand.

“We have this thing where they have to do chores because they belong to the household,” the mother says. “They’re not necessarily happy belonging to the household then.”

What should she do when her children won’t do chores?

“I’ll tell you what I did,” Hemenway says. “I said, ‘OK, I think we’ve all decided this week we’re all going to only take care of our own needs – I am ready to only be responsible for one person instead of four.’ My kids saw that and said, ‘You can’t do that, you’re the mother.’ I said, ‘Oh, I can. My job is to keep you safe and fed. Here’s the cereal and the milk and don’t leave the house.’”

She gives the last line with a wink and a comic smile, only to get wide eyes and confused frowns.

“You’re thinking, ‘Oh, come on, I would never not feed my children.’ I would. Because I know they won’t starve in two days, but they deserve to know what it looks like if they’re going to fight the system every time somebody asks them to do something. It’s my job to represent to my children what they can expect from other people if they don’t make a contribution. You have to be ready to follow through.”

Parents have more questions. What if my child won’t pick up their dirty clothes? Does that mean you don’t give them clean ones? Does that mean neighbors will think you’re a terrible parent?

“The questions really are what kind of a relationship are you trying to develop with your child, and what kind of a child do you want to send out into the world at 18?” Hemenway responds. “Everything else is a distraction from you doing what needs to get done.”

(In the meantime, withhold the clean clothes and, as far as the neighbors, “They know what it feels like – they have children who would do exactly the same thing.”)

Hemenway doesn’t pull any punches. Push her too hard on how to get your children to make their beds and she’ll hit you with the bigger problems facing youth today.

“Alcohol, drugs, suicide, sex, violence … Ask yourself, ‘What is my legacy?’ To teach my children to clean their room, or to think, to question, to fight for social justice? We place so much importance on so many things that do not matter. If it’s not physically or morally dangerous, don’t worry about it.”

Hemenway tells about a friend whose children accidentally broke a bag of powdered sugar on the kitchen floor. The woman, horrified to see the mess, sent the children to their room and called for advice.

“What are we going to do to solve the problem?” Hemenway says. “We know what needs to happen next. You clean it up and the babies need to get bathed. They made a mistake. Go make a memory. Bring them back downstairs, play in the powdered sugar together. Then do what has to be done. Every day those are your choices – make a memory or focus on a mistake.”

Her audience breaks into hysterics.

Hemenway is serious.

“You’re going to relieve some of the stress in your lives,” she says. “You don’t have to care so much about every single mistake your children make. That was just a story of how some parents would say, ‘I can’t believe what they did!’ They didn’t do anything. The powdered sugar fell on the floor and they made the most of that opportunity.”

Hemenway laughs.

“You can imagine what my house looks like, right?”

Hemenway and friend Peggy Lucci of Fair Haven teach a variety of small and large classes not only for parents, but also for educators and, starting this fall, employers. Their audiences may be different, but their aims are the same: cut conflict and build communication, cooperation and community.

Here at parenting class, Hemenway asks how everyone’s doing. Some parents voice discouragement, saying they’re only seeing the mistakes they’re making.

“That is progress,” Hemenway says. “The focus up to now has been with that small person over there, ‘What are they doing, how come they’re doing that?’ It takes real courage for you to step back and realize, ‘Wait a minute, I
have something to do with this—now if I change a little bit, it stands to reason everything is going to shift in my family.’ “

Childhood, she reminds, is an 18-year journey.

“Look for improvement, not perfection in your children. How many of you secretly think your children should be capable, cooperative, responsible and respectful by the time they’re 7? I’m 41. I’m still working on a couple of these. If they pick up 10 blocks and the week before they would have screamed for two and a half hours before they even thought about it, notice
the improvement.”

And repeat three simple words.

“When your kids are getting ready to leave the house, whether they’re going to school or Grandma’s or a party or the soccer field, what do you usually start saying to them? ‘You be good, say thank you, be careful, make sure that you’re not . . . ‘ What message do you think they’re getting right then? They’re not capable and you don’t trust them. Make sure when you open your mouth they know the first message is, ‘My parents love me.’ Every time they leave your house, act as if it may be the last thing you get to say something to them. Do you want it to be ‘blah blah blah blah blah’ or do you want it to be ‘I love you?’”