All posts in Proactive Parenting Strategies

Top 10 Parenting Complaints We Address Consistently in our Parenting Programs

What interests and inspires me is how much we parents have in common with each other. Even the complaints.

I’m a mom who has raised 5 highly independent and self-sufficient kids. I’m also a parent educator of 20 years who has talked with thousands of parents about life with their kids. So, I feel qualified to point out the obvious places we are struggling as parents. These are the complaints I hear in my classes, coaching sessions and online. These are the issues that parents bitch about on the sidelines, over wine, and in punch drunk social media rants after the kids *finally* go to bed. Let’s face it – parents have been struggling with the same issues for YEARS. Everyone wants a solution.

If you stick around to read more posts, you’ll see how our solutions address the issues at large – not just the symptom. (Note – these complaints are actually symptoms of something much bigger.) But for now, we’re talking about the irritating behaviors that lead us to seek out help. That’s why you’re here! So, first, let’s see where you identify yourself.

Parent: “I CAN’T STAND…(fill in the blank)…”

    10. Kids who push, hit, throw, kick and bite.

      What the heck? Don’t they know what “use your words” means?

    9. Kids who say things like, “Stupid, Shut up, Idiot, Dummy, Butt-Head”.

      Oh, they sound like jerks! Why don’t they think before they talk?

    8. Kids who can not, will not, and do not cooperate.

      I do everything for them. Is it too much to expect some cooperation and smiles once in awhile?

    7. Kids who ignore their parents.

      How dare those little munchkins completely ignore, walk away from, cover their ears or start to sing when we have something really, really, REALLY important to tell them?

    6. Kids who noodle, stall, get distracted and act like they don’t have to be somewhere important.

      Don’t they get that we’re on a schedule here? And it’s THEIR activity we’re late for!

    5. Kids who think they no longer need naps.

      Can someone PLEASE explain to me why little kids are NEVER tired and teenagers are ALWAYS tired?

    4. Kids who want to stay in the PJ’s all day or wear the ballet costume to school for a week or refuse to wash their favorite superman shirt – ever.

      They’re going to think he’s a runaway! I don’t work this hard to have Johhny look like an unloved child. Our family is pulled together and he should be no different.

    3. Kids who refuse to go along with your plans and try and keep you trapped at home all day long.

      Come on already. Look how damn nice it is outside. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!

    2. Kids who yell, manhandle, annoy, bother or wake up the new baby.

      Sure, NOW she wants to play with the baby, but all morning she said she was annoying. Doesn’t she get what will happen if the babe doesn’t get her N-A-P?

    1. Kids who refuse to eat what we put in front of them, sleep when we want them to sleep or potty train when we are ready for them to be done with the diapering.

      I know what’s best. That’s why I’m the parent. It’s my JOB to help them get good at these things. It would be so much easier for both of us if they’d just listen.

Oooooof… how’d I do? Anything strike a nerve? Be honest.

It’s important that you know, you are not alone. We’ve all been there and some of us still are from time to time. It doesn’t matter how old the kids are or your style of parenting sometimes we get lost. Parenting is HARD WORK.

I don’t claim to offer instant fixes to these scenarios. But I can shed plenty of light on why they happen and how YOU affect them. I offer remedies for getting through the issue, observing the whole child (not just in that moment), and considerations on how small shifts in your actions can offer HUGE results in finding more peace and balance in your family’s life.

Here’s the easiest tip I will give you:

Just for fun, for the next 24 hours, when you are considering taking one of these annoyances and turning it into a serious problem that requires yelling, bribing, lecturing, and on and on, instead – take a BREATH, look into the eyes of your beloved child and ask yourself – is it really such a big challenge? And if the answer is no, then let it go.

Just this once, let it go. You’re not slacking. You’re not ignoring. You’re not being disrespected. You’re taking a breath and shaking up the normal cycle of events. You’re making an intentional shift. You might not have the answer right now. But you know what you’ve been doing isn’t working – so why not…. just breathe?

And yes, we know it’s not easy for most of us to give up the yelling, hairy eyeball-staring, pointing, lecturing, bribing, and whatever else you’ve been doing to try to get them to do what you want. But the breath is the FIRST STEP.

Then what? Obviously the breath isn’t the magic bullet that brings you and your little cherub into harmonic bliss. The best advice I can give you is to keep reading. Pour through blog posts and sign up for emails from me (you can subscribe in the upper right hand corner of this page.) You’re in the right place if you’re ready to rethink these 10 common parenting challenges.

Back to School Honeymoon is Over

Three Steps to a Smooth Morning Routine

As we move deeper into the school year, it’s likely that the honeymoon period that had us whistling Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It’s off to school we go!, is slowly being replaced with Let’s go, let’s go, I won’t be late no-mo! The truth is, navigating the school year successfully takes a bit of planning, a flexible attitude, and a willingness to make course corrections when necessary.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

    A) You’ve gone from making the kids favorite breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes, helping them find the perfect outfit, and ensuring their backpacks were organized and well stocked to:

      Throwing a cold bagel on a napkin while you insist they put on more suitable clothing as you yell “it’s not MY backpack, where did you put it last?”, as you walk out the door shaking your head and wondering how everything deteriorated so quickly.
    B) You’ve gone from providing a yummy post-school snack, with plenty of time to talk about the day and go through the backpack together, read all the notes from school, sign all the necessary forms and provide a quiet place for homework to:

      Throw pre-cut carrots in a bowl, tossing papers straight into the bin, and arguing about whether homework will get done now or after dinner.
    C) And maybe, you’ve switched from calm baths with time to connect, a few books to end the evening, a warm hug, lights out and the kids all dreaming of sugar plum fairies by 8:00 pm to:

      Kids fighting about everything from who gets to pet the dog to whose turn it is to use the iPod next, refusal to bathe and wash teeth, increased nagging to get the kids upstairs so you can start the bedtime routine to shouts of THERE WILL BE NO BOOKS AT ALL TONIGHT, to a few rushed kisses, lights off and half way down the stairs you here MAMA… MAMA… MAMA!!!!

Yup, that’s what it was like in my house all those years ago. And, here is what I learned:

Making one change and sticking with it for 3 weeks will create some positive momentum.

Then slowly and surely you can begin to attack other areas that have you pulling your hair out and wishing you had dropped the kids off at college instead of the local elementary school.

I suggest the best place to start is with Morning Routines.

In my experience, a strong, organized morning routine will help set the tone for the rest of the day. Plus, you can use the strategies for morning routines to deal with homework hassles and bedtime bedlam. You know me, I want to work smarter, not harder, and that means finding strategies that work in multiple ways.

Now, new parents, before you get out the pen and paper scribing exactly how you want the morning to go thinking this is the time to “tell em how this is going to work”, it’s time to think about the areas of the morning that are tripping up the kids. Maybe they’re not trained with how to get themselves ready, make breakfast, set an alarm, pack the bag. Maybe they haven’t been asked what THEY want to wear, when & how they want to wake, and what the perfect morning looks like to them.

Your Homework

Step 1. Take a few mornings to NOTICE where the kids are tripped up. When you find yourself getting ready to remind, nag, bribe, and do it for them, PAUSE. Write it down. You want to pack the bag? Pause. Johnny needs training on how to pack a bag. Uh oh, you start in on the reminders of what time it is? Pause. Might be time to talk about keeping time. You get it… (For those of you who’ve been with us a while – this is a mild form of Do Nothing, Say Nothing for the mornings.)

Step 2. Make a date to talk with your kids about what they’d like to see in a perfect morning. This doesn’t happen when you’re rushing out the door. Maybe it’s at dinner, or over a snack or during the weekend. Choose a time when you can be as encouraging and non-judgemental as possible. Ask questions about what they believe needs to happen in the AM, in which order, and when? Be ready to oblige. Be ready to let them choose. Feel like too much? Just agree to try one or two of their ideas. And let them roll with it.

Step 3. Avoid the urge to slip into your old habits. Just see how it goes. No need to point out anything that’s not perfect… they’re trying something new! And you signed up to let them. Hey, what’s the worst thing that can happen? They realize it wasn’t a good idea, that you trusted them to try something new, and you were available to help them later when they needed to try again. You’re raising an adult after all. Trust them. Trust yourself.

Establishing a child-led morning routine is one way to implement a more democratic approach to parenting. It takes time, but if you want it badly enough, step back and observe the tripping points, carve out time to consider your kids’ ideas, and practice patience as you let them make choices, mistakes – and celebrate the successes!

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Tips for Back to School Transition

All over the country, kids of every age are leaving home and venturing out into the world and for most of those kids, the world is the school yard or college campus. And some of us are sending our wee ones off for the first time, whether to daycare, pre-school, kindergarten or somewhere else that constitutes their first time on their own, outside of our home for even just a few hours. I’ll never forget the first day of school for each one of my children – the memories are as bittersweet as the longer-term goodbyes are today.

I was reminded of those first, short-term goodbyes last week by one of my good friends, who said goodbye to her oldest child at pre-school. She called me with a choked-up voice and told me how seamless it went. “Seamless?” I said, “Then why are you crying?” I asked. “Because… because I needed the goodbye hug more than she did.”

Many of us have had these seamless transitions from home to school with children who are confident and excited for the next phase in their life. But many of us have had the opposite. The child who doesn’t want to let go and cries a lot the first few weeks of school. If you live with a child who is having a hard time transitioning into pre-school or kindergarten, the only thing I can say is, “hang in there.” As hard as it may seem at this moment, your child will get through it.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Have faith in your kids and their ability to rebound. Make sure that you have a strong connection with the child before you say goodbye, but then say goodbye with faith that they will be okay.
  • Have faith in yourself and the fact that you made the decision to send your young one off after serious thought. You can feel good about that. You will be required to do much tougher stuff than this as they grow and spend more time away from home.
  • When you see each other again, be sure to spend a few minutes just connecting before you start asking dozens of questions. Whether they are sobbing in your arms or they have a smile that extends from one ear to the next – connect.
  • Let the child set the pace for answering your questions. Some kids want to share every aspect of their day and other children are ready to move on and leave the day in the past. Take your cues from the kids, not from your own curiosity or fear.

The truth is, all of our children will experience change and transition into new experiences many times throughout the course of their lives. Some of those transitions will be seamless and others, not so much. All we can do, as parents, is support them, listen to them, encourage them and hope that we need the goodbye hug more than they do.

Ten Tips for a Stress-free Shopping Trip

The stores are jam packed full of school supplies and school clothes. If you haven’t already dragged your kids from one store to the next, take a moment and consider the extraordinary opportunity this offers you.

Here are my top 10 tips to keep it real and make it fun.

1. Never take a tired, hungry, over stimulated child to any store and expect that things will go well. They won’t.

2. Not a peep about the behavior you expect in the store or that you are only willing to spend so much money. Instead, start the adventure with an appreciation and set a goal together so you start the day feeling you are a team and you are in it together.

3. Start the fun in the car. Create a check list of “stuff” you gotta-get-done and who is in charge of what. Ask the kids how much they think is a reasonable amount to spend. You can always negotiate, but find out what they are thinking before you tell them what the budget is.

4. Bring your equipment: lists, pen, purse, wallets, calculator, bags, or anything else that makes shopping fun.

5. Start the trip with a goodie. Whether that is a special coffee, a donut, or something else that you wouldn’t usually indulge in. It sets the tone and says that this is going to be a great, fun day. Take a page out of Erma Bombeck’s life and focus on what’s really important – making memories with your children.

6. Put the kids to work. Busy hands make for happy kids and you get done quicker. Up and down aisles. Top to bottom. Around the corner. Let them touch everything. After all, they are the ones that have to use or wear all this gear. Anything that keeps them engaged and excited will go along way in creating a fun and enjoyable afternoon of school shopping.

7. Throw up your hands every once-in-awhile and look perplexed. Let the kids assist YOU in getting over a bit of frustration. You can’t imagine how powerful this simple little strategy is. I have avoided 100’s of meltdown just by acting like I was having one first. My kids rallied and we were out of the store in record time.

8. If they have money of their own, let them spend it. Don’t be a grinch. This is exciting for your kids, so let them indulge a bit and buy that useless piece of whatever it is, if it brings a smile to their face. Not a peep. Not a look. Not a comment from you. If they have to look at the rack for 5 minutes, or pick the same thing up a dozen times – then wait for them. Lord knows they wait for you dozens of times a day.

9. Know when things have gone south and get out fast. No need for a lecture. Someone is discouraged and a hug, a refocus and a start over again on another day is all that’s in order. Come on, you KNOW nothing horrible will happen if you haven’t checked every last supply off of your list.

10. Remember, shopping with the kids isn’t just about shopping, so take advantage of the opportunity and have some fun. Before long, you’ll be walking up and down the aisle missing those little mischievous imps of yours (whether they are four or 18-years-old).

Tips for a Smooth Summer Transition

We’ve said ‘adieu’ to the lazy days of July, a month that marks the middle of summer. Barbecues, days at the beach, road trips, summer camps, late nights and even later mornings.

During these months many of us let routines and schedules slip away as we allow for a more spontaneous, “go with the flow” groove to emerge and define the early days of our children’s summer vacation. But as we welcome August, a month that traditionally gets our engines revving as we consciously or unconsciously begin to prepare for school, a summer of mindful memories can be lost with this small shift in focus.

This time of year also brings a rise of inquires from parents wondering how to maintain the gentle summer flow with kids through August and avoid the stress that’s already permeating their minds. Unlike our children who have the ability to remain in the moment, right up until the first ring of the alarm clock marking the first day of school, we are entering the planning phase of summer and with that comes additional, but unnecessary stress.

When my own children were young, I made it a practice to surround myself with friends who had older kids. Why? So I could leverage their wisdom, common sense and advice. Now that my children are out on their own, I want to share a few tips for keeping the energy high and the stress low as we dive into August and the upcoming school year

First, make a list of what “fuels” you.

For instance:

  • Slow, mindful breakfast with the kids
  • Sleepy babies cuddling on my lap in the morning light
  • Baby, toddler, school age or teenage morning breath
  • Giggles over chocolate chip pancakes and milk mustaches
  • Fresh berries picked the day before
  • Birds at the window
  • A new flower budding in the garden
  • The sound of the lake just beyond view
  • The smell of the ocean

Obviously, the list is endless. These are just a few I thought of that take place before teeth are even brushed. In August, it’s easy to lose site of what “fuels” us and keeps us grounded in the here and now, something our children are experts in, as our minds drift toward the upcoming school year. Continue making a list for yourself and tack it onto your fridge or make a large poster (with the help of the kids of course) to anchor you in the here and now and get the most out of every remaining day.

What’s equally helpful is to write a list of what “depletes” you.

I doubt you need any suggestions from me and I don’t want to give this list any energy, but if you take just a few minutes and write down three, four or even five things that could potentially interfere with your ability to enjoy the last remaining, gloriously abundant, days of summer, do it now.

Ask yourself if you can let some of these go. Really challenge yourself and listen to your internal dialogue, which might be trying to convince you that it’s time to jump into gear and be proactive. If it feels right, rip the list up and toss it. Or keep it as a reminder of the things that take you away from what you want most from the summer – time to connect with kids and the memories that will make up the fabric of your lives together.

I can tell you that even if you wait until seven days before the first school bell rings, all the major retailers will still have plenty of shoes, backpacks, notebooks, pens and anything else you think necessary for your child’s upcoming school year.

Look for more in the following weeks to help you transition easily into the new school year and keep your kids in the forefront of the process.

Here’s to another jump in the pool, round of backgammon on the deck, or walk in the woods.

Cheers.

Introducing Multiplication Nation

I am honored to introduce to you MultiplicationNation.com. This is an online learning tool that supports kids as they learn their multiplication tables and yes, it was developed by my dear friend, Alex.

If you are looking for a way to empower your kids and engage them in the learning process (without sitting down and forcing them to practice their flashcards and nagging and fighting and…because we know that doesn’t work and also fractures your relationship,) I suggest you check this out!

Don’t just take my word for it. Alex was kind enough to write a bit about his inspiration for creating this tool (see below) and if you go to the website, you can see his credentials! WOW!

Or if you’ve heard enough and you are ready to get started –
Visit www.MultiplicationNation.com, and use coupon code VICKI30 to receive a 30% discount today!

Rethinking My Thinking,
What happens when one of the country’s top teachers fails as a parent

Guest post by Alex Kajitani

I’d been a successful, award-winning math teacher for 10 years—lauded for my innovative approach, I’d even been featured on the national news. So when it came time for our daughter to learn her times tables, all I could think was: I got this.

My daughter was going to be the one who could recite any math fact on demand. No way my daughter would be the kid struggling in class, or sitting in the back avoiding being called on.

We sat down at the kitchen table. I gave her my best “here’s what-made-me-the-Teacher-of-the-Year and has worked for so many kids before you” lecture. Ten minutes in, I looked up from my own brilliance and saw my daughter. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. Then she yelled, “I don’t understand this!” and stormed out of the room.

And there I sat. In silence. With all my fancy teaching awards and clever math knowledge—and an empty chair beside me. My wife, who had observed from the other room, just gave me that look. What a disaster.

It turns out that what makes you a Teacher of the Year at school doesn’t even earn you “Parent of the Afternoon” at the kitchen table. I knew, in that moment, that this was testing my parenting skills along with my teaching abilities.

As Vicki Hoefle teaches us in her book Duct Tape Parenting, “If you’re not willing to rethink your thinking, then it won’t matter how many strategies you employ.”

It was clearly time to rethink my thinking. Instead of envisioning my daughter as an ideal student who would absorb information on demand, I needed to see her as the complex human being she is. Smart, clever and open to learning, yet vulnerable and intimidated, especially when it comes to new skills.

I forced myself to come up with creative ways to explain the times tables to her, to help her memorize and retain them. Drawing on her ability to learn through music, movement, a few bad jokes and, yes, rote memorization at times, I worked with her just a little bit each evening. Her tears were eventually replaced with smiles (and only a few eye rolls). She mastered her times tables in an engaging way, at a pace she felt comfortable with. Whew.

The biggest epiphany I had from this experience was this: If I, an experienced math teacher, was struggling with helping my own child master her times tables, then this was something parents were struggling with at kitchen tables everywhere.

My mission became clear. I wanted to create something that would help EVERY kid master their times tables, and help EVERY parent avoid the tear-stained disaster I’d experienced. I knew the methods that I used to help my daughter should be accessible for any parent, anywhere.

Mastering the times tables in math is like learning to read in language arts—it’s the foundational skill that makes all the difference. Kids who know their times tables have a much greater chance of succeeding in math going forward; kids who don’t know them, continue to struggle. I’d seen this in my own students, and I decided it was my new job to help as many students as possible gain this crucial skill—without the stress.

So, I created MultiplicationNation.com, the first-of-its-kind, interactive, online times table teaching program. I searched far and wide for the best technology platform available to allow me to teach other kids their times tables just as I taught my daughter, from any device, anywhere, and actually have fun doing it.

I’ve watched my daughter become more confident in math now that she knows her times tables, and I see that confidence transferring to other parts of her life as well. I’m now committed to partnering with other parents and teachers, through MultiplicationNation.com, to help all kids gain confidence in math, and in life. (And I really do mean all kids—for every ten memberships purchased, we donate one to a student in need.)

As parents, we never know what situation will leave us, or our children, in tears. But I do know that sometimes we all need a little help. And, as Vicki says, sometimes we just need to be willing to rethink our thinking.

To help your child master their times tables, visit www.MultiplicationNation.com, and use coupon code VICKI30 to receive a 30% discount.

Alex Kajitani is the 2009 California Teacher of the Year, Top-4 Finalist for National Teacher of the Year, and a nationally renowned speaker, and author. He is still striving to be named “Parent of the Afternoon.”

What Great Parents Do – Another Giveaway!

75Once in a while, a book comes along, written so well, that you wish you had been the one to write it. Such is the case with “What Great Parents Do: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive.” by Erica Reischer, PhD. This new book offers you a way to improve your skills over time, it engages you in a way that a slick, try it, it will work strategy can’t. If you have ever worked with me or attended one of my presentations, you know that all change happens, over time when we focus our attention on one thing until we have mastered it.

Okay, here is a short list of what makes this book great.

  • You can start anywhere and improve your parenting.
  • It’s not really about changing your kids, but more about improving your skill set when it comes to parenting.
  • She includes research, common sense and years in the field to compile a thoughtful, well organized and relevant guide any parent can use if they want to improve their parenting skills and the relationship they have with their children.
  • You could take each chapter and work on refining your parenting skills or approach over the course of a week or a month.
  • Instead of jumping around trying to address bedtimes, sass, technology and so on, she offers parents insights into their mindsets, their responses and how making small changes can bring about big results.
  • The book helps parents understand children in new and clearer ways and breaks down old myths concerning kids and their behavior.
  • She uses science to back up her assertions so that parents don’t have to do all the heavy leg work themselves and can instead access what’s available and put it to good use immediately.
  • It is uplifting, realistic, full of possibility and inspiring.

Here’s the thing. I am a firm believer that we are all doing the best we can with the information we have. Sometimes we just need new information. I believe that we really all can be great parents and it doesn’t mean – we have to be turned into someone else. It just means we have a choice. Do we apply the new information or not?

This is a must for every new parent and for anyone already in the trenches with kids. So we are offering another giveaway. Comment below by midnight on Friday 8/26 and we’ll add your name in a drawing for a free book. Enjoy the end of your summer!

Raising Kids who will Break the Cycle of Violence

light.loveIn light of the recent tragedies, the number of coaching inquiries has spiked. I am honored to help more families, but from a humanitarian perspective this is heart breaking. Parents are reaching out to those they trust for guidance on how to ensure their children remain the loving, open, accepting, nonjudgmental people they are today.

I wish there was a way to guarantee our children’s continued innocence, but there is not. As they mature, as they become more involved in the world around them, as they are exposed to influences that are not always designed to bring out the best in them, they will have to choose who they want to be. As parents, what we can do is saturate our children’s lives with love, with acceptance, with tolerance, with forgiveness, with humanity. We can talk with our children about what it takes to be a kind, patient, loving, generous person in the face of circumstances that might bring out the worst in us. We can remind our children of their worth and the worth of every other child and person sharing our planet. Like everyone else, I am saddened each time I hear about another violent act, but I also accept that in this time and place, this is a part of our reality.

Until we see each other as true brothers and sisters and fight to keep ourselves and each other safe from harm, physical, emotional or spiritual, there are simple things you can do in your home with your children to cultivate a feeling of love, safety, and acceptance.

I have generated a list of ideas for you, in response to the Stanford case (which unbelievably has been replaced by another devastating tragedy in the headlines) that I hope will help you turn your rage into action. Here are some things you can do to support your children as they grow.

1. Teach girls that strength and honesty are more important than being nice. Nice is overrated. Strength and a sense of personal power and the honesty to claim yourself for yourself is what is required. Let them be rude, let them be sassy, let them be tough. Enough nice. Enough polite.

2. Do not foster romantic relationships in young children. You warp their entire idea of what a healthy, adult relationship is. Five-year-olds do not have boyfriends and girlfriends, so knock it off with this language. It’s a lie and it damages both our boys and our girls. Why are we trying to hook little children up? Check your own self-esteem here, it most likely has something to do with the fact that you want your kindergartner to have a love interest.

3. Stop calling little girls “flirts” and then telling them that they will “get into trouble when they get older”. Instead, explain the power and the responsibility that goes along when we try and illicit the attention of other people. Remember that our kids are being bombarded with sexual messages from the media. You have to work hard to undue those harmful and limiting messages so work hard. Work harder than the advertisers.

4. Stop telling girls that boys must like them when they are cruel, rude, and disrespectful to them. Teach them to stand up to these boys and be straight with them. “Hey, if you want to play at recess with me, then be nice to me, otherwise – get lost.” Why is that so tough to teach our kids? It would go a long way in helping our sons break out of the stereotyping we heap on their small, tender shoulders.

5. Teach your boys that girls, females enjoy the company of boys, men, who are kind, sensitive, funny, interesting, smart, creative, and 100 other things, but certainly NOT boys who are mean, cruel, tease, hit, pinch, kick, or anything else cruel. Cultivate their humanness and not just their maleness. They are more than that. Let them be all of what is there for them to be.

6. Encourage your sons to share their feelings when they are small and as they grow. Teach them to share often and make a safe place for this sharing, to help them become confident. Introduce them to other men who share openly and freely. Let them practice when they are young and validate that this is what real men are like. Everything else is fake. The toughness, the “I don’t care” attitudes, the “I’m tougher than you,” attitudes are crap. Be gentle and be kind, with your young sons so they grow up to be gentle and kind to themselves and to those around them.

7. Do not, under any conditions make your kids talk to people they don’t want to talk to, sit on the lap of someone they don’t want to get close to, cuddle with someone who makes them uneasy, kiss someone who sets off alarm bells in their heads. Each time you do, you teach your kids not to listen to that internal voice that is warning them of danger. This voice, if cultivated and honored will keep them safe when they are older. Over time, we want them to l learn to trust this voice allowing them to move among others with more confidence. This is their natural safety alarm. Teach them to use it.

Please feel free to send in any questions or contact us if you would like to discuss anything in more detail. I am miles away, but I am with you all as we navigate and do our best in this journey called life.

Q&A: Parenting on the Same Page

Question:
I have about a million questions for you these days as I feel we are entering into uncharted territory as my oldest daughter is now nine-years-old. I recently saw that you posted something on facebook about reaching out with questions, so here you go!

The Moralist - right and wrongI would say one of the biggest problems in our relationship is parenting. My older daughter is definitely tuned in and I think she enjoys adding fuel to the fire occasionally. Family dinner is a big issue. I eat most of the meals with the kids and my husband joins us maybe 1-3 times a week. If he’s at all grumpy from work, he can’t handle them being anything but perfect at the table. I can’t tell you how many times we have said, ‘use your fork’ or ‘no feet on the table’, and it goes on and on. The good news is that when we eat out or at other people’s houses, they know the rules and are well behaved. I get to a point where I say to myself that it’s more about the relationship and to stop nagging, because really what’s the big deal? My husband comes from a stricter household and to him, it really is a big deal. I’m more laid back, and he’s very much into manners, even at home, SO what ends up happening is he basically ruins dinner by being so uptight and not just learning to let stuff go, and the kids watch it all go down. What is the solution? It’s causing a real rift between us because we aren’t on the same page and I just am not sure what to do.

Answer:
Wow. You might be surprised at how often this exact situation comes up in families. It is definitely a problem between the parents and has nothing to do with the kids.

It’s reasonable that you foster table manners at home even if the kids know what the rules are outside of the home. You are laying the groundwork here and it will go a long way in determining if you really want older kids who conduct themselves in the same manner they are exhibiting now. Highly doubtful.

You both have clear ideas about what is important. And, they are both valid. There is no right or wrong way. But, as you said, the kids are watching and your continued fighting about this issue is teaching them all kinds of things that they will later use in their own parenting and in the relationship they have with their spouse. So ask yourself, what are you modeling for the kids and do you want them to model what you are doing? If the answer is no, then it’s time to work on a solution, and the solution is about you and your husband getting on the same page.

So here is what I suggest.

1. Sit down and find out WHY you are more relaxed about meal time. Think about your own childhood experience and dive into it. What was meal time like for you? What memories do you have? If they are good ones, elaborate on why they are good memories. Did you feel loved, accepted, relaxed, fun? Is this what you are trying to duplicate with your own kids? If so, then it’s possible that you could create those same feelings using a different strategy. If you didn’t exercise good table manners, when did they kick in?

2. Likewise, have your husband talk about his own childhood experience around mealtime. What are his recollections? What did meal time mean to him and his family? Did he feel relaxed, connected, and happy during mealtimes? If he did, then he associates those feelings with the way meals were conducted and is trying to duplicate that feeling. Perhaps he remembers being criticized for not sitting up straight or for having bad manners and dinners were a stressful time. Maybe he is trying to avoid all of those feelings and thinks the only way to do that is for the kids to do what they are supposed to and then everyone can relax. Perhaps he would be open to a different way of doing things if he wants the kids to have positive memories of meal time.

This doesn’t mean either of you will change overnight, but it gives you something to work on together.

3. It doesn’t matter that YOU think it’s no big deal and that he should just chill out. Your spouse thinks it’s a big deal and your job is to uncover why and then work with him to come up with a strategy that supports what you both want. You are going to have tougher parenting issues to get through and if you aren’t working together on these daily challenges, it’s going to be tough to work together on more sensitive issues.

Focus on the relationship you have with your parenting partner and make that your priority for a few days, weeks or months. At least until you can come together, support each other, respect each other’s childhood experiences and then decide what it is you want for your family.

Have fun
Vicki

Kids Coming Home from School?

Five Tips for a Seamless Summer

School is almost out and for many parents that means rearranging schedules and daycare options or babysitters, shifting work schedules, signing up for summer camps and whether or not to keep all the routines and systems for continuity and sanity sake or toss them out for a few months. Much has been written on the subject in an attempt to help parents make the most of summer vacations – for themselves and for their kids. Read more

But what about parents who have college students headed their way? Students that are home for the summer before they return to campus life and those who are recently graduated and find themselves in that “tweener” spot of not really having that big job with the great advancement opportunities in one of the most dynamic cities in the world with their closest and most trusted friends as roommates. What about them and more importantly what about their parents?

TeensAs a mother who saw my own five college kids come and go, I knew that in order for all of us to survive a short summer stay (or as some of my friends were experiencing, a longer transition of sorts) it was in order to establish and then follow some basic guidelines. The guidelines ensure that everyone is treated with respect and that everyone takes responsibility for what is theirs. That includes words, attitude and actions, not just “stuff”. Clear boundaries limit opportunities for misunderstanding or power struggles.

The truth is I spent years cultivating a strong, healthy relationship with my kids and I didn’t want that demolished because an 18 or 22-year-old landed on my doorstep with very different ideas about life at home than the ones they grew up with, while living under my roof. So here are my five, tried and true tips on how to maintain a healthy, respectful and fun summer with your newly young adult kids.

  • Set the Tone with Appreciations: As soon as your beloved children arrive home, call the family together and dole out rich, deep and meaningful appreciations*. If you start by saying something like “I appreciate, that coming home for the summer or during this transition, isn’t the perfect situation for you and yet, you are willing to be flexible and mature enough to know that for now, it’s the wisest choice.” Or, “I appreciate how difficult it was to turn down that summer job in the city and come home so you could 1) concentrate on earning enough money to live off campus next year; 2) take a summer class so you can graduate on time; 3) help out the family …..By the time you finish delivering these appreciations, your kids will be ready to share an appreciation for you. Imagine how this is going to set the tone for the rest of your time together. Continue sharing appreciations formally at least once a week and I recommend putting up a large sheet of paper with the word APPRECIATIONS at the top and using it every day so that you all remember what is most important. Your relationship.
  • Get their ideas first: It’s easy to jump into parent mode with the kids, but I have found that life is much smoother when I took the time to ask them what their vision of our summer together would look like before I shared my vision. Each time I learned something new about my kids, how they had changed, what their expectations were and more importantly, what they were worried about. Because the truth is, our kids are as worried as we are when they step back into mom and dad’s domain. Keep asking gentle questions and get as much detail as you can. Then, show appreciation for how much thought they have put into their current situation.
  • Find something to agree on: After you have heard their ideas, identify one that coincides with one of your ideas and begin to build your shared vision from there. Work with your kids as if they are colleagues and not snarky 13-year-olds. They will appreciate the respect you are showing them and will return it in kind. We started with “clean up”. My kids initially agreed that if they made a mess, they would clean it up. I knew they meant well, but I also knew that they would get busy and forget and that there would be times when they just didn’t want to clean up. In order to be clear we talked about what “clean up” meant to all of us, how we would handle a messy kitchen without yelling or scolding, and so on. Just flushing these things out before they become issues saves everyone time, energy and misunderstandings. And a word of caution here, if you don’t want to do their laundry every week, don’t do it even once. Set a healthy precedent from the get-go and you will save yourself oodles of frustration later.
  • Keep it simple: The more “rules” you have, the more trouble you are likely to get into. Decide what your two or three non-negotiables are and make an agreement with the kids about those. Explain your position and ask them to explain theirs so that you both understand the other person. The kids have had a taste of independence and they have had to work with a roommate so they know how to compromise and cooperate. It will be up to you to allow that side of them to emerge. That is possible only when you control your parenting default setting and remember that this is not the same moody 13-year-old you once had to strong arm to help out, but a budding adult who needs support and patience.
  • Remain firm and flexible. Stay firm on the non-negotiables and be prepared to follow through with whatever you agreed to. That might mean that they find someplace else to live if they insist on staying out all night without calling by the agreed upon time to let you know. Only then will you be treating them like adults and if you do, they will most certainly rise to the occasion. If you don’t, you will likely return to nagging, reminding and then lecturing them on how selfish, rude and disrespectful they are which will only cause things to deteriorate quickly. Stay flexible with things like picking up the kitchen (unless that is your non-negotiable) and continue to talk with the kids about how to make life work for everyone concerned.

It is important that you remember, as hard as that may be at times, to treat the kids like colleagues or trusted friends. They might not be as mature as we hoped they would by 18, 19 or 22-years-old, but they deserve our respect and a chance to rise to their highest selves. That can only happen when we provide the space for them to do it.

Each time I dropped the kids off at college or off into the adventure we call adult life, I was gifted with a huge hug, a heartfelt thank you and tears which indicated to me that the time we spent together was as meaningful and special to them as it was to me. Don’t waste an entire summer bickering with a child who will soon enough be out on their own and will have the choice whether to call you or not, whether to come and visit or not and whether to share the most intimate and important parts of their life with you or not. These are crucial moments in our kid’s lives. Let’s be on our best behavior for each one of them.

Vicki Hoefle has been teaching parent education classes for over 25 years. Hoefle is the mother of five adult children and the author of Duct Tape Parenting, A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, & Resilient Kids and The Straight Talk on Parenting, A No-nonsense Guide on How to Grow a Grownup. She is an in demand national speaker and parent coach and is available to speak at your school or organization on numerous parenting topics or work individually with your family. Please contact us for additional information.

*Learn more about Appreciations and Family Meetings and enroll in our online course today!

If They Can Walk, They Can Work!

work

Old enough to walk, old enough to work!

A) You’re not alone

B) Now’s the time to do something about changing roles, and

C) Believe it or not, both you AND the kids will be glad you did now, and for years to come.

I realized at an early stage in my pregnancy with my first child that I could either be the maid or be emotionally available to my children, but I could not do both. Since there’s a far greater payoff to being emotionally available, I decided to train my children early on to help with the household chores.

Now, if you’re at all put off by the word train, here are a few other verbs straight out of my thesaurus: teach, coach, educate, instruct, guide, prepare, tutor… and you’ve got to love this one… school.

I use the word train because that’s what it is. And let’s face it, training is useful – it makes us all better at what we do. And knowing how to learn from our training is a skill in and of itself. A skill, I might add, that will serve your children well as they go off to school, into the workplace… but that’s another topic for another day. Back to making everyone’s life easier and more pleasant by taking off that maid’s outfit and giving your children a chance to be part of the family fun.

Is there an optimal time for training?

The quick answer is YES! Over the years I developed a very simple answer for parents when they would ask me how young they could start training their children to help around the house. My answer is, “If they can walk, they can work.” That’s right moms and dads, it’s never too early.

There are two good reasons to start training your children in what is essentially the fine art of cooperation and contribution, as soon as possible.

1. The first reason is that, if children have been invited to participate in family chores from a young age, contributions will be a normal and routine part of their daily lives by the time they hit the pre-adolescent, “I am not interested” age. So, it’s actually less painful for both you and your kids if you start ‘em young.

Consider this. When our children are very small, they come to us asking to help and we are quick to reply with, “No, too hot; too heavy; too dangerous; too sharp; too fast; you are too little; too slow; too short.” And then we send them out of the kitchen and into the other room to play with the plastic kitchens and plastic food and say, “Now go play and have fun.”

We continue to do this, over and over, for years, until one day, about the time that same child turns 10, WE decide it’s time for them to be responsible for their stuff and we start in with, “Hey, pick up your back pack; unpack your backpack; put your dishes away; clear the table; pick up your room; do your laundry…” Sorry ladies and gents, but by then, it’s too late! We have missed the most opportune time for training.

You see, when children are very, very interested in just about everything around them – including mimicking mom and dad, you, as a responsible, pro-active parent, can use that natural curiosity to everybody’s advantage and get everyone involved in doing their part around the house.

2. The second reason to start training your children early to contribute to the household chores is a very practical one – kids need years of practice to become good at doing “stuff” around the house.

Just take a second and look around your home. I’m sure you’d agree that tasks which truly contribute to running even the simplest of households require some pretty complex skills, and developing any skill takes practice, more practice, and even more practice. The sooner you start practicing a skill, the sooner that skill develops.

So, just how should I go about training my toddler to contribute to the household chores?

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • An immaculate house is NOT the primary goal. If you want it clean to your standards, wait until the kids are in bed and clean it yourself – but for goodness sakes, don’t get caught!
  • Set reasonable expectations based on the child’s age.
  • Notice what your child is doing, and talk about it.
  • Train in small time increments.
  • Start with something relatively easy, like putting back toys, then move on to more advanced tasks like picking up trash and helping with the dishes.

The following checklists should help you get started with your first attempt:

Planning Basics

  • What two jobs can my toddler attempt successfully?
  • When am I going to train him or her? (Pick a time in the day that works for you and your child.)
  • What are my expectations?

When Your Child Says, “No”

  • Smile and walk away.
  • Go do something more interesting like read your book, listen to music, paint…

It’s also good to keep in mind that training in the art of cooperation and contribution doesn’t have to be explicitly planned during the early stages of training. As long as you’re ready when the opportunity presents itself, you can instill this spirit at a moment’s notice.

When Your Little One Tugs On Your Pant Leg to Play

  • Say “Yes, I would LOVE to play with you, as soon as we use bubbles to wash the dishes!”
  • Ask another question like “Would you like to learn how to squeeze the dish soap or turn on the dishwasher?”

Above all, DON’T GIVE UP — the ability to cooperate and contribute is a life skill that takes practice. And, whether you know it or not, your little ones will notice that you never give up on them, and that means the world.

If you have stories about how life has changed, now that you have handed in your feather duster and started training your kids, please share your comments below!

For more information on HOW to stay patient, set reasonable expectations, teach in small increments, and encourage your child (& yourself) along the way, purchase our Home Program and join the forum — Today!

Five Ways we Limit Kids’ Growth (and how to meet Kids’ True Needs)

Heather-Shumaker-author-portraitWhen I first connected with Heather a few years ago I fell to my knees in gratitude. Finally, a book I could recommend to parents that would address some of the most baffling, confusing and perplexing parenting issues in a straight forward, common sense way that parents with kids of almost any age could embrace. It is with great pleasure that I share this post by Heather as she introduces us to her second book, It’s OK to Go Up the Slide. Her new book is filled with wisdom, humor and smashes through old myths that influence our approach to parenting.


Five Ways we Limit Kids’ Growth (and how to meet Kids’ True Needs)

Vicki and I crossed paths when our first books were being released and discovered we were kindred spirits. Now it’s exciting to share second books – Vicki’s Straight Talk on Parenting and my new title It’s OK to Go Up the Slide, coming out today.

rule31_final PlaygroundA reader summed up my first book by saying: “If you like respectful parenting, but are baffled by your child’s intense emotions and behavior when she hits the preschool years, It’s OK Not to Share, is the answer.” Now we’re moving into an area of life that’s tricky for most families: the time when children hit elementary school and encounter a whole gamut of new rules – some of which go against your family parenting philosophy. What to do? How can we stand up for our kids and our families when there are so many other partners involved?
It’s easy to fall into habits, and sometimes you’ll find yourself in other people’s habits. Here are some common ways we limit kids’ growth without knowing it.

1. Signing Homework Papers

It might be the spelling list, reading chart or math worksheet. More and more, parents are asked to verify that a child has done an assignment by signing or initialing on the line. Requiring a parent signature steals trust and responsibility from a child. School assignments are a child’s job. It’s one thing to share with the family, it’s another thing to make the parent the Homework Monitor. Restore partnerships of trust and if you must have a signature – let the child sign her own name. (And, as you’ll see below, wait until middle school before welcoming homework.)

2. Giving Homework At All

What’s more galling than signatures is this: comprehensive analysis of 180 peer-reviewed research studies found that homework has no evidence of academic benefit in elementary school. Extraordinary. All those nightly battles between overtired children and anguished parents are for naught. What research shows is that academic benefits are highly age-dependent. It helps for high schoolers (but only if limited to 2 hours or less per night) and shows a very small gain for middle schoolers, but for elementary kids? Nothing. The time young children spend doing homework can be freed up to focus on other vital activities – running around outside, following their own play ideas, helping with family life and getting good, long sleep.

3. Thinking ‘Safety First’

One of the chapters in my book is called “Safety Second.” That’s because our Safety First culture really has forgotten that safety is not the goal of life. Life is about change and growth. We can’t live a worthwhile life – and neither can our kids – if safety is always top priority. Healthy risk is an essential part of natural development. We limit our children’s access to healthy risk in so many ways, whether it’s physical risk (running fast, cutting with a knife), emotional risk (possibly feeling bad) or social risk (possibly being rejected). Even if safety is king, some of our age-old safety lessons, ex: Don’t Talk to Strangers, are actually wrong.

4. Using Recess as a Disciplinary Tool

Get in trouble and you miss recess. Don’t complete your math assignment and you miss recess. Every day, millions of school children live under the threat of recess being taken away. It’s time to stop using recess as a tool against kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that recess should never be taken away as a punishment – either for behavior or academic reasons. This makes sense when you consider why recess is there in the first place: to meet kids’ needs so they can learn. When we deprive a child of recess, and face it, it’s usually the most squirmy, restless ones who get it taken away, we are stunting their learning. Kids learn academics best when their brains are fresh. We all need breaks, and research shows that the more recess the better when it comes to memory, focus, problem-solving and behavior, too.

5. Being Scared of “I’m bored”

Families offer so much to their children, but they are not meant to function as entertainment centers. Young children can play on their own. We do not have to stack blocks for hours to be a good parent, or feel we need to fix something when a child announces, “I’m bored.” Have confidence in kids. Their brains are naturally wired to play, and if they can’t find something to settle on immediately, have faith they will soon. If your kids struggle with free time, it could be a sign they are overscheduled, overentertained and not getting enough free time to be themselves.

If any of these topics sound interesting, you’ll find more in the book It’s OK to Go Up the Slide. There’s help for making sure elementary school is child and family friendly, including sample scripts and ideas for approaching teachers about homework, plus chapters for two-ten-year-olds on technology, princess play, mistakes, “that’s not fair!” sad stories, teasing, group calendar time, what to do about kindergarten, and why it’s good to talk to strangers.

Special offer this week: if you buy It’s OK to Go Up the Slide this week, you’ll get free gifts (special one-hour podcast taking you behind the scenes in the book, plus a set of designed quotes for your fridge).
Simply

  • 1) buy the book from any bookstore before March 13, 2016 and
  • 2) send an email to slide@heathershumaker.com telling me where you bought it.

About Heather

Heather Shumaker is a national speaker on early childhood topics and the author of two books, It’s OK Not to Share and It’s OK to Go Up the Slide, both published by Tarcher/ Penguin. Learn more about Heather, her podcasts, books, blog and infamous “why we ban homework” blog post at www.heathershumaker.com

Bicycles and Helmets – Arming your Kids for Success

Young Children With Bikes And Scooters In ParkThe Setting and Scene:
Six families are headed out for a bike ride with the kids. Their kids range from three to twelve-years-old. They arrive at the destination ready to begin their adventure. People start preparing and then a child of eight squeals “OH NO! I forgot my helmet!” The action stops. There is awkward silence and families begin to busy themselves getting ready for the ride and waiting to hear how this will be resolved.

We’ve all been here. We’ve made it clear to our kids that if they forget their lunch, they will have to figure out how to get enough food to tide them over till they get home. If they forget the mouth guard, they will have to sit out the game, in this case, if you forget the helmet, you stay behind while the others enjoy the ride.

But what usually happens is this; the parent, feeling the pressure, begins to lecture their child on his irresponsible behavior that led to his forgetting the helmet. The parent exclaims, “Now someone will have to stay behind and “babysit” you.” The shame the parent feels for inconveniencing the group is now passed to the child. They both feel shame. The child says, loudly enough for everyone to hear, “It’s YOUR fault I don’t have my helmet. You always pack it for me or remind me to bring it.”

Shifting the Perspective
This is a golden ‘aha” moment. If the parent were open and willing to see this as an opportunity and a blessing rather than a catastrophe, he would have recognized his error, apologized to the child and figured out how to move forward in a respectful and dignified way. As it was, he felt embarrassed that his child was “being disrespectful and sassy” and the power struggle escalated.

As a way to resolve the situation quickly and respectfully, I offered to stay back with the child and find something else to do, but the parents decided that they would allow the child to ride WITHOUT the helmet as long as he agreed to….and they proceeded to list off at least a dozen things the child could and could not do on the ride.

Time to Reflect
Later that day, the parent and I had a chance to ride together and he asked me what I would have done in this situation. Being a mother who raised five kids to adulthood, I was in his situation more than once. I explained, “You have to decide what is most important to you. Teaching responsibility and allowing your child to develop it over time or ensuring your child is happy today and doesn’t feel that they have missed out on a once in a lifetime experience.” (I said this last bit as a way to inject a bit of levity in the situation rather than taking a rigid and judgmental stand. We both knew that this bike ride would be one of thousands this child took in his life.)

How many of us as parents and teachers, say that what we want are children who become responsible adults and how many of us ignore the very opportunities that would allow this to happen naturally? What we really want is to raise responsible kids without doing the grueling work it takes to ensure this outcome. What we want are kids who learn responsibility without ever giving them any. This is impossible. Experience is the best and only teacher.

Consider the Message
Several weeks later I was with this group again. The parent of the eight-year-old loudly proclaims to all as he holds up his son’s helmet, “He brought his helmet today. I made sure he was looking at me when I told him to bring the helmet or he really would be sitting on the sidelines this time.”

This loving and kind dad thought this was a success, but for the rest of us, the message was clear. Unfortunately, this delightful child is learning that it is his parents’ responsibility to ensure he has what he needs, so that he can enjoy his life.

Foundational Choices
As parents, we tend to look at these situation in isolation rather than looking at them as the foundational experiences that inform our children. Each choice we make, points the child in a certain direction. As tough as parenting is, it doesn’t necessarily get easier the older our children get. We have the opportunity to lay the foundation for our kids when they are young, when the stakes are low, when they rebound quickly and when they are most open to learning in a gentle and consistent environment. This ensures we are preparing our children for adulthood in a slow and thoughtful way.

The next time you find yourself in one of these situation, ask yourself, Is the choice I am making in this moment pointing my child in a direction that will ensure he becomes a responsible or cooperative, or empathetic, or open-minded, or flexible, or forgiving adult? If not, hit the pause button and reconsider your choice.

Spit, Soup, & Love

HannahVickiLast week I posted this picture and described the week I had with my daughter, celebrating our time together and the woman she is. A reader wondered whether or not this declaration would offend or isolate any of my other children. As I was contemplating her question and forming my reply, I received a text from Hannah’s sister remembering and acknowledging the unconditional love we all have for each other. That’s it. That was the answer. I had created a purposeful and intentional plan as a parent to cultivate a climate of unconditional love rather than “special love” with very different children (some biological, some adopted) and so the answer was no, the celebration of one did not take away from the other. Since this is not a condition that lives in all families, I was inspired to share my strategies.

Spit in their Soup
The first tool (that I continue to use in all aspects of my life) is Adler’s famous “spit in their soup” technique. Gross isn’t it? Well, that is exactly why it is such a powerful tool for exposing all kinds of mischief when it comes to kids and wanting the “special” love from a parent. In this case, it was the “you love him more than me” song and dance. Instead of trying to convince this child that I did indeed love him (and not his brother more than him) and naming all the ways I attempt to show him and all the reasons I love him, I avoided the trap all together by agreeing that I did indeed love his brother more. I said it in a matter-of-fact kind of way. I said it seriously with just a hint of mischief behind my eyes. The child was stunned, and then he was forced to tell me the truth, “noooooo you don’t.” And I agreed, “No, I don’t.”

Favorite in the Moment
Vicki with ZoeThe second technique was applied whenever I was connecting with one of my munchkins. I would look into their eyes and say, “You are my most favorite child and I love you more than all the others — in this moment.” What I didn’t have to say was, and when your sibling walks in and I am talking directly to him, he will be my most favorite child and I will love him more than all the others, in that moment. Over the course of many years my children came to understand that they each owned a part of my heart that could never be compromised or diminished and that in-fact love is limitless.

Having a limited amount of love is an idea that springs from the idea of “special love”, or different love for different people. I don’t happen to subscribe to that notion, quite frankly it is too complicated and cumbersome. The goal for me is to love. Just love. I can’t be bothered with different kinds of love. There is love and there is not love.

Love is
Now, don’t confuse this with the different kinds of relationships I have with my kids, my spouse or my friends. Those are different, but love – love is. My kids heard these words from me from the time they were infants, and they knew that my love is endless and unconditional. It is not based on their behavior, my mood, which child was most like me and which one the most mysterious. Love is a fact. Because of this environment, each child developed a deep sense of self-worth and “lovability.”

dave-amy-2This deep sense of self-worth provides the people I had the pleasure of parenting, an enormous capacity to love. They are not stingy with their love. They are not jealous of love. They do not fear that there is only so much love to go around.

I encourage parents to avoid the “you love him more than me trap” by stepping right into it and spitting, rather than trying to explain to a young child with limited reasoning skills all the nuances of love. They are clever these kids and they will make lifelong decisions based on your ideas about love.

No doubt someone will challenge that my kids worried I DIDN’T love them if they weren’t right in front of me, but that is an adult fear, not a child’s. A child quickly figures out that the love is there, always, at 100 percent whether they are in front of you or not, and that was my goal.

What’s your goal when it comes to teaching your kids about love?

I Am Because We Are

trustAs I sit on the beaches of Fiji, I experience seven children between the ages of five and nine playing on the beach. The tide is going out. One of the youngest children reaches down, picks up a heaping handful of sand, looks around for an unsuspecting target and pitches the sand at an older child standing just a few feet away. Boom. Direct hit. Dirt covers the boy’s shoulders and back. The action stops. Not one parent moves. Instead, they wait. And as they do, an extraordinary thing happens, play resumes. The older child takes a small handful of sand and throws it back at the younger child. The action stops – again. No movement from the sidelines and then – giggles and as the giggles get louder you see sand being thrown by all of the kids at each other. One child finally picks up a stick and begins chasing one of the older kids who deftly runs into the water and dives away from danger. He comes up laughing and taunting the stick wielder. Soon several other kids pick up what can only be described as primitive weapons as they chase each other in and out of the water and throw heaping piles of sand at passing targets. The laughter continues until one child takes it a bit to far and screams in frustration. The action stops. No one moves and then the older kids circle around their frustrated younger friend, check to be sure he is okay, give him hugs until he is laughing again and the play resumes.

This went on for over an hour. Each time a child reached their emotional or physical threshold, the entire group would attend to the child until all was well. Not once was it necessary for a parent to step in and help the children learn to play nicely with each other. They already knew how to do that. What is more impressive is that within minutes they had established the “rules of engagement” and whether anyone else could see what was happening, those amazing and clever kids came to an understanding about how they would play together. Somewhere deep down inside of them were the skills necessary to play together successfully without any outside assistance.

Now pan down the beach about 200 yards and there you will find 15 kids (boys and girls) between the ages of 12 and 20 who are doing exactly the same things as their younger counter parts – only they have added a rugby ball to legitimize their horsing around. The rules of engagement seem to mimic exactly the younger kids rules and once again I see the same deep understanding they all have on how to play, interact, co-exist, call it what you want, without any outside assistance.

What is most remarkable about this scene to me is that I saw it played out over and over again during my time in Fiji. I pondered what it would be like on playgrounds in my own town, if parents trusted more, if kids were given a chance to work things out and establish a common understanding of what playing together meant.

I asked myself what if:

  • parents trusted that they had modeled to their kids respectful “rules of engagement” at home and knew that with just a bit of practice their kids would quickly apply these rules out in their world with their peers.
  • as parents, we trusted that other parents were teaching their kids respectful “rules of engagement”, so that the majority of the kids who spent time in the same classroom and on the same playground, all came with some experience of how to “play” together.
  • And as parents, we trusted our kids to figure out how to adapt the “rules of engagement” when they were with their peers, whether or not those peers were taught similar lessons.

Rooted in Trust
It occurred to me that so much of what I saw was grounded in trust. Trusting yourself as a parent, trusting your kids, and trusting your community.

I promised myself that when I got home, I would do everything I could to Practice Trust First and allow nature, instincts, and the collective wisdom of centuries to lead the way when it comes to kids and play.

Are you inadvertently raising a jerk?

playdate-awryA few years back I asked a parent in one of my classes what his deep desires were for his children. He paused for a moment and then said, “It’s simple. I don’t want to raise ass-holes. That’s all. I don’t want to live with an ass-hole and I don’t want to send one out into the world.”

Voila! One of the most popular topics in my “At Home with Vicki” series was launched and last Wednesday night a parent with a two-month old, parents raising kids deep into their teens and parents of children every age in between sat in my home discussing this very topic.

Many kids begin to display jerky qualities at around 7, 8 and 9-years and over time end up as full-fledged jerks by the time they are teens. And so the conversation commences on how NOT to raise an ass.

Here is the big take-away – Competitive household environments breed jerks.

The big surprise here is that the role-models for these competitive, winner take all, I’m better than you relationships are between the partners raising these children. The dynamics can be subtle or overt, and are present even in loving relationships.

Read through these examples and see if any of them sound familiar.

    Partner 1: “I really struggled in school and decided not to go to college”
    Partner 2: “I’m the one with the education in the family. I have a Masters Degree.”

    Partner 1: “I love to cook and I tried to follow my grandmother’s recipe as I remember it.”
    Partner 2: “ Try is the operative word here.”

    Partner 1: “It was the trip of a lifetime. I think we left in April and stayed nearly 3 weeks.”
    Partner 2: “It wasn’t April, it was May and we stayed 16 days. Hardly 3 weeks.”

    Partner 1: “It’s not her fault that she loses her temper. She had a really tough childhood and some times she can’t control herself.”

    Partner 1: “Daddy didn’t mean it. He just isn’t as patient as I am about these things.”

    Partner 1: “I know it’s REALLY important that I put the vacuum back in just the right way. Luckily, I don’t care about inconsequential things like that.”

Do you hear yourself or your life-partner in any of the phrases above? Have you heard your spouse say something similar and just felt uneasy or the hair bristle on the back of your neck, but not fully understood why? Now before you finish reading this and jump all over your partner for being the jerk, stop and think about your own words, attitudes and actions. It’s far more important that we develop Awareness before we spring into action.

Awareness allows you to facilitate change and to remedy the situation by moving from the competitive one-upmanship-environment and work toward establishing a cooperative environment, in which Adler’s ideas of Social Interest are fostered each and every day.

Social Interest is not the same as social action. Social Interest as defined by Alfred Adler is “a feeling of community as opposed to focusing on one’s private interests or concerns.” It has been said that someone without social interest is concerned only with one’s self.

Here is an exercise to flush out your role in creating a competitive environment.

Write down all the words you would use to describe a jerk. Now compare it to the competitive interaction you might be having with your significant other. Do you embody these words at times? Think about what you could do differently the next time.

Now write down all the words you would use to describe people who made you feel “at ease” when you were in their company. People who make you feel as though you are good enough, and that they were interested in you and your ideas.

Now ask yourself how you demonstrate these qualities with your significant other. Is it possible to move from the “jerk” list to the “at ease” list in each scenario? How could you respond differently?

I know it is shocking. Shocking to think that our daily interactions with our life-partner, the love of our lives influences whether or not our children grow up to be jerks. Think of it as the oxygen your kids are breathing every day. They are watching, listening, and making decisions about themselves, their siblings, and the ways men and women, husbands and wives, and brothers and sisters interact. The good news is the solution is right in front of you and available to you every day.

So the next time you are tempted to be jerky to your jerky child, when he is acting like a total ass – STOP – Take responsibility for your part in the competitive nature of the relationship and decide to do something else. Yes, it is that simple and that difficult. Remember that you are the change agent in your home and if you want to raise kids that – dare I say it – make you proud – than be the parent your kids can be proud of.

The Gifts of Grit and Gratitude

gifts

As the Holiday Season nears, there are two very special gifts that last, which parents can give their children long after the decorations come down and the parties come to a halt.

These gifts don’t fit under the tree or in a tiny box with a bow. These gifts cannot be exchanged or left in a closet to be forgotten until next year.

These gifts, which will last well into adult-hood, require no money, no hoopla, and no stress.

These gifts are the gifts of grit and gratitude.

Grit.

The gift of grit is given – not as a tangible item – but as an intentional space in which your child builds resiliency and adaptability, flexibility and independence. Grit manifests itself whenever you, the parent, choose to step outside of the situation and allows your child to make decisions, mistakes, guesses, efforts, messes and reach milestones that you have not interfered with or influenced.

When you choose to let go and allow your children to step into their lives and make the decisions and experience the consequences, realities and sometimes, uncomfortable responses to their actions and behaviors, then you, mom and dad, are giving the quality, long-lasting gift of grit, which they say, is the key to success. The temporary gifts of comfort, luxury, fixing and saving are the cheap gifts that break in ten minutes.

Don’t invest in those short-term solutions. Invest in the long lasting, feel good gift of grit. Why? Because nothing feels better than watching your child overcome a fear, surpass his own expectations or discover he can handle the problems life throws his way.

Gratitude.

This is the second gift we can all give our children. It’s a simple gesture that presents itself as a smile when our child walks in the room, an “I appreciate you for…” or an “I’m sorry for acting like…” whenever life gets busy or bustled. It’s a decision we make to notice our children as who they are TODAY instead of pushing them to be someone in the future. It’s the love we have for them when they are at their worst and the quick forgiveness we show because we appreciate them in our lives – warts and all.

Gratitude will bloom and the bouquet will decorate our children’s lives even after they have moved out of the house. They will go on to appreciate those around them and will notice the small things others do for them. In turn, they will continue to bring out smiles and to be there for those who need them. Gratitude says, thank you for being who you are — even when you’re whining. Gratitude is a choice to focus on the good things about your children because you’re glad they are here. Gratitude is the message that says, you bring a lot to this house and you’re a valuable part of this family and I don’t know what I’d do without you and all your brilliance around here.

So, remember these gifts during and after this holiday season, as both are gifts you can bust out EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Have a wonderful season of celebration with your families!
Vicki

Your Kids WILL See Porn

I receive so many great questions from parents each week and now, with their permission, I will be sharing them with our parenting community along with my thoughts on the subjects. I think it’s important that we leverage our collective experiences and as the Adlerian community would say, you can solve problems one at a time or you can solve the problem one time. Here is to making life simpler for everyone in our community.

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I received an email from a distraught and frightened mom the other day who discovered her 11-year-old son had searched “sex” and “naked girls” on his computer and had ultimately seen pornographic images and videos. This is not the first time I have heard from a parent in this situation, and it won’t be the last. So hold on to your hats, as most of you know, I don’t hold back.

Sex and porn

Two topics I mention many times in classes, blogs, presentations, and my books because this is the
world our kids live in and the world we must parent from. If you have kids ages 11 and older they have most likely seen porn. They might be looking at it right now up in their room on their laptop. Did you hear me? YOUR KID IS LOOKING AT PORN. Don’t fool yourself by thinking that your sweet little 11-year-old son would NEVER, doesn’t even know it exists, and is satisfied with the birds and the bees talk that you had two years ago. He has seen porn. She has seen porn. Yes, this applies to our daughters as well. Children are curious about sex. They are curious about body parts. They hear about oral sex and might even have some friends who have experienced it.

Overcome your fears and release the judgement

This is normal. This is natural. This is the world our kids live in. The question is will you be part of this world or not? It is time to be honest with yourself, muster up the courage to face reality head on, and be involved in this stage of your child’s development. You (and more importantly your child) will be more prepared to face the reality in which we live. Are you going to sit back and hope they don’t come across porn or are you going to assume they will (or already have) seen it and face that reality with a clear head and open heart?

Identify the part that trips you up. Identify the fear that keeps you in denial. Identify the belief that paralyzes you. Identify, embrace and solve that problem, so you can support your child as he/she develops and matures.

Get Educated

Remember, knowledge is power. As a parent, you want knowledge on the subject so you feel confident talking about it with your kids and you want your kids to have knowledge so they can make informed decisions. This applies to every area of life with kids – sex, porn, technology, drugs, cheating, stealing, relationships, and so on.

Specifically when it comes to talking to your kids about porn Amy Lang has a great article, How to Talk to Kids about Pornography on her blog, Birds and Bees and Kids.
https://birdsandbeesandkids.wordpress.com/2015/02/05/how-to-talk-to-kids-about-pornography-2/

Also check out Laci Green on youtube. She doesn’t hold back and is in touch with the world today and the issues our kids are facing.
https://www.youtube.com/user/lacigreen/videos

Talk to friends and create a support system

If you are still feeling a bit sheepish, reach out to your friends. I usually tell you the opposite- Don’t bother asking friends and neighbors “advice” about your kids because your kids are different than your friends kids and you are a different parent. Two kids could be displaying the same behavior, but for completely different reasons, so what works for Suzy and her kid won’t work for you and yours. However, with a topic like sex/porn, all parents will walk through this in a similar fashion. Most parents are nervous, unsure, terrified, unclear on how to talk to their kids about this and tend to just start lecturing and putting stricter “rules” alongside the technology usage. So in this case, it can be a great thing to talk to your friends. You’ll find you are not alone and you might learn a thing or two, yourself. It’s also important that while you don’t shame your kids during this phase, that you also don’t shame yourself. The mother who reached out to me most recently expressed feelings of shame, failure, embarrassment, and was just defeated. She didn’t talk to anyone about it because she felt like it reflected so badly on her and that her friends would think less of her for being a mom who “let that happen on her watch.” Get over it parents – Be real with eachother. Stop judging others and they will stop judging you. Your kids are their own separate entity – not always a direct reflection of you. And again, the fact of the matter is, your friends kids have probably seen porn too and they just don’t know it. Stick together on this journey. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. It IS something to be educated on and prepared to handle with your children.

Jump in and try it

When I tell parents to “talk to your kids about sex/porn,” I don’t mean just once. I mean constantly – like every other day. Talk to them about it so much and so casually, that the topic is just as normal to talk about as what they ate for lunch or how they’re doing on their science project. Ask questions about what he knows. Offer information before she asks for it. I’m not suggesting you drill your kids with questions and accusations. I’m suggesting the opposite. You’re at the counter chopping carrots with your daughter and you might say, “so, who’s having sex in the 7th grade?” Or you’re in the car with your son and you have the chance to say, “Let’s talk oral sex.” He knows that it’s out there and he’s heard about it. Ask him about that. Keep talking and keep asking questions, until your kid is so over the topic that when a friend suggests they look at naked pictures online your kid says, “no thanks, I’m all set with that. My mom talks about it every single day.” And then chat about it some more. It’s not a sit down, eye to eye, serious and scary conversation. It’s just a reality – it’s sex, it’s hormones, it’s puberty, it’s masturbating, it’s porn. It’s also love, and relationships, and intimacy and pleasure and boundaries and body awareness and communication.

Remember, our kids are growing and changing and investigating. If we want to receive an invitation into their lives and stay connected as a trusted ally, so that we can be the source of their sexual education, it takes work. Work on our parts to stay open and non-judgmental, to parent from a place of confidence and poise, create a support system and keep practicing. You won’t get it right the first time (or maybe even the second or third), but keep at it. I trust you would rather be honest with yourself and take steps to connect with your sons and daughters about what their reality is, instead of hiding under your covers pretending that it won’t happen again or didn’t happen at all.

#growingagrownup

I’d love to hear from more of you. If you have a question or an area that is challenging you, please go to our contact form and send it in. We’ll do our best to answer it via email and we’d love it if you’d give us permission to post on our blog to help others.

Thoughts On “Mental Health of Affluent Teens; The Challenge of Prosperity.”

Recently a colleague sent me this wonderful infographic titled “Mental Health of Affluent Teens; The Challenge of Prosperity” brought to you by Counseling@Northwestern’s Online Masters in Counseling and I was inspired to share it with our community of parents along with my thoughts on HOW we might put into practice the high structure and high warmth parenting practices suggested below and enhance the relationship we have with our tweens and teens.

It should come as no surprise that there are benefits associated with affluence that can have a positive effect on our children when they are young. They include better physical health and the development of stronger language and social skills, which leads to higher academic achievement in elementary school. Then something remarkable happens. Instead of affluence benefiting our kids as they enter the teen years, affluence becomes a liability. It’s fascinating to consider this turn of events and to ponder what changes we can make in our parenting to keep things moving in a positive direction. Here are my thoughts based on the information provided in this deliciously simple and easy to understand graphic.

Challenge-of-Prosperity-FINAL

Teens

Too much house for the number of people who reside in it means it’s easier for family members to “hide” from each other. In the adolescent world this means disconnecting from your family is as simple as entering your bedroom and shutting the door.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is the increase in pressure we put on our teens to “perform”. High, unreasonable expectations along with a hovering parenting style don’t inspire, they discourage and that leads to more alienation and disconnection between parents and their kids.

 

What Parents Can Do

    • Consider creating a “shared space” that your teens help you create and decorate. All too often it’s mom and dad who design the home for their liking which only increases the odds that their teens will find refuge in a room designed by them, for them. Unless you are entertaining royalty, this shouldn’t be a hardship, but rather an opportunity to create more shared space that is reflective of everyone in the family. Beyond that, a shared space implies shared responsibility for keeping it clean and tidy so everyone can enjoy it. This is a chance for your teens to become contributing members of the family who have daily household responsibilities that contribute to a healthy home life. And, you are preparing them for life beyond your threshold.

 

    • Time spent together is at a premium and yet, we spend 50% less time together than we did a mere 30 years ago. Anything that brings the family together so they can reconnect is a necessity in today’s fast paced world. Beyond getting everyone together is the bigger issue of “what to talk about” when you are together. Unfortunately far too many parents are still using the “How was school? Do you have homework? Do you have your gear for soccer? When is your science project due?” format of questioning to not only connect with their kids, but stay abreast of what’s happening in their world.

 

    • Family Meetings are a great way to not only gather once a week, for a limited amount of time (15 to 20 minutes), but also as a way to show appreciation for each other which demonstrates to our teens on a regular basis that they are loved and appreciated by their family; divide the family work equitably among all family members which helps teens feel like contributing members of their family and keeps them grounded in the “real world” rather than an illusion that all their needs will be met by someone else; a place for teens to help create family policy and balance between their desire for more independence and a parents desire to ensure their child is safe; and a place for kids to learn financial responsibility. Learn more about Family Meetings.

 

    • Another way for families to stay connected is to choose a social service activity at the beginning of each year which will ensure the family spends quality time together on a regular basis and as a bonus, the kids are learning life lesson in investing their time and energy in something other than themselves.

 

    • Most teens I know need to eat and unfortunately regular family meals have become a thing of the past. Invite your teens to participate in meal planning, meal preparation, meal service and meal clean up. That doesn’t mean demanding they suddenly start making meals for the entire family and then cleaning the kitchen while you sit down and enjoy a glass of wine. It means that you consciously begin to invite your teens into the entire process so they feel a sense of ownership around the meal.If you have a teen who comes home late from practice or eats at other crazy times, decide you will eat with them at least once a week. This means adjusting your schedule to accommodate theirs. Imagine the message you are sending!

 

    • Decide where in your schedule you can make time for your kids. It might be time in the car or walking the dog. Think quality, not quantity here. Being present without outside distractions is the key. Once you have the time, deepen the experience with a new kind of conversation. Life at school is no more exciting than life at your office. For the most part it’s the same old, same old. Try expanding your repertoire of questions and live dangerously. One friend of mine throws random questions out that are meant to provoke robust conversations. For instance, “So, are you having sex yet?” or “My friend got drunk last night at an office function and made a fool of herself, what do you think I should do?” or “I’m thinking of taking a vow of silence for 2 months, what do you think?” If our time is limited, then we have to make the most of it and thought provoking questions can help bring family members closer together and bridge the gap between parents and their teens.

 

  • Many parents are nurturing demanding careers, in part because it allows them to provide more opportunities for their kids. However, I never met a kid who would substitute an interested, engaged parent for some future opportunity. Our kids are learning about living a balanced life from us, they are learning about healthy relationships from us and they are learning about parental roles from us. If we take a few minutes to consider everything that is at stake when we allow careers to sap us of energy and focus, we are in a better position to create a more balanced life where the needs of our teens are at the top of that list. The good news is, they don’t need the same amount of time or energy from you that they needed as toddlers. Quality over quantity will do a lot to keep you connected to your kids and teach them about balance, prioritizing and healthy relationships.

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In my new book, The Straight Talk On Parenting, I explain in great detail my method, laying it all out for parents so that they can find an approach to parenting that supports their family thought all of the growing pains, developmental phases, life changes, and surprise events that greet anyone raising children in the twenty-first century.

As a mom who raised five children into adulthood, I’d like to share the two most important aspects of my parenting.

  1. Create structures for my family that supported each of us individually and all of us collectively. That meant designing mornings that worked for my morning lark and my night owl, homework routines that took into account a child who needed complete quiet and one that walked around and stood to write. These structures allowed my children to relax, and when they were relaxed and at peace it was easier for us to connect as a family.
  2. Show faith and confidence in my kids’ abilities, so that they would learn to have faith in themselves and confidence in their ability to navigate their world.

Our kids need to know that we accept them for who they are right now, even if the “right now” is messy. When we communicate unconditional love and acceptance, we foster emotional health and strong parent child relationships. 

Intelligent Design: Routines Don’t Just Appear with a Big “Bang

Revamping your family’s routines can be a strategic challenge – a chess game of cause and effect. Ultimately, you must observe your kids and then “design” a household environment that will lead to effortless routines. You’re probably thinking,”Please, that’s gonna be hard!” But actually, it’s kind of fun because once you’ve figured it out, it’s almost as if by magic, your kid begins to sail through the day. Trust us, you’ll feel pretty savvy once you’ve decided to redesign your deal!

trev

1. Observe your kids for a day or two and look for what I call their “natural rhythm”. You may have to employ the “duct tape” technique (a technique developed by me to assist in keeping my mouth shut because I lacked the necessary discipline to do it without assistance) in order to get “accurate” information about how your kids are currently handling their morning. Don’t worry if you are late for a day or two, or homework gets left undone, or if bedtime is a bit frazzled. You are investing in the emotional health of your family, so a small disruption in the family might be necessary.

2. Identify where you get stuck (example: We can’t get bedtime right. We’ve tried everything). List observations about why you get stuck (Bedtime is messy because they share a room and one reads quietly before bed while the other jumps around).

3. Identify where the day flows well (after school, the kids get home and put their backpacks in the mudroom).

4. Tell your kids that you have been trying to set up the routines in the family the way you like them and you realize that you made a mistake.

5. Invite them to sit down with you and lay out how they would set up each routine. Here is how I started it – “In a perfect world, on a perfect day, what would the morning look like to you?” And then I listened. Really listened to what they were telling me.

6. Identify the goal of having a Morning, Afternoon and Bedtime routine.

EXAMPLES

  • To get out of the house on time, every day, with all our stuff, a good breakfast in the belly with everyone smiling and excited about the day.
  • To have a calm afternoon that helps the family reconnect and prepare for the 2nd half of the day.
  • To say goodnight, feeling connected, loving and peaceful.

Great, then you play with variables and options. Try them! You don’t have to stick with what’s not working.

give-family-meetings

SMART TIP FOR ROUTINE REDESIGN

1. Know what you believe about HOW morning, afternoons and bedtimes “should” be. Once you know your preferences and what the perfect routine would consist of – for you – put it on a shelf and pull it out when the kids leave home at 18.

2. Decide that you will give, whatever routine you set up, time to work. We tend to jump from one routine to another if we don’t get immediate results. My recommendation, wait at least 2 weeks before you start making any significant tweaks to any routine or system to try and implement into daily life with the kids.

3. Keep it within reach! If you want your child to pack a lunch easily and enthusiastically, store the food where they can reach it. The same goes for nontoxic cleaners and clothing. Many routine hiccups can be addressed by physically moving materials kids are expected to handle down to their level.

Have fun! Practice makes progress!