All posts tagged celebrate

For Auld Lang Syne

SnowflakesI hear those sleigh bells ringing… It’s that time of year again and everyone here would like to extend to all of you our best wishes for a happy holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, this month is sure to be filled with parties, excitement, presents and, truth be told, stress!

During these trying times, It’s easy to overlook the very thing that we are supposed to be celebrating – our relationships with family. It’s easy to be short-tempered when your To-Do List requires more hours in the day than you have or your kids are bouncing off the walls from excitement or sugar.

Whatever the case try to remember a few simple tips:

  • Be easy on yourself and your kids.
  • Don’t worry if each moment isn’t picture perfect.
  • Don’t worry if those cookies didn’t get made because you preferred to listen quietly by the fire to the snow falling with your little one (or big one) curled up next to you.

So whether you’re riding in a wonderland of snow, or drinking a cup of kindness, we hope you all enjoy this holiday season and wish you all the best in the New Year.

~Vicki

Happy Holidays: Lower Your Expectations and Relax!

holiday travel with kidsHappy Holidays to You and Yours

For some of us, just the thought of the Holiday hustle and bustle can cause anxiety. For most of us, Holiday related stress or anxiety kicks in when it’s time to pile into the car, take that long drive or pack our bags for the airport. We begin to worry, asking and wondering questions like:

  • “Will the kids behave?”
  • “How do we discipline them in front of our friends/relatives?”
  • “What do we do if they can’t sit still for the long car, train or plane ride?”

Search the web and you’ll find plenty of advice on what to bring, how to pack and all that “practical” jazz. What you won’t find are quality tips for handling the hair-raising moments while you’re IN THE MOMENT. You know these moments when:

  • Your child is running up and down the aisles or screaming non-stop on a crowded airplane (and everyone is giving you the hairy eyeball); or
  • When your child is melting down at Grandma’s house because it just isn’t the right cheese and cracker; or when
  • Your child takes the present from Uncle Joe and instead of saying thank you, says “Is that all I’m getting?” or “I don’t like it.”

Moments like these are going to happen because, frankly, our children aren’t perfect. And it’s time that we stop expecting them to perform perfectly during the holiday season, when we are more stressed than usual, kids are tired and excited all at the same time, and we are pushing the limits of their coping skills with all of the shopping, traveling and visiting we’re doing.

What matters most is not if our children behave perfectly, it’s how we respond to them when they don’t.

It is often overlooked that our response to our children’s behavior is so often the thing that makes it either go away or causes us to slide further down that slippery slope into the rabbit hole. If we give in to the whining, try to yell or bribe them back to good behavior, or embarrass them with a forced thank you, it will surely backfire either then and there or at some later point. So what is a parent to do?

Here are just a few ideas:

  • Lower your expectations. It’s ok if the children aren’t perfect. Give yourself some space to relax.
  • Have conversations ahead of time about what it means to behave well at a party, on a plane, or wherever you will be. Ask the kids to help generate a list of expectations for their behavior.
  • Give them examples of kindness and gratitude every day with appreciations—you’ll be surprised at how much they learn by modeling, and it’s never too late to start.
  • Take your cues from the kids: Are they tired? Then leave the party early. Are they bored? Then find out how they would like to spend the hour layover in the airport.
  • When you find yourself in one of those “moments,” confronted with a child who is acting other than you would like, try distraction. Do whatever it takes to move them away from the moment or the thing they are melting down about, and worry about what caused it later.
  • Invite children to decorate, pick “fancy outfits” or dresses, frost cookies and so forth. Get them invested in the Holiday events! But remember, if they don’t want to be, don’t force it. It’s not the end of the world if your child isn’t willing to pose with the cat for a Holiday card.

If you invite your children into the process of deciding for themselves how they want to behave, how they would like to spend the long hours in the car, or what it means to be grateful for something, then you will find that those tough moments become fewer and farther between. Similarly, when you show respect whenever it’s clear they’ve hit their limits, they will calm down and reel it in much faster. So, when you are in the moment—do your best to relax and try to get out of the situation with distraction and re-direction, so that you can enjoy yourself and leave the 2013 holiday season with good memories.

Think, Look, Plan- Then DO

A parent wrote in the following scenario:

Vicki HoefleDuring a casual dinner, a neighbor’s daughter got up from the table and my friend said, “sit down we are not finished yet.” The little girl proceeded to walk away and come back with a yogurt smoothie and my girl friend said, “Do not drink that or you will be in trouble.” The little girl proceeded to turn the smoothie over and dump it on the floor. (She is almost 4.) My friend then grabbed her and put her in a time out. I thought, HMMM…I know that didn’t seem to go well –what would YOU DO?

-Perplexed Spectator Parent

Vicki Hoefle: Hi, Great question! As a Duct Tape Parent, I follow a LOGICAL, SOLVE-ALL PROCESS (one you can too!) that leads me to this answer:

I always: think, look, plan- then DO.

THINK

It’s important to stop and think: parenting problems are not really problems, they are SYMPTOMS of either a fractured relationship or a lack of training or both.

 

So, in this case these are the symptoms: girl shows complete disregard for mom by walking away, dumps yogurt, doesn’t listen to mom, won’t stay in her seat and shows a lack of respect for both herself and her mom.

Then, I’d walk through a couple questions- what is my reaction? What is the goal of the behavior?

In this case, mom gets pissed, and asserts her power by saying NO. She tries to win. Her clever and powerful daughter pushes back and eventually mom takes the child to time out. She may have quick fixed it with a “bandaid” but it sure didn’t heal the underlying “bulletwound” – which is a combination of relationship and training problems.

Hint: because mom is emotionally charged and angry, there is evidence of relationship stress and because the child carelessly makes a mess and is physically moving around, there is evidence of a training problem.

LOOK

Look at the relationship. How close am I to my 4 year old right now? I’ve been annoyed at her lately and  a little checked out.
Look at the training. She didn’t understand the proper way to stay seated or clean up a mess.
Look at the behavior. Ok, she’s engaging me in a power struggle so the goal of her behavior is power – not to take mine- but have her own. For more on identifying the Mistaken Goals of Behavior, click here.

PLAN

Once the entire situation has been put into perspective, I’d plan to work on the relationship and training the child.

Relationship Plan– (Mom and daughter are definitely in a classic power struggle so here are my recommendations)

  • Invite the child to participate vs. shutting her down and making more conflict.
  • Invite her to make decisions with me- which drinks do you think are ok to have at dinner? Peach smoothie or milk?
  •  I’d also increase the respect I show toward her preferences, since her pure disrespect is reflecting something important: the mutual respect is running low- on both ends.

Training Plan: (Obviously, if the child knew what a pain it is to clean the smoothie, she wouldn’t have thought it was a good idea to chuck it on the ground.)

  • Before showing her how to CLEAN the mess up, show her how to master some simple kitchen tasks. The more included she feels and the more confidence she will have around cooking and cleaning.
  • Begin to train her in self skills, picking out her own clothes, getting dressed, setting the table, etc. When children feel competent, they work WITH their parents, not against them.
  • Plan to do the training when you and your child are both relaxed and in a cooperative mood.

DO

After I’ve thought about the relationship / training problem, looked at the realities, and made a plan, I’d DO THIS:

  • Refrain from quick-fix responses to her behavior. (No bandaids on bulletwounds)
  • Take time to implement the relationship plan. (Invest in the relationship)
  • Practice dinner routines, but NOT during dinner. (Take time for training)
  • Be patient and celebrate success. (Focus on what I want more of)
  • Train to clean up her own spills. (Quit being the maid)
  • Encourage her to participate authentically in family dinner. (Prepare her for departure)

So, there you have it folks- as you can see, this process can work with any behavior challenge you face! Duct Tape Parents refrain- they think, look, plan and then DO. They have learned to stop before slapping a bandaid on a bulletwound or disciplining a kid who hasn’t been trained properly. Duct Tape Parents put the relationship first (fix that, worry about spilled smoothie second). YOU have this in your mind so have courage to think this way when it starts to slide into the rabbit hole. 🙂

 

Laughter is the Best Medicine

The transition between summer and school is almost complete.

The rhythms and routines that help define an organized, pleasant and stress free morning are nearly in place.

The afternoon drive to and from practice with the appropriate snacks and gear is feeling less rushed and frenzied.

Papers from school find their way from the backpack to the kitchen counter and homework is becoming a nightly ritual that will last through the year.

Bedtimes are being sorted out and kids are climbing under cool covers with heavy eyes and happy hearts.

For those of you who haven’t yet arrived at this seeming paradise, perhaps the video below (click on the link) will help bring a smile to your face until you do, finally, exit the summer to school transitional hell.

Laughter

Inspiration, Reflection and Gratitude

Several weeks ago, Jennifer and I were introduced to Linda Anderson Krech, a founder of the ToDo Institute. Within minutes we were both captivated. As women who are committed to living spiritual lives, the ToDo Institute’s mission statement spoke to us in our own lives, as well as the mission of our company, Parenting On Track™.

ToDo Mission

The ToDo Institute creates personal, family, and community change through:
The skillful use of attention;
the cultivation of gratitude;
the awareness of interdependence;
the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes;
and purposeful action in the face of obstacles.

Building on methods of Japanese psychology,
we offer an elegant blend of the spiritual,
the psychological and the practical.

Since we felt so closely aligned (kindred spirits if you would), we all decided to explore how Parenting On Track™ and The ToDo Institute could work together on future projects. Over lunch we talked about all the possibilities and finally decided to create a simple alliance, where both organizations would support each other’s purpose, mission and common goals.

So stay tuned. The ToDo Institute has amazing resources and programs and we will do our best to help them spread the word!

Or don’t wait for us to tell you, visit their site, become a member and learn more about this amazing organization and its founders on your own.

Attitude is Everything

One of the reasons I so enjoy this video is because this young man is addressing High School kids. Most people I know feel awkward and nervous when addressing teenagers.

They are so accustomed to the idea that teens are

  • Hard to reach
  • Disrespectful
  • Self Centered
  • Uninterested
  • Cold-Hearted
  • Cruel
  • Disconnected
  • Immature
  • Sassy

This limiting belief in turn, limits the amount of interaction and conversation whenever possible.

In this video, it is clear, that this young man is connecting deeply with these kids. He isn’t afraid of them. He can’t afford to be afraid! If he was, he would still be in bed wondering why he was born with no arms and no legs.

Instead, he invites these young people into his life. He uses his sense of humor and the confidence he has developed over a lifetime of dealing with daily challenges, to connect to a group of individuals who will do more for creating a culture of acceptance and inclusion, than an audience of middle aged, teary-eyed, soft-hearted adults (who, will forget all about this kid in an hour when their lives take center stage again).

It’s not just this young man’s story that is inspiring, but his willingness to “invest”, yes invest, in the younger generation. I suspect, that this one assembly will leave a deeper imprint in the lives of the teenagers, than anything else they attended during their high school experience.

And I suspect that all the “talk” about acceptance, inclusion, tolerance, kindness, respect – that they have been hearing from adults for 15 years means nothing in comparison to these few moments, with a real individual, who openly and honestly shares his story.

This video isn’t just a reminder to us to be grateful for all we have, but a reminder to me, that young people, when given a chance, can become ambassadors for a kinder, more accepting future.

For more about this amazing young man and his story visit http://www.attitudeisaltitude.com/

The Road of Love!

The Longest Mile

Not sure exactly what prompted her to start screaming. Could have been a number of things and truth-be-told, the “trigger” isn’t what’s important.  The event itself isn’t even all that important.  What’s important is the learning. What’s important is what I am going to do the next time this happens and what I am going to do in all the moments in-between that make up my daily life with this extraordinary child.  What’s important is that I found the courage to look at my 9 year old daughter with love, compassion, respect and admiration, while she was screaming at me (at the top of her lungs) as we walked down our quiet back road and out onto the main road during our morning walk to school.

The Courage to Love

I had to rally every ounce of courage and strength inside me in order to look at this 9 year old, nostrils flaring, fists clenched, teeth baring and lips snarled, walking backwards in front of me screaming, as the neighbors walked from their homes to their cars and drove by us, afraid to make eye-contact.

I had to muster up bucket loads of self-restraint not to retaliate when she hit my elbow and my morning cup of coffee spilled out onto my leg and her arm, which precipitated a blood curdling scream from her and a claim that I poured my HOT coffee onto her, just as one neighbor was getting into her car.

Every creative cell that inhabits my body was called into action when it came time to remember her as the peaceful, beautiful, loving baby that was born unto this earth.  And to repeat this quote from Rudolf Dreikurs in my mind, with each step,

“In order to be able to exert a constructive influence on your child you must learn to observe her objectively. This you can do only if you take her misbehavior less seriously. You must stop regarding her faults as a moral issue. The child who misbehaves is not a “bad” child. She is only unhappy, misguided and discouraged, and has not found the right answer to the social problems which confront her. Every misbehavior indicates an error of judgment in her efforts to find her place within the family and to meet the demands and pressures to which she is subjected.” -Rudolf Dreikurs, MD, “Coping with Children’s Misbehavior: A Parent’s Guide.”

No, for those of you asking,  I did not remember that quote word for word – however I have read it enough times and embraced the concepts in the Parenting On Track™ program founded on these principles, that I could access the essence of this in my heart, my body, and my mind.

Inspired to Give In

After 1.2 miles the screaming stopped, a soft, gentle, small hand reached up and grabbed mine. That small hand held on so tightly and so completely that I immediately gave thanks to the Universe for keeping me safe and strong, and keeping me from behaving in a manner that would cause fracture to this delicate and yet solid relationship.  With a voice hoarse from screaming and full of genuine sorrow and integrity – my daughter apologized.

Now What?

We proceeded to walk the rest of the .5 miles to school and created some connections about the road, the leaves, our strong leg muscles and full bellies to fuel us through the day.

On the walk home, I reflected. Reflected on what just happened, what I learned, and what I would do the next time my discouraged child joined us for our morning walk to school or trip to the grocery store or…

New Information

1.    I believe in this circumstance, using the adage “move your feet” actually fueled the fire.

I believe if I had found a rock or a tree stump along the way and chose to sit down, the yelling would have stopped. I know in my heart, she would have found it completely distasteful to yell at someone who was trapped, open and vulnerable. She probably would have jumped into my arms for a heart-felt hug.

Instead, my walking just offered energy to the situation and her determination to wrangle me in.  I could be wrong, but at least I have a plan for the next time.

2.    Connection – That is what she craves. Give it to her. Give it to her as often as I can in all the moments in between. I have nothing else to do with her (as she manages her life quite nicely and could actually manage a Fortune 500 Company or a Country for that matter), so spend time with her connecting.  What does that look like you ask?

  • Make eye contact and don’t break it for anything.
  • Listen to her like there is nobody else in the room.
  • Ask her opinion on everything.
  • Ask her for help solving my problems.
  • Take heed to her advice, when she has a better idea.
  • Hug her. Hug her like there is no tomorrow.
  • Smile when I see her coming, even if she is mad at me.

Energizing Perspective

On my walk home, I also spent a great deal of time re-framing my perspective and finding the “good” in the morning.

1. I live with one feisty, stubborn, tenacious young woman and she is NOT afraid to say NO. May she have the courage to access those qualities when someone who does not have her best interest at heart, tries to influence her.

2. She knows what she believes in and is not afraid to stand up for it. She is still working on the best way to communicate her beliefs, but by-golly she knows what she knows to be true and is NOT AFRAID to let you know it.

Courage is not always tidy.

My daughter is courageous.  That is who she BE!  She stands up for herself. She stands up to bullies. She stands up for those she loves (and those she doesn’t). She stands up to ME. I love her and I am committed to matching her courageous nature with my own.  I commit to doing whatever it takes to BE the Mom she deserves.

Lizzy, I love you!

Life Happens. Keep on Trucking!

This blog post was re-posted with the permission of the author…an amazing, sassy, courageous, incredible, beautiful mom of…3 boys.

She sums up her Parenting On Track™ experience below. If you enjoy this post, I encourage you to go to her blog and read about her journey.

Her stories are hilarious (and inspiring)!! I had to stop reading, lest I get no work accomplished today. If you don’t have time to read, just look at the pictures and watch the youtube videos…sure to brighten your day!

Here Goes!

I recently read a great blog post that said trust your intuition because kids don’t come with parenting manuals. I agree, there’s no instructional booklet, insurance or map that show the “best” way get from A to B (by A to B, I mean baby to 18!). That’s why, normally, I would feel a bit more distressed about how life with kids is currently unfolding. I won’t go into details but you can imagine the issues EVERYONE is facing- one way or another. From financial stress to swine flu fears, parents can easily become derailed and overwhelmed with nostalgia for their fleeting “golden age” of parenting (or the “well-laid plans” before life took over).

I speak for myself when I say, dang, I started off on a MUCH more focused, purposeful path . Then, after three kids, two houses and another big move, I felt everything I identified with as a parent sort of slipped and I just kind of began existing. I went from proactive to reactive, without even noticing. I’m sure you’ve had that feeling when it hits you like, “huh, I sure didn’t plan for this.” My kids calling me butthead, was one of those moments.

Just a few months ago, I was looking at an early midlife crisis, a mombod and three unruly boys. Thankfully, now, despite the slip-ups, I understand more about MY family and I see those three rowdy fellows quite differently than three months ago (the mombod? not so much).

However, as I wrap the Parenting On Track™ Home Program , I’ll admit three things:

1. I watched EVERY DVD, and literally, LOL’d, alot.

2. I fell off the wagon a couple times (including missing a couple family meetings because I couldn’t get to the ATM-oops)

3. I truly learned some VALUABLE knowledge about raising kids, MY KIDS.

Truth be told, it took me 14 weeks to get through due to vacation week and unexpected suburban drama. So here I am, looking back at where I started, at do nothing say nothing. I took the time to reflect and make small changes.

Am I perfect? No, (hell no, is more like it), but I realize that the tools I need to raise the kids I want DO exist within ME. Did I really commit to the values I laid out 8 weeks ago? Yes, and NO- because you can’t just overhaul everything at once. So, now I can go back and revisit what I’ve learned and focus on the GOALS I set for my family. The best part- they like the goals! It IS NOT like, (as Vicki says in one of the lessons) “Ok kids, there’s a new sheriff in town!” It’s more like, “hey guess what guys, I like you and you like it when things run smoother around here.” And they do!

The best part is that the course is a framework for reference forever. I see this as being one of the best chances that I can get my family into positive changes when things have gotten, well, shitty. ☺ (NOTE: that’s just mud but it did the trick didn’t it?)

It literally is a roadmap for success. I am going to use it. I will tell any parent anywhere that not only is the program stellar, but the community driving the philosophy—from the founder, Vicki Hoefle (who I have gotten to know over the past few weeks) to the team of parents coordinating workshops and conferences, classes and everything. I’m SO glad I found the Parenting on Track experience.

NOTE TO SELF: I think I realized that I don’t care if my kids call me butthead. If I REACT like I care, well, then, it simply feeds a weed I don’t care to water. Next…

Passing up Personal Prestige

This blog post is reprinted with permission from the author, an amazing, committed, passionate, flexible, creative mother, wife, sister and friend.

For more inspirational posts, visit http://flockmother.wordpress.com/


Some people will think I’m a bad mom.

There it is. That jagged little pill. I still haven’t completely choked it down. It gives me that little pit in my stomach when I force myself to do what’s best for my kids … even in public.

“Does she have a backpack?” asked the driver of the van that Charlotte takes to camp each morning.

I knew it was still in our car that was parked about 10 yards away.

“Yes. In the car,” I said. He stared at me.

“Is she going to have it by the time I drive away?” he asked, eyebrows raised.

“I don’t know,” I said as we watched Charlotte settle in to the back seat without her backpack. I smiled uncomfortably and said, “We like to say, ‘If you don’t want to do it forever, don’t do it once!’”

“Okaaay….” he said, eyebrows still raised in disbelief.

My stomach tightened slightly as we stood in silence. Ten seconds passed and then we watched as Charlotte calmly unfastened her seat belt, hopped out of the van, and ran to the car to get her backpack.

Yes, some people will think I’m a bad mom. But what’s more important, what they think? Or this:

Read some comments below:

    Great one! Thank you for including the quote, “If you don’t want to do if forever, don’t do it once.”

    Hey, we’re all getting more comfortable with sitting in uncomfortable spots with this stuff…and somehow it always pays off. Kudos to you for this one, love the idea that your trust in your kids and their ability to handle things is not willing to be rocked by other people’s preconceptions.

    Reply from Flockmother: Yes, each time it gets a little easier to ignore the skeptics. Sometimes I still have to consciously control the self-talk in my head. This time it was, “Either she’ll remember on her own, or she’ll find a way to get through her day without it. Either way, I trust that she’ll be fine, and what this guy here thinks of that just … doesn’t … matter.”

    That and shoving my hands in my pockets and pursing my lips shut helps too.

Celebrate your Mistakes!

Is there a moment that defines the power and necessity of celebrating “a willingness to participate in life” vs. a positive outcome? Yes. there is.

Shopping Trip to Hell

The day before school started, in the heat of the day, I took 5 children to the grocery store; 4 biological kids and a friend’s child who was staying with us for the day.

At the end of the trip, the youngest (6) pulled out her money and picked out a candy bar to purchase. Her older sister (9) noticed the sign that said buy one, get 2 free. Hmmm? The 9 year old did a quick calculation- that’s 3 candy bars for the price of one – and quickly & earnestly suggested that she and her older sister (age 12) be the recipients of the 2 additional candy bars. But wait — the 9 year old suddenly realizes that there weren’t enough free candy bars for the friend. Not to worry, it’s just a problem that needs a solution – right? So, she asks the 6 year old to buy another candy bar, after all they are just a buck and her sister appears loaded with ones – thus making sure everyone got a candy bar with 2 left over for good measure.

I Don’t Think So…

Unfortunately, the 6 year old didn’t see it quite this way. Instead of agreeing, she took a stand … nope, not gonna’ happen, really only wanted to spend money on one candy bar for herself. Her sisters getting candy was just a side benefit…she dug in her heels and innocently inquired why the friend did not have his own money to buy his own candy bar?

“C’mon! Please!” and the begging began. The 9 year old was even willing to PAY the $1 for the extra candy bar when we got home… but the 6 year old was not budging and proceeded through the line to buy her 3 candy bars. The 9 year old continued with the pleading and begging, which only served to inflame her younger sister until finally, the 6 year old reverted to – wait for it – punching and scratching the 9 year old. Lovely right?

Stop Looking at Me, I’ll Handle it!

At this point, people began to stare and look a bit concerned. And then it happened – I was stung; stung by the bug called, personal prestige. The transaction at the register was completed, I walked outside and in an emotionally charged state…took the candy from the child who was hitting and threw all 3 candy bars in the trash. Done. End of story. I know, very mature of me.

In my irrational and embarrassed state – I justified my actions by convincing myself in the moment, that

“A child who hits to solve a problem, does not deserve candy.”

The Fight for Justice Ensues!

As soon as the candy was confiscated and tossed, the 9 year old – recipient of the punching, defender of fairness and sharing – turned to me and protested whole-heartedly that I “could not do that because the candy did not belong to me. I did not buy that candy and did not have the right to throw it out” and the screaming fit ensued.

I kept walking until we reached the car. I climbed in and let the older 2 kids unload the grocery bags. I managed to keep my mouth shut, although I was seething inside, not so much about the hitting, as that wasn’t directed at me, but at the dressing down I had taken, in public by my 9 year old, and drove home in silence. I shudder to think of all the nasty thoughts I had during the ride home.

Celebrate the Dragon Lady?

Yes, I screwed up. Because of the Parenting On Track™ program I knew it. Because of the program, I knew not to look for a discipline strategy right in that moment.

Because of the program I knew I had “mistaken beliefs” and they had been activated. Because of the program, I had the self-restraint to keep my mouth shut on the drive home.

Because of the program, I knew how to apologize to my children. Because of the program, in the 15 minutes it took to get home, I had a genuine, sincere, heart-felt appreciation for the 9 year old whose tantrum received the brunt of my negative thoughts, feelings and energy.

A Miraculous Perspective

“E, I am sorry. I am sorry for getting involved. I am sorry that I did not show you that I trusted the two of you to handle things. I am sorry that I did not keep my focus on your younger sister and encourage the rest of you to leave the store and go to the car.”

“Do you want to know what I KNOW to be true about who you are on the planet? I know that you are the most loyal sister in the world. I know that no matter what, you will stand up for your sister until the end. I know that you are concerned with justice and fairness and no matter what it takes you will do what it takes to fight for what you believe is right. Thank you.”

Yes, I said all of that and I meant every word of it. And all it took was a mere 15 minutes to shift from blame, anger and revenge, to respect, appreciation and love – for myself and for my children.

The trip to the grocery store ended in a big fat hug and a greater awareness of myself and my daughter. A reason to celebrate – ABSOLUTELY!

What? You let her GET AWAY with it?

“Now what?” “Isn’t there a consequence for hitting?” “How does your daughter know it’s not ok to throw a temper tantrum in the store?” “You just can’t let her get away with that.” “You are the parent. YOU are in control.” “Some things are just not OK.” “Why didn’t you just loan her the money?”

I know the questions. I know the statements. I have heard them all and even have my own set of voices yelling at me from inside my head.

Be – Do – Have

I will follow up with all of my children when I am not vibrating with emotion, and I can trust myself to be reasonable, respectful and loving.

I will focus on what I can do differently the next time, and answer the question:

“What will it take for E(9) and J(6) to find their voices AND treat others with compassion, empathy, and respect?”

This question will not be answered in a trip to the grocery store, in a response to hitting that demonstrates (adult) power- over another human (child). It will be answered in small steps, individual moments every day that invite my children into the process of living, making decisions, experiencing the outcomes and moving forward.

We will have 25 more episodes in the grocery store, I am sure of that. And if every time I commit to working toward enhancing the relationship I have with my children, encouraging their budding independence and maintaining self-respect, I have reason to celebrate.

Setting an Example

A happy marriage is the result of thousands of decisions we make as to how we will treat our spouse.

Sometimes we can forget to speak to our spouses using kind, compassionate, friendly, loving and appreciative communication. We can forget, that our children are observing us and making some serious decisions about gender issues, relationship issues and will eventually, begin to model to others, what they hear from us, when we are speaking to and with our spouses.

Take a deep breath here if you need to.

Not one of us means to be short, snappy, critical or disrespectful, to our spouse, but it can happen.

Personally, I am as crazy about my husband today, as I was when I first met him. It isn’t always easy, but we both work on it, not only for ourselves, but for our children as well.

We want our kids to have strong, loving relationships with their spouses and they are learning from us what that looks like and sounds like. I can see my kids watching us, storing information for a later date and in fact, I am beginning to witness some of the decisions they have made about male/female relationships as they enter into the dating world.

It is a clear and present reminder to both of us that we are always, yes always, teaching our children something. So we best be mindful of what we are teaching.

Tips for Success:

  • Listen to yourself for the next few days. Find the courage to do a true and honest evaluation of your daily communication style with your spouse.

  • Commit to using a more “appreciative communication style” for the next 21 days and then take the time to “notice” for yourself, what changes are occurring.

  • Using appreciations, especially when they are unexpected is a powerful tool in creating a kind, compassionate, understanding and accepting family dynamic.

  • Make sure that your appreciations are sincere and spontaneous. For instance, in the middle of a TV show, blurt something kind out so that everyone looks at you in a slightly questioning way, or shout across the room – Hey, ya know what I love about you……or walk out of the kitchen and whisper something sweet into your spouses ear. The smile on their face will convey to the kids that whatever you said, made the other person feel good inside.

Modeling for our children, is the most powerful teaching we do as parents. It also seems to be the most difficult. Take inventory over the next week and see if there aren’t ways that you can improve the relationship with your spouse – even if it’s already awesome – so that when your children are considering spending the rest of their lives with someone, they look to you as their role models.

From Frog Collecting to Number Crunching

Along with buying new pencils and notebooks, “back to school” also means a return to routines, alarm clocks, and the responsibilities that many of our children left behind with the last bell in June. There are all kinds of systems families can use, and Parenting On Track is about progress, change, and the long-term goal of encouraging independence and self-reliance in our children.

Here is my “top 10” list for making the transition from frog collecting to number crunching a smooth one, for kids and parents alike. With these pointers in mind, you’ll help your children begin the school year on the right foot.

1. Ask yourself, “What will it take for my children to manage their schedules independently?” Work with your kids to make a list of everything that needs to happen in order for your kids to be ready for the school day. Access what they can do already, where they need some training, and what they need to learn from scratch. Set aside time each week to practice these life skills, and be sure to acknowledge growth and progress.

2. Allow your kids to establish a routine that works for them, even if they flounder for a week or two. This means not reminding them to pack their homework or asking if they remembered their soccer gear. Having to sit out a game or miss recess is a far more effective way for youngsters to learn to be responsible than parents constantly reminding.

3. Have faith that your children can handle the natural consequences of their decisions. If your daughter refuses to do her homework, let her work it out with the teacher, even if her grades suffer. Whereas the grades will come and go over the years, the self-reliance and sense of accountability that she’ll learn by solving her own problems will serve her well for the rest of her life.

4. Show empathy and help your children work through any problems that arise, but don’t be their savior. School offers a perfect testing ground for kids to learn how to be responsible for themselves and acquire the skills they’ll need in the “real world” after graduation.

5. Set parameters about acceptable dress for school that you and your kids can agree on, and then bite your tongue. Many schools have rules about attire (such as no midriffs or undergarments showing) that can help you frame this discussion. You may not love the outfits that your children choose to wear, but showing them that you respect their choices and believe in their ability to select their own clothing is far more important in the long run.

6. Establish a framework for discussing the ups and downs that your kids are sure to encounter as the school year progresses. You want your children to know that you’re on their side, no matter what. If your son brings home an “A” or scores the lead role in the school play, encourage him by asking questions about the experience. How did he prepare? What did that accomplishment feel like? Did he need to to work hard to reach his goal, or did it come easily to him? Likewise, if your daughter comes home with a “D” or doesn’t make the hockey team, you can ask her about that experience. How did she prepare for that moment? How does she feel about her grade? Was this important to her? What could she do differently next time?

7. Create a roadmap with your children to help them set goals for the year and begin thinking about what it will take to achieve those goals. Your kids will feel a sense of empowerment as they define and take ownership over their plans for the coming year.

8. Set up a time every week to connect as a family. This could be a dinner, a family outing, or a scheduled family meeting. The gathering does not have to take place at the same time every week, but be sure that it’s on everyone’s calendar so that it doesn’t fall through the cracks.

9. Figure out what you, as a parent, can let go of to encourage your childrens’ independence. Deciding not to “remind” or “do for” your kids may be hard at first, but in doing so, you are demonstrating to your children that you have faith in their abilities.

10. Go slow. Encourage progress and recognize growth, and remember that you are the best parent for your child.

Social Interest and Healthy Families

Simply put, we are a culture preoccupied with our own Self Interest which, unfortunately is reinforced on a daily basis.

Two prevailing attitudes which emerge with regularity are:

  • What’s in it for me? OR What will I get?
  • What will people think of me?

Here are a number of questions children ask themselves every day which can be influenced by the What’s in it for me/What will I get attitude.

What will I get, if I…

  • Use the potty?
  • Sleep in my own bed?
  • Sit still for a hair cut?
  • Let the doctor give me a check up?
  • Say I am sorry?
  • Help with daily contributions?
  • Stop fighting with my siblings?
  • Apply myself at school?
  • Agree to come home on time?
  • Stop calling my family names?
  • Drop the attitude?

Scary, isn’t it? You begin to get a sense of how that attitude might affect your kids as employees, spouses and parents.

The second attitude – What will people think of me is more commonly seen in adults. It sounds something like.

What will people think of me, if…

  • My kids aren’t properly clothed, fed, washed, groomed?
  • My kids are disrespectful, rude, display bad manners, are sassy to me?
  • My kids do poorly in school or are not star athletes?
  • I can’t afford to have my kids do all the things their friends do and have what their friends have?
  • I can’t control my kids?

This attitude is disastrous for parents and children alike. As parents, it is difficult enough to make responsible and respectful decisions regarding our children. To compound the problem by adding the – What will people think of me, significantly limits our ability to parent from our best. The decisions we make about and for our children can no longer be influenced by what others will think of us.

Tips for Success

If you, as the parent, ever wonder about HOW you are making decisions, take a few seconds and answer this one question:

The needs of the situation require that I do what?

Here is what Adler had to say on the subject of Social Interest:

    “A healthy person is concerned for other people and has a sincere desire to contribute to society. So, Never do anything for a child that a child can do for herself.”

    “The first step in teaching social interest is to teach self-reliance.
    So, Never rob your children of opportunities to feel capable.”

Here are 3 examples that illustrate the power of Social Interest:

1. Imagine your child arrives at school properly trained in Social Interest. He may look around the room and say, “The needs of the situation require that I…”

  • Choose a place to sit.
  • Have a pencil to write with and all the other supplies I will need for the day.
  • Raise my hand when I have a question.
  • Do my homework as is expected of me.
  • Allow other children to speak.
  • Follow through with the agreements I make with the teacher.

Imagine a school room with students who are ALL asking themselves this same set of questions. Powerful stuff.

2. Now imagine your children at home and asking themselves internally, “The needs of the situation require that I…”

  • Help my brother out with homework because he is struggling and math is easy for me.
  • Say no to friends who ask me out and I know they will be drinking.
  • Practice my instrument, because I made an agreement with my parents and music teacher.
  • Miss my soccer game so I can go to an important family function.
  • Do my contributions, even though I was up late, because everyone else is expected to do theirs.

Yes, I know it seems too good to be true, but consider this for a minute, we are always in the process of choosing. That includes how we interpret situations. So either our kids are asking themselves, what will I get out of this, or they are asking themselves the needs of the situation require that I do what. Why is it so hard for parents to believe, that children, when given a chance, will act from the position of the highest social interest?

Okay, lastly –

3. Imagine yourself, as a parent who asks on a regular basis, “The needs of the situation require that I…”

  • Allow my children to experience frustration, so they can learn more about themselves.
  • Stay cool and put this on the agenda for Family Meeting.
  • Apologize when I make a mistake.
  • Remain flexible as my children learn to navigate their way around an ever changing world.
  • Model empathy, compassion and forgiveness if I expect my children to develop these attributes.
  • Avoid comparing my children with anyone else – ever.
  • Allow my child to make a choice, even though I know it may end poorly.
  • Respect the natural consequence my child is going to experience with faith and confidence.
  • Explain to the teacher why my child is coming to school with no lunch and no homework.
  • Refrain from telling stories about my child in social situations where everyone else is complaining.

Again, you see the power this one question has in influencing every decision we make. So this week, anchor the power of developing Social Interest in yourself, your children and your family.

The Parenting On Track™ Family

Alright, so on the flip side of my last post;

You know you are a Parenting On Track™ family when….

10. Your 6 year old daughter wears her best high heel shoes in a snowstorm – and you have the confidence that she will learn a valuable lesson, as you wait patiently and support her learning.

9. You lock yourself in the bathroom during a temper tantrum – because you know all about feeding the weed and you are not about to feed this one.

8. You get a call from your child’s teacher, because he forgot his lunch for the past 3 days – and instead of apologizing, you confidently explain that you are raising a thinking child and trust that any day now, he will figure out a valuable lesson and the problem will be solved once and for all.

7. Your child goes to school in her pajamas at least twice a week – and you have long ago given up your mistaken belief that “good” mommies make sure their children are color-coordinated, because this morning, like every other morning, your child gave you a big fat kiss, a super-duper squeeze and said I love you, before heading off to school – and that means more than a matching outfit.

6. You do nothing and say nothing unless its physically or morally dangerous – because you know that 90% of the time, if not more, doing or saying anything will only make things worse and there really isn’t any reason to make things worse with a 4 year old who is doing his best at figuring out the world.

5. Your whites are pink – and you don’t care because in another 4 weeks, you will have another person in your house, who is capable of sorting, washing, drying, folding and putting away clothes without whining, griping, or complaining.

4. Your 17 year old child, makes a point of coming over during a basketball game with friends, hugs you and tells you he loves you – and the crazy thing is, this is perfectly normal because it happens on a regular basis.

3. Your kid makes a mistake, and it actually brings your family closer, instead of pushing everyone apart – family meetings, which are a staple of your lives, has given rise to amazing problem solvers who appreciate everyone in the family and understand that mistakes are indeed opportunities to learn.

2. Your children honestly believe that without them, the family would not function, and you, the parent, would not be able to manage your life effectively – and you bask in this knowledge even as you listen to other parents brag about how much their children need and depend on them.

1. You extend the invitation to your children to participate in life, they accept and when it’s time for them to go out on their own, they step out with confidence and enthusiasm and look back at you and say, “Thanks!” Ah – the thrill of victory.

To all the thousands of parents, who invested their time and energy and a few bucks in creating a family that is sometimes impossible to describe to someone who isn’t living it, thank you. Thank you for sharing your stories and your struggles. Thank you for believing in yourselves and your kids and in a program that promises to deliver what most of us dreamed about when we held our first child in our arms.

The Power of Doing Something Different

Taking the time to notice the patterns that exist in our lives with kids and responding to the patterns in new ways, in other words, doing something different, is often times the easiest and most effective solution.

Why? Because any time we switch it up with our kids, something happens for both the parent and child. Our brains go from automatic pilot to fully engaged.

In the parent’s case, this is the difference between using ineffective, unhealthy and negative parenting strategies and replacing them with intentional, enhancing and powerful parenting strategies that work over time to completely change the family environment.

In the child’s case, this means they “wake up”. The recognize there is something new happening and old responses are no longer working to engage parents. It means they are required to use their creative process to interpret what is happening and to come up with new strategies and to question whether these new strategies are effective when it comes to engaging their parents.

Here is a recap of a conversation I had recently with a parent about the power of ignoring:

“I noticed that although I thought I was ignoring tantrums, I really wasn’t. I was somehow still engaged. Now, I take a minute and decide – really decide, that I am going to go on with what I am doing and you know what – it makes all the difference. Now I am actually ignoring what they are doing and when I do, the mischief making stops.”

There you go. Ignoring the shenanigans was the “doing something different”.

Here is how it works:

  • Kids are going to make mischief.

  • They depend on you to be consistent in your parenting strategies. If these include nagging, lecturing, yelling and punishing, this is what the child is accustomed to and they know how to respond.
    When you decide to ignore, the game changes.

  • Typically, a child will escalate their antics, hoping to get the response they are use to getting from their folks. In their mind, they are thinking “Hey! You! Parent! What’s up? Look at me. I am being “naughty”. Do something. Do what you do.

  • When this doesn’t happen, when you continue to ignore, the kids begin to push back even harder. The mischief making intensifies again, in the hopes that parents will “go back to the old way”.

  • Finally, when they are worn out and convinced, that mom or dad aren’t going back to their old ways, they are required to “think”. Hence my constant reminder to parents that we are indeed trying to RAISE thinking children.

  • When we decide, when we are intentional in our decision making process, ignoring shifts from a passive, giving in act – to a powerful, respectful, intentional dynamic act. That’s a big difference. From passive to active. Ignoring behavior now becomes a powerful pro-active parenting strategy.

Ignoring is only the beginning. The Parenting On Track™ program is designed to help parents discover what isn’t working and to replace that with strategies that focus on enhancing both the relationship parents have with their kids and their child’s ability to grow into an independent and confident person.

Shifting Perspectives

A few months ago I came across a post written by Maya Frost introducing her book “The New Global Student”. I ordered her book immediately, read it, and then invited everyone else in the family to read it. They did, much to my delight, and as a result, the way we look at “education” completely shifted.

Today, I received an email from Maya who is changing course. Instead of focusing on “studying abroad, saving on college costs, avoiding student debt and getting a personalized international education”, she is moving in another direction. She is growing along with her life and taking her own advice. To live outside of the box.

She sums up in her post, what I try to communicate on a daily basis over the last 20 years as a parent educator.

1)“Fear causes paralysis.” You cannot parent effectively from a place of fear. Get informed. Gather new information. Practice. Take risks. Make mistakes. And find strength in my confidence and belief that YOU can do this and YOU are the best parent for your child, until you have developed your own confidence.

2) “I can inform, cajole and cheer (and I continue to do so, with active members in the forum) but in the end, the decision to overcome fear in order to soar is not mine to make.” My business partner and I talk about our lives with our families, the deep connections we have with each of our children (9 between the two of us), the joy we feel when we are in their company and we marvel at how fortunate we are. The feelings we have are indescribable. We arrived in this place because we pushed through our fears and we work tirelessly in our job as parents.

3) “Exhaustion limits perspective.” I say this all the time in my program. In order to remain emotionally available to your children, you must quit your jobs as the maid, the bottle washer, the chauffeur, the head-chef, and personal assistant. When you are exhausted from managing your children’s lives (plus your own) you have no reserves left when your kids really need you. We have a choice. We can choose to remain emotionally available, so we are there for our kids when they truly need us to be present and accessible, or we can fill our lives up waiting on perfectly capable kids, performing useless tasks, so we can openly complain about how much we DO for our kids and how lucky they are to have us.

4) “It’s easier to ignore than to innovate.” In the case of Parenting On Track™, one of my favorite and most powerful strategies is to indeed ignore. The difference is that we are intentionally ignoring what it is you do not want. We do this so that we do not find ourselves behaving worse than our children. We do this so we do not fuel the fire or feed the weed, as I like to say. We do this so we have creative energy to develop a roadmap for success, a plan, a pro-active strategy that will move our entire family closer to what it is they want. When we ignore what we do not want and we focus on what we want, we step into the innovative process. We take chances, we learn to trust ourselves and we share this with our children.

5) “The world is changing, and ultimately, it is up to each of us to decide if, when, and how we will change along with it.” The strategies our parents used are no longer valid. We must adapt our parenting styles with the ever-changing world we live in.

6) “Life goes on.” In the end all that matters is the relationship you have with your kids. We are not perfect. Our children are not perfect. Do your children know, believe, feel like you are their biggest champion? If that is true for them, that’s all you need.

In tribute to Maya and so she knows that people are taking advantage of all she offers, here is a recap of what’s happening at my house.

Colin is pursuing an education that is completely “hands on”, out of the ordinary, and is absolutely suited to his unique personality and nature. As a result of his positive experience in taking risks and following his passion, he has applied to Peace Corp and fully expects to begin his 2 year volunteer service in 2011. Talk about a non-traditional education that holds up against ……

Zoe, who graduated this year, was accepted to Whittier College, but decided to travel abroad for a year spending 26 -40 weeks volunteering in an early education program in Argentina. Her love of children, travel and Spanish inspired her to “think outside of the box” and to jump into life, before she committed to a classroom setting. Her confidence and willingness to do this, was in part, the result of her reading Maya’s book.

Kiera and Brady are still in the process of examining all of their options and oh what fun it is. Instead of SAT tutoring, financial aid paperwork, and pulling hair out about application deadlines, student aid and writing entrance essays they are enjoying this summer and engaging in conversations about possibilities post high school. It is pushing all of us in the family into re-examining our lives in general.

Click here to learn more about Maya Frost.

If you want to raise confident, cooperative, capable, respectful and responsible children in the 21st Century, I created a 12 Chapter multi-media program that walks you through step by step and shows you how to do this. Click here to learn more.

If you are considering purchasing the Parenting On Track™ program or contemplating when or if to dive into the Do Nothing Say Nothing week of the program. I invite you to read Maya’s latest blog post.

Are you raising a bully?

Annie Fox’s blog this week titled “My Child? A Bully?” reminds us all that bullying is present and pervasive. It is troubling to consider that any one of us could be raising, fostering, or housing a bully, in spite of everything we do to raise caring, respectful, compassionate human beings.

Although this is a difficult conversation to have, and an even more difficult idea to consider, it’s worth braving the murky waters of bullying to better understand how we can influence our children in positive ways.

Annie shares a quick bullet list that provides insight and challenges us to look deeper into ourselves and our family dynamics.

Here is the list taken directly from the article.

Hints that your child may be a bully:

  • You or your partner is a bully.
  • Your child is bossy at home.
  • Your child’s closest friends are not the nicest people.
  • Your child makes rude comments about other people.

Click on the link below and read the entire article. It’s worth it, even if you are certain, you are not living with a bully.

My Child? A Bully? by Annie Fox

Look for part II on Tuesday, July 20th!

Mind Blowing Reflections

Graduation season is behind us. Maybe you attended Kindergarten Step-Up Day or a college graduation or maybe something in-between.

We had our own graduation celebration here in East Middlebury this past weekend. My middle child graduated from High School and will head out on her own come September. Graduation is always a time for me to reflect on the child who will soon be flying solo.

Here are a few reflections as they pertain to the Parenting On Track™ Program (because as I mentioned in the last post – YES, I do use the program and here’s how:)

1. Do Nothing – Say Nothing: This remains my secret weapon of choice. Here’s why. My kids change. They change all the damn time. I tend to change less often as I get older, so it is up to me to find ways to change along with my kids. The only sure fire way I know to do that – is to shut-up and watch for 7 days. I do this on a regular basis. In fact, I do it at least 2 times each year, sometimes more, if I know a particular child is going through a major growth spurt. As a result of shutting-up, observing and learning, I am able to parent each child in a way that supports their unique personality and perspective. This in turn, builds a deep and lasting relationship that can stand the ups and down that every relationship is bound to experience. In this particular child’s case, I have learned: she is extremely loyal, independent, funny, easily embarrassed, hates making mistakes, loves children and people over the age of 92. This is helpful information if I am to stay close to her as she ventures further and further from home.

2. Buttons: As I have said repeatedly, this one strategy alone is like holding the key to a locked door that hides treasures more valuable than gold. Whenever I start acting crazy, I know my kids have accidentally stumbled upon one of my activating events, a mistaken belief, a “BUTTON!” Listen, I can not begin to calculate how many hours of misunderstanding, fights and power struggles I have avoided because of this one simple, easy to use concept along with a strategy that literally takes 5 minutes to put into place.

3. Timeline for Training: You can’t raise kids who have the ability at 18 to make all the necessary arrangements for living abroad for another year, defer from college for a year AND maintain their scholarship money, if you don’t start by asking them to unload the dishwasher every single day before they leave for school and every evening before they jump on the computer. It just won’t happen folks.

You can’t raise kids who trust themselves, feel confident making decisions, are willing to take chances, rebound from blunders without missing a step, and have a realistic view of themselves and the world they live in, if you haven’t invited them to participate in their own lives EVEN when it was easier to manage their lives for them.

The Timeline for Training is a concept, when understood and used regularly, empowers the entire family and creates a kind of kinship and comradery that translates well beyond daily contributions.

4. 4 Mistaken Goals of Behavior: Here is what I know: our kids have a certain solution that they adopted around the age of 3, 4 or 5. This solution has now become their biggest and most reliable problem. The good news is, once you know what that problem is, you can provide a support system to your kids that is free from judgment and disappointment. It is liberating.

It is not uncommon for me to pour myself a cup of tea and wait patiently for my child to hit up against the same obstacle she has been hitting up against for 12 years. I am ready, with kindness, compassion and empathy. I am in no rush to give her the answer or try to make life easier for her. On the contrary, I am there to provide a sounding board for her, because I know, there will be a moment in her life, when she realizes that the problem she faced when she was 7, is the problem she is facing at 27 and suddenly, the answer is there, waiting for her. And at that moment, my kid will realize that I was there, beside her, trusting her to figure it out when she was ready and she will know how deep my love and respect is for her.

5. All of the “Invest in the Best” strategies have provided me years of pleasure as a mom. They are the tools I use to build strong, healthy, loving, accepting, respectful relationship with not only my kids, but anyone else who is important to me in my life. When the relationship we have with our kids is solid, there is little need for discipline strategies. I don’t care what anyone else tells you, come talk to my five kids and they will tell you that “punishments and consequences” just weren’t part of their childhood experience – and yet, there was order in our lives and there were clear expectations and there was restitution and there were thousands of solutions.

My husband I decided to invest heavily on the relationship we were building with each child, knowing that it would take years for us to experience the payoffs. And let me say right now, that having kids who truly like, care and respect you as a parent and a person is a payoff worth waiting for.

6. The “Tools of Necessity” became my teeny, tiny, secret weapon. I became a master at utilizing these tools when I felt us sliding down the Slippery Slope towards the Rabbit Hole. These common sense strategies saved my ass more times than I care to share AND the best part is my kids began using them as a way to support the family when we all seemed to be stuck or struggling. It is truly amazing to listen to teenagers who care so deeply about their family’s emotional health, that they will use the “distraction” strategy to break the tension even if it means looking like a complete idiot in the process.

7. Over the years, we have found ways to celebrate our lives together as a family that can only describe as “mind blowing”. From simple gatherings around lit candles where appreciations we given and received, to major trips anchoring a storm weathered that brought every member of the family closer together.

As my oldest daughter likes to say –

“We have a “way” of being together that draws people towards us. We have a “way” of being together that tells a special story about who we are to each other.

And she is right, we do. And that is because we worked at it.

It’s Just A Pink Cake…Right?

Have you ever – in your life – seen such a cool birthday cake? Doesn’t it just make you smile from ear to ear? If not, imagine a cool super hero with a cape and mask.

Okay, I admit it – if someone had suggested that I buy MY daughter a Pink Barbie Birthday Cake when she was 6, I would have been insulted and indignant. I would have protested that the very fabric of feminism was in jeopardy and that I would not be a part of it.

I didn’t know then, what I know now. As the mom of 3 daughters who are now all young women, I know that one Pink Barbie Birthday Cake does not have the power to influence their ideas about being female as much as I might have believed. In fact, over the years, I have come to realize that there are other factors which influence the way our children view themselves in terms of gender identification that are more powerful and influential than media images and peer pressure.

1. Honest Conversation – Frankly, it can be difficult to talk with kids about gender identification in a world that spends billions of dollars a year trying to define it for us. That’s why it’s important to start the conversation with kids about the world around them when they are still young and before gender has any real meaning to them. Starting the conversation when they are young, will make it easier to navigate through the more difficult discussions that are bound to come up. Tackling issues like discrimination, exploitation, and sexism is essential if our children are to process the information being thrown at them through music, media and pop culture with some level of discernment. Allowing children to express their views, preferences and desires (without editorializing) allows our kids an opportunity to explore, accept, or discard what they are being exposed too.

Without honest conversation, children are left with either the media or their peers to help them navigate this tricky aspect of growing up. Make sure that the conversations have a “curious” tone to them. This will encourage kids to share more deeply what they think, how they feel, and how they make decisions.

2. Exposure – I believe that education and exposure go hand in hand in this area. When kids are educated about what they are being exposed too, they tend to make better decisions than when they are merely exposed to an idea or point of view and then left to interpret that information without guidance. And let’s face it, you might not bring home the Barbie Birthday Cake, but just turn on the TV or radio and your kids will be exposed to the media’s ideas of gender. Education in this area is key to keeping an open and honest conversation going for years.

Exposing kids to “real” people who may break the stereotypical molds helps give our kids a broader perspective of what it means to be male or female. As a mom, I made sure that for every lousy ad on TV depicting women or men in one kind of role, I introduced my children to “real” men and women who could offer another perspective on life. These relationships turned out to be some of the most important and influential in my kids’ lives. These individuals brought credibility and could challenge the media perspective with an authority that I didn’t necessarily have. In other words, leverage the people in your life who have challenge gender stereotyping.

3. Encouragement – We say we want our children to be their “authentic” selves and yet we limit their ability to choose because we are afraid of what they might choose. Encouraging our children to listen to their internal voice and honoring what they like and don’t like, is far more important than keeping “pink and blue” out of the equation. Encouraging self discovery allows our children to talk to us openly about how they view themselves, what their preferences are and how they want to express themselves to the outside world. Encouraging our children to decide for themselves who they are and how they choose to express that means taking a step back and trusting that our kids have the ability to wade through the crap and find essence of who they are.

4. Flexibility – As parents, staying flexible is a pre-requisite for raising children. We know that our kids will change their minds thousands of times in the course of their life. At one point your daughter wants pink, pink and more pink and a year later, she wants soccer balls and lax sticks lining the room. Your son wants baseballs, bats and helmets and two years later he is asking for oil paints and a canvas. Staying flexible and supporting our children as they discover for themselves who they are, is a sure way to support an independent, thoughtful, grounded young person who isn’t likely to be as influenced by the media or their peer group as a child who has been sheltered from all the options available to them.

The next time your son or daughter asks for a pink birthday cake, or a super hero outfit, try to look past the stereotyping and create an environment rich in opportunities for your children to discover for themselves who they choose to be.

Summertime: Easy Living?

In just a few short weeks, kids across the country will throw open the doors to their classrooms and walk out of school for the last time and into – (insert screams of delight from thousands of school kids here) summer vacation (more screams of delight).

  • Later bedtimes and lazy mornings
  • A slower pace and time to “chill
  • More spontaneity and less structure
  • Endless possibilities and oodles of time to explore
  • Forts and food fights, pool time and sunburns, crafts and bug collecting, sleep overs and camp outs
  • Time with friends and more time with friends
  • A family vacation or two or maybe even three

Sounds delicious doesn’t it?

I agree. So I was surprised to hear, over a cup of tea with a few close friends (who shall remain anonymous) what summer vacation means on the other side of the fence.

  • Bedtime battles and stalled out mornings
  • Late, late and more late – to everything
  • Too many choices and too much negotiating
  • No chores, no contributions, chaos and fighting
  • Bad food, late bedtimes, cranky kids, dirty clothes, emergency room visits
  • No time for adult “stuff” until it’s too late to enjoy adult “stuff”
  • OMG – ANOTHER bad family vacation followed by another one and maybe even another one

After we shared a few giggles, we started to talk seriously about the upcoming summer season. We realized that we were painting the worst case scenario – a scenario that none of these savvy moms would ever experience. This particular group of moms has worked hard at this parenting thing (and I have been lucky enough to watch from the sidelines as they continue to develop wonderful relationships with their kids), so the summer will indeed provide opportunities for fun, family and friends.

But for many other moms and dads out there, what could be a season of delight and memory making – will most likely be a season of stress, frustration and a countdown to September.

So here are a few tips on how to make this summer a season full of delightful memories.

  • Write down your expectations for summer and have your kids do the same thing. Do it individually so that no one is influenced by anyone else.

  • Exchange lists without commenting. This is a chance for everyone to see another perspective. This is important.
  • Together, talk about setting realistic expectations that can be met by everyone in the family.

  • Here is an example:

    Mom wants everyone to continue with their daily contributions which are to be done by 7:30 am and 5:30 pm. The kids think they should only have to do them once a week. Setting a realistic expectation about daily contributions will alleviate fights, frustration, confusion and chaos. Remember to be flexible.

  • With this information, create a Summer 2010 Road Map. First, decide as a family what you want to SAY about the summer when it’s over. In other words, create a vision for your summer before it starts. And then use your Road Map to plot a course to getting there. This may take several days or several weeks to create.
  • Post the Summer 2010 Road Map somewhere you can see it. You will use this to inspire, redirect, and remind everyone in the family what summer is all about – according to you anyway.
  • Plan a series of Family Meetings that focus on the areas of the summer that might trip you up. For instance, family vacations, how many sleep overs per week, bedtimes and morning wake-ups, technology use, etc. Create a clear set of agreements and post these as well.

This might seem like a bit of work, but think about how you prepare for any important trip you are about to take. Do you just throw some “stuff” in a bag and hope you get to the airport on time? Of course not. So don’t leave your summer up to chance. Invest a little time up front this year and enjoy each and every day of summer vacation.