Monday, October 13, 2014

Parents: Just Wait

What is the most neglected, dusty, underutilized tool in your parental toolbox? The weirdly-sized hex wrench of parenting, as it were? It is this, parents: Wait.

How can I get my baby to sleep through the night / stop spitting up / stop crying all the time? Wait.

How can I get my toddler to use the potty / stop screaming / put on her shoes / stay in bed / stop hitting me / stop hitting his siblings / stop hitting everyone? Wait.

How can I get my preschooler to dress himself / clean up her toys / use a freaking tissue / share anything,  for the love of God / use the potty, I can’t believe we are still working on this, you cannot be serious. . . ? Wait.

How can I get my school-age kid or teenager to do his homework / clean his room / bathe once in a while / notice what needs to be done around here / get rid of all this junk, this place is a pigsty / stop freaking out!!! / take some responsibility / show some motivation, why are you like a floppy mattress I have to tie to the back of my truck and bodily drag through the streets / I dunno, possibly maybe think about a calendar . . . or write something down, how about that. . . ?

Just . . . wait.

I’m not saying to fall asleep at the wheel.  It’s our job to nurture and teach our kids, to give them opportunities to grow and develop.  But there can be a lot of nervous energy that goes into trying to make them “grow faster” . . .  sleepless parental nights spent projecting today’s missing homework into a lifetime of ne’er-do-well unemployment . . .  today’s wet bed into a lifetime of lonely incontinence.  I’ve often felt as a parent that I couldn’t wait one minute longer for XYZ milestone to occur.  When that happens, I’ve tried to pedal faster and faster-- try harder and harder to get my child to grow up, dangit. 

What my smarter self is saying, though, is that developmental emergencies rarely exist. When you’ve given it the old college try and you child’s just not budging, chances are good that your child is just not ready.  Trying to speed things up is like pushing a river.  In fact, our frantic efforts can be worse than futile if they make our kids see growth as something to fight with us about instead of what it really is: the triumphant development of their human spirits.  Growing up is your child’s job to do, with your guidance, on his or her own fiercely defended timetable.  And when they feel like they “leveled up” all by themselves, that’s the sweetest feeling of all.

So, don’t be afraid to wait. After you’ve tried the hammer and the saw, after you’ve borrowed the drill press from the neighbors, when you’re sitting in pile of sawdust with a whole lot of mess still in front of you, pull out that weirdly-sized hex wrench from your parenting toolbox, clasp it hopefully in your hand, and just wait.

Chances are excellent that your kids will develop in their own,  good, maddening, but ultimately inspiring time. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Real Parent: Helping Your Child Listen

What’s the most frustrating thing in the world? 

Ask parents of young children, and they’ll probably say a kid who won’t listen. The kid is running ahead of the group. The kid wants to learn to throw a Frisbee, yet won’t take instruction. You told him five times already to stop bothering his brother, yet he is still doing it. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially when you’re already tired from just the normal round of caring for your child’s needs.

Oftentimes, when a kid is “not listening,” it’s because he or she doesn’t understand on some level what is wanted. This can explain why some kids behave well at school but poorly at home.  Teachers, camp counselors, and others who handle large groups of kids are experts at defining the exact behavior they want. You can bring some of their techniques into your parenting to get better listening at home. Here are tips to improve “listening” and good behavior:

·         No speeches. Avoid giving lectures or yelling. Don’t rail against your child or the universe; don’t ask “why” he isn’t listening (think your kid knows a good answer?)  It just doesn’t do anything except further overwhelm your kid.

·         Give instructions.  Tell your child what you want her to do. Instead of “Why are you running ahead??!”, say, “Sit on those steps until we catch up.” 

·         Be concrete, quantifiable, and clear.  Use concrete terms kids can relate to. For example, rather than, “Hurry up!,” say, “Put on your shoes now.” Rather than “Pay attention!,” say, “Watch the ball until you catch it.” Use numbers (“Eat three bites.”) If you wouldn’t say it in a game of Simon Says, it’s probably not clear enough for a child to obey.

·         Remember, a lot of times the “task” is emotional. Pretty often, what you really need your child to do is calm down or slow down. Give clear instruction for this too.  For example, if your child has been pulled out of a setting for misbehaving and is crying, say, “You can go back in a few minutes after you calm down.”  Then show him how (“Take five slow calm breaths,”  “Close your eyes and count to five,” “Let’s go get a tissue and a drink of water,” “If you say sorry and hug me, that will help.”)  Start teaching simple, concrete tools for calming down and slowing down.  

·         Show the path to Goodness. Give your child actionable instructions in how to be good within a situation. Instead of “Stop poking your sister! Can’t you hear her screaming? What is wrong with you?” say, “Stop it means stop it; that’s respect. We stop every time. Move away.”

More often than we think, kids don’t even know exactly why we’re mad at them or what we want instead. Short, simple, concrete and directive coaching will help your kids ”listen” better and behave better as well.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Raising a Winner?

It’s an interesting thing, going to the gym on a Saturday to run on a treadmill.  You are pretty much at the mercy of whatever TV show is on when you happen to go there. 

A couple weeks ago, I watched a soundless infomercial and ended up with a vacuum / steam mop that, shockingly, did not fulfill my dreams of a device that could dispose of Cheerios, whole grapes and a pint of spilled Hershey’s syrup in one handy step.

This week, I watched a show that that was possibly even more manipulative: Young Sports Stars of Tomorrow.  On this one, you get to see all kinds of teenage sports wunderkinds. All well and good– I love me a good champion story.  But guess who takes up more than half the screen time on this show? That’s right, the parents. They’re interviewed about how they produced this prodigy and both the moms and dads have plenty to say.

Just in case you were writing yourself a free pass by thinking, “Well, God didn’t give me much to work with in the sports department, given my kid’s lack of coordination and being in the third percentile on height and all,” along comes the next show, Young Icons. It’s the exact same show, except on this one, the kids are entrepreneurs!  And yup, there are the parents again explaining how they raised this superstar.

I tell ya, it took the wind right out of my 4.7-mph-run-pace sails. And really, aren’t we parents bombarded all the time with this? We have Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Training a Tiger: A Father’s Guide to Raising a Winner.  A big part of me is saying, “Thanks, man. Thanks for completely wrecking the parenting curve.”  But another part of me is staging a massive revolution against the whole “raising a winner” concept. Whenever I get sucked into this dynamic, I have to ask a few questions:

  • Raising a winner at what, exactly?  Is excelling in this area your child’s dream, or yours?
  • Is your child a puppet and you pull the strings?  Who owns the credit here, you or your kid?
  • Just how involved is your ego here? Is this about you?
  • Do you seriously think that it’s your parenting that makes all the difference, and not your kid’s own innate talent, motivation and hard work?
Am I raising winners? I hope not, because children are not rosebushes or prize pumpkins. They are people.  What I hope I’m doing is raising children I am proud of.  I hope they are pursuing their own dreams, not mine.  I hope I’m seeing what they love to do and clearing the path. When they’re conspicuously successful, I hope they own every bit of that success. I want to just stand there and say, “They did that. Good for them!”  When success looks like a 4.7-mph run pace instead of winning the Olympics, I hope I am just as proud. 

Raising a winner? No thanks. Raising self-directed, authentic, and independent human beings who own their own successes and failures is good enough for me.