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.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Are Your Kids' Pants on Fire?

Are your kid’s pants on fire?  Well, yeah, probably.  We all lie to our parents throughout childhood. Then, when we get to be adults, we switch over to lying to ourselves.  To me, lying and immaturity are almost the same thing, so it’s no wonder that kids lie. Nothing to get shocked and appalled over.

Our job as parents, though, is to try to build that maturity to take the place of the lying – and produce an adult with a strong, straight-talking, no-BS conscience.  Here are some stock scripts to use for different kinds of lies:

·         That sure would be funny /weird if that happened.  This script is a gentle response to the Storytelling Lie, for when you are pretty sure that your kid’s friend does not in fact have a parrot that dresses as a pirate and came to soccer once and scored three goals.  This kind of “lie” is a childish way to solve the problem of “I want to be included in this conversation.”  Acknowledge the desire to connect and either steer the conversation into reality, or just go with imagination and think of other hilarious things that “could” happen at a soccer game.  You want to teach the line between real and imaginary that marks adult conversation without killing the imagination.

·         Are you saying you wish that didn’t happen?  The I Screwed Up Lie, for example, your kid ate all the cookies or broke the lamp, is super common. Kids lie because they lack problem-solving skills to repair mistakes.  They really do have the wish that the situation would just go away and the easiest route that occurs to them is to deny everything or to blame someone else.  Use this to lead into a conversation about why they wish the lamp hadn’t broken, and what they can do besides wishing to make things right. 

·         Are you really saying “get off my back”?  The Go Away Lie is often absurdly transparent. It’s a way to get your kids to be straight with you (and themselves) about whether they are meeting their obligations for homework or chores. Use it as an entrĂ©e to a problem-solving process of how they’re planning to self-manage the task. In general, lying about homework means that the child can’t solve one or both of the following problems: how to do the homework, or how to get you to stop micromanaging them. Working on those problems together builds honesty, self-honesty, and time-management skills.

·         Is it time to come clean here?  Sometimes kids get trapped in an Elaborate and Deceptive Lie, for example, a teen lying about where they were last night.  They don’t have any idea how to escape. Asking if it’s time to come clean gives them that script to begin to repair the relationship with you.  After that, you can have the conversation about why lying seemed like the right solution, whether they are lying only to you or also to themselves about the wisdom of their choices, and what a more mature approach would be.   That might look like “Comply with the rules even though I don’t agree with them,” “Ask for five minutes to present my case why the rules should change,” or “Be more honest with myself about whether my choices are wise or healthy.”  With teens especially, you’re teaching them to “come clean” with themselves as much as with you. All too soon, they will be the only ones who can call BS on their lies.

Kids lie because they lack problem-solving skills. Instead of focusing on the “lie as lie,” use it to teach the kind of mature problem-solving that doesn’t require lying to yourself or to others.  If successful, at least your adult children won’t suffer from “pants on fire.”