Tuesday, September 2, 2014

School Expectations Equals Happy/Unhappy Parenthood

With school now begun all over the country, parents are gearing up for another round of “My student must excel.” This goes beyond the desire all of us have to see our children do the best they can with the skills and abilities God has given them. Many parents are sure that if they just help their child to succeed in school (elementary to high school), their child will attend the right college and find the right job.

However, the “right” college degree that doesn’t guarantee the “right” job. Today’s sad truth is that more Millennials—the current generation of college graduates—are living at home with pricey college degrees without work entirely or without a job in their chosen field of study.

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In a Washington Post opinion piece published this summer, Robert J. Samuelson wrote about this newish phenomenon of graduates, but his focus was on how the parents of these Milliennials felt about having their sons and daughters boomeranging home after graduating from university. He wrote about how baffled these parents are, especially given that “as parents, our sense of self-worth depends heavily on the success and happiness of our children.”

The problem with that mindset, that our parental self-worth is closely tied to our children’s success and happiness, is that it doesn’t make anyone happy or successful. That sense that our self-worth as parents depends on the success of our children drives our parenting decisions of today. But what many parents miss is that tie-in makes it more about the parent than the child, more about appearances than about character, more about the superficial than the ever-lasting.

The expectations we place on children from kindergarten (my child must be reading before entering kindergarten or he’ll be behind!) to high school (my child must take advanced classes or she’ll not get into the college she wants to attend!) form the basis for our own parental happiness and our children’s success, or so we think. What I would posit is that we need to return to a time not so long ago when parents realized that school success—or lack of success—wasn’t a reflection of their parenting but a picture of how their children choose to use the gifts and abilities they have. Some kids will squander their talents while others will soar to the heights. Most will scamper along in the middle, which should be perfectly acceptable to us and to them as long as they are not sliding along but doing their best.

So let’s all scale back on our scholastic expectations for our children and become more relaxed about the beginning of the school year. By not acting like the world will collapse if our children are not at the top of their class or taking all the accelerated courses possible, all of us should enjoy the academic year a lot more—and possibly have more fun, too.

Until next time,


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Irrational Teen

Q: My 13-year-old son is a straight A student and well-liked at school, but lately, his reasoning has become more irrational. He’ll say he’s cleaning his room, but I’ll find him organizing his DVDs while wet towels and dirty clothes are on the floor. He’ll also lie about brushing his teeth and has started to take really long showers. I know I’m probably controlling more than I should but how do I give freedom when I don’t trust his judgment?

A: I’m a bit amazed that it’s taken you 13 years to figure out that children are illogical beings. The way their brain works is unlike our adult ones, and therefore they do weird stuff for strange reasons. A budding teen is no different in that regard, and you shouldn’t expect him to suddenly develop a logical thought process.

But you’re right in that you need to start taking steps away from micromanaging to a more mentor-type relationship. You start by stop checking up on his teeth brushing—isn’t he old enough to know he needs to brush his teeth? He’ll suffer the consequences of bad breath and dingy teeth, which will probably mean he’ll start brushing with a vengeance to be more attractive to his peers.

You also outline clearly, if you haven’t already, what you mean by a clean room and other chores. Put a time limit on when chores need to be completed to your satisfaction, such as the lawn has to be mowed each Saturday by noon. That eliminates the need for you to ride herd on him as he does the task—either it’s finished as expected or it’s not. If he wants to spend six hours organizing his DVDs, let him—as long as the rest of the room is neat and clean when you expect it.

For more on making this vital transition during the teen years, I highly recommend John Rosemond’s Teen Proofing, which provides a very good outline of how to stop micromanaging and start shifting to a mentor stage with your teen.

Email Sarah if you have a parenting question you would like to see answered on this blog.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Truth About Strangers

If there's one thing that's been drilled into my children from school safety lessons is that talking to strangers is about the worst possible thing they can do. In our quest to make our children "safer," we've essentially cut off our nose to spite our face with this bit of nonsense.

Telling our kids not to talk to strangers can make them afraid of everyone they meet--and instill in them that the world is indeed a scary place. It turns our children into unfriendly people who daren’t say hello to a grownup they don’t know. I’ve had to remind my children in all kinds of places that to reply to a compliment or comment from an unknown adult is okay, that it doesn’t hurt anyone to talk, especially when I’m standing right beside them.

Image courtesy of fotographic1980/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Talking never hurt anyone, and I think our fear of our kids talking to strangers stems from the fact that we think a conversation will draw our children into a situation that isn’t safe. So to stop that potential scenario from happening, we decide to nix all talking to people they don’t know.

But that can backfire because the fact of the matter is, most strangers are perfectly fine and nice people, willing to lend a hand if needed and definitely not about to do something mean or dangerous to our children.

Instead of telling our children not to talk to strangers, we should instead tell them the following info:

1.     Your father and I would never send a stranger to pick you up, no exceptions ever. Designate a few grownups that you would send, such as relatives or close friends. Tell your kids who those people would be. For example, someone from our church that our kids know well is on the school emergency call list. I remind my children each school year that she has my permission to pick them up from school in case of an emergency.
2.     You are never to go anywhere, even down the street, with a stranger or other grownup, without our permission. If an adult asks—even a neighbor or family friend—make sure your child knows to come ask you first.
3.     You should never get into any vehicle with a stranger or grownup without our permission.
4.     If a stranger or other adult tries to grab you, you should scream as loud as you can and run away. That is not the time to worry about appearances—instill in your kids that you want them to yell and run in that situation.
5.     If they feel uncomfortable, it’s okay for them to simply leave the grownup’s presence and tell us immediately what happened. Yes, we want our children to be polite, but we also want them to learn to heed their instinct when it comes to their comfort level.
6.     Have them memorize their phone number and address. Review that info with them regularly.

Role play these various scenarios with your children until they are comfortable with those situations. Remind your children that the chances of something bad happening to them are very slim, but it’s good to be prepared. Also remind them that most grownups, even strangers, are nice people with no intention of harming them.

This type of preparation will help your children be better prepared to face life’s unexpected circumstances while also empowering them with the tools they need to interact with the world in general. Let’s stop telling our children that everyone we don’t know is a potential danger, and instead start equipping them with how to meet real danger if they encounter it.

Until next time,

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Barking Kids

Q: My 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son constantly argue and pick at each other. This has been going on for several months now! I do my best to leave them alone to work it out themselves, but the constant bickering is driving me crazy. What can I do to stop the sniping?

A: Read my book on sibling rivalry! Sorry, couldn’t resist a shameless plug (Ending Sibling Rivalry comes out in October).

Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Now on to your question. When you have sibling conflict in your house, it can feel nonstop at times. With school out, it might be a matter of too much togetherness. There’s a reason the old adage, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” is true.

Give your kids some time apart and that should help to alleviate the discord. Set time during the morning and afternoon when the children play separately for a half hour or so. Set a timer if you have to, but make sure they are in different areas of the house, or one inside, one outside.

Bickering has probably become a habit, so they might still do a lot of it when together, even if they’re not really fighting. Try the Ticket system to cut down on this. Give them three tickets together each day. Every time they bicker (and define clearly what you mean), they lose a ticket. When all tickets are gone, they spend the rest of the day in their rooms and go to bed directly after supper. It takes two to snipe, so both should receive the same punishment.

The combination of separating the kids and implementing a joint ticket system should lower the bickering in your household. You won’t eliminate it entirely because kids aren’t perfect, but you should be able to help them break the habit of the way they intereact.

Email Sarah if you have a parenting question you would like to see answered on this blog.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Babification of Our Children

One of the outcomes of an overprotective parenting style is that we keep our kids in an infantile state for longer and longer. Don’t believe me? Consider these examples.

  • In the late 1950s, nearly every child (92%) were potty trained by the age of 18 months. Today, a mere 4% of 2-year-olds are toilet trained and 60% of 3-year-olds are not in diapers.
  • Last century, mothers tossed the pacifiers around age 1. Now, it’s not uncommon to see toddlers walking around with binkies stuck in their mouths.
  • The rise of sippy cups have delayed the time when toddlers learned to drink from an open cup. Mothers used to transition their babies from bottle to cup around a year or so. Today, it’s not unusual to see preschoolers touting around sippy cups.
  • Children ride in strollers a lot longer, too.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/

These are just some ways in which we parents are conspiring to keep our children as baby-like as possible. We also underestimate how much our children are capable of doing on their own. Chores are a great example of this. A few years ago, when I posted on this blog a list of chores my kids did, the responses ranged from disbelief to amazement.

The thing we tend to forget is that our children aren’t going to walk as far as we do, drink from an open cup without spilling sometimes, or console themselves perfectly. Children are not miniature adults—they are unformed adults. As they are in the process of becoming adults, they are going to make mistakes and have to learn how to do things, from feeding themselves to tying their shoes to washing clothes.

What we need to remember is that they can do a lot more than we think—and to give them the chance to make mistakes while they acquire the skills needed as adults. It’s much better to expect too much of our children than to expect too little.

I’m often pleasantly surprised at what my kids can do for themselves. It’s usually more than I thought. Sure, things might get messy, but nobody promised you a pristine house or perfect children.

So let’s all work together to stop babying our kids. You can start by upping their chores and responsibilities. I think you’ll be amazed at what your kids can do—and how grownup they’ll feel when they do it on their own.

Until next time,

Content Sarah Hamaker
Photo of Sarah, Copyright Donna Hamaker
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