Thursday, July 24, 2014

Parenting Basics: The Look

Grandma was right! There is an easy way and a hard way to raise kids. By and large, today’s parents are choosing the hard way. This series of blogs will tackle familiar phrases that used to be commonplace but fell out of favor during the last few decades of the 20th century—and why parents should not be afraid to follow the sentiment expressed in the phrases.

I well remember “The Look” my mother would give when one of us was not behaving ourselves as we should. It’s hard to describe, but once you saw it, you knew trouble would follow unless you straightened up.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/

Have you cultivated such a look? I think that many of today’s parents can’t summon such a look anymore than their children would obey it. A few reasons why come to mind.

First, many of today’s parents are too busy trying to keep up with everything to notice when a child’s behavior is about to veer into misbehaving territory. That’s really what The Look is all about—assessing the near-danger and correcting it.

Second, many parents have chucked such old fashioned parenting skills as The Look in favor of more kid-friendly, warm-and-fuzzy methods that often involve more concern about a child’s feelings than is good for the child. To them, The Look belongs in a museum along with other parental advice relicts discussed in my Parenting Basics blogs.

Third, many parents haven’t laid the proper foundation of saying what they mean and meaning what they say, so having a Look won’t do them any good—the children simply wouldn’t obey anyway.

But from personal experience, having The Look comes in handy in so many ways. It allows you to not interrupt your conversation with grownups to address a potential dustup with your child. Just shoot Joy The Look when she’s about to start turning cartwheels in the middle of the living room, and nine times out of 10, you’ve nipped misbehavior in the bud.

The Look gives you another “weapon” in your parenting arsenal. (I use “weapon” tongue in cheek!) I’ve found The Look to be an effective means of body checking a child when words probably wouldn’t be as effective.

The Look also provides a child with the means to correct his behavior before it edges into consequence territory. It’s actually more compassionate to develop The Look because of its ability to curb misbehavior in its infancy. The Look also eliminates the need for speech, thus cutting down on others overhearing your admonishments.

I encourage you to develop your own Look. One cautionary note: The Look only works when your children know that you will follow up with appropriate discipline if it’s not heeded. Otherwise, it will only become a funny face Mom makes.

Until next time,


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Not That Mom

From the day our eldest arrived in this world, I’ve slowly come to realize I was out of synch with the majority of today’s mothers. It took a few years, but now I’m okay with that. What do I mean by this?

I’m not the Mom who carries around a first aid kit in her purse (although I do have one in the car now). Instead, I was the Mom who arrived at a free, local children’s performance with three kids in tow, one of which had fallen and scraped her knee at the entrance to the building. While I had things under control—it was a little scrap with a tiny bit of blood—and my daughter was calming down, literally three other moms offered Band-Aids (in cartoon characters, naturally!), to me for my daughter.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/
I’m not the Mom who plays with her children every day, or even every week. Sure, we do things together, and we have family game time once a week. But I don’t feel any compulsion to play with my kids on a regular basis. (See my article, “Playing With Your Children Can Be More Than Fun and Games” for more on this topic.)

I’m not the Mom who feels guilty for saying to a child, “Go away, you’re bothering me.” I know that kids need to entertain themselves, and that it’s okay for them to realize that I have my own duties and chores to attend.

I’m not the Mom whose whole world revolves around my children. Don’t get me wrong—I love my children!—but I also love my husband. And I enjoy my hobbies and outside interests, too.

I’m not the Mom who wants to be overly involved in my child’s schooling. That’s their calling to be good, diligent students. It’s not mine to oversee their homework, to remind them of project deadlines, or to bring forgotten items to school.

I’m not the Mom who cares overmuch what others think of my parenting. I’m more focused on how my parenting is impacting my children—not whether other parents think of my methods or philosophy.

I’m not the Mom who focuses on the short term. I’m more concerned with what my child will be at age 30 than whether or not he’ll make the traveling soccer team. I nip behavior in the bud to avoid dealing with a bigger problem down the road.

I’m not the Mom who takes children way to seriously. Raising kids should be taken seriously, but kids themselves? Nah, they’re way to silly and illogical to be taken with more than a grain of salt.

What kind of Mom are you?

Until next time,


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Chatterboxes and Silence

“Are witches real?” asked my six-year-old from his car seat recently while we were running errands. My response led to a series of questions that lasted several long minutes before I gently said I wasn’t going to answer any other questions for now.

Have you given yourself the freedom to tell your children no more questions or that you weren’t going to talk to them for a bit? Most parents today think that it’s their obligation to answer every question and respond to each comment their child utters. We’re encouraged from all fronts to pay close attention to what our children say and to always, always, always reply to their queries.

The underlying premise behind this is to feed and nurture a child’s natural curiosity with the world around him, especially at a young age. But answering—often in great detail—every question asked of you by your child isn’t the best thing for him. Nor is engaging in conversation with your child each time he wants to talk to you.

Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young

Why should you curtail your interaction with your child sometimes? I’ll give you four sound reasons.

1. Because your child shouldn’t monopolize all conversations. By answering each question your child makes, you are essentially giving control of many conversations to him, thus putting the child in the center of the family’s communications. He shouldn’t be allowed to speak and have everyone drop what they’re doing to listen—that’s a recipe for raising a brat.

2. Because your child doesn’t always need to know the answer from you. Yes, you want to impart knowledge about why cats meow or birds sing, but really, do you need to right now? Can’t he wait until school to learn the phases of the moon? Less you think this sounds harsh, I think there are some things in life that a child should ponder, should wonder about. Having you be his personal Google eliminates the element of surprise and figuring out things for himself.

3. Because you have other things to do. It’s okay that you need to use your brain to think about something other than why grass is green—and a child should realize that just because he wants an instant answer, sometimes he has to wait. When I need to think about the errands we’re running or tonight’s dinner or a tricky problem I’m working out, I have no problem putting a halt to the questions. Your time isn’t their time—it’s yours. More parents need to realize that they can reclaim time for themselves.

4. Because it’s not all about the child. Again, this points to the fact that parents are so terrified of doing the wrong thing—that not responding will cause the child to never ask another question—that they overcompensate by paying too much attention to the child. Naturally, all that attention makes the child think it’s all about him.

Strike a good balance between encouraging curiosity and helping children develop patience and the ability to figure things out on their own. I often point my older kids to a set of Encyclopedias when they have questions about how things work or where a certain city is located. Sure, I might know the answer, but that’s for me to know, and for them to find out.

Until next time,


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Risks of Playing Outside

Many of today's parents had childhoods where they spent loads of time outdoors--in local parks, riding bikes around the neighborhood and to the nearby convenience store, in the front and back yards of friends--all without much adult supervision. I well remember hitting the screen door and bursting into the outside, racing down the street to see which friends were available for play and then not coming home until moms began to call us back for lunch. Afternoons and evenings after supper were spent much the same way. The only rules my mom imposed where not to go inside someone's house and to let her know if we left the neighborhood. Otherwise, I played in the ditch with friends (sounds strange, but it was a wonderful mini-eco system with water running through it, very fun stuff as a kid!), rode bikes all over the place, and generally had a lovely time.

Image courtesy of Simon Howden/
That's the kind of world I want my children to grow up in--a world to be explored, not feared. A world that has its moderate dangers (there is more traffic in our neighborhood than my parents') but still a world that's welcoming more than scary. And crime statistics back this up, with the U.S. Department of Justice reporting that of the 800,000 children reported "missing" in this country annually, only 115 are the result of strange abductions. Around 90% of abductees are back home within a day, with the vast majority being teenage runaways. That stranger abduction number hasn't increased in recent years, either.

In other words, America today is as safe a place for our kids to roam around as it was when today's parents were children. What's changed is the perception of that safety. Now, I'm more concerned with what other parents will do if they see my children out by themselves. I've had neighbors call me to let me know my kids were walking to the library by themselves (to which I always thank them for their concern and watching out for my kids; I'd much rather they call me than the police!). I've had friends report unknown moms following their children home to "ensure they arrived safely from the bus stop up the block."

Now there comes this story about a mother arrested for letting her 9-year-old daughter play in a local park alone, armed with a cell phone and in a populated place, while she worked at McDonald's. Another mother noticed the girl at the park two days in a row and asked her where her mother was. The answer sent this mom calling the police, who came and took the girl into child protective services and jailed the mom.

This is the type of over-reaction that's so typical of parents today, especially mothers, who see boogeymen behind every tree and danger around every corner. These mothers so want to protect their children, that they hover over them, direct their play, keep them indoors or supervise their play way too closely outdoors.

That's the risk I run every time I shoo my kids outside to play by themselves--that some well-meaning but misguided mom will freak out and, instead of simply keeping an eye on the kids, call the cops. I don't worry about cuts or broken limbs from falls or skids; I worry about other parents making a poor judgment call about my children's safety.

Maybe one day, the pendulum will swing back in the direction of commonsense and our kids will be left to play in peace. Until that day, I will still send out my children into the big, wide world without my direct supervision and hope that others will not see danger where none is found.

Until next time,

Thursday, July 10, 2014

So You Want a Disobedient Child

Many parents today have expressed, by their words and actions, their deep desire to have a child who disobeys. After all, such a child is a joy and credit to any parent! If you have want your child to become disobedient, then follow these tried-and-true methods. When you do, little Johnny or darling Suzie will be the most disobedient children you’ve ever seen.

First, don’t mean what you say. If you tell a child once to do something, and he doesn’t do it, then repeat yourself until you give up. This way, you will seem like you are being a good parent but really teach your children not to heed your words.

Second, ignore wrongdoing. If you see your children hit another child, run around in a restaurant or other misbehaviors, simply turn the other way and pretend you see nothing. This teaches your children that they can get away with anything. So let them run wild in a restaurant or climb over the “do not pass” rope in the museum. The more you turn your back on childish misbehavior, the more disobedient your child will become.

Third, be inconsistent with discipline. Instead of nipping misbehavior when you see the first inkling, you let it slide until you can’t take it any longer. Then yell at the kids and the whole cycle begins anew.

Fourth, feel guilty about hurting their feelings. Whenever your parenting decisions triggers tears and pleas, reverse yourself immediately. This way, you’ll make sure your child will know that you can be convinced to change your mind. That’s key to a helping your child become a disobedient one.

I’m sure you can probably think of more ways to help your child be disobedient, but these will put you on the right path. Of course, if you want an obedient child, simply flip these suggestions 180 degrees and follow those precepts.

Until next time,

Content Sarah Hamaker
Photo of Sarah, Copyright Donna Hamaker
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