Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Bluebird of Happiness

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” Most parents have probably heard their child sing that song, along with the accompanying hand motions. It’s a hard song to sing or listen to without smiling, given its up tempo beat and usually enthusiastic rendering by a child. When hearing that song, I’ll bet some of us wish happiness was as easily gained by silly lyrics and an infectious tune.

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But it’s not, is it? Happiness can sometimes be as elusive as that fabled bluebird that brings joy to its hearers. When I read about how parenting doesn’t make us happy, I wonder if we’re asking the right question. Since when does anything make us happy? Can our spouses make us happy? Can our children make us happy? Can the perfect job make us happy? Can the right haircut make us happy?

The Declaration of Independence wisely doesn’t promise us happiness, but rather strove to provide a nation in which the pursuit of happiness wouldn’t be restricted by onerous laws and curtailment of freedom. This idea that we have to be happy all the time—and if we’re not, then we need to change what we’re doing or who we’re with—is a modern invention. If you asked people a half century ago about their personal happiness, most would have scoffed at such an idea. That’s not to say people weren’t happy; they just weren’t as obsessed with whether or not they were happy as we are today.

How does that translate into parenthood? Quite simply, if we focus too much attention on being happy, we will teach our children that feeling happy is more important than being cheerful when doing our chores. We will show by our actions that personal happiness is more important than the happiness of our family as a whole. In short, we will raise kids who place more value on a transient feeling rather than a intrinsic character trait.

Talking about, worrying about, trying to grab our own happiness rather than finding contentment in whatever the situation will likely make us more unhappy than joyful. The constant stress on happiness will erode any sense of joy in the little things of life, any peace in our circumstances and any chance of obtaining long-term enjoyment of our families.

We need to teach our children that true peace and joy comes not from a feeling of happiness but from a contentment with life. That doesn’t mean we eschew finding solutions to problems or ignore obvious troubles that we should address. It does mean that we work on helping our kids see that happiness is more than clapping our hands along to a catchy tune—it’s as varied as the colors of the rainbow. True happiness comes from true satisfaction with who we are deep down inside. That’s something that’s worth pursuing.

Until next time,

If you want to read more about happiness and parenting, check out my article on Crosswalk.com, “Should Happiness Matter to Parents?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Friendless, Clueless

Maybe you were that child, the one who couldn’t seem to make friends easily, or who always said the wrong thing in a group. Maybe you have that child, the one who seems to always be at the fringe but never included fully in the gang, the one who makes social mistakes that are painful to watch.

As parents, we want our children to succeed, to be liked, to have friends and confidants, to have soaring academic and social lives. But the reality is, most of our children will stumble socially, will miss vital cues, will have friends betray them and will sometimes be the ones who hurt someone else.

Before we jump in and try to fix the problem, we should stop to consider what is our role in all of this. Is it to continue arranging play dates long past preschool? Is it to initiate parties or gatherings at our home? Or do we step back and let our children lead the way, even if there’s no leading forthcoming from our offspring?

It’s hard to know the right thing to do when it comes to our children finding their way in friendships and society, but here are a few guidelines that will help us not overstep too much into their world.
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Push, but back off. Children do need a gentle nudge in the right direction, a reminder that they should pick up the phone and call a friend sometimes rather than waiting for someone to call them. But after making suggestions from time to time, we also need to wait and let our child figure out what’s best for him. He might spend some lonely time because he didn’t want to call, but then again, he might discover his inner social butterfly and take off into the social stratosphere. You won’t know this—and he won’t, either—unless you give him the space to figure it out.

Listen, then suggest. It’s hard sometimes to just hear what our kids are saying, and it’s doubly hard when you can see a solution to their problem. Yet, there are times to suggest how they can change things and times to listen—this is especially true when it comes to friend troubles. Learn to listen first, then make a suggestion. Sometimes, it’s best to ask leading questions so that the child will come to a solution on her own.

Empathize but don’t dramatize. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the drama of the incident, especially related to friendships. But while we need to let our children know we feel their pain, we also don’t want to feed the drama machine and turn encounters into bigger mountains than warranted. In other words, be empathetic without overly encouraging complaining. It’s not healthy for a child to dwell too long on an incident, either, so help him move on if he gets stuck on repeating it over and over again.

Overall, we need to remember that we can’t be our children’s social directors and we can’t make friends for them. Some of our children will be very popular with other kids at various times in their lives, while others will muddle through with only a handful of friends. Our main concern is helping our children be friend material by honing the characteristics that make a good friend: helpful, honest, loyal, steadfast, empathetic. Also reminding our children to reach out to others who might not be perceived as great friend material—the loners, the outcasts, the “others.” Being a friend to the popular student is easy; being a friend to the newcomer is harder.

As parents, our goal shouldn’t be to help our kids become popular, to have lots of friends, to fit in with the “right” crowd. Rather, we should focus instead on helping our children be a friend to those who need one, to show kindness even in the face of derision, to stand up for the weak. That might not get them elected to student council or homecoming court, but it will develop their character into men and women of integrity.

Until next time,

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Is There Such a Thing As Too Much Attending?

There’s the mom who is never absent from any activity or party for her child’s class. The dad who never misses a soccer game or practice. The mother who volunteers so much at her child’s school that she knows every teacher by name.

When I was a kid, my mom came to a few school-related events, but not every one, despite her not having an outside job. My parents sat in the stands for only a handful of home basketball games during my three-year tenure on the high school team. Most other kids I knew had parents who showed up at some, but definitely far from all, sports games, school events and class parties.
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I’m probably going to step on some toes when I say that was a good thing—for both the parents and the children. Did I really need my mother there at every single thing I did? No, and frankly, I didn’t want her there all the time. Did I need her there some of the time? Yes, and for the big ones, like school plays, she attended to cheer me on (but not every performance!). Most of my friends felt the same way. It was actually nice to come home to tell my mom about the basket I made at a game she didn’t see, or how the class party went with which she didn’t help.

We’ve become parents who think if we miss any event, no matter how small, related to our children that we must be a Bad Mother or Terrible Father. But I posit that it’s healthier when you give your kids some space to experience those things on their own. It helps children formulate their own identities separate from their parents—and also gives them the chance to form their own narrative of the event in question. If Mom attended the party, she knows what happened—and Junior can’t leave out potentially embarrassing facts.

For parents, not showing up at every activity possible helps us separate our lives from our children’s—and assists with the growing up process. We should have lives outside of our children, and at times, that outside life must take precedence over a child’s event or game.

So I encourage you to not automatically say yes to attending all activities, but pick some that you enjoy and leave others for your children to enjoy solo. I think you’ll find a happier medium when both of you learn to give the other more breathing room.

Until next time,


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

In the Principal's Office

Today, the assistant principal at my children's elementary school called to tell me that one of my children had been involved in a lunch room incident, one that involved spitting and a plastic knife "attack." It's never pleasant to hear that your child has done something that merits lunch detention and a call to you, but I must admit to not being totally surprised, either. After all, children--even relatively good kids--can, on any given day, do something bad, sometimes more than once a day (or more than once an hour).

What I don't want to do is overreact in either direction on the scale--totally believing that my child was wrongly accused or totally believing that my child is destined for the Big House when he or she grows up. We're taking a middle ground approach--that these types of things happen sometimes, that we support the school in its consequences for both children involved, and that we reinforce at home that the child needs to learn how to walk away from similar incidents. 

How can you keep your cool and still parent effectively in similar situations? Here are some thoughts on what you should--and shouldn't--do.
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Stay calm. When hearing about our child's involvement with misbehavior, our initial reaction is to grill the teller. But it would be better for all concerned if we just listened first as calmly as possible. 

Believe the adult. We have become a nation of parents who automatically take our children's word over that of an adult, such as teachers, principals, coaches, etc. Half a century ago, parents knew that their children would--and could--lie, that their precious little ones would shade the truth so that they came out smelling like roses. We need to believe that the adult in question is telling us the truth, no matter how hard it is to hear about our child and his behavior.

Focus on facts, not whys. Kids misbehave for a variety of reasons, many of which make no sense to us as adults. We often spend more time trying to ferret out the whys of misbehavior rather than keeping our eyes on the facts of what happened. The whys don't negate the facts, and, frankly, understanding why our child did what she did won't make us better equipped to handle future problems.

Reinforce school discipline. It used to be that when a child received consequences at school for something that happened there, he also got punished at home. Today, we are uncomfortable with that double-whammy approach. What we're missing is the opportunity to make an impression on our children that such behavior will cause discomfort at school AND at home. Firing both barrels, so to speak, should help our kids think twice before engaging in similar behavior at school--and at home.

Talk about the incident. Finally, after the dust has settled, chat with your child about what she could have done differently in the situation to avoid getting into trouble. Help her think through thing she do in the future, such as count to 10 when she feels herself getting angry, walking away from the situation, or alerting a teacher to a small problem before it becomes a bigger one. Don't lecture overmuch, but enlist the child in the discussion, allowing her to provide solutions and guiding her on how to pick a good one for the next time.

Above all, remember that your children will likely provide ample opportunities for you to put these ideas into practice.

Until next time,

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Parents

Do you want to have a calmer, happier child-raising experience? Then you need to develop the habits of an effective parent. These commonsense principles can transform your parenting from ineffective to less stressful.

Here are the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Parents.
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The first habit is to know that the child raises the child. As a parent, you have a roll to play—an important one—but you have to realize in the end, you are only guiding and advising your child. You cannot make your child’s heart change. You cannot make your child obey. You cannot make your child grow up to be whoever you think he should become. This is why children from good homes can turn out badly, while children from horrible homes can turn out well.

The second habit is to realize there’s no magic bullet when it comes to consequences. The fact of the matter is that as long as you do something on a consistent basis, it doesn’t matter what the punishment is. For some kids, timeout works wonders, but for others, timeout doesn’t. Parents often rush around doling out one consequence after another in the hopes that one will “work” and correct a child’s behavior. But the first habit points out the futility in that. We need to do something, and keep doing something, but the “something” can change from child to child or from misbehavior to misbehavior. Changing it up in discipline keeps your kids on their toes, too.

The third habit is to raise kids with family and community in mind. For whom are you raising your kids? Yourself or others? Several generations ago, it was a given that children were raised for others, not just for the family or parents. That understanding meant that parents in the community looked out for each other’s kids, giving a corrective word when needed and a pat on the back when deserved. Parents drilled manners and respect for others so that their children knew how to behave around neighbors, friends and the community at large. Children knew their proper place in that community and thrived there.

The fourth habit is to remember that child rearing is not any harder than other life experiences. Let’s face it—we have become a nation of parenting wimps. It seems everyone is engaged in a game of one-upmanship when it comes to parenting stories. Yes, some stages of parenting is harder physically than others, while other times, it’s mentally draining. But in reality, parenting seems harder because we make it harder by over-scheduling, over-committing, overdoing it with our kids. It doesn’t have to be like that, and we can take a step back and have simpler lives that puts child-rearing in its proper place.

The fifth habit is to have a full life outside of your children. When was the last time you had a date with your husband that didn’t involve talking about your kids for the whole time? When was the last time you picked up a hobby or did something only for yourself? If we as parents don’t take the time to have a rich, full life outside of caring for our children, we run the risk of losing ourselves. One day, these precious ones will be grown and living their own lives—and that’s a wonderful thing! When that day comes, don’t be the mom or dad with a totally empty life.

The sixth habit is to be the leaders, not the followers, in the family. Yes, your children want to be in charge, but resist the urge and step up to the plate. Lead, and your children will follow. Give directions clearly and concisely.

The seventh habit is to enjoy your kids. When was the last time you laughed with your kids? Really had a good time when out with the family? Parents who are effective enjoy spending time with their children. Overall, they like having their kids around, even if they are not doing something together. They find pleasure in surprising their children. They don’t feel stressed all the time with raising kids—they actually enjoy their children.

By following these 7 habits of highly effective parents, you should have a relaxing, relatively calm child-rearing experience.

Until next time,
Content Sarah Hamaker
Photo of Sarah, Copyright Donna Hamaker
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