Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bully or Boyish Behavior?

Q: Our nearly 9-year-old boy has been having trouble with one of the boys in his Sunday school class. This particular boy simply won’t keep his hands to himself, always touching his arm or pushing on him in line, etc. We’ve told our son to inform a teacher, tell the boy to stop his behavior, then push back if the boy is uncooperative. However, our son refuses to let an adult know about the behavior and this boy usually ignores my son’s requests to stop. What should we do? We’re worried about bullying.

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A: In my opinion, one of the hardest things for a parent to figure out is whether or not a child is being bullied—or is bullying someone else. You are on the right track, although I don’t agree with answering physical behavior in kind. Pushing back or hitting back will likely escalate the problem and could possible land your son in hot water, too.

Keep encouraging him to tell an adult when another child won't stop a physical behavior and/or name calling despite your son's efforts. Try role playing with him to help him find the words to express his frustration or anger. Kids often respond to situations better after practicing how to handle themselves.

Also, it’s no surprise that this boy won’t listen to your son about stopping his behavior. Kids often don't listen to other kids--otherwise, all families would live in harmony without sibling conflict, right? Practice with your son saying, “Stop pushing me” or “Do not hit me” in a forceful tone of voice.

Your son does have another option: he can remove himself from the situation by walking away. This can help both parties calm down and regroup. If a teacher asks why he is moving, your son can say that the other child won't leave him alone.

Finally, talk with your son about putting himself in the other child’s shoes. Help your son to see what’s annoying behavior and what's really bullying. Encourage him to think about why the other child is doing what he's doing. Is that child not as self-aware of his actions? Does that child seem mean or just wanting to be friends, as some children rough house more than others?

We’re so quick these days to jump on the bullying bandwagon that we’ve, at times, blown out of proportion incidents that are not true bullying or labeled a child a bully when said kid is really just socially inept, for example. Teaching our kids to think about the other person, even when that other child is not being kind to them, helps build character.

Don’t misunderstand me--I’m not advocating ignoring bullying. What I am advocating is having a kind heart, one that overlooks small annoyances and grievances, one that seeks the good in others rather than seeking to have all the good for oneself. By teaching our children kindness in the face of provocation we will equip them to help make this world a better place.

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

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Generational Connection

In my article, “5 Ways to Encourage Your Kids When Grandpa Has Alzheimer’s” on, I talk about the importance to help our children stay connected with a grandparent who has Alzheimer’s or is physically incapacitated. This blog has some additional things your children can do to stay connected with an ailing grandparent who lives far away.

1. Record a song or story. There are many ways to record sound these days, so take advantage and let your kids record an “album” for their grandparents. Just make sure grandma has the right equipment to play the recording.

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You can also ask the grandparent to do that for your kids. Several years ago, my mother recorded herself singing old children’s songs and also reading classic children’s poems. I had the cassette tapes transferred onto CDs and my children still love to listen to their Nanny.

2. Write a story. Tell your children a bit about their grandparents childhood, then let them devise a story featuring the grandparent as a kid. Handwriting the story will add a special element but you might need to add some corrections if spelling will hinder the reading. You can use the material to create a memory book for your children and future grandchildren with stories from your parents’ childhood, too.

3. Send handmade gifts. What grandparent wouldn’t like to receive a painting made by a child in art class or a ceramic flower pot crafted in school? Sharing some of your children’s artwork and crafts done in school would brighten a grandparent’s day—and help keep your house from being overrun with school clutter.

4. Make a photo album. Have your kids put together mini-albums with photographs you’ve taken of them. They can write simple identifications or do a more elaborate scrapbook. This especially can aid a grandparent’s memory and provide another way for the two to connect during in-person visits.

What are some ways you help your kids stay connected with their grandparents?

Until next time,


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Food Fight!

Q: What should the general management of my 14-year-old daughter’s behavior toward food be? She is not overweight but this might become a problem area as she grows up. Right now, we monitor her food consumption by regularly directing her not to eat a particular food or how much of something she should consume.

It seems that if left to her own devices, our daughter would consume way too much junk food. Right now, she eats fine at meals prepared by us, but there is always an argument after dinner about dessert. Both of us eat very healthy and it’s difficult to see her choosing “bad” foods over good ones. Should we keep monitoring her intake or let her eat what she wants?

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A: Food is not something parents should be debating or arguing with their children over. Reading between the lines of your question, I sense that you realize this and that’s why you’re wondering how or if to step back. With a young teen, you should be starting to withdrawal from the more hands-on approach of the elementary school years and transitioning into the mentoring approach of the teenage years. Here’s an approach to the food issue that will help move you more to the mentor side and yet still retain some input into your daughter’s food choices.

First, if she’s not already, have your daughter cook at least one evening meal a week. She should plan the menu and shop with you for the ingredients. You can set general guidelines (such as one meat dish and two vegetable sides) but be careful not to micromanage the process.

Second, your daughter should be expected to eat what’s served with no substitutions. If she doesn’t like something, she can either eat it or not. She won’t starve if she misses an occasional meal.

Third, you should only buy the kind of snacks that you wish her to eat, such as pretzels instead of potato chips. Simply tell your daughter that if she wants a particular snack, she needs to purchase it with her own money. At 14, she’s old enough to baby-sit or pet sit for neighbors, etc., for extra cash.

Fourth, resist the urge to lecture about food. Sure, you can have discussions about food, but don’t harangue her. Visit local farmer’s markets or area farms to talk about seasonal foods. Discuss ingredients and read articles together about food. Watch cooking shows together and talk about different techniques or menus. There is so much information about food these days that you can find common interest that will serve to connect you both in a positive way.

Finally, recall your own misspent youth when it comes to food. Haven’t we all made bad food choices as teens? I well remember Oreo binges that make me shudder today. Keep that in mind and go easy on her. She’ll likely outgrow this if you don’t dig in your heels too deep.

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

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.
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