So far, everything you have done to build your consistency muscle has focused on the positive--you have modeled correct behavior, praised correct behavior and trained for correct behavior. But still your child is using disrespectful behavior! Now is when it get's real, when you are going to set an expectation and then hold the limit. This will probably mean that you need to have a consequence ready--one that you can absolutely follow through on.Read More
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So, you have prioritized your values (If not, go to previous step HERE) and are clear about where you want to build your consistency muscle. That's hugely important.
HERE'S AN EXAMPLE
Let's say you have decided to consistently require your children to speak respectfully. Love that. But do your children know what it means to speak respectfully? Probably not, so you have to teach them.
STEP ONE: MODEL
Model respectful speech. I hope this is obvious, but how can you expect your children to speak respectfully if you are not modeling that in all your interactions with others? This includes how you speak about people. If over dinner you complain what a neanderthal jerk your boss is, your children are going to hear that, so while it is okay to criticize people, make sure that it is in respectful language. Perhaps you would say something like, "I wish my boss were up to date on the latest approaches and were more open to listening to fresh ideas." Little ears are listening all the time! How you speak to the people you love is even more important, so avoid the first two of John Gottman's Four Horsemen, criticism and contempt, at all costs. Finally, use polite and loving language with your own children is key.
STEP TWO: PRAISE
Catch Your Children Doing Good. Remember, you have been catching your children doing good in order to develop your consistency muscle. If the values exercise last week has you shifting your focus, go back to the step where you praise, praise, praise every time your child is (in this example) using respectful language. Say, "I heard you say Thank You to your teacher. That was so respectful." or "When you asked your brother, 'May I please have it after you?', that was exactly the kind of respectful language we expect in this house." Build up models for them so that they get a clearer and clearer idea of what you want before you make it a non-negotiable.
STEP THREE: TEACH
A bi-product of kids being technologically advanced is that many of them lag in their interpersonal skills. Compared to what you might have learned already at your child's age about how to get along well with others in the world, today's children spent many fewer hours figuring out how to speak in such a way that strengthens connections and warms relationships. The more we use our phones to deposit checks and order the weeks groceries, the less kids see us interacting with a wide variety of people. In the absence of daily modeling, we need to teach our kids skills explicitly.
One of my favorite teaching methods is role playing. Ask your kids what the would say in different situations and how they would say it. Start with people they know--their teachers, coaches, school personnel like the crossing guard or the office manager. Set the expectation that it is respectful to greet and acknowledge these people. Teach them stock phrases like, "Hello, Mrs. Stitt, how are you today?" Teach them how they can extend the conversation: "Isn't this a lovely day?" or "Did you have a good weekend?" or "Happy Chinese New Year! It's the Year of the Rooster, you know!" Tell them explicitly it is respectful to express an interest. When you pick them up for school ask, "Whose day did you brighten today?"
STEP FOUR: TRAIN
Once you have taught your kids what it means to be respectful, they will have an understanding of being respectful, but they still won't have the habit. Before you start reprimanding your children for being disrespectful, make sure that you have done enough training. Think about how long it takes to train yourself to do something until it is absolutely automatic. I am currently training myself to sit up straight. It didn't used to be such an issue because while teaching I spent so many hours on my feet, but now that I am in front of the computer most of the day, I have to think about it very consciously. Boy, is is a slow process! Your kids will need lots and lots and lots of gentle reminders, so when they do not speak respectfully (or clean up their toys or remember their chores, etc), do not assume they are being defiant! This is so important. You want your rules followed, and they will be, but it will take time before your kids are consistent.
Your job for the time being is to CATCH THEM DOING GOOD when they do it right and to gently remind them when they forget. Let them know that they are in training, and you want to do whatever you can in supporting their remembering. This is the time to brainstorm structures that will help them remember (I still have to set an alarm to keep track of which week is recycling week).
Next week we will get to what to do when training period is over, and it is finally time to add some teeth to your rules.
Children are exposed to more and more at younger and younger ages. Data showing the negative effects of of exposure to violence, inappropriate sexuality and offensive language are convincing. The media is a powerful influencer in our children's understandings of how the world is put together and of what their role in it should be. Unfortunately, far too often, the message little girls get is that they have to be pretty, sexual beings to have a place; and little boys absorb the view that they have to be powerful, strong men of physical action to be seen and counted.
ARE YOU REDUCING YOUR CHILD TO A STEREOTYPE?
While affected by media messages, your children are still looking first and foremost to you for who they should be and how they should feel about things. There is much you can do to counteract the influence of the media, advertising and industries which cater to swaying children.
First, parents can help control media influence by not buying their children clothes with messages on them. When you put your daughter in a t-shirt that says, “I’m a princess” or “Princesses rule” (or even has a sparkly rhinestone crown), you are reinforcing the idea that you want her to look like a princess. And what princesses do kids look to? Primarily Disney princesses. Talk about unrealistic body examples!
Little boys play with action figures whose bulging muscles are at least as outrageously out of proportion as Barbie’s ridiculously small waste. Although there are lots of superheroes who do not have super powers, they are most often depicted in physically fighting mode. I grew up watching Bat Man and although I know that Bruce Wayne didn’t just rely on his muscles, my main memory of Bat Man were words like “Biff” and “Pow” flashing on the screen. The predominant message of what it meant to be an outstanding man was not using reason and common sense and smarts. Nope. When I saw boys wearing t-shirts with the batman symbol, I assumed they admired his physical power.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE PRINCESS/SUPERHERO IS 100% COMING FROM YOUR CHILD?
(If you feel like an image perception is 100% coming from your child, I have two thoughts. One, fantasy play is very typical for 3 and 4 year olds, so just look for the obsession to taper off as your children turn 5, 6 or 7. Two, get curious about what it means to them and then see how you can meet that quality in some other way. Maybe when you ask what is so great about being Batman (after looking at you like you are an idiot), your son says with glowing eyes, "He protects the world!" Great! I love that! You can help him see what are other ways besides being a super hero he can help protect the world. For example, teach him the communication skills he needs to be an UPstander, an advocate for the underdog, or perhaps a champion of conservation.
LET YOUR CHILDREN BE THEIR AGE
Another step for parents is to buy clothing that “looks your age.” I have heard parents justify a short-cropped halter top for an 8 year old because “it’s so hot.” And yet that same parent would likely not dress an 8-year-old son in a sleeveless cropped t-shirt. There are lots of attractive, comfortable clothes that allow children to move freely and play that aren’t layered with any other messages about what their bodies should look like or who the kids should be. Parents would be wise to reflect thoughtfully on what image or message the clothes their children wear actually project.
CAREFUL THE THINGS YOU SAY: CHILDREN WILL LISTEN
Yes, the media plays a role in forming your kids’ views, but let’s face it; kids are sponges who pick up their parents’ attitudes. Every time you comment on someone’s body—whether it is someone you know in person or someone you see on television—you are building your child’s crib sheet of what bodies should look like. The comment said with disapproval that your neighbor looks like she has gained some weight tells your child that you would disapprove of her gaining some weight—perhaps at a stage in her development when she should expect to be putting on some weight before adolescence. Probably that is not what you meant, but kids have a tendency to overgeneralize without our realizing it.
Most importantly, parents need to become comfortable with their own bodies. Media influence is big, but your own confidence in and enjoyment of your body is even bigger. I realize that is easier said than done as body image is something lots of people struggle with, but to the extent that you can relate eating well and exercising to having more energy, sleeping better and generally feeling good, you will be setting a healthy example for your child no matter how you actually feel about your body.
FOCUS ON WHO PEOPLE ARE NOT HOW THEY LOOK
Finally, although parents spend time telling children to stand up straight or get their hair out of their eyes so their faces will be visible, in general parents will serve their children to well to promote a message of Handsome Is as Handsome Does. Remind children that their value lies not in how they look but in who they are as people, in what kindness and goodness they bring to the world. A toothy, easily given, heartfelt smile is worth infinitely more than perfectly straight, white teeth hidden behind a sneer. Comment on people you admire and what they have done to make you admire them. Leave their physical physic out of it.
EXPANDING THE PARENTING CIRCLE
I LOVE THAT I AM MOM. My daughter once pointed out that she holds the special spot in my life of being the only child to grow in my womb. That does give us a bond that says I am her primary parent. I love being her primary person.
But her dad and I have been divorced since she was three, and her stepmother has been in her life almost as long (and her stepfather a few years after that). That means that while I am her primary parent, Julie has a lot of other parents. And a lot of other parent figures.
Now, that could feel threatening to me. But it’s not. Instead, it is a source of supreme comfort. Seriously. Parenting is a lot of pressure. I can think of dozens of ways—mostly small but some large, too—that I have messed up. On the other hand, I can also think of ways that Julie’s stepmom or aunts or grandmothers or good family friends have gotten it right. They have been able to provide what I wasn’t at the time Julie needed something.
The biggest example of other adults providing help where I couldn’t was when I got remarried. Because I got married in India and didn’t know I was getting married (long story!), that meant that a) the kids were not with us and b) we did not prepare the kids for our marriage in the way that I normally would have. You can imagine the guilt I have felt over that—guilt that was reinforced by how long my daughter stayed mad at me. Thank goodness Julie had my friend Leslie during this time. Julie spent lots of hours at Leslie’s (supposedly to play with Leslie’s daughter, but I know that she saw Leslie as someone who absolutely understood and who (unlike my family) didn’t take my side but just kept agreeing with Julie that having your mom remarry must be really hard).
Think of who the special adults have been in your life. Middle school is a stage where kids begin to examine the world through their own lens. Up until that point, they follow their parents’ views on things pretty closely. I was miserable in middle school. But my school librarian was a big help. She seemed to get me. She was ready to listen to me without lecturing. Even when I complained about my mother, she acknowledged my feelings but didn’t make me feel bad for feeling them. At that stage in my life, I was busy trying to pull away from my mother in order to get some space to figure out who I was. No matter how much she wanted to, she was not the person who could help me at that point. It took an outside, caring adult.
It was just lucky that I found Mrs. Anderson, the school librarian, but I also had my godmother. She was someone my parents had deliberately chosen to be an extra adult in my life. She loved me and cared deeply for me, but because I wasn’t ultimately her responsibility, she could love me exactly as I was. Unlike a parent whose job it is to civilize a child (to set expectations for him, to hold him accountable, to push him beyond what he can see for himself), a godparent’s job is mostly just to be there as a wise advisor. The godparent can give counsel, but the child has no obligation to follow it. That means the child is much more likely to listen (even if the message is pretty much what the parents have been saying al along. Whereas my godmother clucked over her own boys like a nervous mother hen, with me she could be supremely confident that “only nice things could come to such a nice girl.”
Parents can do much to extend the family circle beyond the nuclear family. Obviously, how you interact with adults around you will signal to your child how comfortable you are with particular adults as people. You can go one step farther, though, by helping your children to connect to potential caring adults. Point those people out. Guide your children when they might have an interest in common with a caring adult. Maybe you find out that a teacher at your child’s school exhibits her own art. You yourself don’t know Jackson Pollock from a Kindergarten project. By suggesting to your child that she show the artist teacher her work, you are telling your child that you honor her interest in art even if you don’t know anything about it.
Populating your child’s life with a circle of adults to love and support her is an excellent example of being the architect of your family. You don’t have to do all the heavy lifting yourself, but the design will be yours.
With New Year’s here, I imagine that you are setting resolutions around your parenting. Among your resolutions, perhaps you have a goal of being more consistent. Great. I’d like to help with that. However, becoming a consistent parent is almost impossible if you leave to will power alone. It is much easier if you build for success step by step. I have a plan for doing exactly that.Read More
My #1 Tip for Helping with College Admissions Essays (The younger your child, the more you need this!)
was an English teacher for 25 years and worked as a writing tutor on the side, often helping kids with their college app, including my own three children. That experience has given me my own perspective on the college admissions essay process.Read More
You. You are your child’s best resource.
The more you engage with your child, the more language she will learn. When you sing songs and chants, especially nursery rhymes, you are training her ear to hear differences and similarities in language. When you exaggerate the “buh” of bat and compare it to the “puh” of pat, you are teaching phonics in an organic way. Of course, you can also name the letter. Point out to your child she needs to p-p-p-pat the cat. That’s the letter P! You can even make a joke. You can say, “Don’t b-b-b-bat the cat with a B! Cats like p-p-p-pats with a P!”
Phonics is simply teaching the sound or sounds associated with a letter, combination of letters (like “sh”) or syllables.
Teach phonics awareness by connecting words to his how life.
Start with words that are the most meaningful to your child: his own name, Mom, Dad, the names of his siblings and pets. If he has a dolly or stuffy he is attached to, teach that. If he has a name like Thomas, teach “Th” as a unit and point out that sometimes it says “t” but mostly it says “th” as in Thank You.
Encourage your child to write. First this will be scribble. Just ask him what he has written. If he has written something about someone in the family, you can say, “Let’s write Mary’s name again.” Ask, “What sound do you hear in Mary?” He will probably pick out the “m.” Write a capital M. Then ask, “What other sounds do you hear?” He will probably identify the “r” or maybe the “e” sound from the Y. Leave the spaces for whatever sound he doesn’t hear and write down the sounds he does here. Then just tell him, “Mary also has an “a” here and and a “y” at the end.
As he gets more sophisticated he will begin to write words with the main sound. It might look like this: I lv mi dg rky. You will see he has written I love my dog Rocky. Pick out just one word (probably Rocky) to write out fully for him. Identify the “ck” combination as one of the ways we write the “kuh” sound.
Read, Read, Read
In addition to talking and singing lots, read lots. Lots. If you have a wiggler who can’t sit still, ask her to sit with you for the first story or the first few pages or the first chapter but then let her engage her hands with a puzzle or blocks or drawing. Even as she plays, you can stop your reading from time to time to highlight words or letters. Say things like, “The boy in this story is named Robby! Look. Robby starts with R and ends with y just like Rocky does. Can you tell me what the sound in the middle of Robbby is?”
The trick is to incorporate awareness of sounds and letters as you go throughout the day with your child, NOT to think, Oh, we have to drill phonics for 10 minutes a day! Leave the formal lessons to the teachers. You can do the fun lessons at home. As you are making cookies, ask your child to get you the flour container. He will probably be able to pick out the jar marked flour as compared to the jar marked sugar. (Don’t ask him for the jar marked sugar to begin with since the spelling of the “sh” sound as an “s” is not very common and is confusing. Of course, if he asks, just point out, “Mostly the letter S makes the “s” sound, but sometimes it makes the “sh” sound. Pretty sneaky, uh?”). If you print out the ingredients list in big print, he can help you read the ingredients. Adding pictures will help. In this way, he will see the purpose of reading in action. Reading = cookies!
Learning can happen anywhere.
When you go outside, help him write letters and words in the dirt, in the sand, formed out with pebbles or sticks. In the bath, write letters with soap bubbles on the tiles. Finger paint is another awesome place for kids to practice letters.
Above all, don’t get carried away with teaching. As soon as it is no longer fun, you are being counter productive. Children naturally want to communicate. They see that letters and words are communicating all kinds of important information to adults all the time, and they want to be a part of that—if they are not pressured unduly.