Thursday, February 7, 2013

How Do You Know When To Help Your Child?

Your child is struggling to do something. How do you know when to help, and when to stand back and let him work it out on his own?

Here is a chart that illustrates my thought process in this situation:



Sometimes your child wants your help. If you can help, then why not do it? If you do, he will learn that getting the help he need feels good, and that it's cool to help other people when they need it.

Sometimes, you can't help in the specific way your wants you to. In that case, you and your child may be able to find someone else who is able and willing or figure out a different way to help him accomplish his goal. If you do this, he will learn that you care about his needs, that you are resourceful and creative, and that there is often more than one way to do something.

Sometimes your child doesn't want your help. If it is safe to do so, why not stand back and let him figure things out? You can let him know you are there if he needs you, but stay out of his way. If you do, he will learn that you trust him to know when he needs help and that you have confidence in his abilities. Also, he will have the opportunity to get better at whatever it is he is struggling with.

Sometimes your child doesn't want your help but he is doing something dangerous and doesn't understand the risk involved. In that case, of course you step in if you can. If you are unable to intervene in time, you can help by comforting your hurt child and calling for more help if needed. Once the situation is safe enough, you explain why you stepped in, and help your child understand the danger and figure out a safer way to accomplish his goal. If you do this, he will learn that you are looking out for him.

These are all things I want my children to learn. How about you?

On the other hand, what does a child learn when he wants help and his parent refuses to help him? What does he learn when he doesn't want help but it is forced on him constantly?

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I have read a bit about this issue recently, and I think maybe some people are confused about it. I think some people confuse "letting" a child do something on his own with "forcing" the child to do it on his own even when he doesn't want to. There is a big difference. There is also a big difference between insisting upon helping or doing something for a child, and being willing to help when he wants it. The child's wishes should not be ignored in these discussions.

Here are the articles I'm referring to, if you are interested:

From The Atlantic, Why Parents Need To Let Their Kids Fail

And from Alameda Patch, Please Don't Help My Kids

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Truth About Having Kids

Before you have kids, you might spend time thinking about who your kids will be. You might think about how you will raise them and mold them to be a certain way.

You might decide you will offer only the "healthiest" food and then they won't even want junk food. You might decide you won't ever let them watch television and then they won't even like looking at screens.

Maybe you think you'll make them go to bed at a certain time, so they will learn to always get enough sleep. And you'll make them always pick up their toys so they will learn to clean up after themselves.

You might wonder why these and other simple ideas seem to escape the parents who have come before you. You think they must be doing it wrong. They're inconsistent and soft. Yeah, that must be it.

Then you have a baby. For a while, everything is great and going according to plan. Well, except for the sleeping part. But everything else, totally perfect.

Then your sweet little baby, who was going along with your plan without complaint, becomes a toddler. And your toddler has ideas. Your toddler sees a working television while out and about. She's mesmerized. She's curious and *gasp* enjoying it. She wants more. Your toddler sees cookies at a party, she sees the candy at the checkout counter of the grocery store. Not only does she want these and other shocking things, but it turns out she also loves some of them.

One by one, your toddler starts chipping away at your ideas, trying to implement a different plan. Her own plan. It's a plan to try everything, to taste everything, to sleep only when her body demands it and there's nothing else fun going on. Her plan is to explore her world and to immerse herself into whatever interests her. Her plan is to seek out the things that make her happy and do those things.

At this point you have two choices. You could cling to your original plan. It seems safer. You like being in control. Or you could realize that your toddler's plan is actually much better than your plan. If you dig even deeper, you might realize that your toddler's plan was actually your real original plan too. The plan you were born to follow as well, but most likely didn't get to. If you do realize this, you will stop fighting your child's desires and instead support her passions for exploring and learning.

The truth is that kids (people) come with their own plans. And your best plan for your children may be to understand and follow along with theirs. To help them navigate the world and figure out who they are, and not who you want them to be.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stop Panicking About Bullies?

Nick Gillespie, at the Wall Street Journal, says we are worrying too much about bullying. There is no bullying crisis, he says. Parents are too overprotective, he says. Things are getting better, he says.

Lenore Skenazy, author of the book Free Range Kids, writes about the article on her blog:
Like Gillespie, I am appalled by true bullying and in favor of a society that does not tolerate it.
All right, what is "true bullying" as opposed to some other kind of (false?) bullying? She explains a bit further:
 ...to lump together unbearable harassment with minor teasing is just a mistake.
Right, so "unbearable harassment" is appalling and "minor teasing" is nothing to worry about. Got it. But who gets to decide the difference? If not the victim himself, then who? If a child finds his environment unbearable, who are we to say otherwise? And what about things in-between the two extremes as Skenazy describes? What about harassment that's sort of bearable? Is that worth troubling our helicopter-selves with? What about relentless "minor" teasing?

Anyway, Skenazy says she is "in a rage" by any talk of a growing bullying crisis. She picks out a very convenient quote from Gillespie's article, which says:
Despite the rare and tragic cases that rightly command our attention and outrage, the data show that things are, in fact, getting better for kids. When it comes to school violence, the numbers are particularly encouraging. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of students who reported “being afraid of attack or harm at school” declined to 4% from 12%. Over the same period, the victimization rate per 1,000 students declined fivefold.
Wow, everyone! Four percent?! Really? Bullying seems like it's pretty much over. Oh wait, keep reading just a tiny bit further in the WSJ article and you don't have to wonder why Skenazy chose that quote, and not the one immediately after it:
When it comes to bullying numbers, long-term trends are less clear. [NCES] reports find that 28% of students ages 12-18 reported being bullied in 2005; that percentage rose to 32% in 2007, before dropping back to 28% in 2009 (the most recent year for which data are available).
The first quote says everything is fine. In fact, things are so much better, that the problems are almost completely gone (4%! Down from 12%!). The second quote says the numbers are less clear, that around 30% of students reported being bullied, and that the number hasn't changed much in the recent past. While it means bullying may not be increasing, it certainly does not prove that things are getting much better, as Skenazy would like us to believe.

From the National Center for Education Statistics

So where did that 4% number come from? I was curious, so I went right to the source. The survey questions and the key findings of the study done by the National Center for Education Statistics are published on their website. It turns out, there are many sections in the survey. The section called "Fighting, Bullying and Hate Behaviors" includes the questions that lead to the conclusions those around-30% numbers. There is a completely different section, apart from the bullying section, entitled "Fear," under which the questions about fear of  "attack or harm" were asked. These are the questions that give us the 4% number. These questions are, by design of the study, not related to bullying. It seems those questions are referring to other kinds of violent acts.

Why is the 4% number being used in articles and blog posts on bullying? Because it's convenient for those who want to downplay the bullying problem. The trouble is, it is irresponsible and misleading. When almost one-third of children are being bullied in school, there IS a crisis.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Would You Brag About These Things?


Would you brag about beating your toddler in a game of chess? About beating your 7-year-old in a running race?

Would you brag about beating your 10-year-old at Scrabble? About making more money than your 14-year-old?

You're probably better at puzzles, too.

If you are like most people I know, you would probably say "No" to the above questions. If you answered "Yes" to any of them, you probably want to stop reading here.

I'm assuming most parents wouldn't brag about these things. Why not? Because it's pretty obvious why we might be better at these things than our children. We are bigger, stronger, more experienced with words and strategies and making money. The decks are stacked in our favor. Our kids have no chance against us in these and many other competitions.

Yet, I often hear parents bragging about winning over their children in other kinds of "battles," as if it makes any more sense than it would to brag about a chess victory over a three-year-old. I see parents patting themselves and each other on the back for proving how big and strong and powerful they are. Guess what, parents? Your kids already know you are more powerful than they are. This is a lesson that does not need to be taught. Your children are frequently reminded of how powerful you are, every time you do (or refuse to do) something for them that they cannot do for themselves.

If life is a game, then you have a choice as a parent. You can view your child as an opponent, with whom you are constantly in competition. You can focus on beating your child at the game, proving how much more powerful you are. You can make all the rules, add new ones all the time: eat three more bites before you can leave the table, stay in bed alone until you fall asleep, go to your room, only 30 minutes of TV today... You can use physical force or withholding of "privileges" or psychological manipulation to ensure that you will win.

When your child complains to you about the striking unfairness of the way the game is setup, you can ignore her. When she realizes you aren't listening she may complain to other people about how unfair the game is (how unfair you are). When you find out about this, you can take away or destroy her means of communication with others. You can take away her cell phone, shoot her laptop, forbid her from seeing her friends outside of school.

You can brag about ignoring your child's "tantrums" or getting him to eat something he didn't want to eat. You can brag about tricking your child, cheating at the game to get your way. You can call each of these things a "win" for you. If you do so, you will most likely get pats on the back from other parents. Just remember that as often as you are "winning," your child is losing. Even as you declare your victory, your child may be losing faith in you, losing interest in you. If this is the case, what exactly are you winning? Bragging rights? Are they worth that much?

Play. Together.
If you don't like the sound of that, rest assured, there is another option. You can view your child as a partner, a member of your team in this game. You can have fun together, without competing at all, without needing to declare winners and losers. You can make up the rules as you go along, together with your child. You can listen when your child has a problem with the way you are setting up the game, and figure out how to keep it fun for both of you. You can tend to your child's needs and be supportive of his food choices and other preferences.

If you choose this way, you will probably get the confused or nasty looks from other parents, the ones who are trying win as many battles as possible. They may call you crazy or weak. They may list for you all the ways in which they are winning. These parents have no idea what they are losing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

So What If She Bought It With Her Own Money?

You might be tired of hearing about Tommy Jordan, the man who shot his daughter's laptop to punish her for complaining about him on Facebook. I know, I'm tired of it too. I was tempted to drop it completely, but I think this is a very important story. It's not so much about this one family anymore, but about the families of the thousands and thousands of people who think that his act was not only justified, but a show of good parenting.

One very important aspect of the public reaction is that many people have said that since this father bought the laptop for his daughter (which they assumed), that made it acceptable for him to destroy it. Some of them even said that it would be different if she bought it with her own money. Well, I came across this last night, which is allegedly a quote from Tommy Jordan himself, from his own Facebook page, in response to someone who asked why he didn't just sell his daughter's laptop instead of shooting it:
I actually considered selling it on eBay, but decided against it. She bought it with her money. For us to sell it and take the money, in my mind anyways, is just theft, even from my own kid.
I tried digging through the more than 30,000 (!) comments on the posting to see if I could get a screen shot to prove this, but it was too time-consuming. After trying for a while, I realized it wouldn't matter if I proved it anyway. For at least a few people, it didn't. Last night I read some discussion threads that went like this:
Dad-supporter1: The laptop was technically his since he bought it with his money, so it's fine if he wanted to destroy it.
Daughter-supporter: The dad said she bought it with her money so really it belonged to her. 
Dad-supporter1: Oh, well actually it doesn't matter anyway, because legally anything a child owns belongs to the parents. It was still his to destroy. 
Dad-supporter2: Yeah, and where did she get the money to buy a laptop if she didn't have a job? It must have been her father's money. Therefore it belongs to him.
You see, it is convenient at the start to assume the father had bought the laptop for his daughter, because that makes it easy for people to allow him ownership of it (even if it was a gift to her). But it's not a necessary condition if one is looking to justify the father's actions. Even with the father admitting that it was HER money used to purchase the laptop, people will find a way to take it away from her.

The father himself admits that if he sold the laptop and took the money, that would be stealing, but to render the item useless? No problem. What is the disconnect here? How is destroying her property NOT stealing?

I have read some of the follow-up to this story, and it has been very discouraging. Apparently Hannah is saying it was not a big deal, after she got over the initial shock. It makes me sad to think that she (along with so many other people) has brushed off this assault on her rights. However, I realize she doesn't have much of a choice. She has to live with this man for a few more years. Mr. Jordan has said that he doesn't regret what he did (except for the fact that he was holding a cigarette, that he used the word "ass," and some parts of his wardrobe choice). Otherwise he would do it again the same way. Therefore no matter how upset Hannah really is about this, she knows better than to make a fuss now, as long as her father is still around her-but-not-really-her belongings with a gun.

I also feel terrible about all of the nastiness being thrown in her direction. She is the clear villain in this story to most people, as if they were never teenagers and never had complaints about their parents. So many people have said "Yeah, but I would never have posted that on Facebook." I would like to remind these people that they would never have heard her words were it not for her father reading them to the internet-at-large. He is the one who publicized her words.

The general public consensus seems to be that children should not have the right to own property at all, even if that property was obtained with their own money. Also, many people seem to feel that children complaining about their parents is disrespectful and is an offense punishable by destruction of the property that doesn't even belong to them. That is discouraging for all the children out there who are being mistreated by the very people who brought them into this world.

One more disturbing fact: when the police came to visit the Jordan home, to answer the many calls they received about the incident, here's what Mr. Jordan says happened:
The police by the way said ‘Kudos, Sir’ and most of them made their kids watch it. I actually had a ‘thank you’ from an entire detectives squad.
So much for the police looking out for this teen and her property. I hope if someone destroyed something of mine, the police reaction would be better than this.

I can't promise I am done talking about this yet.

Friday, February 10, 2012

What Kind Of Bed Do You Make With a Gun?

Last night I watched a video that has gone viral, featuring a man with a gun. The man took this video of himself, posted it himself, and what he chose to show the world was an upsetting picture of who he is.


The first half of the video is his reading of a letter that his daughter Hannah wrote, aimed at her parents, and posted on Facebook with the belief that they would not see it (although I wonder if she was really hoping they would see it, so maybe they would understand how miserable she is). The father found it by apparently using some sneaky tactics. It was a very depressing letter, in which Hannah passionately expresses her frustration with her parents and their poor treatment and high demands of her. Her father reads the letter to anyone who will listen, in hopes that it will make Hannah look bad. He picks apart her words, disputes her claims, and calls her lazy and stupid, among other names.

This happens at the 7:10 mark.
At the end of the video, he puts the icing on the (sick, twisted) cake when he shoots nine bullets into what he has referred to several times as "her" laptop. This punishment is extreme and rather scary, well outside the bounds of even commonly accepted punitive parenting. I wonder how long ago it was that he gifted her that laptop. Was he excited to give it to her then? Did he take pride in his ability to give her such a gift, and feel satisfied when she expressed gratitude in some way (a thank-you, a smile, a squeal of joy, maybe even a hug...)? Did he let her enjoy her gift for any amount of time, or did he immediately start holding it over her head, demanding appreciation for it? What part of the word "gift" does he not understand? What suddenly made it ok for him to destroy her property in such a violent manner?

He explains that Hannah will be able to get a new laptop, when she can buy one for herself. I would advise her not to do so until she is able to move out of his home, because I would bet a lot of money that he would not hesitate to brutally murder that one as well, any time he got that angry at her again.

Many comments have been written in support of what this man did. They cheer for his violent and disturbing act of publicly berating his daughter and shooting her property, because they say Hannah deserved it for writing such a nasty letter. They hail is as "parenting done right." I disagree wholeheartedly. She had obviously been given many reasons to write that letter, and her father's video only proves that her discontent is justified.

The most striking part of the video (besides the gunshots) is when he details the list of chores he has demanded of Hannah. He describes each one and smugly offers an estimate of how long each task should take. According to him, the total time he asks of her is very small: not more than a few minutes for each of a few simple tasks. If it's true that he asks so little of her, is it really worth forcing it, while causing so much damage to their relationship? If the chores are as easy as he says they should be, why not just do them himself? In fact, he could have finished almost all of them in the time it took for him to record his eight-minute tirade.

He hoped to teach his daughter a thing or two. I'm not sure exactly what he intended to teach, but the only lessons he conveyed to me were the following:
  1. He does not respect his daughter or her property.
  2. He runs his family like a business, in which he is the unquestionable boss and his child is his employee, but without even basic rights (one could be arrested for shooting an employee's personal computer).
  3. He is a vindictive and violent man who is not to be trusted.
One of Hannah's responsibilities is to make her bed (which, to me, is an inexplicable thing to require of someone). I couldn't help but think of the old saying: "You make your bed, and then you must lie in it." What kind of bed has this man made for himself, in terms of his relationship with his soon-to-be adult daughter? One that is prickly and scary and cold and not welcoming or safe or happy. One that has already led Hannah to write about how miserable she is with him.

Well sir, I hope you are satisfied with the bed you have made for yourself, because you will spend the rest of your life lying in it. Someday you will wake up in this bed and wonder what went wrong. You will wonder why your daughter doesn't want to spend time with you, doesn't trust you. On that day, I would invite you to watch the video of yourself. It explains everything.

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More on this story: So What If She Bought It With Her Own Money?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Five Suggestions For Potty (Without) Training

(source)
After I posted What I Do Instead Of Punishing My Kids, I had a few people ask on my Facebook page about potty training, and how it can be done without punishments or rewards. I think it starts with changing the way we approach it, even changing how we talk about it. If a parent looks at it as "training" a child then it will be almost impossible to do without the punishments or rewards.

"Training your child" means doing something to him or her. On the other hand, "helping your child learn" to use the potty is absolutely something you can do with your child as a "partner" rather than a "trainer." Here are some things that might help the partnership:
  1. Provide access. No matter how old your child is, you can get a small potty (or two) and let him sit on it and play around it. It can be right in the living room or bedroom. You can also get a seat to put on the regular toilet to make it more comfortable and accessible. Also, it will be easier for her to sit down and go when she doesn't have to pull down pants and take off a diaper first. If your child is comfortable being without a diaper or pants, let it happen whenever you can.
  2. Be present. Look for signs that your child is ready to go, and offer to read him a book or play a game with him while he sits on the potty, if he wants to. Sit on the floor next to him. Have fun instead of force around potty time.
  3. Prepare yourself (physically) for puddles. If there is diaper-free time, there will be puddles. It will be easier to deal with these puddles if you have a plan in place. Put a washable pad on the bed or the couch. Figure out in advance what you will use to clean up (I highly recommend cloth diapers for this - very absorbent) and where wet clothes and towels will go (I love a wet bag for this, because it can go right in the wash with whatever is inside it). Have the supplies handy.
  4. Prepare yourself (mentally) for puddles. A little pee on the floor or the carpet or the bed is not a major problem. Think about this in advance so you don't get upset when it happens. Just clean it up and don't make a big deal out of it. Clean-up can be a breeze.
  5. Drop the deadline and be flexible. If you have in your mind that it should or will happen by a certain age or within a certain time frame, it will make it more difficult to be your child's partner. Trust that it will happen. Avoid putting pressure on your child or your self. Just as children learn to walk and talk at different ages, they learn to use the potty at different ages. Your child might have no interest in using the potty whatsoever. She may go through periods of interest and use, and then completely turn away from it for a while.
Overall, try to remember that the learning will look more like a windy path with ups and downs, rather than a staircase with clearly defined steps. If you are "training your child" to use the potty with a staircase in mind, then any miss will look like a failure. Any pattern of misses will look like a step back, a regression. Expectations may be high unrealistic. If you are instead "helping your child learn" to use the potty, any miss is a curve or a bump in the path. It can be something you have planned for, so you clean up and don't worry about it. You can expect that your child is doing exactly what he is capable of doing in the given situation.


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On a personal note, I practiced some "part-time EC" with my second child, starting when he was eight months old. I did not use this as a way to get him "trained" earlier or faster, but simply as another way to partner with him, to support his learning, to help him feel comfortable with using the potty from an early age. It was very cool. You can read more about it here, and feel free to ask me about it.

Also, none of the links above are sponsored, just my own personal suggestions. This blog continues to be ad-free.