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Five Signs a Parent Needs a Break

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We are actually helping our kids
when we take time for ourselves.

The airlines get it. For emergency situations, fight attendants always instruct parent passengers to put oxygen masks on themselves before helping their kids. Yet making sure parents are fully functional “on land” is good advice, too.

Here are some tell-tale signs that we have too much going on or that we’re so involved in our kids’ lives, we’ve forgotten we have one of our own.

1) We’re still singing our kids’ CD songs even though he’s not playing them (or even around).

2) We’re waiting to see what grade “we” got on the project “we” worked on.

3) We find ourselves cutting our own meat into tiny pieces.

4) We rushed our child out the door for soccer practice—only to discover that practice was yesterday.

5) We wish we could vote for homecoming king and queen.

If you’re a parent in need of a break, you can easily modify or add to the list above. But the point
is . . .sometimes we think we’re being a good parent by trying to juggle everything or by parenting 24/7. Yet the truth is, we’re better parents when we take some time for ourselves.

So book a massage. Go play tennis. Read that magazine that’s been sitting on the table for three weeks.

Our families will be just fine without us for a few hours.

Red Flags When Meeting with the Teacher

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Kids deserve to be in a learning environment
that allows them to shine.

Some parents find it important to meet with their child’s teacher right at the start of the school year.  Most of the time, these meetings go very well. The majority of teachers are supportive and eager to work with the parents to explore possible modifications for the child.

But sometimes there is no sense of a desire to collaborate.  While the teacher’s responses to the parents’ concerns are always polite, there’s a consistent message: Don’t expect me to make any special changes for your child.

When I hear recounts of such meetings, I always ask the same questions: If you (the parent) left that meeting with a pit in your stomach, then how do you imagine your child feels in that classroom for six hours a day? And . . . what long-term message are you sending by dropping your child off in an environment where you don’t believe he’s being honored?

Six hours a day, five days a week, nine months of a year is a long time to be in an environment that is not a good “fit” for a child.

So we have to ask ourselves:

  • If we keep our kids in such a learning environments for an entire year, what price do they pay?
  • When looking at the bigger picture, is it really in our child’s best interest to keep insisting that there is not a single other possible learning environment (on the entire planet J)?

In truth, there are always options. Sure, they may not always be within easy reach, and initiating them may be way out of our comfort zone. But yes, there is always more than one learning environment available for our kids.

And if we believe that, our kids are guaranteed to spend their year in a classroom that honors them.

Parenting Tips from an Unlikely Expert

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Some of the best parenting advice comes from none other than . . . Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer.

I’m serious. No, I’m not inferring that your child is a pit bull or Rottweiler.  But listen to what he says, substituting the word “dog” with “child,” and you may be amazed at how his advice also applies to parents.

Cesar Milan has great advice for dog owners . . . and parents.

Here are some of the main points he makes on his site and during his weekly television show:

  • A dog’s behavior will change only after the owner’s behavior changes.
  • Owners must establish themselves as the   pack leader.
  • If the pack leader is not clearly established, the dog will try to fill the vacant role (but with disastrous results).
  • There are no part-time pack leaders; in fact, inconsistency triggers confusion and anxiety.
  • Pack leaders gain control of a situation before it escalates.
  • Pack leaders remain consistent in their body language and signals.
  • Pack leaders know what they want from their dog, and they set  clear goals.
  • Dogs thrive on structure and boundaries or they feel lost and confused about their role in the pack.
  • Pack leaders help their dogs learn to problem-solve on their own since doing so keeps their mind busy and builds confidence
  • Dogs respond to a calm-assertive demeanor—not emotional arguments or negotiations.
  • Pack leaders always end a training session with success.
  • Dogs cannot survive on love alone.
  • Pleading, cajoling, and offering treats have no lasting effect on changing the dog’s unwanted behavior.
  • Unwanted behavior is viewed as an opportunity for change, growth, and learning.

On Cesar’s show, the dogs and personal stories change weekly, but the ending is always the same.   Lo and behold, the owners discover that once they change their behavior, the dog’s behavior also changes.

In other words, the dog is never the variable. While viewers watch various owners go through a process before they arrive at this “amazing” realization, Cesar and his fans always know how it’s going to go right from the start.

We’ve been working with families for over 11 years at the Brain Highways program, and we, too, find that once the parents change their behavior, their kids’ behavior also changes.  While we use more people-friendly terms (we talk about parents reclaiming their castle since they’re the kings and queens who rule it), we have the same philosophy for kids as Cesar does for dogs.

So, if you’re not sure that you always rule your own castle, try watching The Dog Whisperer.  Often, it’s easier to take information in and reflect when examples are a few steps removed from our own personal situation. If you find yourself sighing and shaking your head since you know the poodle’s owner is contributing to or even causing the existing problem, ask yourself if anything in the show might apply to your own home.  Sometimes, the answer is very humbling.

Keeping Kids’ Sports Fun

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Kids’ sports should focus on fitness and fun.

Kids’ sports should focus on fitness and fun.

My kids and their friends were involved in all kinds of sports as they grew up. Softball, soccer, volleyball, track, swim, ballet, tennis – you name it. My girls are now in their twenties, so I actually know the outcome of all the time and money my family and their friends’ families spent on sports.

By the time my kids were juniors in high school, they had already changed their perspective on sports.  Injuries (and pressure to perform while injured), a few abrasive coaches, and inordinate demands on their time ultimately overrode their original desire to become involved in high-level competition.

Did they give up sports altogether? Not at all. They only gave up the politics, demands, and pressure.  In fact, as young women they continue to be actively involved in the sports they love.

Out of all their high school athlete friends, few actually went on to play college sports. Even fewer received a scholarship that paid enough or was for the college they wanted to attend.  Of those who did play college sports, a large majority quit after the first year. They were already burned out and did not want to make their whole college experience centered on sports.

Of those who played all four years in college, one was actually drafted by a major, professional league.  Granted, that’s pretty darn good. But that’s a mere one out of the hundreds of teen athletes my kids knew.
The point? If you could look ahead and know that your child was not going to be the next (fill in the blank), would you be inclined to make your child’s sports experiences more enjoyable?

If so, here’s what I propose:

1) Pass on the premiere or more advanced team if it means your child is going to sit most of the time on the bench. No matter what anyone says, every kid and every parent wants a good amount of playing time.

2) Change teams rather than try to change the coach.

3) Say nothing when you think a referee or umpire made a bad call. In the long run, it all evens out: Sometimes a bad call is against your team—and sometimes, your team benefits from it.

4) Stay in the present. Don’t make this season all about grooming for that future premiere league or high school or college team that your child may never even play on.

5) Explore sports groups that aren’t focused on developing superstars. For example, check out Girls on the Run International. This nonprofit organization combines a 3.1 mile running event with pre-race workouts that encourage positive social, emotional, and physical development.

Will there still be parents who pour thousands of dollars into kids’ sports with the hopes such investments will pay off some day? Of course. But as parents, we don’t have to go down that road.  We can just as easily make decisions that ensure our kids’ sports experiences are positive and fun.

Catching Our Kids Doing Good

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Kids are motivated to shine when their parents regularly “catch” them doing something positive.

Kids are motivated to shine when their parents regularly “catch” them doing something positive.

The English language is such that we say we “catch” a child in telling a lie or in making a mistake. The word “catch”  infers that we (as parents) have somehow set a trap and then—gotcha!

But what if we turned that same kind of mindset into something positive? Why not also catch kids doing something kind, thoughtful, considerate, witty, clever, creative, and more?   Imagine the child’s response if a parent says, “Wow, I just caught you being so considerate of your sister.”

Here’s a helpful idea to jumpstart (and ensure) we catch kids in shining moments.  Challenge all family members to do ten random acts of kindness over the next few days.  Establish that an act of kindness can be anything—holding the door open for someone, inviting a child (who is often left out) to join the group at recess, calling a grandparent to say hello, massaging Mom’s feet—the possibilities are endless.

Tell family members to keep a list of their random acts of kindness (younger children dictate their list to parents), and then have everyone share his or her shining moments at dinner.

From there, “catch” your child doing something positive at least two times a day.  Be forewarned: The long-term effects of doing so are quite incredible.

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