Monday, March 30, 2009

Last night my dad died

My heart broke when I heard the news. He had gone to the hospital on Friday because he hadn’t been feeling well. I expected the doctors to fix him up and send him home like they had done previously when he had a quadruple bypass and cancer surgery. This time the problems were just too great.

My family lives in Seattle and my folks live in Minnesota. Although we typically go back to visit every summer, we had just been back last week to attend a celebration of life gathering for my mother-in-law who died March 10th. We stopped briefly to see my parents and enjoyed a delicious meal my mom prepared; we even played a quick game of cards. What a precious gift it was to be able to give him one last hug and say “I love you”.

My dad was kind, patient and loving. I learned a lot about parenting from both him and my mom. Probably the greatest thing I learned from them was how to have a loving, supportive, peaceful marriage. I can’t remember them ever yelling at each other or fighting. If they disagreed, they found a respectful way to discuss it. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a family with parents who had such a strong, loving marriage.

I also took a picture before I left. I’ll treasure it forever along with all the other memories of my dad.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Not meeting expectations

A teacher recently told me about a 10-year-old boy’s dad who spoke to him about what a huge disappointment his son was turning out to be. While his son was getting top scores in this teacher's class, the dad did not see his son demonstrating the type of persistence he expected.

For example, he bought his son a wonderful Lego Mindstorm building set and his son played with it for 15 minutes and then walked away. How would his son ever succeed in life if he couldn’t stick with something so interesting more than a few minutes? The dad explained that if he had been given that toy as a child, he would have spent many hours over many days carefully creating all sorts of structures.

His son was clearly different in a number of ways from his dad. Although the teacher pointed out again how well his son was doing at school, the dad dismissed it saying he feared his son would never succeed in life given his lack of persistence.

It can sometimes be very hard for parents to appreciate the child before them when that child does not match their expectations. Our children are a gift. Getting wrapped up in feeling disappointed for what they are not causes us to miss the awesome child standing before us.

Parental disapproval is a heavy weight for any child’s shoulders. Children whose parents support them in following their own dreams and passions are truly fortunate.

Monday, March 23, 2009

“I don’t care”

During a parenting presentation last week, one parent raised the question “What can I do when my child brings home a test where he did poorly and when I ask him about it he says ‘I don’t care.’?”

The principal at this school gave some wise advice. She said that whenever she hears a student say “I don’t care”, she tries to find the kernel of truth behind those words. She’ll ask the child “Can you tell me more about that?” The real truth may be:
  • I don’t know how to do this.
  • I need help but I don’t know how to ask for it.
  • I’m embarrassed because I don’t understand this.
  • I think this is too hard for me.
Once she understands what the child is really communicating, she is in a better position to help. Saying “I don’t care” is often a way for children to distance themselves from the problem and to get adults to leave them alone. Our empathy and careful listening can help uncover what is really going on.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"You're not listening!"

Listening is one of those skills that really doesn't seem like it's all that difficult. Why then do so many children report that their parents don't listen to them?

Maybe it's because there are a lot of ways for parents to unintentionally stop conversations with their kids. For example, if your child is telling you about being nervous for an upcoming test, these types of responses will probably leave your child feeling unheard:
  • Analyzing: "You always worry about tests and then end up doinggreat."

  • Criticizing: "If you would have been studying every night for the last week like I suggested, you wouldn't need to be nervous now."

  • Reassuring: "You've studied enough. I'm sure you'll do great on the test."

  • Giving advice: "If you study an hour right before going to bed, you'll probably remember more for the test tomorrow."

These types of responses are considered roadblocks to conversation because they tend to shutdown communication. It is extremely easy to accidentally use these roadblocks when talking to children.

If you want your children to feel heard, a better approach is to
  • Stop what you are doing

  • Look at your child

  • Listen carefully - pay attention to the body language

  • When your child is done speaking, summarize what you heard

When you summarize what you heard, you are giving your child the opportunity to clarify or correct your understanding of what was said.

Good listening takes time, patience and attention. You can't fully listen while also watching TV or working on the computer. Communication involves not only words but also body language, eye contact and tone of voice. So in order to understand your child's message, you need to both hear the words and watch how they are said.

The importance of listening was clearly demonstrated to me during a company gathering at Wilson Learning where I worked over 20 years ago. We were divided into small groups and one of the exercises was to have each person in the group spend five minutes talking about whatever they wanted. The rest of the group needed to listen carefully. No interrupting, no questions, no comments. What surprised me was how many people ended up in tears during their five minutes of talking. It seemed that having a small group of people actually listening for five minutes was a rare and special occasion.

If listening for five minutes has that large an impact on adults, just think what it can do for your relationship with your children!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Love is Spelled T-I-M-E

The introduction to the book, To A Child Love is Spelled T-I-M-E, starts off with a wonderful story about a dad looking back at one day he spent with his son. It is a touching reminder of how important it is to spend special time with our children.

"In the faint light of the attic, an old man, tall and stooped, bent his great frame and made his way to a stack of boxes that sat near one of the little half-windows. Brushing aside a wisp of cobwebs, he tilted the top box toward the light and began to carefully lift out one old photograph album after another. Eyes once bright but now dim searched longingly for the source that had drawn him here.

It began with the fond recollection of the love of his life, long gone, and somewhere in these albums was a photo of her he hoped to rediscover. Silent as a mouse, he patiently opened the long buried treasures and soon was lost in a sea of memories. Although his world had not stopped spinning when his wife left it, the past was more alive in his heart than his present aloneness.

Setting aside one of the dusty albums, he pulled from the box what appeared to be a journal from his grown son’s childhood. He could not recall ever having seen it before, or that his son had ever kept a journal. Why did Elizabeth always save the children’s old junk? he wondered, shaking his white head.

Opening the yellowed pages, he glanced over a short reading, and his lips curved in an unconscious smile. Even his eyes brightened as he read the words that spoke clear and sweet to his soul. It was the voice of the little boy who had grown up far too fast in this very house, and whose voice had grown fainter and fainter over the years. In the utter silence of the attic, the words of a guileless six-year-old worked their magic and carried the old man back to a time almost totally forgotten.

Entry after entry stirred a sentimental hunger in his heart like the longing a gardener feels in the winter for the fragrance of spring flowers. But it was accompanied by the painful memory that his son’s simple recollections of those days were far different from his own. But how different?

Reminded that he had kept a daily journal of his business activities over the years, he closed his son’s journal and turned to leave, having forgotten the cherished photo that originally triggered his search. Hunched over to keep from bumping his head on the rafters, the old man stepped to the wooden stairway and made his descent, then headed down a carpeted stairway that led to the den.

Opening a glass cabinet door, he reached in and pulled out an old business journal. Turning, he sat down at his desk and placed the two journals beside each other. His was leather-bound and engraved neatly with his name in gold, while his son’s was tattered and the name “Jimmy” had been nearly scuffed from its surface. He ran a long skinny finger over the letters, as though he could restore what had been worn away with time and use.

As he opened his journal, the old man’s eyes fell upon an inscription that stood out because it was so brief in comparison to other days. In his own neat handwriting were these words:

Wasted the whole day fishing with Jimmy. Didn’t catch a thing.

With a deep sigh and a shaking hand, he took Jimmy’s journal and found the boy’s entry for the same day, June 4. Large scrawling letters, pressed deeply into the paper, read:

Went fishing with my dad. Best day of my life."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Teen dies due to video game addiction

When 15-year-old Brandon Crisp's parents realized he was skipping school due to long hours playing Microsoft's XBox "Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare", they took the game away. Brandon was devastated and decided to run away from home. He died of hypothermia several miles from his home.

Brandon Crisp's tragic story is told in CBC's fifth estate program which aired March 6, 2009 titled "Top Gun: When a video gaming obsession turns to addiction and tragedy". I highly recommend watching the full episode as it provides an excellent, in-depth exploration of video game addiction.

For any parent with a child who plays video games, it is essential to understand the world of video games along with the serious problems of possible addiction. Parents who realize the addictive nature of some video and internet games are in a better position to make wise decisions around the games their children are allowed to play.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Motivating kids to brush their teeth

One mom described how her 4-year-old son insisted on brushing his own teeth, however, he did not do a particularly thorough job. She came up with an idea of how she might be able to encourage him to brush better.

She asked him if there was anyone at school he really liked. He replied that he really liked Madison because “She’s so beautiful!” Mom then told her son that she thought Madison probably really like white teeth. He really scrubbed his teeth after hearing that!

Finding the right motivator can make a big difference.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Adult children back at home

Just when you thought your children were out on their own, they’re back! According to Jane Adams in her book When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us: Letting Go of Their Problems, Loving Them Anyway, and Getting on with Our Lives, 58% of 21 – 24-year-olds live at home or have boomeranged back in the last two years; for 25 – 34-year-olds, the figure is 34 percent.

She discusses the tricky parts of helping your adult children learn to thrive on their own. It’s important to come up with an arrangement that supports your children while encouraging them to move out on their own. This arrangement needs to include things like

  • Expectations for paying rent, utilities and insurance

  • Conditions for staying at home

  • Plans for employment

  • A time table for moving out

The closer you can model what life is like in the real world, the more likely your child is to be able to successfully transition to independent living.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The skill of sharing

The ability to share with others isn’t a skill that comes naturally to most children. One mom and dad decided when their daughter was young that she didn’t need to share any toys that had been given specifically to her. This kept their daughter happy in the short term because she didn’t have to share any of her toys, not even with her younger sister. However, when their daughter started school, she struggled to make friends partly because she wasn’t very good at sharing.

While teaching children to share isn’t easy, it can help to discuss your expectations for sharing ahead of time. For example, before another child comes over to play you may want to talk to your child about sharing and allow your child to select one special toy that can be put away which does not need to be shared. When their friends come over to play, all other toys need to be shared.

Even after discussing sharing in advance, it is likely for young playmates to get in a fight over a toy. You can then help them figure out how they might be able to share the toy. You will be teaching them an essential friendship skill!