A New Year’s Resolution Worth Keeping

If you could resolve to do something in 2009 that has the potential of greatly improving your relationship with your children what would it be? After giving it some thought, I decided I’m going to work on becoming a better listener.

Now that both my children are teenagers, it’s more important than ever that I take time to really listen to them. I’ve read plenty of research reporting teenagers often feel their parents don’t listen to them but those same parents feel they are listening to their teens. Why is there such a discrepancy between what the teens and parents think?

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: “I think you just like to focus on being worried about the test because that’s easier than actually studying for it.”
  • 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.”
Even though I know about various roadblocks to conversation and even covered this topic in the Priceless Parenting class, I still find myself using these types of responses. Knowing something is certainly not the same as being able to consistently do it. This year I’m going to work on avoiding conversation roadblocks and really listen to my children!

Mom was right again

There were many words of wisdom I heard from my parents growing up. I’ve recently managed to forget my Mom’s wise advice a couple times and unfortunately suffered the consequences. She always told me not to drop sharp knives into the soapy dishwater but instead hold them by the handle while washing them. Well the other day I reached into the dishwater to retrieve a sharp knife I was letting soak and promptly cut my finger. Ouch!

She also warned me never to leave the kitchen if I had something on the stove. That’s a tough one for me since I love doing more than one thing at a time. I was cooking jelly and decided to jump on the computer for just a minute while it came to a boil. You guessed it … I totally forgot about the jelly until I smelled it burning on the stove after it boiled over! What a mess!

Although I live 1,700 miles from my parents, my Mom may have heard me proclaim “Mom, you were right!” I now have a strongly renewed desire to heed her advice! The influence parents have on their children lasts a lifetime.

If you hit, you sit.

This is a simple rule which lets young children know the consequence of hitting. Parents can explain to children that they are welcome to stay if they choose to play cooperatively, “We want to feel safe when we are together and so if you choose to hit, you must leave.”

If children hit:
  • Guide them to sitting down nearby (this will probably motivate them to quickly change their behavior in order to rejoin the fun) or have them go to their room.
  • Let children decide when they are ready to return. Tell them they are welcome to come back as soon as they decide to play without hitting.
  • Stay calm and avoid showing anger or disappointment. By keeping your emotions under control, children can focus on their behavior and the related consequences.
  • Welcome children back, “I’m happy you’ve decided to come back. It’s more fun when you’re with us.”
Eventually your children will develop self-control and be able to manage their urge to hit. Until that time, parents need to intervene when their children are hitting.

Hard work of parenting pays off

Being a parent certainly presents plenty of difficult challenges (who can ever forget trying to stay cool, calm and collected while your child has a meltdown!). However, the time and energy you put into becoming the best possible parent you can be starts paying off when your children become teenagers. Now that my youngest recently turned 13 and my oldest is 16 we are starting to enjoy the benefits.

They’re teens who are generally responsible, helpful and a lot of fun to have around. Did we just get lucky? No, we spent a lot of time learning from parenting experts and then invested significant time and energy into changing our own behavior. We spent years practicing things like responding with empathy instead of anger to misbehavior, guiding our children to solving their own problems instead of solving it for them and avoiding lecturing, yelling or nagging.

They are not rebellious teenagers because they don’t have a reason to be rebellious. At this point they are in control of most of the important decisions in their lives like: when/where/how to do homework, who to hang out with, what to do with their free time, how to handle time commitment conflicts, when to go to bed and when to get up. We’ve slowly built up their level of freedom and responsibility over the years so that they now have the skills to make wise decisions.

Could they make a major mistake like trying drugs or getting pregnant? This certainly could happen but is less likely because they know they are responsible for dealing with the consequences of their decisions. We’ve often told them that the quality of their lives will depend on the decisions they make.

Where are these parenting skills taught? You can discover the universal parenting skills that have worked well for countless parents by taking the online Priceless Parenting class. The investment you make in improving your parenting is the best investment you’ll ever make!

How many times do I have to ask you?

Do you ever find yourself saying to your children “How many times do I have to ask you?” If so, you’re probably feeling frustrated and angry with the lack of results.

Sometimes we unintentionally teach our children not to respond the first time we make a request. If children have learned that they really don’t need to pay attention to us until we’re screaming, then they often will wait until this point to respond. However, if we instead ask only once and expect it be done, children are more likely to act on our initial request.

What if your child doesn’t do what you’ve asked the first time? Then there needs to be some consequence. For example, if you’ve asked your child to put away his shoes and he hasn’t done it but now wants to eat dinner you could say “Please join us for dinner just as soon as your shoes are put away.”

Crying means stop

Simple, easy-to-remember rules work well with young children. One mom’s rule for her 3-year-old and 18-month-old is “Crying means stop”. Her kids have learned that if someone is crying then it’s time to stop whatever they are doing.

Both children know the rule and are often able to stop themselves from whatever they are doing when someone starts crying. However, mom does step in if the children are unable to stop themselves or the situation is escalating. By allowing her children to work out most of their problems on their own, she is giving them the opportunity to learn the important skill of self-control.

Dryer fire story

It is so easy to panic when there is an unexpected fire in your home. This mom's story of what happened when her dryer caught on fire is worth reading. Spending a little time thinking through how you would handle a fire may help keep your children safe some day.

Teaching Children to Express Gratitude

We are responsible for teaching our children to say "please" and "thank you". This basic social skill is critical in showing respect for others. However, many older children have not fully developed this skill and it causes problems.

For example, one aunt explained how hard she worked to find neat gifts for her three nephews. When opening the gifts they would often say things like "I don't really like this." or "This isn't what I wanted." The aunt's feelings were definitely hurt by these remarks. The parents did not step in to help their sons learn that these types of responses were completely inappropriate.

At another holiday gathering children were wildly opening gifts without paying much attention to who the gift was from never mind actually thanking the person for the gift. The children threw aside each gift and anxiously started tearing the wrapping from the next gift. Again the parents failed to set up appropriate rules or expectations for the gift opening.

It's critical to teach our children how to politely handle situations involving gifts. It can be helpful for parents to sit down with their kids ahead of time and discuss the importance of showing their thankfulness. Discussing and practicing what to say under various situations can help prepare children to act graciously even when receiving a gift they really aren't excited about. It can also be helpful to agree on a gentle reminder signal, like a light touch on the ear, if children forget to say thanks.

Sometimes parents express appreciation for something their children have received instead of guiding their children to saying thank you. When parents do this, children do not learn that it is their responsibility to say thank you for things they've received. Children who do not learn to show these basic courtesies are often disrespectful in a number of other ways.

The holidays provide many opportunities for children to practice expressing their appreciation. This holiday season give your children the gift of learning to express their gratitude!

Children getting lost

Yesterday evening I was walking towards a grocery store as a 3 or 4-year-old boy came out the door. He shouted “Mom!” and when nobody answered tried to go back in the store. However, he wasn’t heavy enough to activate the automatic door and was about to cry when I offered to help him find his mom. We went back into the grocery store and asked a cashier to have his mom paged. Soon his mom appeared with her cart and called out for him. He ran to be joyfully reunited with her. 

Although this story has a happy ending, it’s easy to imagine how it could turn out poorly. Although as parents we try to keep track of our children, children do get lost. What can you do to reduce the chance that your children will get lost and help them make wise choices if they do become lost?

  • Give your children responsibility for keeping track of you. They are less likely to get lost when they have this responsibility.
  • Let them know you will never leave a store without them so they should always stay in the store if they are lost.
  • Explain how to locate an adult who can help them.
  • Teach your children your first name, not just Mom or Dad
  • If you have young children, consider using a harness where you can hold onto a strap.
  • If your child is lost, there are some important steps to take in the first 24 hours
One mom created tags with important information for her children to wear in their shoes. Each tag had a picture of the family, along with names and phone numbers. She was reassured that her children had this important information with them should they need it. If you have other tips to help children handle being lost, please add your comments.

Practicing builds confidence

My son’s TaeKwonDo instructor, Master Shin, often tells the kids that if they want to be confident when it comes time to test for the next belt level, they must practice regularly. The testing involves both physical activities like kicking and punching plus mental activities like being able to recite Korean words. He reminds them that the only way they will have confidence on testing day is if they have been steadily practicing.

He’s right. As an observer on testing day it’s easy to see who has been practicing and who tried to cram for the test … especially when it comes to the Korean vocabulary!

What does this have to do with parenting? I’ve spoken to a number of parents who are upset when their teenagers start making more decisions and are struggling to make good decisions. All teens need to gain their independence and part of this is making their own decisions. If we want our teens to be wise decision makers, they need to be practicing ahead of time.

This is why it is so important to allow younger children to make decisions and experience consequences. For example, it may be easier simply to tell your 9-year-old when it’s time to go to bed, however, if you leave him in charge of when to go to bed, he will learn a lot more. Allowing children to make many decisions when they are young builds their confidence so when “teenage testing day” arrives they can handle it with confidence!

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