When consequences are years away

It’s far easier to learn something when the consequences are immediate. It doesn’t take children long to learn not to touch a hot stove. What’s really difficult is changing behavior to avoid a problem where the consequences will not be seen for years if at all.

Gal Baras describes how much he’s always enjoyed being out in the sun and how recently he discovered he had skin cancer on his head. He writes about a number of things he’s learned from his experience including “Sunscreen is not just for sissies and parents are not out to make their kids look uncool outside. Sunscreen can actually prevent serious stuff from happening.”

When consequences are years away, telling our children other people’s real life stories may help them learn from other people’s consequences. Children may also reject these stories with “that won’t happen to me”. In that case if children can actually talk to someone who has experienced the consequences, the story will likely have a greater impact.

Your child’s brain development

Researchers now know that the actual development of a child’s brain, especially emotional area of the limbic system, is directly affected by the amount of love and attention given by parents. According to three professors of psychiatry, the authors of A General Theory of Love, “A child’s brain cannot develop normally without the coordinating influence that limbic communication furnishes. The coos and burbles that infants and parents exchange, the cuddling, rocking, and joyous peering into each other’s faces look innocuous if not inane; one would not suspect a life-shaping process in the offing. But from their first encounter, parents guide the neurodevelopment of the baby they engage with. “

Parents play a vital role in their child’s brain development. The love they show their babies by holding and cuddling them is actually essential to the babies’ survival. You can learn more about parents’ amazing influence on their children's brains in this book:

Starting chores early

Starting chores when children are young and enthusiastic is great timing. Most preschoolers are not very good at chores but they are often eager to help. When parents give their preschoolers some simple chores and start teaching them how to do more complicated ones, they are on the road to enabling their children to be significant contributors to the family.

One mom told me she is teaching her 5-year-old twins how to do the laundry. Although she still needs to provide some guidance, she remarked that the boys are so proud they know what buttons to push and how to do a load of laundry! Mastering new household skills builds self-confidence in children and starts building appreciation for what needs to be done to keep the household running.

Whose problem is it?

One mom wrote about her success in allowing her children to solve their own problems. After completing the third lesson in the Priceless Parenting class, she described what she tried and how the new parenting techniques worked:

'Fresh off Lesson #3 from today’s parenting course, I jumped into it with vigor.

“I’m bored!” my son whined.

“Oh, what are you going to do?” I asked.

He was stunned.

Normally, I offer helpful hints, tips and tricks to avoid the Boredom Monster. After he recovered from his initial shock, my son said, “I think I’ll call Anton.” He quickly got distracted with something his sister was doing, then proudly announced 30 minutes later that he decided now would be a good time to call his friend. They made a playdate. After a quick peck on the cheek, he was out the door.

My daughter, who tends to challenge me wherever I go, looked me squarely in the eye and said, “I’m doing the rest of my homework after dance class.” She laid out a sensible plan. “Sounds like you know what you are doing!” was all I said. Another stunned silence ensued. No bickering? Commanding? Bossing around? I smiled sweetly and wished her good luck. My daughter looked about her, put on her shoes, and left for Hip Hop.

Fast-forward a few hours. The kids came home. My daughter dilly-dallied. It started to get late.

“Oh, didn’t you say you were going to read outloud?” She claimed she already had. When I reminded her she had said she would do so in front of her father, she had no where to go. “Are you going to read now or after your shower?” She started to squirm. I could tell my calm, question-based parenting was started to sink in. It really is her responsibility to make certain things get done in her life.'

I love hearing about the positive changes parents experience using the ideas from the online Priceless Parenting class!

"Stop crying!" + Other Commands That Don't Work

Moments of frustration can lead parents to issuing commands that really don't work. Any time we are ordering children to change their behavior we're not likely to succeed. Instead of producing the desired behavioral change, commands often lead to some type of resistance.

For example, when feeling stressed to leave on time, we may yell to our children "Hurry up! It's time to get going!" It can feel good to give commands because it seems like we have more control over a situation when we're shouting commands. However, children often resist being told what to do (interestingly, most adults also do not like being told what to do!).

Since children ultimately control their own behavior, commands like these are usually ineffective:
  • "Stop crying!"
  • "No more whining."
  • "Don't give me that look."
  • "Go to sleep right now!"
It is easy to fall into the parenting trap of using commands to try and control children's behavior. However, it is far more effective to tell children what we are going to do instead of what they have to do. Parents might declare "The car is leaving in five minutes." instead of saying "Hurry up!"

Recently I saw a dad trying to change his 18-month-old daughter's diaper while she was crying and struggling to get away. When doing an unappealing task like changing a diaper, it's difficult to have a child who is resisting and making an unpleasant task even more unpleasant.

This dad responded by telling his daughter "Stop crying!" Not only did she not stop crying, her crying intensified. It was easy to relate to his frustration as well as his child's reaction.

In this case, the dad probably would have been more successful by empathizing with his daughter by saying something like "I can see you're really upset. I'm going to change your diaper and then we will leave." By acknowledging her feelings and telling her what he was going to do, he could avoid telling her what she had to do.

Sometimes in the heat of the moment, we don't do our best parenting. It's helpful to reflect on how we wish we would have handled the situation. We are likely to have a second chance in the near future to handle a similar situation in a better way!

Creating picky eaters

Some parents unintentionally encourage their kids to be picky eaters. How do they do this? One mom told me her story. Years ago she realized her young daughter liked a certain brand and type of bread, cheese and milk among other things. She exclusively bought these brands. In a few months, those were the only types of bread, cheese and milk her daughter would eat. If they went to someone else’s house for dinner, mom would bring along her daughter’s special food items.

Her daughter grew into a young adult who often could find nothing at a restaurant that she wanted to order. Likewise, when she was invited over to dinner at someone’s house, she ate very little since most of it wasn’t anything she was accustomed to eating. Since food is such an essential part of many gatherings, her limited tastes made for many awkward situations. The daughter is now working to try more foods, however in retrospect, she wishes she had mastered this skill years ago.

Video Game Addiction

Parents are wise to understand the immense power video games and internet games can have over their children. The book Video Games & Your Kids: How Parents Stay in Control can help parents gain an understanding of the addictive nature of video games. The authors examine the research on the effects of excessive gaming on children and provide examples from their own clinical practices. They also provide guidelines for setting reasonable limits around the amount of screen time children can have each day.

One parent who reviewed the book wrote “I would strongly recommend this book, particularly to parents of young children who are playing video games. It details how gaming can become a serious problem and what steps to take to prevent it from happening. We have a 16 year old who became addicted to a game called World of Warcraft. If not for our own experience, I would have thought that the consequences of too much gaming that the book talks about are exaggerated, however, they are NOT exaggerated, as our child suffers from almost all of them. I wish I had this book 5 years ago. It is the first that I am aware of to address the growing problem of video game addiction.”

Learning to follow directions

One of essential skills any preschooler needs to develop is the ability to follow directions. Parents have a critical role in teaching this skill to their children. One preschool teacher told me that all but one of their 70 preschool children has managed to learn to follow directions during the first four months of school. The one child, “Jake”, who refuses to follow directions causes a huge disruption to the rest of the class.

For example, one of the rules this school has is that all children must put on their jackets before they go out to play. The kids can take off their jackets and hang them up outside if they are too warm, however, they need to put them on before they go outside. Jake frequently refuses to put on his jacket. When the teachers discussed the issue with Jake’s parents, his dad replied that Jake doesn’t like wearing a jacket and they don’t make Jake do things he doesn’t want to do.

While it may be easier in the short run to not insist that Jake follow rules when he protests, in the long run Jake’s parents are stealing an important opportunity from him. If we don’t teach our kids to follow rules and directions at home, they will not have these essential skills when they are away from home at a friend’s house or school. Teaching our children to follow directions is a gift that will always be with them.

Fostering Growth using the Mentoring Parenting Style

What is your normal parenting style?  Do you give your kids orders?  Do you do a lot of things for them that they are capable of doing thems...