You Must Keep Your Cool

Animal parents keeping their coolDo you remember the commercial many years ago for deodorant?  The motto was “never let them see you sweat.”  Up until recently that was my advice to parents.  Even if you are ready to pull your hair out, don’t let your kids see it.  That’s not bad advice, but it is not great advice either.  The best advice is not to sweat it at all.  Keep your cool.

What I generally see and hear are stories of parents who “lose it” with their kids and justify it that their kids pushed them to the limit.  “He made me so mad” they wail.  Well if parents can be pushed to that point, doesn’t it make sense that kids are pushed to that point to?  Will we listen to their justifications that “Amy made me so mad that I had to hit her?”  That’s the way kids think.  If we want our kids to respond intellectually and emotionally in more socially acceptable or more effective ways, then we have to act that way to.

This is not easy to do in a society that reacts instantly to almost everything. Video games keep our reaction times well-honed.  So does the breakneck speed of living and instant access to almost anything.  Parenting is not an instant activity.  From conception, there needs to be a plan.  What are you going to teach?  How are you going to teach it? How are you going to handle it when your children misbehave?”  (Please don’t kid yourself that they won’t).

Most often parents lose their cool when they feel their authority is being challenged, when their own lives have them overwhelmed, or when their plans fell apart because it wasn’t based on realistic expectations.  Once again we are faced with the reality that parents have to take care of their own issues in order to be effective with their children.

If you can’t yet claim that you can easily ride the tides of parenting – at the very least – control your behavior.  Keep your cool!

Worry Proofing Young Teens

Why do we need to worry proof young teens? What do they really have to worry about anyway?  Has it really been so long ago that we have forgotten what it feels like to be in middle school?  I think it is much worse now than it was when I was growing up. The pressure to fit in has always been there, but there are so many other demands on these middle school children that it is a wonder to me that any make it through unscathed.  Common worries for young teens include:

  • a parent dying
  • divorce
  • grades
  • bodily injury
  • the future
  • gender issues
  • race issues
  • social issues

That’s a heavy load of worry.  The increase in worry during this developmental period coincides with an increased awareness of the world and a decrease in egocentrism. While these processes are generally positive, they are not without consequences.

As a parent or teacher there are several things you can do to help worry proof them.  It is important to nurture their positive self-determination. Teach them how to acquire control over their own lives.  Steer them to rewarding friendships.  Model optimism for them, even in the face of challenge and adversity.

teen girlsWe all know that friends become very important for most preteens.  Having friends can be a direct measure of popularity and can provide a sense of security.  Getting with the wrong crowd can have devastating effects.  Each of these peer groups also have their own code of conduct. Teaching them to maneuver the intricacies of social responsibility with the expression of their own thoughts and values is very important.

This is not the time when being different is embraced except by a very few individuals. If they are going to be trying to mimic the mannerisms, speech, dress, behavior, consumerism, music, and fads of their peer group we need to make sure that their peer group is one we can tolerate.

Although they may be critical of everything you do, remember that they are watching closely.  This is a time where they will become very aware of any discrepancy between your words and your behavior. If you want them to be optimistic, you must be optimistic.  If you want them to stand up for themselves, you must stand up for yourself. If you want them to be kind, you must be kind.  Perhaps even more difficult, if you want them to be honest, you need to be honest.

Unfortunately, we can’t really take away all of the things that these young people worry about. These issues are real.  As parents and mentors, we need to remain open to hearing what they have to say on these issues, even when we don’t agree. When they ask your opinion, answer honestly.  If they don’t ask your opinion — say very little.

Remember what it felt like to be that age.  How did the adults in your life handle your concerns?  Which responses helped you to relax and enjoy life and which responses only increased your anxiety and worry?  Tell them to “ignore it” when it really bothers them is the same thing as telling them that their feelings are wrong.  Do you think they will tell you when something is bothering them again?  Probably not.

It can be very easy to get caught up in their drama and trauma.  Try to avoid jumping in too soon unless safety is really an issue.  Give them the chance to handle things if they can or talk them through solutions if there is one.  Be ready and available to listen and empathize.  If the worry seems to be interfering with friendships, academics, or other activities consider professional intervention.

It Is Not Their Fault

parents holding child on lapI have posted about this general theme before, but I have had more reminders about the topic recently.  I was definitely resistant to this belief when I was a young parent, but there really is quite a bit of evidence that adults are responsible (at least partly) for the behavior problems of children.

I often hear teachers complain that children are disrespectful in the classroom.  They talk when the teacher is trying to lecture.  Every week I am exposed to adults that continue to talk while the pastor is leading the congregation in prayer, when the choir director is giving instructions, and when my boss is trying to lead a staff meeting.  My first thought is “how rude”.  My second thought is “it is no wonder that our kids behave the way they do.”

I’m not coming to this topic from a position of sainthood.  I can be rude, thoughtless, and careless too.  My parenting practices have not always been stellar.  I’ve talked negatively about my children’s teachers, gossiped about people, talked down to others, and failed to take action when I probably should have.  I’ve also done all of those things under the close scrutiny of my children. This is a fact that I am certainly not proud of.  Hopefully they didn’t see this as my primary mode of dealing with the world.

In our media-driven society they also had quite a few other unsavory models for adult behavior.  On television children who are sassy, rude, and break rules are everywhere and that behavior appears to be acceptable.  With that sort of modeling, I have to say that it isn’t the kids’ fault that they are exhibiting so many behavior issues.

While I firmly believe in therapy and medication for children with psychological and behavioral problems, I also believe that such measures are not likely to ever be enough if the adults that children are exposed to can’t learn to control themselves. If we want caring children, we must be caring adults. If we want respectful children, we must be respectful adults. This is more than superficial respect.  Children are smart enough to know the difference. It is not enough to act, we must be smart, respectful, caring, or whatever we desire for them to be.

I am fully aware that some children have problems that are not the direct result of parenting practices.  Some children have brain abnormalities that also contribute.  As I mentioned earlier, our children have many role models other than parents.  As children get older they also have an increased share of responsibility for their own choices.  However, on a societal level I stand by my assertion that the adults are responsible for much of the state of our youth today and we must do something about it.

Over the next few months I hope to offer some suggestions about how to turn this around in your own home, church, neighborhood, or more globally?  Any suggestions?