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?

Snacking versus Parenting: The Impact of TV Commercials

There has been a commercial on TV that makes me crazy.  The first time I watched it I felt annoyed, but thought I was just having a bad day. The second time (and third time) I saw it I was still annoyed so decided I should look a little bit deeper. The basic story is that here is a child who wants and snack and he whines through the grocery store until mom gets him one. I think the message is supposed to be that this produce it a good choice that can satisfy moms and kids. Nutrition aside – I understand the message.

Unfortunately, there are some other messages contained within this commercial as well.

  • It is acceptable for children to whine to get what they want
  • Good parenting involves giving in to whining children
  • Processed foods are better snacks than whole foods

From a public health perspective, what would happen if the images on television were of children eating healthy foods? I can think of only one commercial on TV that depicts children eating vegetables and liking them. I can think of many commercials and even more television shows that involve parents hiding vegetables to get kids to eat them, children hiding vegetables to pretend that they have eaten them, and other subtle messages to communicate that vegetables are bad and children should not like them.  While I would have still been offended by this commercial, it would have been less offensive if the mom had gone to the produce section of the grocery store and picked up a carrot for the young boy.

Even though the child was whining, everyone still appeared pretty happy. I was never happy when my children whined in public.  I learned very quickly that giving in to the whining only made them whine more often.  There was no correction for the behavior in the commercial.  The background message here is that giving in is normal or acceptable. This message, when viewed repeatedly, can’t help but desensitize us to this inappropriate behavior. Where are the media messages that show children behaving appropriately and parents dealing with childhood misbehavior calmly and rationally?

Many children and adults have viewed this commercial and I suspect that most never notice the messages that I did.  That doesn’t mean that the message doesn’t have an impact though.  Advertising works. In the past I’ve definitely purchased things based on the commercials and jingles. As may awareness has increased, I’m trying to do a better job of avoiding products that perpetuate negative attitudes and behaviors. As yourself these questions:

  1. Does this commercial communicate accurate information about the product?
  2. Does this commercial communicate life views that are consistent with mine?
  3. Does this commercial include people behaving in a way that is inappropriate or dangerous?

If you answered yes to any of these, please consider making a different consumer choice.  Children need to see images of other children behaving appropriately, not children behaving badly and getting away with it. Parents need to see images of other parents acting calmly and confidently with their children. Insisting on this change through our consumerism could have a significant impact on everyone.

I’d love to hear your views on this.  How do television commercials impact your consumer decisions?

Book Review – The Song of Annie Moses

I loved this book. I already was in love with the Annie Moses Band, having attended one of their concerts in Ohio. I knew a little of their story before, but this book made me fall in love with them all over again. The writing is captivating, the story compelling, and the wisdom is priceless. I believe this book deserves a spot on the top shelf of all parenting books.

Robin Donica Wolaver is the author. She writes books with the same mastery and clarity as her song lyrics. By the end I felt as though I really knew these strong and inspired women through the generations. I was impressed by the congruence between their beliefs and their actions.  I felt challenged by the depth of their spiritual lives. As the book ended, I wanted more.

Global vs Local

If you search the internet using the terms local and global you will find articles on almost every topic imaginable. Within the realm of psychology, the terms are commonly used in perception and information processing. I have found benefit in using these terms to understand problems and solutions as well as pairing solutions with the problems people report in therapy. It might be helpful to think of local problems as things that are fairly limited in time and frequency. Local problems aren’t always small or minor. They can be quite intense. Global problems are best thought of as patterns or trends. Again, severity isn’t the real issue.

Mary, usually a great student, gets a low score on a math test. Is this a local problem or a global problem? Based on the available information this is a local problem. There is no evidence that this problem involves any factors outside of the specific incident. Jared has received low grades in his math classes for the past several years. The existence of the difficulty over time suggests that this is more likely global. Judy is having trouble getting along with her coworkers, family, and friends. She has been generally irritable for several months. This is another example that is more global than local because the problem exists in more than one situation.

Mary, having a local problem, will likely be able to resolve the issue with a fairly local solution. Local solutions might include things like reviewing the test material, talking with the teacher, or doing some extra work with the specific concepts that were covered by the test. Global solutions such as dropping the math class, enrolling in a tutoring program, or changing her major would likely be excessive or overreactions to the problem. For Jared the opposite is really true. His problems are not likely to resolve by focusing on only the current topic in mathematics. The solution will need to be much more global. Since Judy’s problems occur within several relationships and settings, resolution focusing on broader concepts such as mood, intimacy, communication, or boundaries will probably be necessary.

When an individual has a local problem there is not likely going to be a serious consequence when a global solution is launched; however, the problem resolution could actually take a much longer time and will use more resources than in necessary. Conversely, if an individual has a global problem, as noted previously there is very little chance of resolution with a local solution.

Misperception is an important factor to consider. Susan’s son spilled soda on the living room carpet. Ellen recognized this as a local problem and had him clean up his mess. This was a logical consequence of his spilling. This scene could have played out a different way if Susan had perceived this as a global problem. Instead of focusing on how to resolve the mess, she could have focused on the event as an act of disrespect, disobedience, or incompetence. Then she would have searched for solutions that would correct those larger issues. The event would likely not have ended with just a towel or a mop.

Here are some questions to ask when considering whether a problem or solution is truly local or global.

  • How often does this problem occur (time)?
  • Does this happen in more than one situation (scope)?
  • Does this happen with more than one person?
  • Does this solution address the facts or the feelings?
  • Does this solution have an immediate impact or will it take time?
  • Does this solution change what is happening in one situation or many?

Remember, the goal is to use local solutions for local problems and global solutions for global problems.  The more accurate your perception, the easier it will be.

Book Review – The Too Precious Child: Letting Go of the Super-Parent Syndrome

The Too Precious Child was written by Dr. Lynne Williams, Dr. Henry Berman, and Louisa Rose. It has been a mainstay in my tool kit for helping parents with a variety of issues.  I consider it to be one of the most important books busy parents in our culture can read, particularly if they are striving for strong parenting skills. If you answer yes to any of these questions, this book is for you.

  • As a parent, have you vowed never to let your child lack for anything?
  • Did you have your first child at or beyond the age of thirty?
  • Were there obstacles to conceiving your child?
  • Was your child adopted or premature?
  • Does it bother you when your child is bored, messy, or less than an A student?
  • Are you a single parent?
  • Is your child artistically, athletically, or intellectually gifted?
  • Do you always put your children’s needs first? Before your mate’s? Before your own?

It looks like this book is only available through second hand retailers, but is worth the search.