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Over the years our children have come home and said things like, “You know, Eric’s family watches TV during dinner.” To which we would respond. “That’s nice, but that’s not how we do it in our family.”

Our response served two purposes; one was to plant our flag with a solid “no,” and the other was to indicate that we make the “choice” to do what we do (as if we considered watching TV during dinner and decided it wasn’t for us). A side benefit, or course, is that we were also defining our family as a unit; essentially saying “You’re part of this family, and we have different expectations.

Our choices. Our values. Our family.

This may seem obvious, but these days one can’t take anything for granted.

Sadly, we are in a time when disrespect and bad behavior appear to be rewarded. Just recently I watched a video of a young girl on a subway defying a number of reasonable requests from a very calm policeman to remove her foot from the seat across from hers. For some reason (she said it was her “comfort”), she refuses to move her foot and, after repeatedly challenging and calling the cop names, he forcibly removes her from the train where he is berated by expletive spewing bystanders. Some claimed this was an unnecessary use of force, but why would anyone choose to simply not move their foot, let alone challenge a policeman (who is literally doing his job)?

After the officer told her that she needed to leave the train (prior to having to physically remove her), the girl actually said “I paid money to be on this train.” – as if she had the right to put her dirty foot on someone else’s seat because she now owned the train.  Nonetheless, after enforcing the law, the cop is criticized and this young girl is the “victim” even though she brought the entire incident upon herself.

Who raised this child?

If this seventeen-year-0ld was a toddler and you were her parent would you reward her for her disrespect and blame yourself for having high expectations?

That’s not how we do it in our family.

Ironically, even our role models no longer set a good example. Sadly, I have to put our current President at the top of the list. In a recent opinion piece “Don’t Let Dishonest Don Replace Honest Abe” Neil J. Young writes “With his daily doses of deceit, Trump is undermining the notion of truth and waging war on the foundations of American democracy. As Trumpism becomes normalized, we risk abandoning the norms that have long guided American public life…” The examples of verbal attacks, name-calling, and outright misrepresentations coming from the highest office in our land are a detriment to all of us – even if some of us believe that Donald Trump is accomplishing goals and doing a good job. In fact, these elements of his behavior (not including his sexism, regressive policies, and poorly chosen teammates) should be enough to discredit him as a leader.

Would this conduct be acceptable at your dinner table?

That’s not how we do it in our family.

What can we tell our kids about it? How can we explain that the man who should be a role model is, in fact, a self-obsessed bully. On a more immediate level, how can they deal with similar personalities they might encounter in their daily lives?

Again, I retreat to the closed system that is our family – our simple group that operates according to a set of “norms” characterized by our values; kindness, courtesy, and truth. We teach our children to take responsibility for their actions and not blame others. We teach our children to tell the truth, even if it means we have to disappoint them and sit through an uncomfortable discussion so that they better understand our behavioral expectations.

I’m writing because I believe our children will become exposed to a lot of “not how our family does it” behavior and that they will have to make choices…

I’m not writing because I think I’m a perfect parent or a guy who has all the answers. I just know that our children will become exposed to a lot of “not how our family does it” behavior and that they will have to make choices about their values. Values are seeds that get planted at home, and the most important influences our children have come from us – their parents. What we do at home is far more important than what anyone does in the White House. If we, as parents behave respectfully toward each other, navigate the world with compassion and treat the people around us with respect, we will raise children who do the same. In my book, “Raising Children That Other People Like to Be Around” I used the anagram SMART to simplify the parenting process – starting with S – for Set an Example.

There are times when the value of Truth is more important than popularity. There will be times when our kids think we’re unreasonable because we hold fast to honoring a promise and keeping our word, but in the long run these are the pillars on which we and our children will stand and survive.

That IS how we do it in our family.

InaugurationAfter saying farewell to President Obama, one of the best parenting examples I could have ever wanted,  I, like many others am dealing with the inauguration of President Trump.  I am optimistic that the enormous responsibility the new President assumes will move his mind to important issues, and that he will consider the well-being of our nation in all the decisions he makes.

Regardless of how the the new President handles his position, many parents are asking what strategies might keep their children focused on kindness, inclusiveness, and generosity. Here are 8 simple tips:

  • Make your home an island of sanity. Be fair, be supportive, and listen. Show your children what respect looks like by respecting them and yourself.  Set the bar high and call them out when their behavior dips below it.  Create a cocoon where they are accepted and loved for their compliance.  Praise them for simple behaviors like when they wipe their shoes at the door, or share something with their sibling.  That security will envelop them, and will give them strength of character when they venture into the world.
  • Teach your kids to leave a trail of people behind them who have only nice things to say.  Lead by example.  We just came through the nastiest election in history, and if your kids don’t learn to navigate the world from you, they’re probably not gonna get it anywhere else.  Model empathy and respect for others. What you do matters.
  • Say this to your children a million times:  YOU are the only person whose behavior you can control.  Many times kids are frustrated by people who are mean to them, who disobey the rules, or tell lies.  Explain that we (our family) is not like that. Use those people as examples of what not to do and praise your child for being able to identify those flaws.  Make good behavior one of “our” family values, and use expressions like “Maybe that’s OK in their family, but our family doesn’t work like that.
  • Serve others, and ask your children to participate.  Several studies support the notion that doing regular chores or service to the community has numerous developmental benefits – and it doesn’t hurt to have a little help around the house!  Teach gratitude and service.  Show them that they are more fortunate than others.  Let your kids see you help a stranger, and show them that they owe something for their comfort.  Encourage your kids to pick up a piece of trash and put it in a nearby bin.
  • Stay involved. Monitor the progress of their homework. It’s a struggle, we know, but “executive skills” (organization of time) will pay off when they enter the job market. Teach them how to use their planners and check them every once in a while. Encourage them to ask for help. Be their teammate, not their boss.  Consider doing your work (or just reading) side by side.  If need be, minimize the distractions – outlaw TV and other non-homework related electronics. Great conversations often arise in these periods of parallel study and silence.
  • Allow your kids to struggle and even fail. This is one of the hardest challenges of parenting. Everybody makes mistakes…teach them to learn from theirs. As W. E. Hickson said: “If at first you don’t succeed… try try again.” This is how we all grow.
  • Say NO when you need to. Adversity is something we all encounter every day. The sooner we can teach our children to deal with it, the better they will perform in the big bad world.  Teach your children how to get you to say yes without whining or crying. Be strong.
  • Make sure they have time to get bored.  For children, play is work.  When they’re left to ponder, their imaginations kick in.  Limit their electronics during free time and don’t feel the need to entertain them.  “Go bang your head against the wall until you think of something to do.” Might be a good response to “I’m bored.”  It worked for my mother.

I trust these will be helpful. They actually apply no matter who the President is… because, as you know, Parenting is not a democracy.

Enjoy your children and lead them in the direction you would like them to go.

Happy New Year.

I know a number of people who have toddlers that they describe as “difficult.”

CryingBabyThese children have been complicated from the start.  As tiny tyrants, they’ve spit out their food, pounded the table, or thrown tantrums unabated while their better-behaved siblings and/or parents sat by marveling at the insanity of it and not really knowing what to do.

In these moments of early hostage-taking, many paralyzed parents respond in an anything-to-make-it-stop type of way, resulting in positive reinforcement of both the bad behavior and the toddler’s “difference.”  Unfortunately, this emboldens the upstart and encourages future revolution. In essence, the rules don’t apply to this child – giving them a sense of being “above the law” – whether that law is civility, or just plain respect for others.

vectorstock_1943457Essentially, this child becomes a bully – a person who bosses their parents (or parent) around because their parents allow themselves to be bossed.

Which brings me to Donald Trump and the GOP.

When he first declared his candidacy, many in his party thought he was an anomaly, a child wanting attention that would eventually go away. But his behavior was nurtured by the encouragement of crowds and his misbehavior grew and grew. Name-calling, disrespect, lying, interrupting – all unacceptable practices in the public arena – were ignored, or excused.  So the bully got louder and stronger.

When Trump called Jeb a mama’s boy, Rubio “Little Marco,” and Cruz “Lyin’ Ted” the press and public were so appalled that they sat helpless and imposed no meaningful consequences. He wasn’t reprimanded by debate moderators, he wasn’t censured by the press, he was empowered and, ironically, his popularity grew! He continues to use the name “Crooked Hillary” when Politifact has shown her to be far more truthful than Trump is. What about those tax returns, the bankruptcies, the hypocritical accusations and all of the other special accommodations that are being made for him?  Is that just all O.K.?

TRUMPAngryIt must be because Donald’s a “difficult” child.  He’s used to getting his way and people are too afraid of his bad behavior to stop him. What’s worse is that, as an anointed leader, he’s giving voice to all the other insensitive, me-first children in our country.

I don’t think Trump can be saved. These are things we must teach our children when they are young.  There are remedies for behaviors like this in toddlers – separating them from the group, or stopping in the moment to address the bad conduct (and express a higher expectation).

My wife taught me that one can often avoid these attitudes altogether by regularly praising children for their truthfully good behavior. “I like the way you’re sitting quietly.” “I like the way you played with ____.” Let your children know what you expect. Children live to love their parents. Don’t allow them to push you around.  You are the adult. When you see bad behavior – at any age – firmly impose your expectations.  It will simplify your life. (Note: If your children are older and you believe their disrespect or rebelliousness may be dangerous to them and your family – seek professional help.)

Parenting isn’t easy. It requires both flexibility and strength. If we, as parents, are too flexible, our children will bend us until both we, and they, are broken.  Let us hope that this November, for the sake of our country, we can collectively stand up to this ill-behaved child and let him know what type of behavior is expected in our family.