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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.

Let’s not blame the trophies.

First, it’s important to note that I’m not addressing the concept of “grade inflation” or the idea that every child in a given class is an honor student (as was eloquently written about by Michael Sigman in his article “When Everyone Gets a Trophy, No One Wins.”)

I’m writing about sports — and specifically the types of trophies that athlete, and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison denied his children and posted about on Instagram. In his post, Harrison pointed out that “Sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better.”  James Harrison’s parenting decision is a reflection of the values he wants to teach his children, and I applaud his making a point and defining those goals for his children, however I don’t think they need apply to everybody.

Here’s the thing. When you’re nine years old, it’s probable that your best isn’t going to be good enough. In fact, maybe when you’re that age the functions associated with being on a team, learning to accept that other people play before you and that you’re not cut out to be an athlete may actually be your best.

My father wasn’t in the NFL.  I was a marginal athlete — but I still love and play sports.

I was getting Little League trophies for being part of the team long before they became controversial. I didn’t have the luxury of being one of the “stars” — but I knew who the stars were — we all did. They were the guys who got the MVP (most valuable player) and were named team captain. They were the kids with a drive that I didn’t have for sports, who were ultra-competitive, and who cried when our team lost a game. They were often the kids with parents who were driving their sporting careers, even though, as eight-year-olds, they were a long way from the majors.

I wasn’t ever going to be one of them.

But I loved getting my year-end trophy. I loved having the coach say a few encouraging words about me at the season ending pizza party. I liked being part of a team — a group of kids who had been forged into friendship by our ups and downs on the field — and watching my teammates each get recognized and kidded about events during the past season was as fun as the games for me.

We knew who sucked, and we knew who didn’t.

My trophy wasn’t about my on-field achievements, at least that’s not what it represented to nine-year-old me.  It reminded me that I was on a team with my school pals. It reminded me that I should be at the game a half hour before game time so that I could warm up. It reminded me that I shouldn’t ask the coach when he was going to put me into the game. It also reminded me that I had made one miraculous catch, and even though I’d never gotten a hit that year, my friends accepted me as a member of their team.  It was mostly a souvenir – a physical representation of the experience.

So, why would we want to deny our children an icon that would similarly remind them of those experiences? Trophies aren’t entitlements. This isn’t about teaching our children that only the strong survive (at age six through twelve). This is about marking the fact that they had kept a commitment and shown up to the games. That they had experienced the wins and losses with everyone else, and had contributed, to the best of their abilities, to the outcomes of those contests.  Participation trophies are not a gateway drug to entitlement.

As far as I can tell, none of my peers lost their “drive to want to do better” because they’d gotten a trophy for participating. Many of my Little League teammates grew up to be hard-working professionals, run businesses and even supervise school districts.

I coached Little League. I coached AYSO. My kids had winning and losing records, but all of my clubs were taught what it meant to compete and to be part of a team. If the league didn’t provide trophies, I would make a certificate for my players. I gave a Sportsmanship Award. I gave a Best Attitude certificate, and then a series of funny, personalized “awards” like the “Timex Award” for a player who took a licking and kept on ticking. These awards were given at a group event, with appreciation, understanding and humor.

Not everyone on our team was great, but all of them made some sort of contribution — even if their contribution was teaching the better players how to be patient with teammates who weren’t as skilled as they.

My mantle no longer holds my participation trophies, or those of my children, but all of our trophies served a valuable purpose in our lives. In those moments they reminded us that we were part of a team, something bigger than ourselves — a lesson that shouldn’t be lost on today’s youth.

So, let’s not blame the trophies.  Let’s take responsibility for the way our children are being parented.

Although slightly modified, this blog originally appeared on The Huffington Post.