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wishfulthinkingfingerscrossedFor many children, this time of year is about getting gifts far more than giving them. This is completely understandable, as these holidays are for many parents an opportunity to show children that we love them and we want them to be happy. But it’s also important to teach our kids that giving presents can be as gratifying as getting them.

I believe that generosity is inherited. If we parents show our children how to care about others, they too will want to help out. Take time to put meaning in the holiday. Tell some stories of your most wonderful experiences, watch a family movie, be grateful, and consider these three simple suggestions to help get the message across:

1. Make them part of the giving process.

Ask your kids what they think their dad or mom might like for the Holiday. Ask them about their siblings. Make the gift purchase your private conspiracy. (Besides, our kids are usually better informed than we are). Let them see how excited you are about also being able to give. Take them shopping and make them part of the decision-making. Use the opportunity to teach them about budgeting by giving them an idea of what things cost. Teach them to budget, save, coupon-clip.

2. Create a family ritual and slow things down.

The holidays come and go quickly.  To slow the process down, take some time to savor each experience — like trimming the tree, lighting the candles, and decorating the house. Remember, until those gifts are opened we parents have enough leverage to insist on certain behaviors from our children.

Here’s a suggestion that came from our very organized daughter. Instead of letting everyone just open their gifts in a paper-tearing frenzy, have everyone (including mom and dad), gather their unopened gifts in front of them.  Once the gifts are gathered, go around the group, having each person open one gift at a time. This gives children the opportunity to share in the pleasure of seeing how excited others get, and it’s also a way to prolong the fun for everyone. It takes a little discipline, but sharing the pleasure of the Holiday makes it that much more of a unifying experience.

3. Do something for others.

Whether you simply ask your children to help you decide on an online donation, hand them money to put into a Salvation Army kettle, or work serving holiday meals to the less fortunate, it is always good for children to see their parents being generous.

vectorstock_6496697‘Tis the time for all of us to promote “Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Men” (and everyone else). This holiday season, teach your child how to be a loving and generous person.

That’s a gift that will pay off for the rest of their life (and yours).

Happy Holidays!

Richard

SantaMenorahSmallPeople have asked me how to address intercultural diversity and Christmas-related issues with their children. I’ll start with the message of goodwill toward others and work back from there.

I’m Jewish, but this December I will be happy to say “Merry Christmas” to as many people as possible. Some of them may reply with a Happy Hanukah, or Sweet Kwanzaa, or whatever else anyone wants to celebrate during this Holiday Season. But everyone will do so with a smile – and that’s what this time of year is about.

When people refer to a “War on Christmas,” I’m always amused. On one hand, who would ever want to declare war on such a wonderful sentiment as “good will toward men?” On the other hand, why does recognizing multiple holidays minimize the beauty of Christmas?

Our country was founded on an idealistic assumption of “inclusion.” It’s not easy. Our egos and fears often get in the way. But we are a land built by (and of) immigrants and we are all the better for it. We have many different people celebrating a wide variety of winter solstice related holidays.

coexistChildren are naturally curious about other people and their customs – especially at Christmas, when generosity is in the air. My uncle, who was Jewish, married a non-Jewish woman and we went to their house annually on Christmas Day. They came to our house to celebrate Hanukah. I was very young and it all seemed pretty normal to me. There was no animosity at either gathering, just food, laughs, and generosity. People explained that Christmas was about the birth of the baby Jesus, and I was happy to join the party.

I love Christmas. I know the words to the carols, I’ve sung “The Messiah,” I enjoy pine, peppermint, and crackling fires. My parents didn’t celebrate Christmas in our home, but they appreciated it and allowed it to co-exist with Hanukah. As a result, my children learned the same sentiment. My mother used to say “Christmas is like a fine piece of jewelry. You can admire it, but you’ll never own it.” On Christmas day, my brilliant wife used to leave a small gift from Santa on the floor of each of our children’s rooms about which I would say, “You must have really been good this year – you’re Jewish and Santa gave you a gift! That worked for all of us.

These holidays are about sensitivity and coexistence. Sometimes putting up with other people is not easy, especially when they wear different clothes, eat different foods, and celebrate different holidays. But ‘tis the season that is defined by generosity – both material and emotional – and what better time to teach our children what tolerance really means?

HappyHoswKwanzaaChristmas is bigger than a coffee cup, blue office decorations, or even the words “Happy Holidays.” So let’s just remember what this season is really about, and make a point of teaching that to our children.

We all know that there can be no “War on Christmas,” because love conquers all.

Wishing you PEACE ON EARTH and GOODWILL TOWARD EVERYONE.

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.

There are very few things that I find “absolute” in parenting. What works for one family may not work for another… except for the three strategies I am about to share with you. These primarily concern multi-child households. They worked really well with our family and I believe they will work equally as well for yours!

Kid of the Day

Aaron3superman_83liteAny parent with multiple children will mention certain annoying issues that arise constantly, like who gets to hold the remote control, or who chooses the music in the car, or who gets to sit “shotgun.”

As kids get older, it’s harder to offer decisions based on chronological age, or current level of politeness. So courtesy of Jerry and Carol in the long proven tradition of handed-down parenting tips, I bring you “Kid of the Day.”

It’s quite easy. Get a calendar and mark the alternating days with each child’s name. Show it to your kids.

You will never have to do that again.

From the moment we implemented “Boy of the Day” our three sons managed that calendar with the absolute precision of Swiss watchmakers. In fact, they knew the calendar so well that they traded future dates and remembered them. Most importantly, neither JoAnn nor I ever had to decide who was sitting in the front seat again.

One Divides, One Chooses

RCEHalloweenI have an older sister. There was always a tussle regarding the fairness of a split when it came to a piece of gum, or Halloween candy, or generally anything we had to share. As a parent, I was witnessing the same bickering among our kids. Then one day someone said, “Why is that so complicated? Take yourself out of the middle! One divides and one chooses.”

Wow – so basic. One child, knowing that the other will ultimately get to choose his or her piece, divides the stick of gum, candy bar or can of soda as carefully and equally as possible. They both know that when the other chooses a piece, the person dividing is going to get what’s left.

It works like a charm. Occasionally, you might even notice the “chooser” selecting the smaller piece to reward the attempt at fairness by the divider.

Reciprocal Birthdays

Kids all love their birthdays. They get parties, presents, and lots of attention. But what about their siblings? They usually just get to eat birthday cake and help clean up the wrapping paper. Our friends, Carole Ann and Marco, shared this brilliant strategy with us many years ago:

vectorstock_1038990When your child is having a birthday, have that child give a gift to each sibling. Not a re-gift of something they got, but an actual gift of their choosing. Encourage them to think about what gift each sibling would really like, give them a price limit per gift, and teach them the joy of generosity. If possible, have them explain why they gave that specific gift to each sib. They usually know what to give much better than we would. In this way, everyone ends up looking forward to all the birthdays.

In each of these solutions the common threads are collaboration and harmony. These are wonderful opportunities to teach our children that there are ways to be “fair,” and that rules can be comforting. Our children are now grown, but if it came down to it they could probably tell us who would be Kid of the Day today.

None of these were our ideas. We were lucky enough along the way to have friends who shared their “lessons learned”. I hope these can be helpful to you and encourage you to pass them on.

I’ve lived long enough to see many of my divorced friends find new mates. It’s quite a relief actually – not because I think everybody needs to be a couple, but because their divorces have left scars that I’m happy to see healing.

ball_and_chain_wedding_topperIn many cases my friendship with these people began with deep discussions about their marital relationships, and their hopes and concerns for their families. In some cases, I learned that everyone’s good intentions had somehow been lost to an ego-driven selfishness. That selfishness could be justified by phrases like, “Well, she doesn’t care about me.” or “Nothing pleases her.” In some cases, this inability to be pleased, by either a husband or a wife, would lead to a deliberate desire not to please – and everything would go downhill from there.

Sometimes the couples were just incompatible. Years of therapy couldn’t help unravel the knots that had been tied. No one was willing to surrender their hurt in the name of healing, or if they did it was to no avail. So divorce ensued.

For some, the post-divorce period led to great introspection. “Was it me? Was I the problem? Why couldn’t I make it work?” Those who chose to heap blame on themselves continued to do so, until they were able to recognize that compatibility with another person depends a lot on the other person.

Then, not surprisingly, some of them found other people, and in almost every case they said things like, “She appreciates me.” and “He’s so grateful when I let him know where I’ll be.”

REGJEGFeetAnnivLiteAs I look at the ties that bind me to my wife of thirty-seven years, I have to admit that appreciation has always been one of the keys. We’ve always done things for each other, often with little expectation of payback. We’ve accepted that our marriage is not a 50/50 thing. It’s a 90/90 thing, and at any given point one of us may be working harder than the other. I make our bed (fluffy pillows and all), not because my parents hounded me about it, but because I know it makes her happy.

I used to tell people that the person who won the arguments in our relationship was the one with the most passion for the result. Our issues generally fell along traditional lines. I cared more about teaching our sons not to quit when they were having a tough time on the baseball team, and she cared more about who their upcoming teacher might be. I wanted them to learn to work with their hands, and she wanted them to dress adorably. In each case, we yielded to each other and accepted the other’s leadership. If either of us felt really strongly about something, we articulated our argument as best we could and hoped the other would see the light — even if it took a day, or week, or month. In the end, the truth would float.

Which brings us back to the divorced friends.

In each of the cases I’ve seen, their new relationships thrived because the individuals are grateful to have someone who appreciates them just for being around. Maybe it’s something one learns from being alone, or unappreciated, but it’s definitely an essential ingredient in a successful connection.

CasualFamilyI’m writing to remind us all that a little appreciation goes a very long way. So whether you’re grateful that your mate keeps the house stocked with toilet paper or spent the whole day dealing with your mother, take the time to say thanks and add another stitch to the ties that bind you together.

For an added bonus, teach your children to do this too.

vectorstock_969927I believe that most parents are good parents.  It’s my observation that a majority of our citizens are well-behaved, respectful, and law-abiding.  But I also see a society that devotes an immense amount of energy and resources to deal with the minority of adults who are products of “bad” or no parenting.

Laws have been created so that our society doesn’t run amok and, for the most part, I think they’re working.  Some argue that all regulation is bad, but I like knowing the other car is going to stop because there is a red light.

When I was young, there were no laws against sexual harassment. My parents taught me to hold the door and that ladies go first. If parents today could teach their children to treat everyone with respect, males and females, I don’t think we’d need to spend billions on behavioral training, and then spending even more to apply and enforce the rules when they misbehave.  But I’m an optimist.

Surgeons usually think surgery is the best solution. Psychotherapists usually think they can solve the problem with some very serious conversations. I’ve been focused on parenting for a while now, so that’s why I think these solutions can all be presented during the parenting process.

vectorstock_634418Why do I think that? Whenever I examine my morals, manners, and values it always comes back to my parents. My parents respected each other and the people in their world. Our house was not a place where women were considered unequal, although my father would only allow me to use bad language when he and I were alone (something I thought was pretty cool at the time).  I didn’t consider it discriminatory, I considered it polite. Ironically, I saw it as a sign of respect for my mother, not a measure of her frailty.

I’m also aware that those are the rules that I took into the world.  So whenever I hear of kids who went off the rails, or who behave as though the rules don’t apply to them, I have to look at their parents as the origin of the problem. In doing so, I usually conclude that parenting is also the solution.

Although my book is about raising children that other people like to be around, it’s really about asking parents to create respectful and considerate people that they like being around. Do you want to live with a whiny kid who can’t stand to hear the word “no”? Do you want to live in a chaotic world where bed-time is defined by the four year old in your house instead of the adults? Is it acceptable in your world to be bossed around by my child? No. No. And NO.

It is not my job to make my child happy. It’s my job to teach my kids how to make themselves happy, especially when things don’t go their way! That’s the best gift I can possibly give them.

So, what does this have to do with the high cost of bad parenting? It is very likely that:

  • A child who respects his mother, is not going to sexually harass a co-worker.
  • A child who has been taught to take responsibility is going to think twice before bilking people out of thousands of dollars.
  • A child who has been taught to respect other people’s property and points of view is less likely to paint graffiti, or burn crosses.

What does that take? Perhaps we should all take a parenting pledge:

CSDParentingPledge

When these principles are taught, I believe our children develop a sense of self-worth; a level of pride that protects them as they move forward, and helps them better understand others. These rules teach them that they are loved and protected, but the world does not revolve around them. This is, essentially, building your child from the inside out.

When typewriters were part of our daily lives I used to say, “Children are like pieces of paper in a typewriter. They need to have margins set, so that when it comes time for them to go outside those margins, they still remain on the paper.”

We can’t guarantee that everyone will raise their children with high expectations, but the more we expect of them, the better off we’ll all be.

REGCollegePhotoWhen I went to college in the mid ‘70s, I made fun of people who sat in the front row of the class. I thought their eagerness to get good grades was a “kiss ass” thing and that real “free thinkers” didn’t have to conform to the rigorous judgments of academia. This attitude was reinforced by a set of shifting societal values reflected in films about anti-heroes like “Easy Rider,” “Midnight Cowboy,” and “Taxi Driver.” It was a time of upheaval with Vietnam and Watergate.

After college, many of my friends went to professional schools – law, medicine, business, dentistry, and they benefited from their earlier academic focus in very positive ways. Others of us dove directly into the workforce, where we worked hard, got ahead, and maintained a residual belief in the value of achievement.

Our childhoods had been simple. The government was good, the doctor knew what was best, and by working hard and respecting the system, someday we could earn our place at the top. There were three television networks, and the press extended simple courtesies to the private lives of public figures. In those days, making a porn tape (or film) was not considered beneficial to your career.

Things have changed, and it’s certainly not making parenting any easier.  But before we get to how we’re raising our children, here’s a little more backstory:

vectorstock_3612155Once, I had to go to traffic school.  I chose a “comedy” traffic school because six mandatory hours of humor seemed more attractive than any of the alternatives. One of the first questions asked was “How many of you are in here for speeding?” I raised my hand. “Why were you in such a hurry?” he asked the class. A number of people suggested possible answers, and then I got to offer this brilliant piece of logic: “When I speed, I only have to worry about half the cars.” The instructor looked at me quizzically. “Well,” I explained, “when I’m driving faster than the other people I only have to worry about the cars in front of me because all the others are behind me.”

The teacher gave me that “so you’re the wise guy look” and then an oafish guy in the back of the room bellowed “Yea!! That’s why I speed too! I don’t want to have to think about the people behind me!” Suddenly, I had empowered the least responsible repeat offender in the room, a guy who was happy to have a meaningful rationalization for his otherwise stupid behavior.

When we returned from lunch, the instructor showed us “Red Asphalt,” and made it clear that we were watching this extremely gory movie in retaliation for our (meaning my) flip attitude toward speeding laws.

By disregarding those highly focused do-gooders in the front row, I was really just trying to justify my unwillingness to compete. I was essentially saying that “I have a high bar, I don’t need others to define or measure it.” But what I didn’t recognize was that lots of people, many of whom didn’t have as high a bar as I did, would embrace my defensive discounting or my wise-guy interpretations in order to justify their own poor performance.

Multiple lessons learned: Don’t speed, and never empower the moron.

vectorstock_2874420Today, we’re living with these mistakes. Many Americans believe our government does not have our best interests in mind. Many people believe that they know more than their doctors, or their children’s teachers. The police are no longer perceived (or portrayed) as protectors (when, ironically, the vast majority of them are).

So what does this have to do with parenting?

Hold the bar high!

Sadly, we’ve seen those rebellious years reflected in a growing generation of children who do not respect authority, who believe rules don’t apply to them, and whose parents have avoided teaching them about adversity.  What’s worse is a friend recently told me his daughter didn’t turn in her homework because she didn’t want to seem “too smart”!

Although, it’s probable that our neighbors will help our children, we’re so bombarded with negative media, that it’s hard to believe that’s the case. Even though teachers have chosen a low-paying profession because they care about our children, parents regularly undermine their authority and empower toddlers to ignore them. Although children are quite resilient, some parents believe they don’t have the authority to impose an expectation of high standards on their kids.

It’s time we examine our priorities.  Praise real achievement.  Encourage our children to understand their surroundings, and give them a sense of community and purpose.  It’s not all about them.. it’s about US.

vectorstock_745873I wrote “Raising Children That Other People Like to Be Around” to give parents a sense of their authority, and to encourage the understanding that what our society fails to give our children is now completely our responsibility. It occurs to me that the more negative we are in our homes, the more negatively our children will perceive the world. My choice is to encourage comfort, satisfaction, and optimism. They’ll learn about all the other stuff later.

I’ve written this so you won’t have to spend any more time wondering how the world could have gotten so screwy. My suggestion is to ignore the world, make your home and family a happy place, and just blame me when things don’t go right.

It’s OK. I can take it.

NathanCaplanAMGLite2My Grandfather, Nathan, was an incredibly shy man.  In addition to being very short (5’4”), he was a quiet and kind immigrant who listened far more than he spoke. He came from Russia to pursue a better life, and made his living as a bicycle-riding handyman in Toronto before moving to Detroit, where my mother was born. Sadly, Nathan became a widower when my mother was three.

As a single parent, Nathan left many of the child-rearing responsibilities to my mother’s siblings, Aunt Pearl and Uncle Al. He never remarried.

NathanWCarLITENathan worked as a plumber and got involved in the fledgling automobile business as a mechanic and inventor. He was so shy, he would send my toddler-aged mother into his shop to shoo away the creatures that huddled around their warm stove overnight.

Ultimately, he invented the brake rest, as well as an improved bumper. When Henry Ford used the bumper on the Model A, my grandfather sued him and won.  He got no enormous cash payout as compensation, but remained proud, nonetheless, that he lived in a country where a poor immigrant could successfully sue the richest man in the nation.

When my mother was sixteen, she and my grandfather came west to join Pearl and Al who had started a small loan business in Los Angeles. My grandpa liked getting his hands dirty, so he ran a small trailer lot, like U-Haul, and tinkered in the back. He lived a very quiet life.

MarcieJannStepsHUFFMy mother, Marcie, was an active teenager.  She was a great athlete and an excellent student. When she entered U.C.L.A. she was living with my grandfather and taking care of him. One night when she got home from school, he announced to her that he was going to be taking dance lessons at Arthur Murray on Tuesday and Thursday nights. She looked at him and said “Dance lessons?” He just nodded.

The next night he said to her “You know, Masha, (his nickname for my mother), you can make plans for tomorrow night. I have my dance lesson.” In that moment my mom realized that Nathan was taking the lessons so that she wouldn’t have to come home to care for him at night. He was forcing himself to do something he had no desire to do, in order to allow his daughter the freedom she needed as a teenager.

My grandfather wasn’t rich. He didn’t buy things for his daughter. He didn’t take her out to fancy dinners, or on long trips – what he did was sacrifice. He put his feelings aside, because he knew that my mother wouldn’t leave him alone unless he found a way to be busy outside of the house. He pushed himself to do the right thing, even though it was uncomfortable and inconvenient.

This story of my grandfather reminds me that the job of parenting is often a selfless one. It’s often about the practical sacrifices we make, emotionally or physically, to do what’s right for our children.

Sometimes these sacrifices mean taking an uncomfortable path – saying no and going through the discomfort of teaching our kids to deal with adversity. Sometimes, it’s about the devotion of real time, leaving all else alone and putting down our phones to look our kids in the eye when we’re having a conversation with them.

PearlnMarcieNZaydieLITE

Pearl, Nathan, and Marcie

The days of doting offspring seem long gone, but it’s clear that children still care about their parent’s feelings, opinions, and concerns. It is our job to help our children grow, even if it sometimes goes against our nature to hold them, cuddle them, and protect them. We don’t need to take dance lessons to release our children from their obligation to us, but we do need to consider their lives, their ages, and their feelings as we continue to set for them an example of how thinking, loving adults behave.

If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by driving your kids to school, or signing them up for summer camp, or letting them walk to the park, remember that you’re doing the right thing.  You might also tell them about their grandparents. It will give them a sense of pride, and the foundation they’ll need to stand tall.

I never thought I’d use a new-age term for happy chickens to address a parenting-related issue, but I suppose over-cautious parents are as oppressive to children as cages are to chickens.

The organization known as Free Range Kids is “fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.”

I’m right there with them.

When I was a kid, free-range parenting was called… parenting. My folks came to about half of my little league games. I rode my bike to the park a couple of miles from home, and I rode it back as the sun was setting. My mom didn’t drive in front of me to light the way. My dad didn’t pick me up from practice on his way home from work. The whole event was a solo effort, and I was happy to be able to accomplish it on a regular basis.  I was nine years old.

When my wife, JoAnn, and I were raising our toddlers, my mother told JoAnn that it had been hard for her to let me, as a second-grader, walk the two blocks to school.  She explained, in that loving Mother-in-Law kind of way, that she made a conscious decision to overcome her own feelings because she knew that the lesson of independence was a valuable one – for both of us!

People say “but the world has changed.” That’s true. Here are some facts:

  • “Crime is back to the level it was when gas was 29 cents a gallon” – Christian Science Monitor.
  • “Crime is back to the level it was before color television.” – The Week Magazine.
  • “2014 violent crime rate down another 4.4%” – USA Today.

So why do we seem so focused on the negative these days? We are soaked in so much bad news that some of us believe it’s unsafe to allow our children to venture out into the world without immediate and constant supervision. What a drag…for everybody!

As parents, it’s our long-term mission to teach our children how to navigate the world without us. In the short term we need to allow them various learning experiences that can both teach them problem-solving methods and build their confidence. This can’t happen when we’re always paving their way. Life involves interacting with the world, and, in most cases, the world isn’t in our backyards, or under our ever-watchful eyes. So, what are the basic skills your child should have in order to be granted their independence?

From a common sense point of view I think all children should know the following:

  • Their name, address, and phone number.
  • YOUR cell phone number
  • Rules regarding communication with strangers
  • To call the police or ask a kind stranger for help if they feel lost or afraid.

I would prefer to teach my child that world is not a terrible place. At the same time, I’d like my child to be aware of his/her surroundings and believe in his or her ability to navigate safely. I can do this by observing things when I’m with my children. I can say things like “I wonder what that guy is doing over there.” Statements like that encourage children to be aware of the people around them, even they’re watching someone feed a parking meter or paint a sign.

It is sometimes difficult for parents to let go, but it is inevitable that our children will grow up, so the sooner we can teach them how to handle responsibility the better it will be for all of us. I like to avoid complicating my life. I have learned that the more I can trust my children, the easier it makes my days. By allowing our children to roam the neighborhood, learn about their surroundings, and achieve a sense of independence, we are teaching them a bigger lesson about themselves.

In my book I wrote, “It’s easier to lighten up than to tighten up.” This applies to giving our children responsibility. Start firm. Allow them to play in the yard. As they get older, allow them to go to a friend’s house, on foot perhaps. When they ride their bikes, give them a perimeter I was allowed to go three blocks in any direction. When they want to go farther, you can allow it based on their behavior.

No one says that Free Range Parenting means dropping your child at the park and making them fight their way home. Like all everything in parenting, it’s a process that begins with baby steps and ends with your child walking a path that he or she will blaze for him or herself.

If the free-range lifestyle makes better chickens… imagine what it can do for our children!

EmBasketballCULiteWe’ve got three sons and a daughter. They arrived in that order. By the time our daughter Emily was born, I had coached and/or refereed multiple seasons of Little League, Muni Basketball, and AYSO.   When our daughter arrived she showed great promise as a tenacious, though tiny, basketball player. Then things changed.

Suddenly, she was more interested in ballet than ball. She liked the outfit (always important), her friends were doing it (also important), and, generally, it didn’t involve boys (very important at age seven). Although I wanted to take her to her classes, they happened mid week after school – so I was out. Ballet became a ritual for mother and daughter and, as usual, I became the videographer.

EmBalletStillAltOur local coffee shop is in the same mall as a small dance studio. Last Saturday morning after I went to the gym, I swung by the mall to pick up a coffee for my wife. Walking out, I was amazed to be facing three middle linebackers, each carrying a small, pink backpack, and holding the hand of a tutu-clad mini-ballerina. The group was apparently headed to some kick-ass Saturday morning dance class. The daughters were skipping with their burly dads in tow. It was probably the cutest thing I saw all day.

I imagined the waiting area conversation during class. “My daughter’s tour jeté kicks your daughter’s tour jeté’s ass!” “Yea… well my daughter’s Arabesque puts your daughter’s to shame. She may have her mother’s looks, but she’s got my legs!” and so on. I’m clearly kidding about this, because I’ve been in these situations and generally speaking men don’t talk about dance.

Despite rumors to the contrary, men are actually capable of talking about things that matter – once they get sports and hot moms out of the way. There is, to some extent, an immediate bond between men who take their daughters to ballet. They are men who will venture with pride into the world of women, as beginning ballet continues to be, men who have learned to confront a tight hair bun or a blistered foot with confidence and love.

Men who know what it means to sign your dancer in, and out.

IMG_2706Saturday I envied the Ballet Dads with their little pink partners headed toward a room ruled by strict manners, classical music, and constant counting. I knew that despite everyone’s best efforts some edges would fray as personalities rose up, and the leaping got out of hand, and the relevés left the rails. I wondered how these dads would talk to their daughters about the “mean girl,” or the really strict teacher, or whatever would come pouring forth as they got in the car. I knew that those dads would be prepared, because mean girls, bullies, and tough coaches exist in everyone’s world – boy or girl, mom or dad.

This is the stuff that parenting is made of. Showing up. Being there. It’s about being a Ballet Dad and putting your whole heart into it. Teaching your child how to cope with hurt feelings, how to redirect frustration, and how to avoid being diminished by the behavior of others.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the Dad or the Mom, on a dance floor or on a ball field, the things children need to be taught are all the same: kindness, respect, generosity, and fair play.

This weekend we get to watch the Super Bowl. Let’s raise a glass to the all those Dads whose daughters will fall asleep in their laps during the game.