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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.

Patriotic FamilyDo it by raising great children.  A “great” country needs great citizens… and building great citizens begins with focused and responsible parenting. Here are 5 ways that I believe patriotic parents can raise intelligent, inspired and involved citizens who are truly the key to making America great again.

TELL THE TRUTH

Kit KatIn most homes, truth is not a relative thing. Either your child wrote on the wall with crayon or he didn’t. Either your kid hit someone at school or not. And, by the way, “Who ate my Kit Kat bar?” These are issues that need to be addressed directly. What we do with the answers, is what parenting is all about.

Clearly, our goal is to encourage our children to tell us the truth, but how can we do that when they’re afraid they’ll get in trouble?

Justice ScalesMy parents allowed my sister and me a mechanism that would encourage discussion and value truth. If we confessed to having done something that was “trouble” worthy, we would be given an option to confess free of an anger-driven, unfair, possibly-painful punishment.   Once we opened the discussion with a mea culpa, we were allowed to explain what happened, why it had happened, and then we would have a conversation about why it wasn’t going to happen again. This openness allowed us to trust our parents and to recognize that they valued truth more than the idea of just punishing us. We were disciplined, but without physical or psychological pain.

It’s also important not to lie to others in front of your children. Remember, kids are always listening so when you tell someone on the phone that you’d help, but your car is in the shop (when it’s not), you’re teaching your child to lie. Some of us don’t even notice our “white lies” anymore, but it only takes a couple of questions from your attentive toddler to realize you’re busted.

TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

Moses and CommandmentsThematically, this is very similar to telling the truth – but this is about “owning up.” I can remember being taught that a game wasn’t worth winning if you had to cheat to do so. That ethic seems to be fading (“just win, baby”), but with young kids in sports it’s important to teach them that being honest about that “close call” (a hand ball, out-of-bounds, missed tags, etc.) is a very good place to start.

Situations often arise between siblings that require one or the other, and eventually both, to step up and tell the truth. Teaching our children to “own” their actions is crucial to their ability to take responsibility as they get older.

I suspect that everyone I know has at some point said something unflattering about another person… only to have that statement find it’s way to that person and back to them. I was told “Don’t ever say something about another person that you wouldn’t be willing to say to their face.” Although it’s not always wonderful, when those statements come back at us, there is a certain peaceful clarity to “owning up” and admitting the truth to that person’s face. Those situations often lead to wonderfully honest discussions.

DO UNTO OTHERS

Yep. The Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

When it comes to making friends and strengthening a society, the assumption that we’re all equal and that we all have feelings is probably a good starting point. This concept is obviously not very complicated, but teaching your child to empathize is not as easy as it might seem. Sure, you can ask “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” but the point of asking that question is to press your child to actually feel as though someone did it to them. This requires a little more parental focus – and this is an important lesson – so take the time.

GIVE BACK

There’s not much a toddler can reasonably do to “give back” to society, but there are certainly a lot of things that patriotic parents can do to model service to others. Whether it’s simply being sure to remember cupcakes for the class event (and involving your child in the process) or going with you when you perform charity work (participating in food, blood, or clothing drives), your children will benefit from your example.

Be a blood donor. I used to take my kids with me. Sometimes they sat on my lap, sometimes they just came along for the Oreos (my main motivation). Regardless, the process reduced their fear of needles and taught them the value of doing something meaningful for strangers. Easy. We get our blood for free.

STAY HEALTHY

Patriotic RunnersOur country is not going to be great again unless it’s populated by healthy people. The older I get the more I appreciate this fact. Eating and exercise habits begin when we’re young. I am a yo-yo weight kind of guy. Last year my weight was fine, this year I’m up fifteen. They say bodies are made in the kitchen and not in the gym. I believe that to be true – and habits for our children are formed in our kitchens.

Do what you can to teach your children about the value of healthy foods and exercise. At 60+ I’m still playing softball (not exactly a shape game, I’ll admit), but throughout our children’s youth they saw parents who made a point of getting off the couch and getting things done – whether it was coaching their teams, or planting gardens, or going to the beach.

This is the ultimate grass-roots campaign.  If you’re inclined to help build a strong society, filled with focused, happy, patriotic and productive citizens, these five things are the ways in which I’d endeavor to do it.  I’m not counting on any politicians to do this job – it’s just too important.

What do you think?

A teacher has impressed thousands of parents by introducing a no-homework policy Taken from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10208920380439663&set=a.2192657828875.118537.1620033655&type=3&theater

It’s back-to-school time and homework is in the news. Mrs. Brandy Young, a brilliant second-grade teacher in Godley, Texas sent a note home to parents explaining that her students would have no “formally assigned” homework this year. The note went viral and people began sounding off on both sides of the issue.

Sometime between my being a child and my being a parent, a shift occurred in the homework world. In my early elementary days, kindergarten through third grade, we were never assigned homework. From my point of view, homework was something that happened to big kids (fourth graders) and it was definitely something I could wait for.  By the time my kids were in school, homework started in the first grade – which I thought happened because little kids wanted to feel more like “big kids” so they got “homework.” First grade homework was easy, and usually out of the way by the time I got home (thanks to my wife, JoAnn who has been shepherding our kids to success from day one).

Crying-at-Drop-Off-PreschoolWhen my friends and I hit fourth grade, homework was seen as a sort of badge of honor. Now, we were the big kids carried notebooks and lugged home texts with some understanding of our now more “grown up” obligation. When our kids hit fourth grade (after three years of homework), they were seasoned veterans who complained like pros and had mastered the art of misdirection – “Dad, tell us about the time you made that game winning catch!”

Ultimately, getting our kids to do their homework was not easy. We outlawed TV. We made them stay in their rooms. We taught them to use their planners. We checked their planners. We spoke with their teachers.  We tried it all.  Homework, and getting it done, was as much our work as it was theirs! And even with all that oversight, we still got notes about missing assignments!

Today, with all of that way behind us… well, almost behind us… our kids are “doing their homework.” They are employed adults who know how to get their jobs done, and understand that the work isn’t over ‘til the assignment is complete. They manage their own time, and appear to do it well.  Is their adult responsibility a result of the fact that they were given homework in first grade?  I really don’t think so.

I have always contended that children grow up to be just like their parents. If you’re a hard worker, and you do your “homework” – whatever it might be – then your children will grow up to do same. Homework, is about responsibility, and the best way to teach responsibility is to set a good example.

I agree with Brandy Young, second grade is too early to put our children on the perceived treadmill to success.  Homework time can be better spent with younger children doing things as a family – eating dinner, playing outside, and getting a good night’s sleep. Perhaps, by starting homework when kids are a little older we might avoid some of the acrimony that often comes from chasing down assignments and correcting, sometimes criticizing, our children’s work.

According to 2004 information from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, Japanese and Finnish students outperform U.S. students on tests even though they are assigned less homework.

ChildAirportWDadIt’s important that our children learn to meet deadlines. It’s important that they recognize the value of being prepared and “doing the work.”  Children under the age of eleven or twelve have a lot to learn from playing in the backyard or watching a meal be prepared – especially if they get to spend that time with someone who is teaching them to enjoy these things.

Ultimately, time spent shared with family is far more valuable than a few simple math problems.

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.

I don’t typically regret much. I believe what’s past is past. As I get older, however, the passage of time allows me to look back and consider life’s lessons.

FullFamBKGKSGWeddingOur children are now grown, for the most part. Our sons are certainly men, our daughter is a very self-reliant college girl, and our daughter-in-law is more mature than any of us. As a loving family, we remain intimately connected.   No regrets there.  Read the book.

But here’s the catch.

Cobylittle_5_93liteWhen I see a little kid whose front teeth are crazy, or a tot opining about why he or she likes a particular song, picture, or TV show, I feel like giving one of my kids a hug. It’s not that I miss my children’s love, or feel I didn’t get enough hugging when they were young. It’s just that I’m not over wanting to let them know how much I enjoy and have enjoyed them – from their goofiest to their most grownup.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI suppose it’s not so much the hugs I regret not getting, as it is the ones I still want to give. There is just something about the way a kid fits into your arms or contours into your shoulder that’s different from that perfunctory, semi-formal hug that populates our adult landscape.

I’m not looking for sympathy (although I wouldn’t mind getting a hug or two out of this).  I think my real objective is to raise the flag to all of you who are still raising young children.

Get and give those hugs. Now. Today. Tomorrow.

Dadnaaronsleep_81liteMaybe I’m writing this to recapture time. Maybe it’s about recognizing those cliché moments when we think, “Youth is wasted on the young.” It’s not so much that it’s wasted on the young, but that we waste it when we are young! I recently confessed to a friend that I’d always wanted a Porsche. Now I’d rather have a car that’s easier to get in and out of.

Enough moaning. Having recently been told that I am a didact, I ask: “What are the lessons here?”

Aside from the part about grabbing all the love you can (while your kids are still young and bite sized), I think it’s important to recognize that things change, as they always have and always will. The more we can accept those changes, the easier it will be to keep moving forward. It is, after all, our job to guide our children into adulthood.

EHGTiredAthleteAs parents, I’ve found that many of us don’t want our kids to grow up. But we really do them a disservice by keeping them too close and dependent. So for every wish I have to be hugged by my children, I also have a silent appreciation of the fact that they’re out in the world using the skills my wife and I have worked hard to give them.

I guess the next time I see an incredibly adorable toddler, I’ll just have to think, “Been there, done that,” and then offer a small prayer to hasten the arrival of grandchildren.

No pressure kids.

vectorstock_1038990There are few better opportunities to teach our children about the feelings of others than their birthdays – and the way we celebrate them.

Birthday parties thrown for one-year-olds are clearly done for the benefit of the parents and posterity.  Get lots of pictures, be sure you feed the adults, and hire a clown (or enlist your most energetic relative).

The rules for two-year-olds are pretty much the same.  Line em up.  Get pictures and video (because they’re talking now).  Hire a clown who makes balloon animals.

Aaron3redhat_83liteAt three years old, the party scene gets dicier.  If your child is in pre-school, invite everyone in the class (certainly through kindergarten).  Doing this teaches kids that we are sensitive to everyone’s feelings – even the ones they don’t “care” about.  To model this sentiment, we even invite the kid with the weird parents.  We teach this lesson because we should – not because we agree about a specific kid or not.  Hindsight has taught me that these idealistic positions are absorbed, learned, and applied by our children later in their lives, so don’t be afraid of teaching your kid to do the right thing even if you’ve grown a little cynical about it yourself!

After that third birthday, our messaging about gifts and courtesy becomes more complex.

KiddieInviteI recently read about parents using electronic invitations that include preferences and suggestions about gifts for their children.  I understand the value of adults “registering” for wedding and baby gifts, but doing the same for children hadn’t really crossed my mind – because at a certain point you realize that spending more than twenty bucks on a gift for a little friend is slightly insane.  Nonetheless, I understand the concept of wanting to get gifts that will please a recipient.  This is a multi-faceted issue and just buying a pre-defined gift may cause us to miss some very important teaching opportunities.

One of the hardest things about being a parent is walking the fine line between “You are wonderful and deserve everything you desire.” and “You can’t always get what you want.”  We all know that Life is not perfect – and neither are parents, or kids, or relatives, or friends.  So, does it make sense for us to try and create a perfect world for our children?

As early as three or four years old children can be taught that giving gifts requires some creativity and forethought.  This can actually be a fun exercise.  Go to CVS, set a price limit, and tell your child to pick something for their friend.  You’ll be surprised what they find (and you can always explain why Epson Salts are not appropriate).

TantalizerSometimes birthday kids don’t know what they want, but there can be value in getting things they don’t want (or think they don’t want)…especially when a month after their birthday they’re home sick and they find the unopened game in their closet that captures their imagination for the next two days.

Yes… I have personal experience with this –  “Tantalizer” – the best game ever!

Teaching our children to receive a gift gracefully is a necessity.  This is a real opportunity to demonstrate for them that even if it’s not what they wanted, people’s feelings are more important than “things.”

The sooner kids learn to deal with disappointment, the better.  (I know some parents say that they don’t want their children to feel the sadness they felt as young people.  But I believe that creating a world for them where no one says no, or where they are empowered beyond reason is actually doing them a significant disservice.)

SingleGift2Life is not always going to go their way.  Learning to be positive about receiving any gift, even if it’s not what they wanted, will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

Even the wrong gifts are good gifts.

Birthdays are wonderful celebrations – especially when we remember to keep gratitude, inclusion, and grace on our guest lists.