Tag Archive for parenting

Parent Like a Jester

I once heard a story about a king who was about to make a terrible decision that would devastate his kingdom. His advisers tried to talk him out of the impending mistake. They pleaded with him to change his mind. They spoke softly and yelled loudly while repeating the same words over and over again. But, no matter how many times they explained the dire consequences of his decision, the king refused to listen. Then a jester came to visit the king. The jester made jokes. He sang a song. He made himself look rather foolish. The jester—in all his songs, jokes, stories, and antics—gave the king the same message as the advisers. But the king listened to the jester with enthusiasm.  He laughed and cried. Then, when the jester left, the king thought to himself, “You know, that jester made a lot of sense.” And with that, the king changed his mind. He would not make the mistake everyone had warned him about.

Why was the jester effective when the wise advisers were not? Because the jester had a bigger toolbox of interventions; he had more options. The advisers could only repeat their admonitions in louder and more urgent terms. The king would hear none of it. The jester, on the other hand, had a larger toolbox. He could sing, tell stories, offer a joke, make the king laugh. He had options…and the king listened.


What does this have to do with parenting? Effective parents are like the jester. They have a toolbox filled with options beyond merely “telling” their children what needs done. Take the challenge of getting your children to clean up their room as an example. How you approach this challenge depends on your children’s temperament and developmental stage, your family values, the environment, and more.  So, you might need more than one idea…and you need ideas that can change as your children grow and change. For instance, to get your children to clean up their room you might:

  1. Sing the “Clean Up Song” if they are younger. (Here is Barney’s Clean Up Song.) 
  2. Turn cleaning up into a game of “who can clean up the most.”
  3. Give the toys not put away a “time out.” Put them away where your children can not play with them for a period of time.
  4. Offer a reward for cleaning up. The reward can be as simple as reading a book together, going to get ice cream, or a chance to watch a TV show.
  5. Tell them they cannot engage in something they want to do (like go out with friends) until they have cleaned up their room.
  6. You might also offer specific directionfor cleaning the room, telling them exactly what needs picked up and dusted. Children need us to teach them the specifics of our expectation before they can complete the chore alone.  
  7. Find a way to make the chore fun (Read Family Fun Theory for more).

Or consider the challenge of getting your children to complete their chores. You might utilize ideas like:

  1. Giving or withholding an allowance.
  2. Give them money up front so they can pay someone else to complete the chore when they don’t want to. They can also learn budgeting skills while “getting chores done.” (Read Should We Give an Allowance to learn how this works.)
  3. Make chores a family activity. Children often cooperate better when everyone is involved.
  4. Reward your children with a currency they care about, such as screen time or time with a parent.
  5. Make chores your children need to complete and chores you need to complete into a competition. For instance,create a Tic Tac Toe board. They can be “X’s” & you can be “0’s.” Whenever a person completes one of their chores, they can place their “X” or “0” on the board. Whoever completes their chores quickly enough can win the game.
  6. Use a sticker chart.

The main idea is to fill your parenting toolbox with options based on your children’s temperament and developmental age. Like the jester, when you have more options you become more effective.

Parenting Goldilocks Style

Remember Goldilocks?  She went into the bears’ house, a stranger’s house in the middle of the woods, and tasted their porridge, their food. One was “too hot.” One was “too cold.” One was “just right.” Then, she laid down in their beds. One was “too hard.” One was “too soft.” One was “just right.” She actually fell asleep in the nice comfortable bed. (Why she felt so bold to do this, I don’t know. Anyway….) A study from the University of New Hampshire found the same can be said of parenting. One parenting style is “too cold, too hard, too much.” Another style is “too hot, too soft, too little.” And one is “just right.” Let me briefly describe each style so you can decide which style describes your parenting practice.

Researchers call the style of parenting that is “too cold….too hard…too much” Authoritarian Parenting. Authoritarian parents love their children but believe rules will make everyone safe and healthy. As a result, they tend to focus on discipline more than relationship.  They set very high standards for their children but remain somewhat distant and cold while enforcing the rules. They have no patience for bad behavior and little trust in their children’s ability to behave without a strong structure in place. So, they punish misbehavior quickly and severely. Research suggests that children do not see the authoritarian parent as a legitimate authority figure. As a result, they listen less and rebel more. They grow discontent, withdrawn, and distrustful. No, authoritarian parenting is “too cold…too hard…too much.”

The style of parenting described as “too hot…to soft…too little” is known as Permissive Parenting. Permissive parents love their children as well, but they hate to see their children suffer or experience any discomfort. They believe warm relationships will cure every ail, fix every problem, and mend every flaw. In their focus on relationship, permissive parents tend to be non-demanding and non-controlling as they strive to be their child’s “best friend.” They have few boundaries and rarely enforce the boundaries they do have…after all, enforcing a boundary results in discomfort for their children. At the same time, they are very warm and receptive, nurturing and caring. Research, however, suggests that children of permissive parents are the less self-reliant. They explore less and learn less self-control. When they do explore, they run the risk of personal harm because there are few boundaries in place to protect them. Permissive parenting is just “too hot…to soft…to little.” Children need more.

The style of parenting that is “just right” is known as Authoritative Parenting. Perhaps the most important word in describing authoritative parents is “and.” They establish rules and develop strong relationships. They can be demanding and warm, set high expectations and remain receptive to their children’s needs. The authoritative parent sets rules and limits and remains willing to explain the reasons for those rules and limits. They listen to their children’s discomfort with the limit and still enforcing that limit for their children’s benefit. As their children mature, they exhibit a willingness to negotiate some limits and make age appropriate adjustments. Children view their authoritative parents as legitimate authorities and become less likely to engage in disobedient and delinquent behaviors. They grow self-reliant, self-controlled, and content under the tutelage and guidance of their authoritative parent. Authoritarian parenting is “just right.”

The question is: which parenting style describes your parenting? Don’t worry if you fall in the authoritarian or permissive style right now. You can always change to become the authoritative parent at any time. When you do, you’ll find it more often works “just right.”

Benefits of the “After-School Meltdown”

Does your preschool or elementary school age child “throw a tantrum” every day after school?  You find this tantrum even more frustrating because their teacher tells you how well they behave in school and then when you get them home…it’s another story. You are experiencing the “after-school meltdown.” As frustrating as they are, it is not unusual for our children to have after-school meltdowns. The first step in helping end the after-school meltdown is to take the time to understand what is happening. In reality, you already know what’s happening. You’ve had the same experience. You finish a long day of work and, feeling tired, you walk in the front door of your home. You are irritable and just want a little down time, but you’re immediately bombarded with questions about your day, explanations of what happened while you were away, requests to do this or that…. How do you feel? Want to throw a tantrum? You understand those feelings. Your children are experiencing the same thing. They have put in a full day of work. They had to follow the rules whether they liked them or not. They were forced to listen, focus, and complete work that challenges them. They may have experienced conflict with peers, witnessed other children doing things that caused them stress, or felt the pain of not doing as well as they wanted on an assignment. It is tiring. It’s stressful. They come home tired and irritable. But (here is where you are different) they do not understand those feelings. They do not know how to express those feelings yet. So, the first thing to do when your children experience the after-school meltdown is to remember. Remember they are communicating the same feelings of exhaustion and stress that you have often felt after a day of work.

Not only do you understand those feelings (you’ve “been there & done that”), you also know how to respond to them. You have learned how to soothe yourself and relax, to recover from stress. You know places you can go to relax and “re-create” your sense of calm. Your children have not learned how to do this yet. They need you to teach them…and you do.  First, they learn by watching you take care of ourselves. Second, they learn when you teach them directly. You can teach them about activities that might help them relax and soothe, activities like reading a book, painting or drawing, listening to music, or taking a walk.  You can help them identify places where they feel especially calm and relaxed, places like the backyard, their bedroom, the kitchen as they help cook dinner and talk, a “fort” in the back yard or the family room. I remember how much the walk home from school helped me relax from the day during middle school. Teach your children the skills. Help them practice the skills to “pull themselves together” and recoup after a stressful day.

As you teach them how to soothe themselves, you teach them a lifetime skill. You give them a gift they can use throughout their educational career and even in their work lives, family lives, and parenting lives. And, it all begins with the acceptance of the “after school meltdown.”

Fat Brain in Adolescents

The adolescent years represent a critical time in brain development. With that in mind, a recent study from Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center explored how a diet high in saturated fat impacts brain development in adolescents. To do so, they fed a diet high in saturated fats to a group of adolescent rats. They discovered that eating a diet high in saturated fat during adolescent years impacted areas of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and stress clear into adulthood. Specifically, the rats consuming the high-saturated fat diet had more anxiety, an impaired startle response, and incorrectly assessed levels of threat. All of this made them more susceptible to higher levels of anxiety, stress, and even PTSD-related symptoms…even into adulthood! Of course, your children are not rats (no matter how frustrating they can be!). However, it is very likely that a diet high in saturated fat will have a very similar effect in the human brain (which is why we study it in rats).

This mean that the diet you feed your children and adolescents today will have a long reaching impact on their ability to manage anxiety and respond to stress in adulthood. If they eat a diet high in saturated fats, their ability to manage stress and anxiety effectively may be hindered. In the United States, the biggest sources of saturated fat in our diet are:

  • Pizza and cheese
  • Dairy desserts (like ice cream and whipped cream)
  • Red meat
  • Cookies and “other grain-based deserts” (like cakes)
  • Fast food

So, if you want your children to develop a stronger ability to manage stress, anxiety, and fear, avoid the adolescent fat brain by making a few changes to your family diet. Eat less pizza and more vegetables. Eat fewer cookies and more apples. Eat less ice cream and more carrots. Eat less red meat and more chicken, fish, and turkey. Eat less fast food and more home-cooked meals. (Here are other benefits of eating as a family at home.) Get started today!

Smartphones, Priorities, & Terrible Outcomes…Even for Parents?

You have likely read articles implicating the smartphone in various types of disasters, like car fatalities, bullying, marital problems, or physical accidents. You may have even watched videos of mishaps caused by smartphone usage, some funny and some disturbing. (That Was Awkward describes my own experience with cellphone distraction!) But did you ever think about how “smartphone distraction” impacts a parent’s ability to parent. An article entitled The Dangers of Distracted Parenting outlines some of the research showing how parental smartphone use impacts parent-child relationships and, as a result, child development. The author sites several studies. Some show outcomes as simple as child ER visits increasing as cellphone usage increased. Other studies suggested more disturbing outcomes for parental cellphone usage, like decreased verbal and non-verbal interactions with their children, increased negative behaviors as children make increasingly demanding bids for parental attention, and children’s decreased ability to learn language when a parent is on the phone. Over the long run, these outcomes translate into poorer academic achievement and poorer social skills if the parent develops a pattern of placing smartphone usage (sending/answering texts, playing games, checking news, etc.) over their relationship with their children.

I remember visiting a local amusement park and watching a father stand in line with his young son (maybe 5-years-old). The father was busy on his cellphone while his son tried desperately to get his father’s attention.(Read A Carnival of Parents for more.) At the time I thought the father was missing a wonderful opportunity to build a relationship with his son and communicate how much he valued his son. And, in fact, his son may have come to believe his father valued his cell phone, the person on the other end of the cell phone, or the game he played on the cell phone more than him. But, now I know that this father being distracted by his cellphone may have done even more damage. If this type of distraction became a consistent pattern, his son may have developed less effective social skills and exhibited poorer language skills.

This all  begs the question. What really is more important, your children or your phone? Of course, we all know our children are more important; but, do our actions coincide with that value? Or are we so addicted to our smartphones that they have become a wedge in our relationship with our children. I do know a way to put the question to rest once and for all, a way to discover if you cellphone has become so important in your life that it interferes with your relationship with your children. Put the phone away. I mean turn it off and put it in another room. Then, leave it in the other room while you enjoy dinner and an evening activity with your children, no smartphone even in sight. Then, make this practice a habit, a regular occurrence in the life of your family. Do it nightly or 3 times a week.  If doing this sounds hard, or even impossible, it’s very possible that your cellphone has become so important in your life that it’s interfering with your relationship with your children. Don’t let it happen. Take action now. (You have a superpower to use against this problem. Learn about it in A Sense of Belonging “Phubbed”)

Are You Hindering Your Children’s Growth?

Every parent strives to keep their children safe and healthy. I know I do. We want to provide opportunities for our children to make friends, try new things, and grow. But, many well-intentioned parents cross the line from providing and encouraging to hovering and controlling. Parents often cross this line accidentally, unknowing even, and in response to fears, anxieties, or sensitivities. When that line is crossed, our children suffer. Nicole B. Perry, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, completed a study following 422 children over an 8-year period. Her team assessed the children at ages 2, 5, and 10. The assessments included observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses, and self-reports from the 10-year-olds. When parents were assessed as hovering (aka, “helicopter parents”), the children were more likely to develop emotional and behavioral regulation difficulties. The inability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors contributed to poorer social skills as well.  What did a “hovering” parent do while interacting with their children? What made them “hovering” parents (3 Signs You Are A Helicopter Parent)? Well, rather than letting their children pick out a toy and play, “hovering” parents told their children what to play with and how to play with it. For instance, they might take over the controls for the video game to show their child how to complete a level, leaving their child to sit passively by and watch. Or, they might explain that tree leaves are green, not purple, and expect the child to color them green because that is more accurate. It’s all done to teach…but it interferes with their children’s opportunities to explore, learn from mistakes, and “think independently.”  Hovering parents also told their children how to clean up rather than simply encouraging their children to clean up (or better yet clean up with them). They often exhibited strict or demanding behaviors during play interactions, such as demanding the play proceed in a certain order rather than following their children’s lead or negotiating. Compared to children of parents who did not hover, children of “hovering” parents exhibited difficulties self-regulating emotions and behaviors. So, what can a parent do to “not hover” and still teach? To encourage a growing ability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors? Good question. Try some of these tips.

  • Talk about feelings and what behaviors might flow from various feelings. Help your children develop a vocabulary for emotions and a behavioral repertoire for managing those emotions. (Read 6 Tips to Make Your Children’s Emotions Your Friend for ideas to help you do this.)
  • Follow child’s lead in play. Spend at least part of your time with children simply following their lead. Acknowledge their actions and report those actions. Doing so communicates as sense of value to your children. It also increases the likelihood that they will follow your lead as well.  So, don’t take the controller to let them watch you beat the level on the video game. Instead, let them experiment and simply report back what they did along with the results. (Investing Time & Attention in Your Children describes a great way to do this!)
  • Negotiate the play. I know this sounds contradictory to the last bullet, but both are true. Sometimes we need to follow our children’s lead in play. Sometimes we need to negotiate the play with our children. Negotiating play teaches our children the skill of cooperation and compromise. It lets them learn that they don’t always get what they want…which in turn increases frustration tolerance. (Sometimes negotiation goes beyond playing. Check out 4 Benefits of Negotiating with Your Child to learn more.)  
  • Give your children chores. Teach them what needs done but allow them the freedom to achieve it in their way.  They may choose to do it the hard way.  Let them. They may take twice as long to do it. That’s ok. As long as they get the job done well, be happy.
  • Send them out to play with friends. Let them engage in unstructured, unsupervised play. They will learn amazing self-regulation skills while negotiating, compromising, and enjoying play with other children. (Give them the tools right out of Your Child’s Toolbox for Play.)
  • Set good example. Let your children see you manage anger and frustration well. Let them see you express joy and sorrow in healthy, appropriate ways. After all, our children learn best by watching us. So, set a good example. And start that example with having fun!

Put Your Children to Work For Goodness’ Sake!!

Children thrive when they learn to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. They need to engage in at least two tasks to learn the skills of managing their behaviors and emotions. These two tasks make up the work of children. If they do not do this work, they will fall into our current cultural crisis of self-indulgence and self-gratification. On the other hand, doing work that allows them to learn the skills necessary to manage behaviors and emotions contributes to success, long-term joy, and contentment.  So, let’s put our children to work. Let’s get them on task, engaged in the work at hand. Here are the two basic work tasks in which our children need to engage so they develop the ability to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. Read on…because these work tasks might surprise you. 

  • Unsupervised, unstructured play remains the number one job for our children. When children play with other children they learn to cooperate with one another. They practice the art of compromise. They often need to set aside their own self-gratification for the good of the group and negotiate a solution everyone can live with if they want to continue the game. Each player learns to wait their turn, a discipline in delayed gratification and self-control. They also learn that they cannot “get their way” all the time. In the work of unsupervised, unstructured play our children learn to resolve disputes in a way that keeps everyone involved in the game. Unstructured play also allows children to take healthy risks, learning the limits of their bodies and abilities and when to stop to avoid injury. In other words, unsupervised, unstructured play is a job that teaches our children the skills necessary to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. ( Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself” explains more about the benefit of play for the maturing child.)
  • Significant work in the home or community becomes the number two job to help our children learn to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. Notice, our children need “significant” work not “meaningless” tasks. Our children need work that makes a significant contribution to our home or community. Significant work allows them to feel like an important part of the home, like they are an important wheel in the overall functioning of the family. It informs them that they belong; they are needed. Children also become more confident when they have chores that play a meaningful part in their homes or communities. If, on the other hand, we prioritize our children’s activities to the extent that they no longer have any household contribution, we have set them up for struggles. They can easily slip into self-indulgence rather than community-orientation. They learn to be self-focused rather than community-focused. They miss out on opportunities to develop the discipline of prioritizing “what needs to be done” while making time for other activities as well. By engaging in significant household chores children learn of their self-worth, their contribution to “something bigger than themselves.” In other words, significant chores in the home and community give our children the opportunity to learn to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. (Read Chores: The Gift of Significance for more.)

So, put your children to work. Make time for them to engage in the work of unstructured, unsupervised play and assure they have significant chores that contribute to the home and family.

Mothers Need the Village Too

The African proverb teaches us that “it takes a village to raise a child.”  Usually we believe this proverb teaches us children need a community of different people interacting with them for them to experience and grow in a safe environment. That is true; but, a recent study presented at the annual APA convention expands the meaning of this proverb to include the supportive village mothers need in the workplace as well. Let me explain.

Dionisi & Dupre conducted an online survey with 146 working mothers and their spouses. They asked the mothers about their experience in the workplace and their feelings of effectiveness as a parent. They asked their spouses about the parenting behaviors of the mothers. They found that experiencing rude behavior at work was associated with parenting behaviors that included high expectations for behavior, demands that their children follow the rules unconditionally, little feedback or positive nurturance, and harsh punishment for even small mistakes. In other words, when women were treated with disrespect, impoliteness, or ignored in the workplace, they exhibited more demanding and less nurturing behaviors toward their children at home. When a mother’s  workplace village ignored them, made derogatory remarks about them, robbed them of credit due for hard work, or blamed them for some mistake, they exhibited harsher and less relation-oriented behavior toward their children in the home.

These “low-intensity negative behaviors” (disrespect, impoliteness, blame, stealing credit, derogatory remarks, ignoring)n experienced in the workplace village “eroded” the mother’s sense of competence.  They then went home and were more likely to treat their children in demanding and harsh ways with little feedback and nurturance. These negative parental behaviors have been associated with many negative outcomes like aggressive behavior outside the home, difficulty in social situations, increased depression or anxiety, and poor self-control. To summarize, how the village treats the mother impacts how she interacts with her children which impacts how the children mature and act in the community. It’s not just the children who need a village for experience and safety. The children also need a mother who has a village that provides her with support, encouragement, and safety. I guess it really does take a village to raise a child…and that village needs to treat mothers with respect to have the best outcomes possible!

My Intelligence Went Adrift in the Sea of Her Eyes

A couple years ago, during my daughter’s sophomore year in college, we went to a high school football game together. She saw a young college age man wearing a sweatshirt from the college she attended. Excited to meet someone who attended the same college as her, she walked up to him and said, “Hey, I go to that college too!” The young man smiled, eyes wide.  She said, “What’s your major?” His arms began to move in motions indicative of speech and he opened his mouth as though to speak, but the words did not flow. After a very brief moment, sounds began to emanate from his moving lips as he stuttered, “Huh…well…I…huh…oh man,” his hand landed on the top of his head, “I can’t remember my major!” He looked hopelessly to his friend and then said, “I gotta go.”  I just smiled.  He did return later and had a more intelligible conversation with my daughter. He was a nice young man…very intelligent actually. He just “got lost in her eyes.” When she “ambushed him” that way his intelligence went adrift in her eyes.

Watching this brief interaction brought two things to my mind. One, I recalled the scene from Inside Out. You can check it out here. Two, it reminded me of a study completed in 2009 in which people interacted with attractive members of the opposite sex before completing cognitive tests (What Sexy People Do To Your Intelligence). Both males and females performed worse on the cognitive tests in the presence of an attractive member of the opposite sex. But males exhibited a stronger drop in ability than women. Why? The authors of the study believed that it had to do with “impression management.” It seems that trying to make a positive impression on another person sucks up enough brain power that our cognitive skills, our intelligence, is weakened. (That must be why I can’t speak intelligently when my wife walks into the room…oh, come one guys…give me a break. I’m trying to earn some brownie points here if my wife happens to read my blog!) My daughter knows about these studies since I talk about them (she would say I talk about them too much). She had compassion for the guy. She was patient and didn’t make a deal out of it.  In other words, she treated him with respect and honor. Teaching our children to respond to others with respect and honor is an important part of equipping them for the world…and making the world a better place. Let’s teach our children these values early.  Let’s give the values of honor and respect a central place in our families and in our training of children. We can still enjoy the intelligence that goes adrift in the sea of beautiful eyes, but we can also admire the compassion, patience, honor, and respect we witness in return.

Fathers…Who Needs ‘Em?

If you watch TV very often you might find yourself asking, “Fathers, who needs ’em?” Fathers, according to the sitcoms, are the bumbling, awkward parents who need a woman to save them and their family relationships. Even in Disney movies fathers often fall short. They need their daughters to save them from their fearful, “dark age thinking” (think Little Mermaid or Moana). Fathers are consistently taken advantage of by the antagonist of the Disney movie (think of the Sultan in Aladdin or Jane’s father in Tarzan). Fathers also play the “bad guy” by restricting their children’s growth and exploration (like Chief Powhatan in Pocahontas or Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins).  Don’t get me wrong. I love Disney movies. But, if they give a true representation of fathers, who needs ’em (fathers, I mean)?

Wait, I know the answer to that question. Who needs fathers? WE ALL NEED FATHERS!!! In spite of the representation we see of fathers in film, we need fathers. In fact, these representations are far from accurate. They dramatically misrepresent fatherhood…and do not show the true value of fathers.

Case in point, consider the findings of meta-analysis consisting of 34 studies on fatherhood completed by William Jeynes’, professor at California State University. The studies in this meta-analysis involved a total of 37,300 participants and highlighted the unique role of fathers in childrearing. Contrary to the depiction that children had to bring their fathers out of their fearful, “dark-age” thinking, this meta-analysis revealed that fathers play a crucial role in the “preparatory aspect of child-rearing.”   In other words, fathers played an important role (over and above the role of mothers) in helping children successfully move into the world as independent adults. Fathers also tended to communicate higher expectations of their children than mothers, helping them become ready for the world outside of home. Rather than restrict their children’s growth and exploration, fathers encourage their children’s growth and exploration. While encouraging exploration, a father’s active involvement still led to lower rates of delinquency and substance abuse in their children. As these few results reveal, we all need loving fathers in our lives! (For more on the impact of fathers in the family read A Father’s Surprising Difference and Fathers: “Committed to a Precious Responsibility”)

So, if you’re a mother, encourage your children’s father to become actively involved in your children’s lives.

If you’re a father, get off the couch, turn off the TV, leave work at a decent hour, and get involved in your children’s lives.  Their success in life depends on it. And, you will never regret that you did it! (The Best Advice for Dads…Ever to learn the best thing I ever did as a father!)

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