Tag Archives: Behavior

Tell Me How To Parent My Kid

a boy on his dad's lap steering a truck in trafficOur own Whitney Hoffman wrote an essay last week, one which got me to thinking. In her post, “Other People’s Kids,” Whitney relayed her feelings about the sensitive nature of dealing with other parents’ children. One section stuck out for me – she wrote: “How do you feel about disciplining other people’s children? That’s extremely tricky on its own. I know I tend to be indulgent with my nieces and nephews, more so than I would ever be with my own kids, and likewise with friends and guests. Yet when I see a kid treat their parent badly or disrespectfully, this is something we just don’t put up with.”

What do we put up with? Where do we draw the line? When is it ok to talk to the parent about their kid?

Most people seem to respond with some version of “Hey, don’t tell me how to parent my own kid!” I understand the feelings behind this, and I don’t dismiss them. Raising a child is, arguably, the toughest job on the planet. And it can be stressful, often too stressful, and sometimes you just need people to leave you alone. We all have those days when we’re down to our last nerve and we’re seriously considering selling the kids to that nice man who lives under the overpass. And that’s just not the time to be telling us what we’re doing wrong.

And maybe some of you think that it is never ok to tell another parent what to do with their kid. Perhaps you think that you and you alone know what is best for your child. Maybe you see your situation as different from anyone else’s, and bless your heart, maybe that is indeed the case. And maybe you’re just smarter than everyone else. Hey, I write a column where I give parenting advice, I’ve heard this exact line from more parents than you could imagine. And I’m ok with all of that. They are your kids and you get to decide how you’re going to parent. And in the end, no one should judge you, because you’re the one who’s got to do the heavy lifting.

But I operate in a different manner altogether. Not a better manner, mind you, just different. When it comes to my children, I actually welcome feedback from other parents. And I’m not just talking about the times when my kids are running around the supermarket or are having a “who can scream louder” contest in the parking lot of the movie theater. I’m talking about any area of my kids’ lives. If you see me doin’ somethin’ stupid, or if you see one of my kids making some horrible tragic mistake, I want to hear about it. Even if it’s something sensitive, like school or morality or nutrition or immunization or whatever. I’ll listen to any parent tell me what’s wrong with the way I parent. Even if they’re rude. Even if I’m in a hurry. Even if I’m exhausted. No matter the situation, I’m going to do my best to hear their advice or complaints or suggestion, and I’ll thank them for their help. Even if they’re screaming the help at the top of their lungs.


Well, it goes like this: A long time ago, a mentor of mine said this to me: “You *always* learn something from other people. When someone says something to you, no matter what, you learn one of three things. Either you learn something new, or you discover that you already understood what they are teaching you, which reinforces the learning, or you learn that the person talking to you is a complete idiot. So whatever they say, remember that you are learning something and be grateful for that.”

Most folks I’ve met have thought that this was just too difficult a process to internalize. And I get that, it’s reasonable to have a limit on one’s patience and understanding. But for me, I find those words bring me such undeniable relief. They are my excuse to be relaxed when someone tells me what to do with my kids. Yeah, sometimes what I hear is junk, but because I am open to the possibility, because I don’t reject what they say out of hand, there are many, many moments when another parent teaches me exactly what I need to know.

It’s not for everyone, and I’m not judging anyone who rejects this. I’m merely speaking of my own experience. And I’m also letting you know that if you see me on the street, don’t hesitate to give me an earful on what I’m doing wrong and how I need to fix myself. ‘Cause I absolutely want to do what is best for my kids, and I get it that I don’t have all the answers, and that sometimes I can really be an idiot. And if you know something I don’t, why on earth would I let my ego prevent me from hearing what could be an excellent parenting tip? My kids deserve nothing less than my every effort, my every ounce of strength, and my everlasting, unconditional humility.

So, please, tell me how to parent my kid. Thank you.

by Stu Mark

Photo graciously provided by meg nicol, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Cats Are Not Toys

a white cat kissing a baby girlMy baby might be evil.

My daughter never cared about the cats, though they’d always been around. One cat in particular took a great interest in being her champion, sensing that she was something of great importance and well worth protecting, but as far as the baby was concerned, the cats were always off on the periphery.

Things change.

Somewhere around six months of age the cats changed from something to occasionally notice and smile at to something THAT MUST BE HELD. AND SQUEEZED. AND PLUCKED.

This displeases the cats, and yet, they still place themselves in positions to be grabbed by her and most remarkably they never retaliate when she grabs mighty fistfuls of kitty fur and proceeds to relieve the cats of their weight. At most, they yowl and squirm, which only encourages the baby, who giggles madly and then places the cats in a bear hug or sleeper hold, against which they again meow or struggle limply.

We’ve tried to show the baby how to pet the cats gently with open hands, to stroke their ears rather than pull them, and to gently tug their tails rather than yank them. However, the devil on her shoulder is clearly a bigger influence than we are. While I’ve suggested exorcism, the cats seem to know that this is something they simply must endure and that someday, hopefully soon, the baby will evolve from plucker to petter.

I continue to monitor the situation, rushing to free the cats lest they develop bald spots, and I will continue to demonstrate proper kitty pampering, but I have to wonder if that’s about the extent of what I can do at this stage.

Hmm, I wonder if my wife would be opposed to shaving the cats…

by James Cooper

Photo graciously provided by Wilson (Army Gal), through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Don't Be Married To What It Looks Like

a path through a grassy meadowParenting is a journey. It’s a non-stop olympic event. It’s a gauntlet we voluntarily run. And you and I want to make it work, to achieve success as often as possible, so our kids become the adults of our dreams. But in the process, at times, we make ourselves crazy, especially when our kids stray from the desired path.

Sometimes it’s little things. Sometimes they demand to wear two different-colored socks. Or they choose to hang out with a kid we’re not overly fond of. Or they won’t say hi to Pastor Mike on the way out of the sanctuary.

And sometimes it’s big things. Sometimes they demand to have an extra hour out on a Saturday night, even though there’s that family visit early Sunday morning. Or they insist on not studying for an upcoming history exam. Or they refuse to apologize to their sister for hurting her feelings.

We want to get our kids to do these things, and in the moment, these things matter to us, a lot. And we get wound up about them. And we pull our hair and cry into our pillows and allow the frustration and the worry to consume us like a plague.

And I get that. It’s real. The pain, the anguish, the deep-seated, pit-of-our-stomach worry is real and it’s reasonable. It’s part of being a serious, devoted parent.

But sometimes it’s just not necessary.

So I say this to myself, and to you: Don’t Be Married To What It Looks Like.

In other words, when my kid heads down a path that is not one I would have them choose, I pause and check with myself, asking myself a few questions: Will they die? Will two different socks endanger them or cause them irreparable social outcasting? Will a night of staying out late and getting less sleep stunt their growth?

If the situation is serious, then sure, I’ve got to deal with it, and with my kid. If they’re making a poor choice and I need to convince them to choose a different path, then so be it. Maybe there will be a tense conversation, but I’ve got to accept that and get in there and do my job. However, if the risk that they are taking will give them a healthier ego, and if the worst possible outcome won’t be too much of a big deal, then I need to let them go and do and be happy with themselves, no matter what the result may look like.

If I keep a loose grip on my idea of success, if I keep my expectations balanced, if I accept whatever results emerge from the efforts of my children, I find happiness at the end of the day.

by Stu Mark

Photo graciously provided by fd, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Third Verse, Same As The First

a pair of rubber-gloved hands washing dishesI’ve made an adjustment to my parenting technique and it just may be working out.

The old way was as follows: I give my kid a new chore. Kid does chore. Kid screws it up. I politely repeat the explanation of the chore. Chore gets done again, wrong. I wrinkle my brow at said child, asking what they don’t understand about my explanation. Kid shrugs shoulders, I shrug mine. Time passes, chore comes due, kid does chore again, but again, incorrectly. I get tense at kid, kid gets tense. Finally, fourth time, chore has to get done, maybe it gets done right and I praise, or maybe I stand over them as they do the chore, helicopter-style, praising as they perform each step correctly.

This way was kinda working, but really, there was just way too much tension and aggravation and unhappiness. So, I reached into my bag of unconditional love and decided, since the kid was gonna screw it up anyway the first few times, that I would react differently, that I would make a change.

The new way: I give my kid a new chore. Kid does chore. Kid screws it up. I explain the chore to the kid as though it’s brand new information (something like, “I probably didn’t say this before, but when you do the chore, you have to do blah blah blah.”) … All the while, smiling. Next time the kid does the chore, they screw it up. I go to the kid and repeat what I said before, as though I’d not said it before, as though it was new information. Kid looks at me funny, but smiles, acknowledges the mistake, we move on. Third time, chore gets done wrong, I repeat my previous explanation, as though it’s the first time, all the while I’m smiling and full of grace. The kid really looks at me funny, admits to the mistake, jumps to correct it, no tension.

Both methods lead to the chore getting done correctly, but the second method seems to leave behind no grimy residue of tension, no resentment, no unpleasant aftertaste. I don’t feel guilty for teaching them an unpleasant lesson, they don’t feel shame or guilt, nor do they feel like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. Everyone wins.

I will admit that it feels goofy doing things this way. The kids certainly look at me like I’m hopped up on goofballs. But my logic tells me that it’s better that the kids grow up thinking I was a little goofy than become adults with resentment issues. I figure the first way is gonna get me a way better nursing home.

by Stu Mark

Photo graciously provided by spike55151, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Birth of a Snowflake

“No Snowflake in an Avalanche ever feels responsible.” — Voltaire

“Wait for meeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”  Sam* screamed as the door closed just before he reached it.  All the other children were inside the gym, but little four-year-old Sam, who had been playing around with the water fountain found himself on the wrong side of the unlocked, easily opened door.

His mother watched disinterestedly as she continued talking on her cell phone.

Someone opened the door for Sam, but by then it was too late.  He was already screaming something indecipherable at the top of his lungs and refused to enter the gym.

His mother watched, only mildly concerned, as she continued talking on her cell phone.

Sam ran to the other door, pounded on it and continued screaming.  The mother (still on her cell phone) said something to him about going home if he didn’t want to go to class, which resulted in even louder screams.

So she opened the other door for him.

You know, because the kids in the class couldn’t hear his angst from behind the glass lobby windows.

Sam was not pleased.  He slammed the door and ran toward the exit–still screaming.  Finally mom told her call that she had to go and went after her kid, who was (yep, you guessed it) still screaming.

Finally, I thought.  Now she can take the kid outside at least until he calms down.  Or better yet, take him home for throwing such a fit.  It’s what I would have done.  It wasn’t what Sam’s mom did.

Nope–Sam’s mom dragged him into the gym room, where he continued to scream (now, because he had missed the opening activity), run around aimlessly, and climb on the apparatus (while still screaming).  Apparently, this was a fairly usual occurence, because mom settled into her chair, ignored the fact that her kid was disrupting the whole class, and made another call.

Little Sam is well on his way to being a Snowflake.

What’s a Snowflake, you may ask?  The term comes from the idea that people believe that children, like snowflakes, are special and unique– and then they take that belief to an extreme.  Their child becomes so special that nothing and no one should squash their little angel’s specialness by, say, telling them no, or making them earn rewards.  Rewards come because they have graced the world with their presence.  The result is a child that has such an intrinsic sense of entitlement that they a) can’t function as adults and b) drive everyone around them crazy.

It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s one that my fellow educators deal with on a daily basis.  In fact, there is an entire website, snarky as it may be, devoted to venting about Snowflakes and their sense of entitlement.

I realize I’m being a bit judgmental.  I realize that I don’t know anything about Sam or his mother, that there could be extenuating circumstances that I’m not aware of, and that maybe I just don’t understand anything about the situation I was really looking at.  But we’ve all seen these kinds of situations–situations where parents seem oblivious that their kids are disruptive.  Because, after all, the very specialness of their children is something that needs to be shared with the world.

Now, I’m not saying that their children aren’t unique or special.  I’m sure they are– just like mine are.  But I’ve also seen what happens to these children when they grow up and leave home.  I teach these children who believe that “trying really hard” should get them an A, who can’t deal with failure, and who don’t have the skills that they need to pull themselves up on their own because they were never required to be responsible for themselves as children.

As I watched little Sam have his little meltdown, I was one part frustrated, but two parts sad for the boy.  While he was getting his way and his mother was on her cell phone, they were both missing an important opportunity to teach the child something more than just how special he was.  They missed an opportunity to let the child know what he could be.

Votaire had it right– the problem with snowflakes is that they don’t see themselves as part of something larger and more powerful.  When that bigger thing is an avalanche, it can be destructive, but being part of something larger and more powerful can be a good thing–a powerful movement for change in the world.

*Names have been changed to protect the ino… er… because I don’t want to get into trouble.

by Lisa D.

Photo graciously provided by T.SC, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved