The One Skill Every Child Must Have to Survive

 Last week marked the beginning of winter semester at the university where my son Alex attends college. He and I caught up after his first day of classes and chatted about his day.

 Just when I thought our little talk was drawing to a close, Alex said something that promptly reinvigorated the conversation. He casually mentioned that he’d had a tough time getting around school that day. Apparently the campus was swarming with parents who were hanging out, introducing themselves to the professors, looking for things, and even attending classes with their children.

 I was suddenly intrigued and bursting with questions…

 Really?

Was it parents’ day? (If so, why wasn’t I invited???)

Was there a problem at the airport, forcing parents to stay in Tucson?

Were the parents actually sitting in on the classes?

Were the kids embarrassed, sitting with their parents in college classes?

Were the professors annoyed?

 My son explained that it was not parent’s day, nor were there any issues at the airport that he was aware of. Some of his younger friends had informed him that not only did parents introduce themselves to the professors and sit in on the classes, but a few raised their hands to ask questions on behalf of their children. Surprisingly, the kids seemed to be perfectly okay with the unofficial “bring your parents to college day” but there was some serious eye-rolling going on among the professors.

 At first I thought the whole thing was a little weird and kind of funny. It simply never occurred to me to attend college classes with my kids. I just presumed that if they were old enough to enroll in college, they were capable of introducing themselves to the professors, finding nourishment, and locating their classrooms without my assistance.

 Later, I was struck by how unfunny the whole thing actually was. This sort of thing is a symptom of a problem that cripples many middle-class kids. Well-meaning parents have become so fearful regarding their kids’ safety, comfort level, and overall happiness that they have gone to extremes to shield their kids from harm or distress. In the process, some have missed the entire point of parenting and failed to teach the one skill everyone needs to survive in this world: Self-management

 Self-managers know when they are hungry, tired, cranky or sick and they understand how to deal with those issues appropriately. Self-mangers are not afraid to participate in life because they know how to recognize and protect themselves from dangerous people and situations. Self-managers take care of their own needs, treat people the way they wish to be treated, problem solve, have common sense and self-discipline, and are capable of healthy communication with other human beings. A child should be adept at the basics of self-management by the time they reach puberty. Sadly, most are not.

 There are three ways parents can teach self-management.

 Encourage children to take controlled risks-

 There is a lot of debate over how many and what type of risks children should be permitted to take. Some believe kids should be insulated from even the most remote danger. These are the people who want to hand out bulletproof blankets to kindergarteners and put helmets on children before recess. Others think kids should be permitted to wander completely unsupervised. Wisdom lies between the two extremes. Children cannot learn to manage risk without taking risks, and they learn by doing. Kids should be coached about safety and then given age-appropriate opportunities to walk to the park alone, pay for things, ride their bikes unsupervised and walk around a store or mall without Mom and Dad by their side.

 Limit the use of technology-

 Good communication skills are essential to self-management. Technology (especially texting) keeps kids from developing the skills necessary to actually talk with other human beings. Kids need face-to-face communication to learn to read non-verbal cues and to understand how their words affect others. If kids are allowed a cell phone before puberty, parents should insist it’s used for phone calls only.

 Do not eliminate negative consequences-

 Consequences are the fruit of choices. We do kids a disservice when we cushion them from negative consequences. If a child is inconsiderate, irresponsible, rude or careless they should be made to deal with the fallout of their choices even if it’s inconvenient or embarrassing for Mom and Dad.

 In the early years, parenting is all about protection and provision. Loving parents do everything within their power to provide for and guarantee that no harm befalls their young child. As kids mature, parenting priorities must shift. If they don’t kids will grow up with all of the passions and aspirations of adults while missing the maturity and wisdom to manage and make the most of those passions and aspirations. The skills gained through the teaching of self-management lay the groundwork for a life of productivity, happiness and holiness. Without the capacity to self-manage, no one—no matter how loved they were in the early years—will ever reach his or her God-given potential.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When “Love” Cripples Our Kids-

Capricious children will rule over them, the people will be oppressed; each one by another, and each one by his neighbor. The youth will storm against the elder and the inferior against the honorable~ Isaiah 3:4b-5 NASB

 It’s difficult to quibble with the notion that our society has become progressively more child-centered over the course of the last few decades.

 Overall concern for the health and welfare of children has brought about much-needed change in our culture. Research has raised awareness concerning the educational, medical and emotional needs of growing children. Parents readily invest more of their time, energy and treasure in raising kids than at any other time in history; and educators are much more in tune with the developmental needs of each individual child. As a result, school is far more interesting than it was “back in the day”.

 The societal focus on children has also brought with it a greater awareness of child abuse and neglect. Physical discipline of any kind is now frowned upon and has been replaced with more “enlightened” forms of discipline.

I am all for anything that brings awareness to the horrors of child abuse. However, I fear we have exchanged physical abuse and emotional neglect with a different kind of child abuse. A form of abuse  that is much more socially acceptable but every bit as crippling to the long-term health and well being of children.

 I call this new form of child abuse “insulation.” Insulation happens when well-intentioned parents go beyond protecting their children from harmful influences or danger. Parents who insulate attempt to shield their kids from every kind of distress, pain, sadness, discomfort, discouragement or discontent. Some of the more common methods of insulation are:

 Demanding teachers give kids grades they have not earned

Refusing to expose kids to unfamiliar foods for fear they won’t like them

Insisting swings and other “dangerous” equipment be removed from playgrounds

Piling on undeserved praise

Allowing laziness and irresponsibility

Failing to tell children “no” when appropriate

Delaying the teaching of necessary life skills (cooking, cleaning, driving, money management)

Neglecting to correct disrespect or rudeness

Anxiety over offending your child

Operating as a mediator with teachers and other authority figures

 There is nothing inherently wrong with attempting to make childhood pleasant for kids. Nor is it wrong to want to protect children from danger. The world we live in is full of evil people and genuine threats. One of the primary obligations of parents and guardians is to shelter innocent children from unsafe people and risky situations.

 Trouble comes when parents endeavor to shield their children from unpleasant or painful situations that teach kids truth about life. A scraped knee is painful, but the pain effectively communicates to a child the truth concerning their physical limitations. A bad grade won’t kill a student, but the embarrassment that comes with a bad grade may instill in them the importance of working hard to avoid the embarrassment of failure. If a child is never encouraged to try new foods they are robbed of the joy of discovering foods they do like.

 Childhood is far too brief to fritter away time puffing kids up with unjustified praise or setting them up for disappointment by creating a fictitious reality where kids get things without taking responsibility or working hard. Childhood is the only time parents get to teach kids all they will need to know to navigate the rigors of the adult world. One aspect of preparing kids for adulthood is guiding them through unpleasant or challenging experiences, not eliminating them entirely.

 Parents should train kids to negotiate with teachers or coaches, rather than doing it for them. This gives kids the confidence and skills needed to deal with supervisors and managers in the future. Parents need to demand respect and teach etiquette because respect for others, civility and good manners make children and grown-ups more likable and more marketable in the professional world. Refusing to correct disrespect sets a child up to be disliked and passed over for opportunities.

 Insulation is born out of a faulty view of love. Love is more than just squishy, squashy, sloppy sentimentality. Love is more than a urge to bless and shelter. Authentic love is multifaceted and complex. It is patient and kind, but it is also honest, tough and future focused. Love wants what is best long-term. Love looks beyond childhood and prepares for adulthood. Love pushes kids to try new things, to be courageous, protects when appropriate and corrects when necessary. Authentic love, provides kids a start that will serve them well over the course their lifetime.

 

 

 

The Folly of Forsaking Wisdom

 For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it~ Proverbs 8:11 KJV

 I have been tutoring a seven-year-old boy twice a week for a little over a year now. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I help him with his homework and then we work to improve his reading and writing skills. I will not lie-I have a soft spot for Chandler. I think it’s at least partly because he’s a bit eccentric for a second grader. 

 Chandler’s favorite food is Cheez-Its and he dreams of becoming a fighter pilot someday. Chandler knows everything there is to know about airplanes, dolphins and warships. He is convinced that America was the instigator in World War II and is extremely proud of that “fact.” He is unfailingly patriotic, has an offbeat sense of humor, and a uniquely quirky way of viewing the world.

 He also has a tenacious stubborn streak. Because he can be stubborn, motivating him can be a bit of an issue, especially when it comes to handwriting.

 Chandler would rather eat bees than write neatly.

 One afternoon last spring I became desperate. We had ninety minutes and three pages of homework to complete. We also needed to do his reading for the week. Every page of homework was handwriting intensive and Chandler was in no mood to cooperate. I attempted to inspire him with kindness and encouraging words, and he dawdled.  I tried being stern, but that only intensified his level of stubbornness.

 Finally, I made him an offer he would have been a fool to refuse. I offered to give him one piece of candy for every neatly written word. The results were truly miraculous.  The only real downside was that by the time he got half way through the second page he had eaten so much candy I was really scared he would throw-up all over my kitchen table. I gathered my wits enough to have him put the rest of the candy in a bag to eat later. He went home that afternoon with three pages of neatly completed homework and a sandwich baggie stuffed with candy.

 The next week, sweet little Chandler transformed into a greedy overlord. He expected to be rewarded with candy for every single word he wrote. He went home with huge bags of candy after our tutoring sessions. His handwriting improved dramatically, but only when he was with me and only when I paid the little punk off with candy.

 It wasn’t until Chandler suggested that he should get a piece of candy for every properly written letter that I acknowledged my stupidity.  That day I began the painful process of ending the madness. Because I had allowed the insanity to continue for so long, it took almost a month to get things back on track.

 No one would guess from reading this story, but I am not an idiot. I know better than to bribe a child with refined sugar. I know better than to bribe a child with anything. I have better sense than to allow an obstinate, eccentric seven-year-old-boy to run the show. I am well aware of the dangers of allowing bad behavior to persist unchallenged, and yet to my everlasting shame I did all of those things.

Repeatedly.  

 I have decided that this whole silly episode was not really about smart or stupid. It was about wisdom, or in my case an appalling lack of wisdom. My error was in supposing that the problem needed to be solved immediately by any means necessary.

 As I mulled this over, I concluded that many of the missteps we make in life are rooted in the desire to take a short cut to solve a problem or make life easier. Drugs and alcohol are a faster and more comfortable way of dealing with pain than self-examination and change. Bribing a child will get the job done without the effort necessary to build character and self-discipline. Alleviating loneliness with sex does not require the work needed to build healthy lifelong relationships. Cheating takes less effort than learning and yelling is easier than discussing. Casually dismissing God as a myth appears to make life easier and less complicated, but like every short cut it comes with a hefty price-tag.

 The differences between wisdom and reasoning are subtle. Worldly thinking is all about results and so the end always justifies the means. Wisdom understands there is more to a successful outcome than desirable results. Worldly thinking is all about getting the task accomplished. Wisdom is about getting the job done with integrity and in a way that will produce lasting change. Wisdom is the gift that enables us to look down the road and see the consequences of our actions and—if need be—correct our course before we reap an unpleasant harvest.

 

 

Five Mistakes Even the Best Mothers Make

Having a young child in our home for the first time in nearly a decade has driven me to do and think about things I haven’t thought about or done in a very long time. Things like chore charts and discipline methods, dance lessons, parent teacher nights, Disney movies, themed birthday parties, homework, sleepovers (ugh), and the social politics of fifth-grade girls (more ugh).  

I read parenting books compulsively and am far more attuned the parenting I see going on around me. I will shamelessly ask anyone I meet who has adopted or fostered an older child for advice. My hope is that I will glean some wisdom and insight that will empower me to maneuver this latest challenge God has placed in my life.

One question I typically ask Mothers of older kids is:

Is there anything at all you wish you could do over?

 Even the Mothers I have admired most confess at least a few things they wish they had done differently. After countless conversations I have concluded that even the best mothers would like a second chance in at least some areas. Following are five mistakes even the best Mothers make:

 Failing to become a student of your child-

 Many of the older Mothers I have spoken with deeply regret not understanding who their kids really were and imposing their own goals on their kids. I am convinced that the number one responsibility of a Mother is to assist her child in knowing and understanding him or herself. Kids need to be aware of their strengths as well as their weaknesses.  It is not a Mother’s job to decide what a child should do and then guide them toward her goals for their lives, but rather to observe her kids and help them to dream dreams and form goals based on their own unique talents and abilities.

 Thinking bad behaviors are cute-

 Intense competitiveness, smart mouthing, nitpickiness, precociousness with the opposite sex, melodrama and enhancing the truth can be oddly charming on adorable little children. Those same actions become less charming and even offensive when you’re dealing with an older kid or an adult. The next time your little cutie gets cozy with the boy or girl next door, saunters out in a skimpy ensemble, demands they win for the hundredth time, tells you a whopper of a tale, or says something saucy, try and imagine what that behavior might look like on a fourteen-year-old. Any seasoned Mom will tell you that it’s easier to break a habit in a child than in a teenager

Disregarding the spiritual-

 Every human being has a dark side. It’s our nature. Belief in the God of the Bible has helped keep the ugly side of humankind in check for eons. Taking your kid to church and teaching them to apply Christian principles to their lives will go a long way in helping to keep narcissism, greed, violent tendencies, and self-interest from spiraling out of control in future years.

 Not finding out what they really think-

 Even the best Moms can be guilty of telling kids what to think rather than finding out what and why they think what they think. When we push our views without listening to theirs we drive wrong thinking underground where the wrong thinking becomes embedded in their character. Ask questions to discover what your kids believe about issues. Don’t jump to correct every little thing they say or they will shut down and stop talking. Instead, ask them further questions about why they think what they think and then gently help them see the eventual end game of a faulty belief system.

 An unwillingness to change your mind or admit wrong-

 Admitting we got something wrong and changing course in front of our kids is one of the most uncomfortable and humbling things in the world. We have to do it on occasion because it is extraordinarily prideful and foolish not to. It’s not as if they won’t figure out on their own that we don’t actually know everything. Kids desperately need role models who are willing to humble themselves, apologize when wrong and change course when necessary.

 One truth I am relearning is that good parenting is not really about being perfect (whew!). Good parenting is about loving our kids enough to help them discover who they really are and what they might be good at. It’s about modeling grace and humility. Good parenting is about looking ahead at what present behavior might eventually become and loving our kids enough to educate them about the God who loves them even more than we do.