Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Don't Protect Your Children--Teach Them to Survive

Will your kids survive the difficulties of life?
If you are like me, you looked at your newborn and promised never to let anything ever hurt him or her. As my children grew older, I realized that was something over which I had no control. Sure, I could manage some things--giving them a safe place to live, nutritious food for health, teaching them not to run out in front of cars, and so forth.
But children will get hurt. They will experience pain for which our kisses cannot be used to heal the boo-boo. They will have accidents. They will have broken hearts. They will become disillusioned about something or someone. And the list goes on and on.
So what is a loving parent to do? Our role is to prepare our kids for those times. We must show by example and by words how to survive the tough times that life throws at us. For instance, if you have bad news, what do you do? If you go to bed for days and withdraw from everyone, you are teaching that sometimes it is impossible to cope with situations. However, if you grieve, but continue to go to work and make dinner for your family, then you are teaching your child that they can be stronger than the pain.
I am reading a very insightful book, The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood (awesome book, by the way). In one chapter, a woman named Yehuda, whose friends had family members that survived the Holocaust, decided to study the differences between Holocaust survivors and the PTSD she was seeing in Viet Nam Vets. She states that trauma will happen and that our children need to be prepared for it. Her example is that her daughter, in the aftermath of 9-11, sometimes fears the future. Yehuda says, "I'm always temped to reassure her that harm will not come her way. But then I think of all the Holocaust survivors and I cannot promise this. Instead I reassure her that she will have the strength and resourcefulness to cope with whatever challenges her." Then they develop emergency plans and practice them.
What I love about this is that it is not useless platitudes. Instead, she sees the reality of life and is trying to help her child develop coping strategies so when sadness or tragedy do come to her, she will be able to do more than just survive--she will be able to thrive.
I know that is what I want for my children and grandchildren. As I am fond of saying, we are not supposed to be raising kids. We are raising the next generation of adults and we must prepare instead of coddle, guide instead of protect, and encourage instead of cocoon. It's devastating to watch our kids in physical or emotional pain. But, trust me, one day when your baby is going through an unbelievably difficult time and doing it with grace and hope, you will know that my words and Yehuda's words are more true than you would ever want them to be.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Courtesy and Respect--Teach it!

Courtesy and Respect---Teach It!Note from Pat: I received this article the other day and thought it gave some good pointers on teaching kids about respect. Hope you like it!
The author is Gary M. Unruh, MSW LCSW, a child and family mental health counselor with nearly forty years of experience. He is the author of the award-winning book Unleashing the Power of Parental Love: 4 Steps to Raising Joyful and Self-Confident Kids (www.unleashingparentallove.com).
Make sure you read to the bottom--there is a video at the end you will want to see...
Teaching Respect
for oneself and others
by Gary M. Unruh, MSW, LCSW
Raising a respectful child is one of the three Rs (responsibility, respect, and resiliency) that are part of a parent's job description.If we hear a three-year-old say, "No, my do it. Get away!" that is pretty normal. But it is disrespectful for a thirteen-year-old to say, "I don't have to do that if I don't want to."
Helping your child move from one level to another takes focus and constant vigilance. A child can also disrespect herself. That is what is happening when you hear "I'm so stupid" or "Nobody wants to eat lunch with me at school; I guess I'll just have to eat by myself."
Respect (for oneself and others) is a learned behavior, and the learning curve is full of roadblocks. The three most common obstacles to respect are:
1. Looking out for oneself first and ignoring another person's needs.
2. Encouraging a child's independence and at the same time helping them understand the importance of looking out for another person's needs.
3. Experiencing mistakes too harshly and creating disrespect for themselves.
Here are some ways to deal with each of these.Looking out for oneself first. If you don't think this is a human tendency, spend an hour with a toddler. If children don't progress past this attitude, respect for others will not develop.
But don't skip validating your child's needs and feelings as you teach respect for others. Telling your child he should be disappointed or mad when a teacher has been mean is essential. After that, the second step works better: teaching your child how to deal respectfully with his teacher.
When your thirteen-year-old argues, take the time to hear her point, support parts or all of what she says, and sometimes change your mind--in favor of what your child says. Most parents skip step one (supporting a child's feelings) and go directly to step two: teaching respectful behavior. Don't make that mistake.
Balancing independence with looking out for other people's needs.
Alex yells at the principal, saying it's not fair that he got an after-school suspension when his friends did the same thing and got off scot-free. That's independent thinking, but the comments and his espressions were disrespectful. Alex's parents have done a good job helping Alex know and respect his needs, but his delivery needs some work. Learning to balance independence and respect for others is a tough skill to teach, but it can be done with enough practice.
Handling mistakes too harshly.
As a teenager, Erin spends too much time doing perfect homework and sometimes does not try activities because she believes she won't be able to do them perfectly. Four-year-old Taylor has a temper tantrum every time he can't find a puzzle piece or can't get a Lego piece to fit right. These children have learned that mistakes make them feel bad about themselves, rather than using mistakes to learn and improve.
Parents need to decrease this excessive internal harshness by focusing on and supporting the child's feelings that are causing the problem. Let's say Erin tells her parents she doesn't want to disappoint them by getting Bs or Cs. Now the parents know the source of the pressure and can reduce the grade expectation. Don't expect this internal harshness to go away overnight, however. It'll take awhile to see the results of the approach of addressing feelings first and correcting behavior second.
Here's the take-home lesson: When you establish your child's self-respect, teaching respect for others will be a lot easier.
Parenting and interacting with a respectful child is a pleasure for everyone.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

High School Doesn't Last Forever

In the last year, I have learned a new lesson. Yes, even old horses can gradually be taught to learn!
In March of my junior year in high school, my family moved. As you can imagine, it was traumatic to me. Luckily, the place we moved to was terrific and the kids at the school were very nice to me. However, I only had a few friends and did not get to really get to know many of the graduating class--just no time. Part of me was envious that they had so many stories about growing up with each other that I could not share and sometimes I felt like a real outsider.
Over the years, I have gone to a few reunions, but last year's (cough, cough over the number) reunion was the best. We have all reached an age where we are just glad to see each other, renew old friendships, make new ones, and mourn our losses. With the fun we had that night, along with email and Facebook, many of us have been staying in touch. I know many of these people for the first time and they are wonderfully exciting, caring, and fun people.
In the photo above is Larry "Pepper" Smith. Larry and his wife, Christine Cordone, now live in Key West, FL and are entertainers (singers, songwriters, entertainers, music producers) at the Pier House Resort. Larry is a case in point--we did not run in the same circles--he was popular; I was a newcomer. He was in band; I was busy with my church. And so forth. Needless to say, we knew who each other was and I had always heard that he was a terrific musician, but cannot say I ever heard him play or sing by himself.
At last year's reunion he invited all of us to come hear them if we were in Key West. So this month, my husband and I took him up on his offer. We were so pleasantly surprised at the reception we received, as well as the quality of the entertainment. When Monty and I walked into the lounge where Larry was seated at the piano, he made a big deal to the audience about how we graduated from high school together and played a special song for Monty and I since our anniversary was the next day. You would have thought we had been close friends instead of passing acquaintances.
We were also invited into his "inner circle" of friends who were singing with him that night. They were also warm and welcoming. Larry has become a wonderful musician! He plays a few instruments, has a terrific singing voice, and writes some great songs which you can find at http://www.keywestislandnight.com. Turns out the rumors in high school about him were true--he is very talented. If you are in Key West, check out one of his shows--I promise you will want to hear more.
The lesson is for our kids is that high school doesn't last forever. It is a difficult time with new responsibilities, new hormones, new expectations, more hormones, lack of maturity, and did I mention hormones? Teach them that
  • life moves on and people grow, change, and mature;
  • the next place you go--another town, college, military, and so on--do not know that you were Homecoming queen or that you were the pimpled faced kid with low self esteem that always sat by himself;
  • eventually you are all on the same plane;
  • they can make anything of their lives that they want no matter where they started;
  • people change over the course of their lives and someone who was a best pal may no longer fit, whereas a person you didn't like in high school could become a new best friend so don't slam any doors;
  • many kids who could not get dates in high school become popular and famous (or infamous) later in life.

Things for parents to consider:

  • Be your child's cheerleader.
  • If you need to move for work, don't be afraid to do it. My parents certainly had to listen to a lot of crying and yelling when I got the news, but it turned out fine.
  • Kids are very resilient--they can adjust to quite a bit. Sometimes we don't give them enough credit.
  • Find stories like this one to share with your kids if they are having emotional distress with adolescence.
  • Get them involved in something like music, sports, scouting, or whatever interests them and keep encouraging them. Chemicals from a physician is not the answer.

I was glad high school was not forever, but it is fun to go back sometimes and peek back behind that curtain one more time.

Since I mentioned Larry, I thought I would leave you with a song of his and some photos of mine.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Live Like You Are Dying

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went on a wonderful trip to Key West and one of the hightlights of the trip was taking a sea plane out to and exploring Dry Tortugas National Park. During the flight, a tape was playing that alternately played music or pointed out landmarks or interesting sites we were passing over. One of the songs was "Live Like You Were Dying" by Tim McGraw. Everytime I hear this impactful song, I reassess how I am living my life. Little did I know it, but in less than an hour this song was going to come to life for me.
On the trip Monty and I were given the gift of meeting Lisa, who is 12 years younger than I, and who was traveling by herself. She was great company and we really enjoyed talking to her. Upon hearing that she was a retired special education teacher, I already knew she was extraordinary. It takes a wonderful spirit to devote yourself to disabled children.
As the three of us wandered around the fort and looked at the fish in the pristine water, she told us that she was working out her "bucket list." I was very honored when she shared this private information with us and it made our time together more valuable. As I watched her throughout the day, I was inspired by her attitude and actions. She would sit on the beach and spend several minutes looking at each of the shells in the small collection she had in her hand or stare out at the ocean and comment on how beautiful it was. Then she would speak to us, quick with a smile and a laugh and a great sense of humor. And I marvelled at her.
So what is Lisa doing with the rest of her life? She is currently planning a trip around the world to see all the places she has dreamed of visiting. And she is doing it by herself. Fortunately, but not surprisingly, she has friends who plan to meet her in different countries so she will not always be alone in her journey.
Her affect on me has been enormous and I am not sure why, but I know it has to do with her humor, courage, kindness, and her acceptance of the limitations of this life. It is a surety she did not arrive at this place of peace overnight, but she has. She is in my thoughts and prayers every day. It is very rare for me to be overly impressed by any human being--we are all so flawed that I find it difficult to put anyone up on a pedestal. I have not done that with her, but in the few hours we were with her, she zoomed into the list of the top 5 people I respect and admire most. She is an inspiration for all of us.
Maybe her impact is because as a cardiac nurse I met so many people who put off doing things or going places that they really desired. Then their life or that of their spouse came to an early end and now their dreams would never be realized. After all that, I was now privileged to meet someone who is actually getting the chance to live those dreams.
As parents, this is a great lesson for us and for our children. When you get the chance to clean house or play tag--play tag. If you have to make a choice about working late or going to the ballgame--go to the ballgame. In the Tim McGraw song, a line goes "Someday I hope you get the chance to live life like you were dyin'." But I think that is a decision we make everyday, in every choice we make.
We don't know how many moments we are given in this life. So don't waste any of the precious ones!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hostels--What You Need to Know

Recently I met a man who runs two hostels in Flagstaff AZ and realized I knew nothing about them. Are they a viable alternative for lodging when traveling? Are they safe? What exactly is a hostel? Where are they located?

John McCulloch of Grand Canyon International Hostel answered my questions and then graciously agreed to tape a segment for Parents Rule! video blog to answer questions you might have. That tape is found at the bottom of this blog or at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYyONXrmOZE (As you will see in the video, he is also a very talented musician.)

Turns out that hostels are a quite interesting alternative for traveling on a steep budget. Elder hostels are even available for those of us who are graying. So now there is no good excuse not to travel and see places you have always wanted to visit. Get out there and have fun!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

9-11 Tribute: Where Were You?

On September 11, 2001, I came home from an early morning meeting and my son yelled to me to watch the TV--that a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center buildings. As we sat on his bed and watched together, it was through a haze of disbelief that I began to realize that our country was being attacked.
I remember hugging him and telling him that this was a moment we would always remember because the world as we knew it had just changed. How right I was. But I was safe at home in Suwanee, GA. My husband was working in Canada, but I knew he was not flying that day. As far as I knew, everyone I loved was safe for now.
Unfortunately, there were 3000 American citizens who were not. They were overcome by smoke in their offices. They were disintegrated immediately when the planes flew into their buildings. They jumped to their deaths preferring a sudden impact demise to a firey one. They were on hijacked planes and did not know what was going to happen. They tried to take back a plane headed to Washington DC and crashed in PA to save more innocent lives. They perished in valiants efforts to rescue and protect.
So many stories. So many souls that survived, but were forever changed. So many left to mourn and wonder about how this could happen. In my YouTube video blog this week I am featuring the story of a woman who is a survivor of the Twin Towers on 9-11. Her children were among those walking the streets of NYC with a photo of her, not knowing whether she was alive or dead.
For the ten years since 9-11 we have been healing, but the memory is just as fresh today as it was then. I pray we never forget that day and do all we can to prevent anything like that from happening again.
So let's fly our flag and hold our heads up high. We were not beaten. We were bruised and battered and paid a heavy toll on that Sept 11 morning. But we were not destoyed. We still stand tall and proud. Our landscape may have changed but our spirits never did, never will.
We are Americans, citizens of the greatest nation that was ever created. We will never forget, but we will not let it keep us from moving forward.
God Bless America!

Friday, August 12, 2011

5 Back-to-School Homework Tips Every Parent Must Have

I was trying to decide on a blog topic and saw a newsletter in my email box. In the newsletter was this article that I really like--informative and timely. It is re-printed with permission and I hope it is helpful to you--Pat

5 Back-to-School Homework Tips Every Parent Must Have

by Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed.

The ritual of back to school time is here once again. Some parents can't wait to get their kids out the door, while others don't want those lazy summer days to end. Regardless of how parents feel about a transition to a new school year, they all have one thing in common — a universal desire to see their children succeed. Read on to find out how you can make this school year the best ever.
• Establish a Start Time

So much of success in school depends on how well kids perform after the school bell rings. That's right: homework. If you're the parent of a child with the "I'll do it later" syndrome, setting a time in which homework starts is key. There are essentially five times to start homework: right after school, after a 30 minute break, before dinner, after dinner, and right before bedtime. The latter two options are not nearly as productive as the first three, but determining when your child should start homework depends on age.

Elementary students often need down time after school or when they return from their extra-curricular activities; about 30 minutes is usually sufficient. This is when homework should start. Although each day might be different due to sports, lessons and other activities, the routine of starting 30 minutes after returning should not change.

It's much harder to dictate an exact starting time to an adolescent. For older students, consider having the family policy that homework starts before dinner. This step in itself will greatly reduce late night stress when homework still isn't complete.

• Allow a Variety of Homework Spaces

Throw away the old idea that homework needs to be done in the same place each day. New research finds that it's far more productive to vary the location. One day homework might be done in the dining room, another day the home office area, etc. Keep in mind that regardless of where homework is completed, some kids function better when they can lie on the floor, sit on the sofa, or even pace the room while studying for a test.

In addition, the traditional notion that people need complete silence and a sterile environment in order to concentrate has recently come under fire. Various studies have shown that distractible students can actually attend better when they are given something to hold or touch. If you find that your child tends to fidget by touching objects around her, tapping her feet, or rocking in her chair, it's likely that she's craving sensory input.

Many children need this type of stimulation, especially when tasks are tedious or boring. Consider allowing your child to hold a stress ball or another fidget toy such as the Tangle Jr.

• Create a Clean Sweep

Organization is a major component of school success. In the beginning of the year nearly every student starts off being organized, but has a hard time maintaining this initial effort. You can help your child by establishing a 20 minute pre-arranged weekly maintenance session called the "Clean Sweep." During this time, your child will be responsible for organizing anything related to school, which includes cleaning out binders, folders, and backpack. Program this time into your smart phone and have your children do the same if they own a cell phone. Many families find that Sunday evening is an ideal time to prepare for the week ahead.

• Know How Much to Help

Knowing how much to help your child with schoolwork is perhaps the most important part of school success. With young children (K-3) there's more hand-holding. As students age the rule of thumb is to get them started, watch them do the first few problems to be sure they understand the material, then walk away. Sitting with your child while he does homework is not productive, and sends the message that he is incapable of doing the assignment. Remember, a parent's pen should never touch the paper. This is the child's homework. On the other hand, knowing when to provide support is equally as important. When you see your child struggling, by all means, intervene. Work with him until he's able to understand the content and then let him work on his own. When it comes to schoolwork, independence is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.

• Stay the Course

In the beginning of the year, every parent starts out gung-ho, but then the daily check-ins on homework fade as the stress of fall sets in. If you have a fairly responsible child, this is generally just fine. It's likely you'll need to check in from time to time, but if you find your child is doing well without your help, don't intervene. If you have a roller coaster type of kid who starts out strong, fades without parental support and then kicks it into gear when you get involved once again, be careful not to follow that same pattern again this year. Continue to monitor homework completion regularly and step back ever so slightly, but not completely, after the first quarter.

Finally, remember that praise is a powerful tool, especially when it comes to homework. Research shows that by simply praising effort rather than intelligence, kids will develop greater motivation to keep trying, even when the going gets tough.


Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections, Inc., a tutoring, test prep, and consulting company in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her new book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Numerous examples and easy-to-implement, fun tips will help make homework less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at anndolin.com or ectutoring.com.