Taking care of your own emotional health and well-being is the single most important thing you can do for your kids. Period.
Are you 100% satisfied with the way your child behaves in public? Awesome. Stop reading and go enjoy a latte. If not, keep reading (you might still want to get that latte)
We’ve all been there. The shame. The embarrassment. The Anxiety. You just wanted to go pick up a few things at the grocery store. In and out. It was supposed to be simple. But these beasts you’ve brought along with you. They’re…They’re…What are they doing? Why are they on the floor? Why are they touching that? Get back over here! God, now they’re screaming. STOP SCREAMING! No we’re not getting ice cream. No were not getting fruit snacks. We have fruit snacks at home. I know they’re not dinosaur fruit snacks.
It can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. There was a time when I dreaded taking my kids anywhere in public. I just couldn’t deal with the judgmental looks, and the shame of feeling like a bad parent. But I have since learned a secret that has revolutionized our trips into the wide world.
It was my anxiety, tension, fear, and dread that was feeding their undesirable behavior. We were caught in a vicious cycle. I would be stressed before they even had a chance to do anything wrong. They would pick up on that negative energy, get restless and irritable, and then start doing things that bothered me. I would over-react (since I had already been stewing in my head over it) and then the problem would get even worse. The only way to stop this cycle is to relax.
It almost sounds too simple, but it works. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. It can be as simple as remembering to breathe, giving yourself a pep talk before going out (and probably a few times while you are out. and over and over in the car on the way there and back. Positive self talk can be extremely helpful) It also helps to be prepared, and to prepare the children. Let them know where you are going, what will happen, what your expectations are for them, and what positive thing they can expect to get from the whole experience (Maybe some dinosaur gummy snacks? Snacks are super important. Next to a tense parent, low blood sugar is probably the top tantrum causer)
The kids will be far from perfect, especially the first few times. But it will get better. Be patient with yourself, and with the kids. Smile, breathe, and relax. (and when you have some time for a little self discovery, maybe you can sit down and ask yourself what about their behavior really bothers you anyway, and why)
Friends care about each other.
Friends help each other
Friends hold each other accountable.
Friends respect each other.
Friends confide in each other.
Friends have fun together.
Be a friend to your children.
Our society has a bizarre way of handling children. Kids spend the bulk of their time preparing to enter this mysterious “Real World” which they are (more often than not) not allowed to participate in. They are stuffed with facts in a vacuum, sorted by age, neat and still.
Even at home the “Adult World” and the “Children’s World” seldom meet. Instead of learning how to cook, or learning how to fix, young children are given toys to play with. They are told to “Go outside” or “Get out of my hair” or “Give me space.” They are in the way. They are an annoyance. A hindrance. A bother.
Humans are not meant to live this way. They are meant to live in families that spend time together. That work together. That solve their problems and accomplish goals together. Children learn from working side by side with an adult. Someone they respect. Someone they trust.
You want to change the world? You want to make it a better place? You want to solve our societies problems? Blur the lines. Our society will never change until we change the way we treat children. Involve them in your work. Involve them in your hobbies and passions. Welcome them. Understand that they are still growing and learning, and are going to screw things up occasionally. That’s how they learn. That’s how we all learn. And don’t just bring them into your world. Take an interest in their interests. Learn about their passions. Listen to them. REALLY listen. You might learn something.
I Am The Sun
It’s Springtime, and there are all kinds of projects to be done (or more likely half-done) in our yard. One such project involved the use of bricks as landscaping material. As this particular project was in the “half-done” column, there were still a few bricks strewn about the yard. My son, Stegosaurus (2.5 years old) had moved these bricks into a line, and was cautiously standing on the first brick, one foot on the brick, and one foot raised slightly above the ground. We made eye contact, and the look on his face told me that some brilliant idea had just popped into his toddler brain.
He hopped down and said, “You stand on the brick.” I quickly obliged (This being my fourth two year old, I knew I really didn’t have much of a choice) and stood as he had, on the brick.
“Now sing.” he ordered.
“Sing?” I asked, “Okay…what would you like me to sing?”
“The Planet Song.”
Stegosaurus settled in on the porch. I cleared my throat and began. Just as I belted out, “I am the Sun,” I noticed my neighbor walking by. I was not too far from the sidewalk, and in plain view. Stegosaurus (still on the porch) was obscured by a wicker rocking chair, and was also the only other person outside at the moment. So there I was. Balanced on a brick and singing (apparently) to myself. I couldn’t bring myself to finish the song until the neighbor was out of sight.
What Is That!?
While we were outside, I took some time to clear off the bit of sidewalk that goes from the porch to the road. When I had nearly finished, Little T-Rex (7) walked out and exclaimed, with both shock and excitement in his voice, “What is that!?” Pterodactyl (5) followed closely behind him and shouted, “It looks like…a walkway!” I guess I had neglected the yard work for a little longer than I thought.
Setting An Example
I had a friend, who has recently passed, that I spent a good deal talking to about..well..everything. I had once told him that I wanted my kids to be happy (Isn’t that what we all want?), and without missing a beat he asked me, “Well, are you setting a good example?” I had never thought of it that way. But, just like anything else, if we want our children to be happy we need to model happiness. We need to take care of ourselves, and we need to be aware of our emotions, habits, and thoughts, and their effect on our overall well-being. The best way to have happy kids is to be happy ourselves.
A few days ago, I saw a set of “Bad Parent” memes posted on the Facebook. the message they conveyed was this: If your kid does something wrong, it’s all your fault because your a bad parent, and you should be ashamed of yourself. Yeah.
Firstly, this is an extreme oversimplification. There are so many factors (and people) that can influence a child’s behavior. Even if a parent does everything right, their child could still behave in ways that are undesirable. But hey, maybe some of it is our fault. Maybe kids wouldn’t lie so much if their parents wouldn’t have overreacted in the past. Maybe they would have an easier time standing up for themselves if their parents weren’t always talking down to them. But what good does it do to beat ourselves up about it? How does it help to bully ourselves, and call ourselves bad parents? How can we have compassion for our kids if we can’t have compassion for ourselves? How can we forgive our kids if we can’t forgive ourselves? How can we love our kids, if we can’t first love ourselves?
You and I are not bad parents. We are growing parents. We are learning parents. We are trying, and getting better every day. Are we perfect? No, far from it. Do we make mistakes? Of course. But maybe our kids don’t need perfect parents. Maybe what our kids need is someone that can show them how to get up after they’ve fallen down. how to admit that they’ve made a mistake. And how to show love and compassion to broken, hurting, imperfect people.
Thanks for reading,
I want to share something with you all, but I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I am not trying to impress you. I am not trying to increase my chances of being awarded ‘Parent of the Year’. My only goal is to share something that has helped me along my parenting journey, which is this: Coercion is unnecessary (and counterproductive)
My 2 year old son (Stegosaurus) says thank you. When he is given something to eat, when a toy is shared with him, whenever he is feeling grateful. Now, I have not once said to him, “Say thank you,” or, “What do you say?” So now, if you are wondering how such a small creature learns to do this without being told, I will not keep you in suspense. Tri-Sarah-tops and I thank him when he does something for us. We thank other people when they do something for him (unless he beats us to it) and we thank each other. Bam. Presto. It really is that easy. And the best part is that when he says it, he is not saying it because he was told to, but because he knows those words are used to express gratitude.
Ok, how about another example for the remaining skeptics. Water. My kids drink water when they’re thirsty. I have actually had other parents ask me, “Hey, how do you get those kids to drink water?” Well, when they were younger and said they were thirsty I gave them water. Tri-Sarah-tops and I drink water when we are thirsty. We take water with us when we go out, and lastly, we don’t push the issue. If they ask for juice or milk we give them juice or milk. Shazam. No coercion needed.
Now this all may seem like small potatoes, but there are many people out there who are locked in power struggles with their kids over issues as simple and seemingly insignificant as these. And here is the biggest problem. Not only are coercion and force unnecessary, they are extremely damaging to any relationship, and can drive a wedge between you and your child.
Thanks for reading,
Please. I’m seriously people. I need you to do me a favor. Go ahead and raise your kids in any way you see fit. Are you a helicopter parent? Fantastic. May your rotor never cease its turning (Unless you want it to). I’m glad you are keeping your children safe. Or maybe you are sitting on a park bench, eyes fixed on your smartphone while your kids navigate the playground equipment. Whether it’s because you value independence, you just need a break, or you really do have something important to do on there (really.) is none of my business. You are doing what you need to do to survive and thrive in your parenting journey. I appreciate that, and I thank you for it.
Parenting isn’t an exact science, a lot of times we have to go by feel. What’s best for one family may not work for another. That’s fine. In fact, it’s so much more than fine. It’s a darn beautiful thing. There is no sense in nit-picking, labeling, or tearing each other down. We’re all doing the best we can in our difficult and oftentimes confusing roles as parents, and we would do well to support each other, even if we have a few variances in style and technique. Because at the end of the day were all trying to do the same thing: What’s best for our families.
The only thing that I could offer you in the way of advice is this: Whatever you do, do it out of love, and not fear. Act out of compassion, and not compulsion. Follow your instincts. Trust yourself, trust your kids, and parent however the fuck you want.
More things that won’t affect my respect for you as a parent:
- Your 6 year old uses a pacifier
- 4 bounce houses, 7 clowns, and 10 piñatas at your kids birthday party (I hope I’m invited)
- The age your kids potty train
- Where and when your kids sleep
- Where (or if) your kids go to school
- You push your 10 year old in a stroller
- You nurse your 3 year old
- You only allow your kids to watch 20 minutes of television a week
- Your kids binge watch 3 seasons of Pokemon in one weekend
- You’re religious
- You’re not religious
- You eat at Mcdonalds
- The number of children you have
- The frequency with which you acquire said children
- What kind of toys or electronics your kids have
Thanks for reading.
(Hey! Don’t forget to check out http://www.fb.com/thedadosaur)
“But if I let them do whatever they want, they’ll just watch TV and play video games all day!”
This is a very common reaction to the idea of allowing one’s children complete (or even partial) freedom. They will spend the whole day with eyes locked to a screen, completely cut off from the real world. I understand this concern. I have felt the anxiety that comes along with it. I have tried limiting “Screen Time” in the past, and it has resulted in a painful power struggle that has only two possible outcomes (as is true with any power struggle). Either I overcome and defeat my children, forcing them to bend to my will, or they are victorious, and I cower in the corner, rocking back and fourth in the fetal position. I do not find either of these to be desirable.
So, what did I do? Two things. One: I changed my perspective. Even as adults screens are a very real part of our daily lives, and I would challenge you to add up the amount of “Screen Time” you have in one day. It took some time, but I realized that my children’s brains would not turn to soup if they spent some time with the TV, computer, or tablet. (I also found out that the more I relaxed, the happier everyone was) I allowed them the freedom to choose, and, for a while, they chose to binge watch their favorite TV shows. But after a while, when they realized that it was no longer a scarce commodity, they relented, and began exploring their other options.
Which brings me to the second thing: I gave them other options. There are so many things that most kids would rather do than watch TV or play video games. Below is a list of things my kids consistently choose over a screen.
- Light-saber battling
- Looking for bugs
- helping to prepare a meal
- Riding bikes
- Playing with play dough
- Recording videos for their YouTube Channel
- Playing in water
- “Nature Talking” (An activity invented by parasaurolophus  that involves sitting quietly with eyes closed and listening/talking to trees)
- Going to the park
- Writing stories (Its even more fun If I staple together a few sheets of white paper, with a colored piece for the cover so they have a little book to write in)
- Going for a walk
- Building a snowman
- Collecting leaves
- Taking apart broken/old electronics (Last week was the toaster)
- Doing mazes
- Reading or being read to
- Watering the plants
- Building forts
- Playing tag
I could honestly go on forever, but you get the point. Sometimes it just takes a little creativity, initiative, and involvement on my part, but honestly watching movies and playing video games has become a last resort for them, when all other options have been exhausted.
(Be sure to check out my facebook page at http://www.fb.com/thedadosaur)
I stumbled across this while perusing the vast caverns of the interwebs. It is a chapter of a book called “Summerhill” written by an educator named A. S. Neill, and the message resonated with me so strongly, I couldn’t help but post it here. Enjoy.
“I hold that the aim of life is to find happiness, which means to find interest. Education should be a preparation for life. Our culture has not been very successful. Our education, politics and economics lead to war. Our medicines have not done away with disease. Our religion has not abolished usury and robbery. The advances of the age are advances in mechanism – in communications and computers, in science and technology. New wars threaten, for the world’s social conscience is still primitive.
If we feel like questioning today, we can pose a few awkward questions. Why does man hate and kill in war when animals do not? Why does cancer increase? Why are there so many suicides? So many insane sex crimes? Why the hate that is racism? Why the need for drugs to enhance life? Why backbiting and spite? Why is sex obscene and a leering joke? Why degradation and torture? Why the continuance of religions that have long ago lost their love and hope and charity? Why, a thousand whys about our vaulted state of civilised eminence!
I ask these questions because I am by profession a teacher, one that deals with the young. I ask these questions because those so often asked by teachers are the unimportant ones, the ones about French or ancient history or what not when these subjects don’t matter a jot compared to the larger questions of life’s fulfilment – of man’s inner happiness.
How much of our education is real doing, real self-expression? Handwork is too often the making of a wooden box under the eye of an expert. Even the Montessori system, well known as a system of directed play, is an artificial way of making the child learn by doing. It has nothing creative about it. In the home the child is always being taught. In almost every home there is at least one ungrown-up grown-up who rushes to show Tommy how his new engine works. There is always someone to lift the baby up on a chair when the baby wants to examine something on the wall. Every time we show Tommy how his engine works we are stealing from that child the joy of life – the joy of discovery – the joy of overcoming an obstacle. Worse! We make that child come to believe that he is inferior, and must depend on help.
Parents are slow in realising how unimportant the learning side of school is. Children, like adults, learn what they want to learn. All the prize-giving and marks and exams side-track proper personality development. Only pedants claim that learning from books is education.
Books are the least important apparatus in a school. All that any child needs is the three R’s the rest should be tools and clay and sports and theatre and paint and freedom.
Most of the school work that adolescents do is simply a waste of time, of energy, of patience. It robs youth of its right to play and play and play: it puts old heads on young shoulders.
When I lecture to students at teacher training colleges and universities, I am often shocked at the ungrownupness of these lads and lasses stuffed with useless knowledge. They know a lot: they shine in dialectics: they can quote the classics – but in their outlook on life many of them are infants. For they have been taught to know, but have not been allowed to feel. These students are friendly, pleasant, eager, but something is lacking – the emotional factor, the power to subordinate thinking to feeling. I talk to these of a world they have missed and go on missing. Their textbooks do not deal with human character, or with love, or with freedom, or with self-determination. And so the system goes on, aiming only at standards of book learning – it goes on separating the head from the heart.
It is time that we were challenging the school’s notion of work. It is taken for granted that every child should learn mathematics, history, geography, science, a little art and certainly literature. It is time we realised that the average young child is not much interested in any of these subjects.
I prove this with every new pupil. When told that the school is free, every new pupil cries, “Hurrah! You won’t catch me going to lessons!”
I am not decrying learning. But learning should come after play. And learning should not deliberately seasoned with play to make it palatable. Learning is important – but not to everyone. Nijinsky could not pass his school exams in St. Petersburg, and he could not enter the State Ballet without passing those exams. He simply could not learn school subjects – his mind was elsewhere. They faked an exam for him, giving him the answers with the papers – so a biography says. What a loss to the world if Nijinsky had really to pass those exams!
Creators learn what they want to learn in order to have the tools that their originality and genius demand. We do not know how much creation is killed in the classroom with its emphasis on learning.
I have seen a girl weep nightly over her geometry. Her mother wanted her to go to university, but the girl’s whole soul was artistic.
The notion that unless a child is learning something the child is wasting his time is nothing less than a curse – a curse that blinds thousands of teachers and most schools inspectors.
Classroom walls and the National Curriculum narrow the teacher’s outlook, and prevent him from seeing the true essentials of education. His work deals with the part of the child that is above the neck and perforce, the emotional, vital part of the child is foreign territory to him.
Indifferent scholars who, under discipline, scrape through college or university and become unimaginative teachers, mediocre doctors and incompetent lawyers would possibly be good mechanics or excellent bricklayers or first rate policemen.
I would rather Summerhill produce a happy street sweeper than a neurotic prime minister.
In all countries, capitalist, socialist or communist, elaborate schools are built to educate the young. But all the wonderful labs and workshops do nothing to help Jane or Peter or Ivan surmount the emotional damage and the social evils bred by the pressure on him from his parents, his schoolteachers and the pressure of the coercive quality of our civilisation.
The function of the child is to live his own life, not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thinks he knows best. All this interference and guidance on the part of adults only produces a generation of robots.
We set out to make a school in which we should allow children freedom to be themselves. In order to do this we had to renounce all discipline, all direction, all suggestion, all moral training, all religious instruction. We have been called brave, but it did not require courage. All it required was what we had – a complete belief in the child as a good, not an evil, being. Since 1921 this belief in the goodness of the child has never wavered: it rather has become a final faith.
A. S. Neill MA, Hon MEd, Hon Dr. of Laws, Hon Doc.