Back to School for Parents

School all over the country is either in session or about to start, which means parents are gearing up for another academic calendar year much like their children. Here are some back-to-school tips for parents.

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  1. Don’t project. Whether you loved school or hated it or fell somewhere in between, parents should try to keep their own thoughts about school to themselves, especially the first few weeks. We can’t predict how the school year will go, so encouraging a child to have an open mind is the best thing we can give them.
  2. Don’t worry. All too often, if something goes wrong the first few weeks of school, we’re off worrying about the entire year. Kids pick up on our anxiety, so stay calm and remember that the school year is long and things can turn around for your child.
  3. Remember who is going to school. Hint: It’s not you. Your child is the one who needs to learn to navigate the school, teachers, classes and homework, and your child should shoulder that responsibility.
  4. Offer guidance at a distance. Don’t get overly involved in homework, etc. Provide structure when necessary but avoid becoming essential to the task or solution to academic problems.
  5. Emphasize your expectations. I’m not talking about grades, but about the kind of student you want your child to be. We’ve always told our kids that they should not be the reason a teacher can’t teach—that they should behave in the classroom. We’ve also told them that we expect them to do their best in school, but that we realize that will look different on a report card from child to child and subject to subject.
  6. Provide support at home. Through interest in their schooling to a good place to do homework to helping them develop an inquiring mind, let them know you’re invested in their academic success.
  7. Be true to their school. Help their school succeed too by volunteering where you can, being responsive with paperwork and teacher requests, and supporting the school in the community.
  8. Encourage reading. Whether it’s a magazine or the local team’s stats in the newspaper or a book, promoting reading will help your child grow and prosper.

What else would you add to this list? How do you prepare for back to school?

Can Parents Help Adult Son?

Q: Our 29-year-old son was essentially a model child growing up—a good student with very few behavior issues. He graduated college seven years ago. In 2010, he was charged twice for possession of marijuana, and also prescribed anti-depressant medication. Upon graduation, he took a construction job, which he then lost because of a DUI and driving illegally on a restricted license. 

After graduation, we had noticed behavioral changes, such as an aggressive, sometimes hostile demeanor. He agreed to see a psychiatrist, but stopped after a short time. As his behavior became increasingly hostile and erratic, we suggested that he return to see the psychiatrist, which he adamantly refused to do. Finally, after one particularly disturbing episode, during which he came to our home acting very strangely and ultimately became verbally and physically abusive, we, upon the advice of a psychiatrist friend, called the crisis mental health hotline and had him involuntarily committed to the hospital. We repeated that awful experience twice in the following month due to his continued bizarre behavior and his refusal to follow up with the mental health support team to which he had previously agreed.

He is currently living alone in a house we own, and refuses to get a full-time job, preferring to get by doing odd jobs for people. Due to privacy issues, we never got a definitive diagnosis from the hospital, but nurses we spoke with mentioned schizo-affective and bipolar disorders. The psychiatrist he had seen prior to his hospitalization had advised us to stay in contact with him and to make sure he had food and shelter. His behavior continues to be unpredictable and we are torn between cutting him off financially and telling him he is totally on his own, or continuing to be supportive, not knowing for certain just what his mental status is. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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A: First of all, I want to say how sorry I am that you’re going through this. I know it must be extremely painful and difficult to see your son not seek the professional help he clearly needs. However, as you’ve seen, there are limits to what you can do to help him, and unfortunately, you can’t make him get better—he has to want that for himself. And right now, it doesn’t look like he’s in a place to do that.

So what to do? You don’t mention that he’s doing drugs or other substances (alcohol, for example), so it appears that he does need medical intervention, which he is refusing. You already had him committed twice and that hasn’t worked out. If you can—and he’s not destroying your property or clearly endangering himself or others—then continue following the advice of his former psychiatrist.

However, I would caution you against throwing around diagnoses—you can’t know for sure what’s ailing your son, and talking nurses, who can’t tell you because of privacy laws, into speculating will only either give you a false impression or send you down the wrong path. For now, you will have to live with the fact that you might not know what’s exactly wrong with your son.

What you can do is to meet him on his terms (as long as he’s not being abusive to himself or others) and don’t try to change him—just love him and let him know that you do through word and deed. Continue to encourage him to seek medical help, either on his own or with you by his side.

I realize hearing that there’s nothing you can do beyond what your son allows is difficult, but you raised him to be his own person—and by all accounts, you did a great job too. I hope and pray you can find a way to stay in his life even as he spirals into a place that’s not good for him.

All Meals Aren’t Masterpieces (But We Are!)

By Julie Arduini

Our almost 14-year-old daughter falls into the category of special needs because of her health. Her life had a rocky start with a late congenital hypothyroid diagnosis and office error. She had another doctor error that nearly cost her life. There were asthma issues.

As she grew, her health stabilized. We knew she was physically behind her peers, and because of her thyroid, speech delay was also in play. What we didn’t realize was how the mistake from her late diagnosis would affect her. We noticed short-term memory issues. Sequencing problems. The inability to understand instructions.

Added to all of this was a new diagnosis: Albrights Hereditary Osteodystrophy (AHO). We had to watch her Vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus levels. Her bones fused together and she ceased growing at 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

I reconciled that this is our normal. She’s had to work harder than others. When we work on things at home, I write everything out. To memorize, we repeat phrases, verses, and numbers to help her recall the information.

This summer we decided we would work together weekly on making dinner. I show her each task and write things out. However, one week I didn’t because we were back from traveling and I thought she would be tired. She came into the kitchen and asked if she could help.

I agreed. I was preparing a separate meal for myself, so I wasn’t focused. I gave verbal directions but wasn’t right there to show her. It was a casserole that required a bowl of spices, a pasta preparation, and a meat dish. As I called out over my shoulder to add this to the spices and to pour the raw pasta into the pot of water, I don’t notice her hesitance. I then ask her to add another ingredient to the spices and to stir the pasta.

She points to the spices. “Do you mean stir this bowl?”

“No, the pasta pot boiling on the stove. Stir the noodles.”

After a minute, I ask if the noodles appeared hard or soft. Her face showed confusion, and she replied both. I knew she didn’t understand, so I walked over to see the state of the pasta.

She’d misunderstood and poured the raw pasta into the spice bowl that now was also combined with the meat. She was stirring a pot of water.

My heart sank and we tried to resurrect the meal, but to no avail. I didn’t want her to think this was her fault, because it was all mine. She asked if dinner was ruined, and if it was because she put the pasta in the wrong bowl.

I gazed at this child of my heart. “You know, not every dinner is going to be a masterpiece. I’ve burned a lot of meals or did something that meant I had to fix something new or buy dinner. But it means the meal failed—we aren’t failures. This isn’t a masterpiece, but in God’s eyes, we are. And nothing changes that.”

She smiled. Dinner might have been ruined, but I managed not to ruin the moment with my daughter. Recovering from dinner is easy—that night, we made plans to grab some food on the way to our event—but reconnecting with my daughter if I’d snapped or blamed her for the kitchen mistakes would have been a much longer process.

About Julie Arduini
Julie Arduini loves to encourage readers to surrender the good, the bad, and—maybe one day—the chocolate. She’s the author of ENTRUSTED: Surrendering the Present, as well as ENTANGLED: Surrendering the Past. ENGAGED: Surrendering the Future is coming soon. She also shares her story in the infertility devotional, A WALK IN THE VALLEY. She blogs every other Wednesday for Christians Read, and also is a blogger for Inspy Romance. She resides in Ohio with her husband and two children. Learn more at http://juliearduini.com, where she invites readers to subscribe to her monthly newsletter full of resources and giveaway opportunities.

Ticket Method for Toddlers?

Q: For misbehavior, we’re keen on the ‘tickets’ strategy for major offenses. However my twins are under 3 (almost 31 months). Is it possible to use Tickets for children under the age of 3? I think they’re smarter than we adults think, and I believe they understand consequence, but again, not sure if tickets would work. For example, sometimes they will not do as I ask, and may flat out say ‘no’ or will do it in an exaggeratedly slow manner, all the while grinning impishly at me…like going up the step to wash their hands one inch at a time. I don’t intend to repeat myself, and a stern look from me will often do the trick. But I get stuck there sometimes. I don’t know how to win the power struggle when they’re in this toddler phase and don’t have language based memory or foresight of consequences (maybe?) at this age. Thanks for your thoughts.

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A: What you’re describing—obeying one moment, asserting their independence the next—is typical toddler behavior. They will obey, but on their terms (slow walking to wash their hands or get their shoes on). That’s just part of the package that is a toddler. And as you’ve discovered, a stern look will usually get your twins moving. But not always, because, well, they are human beings, and not an animal.

So you don’t get into the power struggle with them. How? By figuring out what makes sense to be strict on and what doesn’t. Here’s an example: I had two rules when it came to getting dressed—the clothes must be clean (no digging in the dirty clothes basket!) and the child must dress himself. Other than that, I gave them a lot of leeway, and it showed with what adults would deem mismatched clothing, etc. It wasn’t a battle I wanted to fight because I had other priorities.

Think about what bothers you the most, and use that as your benchmark for strictness. If it’s matching clothes, then you can insist on that. If it’s a particular way to put away laundry, then focus on that. It’s up to you but only pick your top ones, and let the kids do the rest their own way.

Translate that into tasks that need to be done before something else can happen, such as washing hands before dinnertime. If you know your twins like to dawdle at this task, then call them to do the task extra early before it’s time to eat. That way, they can inch up the stool and you’re not waiting on them.

For tasks that need to be done quicker, set a timer. Toddlers love to race a clock, and this can help them. Turn things into a game when possible too (not a competition, with a winner/loser, but a together game).

If one child is consistently slower, see if something else is going on—Is she tired, growing, fighting a cold? Sometimes physical ailments can translate into misbehavior, and while it’s not an excuse, if a parent treats the ailment (putting the child to bed earlier, for example, to help with tiredness), then the misbehavior will likely lessen or go away.

If there’s nothing obvious (don’t spend a lot of time trying to find out—just a quick run-through in your mind about what might be going on will suffice), then you calmly step in to get the child moving when necessary.

As for your question about tickets and toddlers: The answer is that they are not ready for tickets, especially given that they are displaying age-appropriate misbehaviors that are better tackled by following some of the methods outlined in my answer. Don’t worry—you’ll have plenty of time to implement tickets into your household as your children grow up some more.

For how Tickets and other discipline methods work, visit the Discipline Methods section of this website.

Too Little Structure, Too Much Disrespect

Q: It is the first day of summer vacation. I have 9-year-old and 11-year-old boys, and I work part time from home. My plan for the summer was to brainstorm a summer bucket list with them, then schedule some fun activities to do together. We would do the fun activities after daily chores and learning. I sat them down after breakfast to discuss, and they became rude and disrespectful when they realized that summer was not going to be a free for all.

It began with refusing to set down the nerf guns they were holding while we talked. Then it was interrupting with an argument every time I spoke. When it became clear they were not going to listen, I ended the discussion and walked away. These are some of the comments I heard, mostly directed at me, and some at each other: “Stupid, idiot, blind, she’s a bat, summer is supposed to be fun, unfair, annoying, I’d rather be in school, etc.” Also, one son proceeded to kick a ball repeatedly against the wall, while the other son started crying and having a meltdown.

This is not uncommon behavior, unfortunately. They frequently refuse to do what they are asked and act disrespectful to myself and my husband with nasty words, yelling or aggression. After about 20 minutes, they both apologized on their own, so we tried to discuss again. The same thing happened. I’m not sure what to do next.  

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A: You have a couple of things going on here, so let’s tackle them one at a time. First, your boys are disrespectful because you allow them to talk back to you that way. This has become a bad habit with them, so you will need to do some rehabilitation in order to turn these brats into mannered young men. Since this appears to be a pattern with them, you can address it one of two ways: Kick them out of the garden for at least 30 days until they clean up their act or use Tickets or Chart/Strikes. Just really depends on what suits you best. Both discipline methods are described in detail in Discipline Methods on this website.

As for the summer, I’d simply list things they must do each day before they play video games, read books, surf the Internet, or however they spend their time. Examples include a half hour of outdoor exercise, chores (they should be doing LOTS of chores around the house and yard, such as vacuuming, dishes, cleaning bathrooms, mowing grass, weeding, mulching, etc.–I have a chore book with examples on this site), and an edifying activity approved by you but their choice (such as building a model, working on a scout badge, tinkering, hobbies—no electronics). Then restrict their electronics time (such as only online/playing video games between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. each day) and let them have free time.

I hope this helps, and remember—your sons didn’t get this way overnight, so it will take some time to yank them back into the land of respect.

That Annoying, Bothersome Child

Starting when I was 12, my parents took in foster kids of all ages from a variety of backgrounds. When I was a young teen, 9-year-old Trudy (not her real name) arrived on our doorstep with a bag of clothes and head lice hidden by a bowl haircut. Freckles danced across her nose giving her an impish look that belied her rather rough personality. In short, Trudy was a brat, an extremely annoying child who did everything—and I do mean everything!—wrong. She hit, she had a whiny voice, she had no social graces, no ability to make friends. It was almost as if she was bound and determined to push everyone away so that no one could get close to her.

Like most foster kids, she came from a background that would break your heart—abused physically, sexually, mentally. Ignored, unloved. And so she forged her own abhorrent personality to cope with the truly horrible hand she had been dealt by life.

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But just because she was hard to love didn’t mean she was unloveable, as my parents demonstrated with patience and kindness and discipline and love. Lots and lots of unconditional love. It didn’t matter what Trudy did or didn’t do—my parents loved her. She drove me crazy with her antics, but because of my parents’ example, I loved her too.

I thought about Trudy recently when reading a post on Facebook about a young teenage girl with ADHD (“Milly”) who can be really annoying. The mom posting has a daughter (“Suzy”) who has had some run-ins/incidents with Milly. The mom wasn’t being snarky, and I know she’s probably genuinely concerned about her daughter. I know both parties and do understand both sides of the story.

But still, I wondered…Where is the compassion for Milly? Where is the understanding in the middle of the annoyance? Where is the tolerance for another, even one who does cross the line a time or two in tone or words? Do we just write off these kids and wash our hands because it’s hard? Do we allow our kids to do the same because it’s hard (when there’s no real abuse going on beyond annoyance)?

Loving those love us back, who make it easy by their personalities, isn’t difficult. Most of the time, we don’t even think about it. But loving and accepting those who make it hard, whose personalities repel us at times, that’s when the rubber meets the road.

We have to start by not labeling every annoying kid whose behavior pushes the limits or rubs another kid the wrong way. There’s true bullying and there’s “that kid is hard to be around because of her ineptness with social situations.”

We also need to teach our kids a compassionate response in the face of annoying behavior, and also kind responses. Our kids shouldn’t have to “take” an annoying personality but they should try to handle it in a kind way. Sometimes, that means telling a trusted adult. Sometimes, that means walking away. Sometimes, that means overlooking the other girl’s faults.

Because we never know when our influence or the influence of our kids can be the catalyst to change a child’s life. Remember Trudy? The world was stacked against her, but today, she’s the mother of three boys and by all accounts, a success story. Her upbringing and annoying personality didn’t dictate her future, and I know the positive influence of my parents (and perhaps, to a lesser degree, myself) had a lot to do with putting her on the right path.

How to get kids to do random things?

For a video answer of this question, visit https://www.facebook.com/parentcoachnova/.

If you’re a parent, you’ve experienced the frustration of asking your child to do something…and getting the fish eye, blank stare, snark, flat-out refusal, or whine “I don’t wanna.” This is doubly true when your request is random—that is, not related to the child’s regular chores or schedule.

Kids resist more frequently when the task request comes out of the blue, even if they’re doing “nothing,” the default runs from refusal to whining about it. But the fact remains, we all have to do things we didn’t put on our to-do list because things just come up.

How can you get your kids to do random things with less resistance and a more cheerful attitude? Here are a couple of things for moms and dads to keep in mind.

  1. Consider your timing. If your child has just sat down with a book, asking him to get up to help you will probably annoy him (as it would you in a similar situation!). If the task doesn’t need immediate attention, let a little time go by before voicing your directive.
  2. Avoid focusing on one child. If you have more than one kid, chances are, you default to asking one over the other for random tasks because of that particular child’s easier compliance. While you don’t need to adhere strictly to fairness in all things, this is one area you should strive to spread the, er, joy of helping you. To help you keep track of that, consider the two-then-switch rule—you ask two things of one child, then ask two of another.

Now, to help the kids be more compliant, here are three simple suggestions.

  1. Remind them of the clause “Other chores as assigned.” I actually wrote that on my kids’ chore charts and periodically tell them to be ready for “extra” tasks on occasion. Just like employees are generally expected to do things outside their written job descriptions, so should kids be prepared to execute tasks not on their chore descriptions.
  2. Try the ticket system. Have three slips of paper for each child (such as each child has a particular color), then tell the kids that each day, you might ask up to three random things of each child. When you do, you’ll give that child a slip of paper as a tangible marker that you’re “calling in a favor” or something similar. When the slips of paper are gone, so are the random tasks for the day. Some kids respond better to boundaries and this ticket system can help their hearts respond better to your directives.
  3. Use praise judiciously. When a child does complete the task without complaining, don’t always go overboard with your praise. However, if a child hasn’t been compliant in the past, but is in this instance, do tell him that you noticed. Be specific, like: “Thank you for not grumbling when you helped me carry in groceries.”

How do you get your kids to more cheerfully do those ad hock tasks?

A Balancing Act?

Are you off balance with your life? Rather than trying to achieve balance, author Jocelyn Green posits that women should embrace our lopsided lives instead in her latest book, Free to Lean: Making Peace with Your Lopsided Life. Jocelyn recently answered some questions about her book for my blog.

Why shouldn’t we strive to achieve balance in our lives?
Jocelyn: Nowhere in the Bible does God tell us to pursue balance. If you’re a believer, your purpose in life is far bigger than that. Jesus said that being His disciple requires us to deny ourselves, to lose our own lives so we can find life in Him (Matthew 16:24–25). As we follow Jesus, with our crosses on our backs, we aren’t balanced—we’re leaning, hard, after our Savior, whatever that may look like in our own particular seasons of life.

During Jesus’ time on earth, He fasted and feasted. He preached, and He went away to a quiet place. He wasn’t looking for balance, but for God’s agenda for Him on any given day.

That’s what we should be striving to achieve: a life ordered according to the priorities God has given us. (And not the priorities He has given someone else.)

How do you personally combat the pressures to squeeze it all in?
Jocelyn: It has taken me years, but I have grown to understand my limits, and the limits of what I should ask of my family in terms of my time and energy spent outside of them. I’ve also learned to discern the difference between good opportunities, and those that are the absolute best use of my resources. When tempted to add one more thing to my plate, I ask myself what my motivations are. If the only reason is guilt, or potential fear that I will disappoint someone by saying no, those are not good enough reasons to accept another responsibility.

What did writing this book teach you?
Jocelyn: I learned so much while writing this book, both from searching the Scriptures and from talking to other women trying to navigate these issues in their own lives. One thing God has been bringing me back around to, again and again, is grace. I am so hard on myself when I make mistakes in this life. Guilt is something I have struggled with for a long time. But there is so much freedom in striving to please God with my choices, and in listening to His voice over all others. I still mess up, but when I do, God is gracious to pull me up again.

About Jocelyn Green
Jocelyn Green inspires faith and courage as the award-winning and bestselling author of 14 fiction and nonfiction books. She loves Mexican food, Broadway musicals, the color red and reading on her patio. Jocelyn lives with her husband Rob and two children in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Visit her at www.jocelyngreen.com.

 

Freedom Goes to a Two Year Old’s Head

Q: My 2-year-old recently transitioned from crib to bed. The freedom seems to be more than he can handle, and he has taken to destroying the bedroom he shares with his 3-year-old brother. Of course we’ve childproofed the room but there are clothes in drawers and some books on the shelf, mainly for the older brother. Typically in the mornings, I would make both boys help me pick up the mess before breakfast, but I’m now focusing on just the one boy since he is the perpetrator/instigator( I can see it on the monitor and we did not have this problem with the older one).

Since I’ve singled him out though for correction and sent the other boy down for breakfast without helping to pick up, the behavior has gotten even worse and he’s more mad. He refuses to clean up at all and the day goes downhill right from the beginning with him. He will only clean up if his brother is helping and I stay in the room with them. Left alone with instructions, he refuses. I do not show any frustration but simply let him know he made the mess and now he needs to pick it up or he will spend the day in his room except meals. He then proceeds to have fits, fiddle around in the room and look for other items to pull apart. We’ve stripped the room to bare bones but this is making things difficult. Should I be doing something else or is there a way to get some quicker action on his part?

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A: It’s amazing how different our kids are, isn’t it? Where one is more laid back, another is a spitfire. Where one stays in bed, the other one is a human tornado.

A couple of things to keep in mind with your particular situation. First, a toddler doesn’t have the long-term memory to put two and two together—in this case, that he wrecked his room, therefore he must pick up and stay in his room until it’s done. When you expect a child to do more than a child is capable, that’s when you build frustration—in the child and parent. Of course he doesn’t want to clean up by himself! He hasn’t connected the dots that it’s his mess.

Second, don’t expect quick action from a toddler. They are by their very nature dawdlers. They are learning so much in a short time frame, and everything fascinates and distracts them. This is the beauty and annoyance of twos!

But don’t despair! There is hope to turn things around. You don’t mention when he does this destruction—in the evening going to bed or in the morning when he wakes up. See if you can pinpoint the timing, then you can make your plan. If in the evening, you are likely able to hear him do this (or station yourself outside his door to listen). When you hear drawers opening, you come into the room and stop him in his tracks. Have him immediately pick up the items by the light of the hallway (with you alongside him) and pop him back in bed with minimal talking. If it’s in the morning, gauge when he usually wakes up, wake up a bit earlier, and repeat the halt him in his tracks/pick up routine.

Anytime he needs to pick up, do it alongside him, directing him gently. “You pick up the toy trucks, while I get the trains” type thing. Have him focus on one part of the job, not the entire thing. Clothes all over the floor can be overwhelming for any child, so picking out the shirts, then moving to socks, etc., will help teach him how to manage a larger task and help keep him on task.

Also make sure you have lots of positive touch points throughout the day with him, little interactions that give him your full attention and love. Keeping that close connection will make the discipline times go more smoothly and will help you have a better attitude toward him as well.