Six Things Reality TV Can Teach Us

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982/
Image courtesy of Ohmega1982/

Unless you live in a cave, you can’t avoid seeing one reality TV show or another. Whether it’s the antics of the Kardashians or the cut-throat world of Shark Tank, we have become avid viewers of “real life” as played out on our screens. And I readily admit to having watched my share of reality television, albeit in its early infancy.

In our house, I try not to cringe too much when my tween daughters clamor to watch American Idol. We rarely watch television, and without cable or satellite, our options are more limited than many of their peers. But American Idol is fairly safe in terms of content, and by watching with our kids, we can talk about the show.

While viewing AI the other day with my daughters, I realized reality TV had some good lessons for parents and kids.

  1. Give honest, yet kind, feedback. If American Idol has taught us anything, it’s that parents need to be honest with their children about their talents. Telling a teen that she can sing when her notes usually veer off into outer space isn’t kind—it’s actually rather cruel. We shouldn’t puff up our teens with dreams of stardom, but instead encourage the hard work that goes along with becoming proficient and perhaps even excellent.
  1. Provide a reality check. Contestants on these reality TV shows aren’t really showing us their true selves—everything’s been edited for maximum drama and to fit into a preconceived “story arc” narrative. Reminding our kids that reality doesn’t mean real can help them to have a more balanced view of life in general. On shows with a “winner,” we often hear contestants who are cut saying things as if their world has ended. At those points, it’s good to talk with our kids about the fact that winning isn’t everything, and that there is a lot more to life than being number one. In other words, if they don’t win, it’s truly not the end of the world.
  1. Ground them in the things that really matter. Fame is a fickle mistress and money doesn’t buy happiness. The more we talk about what’s important in life—family, friends, faith, health—and put those words into action with our choices as a family, the more that message will override the one that reality TV all too often shows our kids: That pursuit of wealth and fame is a good thing to which one should aspire.
  1. Snarkiness might make good television, but it makes lousy friends. Sarcasm, cynicism, and snappy comebacks can become a reality TV show’s goldmine in terms of viewers, but in real life, having such an attitude won’t win you many friends. Pointing out to our children see the benefits to kindness, compassion and honesty is essential to their developing a good conscious and a positive outlook on life.
  1. Hard work has real rewards. The idea that we can get something for nothing is very tempting to many of us, but we shouldn’t cultivate that desire within ourselves. Unfortunately, these reality TV shows can create a feeling of discontentment in our hearts that make us want things for which we haven’t worked. We should instill in our children that working hard is good for us, and that a job well done is its own reward. One easy way to accomplish this is to assign chores to every child—but don’t pay them for their regular contributions to the family.
  1. Life isn’t fair. Things happen beyond our control and sometimes that means we don’t get our heart’s desire at that moment. But life is full of ups and downs, and the more we help our children handle the ups as well as the downs by allowing them to sink or swim on their own, the more we equip them to face life with purpose and equity. Life isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean we have to despair. It just means we pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and start all over again.

So the next time you tune in a reality TV program, look for the hidden lessons—and be sure to pass those along to your children.

Until next time,

Book Review: A “Fail-Safe” Method for School Success

The teacher started off her presentation by having us participate in a game she did some mornings to get her pupils engaged in learning about each other. The teacher would say a fact, and those to whom the same fact applied, would stand up. She started with, “I have a child in fourth grade,” and everyone stood up and replied, “Just like me.”

She gave a few more statements before she said, “I help my child with homework,” to which every single parent stood up—except for us. Of course, all eyes swiveled around to see who the miscreants were who didn’t—gasp!—help their child with homework. It was a moment of clarity that showed just how we as parents have bought into the notion that helping our children with homework was a necessary part of their schooling experience.

But, as John Rosemond points out in his new book, John Rosemond’s Fail-Safe Formula For Helping Your Child Succeed in School, exactly who is that helping? The conclusion Rosemond draws is that it isn’t the child.

2-10-15He rightly points out that one underlying problem has infused all school-related troubles with an extra coating of confusion: “The average, middle-class American mom takes pretty much for granted that if her child fails to measure up to one standard or another—whether behavioral, social, or academic—that shortcoming is in some way indicative of a failing or inadequacy on her part” (emphasis his). Rosemond doesn’t belabor this point, one he’s made in other, more general parenting books, but it does bear repeating in this guidebook on school troubles, given that many times, our actions as parents compound the problem our children are having with schoolwork.

His chapter on homework is especially worth the price of the book, as he strips away the veneer of why we think homework is important (grades!) to reveal what he deems the Seven Hidden Values of Homework: Responsibility, autonomy, perseverance, time management, initiative, self-reliance and resourcefulness. Who knew a simple math worksheet could accomplish so much?

The key to uncovering these values—and allowing our children to reap the full benefits of those values—is to empower our children to do their homework entirely on their own, with minimal (read: hardly any) assistance from parents.

Lest you think the book is all about homework, it isn’t. Rosemond tackles other school troubles, including how to correct school performance and classroom behaviors and why retention can be a good thing. Also helpful is the question-and-answer sections in each chapter that provide real-life examples and solutions.

Overall, this is a welcome update to his earlier Ending the Homework Hassle. However, I would caution that this isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’re serious about helping your child recover his own responsibility in the area of school, then Rosemond’s suggestions will provide a blueprint for accomplishing that. If you’re not, then you might be more alarmed than comforted by the no-nonsense and practical advice contained within these pages.

Personally, I hope more parents would find the courage to follow Rosemond’s advice and give the school work back to the child. After all, full ownership of a thing—be it homework or behavior—is the best way that a child learns to be resilient, self-confident and resourceful.

Squelching the Wonder

I hurried my kids along, tugging on their hands and urging them to keep up. We had a lot of road to travel and not enough daylight to do it in. No matter that the youngest two (both boys) wanted to stop to see the construction vehicles moving dirt at a worksite. No matter that the two oldest (both girls) wanted to gaze at a new flower bursting out of a sidewalk crack. We had things to do, places to go, people to see, and it all had to be done right this very minute.

Image courtesy of sritangphoto/

I took little comfort in the fact that I wasn’t alone. Many of us have bought into the notion that to be idle is to be unproductive. We can’t stand to have a “free” moment, so we over-pack our schedules and we stress ourselves to the max by constantly doing, doing, doing. Busyness has become a status symbol. Always rushing around from one task to another. Constantly busy. On the job 24/7. As Americans, we’re busier than ever, filling our lives with constant motion and tasks to be accomplished.The sad part is the above scenario wasn’t uncommon in my life. Like many of us, I packed as much into one day as possible, leaving little wiggle room for stopping to smell the roses or see the first robin of spring.

We don’t just do that for ourselves—we do that for our children too. Then everyone ends up all feeling so overwhelmed by our lengthy and never-ending to-do lists. We’ve fallen into the trap of over-scheduling, over-doing and over-committing our time and resources.

And in the midst of our extreme busyness, we forget that to be constantly busy means more than having no free time. It also means we pass through life as if on a fast train, everything outside of our small world a blur without form.

When we suck our children into our busyness, we do more than slash their playtime. We also severely limit their imaginations. In short, being overly busy with little downtime squelches the wonder.

The wonder to take a few minutes to watch the worm wiggle across the sidewalk. The wonder to watch the giant excavator scoop up a load of dirt and drop it into a dump truck. The wonder to gaze at the puffy clouds and see a unicorn or dragon. The wonder to lay back on the warm grass and trace the contrail streams left by airplanes high in the sky. The wonder to let a mind drift into that magical realm of what-if that allows children—and adults—to dream the dreams that sometimes change the world.

I’m thankful I realized sooner rather than later that my hurrying to the next thing wasn’t always in the best interest of myself or my children. Now, while some weeks are more packed than others, I deliberately try to work in extra time on a regular basis so that when opportunities arise that demand a moment of exploration or investigation, we can take that time. My kids won’t always want to examine a tree’s peeling bark or gaze at an interesting display in a store window, so while they still do, I will try to help them take advantage of the situation.

Until next time,



Chores, or How I’ve Stopped Cleaning the House

This summer, I revamped our household chores, realizing that it’s high time I stopped doing most of the cleaning around here. With four kids between the ages of 4 and 9, I had a ready and able army of helpers.
I sat down and wrote out all the chores I knew my kids were capable of handling. Then I wrote up specific instructions as to how those chores should be done, leaving nothing to the imagination. Finally, I mapped out who would do which chores on what days, putting in what time said chores must be accomplished. (It’s best to be as specific as possible to avoid “misunderstanding” when kids are involved.)
Reviewing the list, I realized nearly every household cleaning task could be assigned to the children, from washing the kitchen floor to vacuuming, from taking out the trash to doing the dishes. Once everything was in place, I called a family meeting and informed the children of the new chores.
While not exactly excited about the prospect—although my five-year-old did do a fist-pump upon being told his job would be setting the table for dinner—the kids have proved to be fairly proficient at cleaning. Not perfect, but with gentle instruction and encouragement, they will soon be doing it as well as any grownup.
Some parents balk at the thought of having their children “work” around the house. To that, I say, aren’t your children consumers in the family? Are they not part of the family? Then they should contribute to the upkeep of the family.
If you need more convincing, here are some positive benefits of chores.
Chores build confidence. Just listen to my oldest brag to her friend that she’s “old enough to do the dishes.” She has discovered that she’s capable of doing something without assistance, something that contributes to the family.
Chores build character, specifically a good work ethic. Being a good employee when they grow up is started by teaching them how to be a good member of the family through chores. Believe me, your child’s future employer will thank you.
Chores build responsibility. Giving your children the opportunity to serve within your family shapes their sense of responsibility.
One final note about chores and compensation: Well-meaning parents tie chores to allowances, and that can create a world of problems. To wit, if a child doesn’t want the money, then he doesn’t have to do the chore, right? Chores are service to the family—if you pay for the chore, the it’s no longer an act of service. So separate chores from allowances.
So start handing over more of the housework to your children and watch their character, confidence and responsibility grow.
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginiawith her husband and four children. Visit her online at, where she blogs about working from home.

Bad to the Bone

Babies exude innocence. After all, they are quite helpless, needing someone to feed, change, dress and do a host of other things for them.
But contrary to popular wisdom, babies are not all sweetness and light—they are, frankly, bad. They can’t help it because they—and everyone else—are born that way. It’s hard to look at your baby and think of him as a heathen in every since of the world.
Especially as mothers, we learn early on how to differentiate our baby’s cry, classifying it as hungry, sleepy, unhappy and angry. And boy, do babies get angry sometimes. They might not have words to express their angst, but they certainly have a good set of lungs and can fill the air with their angry cries.
I’ve always been amazed by parents who persist in viewing their children as angels who have to be taught to be disobedient, to steal, to lie, to cheat, to do bad things.
If you’re still not convinced, just think about your children when they were toddlers. Did you go around teaching them to scream and throw things when they didn’t get their way? Did you teach them to smack you in the face when they were angry? Did someone teach them to take toys away from other children and hit those kids over the head when they protested?
No one has to teach children to be bad—their sinful hearts can handle that task just fine. It’s our job as parents to teach them how to overcome their bad tendencies. In other words, to civilize them.
As parents, it’s much easier to get past our children’s misbehaviors and to the correction, or civilizing, if we cease to be shocked that they are behaving badly. Nothing our children do should ever surprise us—everything that’s in our own hearts are in theirs as well, and they generally lack the filters that we wear.
If we start every day reminding ourselves that our children are sinners just like we are, we will be able to react to misbehaviors in a more godly manner, and less feeling that we’re to blame for their badness.
Knowing that our children suffer from the same forms of heart sickness that we do goes a long way in helping us understand them. It also can help us stay the course in correcting their misbehaviors as we help them learn self control and to get along with others.
Our children might have been born bad to the bone, but the good news is they don’t have to stay that way.
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soulbooks. Sarah lives in Virginiawith her husband and four children. Visit her online at, where she blogs about working from home.

Summertime Blues

School is ending across the country, and with it, wails of distress from parents as they scramble for ways to fill their children’s time during the hot, sticky days of summer. I’ve heard numerous parents express dismay at the end of school, and have felt in the minority that I don’t feel as miserable as they do about having my children around all the time.
For families with both parents working, or for single parent households, I can well understand the need to find adequate childcare or camps in the summer. But for families that have one parent at home, summer is a wonderful opportunity for you and your children—and it doesn’t have to mean you are responsible for entertaining them day in and day out.
Fighting chants of “I’m bored,” or “I don’t know what to do,” or “I have nothing to do,” can be downright exhausting if you hear those or similar phrases as soon as your little darlings wake in the morning. But do not despair! I have a solution that, if followed to the letter, will ensure a summer filled with innovation and inspiration, all with just a little bit of work on your part.
First, draw up a list of things your child or children can do on their own. This can be as simple as play with a certain toy or read a book. Tailor it to the age of your child. Write down as many things as you can think of that require a minimum (read barely any) assistance from you. Type it up and label it “Things to Do When You’re Bored” or something equally catchy.
Note: Your summer will go smoother if you limit electronic screen time (TV and video/DVD watching, computer, and hand-held electronic games, etc.). Studies have shown—and, if you have ever interrupted a child involved in one of those activities—that screen time is highly addictive. Better to encourage your children in other pursuits in their leisure time. This is not a popular view, I know, but I think you’ll find it’s worth the hassle to get your kids disconnected for most of the summer.
Second, write down a list of extra chores not included in the daily or weekly list for your children. Cut into slips of paper with one chore on each slip, fold and place into a jar or other container and label “Chore Jar.”
Third, on the first day of summer vacation, sit down your kids after breakfast and hand them the “Things to Do When You’re Bored” list. Tell them that this is what they can do when they’re feeling bored or have nothing to do. Inform them that if anyone utters the words “I’m bored,” or “I have nothing to do,” or any variation thereof, that child picks a chore to do from the Chore Jar. That chore must be completed immediately to the parent’s satisfaction. Failure to do so will result in being confined to his or her room for the rest of the day and to bed after supper. This is called “making them an offer they can’t refuse.”
Fourth, follow through. When I introduced this last summer to my two older girls, they immediately said they were bored to see what kind of chores were in the Chore Jar. After completing a particular onerous task, I didn’t hear “I’m bored,” the entire summer.
For those of you who need ideas, my booklet Boredom Busters has dozens of ideas for children, as well as some chore ideas for the Chore Jar. Boredom Busters is available on Kindle and Smashwords (for the Nook, iPad, and other e-reader devices, as well as in a PDF) for only 99 cents. Leave a comment under this post for a chance to win a copy of the Boredom Busters.
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginiawith her husband and four children. Visit her online at, where she blogs about working from home.

Do Not Disturb the Family Peace

As I sat down at my computer to write a blog post for this site, I heard a ruckus upstairs. Sounds of screaming that didn’t sound quite so happy. With four children between the ages of 3 and 9, one gets used to a certain amount of loudness, but my mother’s radar detected something different in these sounds.
I followed the source to my girls’ room, where the 9-year-old was attempting to drag the 7-year-old out of the room because she “wanted her room to herself.” Never mind that the room was both of theirs, she wanted to be alone. I separated the pair for a cooling off period, thinking that a 9-year-old was a little too young to pull a Greta Garbo.
Sibling conflict can be overwhelming, especially when you have a mix of ages and genders. Most of the time, my children do play well together with a minimum of fuss. But it’s inevitable that conflict will raise its ugly head at times.
The way you as a parent handle sibling clashes can help—or hinder—how your children interact with each other. Here’s how we handle sibling clashes.
We decided that we would not play referee. It was not our job to intervene when the wailing started out of sight. We would not judge who was right and who was wrong. No assigning roles of victim or villain for us. If we happened to actually see the wrongdoing, that was another thing. But we would not participate after the fact in their disagreements. We would give kisses, but would not encourage tattling.
To enforce this, we created a chart and stuck it to the refrigerator. Titled “Do Not Disturb the Family Peace,” the chart outlined what would earn every child a ticket:
  1. Keep it down. (Do not become too boisterous or noisy.)
  2. No hurting each other. (Do not hit, punch, push or otherwise maim your siblings.)
  3. No tattling. (Do not become a snitch on your siblings.)
Clipped to the fridge beside this chart are three tickets, pieces of laminated paper. For each infraction, the entire group loses one ticket. If all three tickets are lost, the entire group goes directly to their rooms for the rest of the day and directly to bed after supper.
This eliminates the problem of trying to figure out what happened. It doesn’t really matter who was at fault, does it? What this system is doing is putting the resolution of conflict onto the children, where it belongs.
When I heard my two girls going at it, I simply walked in, said they were disturbing the family peace and directed one to get a ticket. No arguing, no drama. Then I walked out.
So far, in the two months we’ve had this system in place, they have yet to lose all three tickets. And if they do, I’ll enjoy a nice day without kids underfoot, and a more relaxing evening with my husband.
Now, would it be terrible of me to wish they would lose all three tickets one day….?
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginiawith her husband and four children. Visit her online at, where she blogs about working from home.

The Myth of Free Time

In the fall, all four of my children will be in school, albeit not all full-time (my youngest will be in a three-day preschool program). Whenever this comes up in conversation, the enviable response is, “What will you do with all of your free time?”
Ah, free time—that mythical land to which every mother longs to go. As someone who currently works part-time from home, I rarely have free time now, and I don’t anticipate that changing once the children are in school.
I think the bigger question is what does this say about the current view of mothering. My mother stayed at home, but her time wasn’t consumed by doing for—or entertaining—me. Sure, household chores ate up some time, but once we were older than three, time spent in childcare dropped considerably for women of my mother’s generation.
That kind of mothering has fallen out of favor, and with it the rise of no time, free or otherwise. I am grateful for my mother’s example, for it gives me the fortitude to follow in her footsteps. Direct care of my children has lessened as they age; correspondingly, time I spend taking care of the household has also dropped as the children have picked up more of the cleaning chores.
In turn, that has allowed me to pick up some of the things that I put on hold when the children first arrived: reading, writing, knitting and sewing, for example.
While I’m looking forward to a quieter house next fall, I won’t have to worry about how to fill my suddenly “free time” since my time has always been mine to fill. I’ll take the 24 hours given to us each day and try to use it wisely—just like I do now.

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children. Visit her online at, where she blogs about working from home.

Merry-Go-Round: Old Fashioned Fun

With March proving to be delightful in the weather department, we’ve been visiting playgrounds recently. On one visit, for nearly the entire half hour or so we were there, my three oldest children played on one piece of equipment: the merry-go-round. Laughter, squeals of pretend terror, sheer joy on the faces of the children hanging on for dear life as other kids ran as fast as they could in the grooved circle—what could be a better picture of childhood?
Nearly every non-preschooler who came to the playground made a beeline directly for the merry-go-round. I sat on a nearby bench and watched the interplay between the kids, and was heartened to see everyone getting along. Chants of “Push us, push us,” were answered by someone leaping off and racing around. When my youngest son (age 3) got on and then decided he wanted off shortly after the rotations began, a kid yelled, “Stop, someone wants to get off,” and they slowed to allow my son to slid off.
What other piece of equipment can teach children how to get along with one another better than a merry-go-round? There’s so many life lessons to be learned while spinning until you’re dizzy.
But we adults have over-reacted to the merry-go-round’s potential harm by suing playground equipment manufacturers, and cities and schools that had parks with merry-go-rounds installed. Sure some kids have gotten hurt on merry-go-rounds, but what I find more disturbing is our increasing desire to wrap our children in cotton wool to avoid any booboos or skinned knees (hence the tendency to make them wear knee and elbow pads while bike riding or rollerblading).
No one wants our children to get hurt psychically, and we should put a stop to obviously dangerous things. On the other hand, giving children the freedom to spread their wings and fly around the world on a merry-go-round can be wonderful to their own development.
Let them see the world outside is to be explored and conquered, not feared and avoided. Let them experience the joys and pains of mastering things like bike riding and monkey bars. Let them view the world from a different perspective by climbing trees or hanging upside from the swing set.
Sure, you might have to stock up on band-aids and kiss a few more hurts, but if you can resist the urge to place your children inside a bubble, you might just find out that they are tougher than you think. Hearing your children describe their outdoor adventures can be a priceless experience in itself.
So keep the cotton wool safely tucked away, and go find a park with a merry-go-round, but I’d avoid jumping on board unless you have a stomach of iron. Some things are better left to the kids.
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children. Visit her online at, where she blogs about working from home.

Good Intentions

During a recent visit with my parents, we all went out to our favorite pizza buffet restaurant, and our four children asked to sit at their own table. We picked a table right beside ours and my husband and I sat with our backs to our children, in order to keep an eye on them.
Near the end of the meal, a woman stopped by our table, obviously upset, to say that, “Someone should tell those girls that it’s not polite to point, make faces and laugh at people.” Somewhat taken aback, I stammered out an apology and then turned to ask the girls what had happened.
The girls in question—ages 9 and 7—vehemently denied having done such a thing, the older one beginning to cry at the accusations. Upon further questioning, it came out that the pair had been engaged in their own storytelling that involved making funny faces and gesturing to the opposite wall, which would have meant those sitting in their path could have misconstrued the situation. Added to their explanation was the fact that we have never seen them behave in such a way toward anyone, we were inclined to believe them. The girls themselves were suitably chastised by the encounter.
But it presented an excellent opportunity to discuss our intentions and how those can be mistaken by others as not good. Their making faces and pointing in public had been misinterpreted by someone as directed at them—and it didn’t paint a flattering picture of the girls’ behavior or character.
We also talked about how the woman must have felt to think they were making fun of her appearance, and how devastated the girls would have felt had they seen someone doing similar things ostensibly about them. Too many times, we forget to talk to our children about trying to avoid the “appearance of evil” in their actions, especially in public or school. While some people will find fault in everything, many times situations like the one discussed in this post could have been avoided if we had curbed our own actions.
It’s a hard lesson to learn, but a vital one that good intentions are not the only thing we need to keep in mind—that we need to have a thought for our fellow man and how our actions might impact him.