Unsolicited Advice of the Parenting Kind

Recently, a reader wrote to say that “we are about to start toilet training and are getting so much negative feedback!” She went on to say that she keeps getting sent articles about how starting toilet training too early will be detrimental to her child’s overall well-being. The reader ended with “Maybe I should have kept my potty-training thoughts to myself.”

Her non-question brought up a very real concern in today’s age of over-sharing and an attitude of “I know best for everyone—listen to me.” How do you handle unsolicited child-rearing advice or concerns?

It’s something I struggle with as a mom of four and as a trained parent coach. There have been times when what I’m saying as a speaker to other moms and dads isn’t well received because they disagree with where I’m coming from. There have been times when I’ve given an answer the parent doesn’t want to hear (and I can tell by her expression, isn’t going to take).

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve shared what we’ve done in certain situations…and felt the roomful of moms initially recoil but eventually see the truth and freedom that comes from doing the right thing even though society at large might not agree with my decisions.

Because of my training in parenting, I don’t often receive unsolicited advice, but my standard response is: “Thank you for sharing your concerns or information.” Then I smile and change the subject. I find it’s best to not engage, just acknowledge their thoughtfulness (choose to interpret that way instead of intrusiveness and you’ll be able to deflect the person much more easily), and move on to something else. Ask a question about some benign child rearing issue that you don’t care one whit about if you must—redirection is key.

But on the flip side, I’ve also had to bite my tongue to avoid giving advice or solutions to problems friends or relatives haven’t asked to hear. I don’t want to be the one who can’t keep her opinions to herself on matters of raising kids.

That doesn’t mean I’m not true to who I am, but it does mean that I try to be more careful to read the situation to see if my advice would be welcome. Sometimes, I’ll even ask before launching into what I would do. Other times, I catch myself on a tear, and apologize for hijacking the conversation into one of my parenting talks. Still others, I wait to be asked my opinion, and if it’s not solicited, then I move on to something else.

I also try not to criticize how others are raising kids. No one wins that game, and while friends, family, acquaintances might be handling a situation differently than how I would (and could be creating more angst while doing so), it’s not up to me to fix that problem.

We should be supportive, rather than critical; warm and accepting, rather than pointing fingers; listening, rather than speaking. Raising kids has enough challenges without throwing in moms and dads being afraid to open their mouths and share their troubles or concerns.

Until next time,
Sarah

A Clicking Sound

Q: My 10-year-old son is doing noises with him mouth that sound like clicks all the time. I can’t stand it anymore. He has autism, but I am not sure if it’s to let go stress or just because of a bad habit. It makes me go crazy. Do you have any suggestions before I lose my mind??

A: Ha, having a 10-year-old son myself (and an 8-year-old son), I know that of which you speak quite intimately! Kids love to make noises, some more than others. Sometimes, they love the feel of their mouth when they make that sound (think of kids who buzz their lips together, for example). Other times, it’s how it sounds to their ears that gives them pleasure. The sound could be related to a game they enjoy playing, such as making clip-clop sounds when pretending to be a horse, or it could be background noise while they concentrate on something else.

But that doesn’t mean you have to listen to it constantly. Here’s my ingenious solution that works wonders: Tell your son that you’ve noticed how much he enjoys making those neat sounds with his mouth (be as sincere as possible, because I’ll bet he really enjoys making those sounds). To help him when making those sounds, you have come up with the best place in the house for him to make those sounds (pick a place that’s out of the way and out of your hearing!). So when he wants to make those sounds, he can go to his special sound place and click to his heart’s content.

You’ll need to gently redirect him to that special place for a bit, but he’ll get the hang of it soon. You won’t have to hear it, but he can do it if he wants to. Win-win! This also helps kids strengthen their self-control, a very valuable skill to have.

I did this with my boys and bathroom noises/words—they could say all potty talk they wanted to…in the bathroom with the door closed. At first, I had to direct them to the bathroom, but soon, they would run into the bathroom, close the door, say the words/noises before running back out. Worked like a charm and allowed boys to be boys (but I didn’t have to hear it!).

Things You Never Thought You’d Say as a Parent

 

We all say strange things to our kids! This month’s original cartoon caption is from Dawn of Pittsburgh, who has two boys 19 months apart. When her oldest was around 4, he went through a whole male genitalia fixation stage. “I was getting him ready for a bath, and he said to me, ‘I got you, Mommy,’” Dawn said. “Seriously—they need to warn you about the ridiculous things you will say before you have children.”

Post your “Things You Never Thought You’d Say as a Parent” comment below—yours might be featured as a cartoon!

A Mean Girl at Home

Q: Our older daughter continues to be a source of hurt to her younger sister. They are three years apart and both teens. They are both well-liked in the community, praised by teachers, active in church and civic organizations, and taught responsibility with chores and part-time jobs.

Here’s the issue: The older one [College Daughter, or CD] will promise to watch a movie on a weekend and the younger one [Younger daughter, or YD] lets CD choose the movie and time and sits expectantly all evening. CD will sit in her room and say she’s coming, but never show up or procrastinate until it really is too late to start the evening. CD promises to make it up the next weekend and YD is always optimistic but then sits alone once again fighting back tears when she never shows up.

This situation or one similar has played out dozens of times each year but now has expanded to what we see as a new level of supreme selfishness to the point of causing intentional pain. CD will show up at church and take both her friends and her sister’s friends to dinner and leave her behind. They will even all be at the same church event and CD will pile everyone in the car and tell YD she can’t come. Other times, YD won’t know about the event until it’s posted on social media: a double in-your-face slam. The lowest point was when they were all posing for a spontaneous photo and CD told YD to stand aside and not be in it.

To all outwardly appearances, CD talks and walks with the values we taught her, but at home she is the most narcissistic individual we’ve encountered. How someone could be that intentionally hurtful is beyond us. Since calling her out each time CD does this seems to do no good, and she is in college, pays for her own phone, on scholarship with a part time job, we really don’t know how else to influence her that the Golden Rule applies in the home as well.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: Oh, this is hard and I know your heart is breaking for your younger daughter—and for her older sister who is being a very mean girl. You describe someone who is being intentionally cruel and not seeming to care about that. I’m assuming College Daughter is living at home while attending school and paying for her own necessities b/c of her part-time job. That means your options are limited in making an impression on her.

Here’s my advice: Take CD out for coffee or ice cream or something, just the two of you. Then approach the topic in a non-threatening way—this is an information gathering “meeting,” not another “You need to change your ways” meeting. Something like…

  • I know you love your sister—you two used to be close. Did something happen to change that?
  • I’ve noticed that your sister seems a little hurt that you want to do things separate from her. Do you have any suggestions?

Then listen. Don’t accuse, don’t lambast, just listen and see if there’s something underlying the behavior. There might not be, but you should do your due diligence to make sure. And leave it at that. Don’t ask her to change but don’t expect her to either.

Then take YD out for coffee or ice cream, again just the two of you. And ask her what she wants to do about CD’s treatment of her—does she want things to continue the way they’ve been or does she want to change the way SHE reacts to College Daughter? Hopefully, it’s the latter, then you could suggest that she can approach things like this:

For the movies, Younger Daughter can say, “College Daughter, I’m watching X movie at 8 p.m. I’d love to have you join me.” That’s it, one ask, but YD’s not dependent on the reply. She watches X movie at 8 p.m. whether CD joins her or not.

For the friends, Younger Daughter can ask her friends to help thwart College Daughter. When CD starts to say YD can’t come, her friends can say, “Oh, we can’t come without her.” You can also help YD come up with responses through role playing.

Overall, YD needs to realize that she has to lower her expectations for CD. When she can come to the understanding that CD isn’t going to change, YD will hopefully be able to manage her response to CD. Maybe YD starts to make plans with her friends without consulting CD. CD will likely try to sabotage those plans, so make sure YD is prepared for that mentally.

And have YD pray for CD on a daily basis. Perhaps reading about other girls who have struggled, such as Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss, will help guide her internal thoughts and motivations. Above all, YD should try to view CD with compassion and as much love as she can (heaping coals of fire upon the head of her “sisenemy”).

Mothers and Daughters

As a daughter (and a mother of daughters), I have firsthand knowledge of the complicated relationship between moms and daughters. As one with two sisters (and a brother) more than a decade older than me—and with a brother and sister more than a decade younger than me—I’m in a unique position to see this in a microcosm of our family.

For example, I experienced how my mom related to adult children while I was in my tweens and early teens. At the same time, I saw how my mom related to babies/toddlers while in my middle teens. I also could see patterns in how my mom raised daughters in particular. For example, how my mother communicated with my younger sister when she was a teenager echoed how she did so with me. When my mother told me how my younger sister adversely reacted to certain things, I sometimes gently pointed out that wasn’t surprising because I acted the same way in response to the same situation.

I well remember saying to myself, “I will NEVER do that as a mom with my daughters.” But even as a teenager or young adult, I had enough self-awareness to know that while I might not do that particular thing that drove the teenage me crazy, I would likely do something else entirely that will drive my own teenagers crazy.

But as I get older and my four children grow older, I’ve come to realize that we all do the best we can in the time we live. My mother had her imperfections—and there are some things I wish she had done differently—but in truth, she hit the target center on all the things that mattered most. I always knew she loved me, that there was nothing I could ever do that would negate that love. I always knew she believed in me, that I would make my way into the world on my own. I always knew she would be there for me, to encourage, to listen, to pray for, to comfort, to rejoice.

That’s the kind of mom I hope I am to my kids—one that tells the truth in love, is a shelter for life’s storms, and loves unconditionally. I pray my mistakes are minor but my love is major. And I hope that my own kids find more to appreciate than criticize in my own child-rearing.

Until next time,
Sarah

Best Mom Ever!
This year, I had the privilege of celebrating my mother with a story in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever! Called “A Mom to Many,” the story gives a small glimpse into this remarkable woman I get to call mom. I will be signing copies of Best Mom Ever! at the Fair Lakes Barnes & Noble in Fairfax, Va., on Saturday, May 6, from 2 to 4 p.m. EST. If you’re in the area, stop by and pick up a copy for the mom in your life! More info here.

Mr. Negativity

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Q: My 9-year-old stepson seems increasingly negative and anxious. We thought it was due to our move (still within a half hour of the mother), but his mom mentioned that he complains he has no friends at school since his friends are in different classes/recesses. It coincides with him crying when his father leaves for work (he didn’t do this previously), crying after he comes here because he misses his mom, and crying when he goes there because he misses his dad. 

There is lots of crying for other reasons as well. I don’t know if he cries at school, but I suspect if he does that is increasing his social isolation. The only times he truly lights up is when he describes past injuries or illnesses, or say, the paper cut he got that day. He played goalie for hockey and the first thing he told me was he caught a puck on bare skin. Not that he blocked a bunch of shots and they won the game.

We try to emphasize the good happening and downplay every gripe he gives. From what I know of his other home environment, small injuries are fawned over and all feelings are discussed and parsed/etc. When he’s with other kids, he delights in enforcing rules and lording over people, despite not being particularly good at the games/sports. When I showed my latest ultrasound pics (this behavior came on well before the pregnancy/announcement), his first response was “Wow, he’s ugly!” Granted 4D pictures are not perfectly lifelike and I explained that to him, but I was thinking what a little punk.

I mentioned to his dad that he is really becoming that guy we all avoid at office Christmas parties. He’s a bit shy when it comes to making friends and I am afraid some of these behaviors are going to be off-putting to peers, making his situation worse. 

His mom is pushing for therapy and my husband is inclined to agree with that.  I am not sure he’s to that level. Anyway, that’s a lot of info. What do you suggest we do to redirect him? I had similar friend difficulties as a kid, including a school year in which all friends had a difference recess, so I thought I would approach the topic by talking about that and also explaining what “you reap what you sow” means. However, I’ve been a stepmom for a year and generally didn’t interact with kids prior to now.

A: From your question, I can see how much you care about your stepson and how much you ache for his floundering around in social situations. A couple of things to note before I offer some suggestions for what you and dad can do.

First, it sounds like your son is overwhelmed, whether with his own emotions about the move, his place in the family (you mention your pregnancy and that might worry him), the hard time he’s having making friends, etc. And some kids when they feel frustrated with themselves and with the situation, they cry. Unfortunately, when boys cry, it’s much more misunderstood by peers, by adults/teachers, and by themselves.

Second, I also think that perhaps there’s been too much talking about his crying and lack of friends, and “downplaying” his gripes isn’t the same as ignoring the gripes. You can’t make a child see the good when he’s bound and determined to see the negative.

What to do? For the crying, lack of friends, gripes, I’d go with starving the matter. He gets attention when he complains, when you and dad try to make him see the positive, etc. He’s fallen into a rut that even if he wanted to, he can’t get out of by himself.

Starve the negative beast by keeping your response to his gripes short and sweet. “Interesting.” “I see.” Very noncommittal to whether you’re agreeing with him or trying to jolly him out of the funk. This will take some time—this has been a long time building! But keep with it and you should see some improvements.

Use some the coping techniques to help him control his tears, such as putting his head down on his desk at school, taking deep breathes, counting to 10, etc. Crying when you don’t want to is very frustrating, so giving him some options of how HE can respond should help keep the crying shorter and more manageable.

And I had to laugh at his response to your ultrasound picture—that’s pure boy and pure kid! He was probably not trying to be mean, as kids blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, and seriously, babies (even those already born) aren’t always the most attractive! In other words, don’t take him so seriously.

Finally, play games with him, read books with him, find ways to share little droplets of your life as a child with him (very short!), cook his favorite meals (or better yet, have him cook with you), make sure that you are showing him your love in a million small ways (a touch on the arm, a hug in the morning—despite his protests, he will really love that. Find out his love language—is it touches, snuggle time, spending time with you or his dad? What makes him light up in relation to interactions with you? One of my sons loves to have snuggle time, another one loves it when I listen to him talk about something with my undivided attention.

Remember, you can’t change how his mother parents, but you can change how you respond to him.

More Hosting Tips (With Kids)

I’ve received a lot of wonderful feedback from last month’s Washington Post piece on “Once kids enter the picture, can parents still entertain?” Because of space constraints, not all of my tips made

Image courtesy of nuttakit/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

it into the paper. Here are five additional lessons I’ve learned about how to pull off dinners and parties when kids are in the house.

  1. Make it easy. When we host large events, we make a Costco run to make setting out a buffet simple. Pressed for time? Buy prepared foods or order from a restaurant.
  2. Consider your guest list. Thinking about who to invite to what should involve some thought to ensure all are comfortable and have a good time. “Different friends find their way into your lives at different times of life, and if you’re in the kid stage, entertain others who are sympathetic,” says says April Masini, a relationship and etiquette expert.
  3. Think beyond dinner. There are lots of ways you can host successfully, but it might take some trial and error to find the ones that work for you. For example, when our kids were little, we often hosted brunches instead of dinners because our kids were better behaved in the morning than in the evening.
  4. Communicate expectations. Let your guests know that your kids will be there and that theirs are welcome too. Or if it’s a grownup-only night and your kids will be off in their rooms, let them know that too. “Be sure to what ‘kid-friendly’ means for you and your family. If that means wine and beer are okay, but smoking and cursing are not, be clear and share it early,” advises Anitra Durand Allen with Experience Bliss Coaching.
  5. Remember the point. This is the key to any successful gathering—keeping in mind why you’re hosting. Hint: It’s because you want to spend time or get to know your guests, right?

Narcissistic Tendencies in Parent Equals Narcissistic Child?

Q: My husband refuses to make our 8-year-old daughter listen. He frequently undermines my parenting. Because of  marriage stresses, I recently began seeing a counselor. After listening to my situation, this counselor told me, “It sounds like your husband has narcissistic tendencies.”

After doing some research, I believe that she is right about that. After confronting him and giving him an ultimatum, he has agreed to start seeing a psychologist with me who specializes in people with narcissistic tendencies. We begin that counseling at the end of this week .

My question is: Is it possible for a narcissistic parent to cause a child to also become narcissistic? He has been the primary influence in our daughter’s life because he has elbowed me out from using tools to make her behave and respect others for years.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

She has most of the narcissistic qualities that he has. Most children don’t want to play with her, she has very little empathy for others, and when confronted with her behavior throws a tantrum like a two-year-old.

Is it possible for the narcissistic parent to have such influence on the child that she has become completely narcissistic? Can that be reversed? I have done Tickets with her, but nothing seems to phase her. When the punishment is over, she’s right back to it. Thank you for your help in this matter.

A: Because you indicated you’re now under the care of a counselor, I will answer your question more generally. Parents have a role in what kind of child they are raising, but there are numerous examples of kids from terrible homes who turn out well and kids from good homes who turn out badly. As John Rosemond says, “The child produces the child.” Parents have an integral part in that production, but not the only part.

A couple of years ago , I wrote an article for the Washington Post on “7 ways to nip narcissism in the bud” in response to a 2015 study that found parents who overvalue their children (over praise them, for example) are raising narcissistic kids. Basically, the best way to counter narcissistic tendencies in a child are to teach them empathy, to give them lots of chores to do for the family, to encourage and model kindness, and to discipline them consistently

But the good news is that your child is only eight—she has a whole lifetime ahead of her! That means there’s plenty of time to reverse her father’s narcissistic influence with patience and perseverance.

The Most Important Parenting Advice You’ll Ever Receive

By Patty Smith Hall

When I first booked this guest blog, I thought it would be a no-brainer. After all, I have 30-plus years of experience at being a mother, as well as being a pediatric nurse specialist who worked with high risk infants. There are several things I could advise parents on—what to expect during your first weeks at home with your newborn, how to discover the best way to correct your child, or even how to survive the teenage years.

Then recently I became a grandmother for the first time. After watching my daughter grow into her new role as a mother, I have two very important pieces of advice for every parent.

First, don’t be so hard on yourself. Parenting is a tough job, one that’s 24/7/365. There is no resigning from this position (though some of you probably wished you could if you have a teenager!). In raising your child, you’re preparing the next generation of leaders, those people who will shape our country and our world in the years to come. It’s a huge responsibility.

But try as you might, you’re going to screw up at times. You’re going to make a bone-headed decision or blow up when the oldest draws a mustache in permanent marker on her baby sister. It happens. You’re only human. But don’t get so wrapped up in your mistakes. Admit them—to yourself, to your best friend, sometimes to your kids—then move on. Learn from your miscues. Forgive yourself.

Second, enjoy the moment. Your kids aren’t always going to be in diapers or wearing a big grin on their face when they see you after school. One day sooner than you think, they’re going to be going off to college or getting married, maybe having kids of their own. Savor each moment you have with them. Even the hard times have those brief moments of joy. Don’t worry if the house is a wreck or you’ve got errands to run—have a tea party! Go to the park and kick a ball around. Just enjoy your babies, and remember—you’re making memories for the lifetime to come.

About Patty Smith Hall
A multi-published author, Patty lives in North Georgia with her husband of 30-plus years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters, her son-in-love and a grandboy who has his grandma’s heart. Her new release, “Hometown Heiress” in The American Heiress Bride Collection is available on Amazon or at your local bookstore.