Revolving Door at Bedtime

Q: Our nine-year-old won’t stay in his room. He’ll be in and out, to use the bathroom, get a drink, and other excuses. He also has been reading after lights-out, hiding his reading by using a smuggled flashlight or putting a pair of pants across the base of his door to block the light. When we catch him with a book, he becomes a drama king, claiming “It’s very hard to quit” and then promises to not do it again…only to be caught a half hour later.

We’re tired of him coming out of his room a lot and policing his reading. We’re also tired of having him cranky in the mornings because he stays up too late reading. How do we put a stop to this behavior?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: I think nearly every parent has experienced the jack-in-the-box of bedtime. A child who continually bounces out of the room no matter what you say. When your words have no effect on a child’s behavior, that generally means it’s time to stop talking and take action.

Because you know how much he loves to read, you have the perfect opportunity to motivate him to stay in his room, lights out, when it’s bedtime.

First, while he’s at school or out of the house, remove all books from his room and place them temporarily in another part of the house.

Second, hang a necklace or other object that can loop over the door handle of his room. Put this on the inside door knob.

Third, allow him to take only the current book he’s reading to bed—check his room beforehand to make sure no contraband books have been brought in when you weren’t looking.

Fourth, put him to bed 15 minutes early but allow him to stay up reading for those 15 minutes. He’s allowed out of his room until his normal bedtime.

Fifth, at lights out, remove the book from his room. At this point, tell him that he may come out of his room only once for any reason, but he must bring you the object hanging on the back of his door. No object, no exit.

He will test you by coming out more than once. Simply send him back to bed with a firm, “Stay in your room.”

Put up a chart for 30 days on the fridge (blocks numbered 1 to 30). This is preparation for the consequences the next day.

The next day, when he reaches for a book, say (the more sorrowful the voice the better), “Dear, I’m very sorry but reading is off limits until you can stay in your room after lights out for 30 days. You’ll have one time per evening to come out.”

He will probably throw a fit, but just shake his head. If you find him reading a book, magazine, newspaper, etc., then simply take down the existing chart and put up a brand new one even if he’s on day 29.

Some might label this overkill and worry that it will make your son not like reading. However, when something is as dear to a child’s heart as reading is to your son, then removal of that object/pastime in the short run will make such an impression upon him, that you will likely not have to do such a thing in the future. He will remember this for a long time, and probably choose obedience in other areas as well to avoid a similar action in the future.

The Lettuce Contest

By Carole Brown

I was a 1½ older than my brother so being “the boss” came natural . . . or maybe I was just the “pushy” type. Whatever the case, we were constantly striving to better the other.

One of our craziest competitions was The Eating Contest. No, we didn’t pig out at the table and no, we didn’t hog down all the candy we could find. Our contests were much healthier for the body, if not the spirit.

We had cabbage, banana and other veggie-eating contests but our favorite was the iceberg lettuce contest. At the given signal, we’d see who could wolf down the most lettuce. Since it’s largely water and we both liked it, it wasn’t a hard task. I dare say Mama and Daddy rolled their eyes a few times, sighed and wondered how they’d spawned such creatures, but it was fun and good for us. Innocent competitive fun that taught us a few things:

  • Fun can be had in the simple things of life. Parents should watch for activities all enjoy doing and encourage their participation together. Especially push (casually) for educational and simple activities like puzzles, building, exploring nearby and vacation places, walks, community activities, etc. Join in if possible and let them set the pace but be ready to negotiate compromises between especially competitive siblings.
  • Competition is a healthy activity as long as it’s done in fun and fairness. Though it may sound like a drag to a child or teenager, rules and boundaries are important. Make sure all understands the rules and that it’s for their benefit and happiness.
  • Sometimes you lose and sometimes you win. No one wins all the time and no one loses all the time. One thing is important for children to learn early in life, is that not everyone is good at everything. Take note of what each of your children does well–in play or chores–and encourage them through praise. Those who are more daring might want challenges in new opportunities. Allow this within reason. Others feel safer and happier in their routine activities and fun exercises. Don’t discourage them if they hold back from participating in activities with which they’re uncomfortable. Learn to discern whether it’s from genuine interest or a lack of confidence and be prepared to boost them if needed.

Most of all laugh, love and guard your children with vigilance. Stand firm with your wisely chosen rules but be flexible when it comes to healthy choices for fun. You won’t regret it and your children will be mentally healthier.

CaroleAug14 (14) croppedAbout Carole Brown
Besides being a member and active participant of many writing groups, Carole Brown enjoys mentoring beginning writers. She loves to weave suspense and tough topics into her books, including The Denton and Alex Davis Mystery series and With Music in Their Hearts, along with a touch of romance and whimsy, and is always on the lookout for outstanding titles and catchy ideas. She and her husband reside in SE Ohio but have ministered and counseled nationally and internationally. Together, they enjoy their grandsons, traveling, gardening, good food, the simple life, and did she mention their grandsons? Connect with her at http://sunnebnkwrtr.blogspot.com/.

You may check out her books at http://www.amazon.com/Carole-Brown/e/B00EZV4RFY/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1431659899&sr=8-1

A Love of Money

Q: I need some guidance on allowance. My 9-year-old has always been Mr. Money. He loves it and will do anything to get it—and then spends it at the first opportunity. Granted, he is very generous and frequently uses it to buy things for other people, and we always encourage giving to church and charity and savings. While we don’t connect chores to allowance, we sometimes let him earn extra money by doing special jobs. However, what usually happens is as soon as he blows his money, he immediately wants to start doing jobs to earn more.

I doubt this cycle of spend-earn-repeat is teaching him good money management. If I let him do more jobs, then he doesn’t see the need to restrain himself from a spending spree because he thinks he can just go home and earn more. We need to set some boundaries here, but I need help!

A: Guiding kids to a life of good money management is usually a top concern among parents. Kudos to you for not connecting chores to allowance, which is a mistake many parents make. Chores are done because children are part of the family, and shouldn’t be rewarded with money.

However, you’re also right in that he needs to develop some good money management foundations. That foundation should be one that emphasizes living within his means, which translates into your not advancing funds to him for any reason. As I tell my children, I am not an ATM or credit card—allowance is paid each Saturday and not before. Overall, showing him how you and your spouse live within your means is the number one way that he’ll learn that concept.

Also watch how you talk about money. Don’t use words like, “We can’t afford that” when not wanting to spend your money on an item or event. Instead, say, “We are not choosing to spend our money that way.” That makes it more about choice instead of how much money you have. We also talk about budgets with our kids. For instance, when shoe shopping recently, I pointed out the high end price I was willing to pay and then let the children look for themselves within that range.

Image courtesy of junpinzon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of junpinzon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You can help your son manage his money better by setting up three jars labeled Spend, Save and Give. He should divide his allowance each week into those three jars. The only stipulation I would make is that the amount must be larger than a nickel (no single pennies!). The Save and Give jars cannot be emptied to buy things for himself. You can let him decide where to donate the Give amount when it reaches $1 unless you wish him to give that every week in the church offering or something similar. For the Save, it’s merely like a visible bank for him to watch money accumulate.

Allow him to spend the rest as he sees fit. Yes, this means he will likely blow through his money quickly, but that’s okay. It is his money, and you can suggest but I wouldn’t stop him (other than saying you’re not making a special trip to the store for him).

I would also stop the special jobs for payment because he’s using those as his personal ATM—and a sort of cushion against totally being broke. Just say that you’ve decided to eliminate that option.

Finally, don’t forget to talk about money with him on a regular basis. For example, take him grocery shopping with him and talk about how to pick the best produce and figure out what you’ll pay for it. Let him add up coupons to see how much you’ll save. Discuss why buying the store brand can help save more money over a name brand—and taste just as good most of the time. Interacting with the real world about money and what things cost is one of the best lessons we can give our children.

Crime and Punishment

I’m often asked by parents whether the punishment should fit the crime. In other words, should a child’s punishment for a misbehavior have some sort of correlation, some connection, with that misbehavior?

The simple answer is No. The punishment does not have to fit the crime. In fact, it probably should have nothing to do with the crime.

But shouldn’t the child be able to relate the consequences with his actions? Isn’t that part of what we should teach our children?

Yes and no. Yes, a child should connect the fact that his disobedience triggered his punishment. But no, in the sense that the child should see a direct relationship between the punishment and his misbehavior.

Put another way, some parents believe that if a child pulls up all the flowers in your garden, then his punishment should be something related to replacing those flowers in the garden or cleaning up the mess, etc. Sometimes, the misbehavior does lend itself to a natural consequence punishment, as in our flower pulling example.

But other times, the misbehavior doesn’t have a clear tie to natural consequences—and thus the parent must come up with a punishment. At times, our immediate response to a misbehavior—especially if the misbehavior is quite breathtaking in scope—we overcompensate and throw everything and the kitchen sink at them, especially if their outward demeanor exhibits no discernable remorse. For example, we want to ground them until they turn 18…in 13 years. We want to take all of their toys to the local thrift store right now.

However, usually that kind of over-reaction happens in the heat of the moment, immediately following the discovery of the misbehavior, when we’re upset or angry or disappointed or frustrated with our offspring. That knee-jerk reaction, while understandable, isn’t the best way to levy consequences because usually, those are the types of punishments that can’t possibly be carried out. The child can’t be grounded for more than a decade. Throwing every single toy away isn’t practical in any sense of the word.

So how do you figure out what to do? Here are some general guidelines to help you when your child needs correction.

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

First, you don’t have to do something right away. With the exception of children under the age of 3, you can wait to levy consequences. For a preschooler age 3 and older, you can wait several hours before disciplining. For young elementary school age, you can wait a few days. For kids age 8 or so and older, you can wait several weeks. So when your own emotions are swirling like whirling dervish, take a moment to count to 10 or walk away to gather your thoughts before blurting out impossible-to-deliver consequences.

Second, don’t fiddle with penny-ante discipline. You know what I mean, the kind of punishment that’s designed to deter but not halt the misbehavior. Things that briefly get a child’s attention but don’t cause her to readjust her actions only prolong the problem. So don’t fool around with little consequences—such as taking away a kid’s bike or TV privileges for a single day.

Third, the consequences should never fit the crime. This basically means that you don’t worry about whether or not the punishment is “appropriate” for the misbehavior. Parents often fall into the trap of being concerned with fairness when it comes to discipline. The reality is, life isn’t fair and consequences shouldn’t be either.

Fourth, sometimes, you’ve got to make it memorable. This is reserved for really entrenched behaviors or for a time when you think the child in question needs a good wake-up call. So you lower the boom and pull the rug out from underneath him in order to recalibrate his course of action and to avoid repeats of the same behavior in the future.

One time, our oldest daughter kept “forgetting” to give the cats fresh water each day. Finally, after fooling around with penny-ante discipline, I wised up and pulled out the big guns. I took away something she absolutely loved—reading—until she could go for 30 days without “forgetting” to refill the water. Needless to say, it took only 30 days and we haven’t had a major problem with her “forgetting” her chores again (and her younger sister hasn’t “forgotten” either, it made that big an impression on them both!).

Fifth, you remember that you as the parent can do all the right things—and your child can still choose to do the wrong thing. One of my children used to “take the hit” in order to misbehave. I liken it to my in-laws late dog, Rocky, who was a huge Chesapeake Bay retriever. He wore an electric fence collar and knew the boundaries of the fence. Going through the fence enacted a rather painful jolt of electricity to his neck. But sometimes, he would become so determined to case a delivery van cruising down the street that he would pace and pace, then break through the barrier, yelping all the way, to run off after the truck. Rocky simply decided the joy of the chase was worth the pain of the electric jolt.

Our kids sometimes are much the same, choosing to take the punishment (whatever that might be) for the “joy” of misbehaving. That doesn’t mean we stop punishing them for misbehaviors; it does mean that we recognize they have the potential to keep misbehaving.

Remember, the key to discipline is consistency. Do something, but keeping what that something is doesn’t have to be the same each time.

Until next time,
Sarah

When a Boy Likes a Girl

Q: My 14-year-old son, who will be entering high school in the fall, has been talking to girls. It appears that he might even have a girlfriend. My sister said I need to talk with him about the birds and the bees, but as a single mother, I have no idea how to approach this topic. Help! I don’t want to be grandma at 40. I guess I am freaking out. How can my baby boy have a girl friend and what should I do about it?

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: First of all, this isn’t the end of the world, given that a boy is bound to express interest in a girl sometime during his teen years. And at this age, it’s not at all unusual that his “girl friend” is no more than a girl he likes to text and talk to at school.

If he’s in public school, he’s most likely already had the basic biology of sex. So that leaves talking with him about your values. But this will go better if it’s not one big talk all at once, but a series of little discussions scattered over a period of time. Also, remember that your son will respond more positively if you don’t lecture him but open up a dialogue about girls. You might want to ask a male family friend or relative to have some of these talks, as a young teen might be more comfortable discussing his feelings (and subsequent physical urges) with another male, rather than his mother.

But you can start by asking him about this girl he likes. What is it that attracts him? Ask him how he thinks a girl should be treated, etc.

In addition, having general conversations about respect and “no means no,” and what to do if he finds himself in certain situations, such as if his friends are talking dirty about a girl, or looking at unclad women, etc. Your male friend might be a good source to help your son sort out these sticky questions.

Overall, you want to have an open dialogue with your son about this and other tough topics. The more approachable—and less judgmental or preachy—you are, the more likely he will be to share what’s on his mind or heart.

Remember, that we as parents can only do the right thing—to help guide our children in the way they should go. We have to leave the actual heart changes up to God.

 

Raising Readers

Parents frequently ask me reading-related questions. Some want to know how to encourage reading in their child, while others are wrestling with what to allow their child to read, especially if that child reads above grade level.

Encouraging Reading
Here are some ways to inspire reading in our kids.

Give them books. One of the best ways to encourage kids to read is to supply them with books—lots and lots of books! Studies have shown that the more books one has in the home, the more kids will be apt to become readers. Building your child’s personal library is a great way to surround him with books. Yard sales, tag sales, thrift stores, library used book sales and websites like PaperBackSwap are inexpensive ways to do this.

Visit the library. Frequent trips to the library can also create a desire for books. Many libraries offer reading programs for children of all ages that can stimulate a love of books.

Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Read to them. Reading to your kids—of all ages—has been proven to stimulate reading in them. Read books they suggest and ones you remember from your own childhood.

Read yourself. When kids see parents reading, it sends a strong message that reading is something you do all your life. So put down that smartphone and pick up a book (yes, ebooks count).

Appropriate Reading Selections
My two girls (10 and 12) both read above grade level, so this is a topic that my husband and I have discussed much in our home. The truth of the matter is that all children want to read about kids who are just a little bit older than they are–that’s part of the growing up process. Books can provide a safe environment for kids to experience things that will soon be happening—or could happen—to them. But on the other hand, sometimes, we as parents are so happy to have our children interested in reading, that we neglect to have a care with what they are reading. The content of books is just as important as the reading itself—probably even more so. Many times, we fear that if we restrict access to certain books (for now or forever), our kids will ditch the reading entirely.Here are some suggestions for how to figure out if a book is good for your children.

Seek outside assistance. There are numerous websites that rate children’s and YA (young adult), such as https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews and http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/protecting-your-family/book-reviews-for-parents/book-reviews-for-parents). Talking with other parents who share your values about book titles

Read the book first yourself. Whether it’s the flip-and-pause method or reading the entire book, looking at a book can help you decide whether it’s appropriate material or not.

Ask a librarian. Our local resource librarians are gems in helping us figure out if a book is on the right age level for our kids, as well as pointing out similar books if they like a certain author, etc. School librarians can be helpful as well.

Start a book club with your child. If there’s a book that your child wants to read but you’re unsure about the subject matter, read the book together and talk about it. This might help alleviate your concerns about certain book content and give you a platform to hear what your child thinks about the topics in the book. When I recently answered a question about a 10-year-old girl reading books “too old” for her in an online forum, another reader chimed in with the following response: “This is really a hot topic because my son is such a speedy reader and devours books he brings home from the library. My husband and I have been discussing this for some time now, as our 8-year-old son is reading above grade level and while he is able to read “older” books, I don’t always think the content is appropriate. My son and I both recently read Wonder, which he read it first and told me that I would find some “violence” in there. I didn’t think there was much, but it gave me an opportunity to bring up some points with him and we discussed some of the book (he recognized what the other kids were doing was wrong and so forth).”

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When the Companion’s Invisible

Q: My 4-year-old daughter has an imaginary friend called Buster. She talks to Buster, plays with Buster, insists that Buster sit at the table with her, etc. Sometimes, she expects me to talk to Buster too. I’m not sure having an invisible friend is such a good idea. What should I do about Buster?

A: When my oldest was around 4, she had an imaginary friend who accompanied her everywhere—to the park, outside, the dinner table, etc. She talked about this friend for so long, her younger sister (around 2) started talking to her sister’s imaginary friend too. Those were some interesting times in our household, that’s for sure!

I viewed the imaginary friend as a tangible outcome of a vivid imagination, something that we should treasure in our children. Sure, it’s silly and funny and annoying at times, but imaginary friends serve a couple of important purposes for our kids. First, it gives them an outlet for their creative imaginations. Second, it provides them with a safe place to explore their own feelings. For example, sometimes, my daughter’s imaginary friend would do something bad. She would talk about how that made her imaginary friend feel and work through those feelings in a safe place.

As to how parents should react to such a “friend,” here are some tips.

  • Don’t overreact. Sure, it can be trying to have your child always talking about someone who isn’t real, but it’s also usually only a sign of a child’s active imagination, not something seriously wrong with the child.
  • Give the responsibility to the child. This means if the child wants the imaginary friend to sit at the dinner table, that’s fine. However, the child should be responsible for his “guest’s” behavior. In other words, no spilling milk deliberately and blaming it on the imaginary friend. The child is completely accountable for the actions of the imaginary friend.
  • Don’t overindulge, either. I made it a practice to only say “hello” or “goodbye” to my daughter’s imaginary friend. I would say that it was her friend, not mine, so the bulk of the discussion should be between the child and the imaginary friend, not the parent and the imaginary friend. This keeps the play with the child, where it belongs.

Above all, enjoy the silliness that imaginary friends can be for our children. There’s something rather sweet and innocent about a little kid talking to someone who isn’t there. As adults, we’re sometimes overly grounded in reality that we forget the magic that children see and feel and view all around them. For all too short a time, they can touch and experience the wonder of imaginary friends. Reality will intrude as they grow up, so don’t rush them through the magic of this part of childhood too soon.

Parenting According to Vicki Hoefle, Part Two

I recently spoke with Vicki Hoefle, professional parent educator, author of Duct Tape Parenting, and national speaker, about parenting. Her new book, The Straight Talk on Parenting; A No-Nonsense Approach on How to Grow a Grown-Up is available now. Catch up on the first part of our conversation here.VHoefle-1

What are some of the most common parenting missteps moms and dads make?

Vicki: Doing too much for their kids and removing obstacles from the children’s lives.

Doing too much for our kids sends the message that we don’t believe they are capable of navigating their own lives. A child who doesn’t believe in himself and who does not think he is capable will behave in ways that support this belief. As the child grows and matures, this belief becomes anchored and they see themselves as limited in their capacity to successfully navigate their adult lives. Both children and adults become dependent on others to do for them what they could do for themselves. If you have spent your entire childhood being convinced that you aren’t capable of taking care of yourself or your responsibilities, it is going to influence how you see yourself as an adult.

Removing obstacles from our children’s lives sends the message that we have little faith in their ability to recover from life’s ups and down, including an embarrassing moment, a rejection or a lousy grade on a test. This lack of faith is carried into adulthood and can severely limit the persons desire to try new things, take healthy risks or their ability to rebound after experiencing a disappointment. In the worse-case scenario, the adult experiences isolation, depression, and other emotional and mental challenges.

Why is instilling character so important for a child’s growth?

Vicki: When I consider the character traits that helped me establish a satisfying and fulfilling life as an adult, I can think of several, but self-control or self-regulation is right there at the top. Self-control is a character trait that takes years to develop.

If we helped our kids develop these character traits while they were young, two things would happen. The first is that you would see children begin to demonstrate them on a regular basis. For example, your four-year-old hits his younger brother when he knocks over the fort. Three years later, if the parent is helping the child develop self-discipline (instead of punishing the child for hitting), it is likely that this child will have developed the self-control necessary to walk away or use some other acceptable and effective strategy. It’s a win-win for everyone.

The second thing that would happen is that the character trait that was introduced into the life of the child would grow strong with each year and eventually, you would have an adult who had mastered the art of self-control, self-regulation, and their life would reflect this. If, however, a child is not given the chance to develop these character traits, it is unlikely that he will display them in his adult life.

What do you hope parents take away from The Straight Talk on Parenting?

Vicki: My motto for more than 20 years has been this: I know I have been a success when parents no longer look to me for answers. I truly believe that parents are the true experts in their children’s lives and when introduced to a simple method for uncovering causes of misbehavior with solutions that are designed to bring out lasting change and support emotional health in kids for a lifetime, they can do the job without all the experts piping in with their wisdom. There is no magical mystery to raising children—a few straightforward ideas are enough to raise respectful, responsible, and resilient human beings. I want parents to know that if they practice a simple method for just a few weeks, they can solve any problem that comes up in daily life with their kids. That would be a glorious day indeed. Empower the parents, empower the child.Straight Talk on Parenting FINAL

A Rude Awakening

Q: Our four-year-old son has started to be disrespectful to other adults in front of me. For example, he snatched something from my friend’s hand that he wanted. When I made him apologize, he first snarled, “I’m not sorry.”

I am appalled, but I’m not sure exactly how to handle the discipline—where, when and what should I do?

Image courtesy of ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: From one parent to another, thanks for noticing your child’s rudeness to other adults. So many times, we as parents offer excuses for our children’s bad behavior toward other grownups (“She didn’t have a nap today,” “He’s mad that he missed soccer practice to come here,” etc.). So it’s great that you not only notice his rudeness but want to correct it.

Now the best way to accomplish that is to make his rudeness his responsibility. In other words, he needs to want to change his behavior more than continue it.

The next time he’s rude to an adult, correct him in a firm yet gentle tone. You don’t have to yell at him to make an impression. Keep it short and sweet, such as: “No snatching items from adults. Tell Mrs. X you’re sorry for grabbing.” Then maintain eye contact until he does so. Prod him once to apologize, but if he still refuses, don’t cajole or wheedle with him to comply. You simply smile at the adult and apologize on his behalf.

Then take him immediately home if possible. Confine him to his room for the rest of the day with all his favorite toys or books or games removed. Move up his bedtime to immediately after an early supper. At this age, curtailing his freedom is a great way to compel him to own his rudeness.

If you can’t leave right away, curtail his movements right then if possible, such as requiring him to stay by your side and not play with the other children. If that isn’t possible because of the situation, then leave as soon as you can and do the confined outlined above when you get home, reminding him of his rudeness (“You were rude to Mrs. X when you snatched the toy from her hand.”).

Above all, avoid the temptation to lecture. Kids this age don’t need to know why it’s rude to snatch things from adults or to interrupt conversations. They just need to know it IS unacceptable behavior. The why won’t make them any more likely to obey, so save your breath.

Also work on role playing with him on how to relate to adults. Work through questions such as

If an adult has something he wants, how does he ask for it?

How should he address an adult who speaks to him?

What should he do if an adult does something he doesn’t like?

Incorporate that practice into your everyday interactions with him. Let him pretend to be the adult and you’re the child. Then reverse roles so he can practice. Reinforcing the proper behavior helps him to visualize how he should react the next time he’s confronted with a similar situation.