8 Ways to Love Your Unrepentant Child

What can we do when our child keeps choosing the wrong path in life? Check out my article on  “8 Ways to Love Your Unrepentant Child” on Crosswalk.com.

“Through it all, we hope our children will see the wrongness of their actions, but in the end, it’s not up to us to convict their hearts—that’s the province of God—so we tell them we love them, we levy appropriate consequences when necessary, and we make the way to repentance not steep or rocky, but paved with love and forgiveness.”

A Bully of a Label

“You’re ugly.” Those words pierced my heart as a gawky 13-year-old seventh grader. It was hard enough to be the new kid at a private school where my classmates had been together since elementary school. What made things even harder was the near-constant teasing from both boys and girls. Over and over and over again, they told me how ugly I was.

The trouble with going to a small private school was that there was no escape from my tormentors—not many places to hide in a grade with a mere 17 kids. All that seventh-grade year, I went to school knowing that chances were pretty high I would hear that phrase at some point during the day. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was an almost everyday occurrence. Many nights, I cried myself to sleep because of the hurt and anguish caused by those kids. I used to beg God to make me pretty, not in a vain request for good looks but because I figured that if I wasn’t ugly, then the taunting would stop.

Yes, I told my mother about it, and she tried to help with coping mechanisms (not showing that the words hurt, etc.). But with little information out there on bullying, it was something those of us who were targets had to simply live with the abuse. I think I asked my parents not to say anything to the school administrators, because instinctively I knew that wouldn’t solve anything. The kids would get a “talking to” and the abuse would continue, albeit more under cover. Back then, no one thought that kind of verbal abuse was anything to get worked up about.

Today, we would call their actions bullying, but a few decades ago, there wasn’t a fancy name for that kind of shaming. Fast-forward to 2015, where anti-bullying messages are the drumbeat of every elementary school, junior high and high school curriculum. From kindergarten to seniors, children learn about the devastating impact of bullying, and are encouraged to report any incident of bullying to teachers, parents and administrators.

This is a good thing in many ways. It empowers those who have long had no voice. It brings much needed awareness of the harm verbal and physical abuse has on the weak and the different. It has helped to produce a more accepting attitude among our children for those who are not like us.

But all this attention to bullying has also blurred the line between abusive behavior and kids being kids. We have perhaps let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction, slapping a bullying label on situations or events that are nothing more than misunderstandings or misperceptions.

Image courtesy of prawny/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of prawny/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

For example, one message each of my children has brought home after hearing an anti-bullying presentation in first or second grade has been that someone who hurts your feelings is being a bully. Yes, bullying hurts feelings. But the very definition of bullying is a pattern of abuse, not one isolated incident.

Handling a Bullying Situation
So what’s a parent to do? How can we help our children understand the very real dangers bullying is yet temper that with a kind heart willing to overlook the mistakes of friends and classmates? Here are three ways to provide guidance to our kids.

  1. Overlook a first offense. Children especially are all too quick to take offense at anything or anyone who rubs them the wrong way or hurts their feelings. We should help our children to see that most of the time, friends and classmates and siblings are not out to hurt us. Reminding our kids of times when they hurt someone else’s feelings accidentally will guide them in having a spirit that overlooks random offenses.
  1. Talk to a trusted adult. We absolutely should listen to our children when they come home with tales of woe from school or play. But we should do more than provide a listening ear—we should help them sort out what happened and what it means before throwing on the bullying label. Questions we can ask include
  • Is it part of an overall pattern?
  • Did our child contribute to the situation by his own actions?
  • Is it something the child can handle on her own?
  1. Formulate a plan. When faced with a potential bullying situation, we need to assist our children in developing a plan. Whether it’s personal or happening to a friend, role playing different scenarios can help a kid figure out what to say or do. Try a variety of responses with the child until he’s comfortable. This will help the child be able to execute the plan more easily when confronted with the bullying child.

These three steps are only the foundation for handling a bullying situation. This is where we should start with our children. Some situations may call for interventions on a higher level, such as with teachers or school administrators. Some may call for discussions with the parents of the other children involved. All should be done with thoughtfulness and compassion, without rushing to judgment.

Beyond Bullying
What happens after the situation has been addressed? That’s a crucial part of ending this cycle of bullying that we too often see continuing in our schools, homes and communities. We need to think beyond the bullying to helping our children grow together, both bully and victim. Here are a couple of ways to get started.

Do little acts of kindness. Being kind to someone who has treated us ill—whether accidentally or on-purpose—can diffuse a potentially damaging situation. Help our kids to see that being nice in the face of unkindness can be freeing to their own hearts—and could have a huge impact on the other person. Your small act of kindness can touch the heart of another, and that’s a good thing to remember.

Walk in their shoes. When my oldest was in kindergarten, she came home with tales of “Teddy” being mean to her. Teddy bumped into her and knocked the book out of her hand. Teddy stepped on her toes. I checked with her teacher, who said that Teddy liked my daughter, but that he was rather clumsy because of his larger size than most of his classmates. I explained that to my daughter. The teacher worked with Teddy on boundaries, while my daughter had a new understanding of what her classmate was going through.

Sometimes, if we try to understand where the other person is coming from, we can find common ground—and compassion. We might not always know the full story of why a child acts the way he or she does, but by helping our children think about the other person’s story, we can help them develop empathy for their fellow classmates—a good thing to develop.

Bullying is an issue that we should continue to dialogue about with our children and in our schools. But we must balance that with thoughtful discussions about embracing our differences, developing a kindness towards others, and helping both bullies and victims to overcome their past.

Lovely Expressions–February 2015 Issue of Practical Parenting

We love our kids, even when they drive us crazy. Even when we’re tired after being up all night with the baby. Even when they upchuck all over us right before we leave for a business meeting. Even when they squabble and nitpick with each other. Even when they leave the front door open on a cold winter’s day for the hundredth time.

While most of us verbally tell our kids how much we love them, we also need to show them through our actions that we love them. If life has shown us anything, it should be that a person can’t be loved too much.

During this month of celebrations of love, here are 8 simple ways you can express love to your children.

Image courtesy of atibodyphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of atibodyphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  1. Love them differently. Let’s face it, we don’t love our kids the same. And we shouldn’t because each one is unique. We should love our children because they are our kids but more importantly, for who they are. So tell them, “I love you because….” Be specific. Let them know what you see in them that floods your heart with love.
  1. Express it without words. Hugs, kisses, touches, looks—all of the nonverbal things we do to show love we should do with our kids. Let them feel the warmth of our affection in the ways that we interact with them, such as snuggling together while reading a book, holding a hand while walking down the sidewalk, tucking a note into their lunch box or backpack and initiating a tickle fight. Don’t let a child’s age stop you from showing affection, even if the teen doesn’t seem to appreciate it at the time.
  1. Schedule regular one-on-one time. From a book at night to a breakfast out, spending time individually with our children can be a wonderful way to show them we love them. Make a point to do this on a regular basis with each of your children. For example, we have a rotating schedule of “Breakfast With Mom or Dad” for our one-on-one time. The calendar listing the dates and who goes with who is posted on the fridge to help remind all of us of those special times.
  1. Tell your story. Know what makes children feel safe and secure? The knowledge that their parents love each other. So from time-to-time, share with the kids how you met, what you love about your spouse. Show affection for your husband and wife in front of the kids.
  1. Share “their” story with them. All kids love to hear how they arrived in the world, what their first words were, what life was like for them as a baby or young child. Part of how we show our love to them is to telling them their “own” story. You can augment with photos or home movies, but the important thing is to make sure each one has a chance to be the “star” of our family history.
  1. Go on dates with your spouse. Wait a minute, how does this show love to our kids? By instilling in them the importance of your relationship with your husband and wife—which helps to underscore the love you have for each other and for your children.
  1. Show up at events, games, activities, etc. Be part of their life. This doesn’t mean you have to go to every practice, but it does mean you make an effort. For example, I don’t volunteer for every opportunity at school, but I do make a point to do so a few times a year, and that helps the kids know I think they are important—and loved.
  1. Ask them about their lives. Give your kids a chance to tell you about their day, about their passions, about their dreams or fears or concerns or fun stuff. This involves listening, asking questions, and paying attention—without consulting your computer, smartphone, tablet, etc. Knowing you care enough to give them your full attention can be priceless to a child.

Emancipation and the Older Teen

Q: A little more than a year ago, our 18-year-old daughter moved to Nashville, Tenn., (completely at our expense) to be a member of a ballet company. After a year of that, she decided to go to school full time, but stay in Nashville at our expense (we pay the rent for her apartment). Then she wanted to move to a more expensive apartment, to which we said no. She ended up going to my brother-in-law for a co-signer (and we don’t have a good relationship with this person, which she well knows).

Topping it off, this past weekend when we were visiting her in Nashville, she said some very hurtful things (and this after we gave her a smartphone!). We ended the visit by giving her the option of coming home and going to school with our financial help or staying in Nashville on her own. She handed us our car keys and walked away. I feel we did the right thing, but it has almost literally broken my heart. How do we proceed?

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

A: I’m sorry you’re hurting because of her choices and words. Knowing you did the right thing is cold comfort but sometimes, that’s what we have to deal with when making tough parenting decisions. Unfortunately, kids of all ages aren’t known for saying, “Gee, thanks, Mom and Dad. You’re right.”

As to proceeding, she’s made it clear that she’s going to do what she’s going to do–without your assistance. So you’re left with two choices: continue financially supporting her (and taking her attitude as she bites the hand that feeds her) OR cut off financial assistance (and be prepared for her attitude to worsen). Either way, you are not going to change her heart attitude towards you. That’s only something she can do. All you can do is decide what you’re willing to pay (literally) for her choices.

If you do decide to slash the financial apron strings, tell her that you heard her loud and clear and that from now on, you will not be paying her bills. Inform her that she must figure out what to do about her smartphone because in 30 days, you will remove her from your plan and her phone will be due to you (unless she ponies up the cost of the phone. Ditto on car insurance and any other bill you are currently paying. If your brother-in-law chooses to help her out by co-signing her lease, that’s his affair–and you shouldn’t let that influence your relationship with him.

Then simply love her. Call her, text her, write her. Let her know you care without harping on her choices. She’s a grown woman now and wanting to live independently—and that’s a good thing. While you would rather she choose a less difficult path, she has picked her own way. It’s up to you as her parents to be available yet silent (for the most part) as she makes her way alone in the world. To me, that’s the hardest thing a parent does but it also can be the most rewarding at times, especially when we see our children rise to the occasion. She might just surprise you and turn out all right despite a rocky beginning.

Educating a Child’s Palate

For years, I thought I didn’t like salad or yellow squash in particular. Frankly, most vegetables left me cold, but since eating them was required, I ate them. Rarely did I ask for seconds of green beans, cauliflower or broccoli, though.

Fast forward to college, when I left my relatively small hometown and ventured to first Georgia and then Missouri—not exactly hotbeds of culinary delights, but each place boasted a unique introduction to new foods, along with vegetables prepared in different ways. The first salad I had that didn’t contain mostly iceberg lettuce smothered in Thousand Island dressing was an eye-opening experience. Hey, this green stuff tasted great!

Nothing against my mother’s cooking (when I reminiscence with anyone who grew up when I did, and our stories of vegetables cooked within an inch of its life are nearly identical), but there was a whole, wide world out there that prepared and ate vegetables much different than I had—and I liked it. A lot.

As parents, it can be a challenge to get kids to eat their vegetables—and sometimes, even like them. We know the importance of establishing healthy eating habits when they’re young because we want them to have good eating habits when they are on their own.

We can—and should—have a hand in helping our kids cultivate a wide palate when it comes to vegetables. Thankfully, we live in a day and age where we can offer a good variety of vegetables and can easily find many recipes incorporating those veggies.

Image courtesy of marin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of marin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For some concrete ways to help your child overcome her picky-eater tendencies, try these five ideas.

The one-bite rule. At dinner (as this is the most likely time a picky eater balks), give the child literally a tablespoon or less of each dish on the table. Once the child has eaten that, he may have seconds of anything on the table.

  1. Have the child help prepare at least one meal per week (planning it, shopping, cooking). Stipulations should be that it has to be a well-balanced meal (i.e., not pizza and hotdogs, but pizza and a fresh salad or hot dogs and two veggie dishes), but other than that, let the child guide the menu.
  1. Offer a “no-thank-you” clause. Once a year, let the child pick a vegetable that the child doesn’t have to eat that entire year. For example, New Year’s Day is the time when my kids choose their “no-thank-you” veggie (selections this year include potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplant and tomatoes). When the chosen veggie is served, the child who picked it doesn’t have to eat that one food item. But the catch is that the child must eat at least a bite of any other veggie or food served—or the picked veggie is back on her menu.
  1. Connect to the source. Community supported agriculture (farm shares), farmer’s market, a vegetable garden out back—all of these ways bring veggies directly to the child from the ground level. Visit the farm, stop by the farmer’s market and rope the kids into planting their own “patch” of ground to get them interested in seeing how things grow. Vegetables grown this way are not as uniform or clean as the ones in the store, which can really spur interest. Also, when a child grows an eggplant from a tiny seed, he’s much more likely to want to taste the fruits of his labor.
  1. Fix each vegetable a few different ways. Your kid might not like steamed zucchini, but perhaps sautéed with a yogurt sauce might taste better. Remember, kids need more than one exposure to a new item before they start to consider whether they like it or not. They might say they don’t like X veggie, but served in a different way, they might just find they’ve acquired a taste for it after all.

While there’s no magic bullet for getting kids to like veggies, these ideas will help ensure they at least eat them most of the time.

Until next time,

Sarah

 

 

Preschooler’s Behavior Deteriorates After Baby Brother’s Arrival

Q: My 3½-year-old gets resentful over attention to her 6-month-old brother, especially the attention I give the baby. She doesn’t like that he doesn’t “get into trouble” and that he can “get away” with things she can’t do, like yell, throw food, refuse to sleep, wet her pants, etc. She keeps repeating, “But brother can do it because he’s a baby.”

She’s also started scaring him by yelling “boo!” or sings/talks loudly to him. I’m not sure how to correct her behavior without encouraging sibling rivalry. When he first came home from the hospital, she loved on him so much. But now she’s been acting up, misbehaving and getting into more trouble. Honestly, she’s making it hard to act loving towards her! What can I do to ensure the two of them do not become rivals?

A: Take heart in that her behavior, while annoying, is perfectly normal. She’s been the queen bee in your home for three years, so naturally, she’s going to resent someone taking away your attention. But that doesn’t mean she gets a pass on bad behavior.

So what to do? First, make sure she has chores to do around the house, such as helping with trash, setting the table, wiping up spills, etc. The more things she can do to be a part of the family, the more she’ll feel a part of the family.

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Second, guide her in interactions with her baby brother. For example, ask her to help you feed her brother (maybe only a bite or two at the beginning). Ask her to hand him toys or bring you diapers. Say to her frequently, “Oh, look at how Baby smiles at you when you make that silly face!” and “Would you read to Baby one of your favorite books?”

Third, remind her of all the things she can do that Baby cannot, such as stay up later, not take as many naps, walk, read, etc. Mention her favorite things and make it sound as if Baby’s the one missing out (all in your tone of voice!), such as “Isn’t it too bad that Baby can’t do X and you can?” That will help remind her that being 3 has its advantages over being a baby.

Fourth, try not to over-correct her when she’s interacting with Baby. Saying “Boo!” and singing very loudly isn’t going to hurt the Baby, really. Redirect her by asking her to sing to the baby. Make it a game by asking her to sing very loudly, then very softly, and ask her to see which tone she thinks Baby likes better. Teach her how to watch his facial expressions to figure it out.

Fifth, don’t use the baby as an excuse to do or not do things. For example, don’t say, “When Baby wakes up, we’ll go to the park.” Instead, say, “We’ll go to the park at X time.” That helps her not to view Baby as the one who’s spoiling her fun.

Finally, remember that she’s adjusting too. When he was smaller, he didn’t seem quite so threatening but now that he’s bigger and probably beginning to move around more, she’s not so sure how to interact or handle his crying and outbursts, etc.

 

Six Things Reality TV Can Teach Us

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Ohmega1982/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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,
Sarah

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.

Loving the Unrepentant Child

Q: What do we do when our child refuses to be reconciled with you? In adult-to-adult relationships, each adult has the same responsibility to initiate reconciliation when conflict arises. But how does this apply to the parent-child relationship? For example, my teenage son has cursed at me, been outright rebellious, and has threatened to leave the house. Should the parent in such a situation take the initiative toward reconciliation, such as telling him I still love him despite his over-the-top misbehavior? Or do we wait for the child to humble himself and come to us?

A: This is a question as old as time itself. How do we as parents deal with a child who clearly has no desire to repair a relationship to which he has taken a sledge hammer?

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

That said, we should try to model forgiveness and love as much as we can. That means, yes, we tell our children that we love them no matter what they do–because we do and we should. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t get annoyed, hurt, angered, or saddened by their behavior and choices, but it does mean that we love them as unconditionally as we can in our imperfect human state.Let’s remember that the parent-child relationship is fraught with mistakes and outright messiness. The parent makes mistakes, the child makes mistakes. Emotions get out of control and things can slide downhill fast.

In your example, you should take the initiative for two reasons. One because you’re the adult and he’s the child (even as he nears adulthood), and two, because you’re his father. This isn’t to say you condone the behavior, but we have to be the ones to hold out the olive branch of forgiveness in order to make it easier for our children to ask for it. We should be the ones who try to heal the breach first because we need to show our children how to do that.

Most of the time, children of all ages find it difficult to be the one to take the first step toward righting a wrong. It’s not easily to be humble and apologetic in the best of circumstances. Throw in a fight with a parent, and that step could morph into an insurmountable mountain for a child to climb.

Of course, we pray that our children will see the wrongness of their actions, but in the end, it’s not up to us to convict their hearts—that’s the province of God–so we tell them we love them, we levy appropriate consequences when necessary, and we make the way back “home” not steep or rocky, but paved with love and forgiveness.