Monday, March 26, 2007

Support for Tweens and Teens

An editorial in my local paper made a legitimate point about the importance of support for parents of tweens and teens. While there are a lot of resources and educational opportunities to learn about raising young children through the primary years — ECFE, parent play groups, magazines — the abundance dries up to a trickle once children hit middle school.

It is almost assumed in our education system and communities that parents should have a handle on parenting by the time their children are 12. But the rules of parenting change drastically at this stage of a child's development. Not only are children experiencing big physical changes, their search for identity apart from their parents really kicks into high gear!

Friends and social structures and how they fit into them become even more important. Parents need to be prepared to respond not only to changes in their child's attitude and mood, but also to new questions and concerns the child may have but doesn't know how to express.

I emphasize communication in my workshops because keeping lines open with a child of any age is critical — and the language has to change as the needs change.

For example, a 15-year-old who is showing a "moody streak" and refusing to do chores or follow established rules could have other troubles brewing under the surface. This child can't be spanked or redirected; the parent needs to be sensitive to a potentially deeper issue. It could be the new friend he has at school who doesn't seem to experience the same limits at home. It could be that he is feeling pressure to succeed but has an overwhelming schedule. It could be that he craves a sense of autonomy, being treated more like the adult he feels that he is. Ask questions to draw him out; avoid snap judgements.

Even at this age, temperament comes into play. If you had a feisty youngster who bounced off walls and physically expressed frustration, your older child may feel that same level of sensitivity and frustration but has been socialized to hide or suppress it...until it boils into a rage at school or home. Find ways with your child to channel this abundance of energy into a sport, music, or a challenging goal like saving for a car. Be wary of signs that your child is handling her frustration with unhealthy choices or the wrong crowd of friends.

If your child has always been more introverted, he may need some quiet time in his room after a long day at school. Introverted or slow-to-adapt children get exhausted by social contact for long periods. They need quiet time to regroup: to read, sew, play a computer game, or listen to the mp3 player.

I also encourage parents of older children to make sit-down family dinners a huge priority at least 3 or 4 times a week. Studies have shown that the incidence of addiction decreases dramatically and a teen's feeling of being able to talk to a parent about serious issues increases. This might mean sacrificing some extracurricular or personal activities for the sake of your family, but avoiding the social pressure to overschedule will pay dividends in the long run.

Get your child involved in the preparation of the family meal as a ritual you can all enjoy. Turn off the television. Play relaxing dinner music. Discuss your day and keep the mood positive to encourage socializing and digestion! If there are important concerns to discuss, schedule a time after dinner to talk with your child or spouse.

As your children mature, think about ways to include them on important family decisions — a job change or caring for a grandparent — to acknowledge that their input is appreciated and respected in team family.

If you have any questions about your tween or teen, I'd love to hear them. Post a comment or email me at

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dealing With Bad Language

Let's face it. We all have our favorite curse words. They might be really nasty ones and they might be ones we've made up to avoid the nasty ones. Regardless, it's embarrassing as our children begin to talk and model us when those curse words are first used...and used appropriately.

Reacting to bad language is an art, I think. For the little toddler who yells "S**t" when he spills his milk, we can either ignore the remark or provide several alternative words... "Oh, shoot, oh darn, oh gosh, oh golly..." as we clean up. What we want to avoid at this point is making a big deal out of the word, laughing or getting angry. The child doesn't know what he is saying; he is simply modeling. Providing alternative words in a sing-song happy voice worked for both of my daughters. They began to use the other words and forgot all about the bad word.

You can begin to reason with children around age 3 about bad words. Once I'm sure what the child has said, I would say, "That is not a nice word. I like this word better." And offer the alternative.

As children get older, they will recognize bad words on their own. When they don't, you could again point out the bad word and ask them what other word they could use instead. Have them solve the problem and choose a word that they prefer. "I like to say, 'Oh, man!' What do you think you could say when something goes wrong?" Don't ignore the word; they need to know at this point that language is a big deal. It creates a first impression. It can show respect or disrespect to others.

Provide alternative ways to express frustration: “I’m mad at him.” “I don’t like that game.” "She isn't being nice to me."

Work on communication skills every day. Read with your children. Practice enunciation of letters. Explain the meaning of new words you use and spell them. Encourage a frustrated child to use words to express his feelings. Model respectful language by asking for assistance from children rather than demanding it. Say “please” and “thank you” and “good morning.” Think about how you want people to talk to you and practice that level of communication with your children. Remember, they are great copycats.

The other day, I used one of my favorite child-friendly expressions for surprise: Holy Buckets! My daughter Natalie, who is 6, said "Mommy, that is not a nice word." I told her that it was actually okay to say that, and we proceeded to create a game out of other silly expressions...Holy Moly! Holy Cow! Holy Boots!

We were having fun with language, but not at the expense of each other.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Spanking Etiquette

One of the biggest controversies among parents is corporal punishment, also known as spanking. I’ve talked to moms who recall their encounters with their father’s belt, a wooden spoon, or an open hand to the face. They usually make light of it, that it only hurt their pride. They even say that it helped them know when they had pushed a parent too far. It was their boundary between independence and dependence.

When I ask them if they spank their own children, they turn serious. The ones who admit it tend to qualify it by saying it’s very infrequent. Or they explain how they spank— to avoid any impression that they are beating their children to a pulp. The ones who don’t spank, or don’t admit to it, offer alternatives such as time-outs, time-ins, or sending their children to another part of the they don't beat them to a pulp.

What is the role of spanking, aside from an idle threat when our children are driving us crazy? I believe that we should have as many tools as possible in our parenting kit. Spanking can be effective, but I qualify that statement by saying that not all parents or caretakers are up to the responsibility. Here are my guidelines, and they have proven effective with my own children. (Yes, I have spanked them.)

•SPANKING IS A LAST RESORT. It is never the first choice in a parent’s toolkit. It is best used sparingly, and only to correct clearly willful behavior or behavior that poses a risk to the child’s safety. When reasoning and diversion and choices have not ensured the child’s change of behavior, one sharp open-handed slap on the fanny can be the catalyst for change. Willful behavior that threatens the child’s safety (or another child) includes running into the street, repetitive climbing in unsafe areas, crawling under a vehicle, throwing toys, or playing with matches.

•SPANKING REQUIRES THOUGHT. You have to understand your child and her motives before choosing to spank. If your child is developmentally delayed, she might not know that running into the street is dangerous. But if your child is obviously looking for you and watching your reaction as she runs toward the street, it can be a sign that she is testing her limits. Making a conscious choice to correct this behavior must be done with thought and calmness before the behavior occurs again. If you are already angry, then you aren’t thinking and you can’t spank.

•SPANKING IS SURPRISING. This discipline tool must catch a child off guard. The element of surprise is what creates the mental shift for your child. After rescuing your child from running into the street or stopping him from throwing a toy at another child, you should calmly bend down without engaging him and deliver the spank, followed by a sharp, “No!” If the child is older than 3, you may also explain why you spanked him. “Throwing toys is a hurting choice,” you might say, or “When you run into the street, then cars could run over you.” Your explanation can be delivered in a stern, but not angry voice so the child focuses on your words.

If the child is crying after getting a proper spanking, it has been a good learning experience. His feelings are hurt, but not his body. From this point on, the threat of a spanking can sometimes be all that is required to improve behavior. If you spank regularly, however, you probably already know that this tool is broken.

Please send me your thoughts on spanking by commenting on this post. And comment on other posts to be eligible for a quarterly drawing of fun stuff from Femail Creations!