Friday, March 4, 2011

Kids Need Truth

There are long-standing traditions of deceit in some families.  Kids are told that Santa Claus is real, that there is a Tooth Fairy who buys their teeth, and that there's a big bunny who goes around hiding candy on Easter morning.  Yes, these made-up characters can seem like fun, but what if your children really believe these things?  What will they think when they learn that you have been lying to them?  How will they feel?  Betrayed, hurt, doubtful of other things you've told them?

What a way to dive into a sensitive subject, huh?  But really, whether you tell your kids that Santa Claus is the one who brings them presents on Christmas morning or not, don't you think it's a good idea to consider the consequences of lying to your children?  

Lying is one of the quickest ways to undermine our trust and authority as parents and caregivers.  It is also teaches kids that it's okay to lie in certain situations.  We may believe that it IS okay to lie in certain situations - like when we explain to our boss that we are home sick with the flu when we really just wanted an extra day off.  Or when we make up important-sounding reasons for why we aren't available to play with our kids.  But when our kids start lying back at us, following the examples they've been given, it's easy to preach that lying is wrong.

As parents, shouldn't we want our kids to trust us?  Shouldn't we avoid betraying our children?  Shouldn't we teach them to tell us the truth by example as well as with words?  Let's show our kids how to live honest lives.

One of the best ways to foster close and healthy relationships with our children is to lovingly tell them the truth.  This doesn't mean we need to go into gory details about what happened to Fido, the family dog who was hit by a car.  It doesn't mean we need to tell our preschoolers the latest news headlines about suicide bombings or share with them personal details about our adult relationships.  It does mean we need to take their questions seriously, think of honest, age-appropriate answers, and tell the truth.  If we don't know the answer to a question, we should admit it.  If we don't know how much information to give, we can tell them that we'll think about the question and get back to them with an answer after giving it some thought and research.  If we don't want to answer a question, we should kindly admit that, too.

It is better to say to a child, "I'm not going to tell you about that right now because you are too young," than to make up an answer to a tough question.  Kids will eventually find out when you've told the truth and when you haven't, and your level of honesty will play a big factor in determining their level of honesty when you ask them who broke the lamp in the living room.

Questions for thought/discussion:
How do you do when it comes to being honest with your kids?  Have you ever told your kids something truthful and then wished you hadn't?  If so, how did you handle the situation?  How have you handled a situation in which you believed your kid to be telling a lie?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Kids Need Friends

Pretty much everyone knows that it's important for kids to make friends.  And I think most people will agree that it matters what kinds of friends kids make.  Some friendships are more harmful than helpful.

How do we, as parents and caregivers, help foster healthy friendships in our children?  One way is making sure that we set a good example in our own friendships.  Our kids watch us and often follow our example.  If we have friends who build us up, are positive influences on us, and are there for us in times of trouble, our kids will see the value of good friends.

Another way is making sure that we give our kids opportunities to make healthy friendships beginning when they are young.  If we let our kids spend time with friends who swear, hit, and bully, our kids will learn those behaviors.  If, on the other hand, we seek out parents who share our interests, beliefs, and values, and then provide opportunities for our kids to spend time with theirs, we can hope that healthy friendships will develop.

Unfortunately, we can't always control the kinds of friends our kids make.  Starting with preschool or daycare, we lose much of the control we have over whom our kids chose as friends.  Yes, we still say who comes over to visit and who gets invited to birthday parties.  But if there is a bully or class clown or rebel in our kid's class, we can't keep our kid away from that influence.  If there is a liar or tattle tale or an abused child, our child will be exposed and influenced.

Obviously, we can still teach our children right from wrong at home.  We can talk with our kids about the friends they are making.  We can teach them good friend-making skills (see this article on the importance of friends and friend-making skills by Dr. Michele Borba).  We can invite their friends into our homes so we can observe them and find out how they are impacting our kids - whether positively or negatively.  We can explain to our kids that bullying, lying, hitting, cheating, and disrespectful behavior are wrong.  We can teach by example.

Some of us can even make choices to limit our kids' exposure to bad influences by homeschooling, seeking out high quality daycares and preschools, and enrolling our kids in private schools.  If you have young children and are concerned about how their behavior has changed since they began preschool or grade school, I encourage you to examine your options.  One very legitimate option, especially for families where one parents stays home, is homeschooling.  This book by Lisa Whelchel, So You're Thinking About Homeschooling, describes a variety of homeschooling situations and encourages families that there is no one way to homeschool.

Questions for thought/discussion:
What do you do to promote healthy friendships in your kids' lives?  How do you respond when you suspect your kid is making unhealthy friends?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Kids Need Sick Time

I'm fortunate to have a husband who has a lot of sick time at his job in the public school system.  He can take something like 15 sick days per year.

I'm not sure how much sick time the average kid needs in a year, but I am pretty sure that it's good for our kids when we parents and caregivers let our kids have time to be sick.

Every kid gets sick.  Every kid needs time to recover from being sick.  This can be a challenge for parents who work and have limited sick time themselves.  It can also be a challenge for parents who are sick and have to take care of their sick children.  Even parents who are healthy and available can find it challenging to change their routine, set aside their busy schedules, and care for a sick child (or children).

Nevertheless, giving our kids time at home to rest, drink fluids, and recuperate is better for their long-term health.  And don't forget the importance of emotionally supporting and encouraging our kids when they are sick.  I don't mean coddling a faker, but I do mean building up your relationship with your children by comforting and cuddling with them when they're sick.  Show them that you care about how they feel and that you are here to care for them no matter what.

Kids forced back into their active daily lives before they've had a chance to recover are more likely to develop secondary infections like ear infections and bronchitis.  They are more likely to need antibiotics.  They are also likely to take longer to recover and may get sick again sooner.

Plus, kids who are still recovering from illness may still be contagious.  Sending a sick kid to school and other social settings may expose other kids and adults, some of whom suffer from weakened immune systems.

So take it easy on kids when they're sick.  Let them rest up and recover so they can face the world again in good health.

Questions for Thought/Discussion:
What do you find most challenging about taking care of sick kids?  What are some tricks or tips you've learned that have helped you through caring for sick kids?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kids Need Routine

Actually, a more fitting title for this post might be "Kids Usually Benefit from a Daily Routine as Long as the Routine is not too Rigid or too Loose," but that seemed a little long for a title.

By routine, I don't mean a rigid, unvarying sequence of events or procedures.  I do mean a schedule of events or tasks that should be done daily in a certain order with some flexibility thrown in.

Kids benefit from knowing that they can count on certain things happening at certain times throughout the day.  Meals, naps, and bedtimes are all important parts of a kid's schedule that should happen at approximately the same time and in the same way pretty much every day.  Irregular schedules lead to things like over-snacking, lack of sleep, and anxiety.  If a kid's body can count on getting fed and resting regularly, the kid will be healthier, happier, and better able to function in the world.

Some kids rely on routine more than others due to personality differences.  Some parents find routines easier to implement than others due to the same.  Even if you are a parent who doesn't naturally do routine, try setting up a loose sequence of events for the day and sticking with it as often as possible.  It will help you make sure your kids are getting what they need when they need it.

I tend to be more of a rigid person when it comes to routine.  I want things to happen in a certain way and in a specific order every day.  I've had to learn to loosen my grip on the routine and be ready to postpone or skip nap time occasionally for play dates, let my kids rest more when they need to, and let them stay up later occasionally to attend special events.  On most days, I find it does my kids and me good to stick with that routine, though.  I don't have set times when things HAVE to happen, but I do have windows of time each day when I serve up breakfast, lunch, and dinner, tuck the kids into bed, and, since I'm a homeschooling mom, do school with my kids.

Bedtime is a key time for family routine.  A routine of bath time, pj time, teeth brushing, story time, song time, etc. can really get kids ready to settle in for the night.  If your young kids have trouble getting to bed on time, I suggest you map out a bedtime routine, including a set time when the routine starts, and stick with it for a week or two.

As your kids get older, family routines help protect family time.  A certain time when the family eats dinner together most evenings can help teens feel more secure.  So don't dismiss routine just because your kids are able to get themselves ready for bed at night.  Some level of family routine helps kids learn to set and stick to their own schedules later on in college and the workplace.

Questions for thought/discussion:
What are your thoughts on routine?  Do you tend to be more rigid or lax when it comes to routine?  How do your kids respond to routine or lack of routine?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Kids Need Consequences

When kids push the limits, they need to experience the consequences.  This is the only way they will learn that they are responsible for the choices they make.  What they do matters, and they need to be taught this truth from an early age.

Parents and caregivers set the limits/rules/boundaries for the kids in their care, and they determine what the consequences for breaking those rules will be.  Healthy consequences are related to the rule that was broken, safe, and enforced in love, not anger.  It is best to decide on the rules and the consequences for breaking them in advance.  Then you will know what to do when your kid breaks the rules - because he/she will break the rules.  That fact is certain.  When you teach your child a rule, plan on your child breaking that rule and plan on having to administer an appropriate consequence.

When a child breaks a rule, he or she will learn best if the consequence for breaking the rule is related to the rule itself.  If a child throws food on the floor, a consequence might be losing dessert or having to clean up the mess (or both).  If a child misbehaves and delays bedtime, a consequence might be having to go to bed earlier the next night or losing story time that night.  If a child is disrespectful, a consequence might be taking time out to be alone until he/she can apologize.  A good consequence takes the child's unique personality, likes, and dislikes into account.  For example, if your child loves story time, he/she will not want to lose story time at night and will be more likely to get ready for bed on time.  Another child might care little about story time, but will not want to go to bed earlier tomorrow.

Children should experience safe consequences when they break the rules.  The consequence should never involve any type of abuse such as yelling, demeaning, disrespecting, beating, slapping, ignoring, or depriving the child.  Also, a consequence that is generally considered safe for most children, might not be safe for your child if he/she is experience an extreme reaction to the consequence.  For instance, a child who seems to interpret a time-out in his or her room as being abandoned may need a different consequence.  Perhaps being confined to a chair in the corner of the room would serve the child better.  Be careful about interpreting your child's reactions.  Some children are good actors and will try to manipulate you by over-reacting to an consequence.  There is no substitute for knowing your child.

Parents and caregivers should administer the consequence in a loving and kind manner.  Having an angry, vengeful attitude about enforcing a consequence may teach your children that your love is conditional, that it's okay to seek revenge, and that they can "push your buttons" and control you by making you angry and upset.  If you are angry when a child does something wrong, take a few minutes to get past your anger before enforcing the consequence.  If you know you are so angry you might do something harmful (such as yelling or hitting), send your child to his/her room immediately or take a time-out yourself by going to a room where you can be alone for a few minutes.  Lock yourself in the bathroom if necessary.  If your child is very young, put you child in a playpen or crib before taking your time out.  When you are able to think straight and enforce the appropriate consequence in a calm manner, do so.

Here are two books that give helpful advice for setting limits and consequences for children: 
Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours by Kevin Leman and Who's in Charge Here? by Bob Barnes.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Kids Need Limits

Kids need to know what their limits are.  They need to know the rules.  And who makes the rules?  The parent(s)/guardians/caregivers.  It's up to us to decide what the family limits are, teach them to our kids, and enforce them.  The kids are responsible for living within these limits.  And for pushing the limits to see what the consequences will be.  Kids break rules because they want to know whether or not the limits are real.  More specifically, they want to know that their caregivers care enough to enforce the limits.  If there are no boundaries, there is chaos, uncertainty, and danger.

Limits/boundaries/rules keep a kid safely enclosed in healthy, respectful, obedient behavior.  It would be nice if the rules could always be clearly stated, easily remembered, and readily understood.  In some instances, they can be.  "Whash your hands after using the toilet" is pretty straight forward.  However, many rules, such as "be respectful," must be taught and defined over time.  What does it mean to be respectful?  No name-calling, no yelling, no defiant looks?  You can see that rule-making isn't always clear-cut and simple.  It's important to spend time with your kids not only teaching them the rules, but also modeling proper behavior.  The better you know your kids and vice versa, the better you will be able to define the limits and the better your kids will understand them.

When your kids are young, start with the basics: no biting, no hitting, no throwing blocks at other people's heads, no playing with electrical outlets, etc.  Model good behavior for your kids and initiate discussions about what it means to be kind, respectful, and polite.  Some rules will arise as you kids break them: "No throwing food on the floor at mealtimes."  Others are best decided upon and taught ahead of time: "Stay away
from the road when you're playing outside."

Next time, we'll talk about setting the consequences for breaking the rules.

For now, think about the following:
What are the limits/rules/boundaries in our home?  Have I taught my kids what the limits are?  If not, maybe it's time to make a short list.  Customize the rules to your family and kids' developmental levels.  Try to explain the rules in simple language - especially for very young kids.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kids Need Work

Kids need to learn how to work.  I'm not advocating child labor.  I am advocating teaching children how to do small tasks early on; such as picking up their toys, throwing their dirty clothes in the hamper, and picking up the Cheerios they threw all over the kitchen.  Kids need to be taught how to take care of themselves and their homes, and that involves work.

When a kid grows up and leaves home, he or she should know how to do laundry, wash dishes, prepare meals, dust, vacuum, clean the bathroom, take out the trash, organize their belongings, and complete other necessary chores.  Rather than trying to give your children a crash course in domestic tasks like these just before they walk out the door (or over the phone during their first week at college), try to teach them new chores as they become able to complete them.  Teach both boys and girls how to manage and maintain a household.  You don't want your child to be the one who doesn't wash his/her sheets for an entire semester at college because he/she doesn't know how to run a washing machine.

It's important to remember that kids won't be able to perform tasks up to your standards at first.  When they finish a new task and seem to be trying their best, encourage them: "You did a good job!"  And remind your child that the task will get easier with practice.

Be careful about how you reward your children for doing work, or chores, around your home.  Rather than encouraging your children to work only for the prize they will get at the end, teach them that work is a necessary and important part of life.  Since they are a part of your family, they need to do their part to make sure the household functions in a clean and somewhat orderly manner.  That, in itself, is a reward children should be taught to value. 

Read this brief article for some helpful guidelines for teaching kids to work: Household Chores Teach Kids Responsibility by Shannon Hutton