What’s the Difference between Sex and Attraction?

The last two week’s blogs were The X’s and Y’s of Sex (chromosomes and the physical aspects of sexual identity) and What’s the Deal with Gender? (gender identity) This week is all about sexual orientation.

Sexual Orientation 

Sad child on black background. Portrait depression girlGender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing. Your gender is what you are and how you see yourself. Your sexual orientation is who you are attracted to.

Again, the kindergarten version was somewhat simplified. Sexual orientation is more of a range, with people who are completely heterosexual at one end and people who are completely homosexual at the other. In the middle are the rest. About one in ten to one in fourteen people will define themselves as homosexual. That percentage crosses boundaries of race, religion, and background. It is the same no matter how children are parented. Homosexual behavior is even present in most other species. It is biology. It is not a choice.

If you decide to believe it is a choice, you are indulging in weakness and delusion, and you run the risk of destroying your children. Get over it.

Sexual orientation is firmly established by middle school. We don’t see it until adolescence only because that is when sexual behavior rears its terrifying head. Sending your teenager for religious or psychiatric counseling will not change their orientation. They cannot “pray themselves straight.” Why would you want them to? Remember that unconditional love and acceptance you promised when you saw their newborn cuteness? Pay up. Your children will need your acceptance; there are a multitude of ignorant bullies out there just waiting for someone to pick on.

It will be hard. All those dreams you had for your children will be a effected by this revelation. He or she wanted to be a teacher? There will be difficulties. You hoped for grandchildren? Possible still, but not as simple. They will be harassed, labeled, and assaulted. Their self-esteem will be challenged. The rates of depression are higher in homosexuals, as are the rates of suicide, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

Kids who are dealing with being homosexual miss an average of two weeks more school per year than heterosexuals–with a resultant cost in learning–because we are insecure and afraid, and we tolerate bullying.

The most frequent argument against homosexuality is that it is against the Bible. Yep, it is. The Old Testament–the new one has no comment–written around eight thousand years ago, before we had any understanding of biology or chromosomes or inheritance, said that it is a sin. Then it contradicted itself and said that David and Jonathan’s love for each other was beautiful and eternal. It also said that slavery is fine, that it was all right to sell our daughters, that we need to put to death anyone found working on a Sunday, and that a thief should have his hand cut off. It said marriage was a contract between one man and as many wives as he could afford.

We can use the Bible to uphold almost any opinion: the stories are there to support anything from slavery to murder. We have chosen in recent times not to follow many of the ancient traditions from biblical times. I, for instance, may have thought about selling my daughter a time or two, but I never actually did it. I quite enjoy bacon, and I wear fabric blends on a regular basis. It seems more about human nature than the strict desire to follow the Bible literally that we choose the one text that allows us to feel superior and to judge, while discarding other tracts that are also obviously outdated.

Would it not be better to assume that a higher being would not want us to judge and hate his creations? Particularly when that creation is our own child?

Cultures pick out minorities to bully in order to unite their group and feel superior. We like to feel like we are better than the othersThose people are not welcome in our group.

Why not simply be better instead? Judge not? Not throw that first stone? Concentrate on improving ourselves so that we won’t have to put others down to feel that we have value? Then, if our children have questions, they will not be afraid to come to us for answers.

Let’s give our kids a safe, nurturing environment in which they can thrive. If we are secure in our own selves, we do not need to throw our insular craziness into our children’s lives. If your immediate impulse is to judge and hate, look into yourself for the cure. Ignorance and stupidity are not fertile ground for love and acceptance. Love the child you have—not the one you imagined. That one doesn’t need you or your love; this one does.

 

The Blogger's Pit Stop

What’s the Deal with Gender?

Last week’s blog, The X’s and Y’s of Sex, was about chromosomes and the physical aspects of sexual identity. This week is all about gender identity.

girl-playing-doc-01Gender

Webster’s Dictionary defines gender as “the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.”

Note the total lack of chromosome analysis or exacting descriptions of genitalia? That is because gender identity is not the same as sex; it is a collection of traits typically associated with one sex or another in whatever culture you belong. Pleated skirts? Scottish men in the 1600s. High heels? Frenchmen in the time of Louis XIV. Guyliner? Egyptian men did it first. Women in pants? Heavens, no … not before Katherine Hepburn.

Gender identity is not wired to your reproductive system and it has nothing to do with your sexual orientation; it is in your mind and soul. We don’t understand the biology of gender identification any more than the Romans understood chromosomes. That does not make it less real.

Children start identifying with their own gender by one year of age; by two years, they recognize physical differences. By three, your pediatrician will get a decisive answer to “Are you a boy or a girl?” The label is firmly attached.

After three, children gravitate toward whatever activities their society attaches to their gender. If they were a male born in the time of Louis XIV, this would mean wearing a wig and high heels; now it means appreciating cars and playing sports. It is not any specifc activity; it is what society dictates.

Children in their middle years will gravitate toward their own sex. They play the games the other boys or girls play, develop the physical mannerisms typical of their sex, and role-play behavior specific to their sex. They conform. When they conform, they feel comfortable, safe, and self-confident.

Gender Identity

For some kids, conforming isn’t easy. They know early on that they belong in the opposite sex. They choose the opposite sex as their peer group and role-play the opposite roles. They cannot accept their biological sex.

Counseling can help these kids deal, but in no way does it change their gender identity.

This is not the girl who is a “tomboy” or the boy who has some feminine traits. This is the person who in his mind is a boy stuck in the body of a girl, or the opposite. People with gender “confusion” can be miserable every day of their lives. Their whole lives are lies, down to their most basic identity.

Lately we have chosen to make this worse by making it a political and religious issue, I assume so we who are not transexual can feel superior and have the fun of judging and condemning other people. (No, there is not one mention of it in the Bible, so don’t go there.)

Why don’t we practice a little empathy instead? We are each of us not perfect, and we all want the same things in life: air to breathe, shelter, love…

If we have a need to hate and condemn, the problem is in our own minds, not in a stranger’s behavior.

So we’ve talked about the X’s and Y’s and gender; next week is all about sexual orientation.

The Blogger's Pit Stop

How to Help Teenagers with Grief

CinemaUsher-01Our teenagers get to deal, today, with issues we hoped they wouldn’t see until they were adults–sudden trauma, injury, and grief. Teenagers are different, and you need to know how to help them. When you have a moment, here are some tips:

We have all heard about the 5 stages of grief that adults travel through, from denial to acceptance. The teenage brain is very different than the adult brain, and these stages don’t necessarily fit. Their journey through shock and grief is more individual and variable, with side trips and dangerous pitfalls.

Unfortunately, they sometimes travel this journey alone, as their parents are themselves derailed by shock and grief.

They travel it when their brains are in transition, when their impulse control is slim and they have trouble seeing very far into the future, where the consequences of their actions reside.

They choose their path at a time when they are struggling to achieve independence from their parents and control over their own lives, and they feel the need to find their own identity and act.

They will need watching.

Our children do not expect to have to deal with grief, so the first, most common reaction is shock, and then denial. But the teenaged brain is not the adult brain. They do not travel a straight path from there through anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, as an adult might.

They can go down a side path into the excitement of being in a real life drama, and enjoyment of being the center of attention. Then they feel guilty because they were excited and, for a moment, happy.

They can feel like it was their fault: they just said those horrible things about this kid the other day! The accident happened because they wished it on him or her! They didn’t mean it!

Children are not always rational.

They can explode or become agressive, unable to control the powerful, overwhelming emotions churning inside them. Adults know that they will feel better in time; children live in the now, with no hope of feeling better.

When the excitement fades, they may do things to rekindle the show. Maybe if I drink too much or swallow some pills I will be the center of attention again? Maybe my parents will notice something other than their own grief? And why be good anyway if all it gets you is pain?

They can sometimes become fascinated with death–in it they see the solution to all of their own problems. Could they be strong enough, or brave enough, to end their own lives? They might try some exciting, near death “games” just to see how it feels, or to test themselves. Trauma is contagious.

They frequently feel isolated and alone. Their grief cuts them off from others, making them different right at the age when they most want to fit in. They may refuse to admit they hurt at all because they don’t want to be different, or seen as weak.

They may feel the need to do something to help the situation. Their parents are suffering; maybe if they lock down their own grief they can fix everything, make their parents feel better?

Many of these side paths are not likely to give you the happy, healthy child you desire.

So what is a parent to do?

First, pay attention. Don’t assume they are fine – poke into their business and bother them. Hang out in their space. Sooner or later they will talk. Listen. They will have crazy ideas that make no sense, and unexpected questions that you thought they already knew the answers to. Take them seriously and answer them honestly. Never lie, because they need to be able to trust you. There is no need to pretend you know all the answers. Let them know that they are not ever alone.

Whatever path through grief that they choose is normal, and different than any other path trod before, by anyone. Often teenagers will grieve in bits and pieces, and seem better in between. Unexpectedly, something will trigger a wave of grief that will overwhelm them. A wrong word, a food, a smell, some anniversary – grief will knock their knees out from under them. Normal adolescent emotional swings will be exaggerated. They will get headaches and stomach aches, they will feel exhausted, or they will act out or withdraw. Grades may plummet either as a way of acting out or because they cannot concentrate. They may not sleep, or they may sleep too much. Any of these are normal.

Try to keep to routines and a normal life as much as possible. Expect decent behavior: enforce all the usual rules because safety and security reside in what is known and routine. Allow the grief. Remember the person you grieve over in whatever way helps your child: pray, write in a journal, paint a picture… Talk about times spent with them. Share your own experiences with grief and loss. Let them help in any way they can with any arrangements that need to be made – people feel better when they are busy and have accomplished something.

Be there when they need you, give them the opportunity to grieve, and watch them for behaviors that are more destructive than helpful. Grief never ends, but it evolves into a more acceptable form, and people can learn to live their lives and think about something else.

If you or your child need help to get there, ask. There is help available at the end of a phone call if you are having trouble navigating through on your own. There are many of us whose life work is to be there to help when there is need.

The Blogger's Pit Stop

5 Sleep Problems in Children, and How to Fix Them

Tired Teenager With Tablet“The city that never sleeps” should not be your home. But everyone did warn you. Last week’s blog–Why Does My Baby Not Sleep Longerwas about normal sleep; this week’s is about some of the problems that you may encounter trying to achieve that.

Not Getting Enough  Sleep?

If children are not getting enough sleep, they will not wake up by themselves in the morning, they will be sleepy during the day, and they may be moody and irritable. Kids who do not get enough sleep are not as able to control their emotions.

Chronically sleep deprived kids may have behavior problems that mimic attention problems. They can be emotionally labile. They injure themselves more often because they can be clumsy. Their grades fall because they are sleepy in class. They gain weight because their metabolism is confused.

If your child is showing symptoms of inadequate sleep, move their bedtime back until the symptoms go away. You cannot make them fall asleep, of course, but you can insist that they rest quietly in a darkened, cool room. No TV! Boredom will put them out in the end, and their systems will adjust to the new routine after a couple of weeks.

Infants

Trouble getting an infant to sleep? The bedtime routines described in last weeks blog will help, but also:

If a baby is waking up frequently at night, sometimes they sleep better if you can squeeze in one more feeding per day. Usually you can convince them to eat more often in the morning. Starting them on solid food early doesn’t help, no matter what Grandma said.

They will also sleep better if they are more awake during the day: play with them, keep them moving, and keep the light level up.

Media

Media does have an affect on sleep. Violent shows and games do keep kids up at night, and anything on a screen will affect their sleep within an hour or two of bedtime. If you like your rest, don’t let your kids engage with violent media or watch shows that scare them. Turn the screens off an hour or so before bed. Never put a TV in their bedroom. If you already have one in there, take it out. You need to be able to monitor what they watch anyway.

Get Physical

Diet matters, yet again. If you want your kids to sleep, don’t give them caffeine. It keeps people awake (you knew that, didn’t you?). Caffeine is in most sodas and tea, coffee, energy drinks, and chocolate.

Also avoid heavy, high fat or high sugar foods near bedtime.

Make sure your child gets at least twenty minutes of high heart rate and heavy breathing exercise every day. Run, play ball, jump rope – whatever they like. Keep it going for twenty minutes after they start breathing heavily. It will clean out the stress chemicals in their blood stream. Don’t get the exercise right before bed, however. It will wake them up (I know, you knew that too). If you want to exercise near bedtime make it yoga, or slow relaxing stretches.

Don’t expose your child to cigarette smoke if you want him to sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant. Keep the cigarettes out of the house and car even when he isn’t there. The poisons hang out in fabrics, on the walls and in the air.

There are some medical issues that can interfere with a child’s breathing during sleep, when their airway relaxes. Large adenoids, large tonsils and morbid obesity will block the flow of air into their lungs and they will wake up just enough to breathe over and over again through the night. They might snore, they will usually be tired during the day, or they might have behavioral issues. If your child shows signs of obstructed breathing, bring it up with your doctor.

Separation and Change

Separation anxiety can also keep a child awake. If your little guys suffer from this, leave the door cracked so they can hear you. Check on them every ten minutes or so until they fall asleep. Give them their comfort objects. It will pass.

Children will also have poor sleep when there are changes in their lives. If they have been ill and the routine changed while they were sick, it will take some effort to get it back. After a move, death, or divorce an established routine will save you. Stick to it and your child will feel more secure and safe, and may actually get some sleep.

Inheritable Stuff

Night terrors, sleepwalking, sleep talking and bedwetting are all genetic and inheritable. Most are more common in boys than girls. They generally occur when the child is sleeping deeply, more commonly early in the night. They grow out of these problems in the end, and nothing but time will cure them.

Night terrors are different than nightmares. When a child wakes from a nightmare he generally has been in a lighter sleep, usually later toward the morning. He wakes up and can remember the nightmare. He can be comforted.

A child in a night terror is still very deeply asleep. Their eyes may be open but they are not awake and they are not seeing what is actually there. Where you are standing they could be seeing the monster in their dream. Night terrors can last from ten to thirty minutes, and can occur for up to twelve years. They tend to occur when the child is overtired and sleeps very deeply. Contrary to popular belief, stress does not cause night terrors – unless it causes the child to be overtired.

You cannot comfort a child during a night terror because they are asleep. Speaking calmly seems to help, but don’t be surprised if they don’t want to be held. Watch them, keep them safe and wait it out. They will not remember it at all. There is no quick fix and there are no medicines that help, only the passage of time.

In The End

Children need to get enough sleep or they can have physical, behavioral or emotional problems. Avoid things – like high sugar foods, caffeine and violent television – that make sleep less likely, especially right before bed. Encourage exercise. Establish a relaxing routine that you can stick to every night, with quiet low light activity and comfort; keep a regular bedtime and enforce it. Having a bedtime routine will save you many arguments and will help your child feel more secure in times of upheaval. Sadly, you cannot make a child sleep, but you can insist that he or she rest in a darkened, boring, TV-less room. They will, in the end, get the sleep they need.

The Blogger's Pit Stop

Why Does My Baby Not Sleep Longer? (And 8 Things to do About It)

Adorable Sleeping BabyThe one warning all new parents receive is, “Enjoy your sleep now, you won’t get any after the baby arrives!” Babies sleep all the time – just never when we want them to.

The Science of Sleep

There are many geeky scientists who study sleep, and they have made some helpful and interesting discoveries. The most relevant of these for new parents is that people sleep in cycles, from light sleep to heavy and back again.

Infants cycle from light back to light sleep every hour. This cycle means that about once an hour they are sleeping lightly and may wake up. After about six months of age they can learn to put themselves back to sleep. They are not hungry and do not need to be fed, after that initial newborn period. They are not lonely and do not need to play. They need to learn to go back to sleep. When you check on them be boring, leave the room dark, pat them on the bottom and leave. Do not pick them up, do not play with them, and do not feed them if you ever want a full night’s sleep again.

Remember the part about how children will do what they are rewarded for doing? Picking them up, feeding them and playing with them is rewarding them for waking up.

Babies should come with warning labels.

So what’s normal?

Newborns sleep about sixteen hours a day, but only two to three hours at a time. Fortunately, they’re so cute that you don’t mind too much when they wake you up.

By about four months they will have one longer period of sleep (about four or five hours) per day. Heaven! Make sure it happens at night. You can’t keep babies from falling asleep, but you can certainly wake them up early if they try for that five-hour nap midday.

A six month old might sleep for ten or eleven hours straight to total, with naps, around fourteen hours.

The average toddler will sleep twelve or thirteen hours total. Most will take two naps until between eighteen and twenty-four months, then one nap until they are three to five years old. There is, of course, individual variation.

School aged children sleep between nine and twelve hours per night, taking about thirty minutes to fall asleep. No napping or they won’t sleep at night!

Bedtime Routine

A bedtime routine is the single most important tool you have in your arsenal to get your kids to sleep, and can be very reassuring when other things in their lives change. The details vary from family to family, but there are common elements that work:

  • Give them a light snack an hour or two before bedtime. Aim for low fat and low sugar. Fruit or a complex carbohydrate will work, like whole grain crackers or pop corn.
  • Notice if there is a time in the evening when your child slows down and gets sleepy: this is their natural bedtime. They will fall asleep more easily at this time. If they stay awake past it they will either get grouchy and irritable or, worse, find their second wind.
  • Slow things down an hour or so before bed. Turn the television and electronic games off. Lower the light level. Turn on some quiet music.Give them a nice warm bath (just like Grandma always said). Read a storybook.
  • Tell them how wonderful they are: going to sleep is easier when you’re happy.
  • Tuck them in with their comfort object, their night-light and their bottle of water (if they want them).
  • Make sure they are comfy – keeping it a little cool will help.
  • Leave while they are still awake, because you want them to be able to fall asleep without requiring your presence.
  • Once they are in bed, they need to stay there. If they get up, put them back. If you need to check on them, be boring. “You’re fine, it’s bedtime, go to sleep.” Don’t get angry, or you’ll upset them and they’ll stay up longer. Leave the lights off.

The routine should never vary much. Bedtime should be the same every day, unless dealing with a jet-lagged kid is your idea of fun. If you do the same things in the same order at the same time every night they will be so used to it that you will rarely, if ever, get an argument. The routine itself will trigger sleepiness.

If you get flexible, vary the routine a lot, or let them stay up late now and then you might have difficulty the next time they need to go to bed.

The absolute worst thing to do is to give in to whining. Planning ahead with “We’re staying up late tonight because it’s a holiday” will not set a precedent. Giving in to whining with “Fine, I’m tired of listening to you,” will. You will have taught them that if they whine enough they will get what they want. Then, since you have rewarded whining, you will see more of it.

If you are in a strange place or your family life is in upheaval, keeping the bedroom routine the same will not only help them fall asleep more easily but will also make them feel more safe and secure. Don’t forget to pack that Teddy bear and their favorite storybooks if you travel or when there is a family change or trauma!

Want answers on specific sleep problems like night terrors or airway obstruction? Come back next week, of course!

The Blogger's Pit Stop

8 Tech Tools to Protect Your Teen Driver

Jayson Goetz–a young writer whose work primarily focuses on educating readers about the effects of science and technology on today’s society–is the guest writer for today’s blog.

This is excellent news, because I am… umm…  technologically challenged. I did not know half these things even existed!

Since they are very cool and might save your teen driver’s life, read on:

Protecting Teen Drivers with Technology

student_driverToday’s world is becoming increasingly saturated with technology. Refrigerators come with built-in touch screens, and your iPhone can control the thermostat. What does this mean for parents? Most children in the US have uninterrupted access to some form of technology. This statistic doesn’t sound scary when your teenager is curled up on the couch, but it’s a different story when they’re hurdling through space in two tons of metal and combustibles (a.k.a. driving).

So, where do you stand? Are you a technophobe, or a technophile? On one hand, text messaging makes drivers 23 times more likely to have an accident. On the other hand, technology can prevent accidents, help you monitor your child’s whereabouts, and facilitate hands-free phone calls and text messages.

If your teen is tech savvy and about to start driving, this guide is for you.

Physical Safety Features

First, the good news. As technology progresses, automobile manufacturers compete with one another as they tack on new safety features. That’s how consumers got cruise control, air bags, and seat belts. Today, these are all considered “standard” safety features, and that list is growing. If you’re out of the loop, check out this list of safety features that can protect your teen in the car:

  • Active Park Assist – will parallel park the vehicle without driver assistance
  • Adaptive Cruise Control – adjusts driver-set speed to account for distance from the vehicle ahead
  • Adaptive Headlights – adjusts illumination to accommodate for road conditions
  • Collision Warning System – alerts the driver of impending accidents
  • Drowsiness Alert – uses data to alert drivers when they need a break.
  • Electronic Stability Control – detects and reduces loss of traction during turns
  • Lane-Keep Assist – detects unintended lane changes and keeps the vehicle on course
  • 360-Degree Camera – displays the area around the vehicle to assist with parking

While all of these safety features are exciting, most of us have to budget for a new vehicle. My advice? Prioritize Electronic Stability Control, Lane-Keep Assist, and the Collision Warning System. These particular safety features are the most likely to protect inexperienced drivers from harm.

Hands-Free Features

Now for the bad news. Teen accidents are on the rise. In 2014, teens were involved in 4,272 accidents. In 2015, that number increased to 4,689. 2016 numbers aren’t in yet, but I can imagine that the trend will continue. Given than drivers under the age of 25 are three times more likely to text while driving, what can you do?

If you’re willing to spend the money, you can always purchase a vehicle with hands-free Bluetooth technology. Here of some of the feature to look for:

  • Text to Speech – translates text messages, status updated, and other notifications into speech
  • Speech to Text – allows user to dictate text messages, emails, and more
  • Vocalized GPS – vocalizes GPS directions through the speaker
  • Audio Streaming – streams audio from your device through the speaker
  • Voice Commands – allows user to activate various functions with their voice
  • Vocalized Caller ID – vocalizes incoming caller ID information
  • Voice Dialing – allows the user to dial with their voice

Now, these features are available in many new vehicles. I drive a used Honda Accord that comes with 6/7 of these features. You can also purchase a Bluetooth kit that comes with the features you really need.

Further Considerations

You’ve purchased a safe vehicle, and you’ve discouraged distracted driving? What’s left? My only other suggestions are low tech. If you run into trouble, try implementing a driving contract that includes rules and consequences for various driving scenarios. This will help your teen learn the rules and avoid negative consequences.

My last suggestion may seem obvious, but it’s critical: make sure you model good behavior. If your teen sees you texting while in the driver’s seat, they’ll be sure to model your behavior. That’s it! The rest is out of your hands.

Discipline Tips for Teens and Tough Guys

skateboarder-01Last week’s blog, 3 Don’t and 10 Do’s of Discipline, discussed the basics of how to successfully discipline children. Today’s is about those special cases. Like teens.

Teenagers are different.

Very different.

The Adolescent Brain

The area of the brain that allows people to see the long-term consequences of their actions is not fully developed in teenagers. They really can’t see themselves as the future forty-year-old they will become.

I once had one tell me that she couldn’t see the point of going to college because by the time she graduated, her youth would be gone. Several kids have told me that they didn’t think they would live past twenty-five. The distant future is empty space; only the immediate future is real.

At the time in their lives when they need to be making serious decisions about things like sexual activity, relationships, careers, and powering vehicles at high speeds, they have limited vision into the future. Add to this strong emotions, extreme stress, and peer pressure, and I don’t think any of us would volunteer to live through adolescence twice.

They need direction, but they also need to learn to make decisions: they have some big ones coming up. They need to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. We are not they; we cannot make those decisions for them.

We do, however, need to catch them and stop them before they make stupid mistakes that will destroy their chances, and discipline them in a way that will head them in the right direction. We no longer have the advantage of being smarter than they are, and sometimes they’re sneaky. So what works?

Contracts work.

Sit down and talk to them about the temptations they will run into.

  • Let them know that you do not approve of underage drinking, but if they do try it, you want a phone call and you will come pick them up. Agree that you will not embarrass them in front of their friends and will not yell at them, but you will discuss it the next day.
  • Similarly, calling and letting you know they will be late is far better than speeding to get home on time.
  • Asking to be put on birth control is better than pregnancy.

Keep your eyes open to the possibility of bad behavior. Point out the risks to your child, and show them ways to solve their problems that they, with their limited experience, might not see.

If you see a problem coming, sit down with them to discuss possible solutions that would be within the rules. Make sure they understand that your main concern is their safety.

Avoid putting them in situations where they have no good options. If they don’t feel safe at a party, but they are afraid to call you, bad things can happen.

Don’t expect your teenager to always be rational.

I’ve seen girls convince themselves that if they don’t take a pregnancy test, they won’t be pregnant. One young lady asked me if it was true that you couldn’t get pregnant if you put a yellow skittle in your vagina during sex.Reality for a teenager is very different than reality for a grown-up.

If something looks fishy, butt your nose in and ask. They are living in your home, they have to follow your rules, and they do not have a right to privacy. They do have the right to your protection from their immaturity.

If the consequences to their errors are small, let them make mistakes.

Then let them live with the consequences. A failed test or a lost friend may teach a lesson that will prevent a failed marriage or a lost job.

I have known several teenagers who wrecked their cars, only to have them immediately replaced by their parents. It never ended well. If they walk for a while until they earn money for a car, they take much better care of the vehicle and, consequently, of the people inside.

Do try to protect them from the big mistakes.

Sex, drugs, and crime with all of their consequences come to mind. Some mistakes will follow them forever, and they really won’t see that far ahead. Heartbreak is inevitable, but keep a close watch for serious depression. Teens do kill themselves over temporary sadness because it is not temporary to them.

Above all, keep lines of communication open. They need to be able to tell you anything and know you won’t blow up. You can have your breakdown later in the privacy of your own room.

When discipline doesn’t work:

If kids of any age seem to be in trouble all the time, doing dumb things, or breaking rules they know well, look for something deeper going on. Take some time with them alone and talk.

  • Perhaps they just need more time with you? Breaking rules is a great way to get attention.
  • Kids will also act out when there are changes in their lives – good or bad. A new house, new school, different people in the home? Kids will push until they find out where the new limits are, just so they feel safe and know they can count on you.
  • Sometimes kids act out because things are going on in their life that scare them. You need to find out about those things. Give them a chance to talk, be quiet and open, and listen without jumping to conclusions.

Kids may be unwilling to risk the relationship with their parents, but they may be willing to talk to Grandma, Uncle Joe, or a trusted family friend.

If this doesn’t work, they may need to talk to a therapist—sometimes it’s easier to tell a stranger what’s wrong. With a stranger, there’s no danger of hurt feelings, judgment, or resentment.

The Big Picture

For any age, penalties for bad behavior need to be immediate and proportional. Ideally, the consequence is a logical extension from what the child did, like a broken toy or failed test. Equally, punishments must require taking responsibility for their actions. The goal of discipline is to point your children in the right direction and keep them from hurting themselves along the way, so tailor reprimands to correct behavior but not to kill all hope for the future and any chance for communication. Keep open the possibility of a reward in the future: the stick does not work without the carrot in place.

Discipline must be consistent and predictable over time. Your children should know what to expect if they do that bad thing, be aware that there will be no wiggling out of it, and understand that the punishment will not be unbearable and that they will get through it.

Last, don’t expect discipline to work overnight. You’re aiming for responsible adults here, not well-behaved thirteen-year-olds. Keep the long view.

The Blogger's Pit Stop

3 Don’t and 10 Do’s of Discipline

boy with baloon2-01So, you are Parenting: you have a structure of rules, and you have your focus lasered in on good behavior so that you can reward it appropriately. (If not, check out last month’s blogs on Rules and Rewards.)

But how do you deal with bad behavior? Of all the things we do as parents, this is the easiest to screw up. If we don’t believe in what we’re doing, we snicker and laugh—not convincing. If we’re not angry, we hate doing it; if we are angry, we sometimes go too far. We have to do it, or we will end up with spoiled children who, as adults, will have difficulty maintaining solid relationships and may never manage to have meaningful lives.

The American Academy of Pediatrics holds that discipline is a teaching opportunity, not a punishment. We will try for that, but we may not convince the kids.

Ahead of time, discuss discipline with your partner and have a structure in place. I can give you some guidelines, but you have think through your rules and decide how—given space and time for quiet reflection—you would like to react to some of the more interesting and creative behavior children will throw your way. When you are tired, stressed, and angry is not the time to decide what puni..—er—“teaching opportunity”—fits the crime.

(We never actually told our son not to cover the floor with water so he could slide across it in his bare feet. And as for cutting off all of his sister’s hair … Well, he has 2 year old twins now. Karma works.)

If you have trouble with authority roles, practice on each other. No smiling. Channel Smokey the Bear: serious, concerned, and confident.

You will make mistakes. Everyone does. Forgive yourself, apologize to your children, and move on. If you need to make it up to them, make your “learning opportunity” proportionate and relative to your mistake. Ask your kids what sort of punishment you deserve. Hopefully you fit in the time-out chair.

How Not to Discipline

There are a few dangers to avoid when discussing infractions with your children. The first is that if you allow the discussion to devolve into excuses, you risk turning your children into people who take no responsibility for their actions and believe they can talk their way out of anything.

Another is that the discussion can turn into an intimidating inquisition with the big people towering over the little ones. You want to improve their behavior, not destroy their confidence.

And don’t even consider giving a warning. They knew the rule, they broke it, and they know the consequences. What would a warning teach them? That they can get away with anything once? Craziness.

How to Discipline

When dealing with tiny people, of course, simple distraction and diversion will work. Pick them up, take them away from the neat burning candle, and hand them a book.

When they get old enough to understand rules, real consequences begin. No single consequence will work all the time; consequences vary with age, the personality style of the child, and the type of infraction.

Respect your children, get down to their level, and look them in the eye. Consider their points of view, but expect them to take responsibility for their actions. Explain why they are in trouble and what the consequences will be. Then do it. No exceptions, no waffling, no compromise. If they know that discipline is enforced every single time—and no amount of begging and crying will change that fact—soon you will have less begging and crying. I promise. If you sometimes let them talk their way out of things, you will have a battle each and every time, forever.

Time-outs

For little ones, usually a time-out is best. The standard belief is that time-outs work because they allow the child time to cool off and think about what they have done. Put the offending child in a chair in a corner alone and completely ignore him or her for as many minutes as they are old. The child can quietly contemplate their misdeeds. Hmm.

I think the truth is less pleasant and much more effective. Time-outs have more in common with traditional shunning than with quiet time. That little person has done something so unacceptable that he or she does not exist in your world for those few minutes. You are taking away the one thing that matters most to them in the world: your attention.

Time-outs: not so wimpy after all.

For a time-out to work, it has to be immediate (shocked looks help, especially for biting and hitting) and absolute. It does not have to be in a particular chair or corner. It can be on the floor right where they were when they decided to have a tantrum. You can even shut the door behind you as you leave. The point is to leave them alone, with no audience, no Mom or Dad, and no one who wants to be with them. The bad behavior will gradually go away because it gains them nothing and takes away something too important to risk.

Discipline by Karma

As they grow, some of their behaviors will have natural consequences. If your two-year-old breaks her toy by throwing it against the wall, she no longer has a toy. If your teenager doesn’t do his homework, he fails. If karma takes care of the punishment for you, your only job is to let it happen. No rescues! You don’t want them living in your basement at thirty!

Logical Consequences

Some consequences are logical. Your munchkin likes to slam their door? Take the door off the hinges and lean it against the wall. They won’t be able to close it for the duration. Horrors! Similarly, if they explore the wrong sites on the computer, they lose computer privileges. Forget their bike helmet? Walk.

Be sparing when taking things away from your children as part of their “teaching opportunities.” If you do it too often and they don’t have the opportunity or ability to earn the things back, you get resentment and sullenness, not success. Never take away something they need—food comes to mind. And never threaten to take away something you know you won’t enforce. If they need the computer to do schoolwork, the punishment (yes, I said the “P” word) could be that they have to use the computer in the kitchen where they can be monitored. If they can’t miss soccer practice without hurting the team, the punishment could be not hanging out afterward with their friends.

Responsibility

Frequently, the punishment can be simply taking responsibility for what they have done and making it right. If they steal a candy bar, going back to the store, confessing to the clerk, and paying for the item out of their own hard-earned cash is very effective. Simply being made to apologize can be excruciating, but it is the honorable thing to do.

Psychiatric experts say you should enlist your children to help decide the consequences for their actions. This is sometimes enlightening and certainly worth listening to, but in the end, it is your decision.

The Big Picture (the 10 Do’s):

  • Never hit a child. That only teaches them that it’s ok for big people to hit little ones.
  • Take away your attention for a time out, never your love. Your love they keep, forever, no matter what they did.
  • Calm yourself first. If you act out of anger, you will regret it later, and you will need to be the one apologizing.
  • Whatever you choose to do, do it immediately.
  • The consequence should be relevant to the issue and proportionate.
  • Criticize the behavior, not the child. What they did was bad—they are not bad, and you expect better from them.
  • Don’t use guilt or shame; those tend to become internalized and suck all the joy out of life.
  • No shouting labels at your progeny; labels stick and follow them around forever. It is impossible to forget that your dad called you stupid or your mom told you that you were a bitch. Children will live up to the labels we place on them.
  • When possible, give them a way to earn back what they have lost. Rescue them joyfully from that time out, and put that toy where it can wait for them to settle down and do their homework.
  • Last, don’t make the punishment last too long. Less than a day is generally best for most infractions. Much longer can make them disconnect the punishment from the crime.

How to discipline a teenager? And what to do when discipline just doesn’t work? Come back next week, of course!

The Blogger's Pit Stop

What Reward? When? How?

child with reward, parenting
Two weeks ago I wrote 5  Truths: Why Rewards Work. I wrote about how, without rewards, kids will use rules as guidelines to get our attention.

That’s bad. We don’t want that.

Why Rewards Work outlined how rewards need to be small and given frequently for small, possible accomplishments. It discussed that rewards need to be immediate, so that the happy feeling is linked to the good behavior. It argued that they be proportionate, because we don’t want to raise greedy brats.

I may have not used those exact words…

It talked about the sorts of behavior that ought to win a reward (pretty much anything that is not bad behavior).

It stressed that rewards are given after the good behavior, not before (that would be a bribe).

But what should the rewards be?

Since the most important thing to your children is always going to be your attention (yes, even that teenager), your attention is the best reward. Watch your young artists draw pictures and listen to them tell you about their masterpiece when they are done. Wear that pasta necklace with pride. Go to soccer games and recitals. If you show up, you must care and they must be doing something of which you are proud. If you do not show up, they must matter less to you than whatever else is taking up your time.

Running a close second to attention is praise. And it’s free! Tell them what a good job they did and that you appreciate their hard work. Tell them you’re proud of them. Then add affection to that praise. Why would you tell them they’re wonderful and not give them hugs? Who could resist?

Special time with Mom or Dad is a great reward for both munchkin and parent. Parents don’t get many opportunities to spend time with just one child. For a small accomplishment, the reward can be reading a favorite book together, playing catch, or anything else they’ve been bugging you to do. A moderate reward could be building a puzzle together or time at the park or library. Something larger could be a trip to a museum or sporting event.

Bigger Kids

Since older children tend to want larger things and have a longer attention span, they can earn points toward a larger reward. Rewards can be anything you would not normally buy them: something they want but do not need. Make it something possible, and display the points prominently where they can see their progress (their attention span may not be as long as you hoped).

Problems coming up with a good reward? Ask your munchkin–they will have ideas. They want a new skateboard? You want an A in math. Figure out what that A will take, and you can give points for performance on homework, quizzes, and tests. Even if they miss the A, your kids will have learned more math than they might have otherwise.

They will also have all those points amassed toward that skateboard, and science is coming.

Food Rewards

Be wary of food rewards. A special dinner made up of their favorite foods can be lovely. Sugary treats can be the makings of disaster. Food is for nourishment, not emotional support and not for power.

Material Girls… and Boys

When using material objects as rewards, be especially careful to make the object proportionate to the accomplishment. You do not want a child who expects a toy for being good at the grocery store. Baseline good gets hugs, appreciation, time, and pride—not toys. Tantrums negate the good behavior and are never rewarded.

Rewards are absolutely essential if you want good behavior from your children. Attention, affection, and your time are more valuable as rewards than anything monetary. Rewards should be frequent, small, and in proportion to the behavior. Larger rewards for older children should be earned over time with points (note how I just changed the big reward into many small ones), which can be transferred to another goal if the first proves to be too hard.

Be brave, and reward yourself, too, when you do well. Just keep in mind that your children are watching; model good rewards as well as good behavior. No junk food!

The Blogger's Pit Stop

Doc’s Top 10 New Years Resolutions for Moms and Dads

storkHappy New Year! Time for those resolutions.

This year, instead of resolving to lose that last ten pounds or eat more veggies (I really need to eat less chocolate…), resolve to do something that will actually make your life better. The reward for parenting well is amazing kids and sanity – definitely worth the effort. You may already be doing all these things (is that even possible?), but skim through if you are merely human and could use some help. So…

Dr. Lovlie’s Top 10 New Year’s Parenting Resolutions:

10.  Require chores. Equal participation is fundamental to receive the reward of being in a family. The pride your children feel serving the carrots they helped peel is well worth the time it takes to get them to do it. Every member of the family contributes, to the best of their ability. Family bonds and trust will form over the raking of leaves.

9.   Make rules, and enforce them consistently. Rules keep kids safe, teach them right from wrong, and civilize them. Make sure your child understands the rules, and every single adult in his life needs to enforce every rule each and every time. No “warnings,” because you made sure ahead of time that they understood the rule. Decide what the consequence will be for a broken rule long before you need to enforce it; make the punishment appropriate for the crime (timeout? loss of the toy? paying for the damage?). Read 5 Reasons Why Kids Need Rules.

8.   Feed the munchkin a healthy diet: whole foods that look like they either grew out of the ground or walked on it (I know, but not everyone is a vegetarian). Teach your children to eat when they’re hungry, and stop eating when they’re not hungry anymore. Aim for about 2/3 fruits, vegies and whole or enriched grains, and about 1/3 protein (meat, eggs, cheese, beans or nuts) and starch (potatoes, corn). Everything else will be easier if they are well nourished. Check out All the Right Foods.

7.   Keep a regular sleep schedule – both enough hours and at about the same time every day – as much as possible. Kids who are short on sleep are irritable, tired and have no attention span. Everything else will also be easier if he or she has had enough sleep.

6.   Keep them safe when possible. There are lots of surprises out there to keep life interesting; there is no need to risk preventable injuries. Use those seat belts and bike helmets, lock up the household poisons, guns and Grandma’s meds, and get those vaccines.

5.   Teach financial responsibility. Spend less than you make, stay out of debt, and save for the future. Do it where they can see you and explain what you are doing. Go through your budget with them in an age appropriate way, and feel free to say, “We can’t afford that.” Give them an allowance for those chores and require that they save some.

4.   Don’t wear blinders. Your primary job is to protect this child, even if it is sometimes from themselves. Children will lie, take things that are not theirs, and sneak out at night when they are 14. You need to catch them so that they learn that it doesn’t work. If they get caught stealing at 7, they have an embarrassing memory of having to go back and pay for what they took. If they get caught at 25, they land in jail and loose their job, partner, and children.

3.   Give them love without condition. Love the child you have, not the one you dreamed they would be. Love is not a prize you can give when your child is good, and take away when they do not live up to your expectations. Without the absolute faith that no matter what happens or what horrible thing they do you will still love them, the foundation on which they build their life will by shaky and unstable. You chose to have them – unconditional love was part of the deal.

2.   Nurture your child’s unique talents and abilities. Don’t try to fit the ones you want them to have on an unsuitable frame. This little person is an original – why would you want to shove him or her into a standard form? And what irreplaceable gifts would be forever lost because you did not value them? Respect the exceptional person that he or she is.

1.   Inspire them with your own life. Be what you hope for them. Find work you love, maintain a healthy relationship with your partner, eat a healthy diet, and exercise. Learn something new every day. Never lie. Give respect, and demand it for yourself. Keep an open mind, explore the world and grab opportunities when they happen by. Make your children proud.

The Blogger's Pit Stop