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.

 

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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.

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The X’s and Y’s of Sex: What Makes a Boy or a Girl

Infant feet-01Remember high school biology? You were taught that humans had forty-six chromosomes. There were two each of twenty-two pairs, and then there were your sex chromosomes, the Xs and Ys. If you had two X chromosomes (XX), you were a girl. An X and a Y (XY) made you a boy.

It’s not actually that simple. That is the most common arrangement, but there are many variations. When you have a variation on any other chromosome, it causes physical issues that are unfortunate and sometimes deadly. If you have three number twenty-one chromosomes you have Down’s syndrome, and your life will be different.

We don’t ever blame the child, right? Nobody asked them if they wanted the usual forty-six chromosomes or if they would mind having an extra. It’s not their fault.

When the extra or missing chromosomes are the Xs or Ys, suddenly we involve social judgment and religion. Why? I can only assume that we are all so uncomfortable with sexuality that we would rather judge than understand.

You’re reading the wrong blog if you wanted to get away with that.

Variations

One in 840 male births are an XYY. We used to think that this made the men more violent because the tests were all done on men in prisons. Once we started testing men who were not in prison, it turned out that there weren’t actually many differences. Most are completely normal. There is a mild tendency toward tallness, poor fine motor control, weakness, and some speech and language issues. Most of these guys never know they aren’t the typical XY.

One in 500 males have XXY, or Klinefelter’s disease. These kids do have some physical issues, such as a tendency toward long limbs, smaller genitals, and slightly less intelligence than they would have had without that extra chromosome.

When you get into larger numbers of chromosomes, you see more problems. XXYY and XXXY kids tend to need testosterone replacement. XXXY and XXXXY kids tend to be short with small genitals, mental defciency, and elbow issues.

Without any Y chromosome, we get girl babies. XXX girls are usually tall and sometimes uncoordinated. Rather like the XYY males, most won’t ever know they have it. Girls with as many as five X chromosomes have been found. The more X chromosomes they have, the more problems: they tend to become shorter, with mental defciency and behavior issues.

About one in 2,000 live births are XO girls who are missing one X or Y chromosome. They have Turner’s syndrome. They have lymphedema (fluid swelling under the skin) before they are born and frequently have extra skin at the neck. They tend to be short, with wide chests and gonadal dysgenesis (sex organs that do not develop normally).

To add to all these variants, we have mosaics: two fertilized eggs fuse so that the resultant person has half a body with the typical XX or XY and half a body with a variation.

Variations with the Usual Chromosome Count

There are also variations that occur with the typical complement of chromosomes.

Girls with testicular feminization have 46XY. Their chromosomes say “boy,” but their bodies are insensitive to testosterone. They grow up as girls and don’t realize there is a problem until adolescence, when fertility issues arise.

Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) will give you a baby that has been virilized. On a girl, the clitoris will be enlarged, and the labia can become fused. It is difficult to tell when the baby is born if it is a boy or a girl until the chromosomes come back. Since the first question everyone asks is “Is it a boy or a girl?” this can be very traumatic to the families involved.

Adrenocortical tumors can also be virilizing, giving the child more masculine traits than they otherwise would have had.

Enough? There are many more. Biology is not as simple as they taught you in grade school, and throwing judgment and religion at it does not change it or help in any way. Ignorance is ugly.

The gender issues and sexual orientation parts of this blog got really long, so…

Come back next week please!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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8 Surefire Strategies to Make Rules Work (and 2 Corollaries)

A small boy playing

To succeed at this parenting thing, we need to not only have a set of rules with which to raise our children, we also have to teach those rules to our kids and enforce them evenly.

Children don’t handle inconsistency well; it frightens them and makes them feel insecure. Insecure children will act out endlessly both to see if anyone actually cares and to see if they can get away with it this time, since sometimes they can. Not fun. They also learn to play one parent against the other if you are not a consistent team, because they are smarter than you think they are.

Even if all the grown-ups in a child’s life don’t live in the same house they all have to agree on the basic rules and enforce them consistently, for the good of the children and the sanity of the grown-ups.

Last week’s blog was on why kids need rules; the week before discussed how a child’s developmental age affected rules.

This week’s blog is an outline for a framework of rules that work, and a guide on how to teach them to the kids. And Grandma. So.

The 8 Strategies that Make this Work:

  • The rules have to be reasonable, taking into account the child’s age and abilities. It would make no sense to rule that your one year old must use a fork; insisting that your eight year old do so is reasonable.
  • Try not to outlaw normal behavior. Fifteen month olds are going to climb on the furniture; five year olds will pretend to be lions. The “no lying” rule does not apply when playing pretend.
  • Never punish curiosity – we want that. Inappropriate questions can be answered with “I’m not going to discuss that with you,” rather than “You shouldn’t ask that.” Try to redirect curiosity, not punish it.
  • Try to make rules with your particular child in mind. Think about his personality, her abilities, their style. This combination of you, your child, and their particular environment has never before happened in the history of the world, so you get to decide what is best. Grandmas and books can only give you a general idea. If your child is a musician, cutting him off in the middle of a composition because it’s dinnertime would be failing him. If he is terrible at math, making him sit at the table alone until he finishes all of his homework may be torture. Consider your child when you make the rules.
  • Make sure they understand the rule and why it is important. “The rule is that you must wear the helmet every time you ride your bike, no exceptions.” Speak with authority, even if you can’t quite feel it. “We don’t make you wear the helmet to make you look dorky, we make you wear it because your head is fragile and we love you.” Keep the rules simple and easy to understand.
  • Rules should be consistent and predictable. Your child should be able to generally know what will be allowed and what will not, because all the rules form a cohesive whole. If it is a rule that he is not allowed to smoke or take drugs, and his new friend smokes and takes drugs, then he knows without asking that the answer is going to be no, he can’t hang out with his new friend unsupervised.
  • Rules have to be enforceable. Never fight a battle with a child that you cannot win. Set up the playing field ahead of time so that you do win. They are children; you can outsmart them. If they win, you have given up a lot of power you will need later. If you insist on her eating her creamed corn, what will you do when she refuses? You can’t force her to swallow. What you can do is enforce a “no junk food” policy. Don’t buy it. It’s not in the house. “Sorry kid, we don’t have that, but there’s fruit over there….” A win!
  • Last, try to make rules respectful of the child. Don’t condescend, especially if your child is a tween or teen. Never humiliate your child. It lessens them, when you want them to be more.

Teaching the Rules

So, we have rules. There aren’t too many, they make sense, and all the grown-ups have agreed on them. How do we teach them to the urchin?

First and most importantly, teach by example. You are the center of your child’s world. They see you. They watch and notice. Then they imitate, both because they love you and want to be like you, and because they want your approval. How much easier will parenting be if they copy your habit of honesty? How much more successful will you – and they – be if they strive to control their temper because they see you control yours? If they know it’s unacceptable to hit because they never see it at home?

Second, teach by explanation – making sure they understand – and then by repetition. When they are going to be in a situation that will give them the opportunity to break a rule, remind them that it exists. “Remember, you will get in more trouble for lying than for anything you did.” Repetition will always work, generally by the one hundred millionth time. Hopefully.

Lastly, teach by giving them the option for success within the rules. “You aren’t allowed to go to Jeremy’s house because his parents aren’t there. Would you like to invite him here or wait until his parents come home?” Let your child think of a solution that is within the rules. Kids can be very creative when they want something.

Changing the Rules

If you have not had many rules or have been lax about enforcing them, change will be painful. Expect rebellion.

They will probably act out and may initially become much worse, particularly for the first two weeks. They may even think the new rules make sense and secretly feel good that you care, but they will never let you know. As a general rule, it takes two weeks of absolute consistency to change a habit, be it a junk food addiction or a new curfew. After two weeks, the change becomes the new norm. They might still fight it, but they have gotten used to it, and they won’t put as much effort into the battle.

If you give in during that two weeks, it starts the timer over. Don’t give in.

Gang up on them. Everything will go more smoothly if you can get your children’s friends’ families to use similar rules. Imagine if all the kids had to do their homework, and all the teenagers had the same curfew! If that is not possible, at least communicate with the other parents, teachers, and daycare workers so that you know what their rules are, because your child will likely – um – mislead you as to what is allowed elsewhere.

The Important Stuff

Rules should be carefully considered so that they protect your children’s safety, teach them right from wrong, and help them function in society. Rules should be enforced equally by everyone involved in children’s lives, and need to be reasonable and understandable. They need to provide a framework that will allow kids to learn self-reliance and self-control. Rules, though restrictive and incomprehensible when done arbitrarily, are necessary and good when done with consideration for what is best for the child in the long run.

The Blogger's Pit Stop

5 Reasons Why Kids Need Rules, and How Need Decides What Rules Should Be

toddler with toy-01Random rules are bad.

How would you like it if you were strolling innocently down the street and were attested because the police decided to make the wearing of blue against the law on Tuesdays?

Kids are new. They don’t yet know what may seem obvious to us. They are not born knowing that when the ground turns from green to black suddenly big cars can come at them at high speeds. They don’t know that they are not supposed to just grab a toy they like or bite somebody that makes them mad, until you tell them so.

Chaos and disaster happen without rules. But they need to be good rules! Grown-ups need to consciously think about the rules that they make, agree on them, explain them to the kids, and enforce them.

Last week’s blog was about how a child’s age and development affect discipline. This week is devoted to figuring out what those rules should be.

Rules are important; allocate some serious time and thought to creating them. What do you want to accomplish? You don’t want your future teen to get in fights, so no hitting. You don’t want the parent of your future grandchildren to be dishonest, so no lying. Write the resultant rules down. Make a contract with your partner to enforce each and every rule, every time. Let grandparents and babysitters in on the plan, because discipline problems are usually caused by a caregiver’s misbehavior at least as much as the child’s.

This process will, of course, involve some compromise. No two people will ever agree on the necessity or fairness of every rule. To reach a sensible compromise, think about why we make rules in the first place.

Guidelines for Making Rules:

  • First, we make rules to keep our children safe. The easy ones are obvious: don’t play in the busy street, wear your seatbelt and bike helmet, don’t play with matches. Safety rules get more nebulous as your child gets older, though: never talk to strangers, no going on camping trips with people we don’t know,  no driving friends around because you’re still a new driver. It’s important when making rules to talk to your kids, think about the risks, and don’t compromise on safety.
  • We make rules to help teach children right from wrong. The basics are, again, obvious: no stealing, no lying, and no cheating in school. Others are more nebulous and can vary with culture, religion, and personal preference. The No hitting girls rule comes to mind. Why just girls? What if they’re bigger than you? What if they hit first – can you protect yourself? What about the No eating pork rule, or No working on Sundays? Many rules are religion or culture based, and with today’s mixing of cultures, will have to be discussed beforehand.
  • We make rules so that our children will learn self-control. We place the external framework around them and, over time, it will be internalized. Consider the No cursing rule, for example. A curse word is just a combination of sounds. There is no safety issue at stake here, no inherent nature of right or wrong. But if kids don’t learn that cursing is not acceptable, it will affect the way people see them. Teachers will not be happy with them, because cursing is inappropriate at school. They might lose friends. In the end, it could even limit their job prospects. So, if for no other reason than the norms and expectations of society, children need to learn to control their speech.
  • A framework of rules will teach your child self-reliance. If they understand the rules, they knows what to do in a given situation. Imagine a child who has not been taught basic table manners. When he is invited to a friend’s home for dinner, he will be confused and scared, and he may act out because he feels out of place or stupid. But if, instead, he knows what behavior is expected of him, he can count on his own abilities to get him through.
  • Rules provide the safe, structured environment in which a child can thrive. Painting must be done on the kitchen table translates to your child as, “I can paint on the kitchen table and not get in any trouble for the mess!” Saying You must do your homework signifies that you care about your child and want him to do well in school. Saying You have to wear your seatbelt means that you love him more than life and would die if he were hurt. Kids will roll their eyes at you, but they really do want you to care and keep them safe.

I find it amazing that children actually obey rules set down by their parents, especially when they become older, and sometimes much larger, than said parent. The reason they do becomes apparent when you look at the kids who do not obey their parents’ rules. It is a matter of simple respect and love. If you want to be able to say, “Stop!” to the sixteen year old headed for the door with the car keys and have him actually stop, he has to know you love him and you have to have earned his respect.

Kids cannot be expected to respect their parents simply because they are the Parents, any more than you would respect your boss simply because he or she has a job title.  A child’s respect is earned with unconditional love, dependability, and honesty. If the relationship is solid, kids will want their parents respect and approval – a very good thing as they get older, more independent, and our of your control.

Now that we know what rules we think matter enough to enforce (don’t even think about making a rule you aren’t going to enforce!), how do we go about enforcing them? Check out 8 Surefire Strategies to Make Rules Work.

The Blogger's Pit Stop

To Each Their Own… Rules Custom Fit to Every Age Child

kidsfighting

Children may look sweet, but in reality they are cute little barbarians, and it is our job to civilize them. Their brains are not tiny adult brains. They start out with little more than primitive reflexes (breathe, cry, wave my arms around when I’m startled), wander through childhood and adolescence (when they really can’t see the long term consequences of their actions), and don’t actually think like adults until, well, they’re adults.

At all these ages parents have to take into account their child’s personal style, intelligence, and talents when they make rules, but there are developmental stages that are universal, and understanding them will help a parent better resolve problems.

When babies are newborn, they can focus their vision well at about a foot away—just the distance of your face when you are holding them. They look at everything, learning at an unimaginable rate. By two months they recognize a smile and smile back. By four months, they will recognize your voice. Their thoughts aren’t well organized enough to allow them to become spoiled until about six months – so no, you can’t spoil them by holding them all the time. You also won’t do them vast harm if you need to put them down for a while.

At about nine months, they start to recognize words—“no” is generally one of the first. In baby language “no” means, “Smile at the parental units and keep doing what I’m doing. They will come play!” Saying it louder will only make them cry in confusion. Go over, distract them, and take away whatever they shouldn’t be playing with.

Curiosity rules for the first few years, and we want this. Babies look at and touch everything, often while putting everything in their mouths. They explore and, consequently, learn. Your job is to let them explore while keeping them safe. This is a lot easier to do by baby-proofing your house than by saying no every minute or two. Put all of the breakables out of reach, tuck away the electric cords, add padding to some of the more solid objects, and block off the stairs so you don’t have to follow Baby around all day. She’s not going to fully understand rules now anyway.

Between eighteen months and two years, most kids can begin to understand some rudimentary rules. Keep them simple, please—no complex commands. Saying, “You can’t play with that because Mommy needs it for work tomorrow” will elicit a blank stare. “No going near the road”  is more their size. Of course, they will do it anyway because they’re new at this whole rule thing—and because they finally have some control over their arms and legs, and there is neat stuff to play with. When Mommy or Daddy stops them, it’s terrible! The universe just ended! Tantrum Time!

Two year olds live at the center of their own universe; everything and everyone exists just for them. This can be seriously confusing for them when things don’t go their way. They really cannot understand why they can’t have and do what they want, because the world is theirs. They also have no idea how to regulate their emotions. We they are angry, they are consumed by that anger. Sadness is world destroying. Disciplining a two year old is aimed at teaching them to not hurt other people and to regulate their emotions. This is where the No biting and No kicking come in, along with the You can sit in your room alone until you can stop screaming.

Three and four year olds are still learning to modulate their emotions, but are also developing self-sufficiency… and opinions. Discipline at this age is mostly about consistency and endless repetition. They do know they can’t take that juice away from the table, but they think that maybe this time they will get away with it. At this age we want to reinforce the fact that bad behavior never gets you what you want. That juice is gone.

Enter the kindergartener. Have you ever noticed that most kindergarten teachers are young? They burn out quick. This is the age when kids start to learn about responsibility, and to feel guilt when they mess up. We make sure they understand the rules, remind them when they might bump into one, and enforce discipline immediately when they break one. At this age rewards work remarkably well, because kids are learning to feel pride when they do well.

The grade school years are your reward for making it through. Kids are very logical, not extremely emotional, and are focused more on learning and developing their skills and talents. They also at this age learn to deal with their failures, to discipline themselves  within their own internal framework of right and wrong. Where a kindergartener might hit another child and then feel bad, we want our third grader to feel like hitting another child but stop themselves.

Drum roll please… Adolescence. During these years teens break down and replace large portions of of their brains – the part would have given them a view of the future and the long term consequences of their actions, had it been there. They can be very impulsive and sometimes indulge in very risky behavior. Parenting in adolescence mainly consists of making sure they get enough sleep (a sleep deprived teen brain is a scary thing), keeping them alive, and protecting them from mistakes that will follow them forever. The most effective way to do this is to stay involved in their lives (even when they don’t want you to), know where they are and what they are doing, and keep communication open.  Discipline at this age is largely making sure they take responsibility for their actions because after adolescence you won’t be there to rescue them. Don’t save them from the small stuff (flunking grades) but make sure to protect them from the biggies (drugs, pregnancy, death).

The goal of discipline at any age is not to punish the child, but rather to  raise an inspired, responsible, self-reliant adult. Keep the long term in mind when you seem to be disciplining the exact same infraction over and over: you’re not aiming for a well behaved 2 year old or a teen who never screws up. You’re aiming for an amazing adult.

Want more specifics on how to make which rules? Check out 8 Surefire Strategies to Make Rules Work and 5 Reasons Why Kids Need Rules, and How Need Decides What Rules Should Be.