• Raising Moral Kids Pt. 3

    Let’s say that you take your young child to a friend’s house and while she is there, she breaks a toy. Would you prefer that she:

    A. Bring you the toy, ask for help fixing it and apologize for breaking the toy.

    Or

    B. Hide the toy so no one will know that she broke it?

    Let me give you a minute to think about this one . . . . OK, I’m psychic so I already know that your answer is A. You’d rather have a kid who admits her error, apologizes, tries to correct her error and will ask for help to do so. You’d also rather have a kid who didn’t lie to you, didn’t hide from you and was able to admit when she is wrong. Am I right? Of course I’m right.

    It just so happens that we know what the difference is between a kid who hides a toy they broke and one who takes responsibility for it:

    Parents rated their toddlers’ tendencies to experience shame and guilt at home. The toddlers received a rag doll, and the leg fell off while they were playing with it alone. The shame-prone toddlers avoided the researcher and did not volunteer that they broke the doll. The guilt-prone toddlers were more likely to fix the doll, approach the experimenter, and explain what happened. The ashamed toddlers were avoiders; the guilty toddlers were amenders. ~ Raising a Moral Child, NYT

    The difference between a kid who admits error and a kid who avoids it is the difference between guilt and shame. While sometimes you will hear people talking about healthy shame, the truth is that shame is often really toxic. We will do just about anything to avoid it. Including hiding our errors, lying, engaging in destructive self-soothing behaviors, mistreating others and ourselves. People will go to their graves never knowing a moment of real peace or love rather than facing their shame.

    Clearly shame is part of the normal repertoire of human emotions, but way more often than not, we experience it in really unhealthy ways. Too many parents encourage shame in their kids as a way to control them. Even parents who know better will unknowingly create shame in their children. According to current thinking, based on pretty much every human’s experience, shame is what you get when a caregiver uses anger, fear, ridicule or contempt in an attempt to control their child’s behavior. Continue reading

  • Raising Moral Kids Pt. 2

    So, I started telling y’all about an interesting article on what research can tell us about raising moral kids. Today’s take-away from that article has to do with the role of positive re-enforcement in creating moral children. But first, a quick word about positive re-enforcement. Back when I was in college, in the very first education class I took, the very first lesson we got on classroom management was this: punishment is the least effective tool in your disciplinary toolbox. So it should be the tool of last resort, not your go-to when things got rough.

    There was plenty of research to back this claim up as well as the fact that exemplary teachers report that this is their experience as well. By far, the most effective tool you have is praising what a kid gets right. Everyone wants approval. It’s human nature. If you show approval of the sort of behavior you want from your kids, they will engage in more of that behavior because it now has a very positive association for them. It reminds them of something about themselves that they can feel good about.

    Of course, then you have nimrods like the man who is principal of our local middle school. I once had a conversation with him that, I swear to you, went like this:

    Me: Mr. Nimrod Idiot, Sir, as I am sure you are aware, since it’s the first lesson they teach on classroom management, punishment is the least effective form of discipline. I am concerned that the only discipline tool being used to address the tiniest of infractions involving my dear innocent child is punishment. The child has being punished for a wide variety of infractions, including, but not limited to: trying to take a plastic bottle he brought from home out of the lunch room so he could continue reusing it, being late for class because the janitor hasn’t managed to get the lock on his locker fixed and you won’t assign him a new one and laughing at a joke I made when he called from the office to ask me a question. I would like to discuss alternative ways of helping my child to conform to the school’s expectations which do not depend on punishing him continually.

    Principal Nimrod: Yes, you are correct, we do know from research and experience that punishment is the least effective form of discipline. However, we just believe that if we continually confront and punish students when they step out of line, they will eventually get tired of it and exert some self-discipline to change their behavior.

    OK, I didn’t actually call him Mr. Nimrod Idiot, that’s just what I call him in my head, but seriously – that’s nearly word-for-word what he said. And that’s why I think I need to go pray for him some more.

    Anyways, positive re-enforcement is a tried and true tactic, but it turns out that there’s a small caveat; you can do it wrong. Continue reading

  • Raising Moral Kids, Pt 1

    I thought this was a great article in the NYT about what researchers have to say about raising moral kids. A lot of it is stuff we all know is true (but hope we can find a way around). So it’s interesting to learn that some of our old parenting gems aren’t just theoretically true, but that they’ve been proven true as well. Which is particularly comforting for some of us who went against the grain, did these things and discovered that raising a good person doesn’t automatically turn them into leaders of industry. Those are two different skills sets, it turns out.

    Anyhow, the article covered a lot of ground, but I have a take-away I wanted to pass on today and one more for tomorrow. And one more the day after that. I decided that two 2000 word posts in one day might be a bit much, so I’m splitting it up.

    Besides, it’s an important topic. I genuinely believe that the way we raise our kids is what will ultimately change the world. For my part, I believe that raising kind, caring, moral children should be just as important as raising kids who can get into college. Or who can still find her purity ring to wear home from college. More important, really. But if we believe that, we have to live it. So, here’s today’s research-supported bit of parenting wisdom:

    Your kids will do what you do, not what you say.

    I know, crazy, right? Who knew? It’s not like every single one of us is walking around feeling guilty as hell knowing that our kids will inevitably struggle with many of the same imperfections as we do. And that I am completely helpless to stop it because I am simply not capable of being perfect enough to keep it from happening. So I lie to myself and think, “they’ll take my advice rather than following my instructions. After all, why would they want to end up like me? That’s got to be a powerful deterrent, right?”. . . Or maybe that’s just me. It’s probably just me.

    Anyway, the good news is that what you do right has more power than you probably realized. Continue reading

  • My Amazing Discipline Trick!

    One of these days, I’ll have to tell you about my oldest son Noah. He was really something. Even my mom didn’t want to watch him. And she had 9 kids. But that’s a kind of long story for another day. Suffice it to say he was challenging.

    One of the things which made Noah particularly difficult is that he simply wasn’t responsive to punishment. He wasn’t vulnerable to any sort of trickery. “Flattery will get you no where” may well have been his first complete sentence. Time out was me dealing with a two hour fight and I’m sorry, you don’t get to just make me miserable for two hours straight like that. Day after day. Just . . . nothing I tried really worked. He was getting better over time, but good Lord, at the rate we were going he was going to be having temper tantrums on his honeymoon.

    I think it was while reading some book on positive parenting that I came across the idea which actually worked. And it’s the discipline trick I’ve turned to almost exclusively with all my other kids. Because it works. AND it teaches them skills that they need to be good, healthy people. But it’s so simple, you might think I’m crazy. Continue reading

  • Great Power and Petty Beligerance

    Yesterday, I wrote about how the changing role and nature of authority in our lives demands that we change the way we parent our kids. Which is why my first rule of parenting is to raise good men and women, not good children.

    Of course, as the existence of our prison system and the IRS demonstrate, authority still exists. Our kids do need to know how to submit to some authority other than their own. Even when they disagree with it. So it’s not that I’ve give up all authority over my children. Especially with five kids, there’s no way our family could function!

    Which leads to my second rule of parenting: great powers do not respond to petty belligerence. Especially in Christians circles, a great deal of weight is placed on establishing and maintaining the near absolute authority of the parents. The idea seems to be that the parent’s authority is under constant threat from rebellious children. Therefor, resistance to a parent’s authority must be dealt with as the threat it is.

    I think this is ridiculous. I’m in charge. I know I’m in charge. My kids know I’m in charge. I don’t need to waste my time proving to them that I’m in charge. Nor do I need to force them to continually reassure me that they still recognize my authority. Great powers can tolerate protests, complaints, petitions for change and challenges without fear. Only insecure powers feel that they must respond to and crush every petty belligerency.

    A great deal of conflict, stress, resentment and drama is created in families by parents who take their kids behavior as a threat to their authority. It’s a very ugly dynamic that I’ve seen lead to terrible parenting and destroyed relationships. And it’s completely and totally unnecessary.

    I refuse to take my child’s behavior that personally. They behave the ways they do for their own reasons, not to see if they can knock me off my throne. Even when they are deliberately testing boundaries, it’s no threat. And I let them know that. If they go too far, I will put a stop to it, but otherwise, they enjoy a great deal of freedom. And they are allowed to renegotiate the boundaries from time to time. I’m in charge. I can decide to move boundaries if I see fit.

    Because of this, my children trust me. They know that I’m not engaged in senseless power struggles with them when I do put my foot down. They know that I will show respect for them even if they do not show respect for me, because I’m not nearly as childish as they are. They know that I will remain in control even when they do not. They know I can be trusted to listen to their concerns and deal fairly with them.

    So, the next time you are in conflict with your children, stop and make sure than an unwarrented concern for maintaining power isn’t driving you. Maybe get a t-shirt made to remind yourself, “Great powers are not threatened by petty belligerence”. You’re a great power in a secure position and none of you have anything to prove on that front.

  • Raise Good Adults, Not Good Kids

    I read a story a while back about an anthropologist who was studying some tribal group in New Guinea. He noticed that everyone had at least one odd shaped, irregular scar. When he asked what the scars were from, he was told that they were from falling into a fire as a very young child.

    You see, this tribe believed that all humans, including children, have a right and a responsibility for making their own choices. So when a young child would get too close to the fire, that was their choice and no one had a right to stop them from making it. Of course, the judgment of children is generally less than stellar, so inevitably, each child eventually fell into the fire. At that point, the adults or older children would quickly pull them out. If someone needs help, you help them after all. The end result was that everyone had a scar from the experience and everyone learned at a young age to be careful around the fire.

    While allowing a small child to fall into a fire without trying to stop or warn them is inconceivable to probably all of us, it struck me when I read this that there was great wisdom in this story.

    We live in a time when the challenge for us as parents is raising our kids to live in a world where they have almost complete freedom. Not so long ago, various institutions held a lot of sway over our lives. People generally trusted the church, community norms, the government, schools, employers and even the media to show them right from wrong. In that kind of world, teaching your children to obey authority, starting with your own, was of primary importance.

    Today, authority just aint what it used to be. First of all, authority has been completely discredited for most of us. Our churches, government, schools, employers and media have all been shown to be corrupt, self-dealing, untruthful and untrustworthy. There are those who would like to see the institutions and their authority rebuilt.

    However, it seems unlikely that people who have experienced what it is like to make their own choices and create their own norms free from the expectations and pressures of authority will go back to submitting to any institution. And given the problems amply demonstrated by human history of people engaging in the worst sorts of evil at the behest of the powers and social norms that be, this is probably a good thing.

    The destruction of authority does, however, create a problem for parents. When all of a person’s life was going to be spent submitting to authority, it made sense for parents to raise their kids to be compliant and obedient. But the reality of the world our children will go into when they leave our homes practically demands that we raise our children differently than we did in the past. Continue reading

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    Why Parents Should Meditate

    Meditation is good for us. The bible tells us to meditate dozens and dozens of times. Modern science has shown that meditation changes the way our brains work and provides a host of physical and mental health benefits. Everyone should learn to meditate.

    While meditation is good for everyone, it is essential for parents. In fact, I think it is safe to say that if I didn’t meditate, I would be unable to parent my 5 children without the assistance of weed or booze to smooth things out. But because I meditate, I am usually an oasis of peace in the middle of chaos, even while sober.

    When you meditate, you learn to tune out your senses – or at least not give them center stage. Which is really helpful when a kid spilled milk in the car without your knowing it. If you haven’t learned to meditate and tune out your senses, the smell of spoiled milk every time you get in the car might really bother you. Not so for the meditating parent.

    When you meditate, you learn to quiet or take no notice of the chattering little voices in your head which insistently demand your attention. This is an essential skill for parents when several children gang up on you demanding ice cream and a pony. You just use the skills you have developed through hours of meditation and those chattering, insistent voices quickly fade away, leaving you free to contemplate what it would actually be like to have a pony in the backyard. As with meditation, when you take no notice of the chattering voices of children demanding that you give your full attention to every inanity of life, they wear themselves out and go away.

    Meditation also develops your powers of concentration. Which is helpful when you’re trying to pay enough attention to what your daughter is saying so you can keep track of who is mad at whom today and what each person’s favorite My Little Pony character is. When you’re stuck in the house all day with small children, you take your gossip where you can get it, so this is very important.

    The ability to tame your brain and concentrate is also helpful when you have a kid who wants to explain, in minute detail, an epic pokemon battle he saw on youtube. The control over your brain developed through meditation allows you to tune him out entirely without him noticing. You just tune in a couple times a minute to repeat the last word or two you heard – “he used thunderbolt attack, mmhm.” Then your brain is free to plan your next meal, rehash your argument with your sister or find the answer to meaning of life. A parent who doesn’t meditate has to either let their kid know that you don’t care what they are talking about or be held hostage to a long diatribe about the evolution of Celibi, the guardian of the forest.

    Another benefit of meditating is that you become more aware of what’s happening in the moment. My husband responds to the various screetches, yells, wails and shouts of our children with alarm and panic. He doesn’t meditate much and therefore has a hard time tuning into the details of the present moment in a pinch. He often struggles to discern the difference between the cry of a child whose finger has just been severed and a child who is losing an argument. But as a meditating parent who is in the moment, I can discern not only between serious injury and frustration. I can tell the difference between crying caused by injury that requires medical attention, injury which requires an ice pack and an over-reaction to a scratch. This greatly reduces the amount of panic in my life. It allows me to continue what I am doing until the child who is wailing comes to tattle on someone.

    Now that I have teens, I have found that being an experienced meditator is even more essential than ever. For example, part of meditating is not responding to every thought, emotion and stimulus that comes up. Instead of reacting, you just observe. Let it be what it is. Which was helpful this afternoon when my son came home with two bows in his hair. Rather than reacting, I could simply observe that his hair looks cute with bows in it. When my other son decided to forgo a shower this morning, I was able to observe that the room he was sitting in smelled like cumin and politely told him to go shower before the odor seeped into the couch cushions.

    People sometimes ask me how it is that I can raise 5 kids, keep my house from being condemned by the county and write. The answer, simply is meditation. If it wasn’t for meditation, I wouldn’t be able to write many of my blog posts like this (you only think I am kidding):

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    Related: Just a Housewife in Wisconsin

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    Of Teen Boys and Scantily Dressed Women

    I don’t usually write about parenting, in part because it feels like tempting fate. I’ll write parenting advice and then my kids will end up being drug dealers, pornographers and going out in public dressed like a cartoon pony character. But there are a few things I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten right, so over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be sharing some ideas about parenting with y’all.

    Today, I’m going to talk about the supposed problem of teen aged boys (and men) and the threat posed to them by girls and women who have the gall to walk about without their denim jumpers on. Really, this shouldn’t even be a thing that needs much discussion. But over the last few months, I’ve run across what seems like an increasing number of discussions on the subject. And more often than not, what I’m reading is alarming rubbish.

    These discussions generally fall into two categories. Either they attempt to shame/scold/convict women into covering it up in consideration of the men who see them. Or they advise men on how to “bounce/avert their eyes” in order to avoid looking at the female forms wandering the streets around them.

    As the mother of two teen boys (ages 14 and 18), I find both of these approaches infuriating and insulting. There is another way entirely to approach the subject. One which helps boys grow into, you know, mature adults who don’t think “boobies” every time a woman with some cleavage goes by. And which isn’t sexist and shaming to women. It’s crazy, I know. But bear with me here. . .

    So let’s go back to a little over a decade ago to when I was walking through Target with my then 7 year old son pushing the cart next to me. Suddenly I noticed that he had begun walking strangely. Like he was clomping his feet. I asked him what he was doing and he explained that he had been walking with his eyes closed. In order to avoid looking at a picture of a woman in her underwear which was hanging from the ceiling. 

    I don’t remember the context, but apparently at some point, I had told him that a good man doesn’t look at women’s bodies – even if they are hanging them out for all to see. So he was doing the gentlemanly thing and closing his eyes to avoid looking at a woman’s body. It was kind of cute, but it did make me think teaching my kid something that had him walking around with his eyes closed wasn’t such a great idea.

    After that I hit on a really novel idea; what if I taught my boys to view women – even naked women – as (wait for it . . . ) human beings? Like what if I taught them that instead of seeing women as potential mates or sex partners or walking titillation machines, they should view them simply as fellow human beings? What if I taught them that considerations of a person’s appeal as a sexual partner should be limited to a woman they want to be in a committed relationship with? Crazy, I know.

    So now I teach my boys that I don’t care if a woman walks up to him wearing naught but the skin she came in, they’d better look her in the eye and talk to her like any other human being.

    Now, some of you are saying, “but Rebecca, boys – hormones – sexy – it’s only natural!” Well, sure. Boys have hormones. They can turn anything into a dirty joke. Women are sexy. That’s reality and I’m not naive enough to think simply telling them to view women as fellow humans will change that. (Nor would I want to change that, really.) So . .

    Next, I decided that the real solution to the problem of boys and boobies was to allow them to become accustomed to the female form. After all, nudists manage to live together without the men having to shift uncomfortably and cross their legs every time they are in the presence of a naked woman. Men in tribes where clothing is minimal don’t get a woody every time a woman passes by. Why do we act as if it’s unavoidable that a male who can see a woman’s body is going to view her in a sexual way?

    I certainly didn’t encourage them to leer or decorate their rooms with pin up girls. But the picture of a woman in her underwear hanging from the ceiling at Target? I think I need some new underwear. Let’s go stand under it. The nude scene in Titanic? No fast-forwarding it, just sit and watch it as if it were the most normal thing in the world. We’re not German enough to sit down for dinner naked, but casual nudity became deliberately more common in our home.

    Basically I made a point of treating the female form as completely normal, non-sexual and unremarkable as I could. Certainly no more suggestions that women’s bodies were a sight to be avoided. No treating the female body as a threat to their purity or standing as good men. We all have bodies. Half of us have female bodies. We all need to get over it instead of treating it like a scandal.

    But still – boys – hormones – boobies – lust!

    As any male can attest, pubescent boys can find anything sexy. They get turned on when the wind blows in a certain direction. And let Miss Schoolmarm wear a tight sweater to school and soon the poor boy’s grades begin to suffer. But the thing is that this is a stage. It’s a normal stage. Like all other developmental stages, a person can get stuck there. Or they can experience it and move on.

    If you want them to get stuck with the mind of a 12 year old, unable to concentrate in the presence of the nefarious boobie, here’s what you do. First you tell them that if they experience sexual desire, they are going to get in trouble. Like they will go to hell. Baby Jesus will cry over them. That way rather than experiencing and getting over this normal state of development, they will spend much of the rest of their lives trying to fight it.

    Or you can let them know that it’s normal. It’s kind of silly and occasionally embarrassing. But that they will grow out of it. That way they know that while being distracted by and sexually attracted to random women they meet is normal and not bad, it’s also a sign of immaturity. Real manhood lies on the other side of this stage of their development.

    So add in some discussions about consent, rape culture, porn and sexting and that’s what I’ve done with my boys. As much as I hate to call down bad juju by claiming parenting success, it’s working. There are things about my boys I’m not entirely pleased with, of course. But when it comes to dealing with women and managing their sexuality, I don’t mind saying that they continual impress me. May it always be so! ;)

    This is already longer than I intended, but before I go, I’d like to share something I realized just recently. It has to do with the importance of touch. This past summer, my 18 year old spent three weeks away from home working. He reported that while he was gone, he found himself “checking out” girls far more often than was normal for him. He said he’s pretty sure that it was because while he was gone, physical touch was almost completely absent in his life. We’re a (deliberately) high touch family. At home, he regularly holds and sits with his sisters while reading, watching TV and the like. Hugs are frequent. We sit close together while talking, etc. We humans NEED physical touch. Unfortunately, we tend to be a low touch culture. In fact, once we’re past childhood, sexual activity is one of the only ways that many people experience touch. My son’s observation made me wonder how much teen sexual behavior is driven by this need for physical contact. My younger son is much less comfortable with physical contact, but oddly, he’s much more willing to engage in hugging and even sitting close together as he’s entered into adolescent. So I would suggest that giving teens ample opportunity for non-sexual touch can be a good way to reduce their need/desire to get their touches through sexual behavior.

    And now I’m done. :)

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    Screaming Like A Banshee, How Not To

    Once upon a time, self-mastery/self-control was a highly valued trait for a Christian to have. Unfortunately, what passed for self-mastery was too often little more than repression and denial. Of course, neither repression or denial are held in very high esteem these days (and for good reason!). But the downfall of repression and denial has in turn lead to the virtue of self-mastery being downgraded from a highly sought after virtue to barely an after-thought in the Christian life.

    The reason that self-mastery has traditionally been held in such high regard among Christians, is because it is held in high regard by scripture. 2 Peter 1 connects self-control with partaking of God’s divine nature, for example. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:232 Timothy 1:7 lists self-control alongside power and love as the result of God’s spirit. Proverbs 25:28 says that a person without self-control is like a city whose walls have been breached. When Paul was imprisoned by Felix, he taught “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come” when asked to preach on faith in Jesus. I could go on, but the point is that even though we’ve rightly tossed out the practice of repression and denial, we ought to cling to and work to develop self-mastery as part of our Christian faith.

    So . . . the question becomes how to cultivate self-control once repression and denial are no longer desirable tools. It just so happens that self-control is something I have spent a lot of time helping my children to develop over the years. Unfortunately for me (and everyone’s eardrums), self-control didn’t come naturally to any of my children. In fact, it often felt like trying to teach a fish to walk. At the moment, it’s my middle daughter who is receiving intensive tutoring on the subject. She’s the one, if you recall, would rather miss a meal than compromise on where to sit at dinner and who responds to a light swat on the rear with shrieks of “help, I need immediate medical attention!” So we’ve got our work cut out for us. But progress is being made.

    What I do have going for me is 18 years of experience teaching decidedly uninterested, unreasonable and hysterical children the fine art of self-control. And so I figured I would share this week’s lesson with y’all as well. Just in case it might help someone.

    The first step I’m teaching Miss-screams-a-lot is to start by simply identifying how she is feeling. Like all of us, this child has a feeling, comes up with reasons to justify that feeling and then believes that those reasons are the cause of her misery. Thus we are treated to a barrage of “she did this and he did that and they’re being mean to me and everyone’s always mean to me and I’m sick of it” several times a day which no amount of reasoning can do anything to stop. We’ve talked about this before – we like to think that we react for perfectly good reasons, but the reality is that we react and then come up with perfectly good reasons to justify it. By starting with the feeling, rather than the provocation, we addressing the actual cause for the lack of self-control. Continue reading