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How do you set curfews?

One of the challenges with raising kids is that as they turn into teenagers their social life changes and they start to separate their identity from that of being your child to being their own person. It is our job, as parents, to allow and encourage this separation and growth. However, we must also factor in our responsibility to their safety. And safety includes physical as well as emotional protection. Part of the process of ensuring their safety is that we must be comfortable with the company they will keep, the activities they participate in, and when they come home. Each family will have to determine what activities are appropriate.

The issue that always comes up is curfew or when our child needs to be home. Many parents have a rigid approach and have a very inflexible rule. The problem with a strict and rigid rule is that life is composed of different activities and some of them do not fit into a rigid curfew rule.

In our family we NEVER had a set curfew. So what did we do to keep our kids safe? We talked to our kids about the particular activity they were participating in, who they were going to be with, and then we asked them for what they thought was a reasonable time for them to be home. We didn’t always agree with their time but we negotiated a reasonable time. There were even times when they would suggest midnight and we would counter with 11. If they countered with midnight we would often counter with 10:30. 😉 We also discussed the next day’s duties to determine if there was a reason to be home a bit earlier. When our daughters were going out on dates we would have the conversation with their escort so that all parties knew and understood our agreement.

Our children also knew that because this was an agreement with us that they had a responsibility to keep their end of our agreement. They also knew that to avoid negative consequences they had to notify us of any changes in activity, destination, people or the time expected home. In this manner we were able to evaluate their safety, with them, on an ongoing basis.

The final step of this process was that they were to check in with us when they came home. Even if we were asleep.

As our children got older (18+ and living with us) we still asked them to tell us where they were going and when they would be home. As adults they are no longer bound to us as children, but as courteous adults. We often get text messages updating us to their activities.

How will you set your curfews or limits?

Student arrested for writing on desk. Excessive?

Recently Fox News reported about a 12-year old student who was arrested for writing on a desk.  Proponents of strict consequences for students who break school rules believe that if they are tough on early offenses, students are less likely to move on to more heinous crimes.  Unfortunately, the opposite is true.  Research shows that the best punishment is a punishment that fits the crime.  Punishment that is either too lenient or too strict is not effective.  When children are given punishments that are too strict they feel helpless and unsure of their environment.  The world does not seem fair and ordered, it seems arbitrary and unfair.  When children feel there is no fair justice or reasonable consequences they are more likely to act out.

This story reminds me of an incident with one of my own children many years ago.  My child was in high school, and was accused of defacing a textbook.  The book was shown to my husband and me and it had many words written in it, including quite a few offensive words.  As a teacher I know this is not uncommon.  Quite often I have students bring me books that have had inappropriate things written or drawn in them.  As a teacher, I also know it is nearly impossible to catch the actual perpetrator of the act.  Teachers are often in a room with upwards of 30 students (or more), and it is just impossible to monitor what each student is doing and continue to teach.  Our child took some of the responsibility for the defacement, but not all, and the school proposed suspension.  We felt that restoration of the item was a much more fitting consequence.  The school agreed that if the book was paid for by all offending students that this would be sufficient.  We paid the fee, and made arrangements for our child to work off the price.

A child who writes on a desk, or in a book, should be given a consequence that fits the crime.  In my room, that student would stay after school and wash all my desks.  This is a job that might take 10-15 minutes.  Writing on a desk, or on any other item, is not a terribly heinous crime, it is more a momentary lapse in judgment.  At some point in their childhood many of today’s upstanding citizens probably stooped to writing or carving their names into some surface.  If this sort of action is dealt with early, chances are it will never escalate into more heinous activities, such as tagging or seriously defacing public property.

The other element of this story that is problematic is the fact that the girl was arrested.  Some people in our society, including some parents, feel that if children get a taste of what it is like to be arrested early on they will be less likely to commit crimes.  Research shows that the opposite is often true.  Children who get a view of prison or prisoners up-close and personal, often start thinking that it is not really all that bad.  Years ago there was an approach called “Scared Straight” where young people were taken to prisons and told all of the terrors of life in prison, by the prisoners themselves.  It was thought that if prisoners told young people who were on a dangerous path just how terrible it was to be in their shoes they would change their ways.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  Even though the program was touted as successful, and anecdotal evidence seemed to show promise, studies show that this was not true.  Studies not only showed that the program failed to deter crime, some showed that it may have escalated the incidence of it.

The best road to help children behave appropriately is to hold them accountable for their actions, teach them correct principles and behavior patterns and require them to make appropriate restitution for damage that they inflict.  This is true not only in school settings, but in family settings as well.

Response to Parenting Style quiz

On January 25th I posted the results of an online quiz that I took on identifying my parenting style. When my husband read the results he thought they were harsh, but clinically accurate. This parenting style is often described as the “no-nonsense workaholic” who is best at “emergency-mode parenting” and providing discipline where it is needed. Too often, however, strong-willed children eventually rebel against this parenting style if the parent doesn’t learn to balance expressive warmth with the authoritative discipline.

This does not sound like an ideal style to raising well-adjusted children. I thought long and hard about why my style is authoritative and yet we have had good results with our children. We have never had to operate in an emergency-mode. Rather the opposite has been our experience. When a strong structure is applied there tends to be less emergency-mode situations. Within our family guidelines we have a lot of flexibility. It is important to recognize the difference between authoritarian and authoritative. I really think the description for authoritative, as used in the quiz, describes authoritarian. I have been looking for a better (more accurate) definition.

Tonight I came across another blog that also discussed parenting styles. The author states: “Basically, there are four styles of parenting: authoritarian, authoritative (sometimes called egalitarian), permissive, and uninvolved.” I continued to read and found this gem in ther last paragraph: “Authoritative parenting is a balanced parenting style, with both high structure and high responsiveness. The parents are engaged and flexible, but they are still the parents. Structure rules, limits and boundaries is (sic) present, but not rigid.”

This is a much better definition than the one originally presented with the quiz.

For more details on a good article please visit http://motherguides.com/different-styles-of-parenting-which-one-is-best/

Teaching Behaviors without Values Leads to Failure

I had an interesting experience at the middle school where I teach that got me thinking about teaching kids to stay away from risky behaviors.  A teacher shared a letter with me written between two 8th grade female students.  The letter had some pretty explicit language about sexual experiences that these girls had been involved in.  Both girls commented that they didn’t think their parents cared if they had sex, just when and how they had it.  When I finished my conversation with this teacher I walked to another room where an 8th grade boy was having a conversation with a member of the school staff.  He explained to the staff member about a code of health that he followed based on his religious beliefs.  The staff member seemed shocked at the seemingly strict  code, but the boy seemed happy, almost excited, to follow the code.

These two contrasting incidents highlighted for me the importance of value based teaching.  Most parents want their children to abstain from sexual activity and dangerous substances.  Most parents teach their children to stay away from these things, at least while they are young.  Why then, do so many children become involved in risky behaviors at a young age?  The key is teaching values, not just behaviors. When children are taught that they should stay away from risky behaviors, but there is no underlying value to support their abstinence the pull to stay away is short lived.  The longest lasting lessons are those that are tied to stable belief systems and accountability checks.  Stable belief systems can be found in many religions and in some value-based organizations.  Those that require members to take an oath or promise, along with some system of accountability, are more likely to be successful.

So, if you want to teach your children to abstain, you will be more likely to find success if you tie those teachings to a stable belief system.

Using FAB and reflective listening to communicate more effectively

FAB stands for Feel About Because.

Obviously immediate safety may preclude using this tool.

Children (and even adults) don’t always articulate their emotions correctly. The purpose of FAB is provide a consistent framework that is easy for kids to understand and use. The way that FAB works is that your offended child says I FEEL (Insert emotion) ABOUT (insert the reason or action) BECAUSE (insert WHY it upsets you). An example might sound like, “I feel angry about you taking Thomas the Train because I was setting up the track and was going to play with it.” In this manner your child has clearly expressed their emotion and defined the cause.

It is important to understand that as long as the child (or adult is following) uses this format that their feeling are valid. You cannot argue with how a person feels or their emotions.

Reflective Listening

At this point the offending child needs to respond. They cannot verbally attack or demean. They should reply in a way that acknowledges their sibling. Such as, “I understand you are angry because I took Thomas.” By doing this your second child is acknowledging that the first child is feeling angry because of their action and showing that they understand the problem.

The first child should then express what they want to happen, in a polite manner. An example might be, “I’d like to have Thomas back so I can play with him.”

The second child now has an opportunity to respond to the request. They can agree to give the toy back, play with it for an agreed upon duration, play together or ignore the first child.

If the offended child has not been satisfied it may become necessary to for the parent to get involved and play referee. The purpose is not to decide the fate of Thomas but to decide how the conflict can be resolved equitably. It is also your responsibility to verify that all steps have been taken. Often a child will come to me with a complaint and the first thing I ask is, “Did you use FAB?” The child returns to their squabble and they resolve the problem without further intervention.

The goal is to give your children a lifelong tool to communicate.

When this concept was first presented to my husband and me several years ago he thought it was silly. So one night he decided to show me how silly it was. I used FAB on a disagreement we had. He reflectively responded to me. I was blown away! He understood what I was upset about! He was even more flabbergasted when he saw how I responded and he was surprised that he understood my feelings better. The conflict was quickly resolved with no hurt feelings. We try to use this pattern to this day, and even as adults using this tool for 30+ years, we still slip-up.

As with any new tool it can seem more painful at first try but in the long run the time investment is more than paid back.

What experiences have you had with FAB?

What is your parenting style?

One thing that I think is really important for parents to do is to reflect on their views, values and personality to find out why they do what they do.  Research has shown that parents parent the way their parents did, unless a conscious effort is made for change (and it can be done.)  These tendencies are mixed with your individual personality traits and life experiences to make up your individual parenting style.  So, I came across a parenting style quiz on line at this site http://quiz.ivillage.com/parenting/tests/parent.htm .  It is not the most user friendly site as every time you move to a new page you get a pop up, but it does allow you to take the quiz on-line, it isn’t very long and it will give you your results immediately.  So, here is what I got:

Your Parenting Style:
Authoritative

This parenting style is often described as the “no-nonsense workaholic” who is best at “emergency-mode parenting” and providing discipline where it is needed. Too often, however, strong-willed children eventually rebel against this parenting style if the parent doesn’t learn to balance expressive warmth with the authoritative discipline.

Your parenting style is highly driven and task oriented, as opposed to relationship-centered. Relationship-centered people tend to focus on nurturing and caring for others; authoritative people tend to be more focused on “getting things done.” Although your authoritative parenting style may not be the most popular style, it typically produces respect and obedience from your children, at least until they become teenagers. At that point, there is a good chance that they will find ways to avoid your control. As long as you are consistent in the way you discipline your children and as long as you maintain strong personal values, your children will model your self-discipline and persistence, thus benefiting from this rather rigid parenting style. This style might not produce the results you hope it will, however, if you do not find ways to outwardly express your loving and caring emotions. Remember that your children’s self-esteem comes not only from their self-discipline but also from feelings of significance, love and acceptance they receive from their parents.

I know my kids would not be real surprised about this revelation.  They often accused me of being a control freak.  The thing that is important here, is that knowing this about myself I have been able to, as a parent, try to use the strengths of this parenting style to my advantage, while trying to make up for my weaknesses.  I had to learn to show more love and compassion for my kids, and learn to be a bit more flexible and spontaneous.  I can’t say I was always successful in this, but knowing my particular style has helped. I used this strength to help develop the organizational methods that I outline in my book.

To offset my tendencies my husband and I used a different mindset about our children’s activities. While many parents have the mindset that they do not allow their children to do anything ‘unless it helps them’ we had the mindset that unless it hurt them, and was a reasonable, safe and supervised activity, we let them participate. as a result our children had a wide range of experiences while learning to thrive under an organized system. The organization gave them a sense of security because they knew our expectations and limits.

When to have THE TALK

Communicate on their level

One of the most stressful issues facing young parents is determining when they need to have THE TALK with their children. This topic recently came up in a Facebook discussion and stirred some memories.

The first thing to realize is that children need truthful information. If you are uncomfortable when they ask questions they will become reluctant to ask you. If you deceive them in any way they will doubt you.

The next thing to realize is that you CAN, and should, be truthful without giving every detail. When your 3 year-old comes to you and asks,” Mommy, where do babies come from?” How will you respond? A wise friend shared with me that as a young mother she simply said, “The baby is in mommies tummy and when she is ready to come out mommy has some special muscles to help push her out.” The child was satisfied and his question was answered and trust and belief maintained.

Find out what they know, ask them if they have questions, and then add to their knowledge. By the time they are 8 or 9, about five years before they really need to know everything, they should know everything. You don’t want those playground conversations to be traumatic and misleading to your child.

What are your thoughts and experiences?

Tools for Discipline

When children don’t behave our first reaction is to get mad.  But getting mad doesn’t help.

Years ago parents knew how to handle their children.  The prevailing wisdom was that if you spare the rod you would spoil the child.  So when many of today’s grandparents were children they felt the swift and firm consequence of their behavior with physical punishment.

Most experts now agree that strong physical punishment is neither advisable nor effective.  The problem is that today’s parents have not been given tools that are as swift, firm, speedy and as easy to execute, as a whipping was.  We have been told to use time out or to ground our children, but many parents have found time-out to be less than effective and have found that when they ground their child they ground themselves as well.

What people today  need are tools.  Parenting tools help parents guide their children’s behavior, keep parents in control and help alleviate responses that are impulse related, like hitting or yelling.

One tool that parents can use is to provide consequences for children’s behavior.  Often we think of consequences as punishments, but consequences can be good or bad.  A consequence for your son cleaning his room may be that he can watch his favorite show on TV.  A consequence for your daughter coming home late from her friend’s house may be that she has to come home a half hour earlier,or the length of time she was late, the next time.  Consequences that relate directly to their behavior teach children to shape their behavior to create the least discomfort or the highest reward.  Yelling at, or hitting your child, may control behavior, but it doesn’t teach children to manage their own behavior.