June 2009

Let’s Start a Family…Not!

by Dr. Dathan Paterno

Today is Pet Peeve Day. In case you didn’t know, the second week of June is Pet Peeve Week. I just made it so. 

So one of my biggest pet peeves is when parents say “We’re going to start a family” when referring to their decision to have children. Umm, news flash: if you are married and deciding to have children, you already are a family. This is an important distinction to make. It isn’t just semantics; it has enormous implications for how you will parent and how your marriage will survive parenthood.

A new family is formed when a man and woman marry (I’m not going to get into same-sex marriage here), whether or not the wife takes her husband’s name, vice-versa, or neither spouse changes names. The wedding pronounces the new family’s primary members and officials: Husband and Wife, Mom and Dad, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer, President and Vice-President, King and Queen, co-consuls, Czar and Czarina, or whatever other titles make sense to you. The point is that you are family before you have children. 

If you conceive—pun intended—of your family as beginning when your first child arrives, you make the child the primary focus of your family. It is as if your family simply could not exist or survive without that child. This threatens your family’s hierarchy. Instead of a healthier parent-first hierarchy, your family will descend into child-first thinking. Children do not need to be first. They need to know that they have entered an already existing system, with firmly established rules, boundaries, expectations, and relationships. In short, children need to know that their place in the family is of equal value, worth, and love, but that the parents hold the positions of authority.

So instead of saying, “We’re starting a family”, say “We’re ready to expand our family!” or “We’re going to start having children”. Or if you are feeling a bit cheeky, “It’s time we added to our workforce!”

Top Ten Behaviors that Parents in Charge Never Tolerate

by Dr. Dathan Paterno

Parents in Charge is the term I use for those parents who are in control of their families without being too controlling. Of course, Parents in Charge do not have perfect children. Their children can be ridiculous and foolish just as any other children can. However, Parents in Charge do not tolerate such behavior. They expect their children to exhibit superb behavior and reinforce them when they behave well. When their cherubs choose to misbehave, they enforce consequences that make them wish they had behaved better.

The following is a list of behaviors I see many parents tolerating that simply should not be.

1. Parents in Charge do not allow their children to order them in any way: not about meals, not about wheels, not about stations, not about vacations. They will not boss them here or there; they will not boss them anywhere!

2. Children who have Parents in Charge do not Answer Shop (e.g., appeal to Dad when Mom has said “no”), because they know this will not be tolerated.

3. Parents in Charge do not tolerate eye-rolling, arm-folding, stomping, door-slamming, or any looks that suggest they are from another planet, especially when establishing limits or bestowing one of their many invaluable pearls of wisdom.

4. Parents in Charge do not tolerate children whispering “whatever” or speaking anything under their breath to or about them.

5. Parents in Charge do not sustain their child’s whining, nagging, or even adorable begging in order to get things that can be gotten with “Please, may I…” Parents in Charge can spot and dodge even the best brown-nosing maneuvers.

6. Insulting a Parent in Charge never pays because Parents in Charge never tolerate their child calling them “retarded”, “lame”, or “backward” (even though all parents slip into one of these from time to time).

7. Parents in Charge do not suffer complaints of boredom. They respond to such complaints by saying, “Only boring people get bored. Interesting people find or create something to do. If you would like my guidance, I have a fantastic list of chores that could keep you occupied for hours. Would you…hey, where are you going?!”

8. In restaurants, Parents in Charge do not tolerate obnoxious behavior. If their child acts out, they take him outside or to the bathroom, establish the seriousness of the expectations, give him an attitude adjustment if necessary, and assure him that if he acts out again, he will be eating wheat bread and broccoli when he gets home. Parents in Charge follow through with this.

9. Parents in Charge never tolerate other children misbehaving in their home without consequence. Rather, a Parent in Charge asserts his sovereignty gently but firmly, confronting any misbehavior and removing the child from the home if necessary. Afterwards, the parent communicates very clearly to that child’s parents what occurred and which behaviors will not be tolerated in their home. Finally, the Parent in Charge extends an open invitation for the child to return to the home if the child can respect the family’s limits and boundaries.

10. Finally, Parents in Charge witness no positive behavior from their children without acknowledging, appreciating, praising, respecting, and expressing gratitude for it. Parents in Charge know their children crave their love, acceptance, attention, and approval and waste no opportunity to dole it out.

Oh No, It’s Summertime!!!

by Dr. Dathan Paterno

Summer. For kids, it is synonymous for heaven; for most adults, it means relief and joy. To some parents, however, it is both a blessing and a curse. There is confusion over what to do with the vast amounts of unstructured time, questions about whether children should work on academic skills or should just be left alone, and indecision about what chunks of time should be structured and planned and which should be left for them to manage on their own?
These are important questions. Summer consumes nearly a quarter of the year, so there is quite a bit of time to consider and a significant amount of benefit that can be gained from using that time wisely (or, conversely, wasted).
Most importantly, children need a balance of several important needs:
  1. A balance of parent-induced structure and freedom to choose
  2. A balance of outside time and inside time.
  3. A balance of purposeful, meaningful activity/work and relaxation (“down time”).
  4. A balance of work and play.
School provides a great deal of the structure your child needs during the year. During summer—especially if both parents work—children can be left with too much unstructured time. Long gone are the days I recall where children were safe wandering the neighborhood on their own, returning home at dark. Today’s child needs a greater external safety structure, so a good chunk of your child’s day should be structured in some way—either in a class, camp, lessons, tutoring, sport: something where there is ample adult supervision. The rest of the day should be split between the child’s choices and whatever the family does as a unit.
Weather permitting, it is important for your child to be outside. Children need exercise, and creative activities like the kindergarten worksheets and summer is the optimal time for exploring all sorts of physical activities outside that wouldn’t be available during the school year. Some examples are riding bikes, swimming at the pool, outdoor parks, camping, catching fireflies, and nighttime games like Kick the Can and Ghost in the Graveyard. During the hotter months, it is important that children have a “home base” where they can go inside, cool off, refuel with food and water, and give the parents a chance to reconnect with their child.
Insist that your child spend some time outside. If they protest that they cannot find things to do, replace your gardener or landscaper with child labor!
Children need a significant amount of what I call “belly button-picking time”. This is the time where kids relax, “veg out”, watch TV, slump in a chair, and other things that make them look rather slothful. If this is all your child wants to do, then crack the whip and give him a choice between a huge list of chores or do something active or meaningful. But don’t be too upset if your child wants a few hermit-like hours included in her day.
Finally, your child should not cease all work during the summer. For elementary age children, they should continue to perform daily and weekly chores. Reading is important; some experts suggest that 30 minutes per day helps stave off regression of reading fundamentals. Similarly, it is not a bad idea to include some math practice, since those skills often dissipate during the summer. However, most children do not need heavy-duty summer school or a tutor during the summer. A worksheet of math problems per week is plenty. Just remember to keep it fun, light-hearted, and simple.
If your child has specific needs that are addressed during the school year, such as a physical or learning disability, problems with speech, or emotional struggle then the summer isn’t the time to stop working on these needs. Just make sure that you do not overburden your child with work, to the point where there is too little time for play.
So begin discussing your summer, remembering to balance all of your child’s and family’s needs. Have a great summer!