December 2009

I Think the Mrs. Wants a Football for Christmas…

Projection. You probably learned about it in your Psychology 101 class. In case you have never heard of it, it is one of the classic defense mechanisms Freud conceived and wrote about. Projection is one of the most primitive defenses that people use (Freudians would say that paranoid delusions are a manifestation of projections). It’s also one of the most difficult to deal with in children.

I took my son to the store a few days ago to buy his sisters some Christmas presents from him. It should be a surprise to no one that this was a difficult task for a 4-year-old boy, who immediately focused on what he wanted for Christmas, not what his sisters wanted. To his credit, he was able to refocus with a little encouragement. Sort of.

Although his task was to find something for his sisters, it was genuinely entertaining during the next 10 minutes to hear the litany of things he said his sisters would want: a set of Hot Wheel cars, light sabers, toy guns, and a bucket of army men.

My son was projecting his desires onto his sisters. He knew that it wasn’t acceptable for him to say, “I want this and that”; he had already learned that I would not approve of this. At the same time, he simply could not shut off his desire for boy-friendly toys. So his mind created a compromise: he imagined that his sisters wanted these things. In this way, it became acceptable for him to desire them, without appearing or perceiving himself as being selfish. Voila!

We witness kids projecting all the time. See if you can notice in the coming weeks how your children use projection in their relationships with you and others. Remember, it is quite normal. Younger children are not developmentally able to put themselves in others’ shoes, but they are more than able to presume that others think and feel just as they do. It is our job as parents to help guide them away from projecting their feelings and take ownership of them by expressing them in a safe way.

Bring Back Child Slavery!!!

So many of our errors are mistakes of extremes.

One extreme sees avoiding disciplining a child out of fear that the child will dislike us; the other extreme sees a parent beat the snot out of a child to achieve absolute domination.

One extreme utterly rejects the idea of talking to children about sex, drugs, and other adult behaviors and temptations; the other extreme introduces children to these things far too early.

One extreme allows children to eat whatever they want, whenever they want; the other extreme tries to control every calorie of the child’s diet.

You can see how extremes can be detrimental to a child’s development. Parents in Charge tend to avoid these extremes. Sometimes this is difficult; raising children can be extremely challenging and frustrating. One of the markers of this reality is when parents come to me and say, “He’s driving me nuts. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I want to give him away!”

I am not alarmed when I hear that. I get it. Don’t be alarmed if you sometimes don’t like your child, especially during some of his more gnarly moments. I tell parents the following:

If you go through parenting without an occasional temptation to throw your child out the window or sell him into slavery, then you aren’t parenting; you’re babysitting.

Don’t you sometimes feel enraged by your spouse, your boss, and others? You’re not responsible for them and you feel intensely toward them. How much more should it be expected that you have intensely negative feelings toward your child?!

Now, I’m not saying that parents should nurture these feelings or act on them. Just don’t be tempted to conclude you don’t love your children if you occasionally dislike them. In fact, it is because you love your child so much that you have these feelings.

So go ahead and remind yourself of this when you’re imagining how much you could fetch for your child on eBay…

Your “Get Out of Homework Hell” Card

So homework has gotten out of control: it is too much, it has become irrelevant, it is too often contentious, it eclipses and prevents family relaxation and playtime, and induces so much stress for the child and parents as to be counterproductive.

So what should a caring parent do?

Parents have to make choices for their own child, independent of what other parents do.

The most important factor to remember is that the school works for you—not the other way around. Without you, teachers and administrators do not have a job. You have significant power.
It is imperative that parents develop and maintain an appropriate perspective and attitude about school. There are two extremes, both of which are harmful. The first presumes that school is meaningless. The second presumes that a child’s performance in elementary and Junior High school are more important than anything else in life. This is the presumption that hurts a great many children and families.

A child’s grades in grade school have zero impact on the child’s future success. None. Zip. Zilch. If the child is learning concepts, learning responsibility, and learning how to learn and study, then the child is getting what he or she needs out of school. Grades do not matter. If we act as if grades are paramount, many children will become anxious about their performance and will begin to catastrophize—view minor failures on assignments or tests as an omen of future failure in life. This is tragic for children.

Here’s how the thinking goes: “Junior, if you don’t do well in school, you’re not going to get a good job. So study hard, get good grades, and you’ll be successful and happy.”

The child then begins to believe that any failure on any test is a harbinger of doom: “If I do poorly on this test or this assignment, I will not get into a good college. If I don’t get into a good college, I won’t get a good job. If I don’t get a good job, I won’t be successful. If I’m not successful, no one will want me and I will live in a cardboard box on the side of the road.”

That is catastrophic thinking; I see it all the time today, not just with teenagers, but with grade school children!

So individually, teach your children the value of learning, rather than performance. Frankly, it’s tough for teachers whose livelihood is based on the child’s test performance. This is one of the most asinine inventions that has ever been foisted on our education system. But in the end, it’s not your problem to worry about. It’s the teacher’s and school’s.

Focus on good learning, homework, and study habits with your child. As long as Junior is doing the basics in those departments, he is doing fine. Leave him alone.

If you believe your child is doing too much homework, then, put a cap on it. It is entirely your right as a parent to say, “Two hours is far too much for a nine-year-old to do. Whatever he gets done in 45 minutes is what gets done. The teacher will have to be satisfied with that.” Tell the teacher about your child’s struggles and suggest less homework, more time to complete it during the daytime with teacher supervision, or different teaching methods for your child.

Finally, you must set up a reasonably conducive homework routine for your child.

–Homework should be completed in a place with as few distractions as possible.
–Homework should never be done with TV, radio, or cell phone on.
–Make sure Junior has plenty of light.
–Homework should be done independently. If the child cannot do it on his or her own, it should not be done. Period. You have far more important things to do in the evening than tutor your child. Other than answering a question here or there and quizzing the child for a test, studies should be done on their own.
–Make sure there is time for a reward after homework is complete. I’m not talking about something huge. But time to watch TV, listen to music, cuddle with Mom or Dad with a book, talk to a friend on the phone, or just relax are all rewards for a job well done. If the child does not have time to do this, the motivation for completing schoolwork will naturally plummet.

Parents, do not let homework rule your life. There are other important things your family should be doing and emphasizing. Don’t let homework crowd those things out of your

What Is the Purpose of Homework?

Do you remember homework being such an emotional, contentious, overwhelming sphere of life? If I had a dollar for every parent who has described nightly meltdowns, fights, drawn-out evenings of homework and school projects, I could retire to Barbados.

What’s with the homework these days?

· 15-year-olds spending 3-7 hours of nightly homework
· 12-year-olds crying at night because their teacher gives an F if the homework is not done completely
· 7-year-olds with over an hour of homework
· 10-year-olds told to study without proper knowledge of study skills
· Parents spending hours monitoring, guiding, and even teaching or re-teaching concepts

This is beyond ridiculous. Until high school, children should not be doing homework except for ONE purpose: to practice skills that they already comprehend to an adequate degree. Homework should NOT be for any of the following:

-Learning concepts
-Busy work
-Studying for tests without having a study guide that explains exactly how and what to study
-Tasks requiring more than a few minutes of parental involvement (exceptions are interviewing parents, quizzing, or playing a fun game)

Anytime homework time becomes contentious, one of several problems is occurring:

1. The teacher has not properly taught the material and expects the child to complete the learning process at home, presumably with parental involvement.
2. The child has not paid proper attention in the classroom and therefore did not complete in-class work.
3. The teacher believes that learning should continue after school and believes homework should foster this learning (hey, THEY work after school, why shouldn’t the kids?).
4. The child is stuck in a dependent relationship with parents, who have not trained the child to complete schoolwork independently.

All of these represent a serious misunderstanding of child development and learning theory. If this situation describes you, look for my next post, which will describe the keys to homework and what parents can do if they and their child are stuck in Homework Hell.

How to Rouse Your Grumpy, Slow Waker-Upper

Almost every family has one child who is a bear to wake up in the morning. Either the child appears in a semi-dead state for so long that you begin to wonder if you need to call 911 or the child becomes extremely grumpy or even hostile upon being roused from his or her slumber.

One courageous parent I know solves the problem by letting Junior sleep in. He brings him to school at 9:30, sometimes 10 AM. What are they going to do, call DCFS?

But if you’re not that brave—or if you reject the notion that children should be able to sleep in—you have to find a way to get your cherub up and at ‘em without turning into a demon.

Here are some suggestions for either type of child:

First, have him wake himself with an alarm clock. You should start training your child to wake himself as soon as possible. This is a great way to foster independence.

Make sure the alarm clock is loud enough, but not obnoxious like some (there are some cool ones that use nature sounds or animal noises).

Second, arrange that if he wakes himself up without Mom or Dad nudging or nagging, he will earn a small reward (such as dessert, $1, or something similar). If he wakes himself every day for a week, he will earn a moderate reward.

Third, if he does not wake himself by the prescribed time, Mom or Dad will wake him. There is no penalty or punishment—only not earning the small reward for that day.

Finally, regardless of who/what wakes him, any disrespect will not be tolerated: there will be an automatic, significant consequence for any disrespectful hostility. Grumpy is allowed; disrespect is not.

For the Slow Waker-Upper, it might be highly advantageous for you or your child to pick out the day’s clothes the night before, so that your child isn’t stumbling around in the dark trying to figure it out with half-closed eyes. Additionally, having the backpack ready to go the night before can save all kinds of delay and grumpiness due to unnecessary rushing.
In general, the more pre-planning you can do for the morning rush, the better it will be for everyone. Sit down with your children and plan the morning time. Let them know that you do not wish to rush them, but certain things must be done. You might be surprised to get some excellent suggestions from them. In the meantime, try structuring the morning a bit better and see how that helps.
That’s enough for now; I’m going back to sleep.