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"Perfect Angels"

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I came across a National Post article I cut from the paper many moons ago,entitled Perfect Angels.  It was written by Alan E. Kazdin, who is a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University (so he should know what he's talking about!).  In the article, he describes how research continues to show that punishment is NOT effective when it comes to changing behaviour, and how the only method that has been consistently shown to bring about lasting change is the use of positive reinforcement. 

Here's an example from the article of what he's talking about:

Whenever you see the child do what you would like, or even do something that's a step in the right direction, you not only pay attention to that behaviour, but you praise it in specific, effusive terms. "You were angry at me, but you just used words. You didn't hit or kick, and that's great!" Add a smile or a touch -- a hug, a kiss, a pat on the shoulder. Verbal praise grows more effective when augmented via another sense.

Now, in Democratic Parenting terms, what he actually means is to provide verbal encouragement as opposed to verbal praise, but despite the difference in language, the suggestion for parents' behaviour is the same.  By focusing on concrete, specific actions your child has taken, by recognizing them and the effort your child is making toward change, we encourage a real sense of accomplishment and pride in our children -- and let's face it, we all do better when we feel good about ourselves.

I'd never heard of Dr. Kazdin before, but I'm interested in checking out his books, The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child and The Everyday Parenting Toolkit, which was published this past June.  Has anyone else read either of them?

Good-bye, June and Ward

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What does it mean to be a mother or a father in today’s world? Being a mother used to mean you maintained the home and looked after the kids, while being a father meant that you went to work and earned the money. And when we look back at television shows or movies from that time, everything seemed so easy. Everyone knew what their “job” was – job in the sense of work and in the sense of role.

Not anymore.

It is a fairly new shift in thinking to consider not only outside employment, but also maintaining a home and raising children as “work.” Psychologically, it can be tricky to navigate. Without role models who understand and have lived through the same realities we are coping with, we’re left essentially to figure things out on our own. Often, what this means is that mom carries the brunt of the load. Researchers have discovered that most working mothers are also largely responsible for home care, in addition to their employment. The term Second Shift refers to working outside the home for a full day, then coming home to another eight hours filled with meal preparation, housework, and laundry.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. In a way, we really are on our own here, as there has been no generation before us to pave the way and share their secrets. We need to each work in partnership with our partners to arrive at our own solutions.

Remember that equal does not mean the same. If you are a stay-at-home parent, your contribution to the functioning of your family is equal to that of your working-outside-the-home partner, even if it’s not the same. A marriage is based on feelings of equality, not sameness. As long as you are both in agreement that what you are contributing is as equally important as your partner’s contributions, the details are not important.

Problems can arise when one parent feels as though his/her efforts are not recognized or appreciated, since everyone values hearing how their actions have made someone else’s life easier. So don’t hesitate to share with your partner how much you value what s/he is doing, whether that’s commuting long hours to a job or making sure that shirts are clean, pressed, and hanging where they’re easy to find in the wee hours of the morning.

Communication is, as usual, the cornerstone of creating a balanced home life. Talk with your partner about what really matters to you, and create a list (literally or figuratively) of your priorities. If family dinners really matter to both of you, then perhaps some of the other things that have been crowding them out need to be adjusted or removed. Don’t waste your time and energy trying to do what you think you “should.” If it works for you, if everyone is happier for it, then it’s the right answer. Let that be your benchmark.

Now that you are in agreement as to what your priorities are, create a list of everything that needs to be done on a weekly or monthly basis. If there’s more on the list than can be realistically done each week, cut back to only your priorities. If you can afford it, don’t hesitate to hire someone to help you. Our mothers may never have had a housecleaner, but they also didn’t have email and 50-hour workweeks. Surrender the fantasy that if you just worked a little harder, you could make it all fit “like mom did” or like “everyone” else does.

Keeping your marriage strong is also of critical importance. With everything else rushing in to fill any free moment, it can be tempting to assume that there will be time “later” to focus on the two of you. But as with anything, we can neglect our marriage only for so long before the damage becomes more work to repair than it was to avoid in the first place. Start by telling your partner how much you appreciate the work s/he is already doing. Then work together as a team to let your family priorities determine how you spend your time. And remember: in 2013, vacuuming in pumps is optional.

Homework For Parents

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The older your child gets, the less involved you may become in their homework.  Or, then again, you may find yourself nagging and supervising more because less seems to be getting done.

Homework is a big issue for parents.  We can see the benefits of a sound education, even when our kids can't.  But we have to make sure that we don't take too much responsibility for the work itself -- while our kids may actually graduate if we do the bulk of their projects, they've missed out on the opportunity to actually learn anything.

Sometimes the reason everything gets left to the last minute is because your child really doesn't know how to plan and manage the work flow.  That would be a great opportunity for you to step in and offer some guidance.  The younger your kids are when you can instil these principles, the better, but it's never too late.  Gently remind your child how miserable she was the last time she had a big project and left it to the last minute, and offer to help set up a schedule to keep her on track and avoid the need for an all-nighter. 

Don't let yourself get sucked in to assuming too much responsibility for the project.  While of course we want our kids to do well in school, the real purpose of school is not to achieve a certain grade, but to develop critical thinking skills, planning skills, and personal responsibility.  In our societal zeal to emphasize the importance of an education, the real learning can easily be lost.

And a failing grade won't kill your child.  But it just might teach a more valuable lesson than any that you could have taught through your own efforts.

"I Quit"

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, October 08, 2013

If your teen has been involved in a sport or music lessons or similar activity regularly over the past number of years, you might find that as he gets further into his teen years, he doesn’t want to go anymore. 

Having a passion -- something that inspires them and keeps them focused -- is a great thing for teens.  It helps to keep them from falling into the kind of trouble that kids get into when they're bored, as well as being a built in excuse for avoiding trouble they don't want to be in ("I'd really like to stay and party, but I have football tomorrow...").  So whatever activity your teen is passionate about, it has way more benefits than just the physical/mental/artistic benefits that come from the activity itself.

Try to figure out why your teen wants to quit.  Is he burned out?  Has he been devoted to art classes since he was a tyke and now just wants a break, or to try something new?  Does he have too many things going on and is feeling too much pressure? 

Sometimes kids at this age don't want to participate in activities because they don't have friends with them.  So perhaps swimming lessons are a no-go because they involve your teen being alone with her teacher, but joining an team with a pal would be perfect.

As with anyone, sometimes kids' interests change over time.  While your son might have been pumped about hockey when he was seven, now that he's older, he's more interested in soccer.  Or perhaps he'd prefer a less structured activity, like hiking or playing a casual game of hockey or soccer with friends. 

Sometimes, all we need is a break to realize how much we miss our passion.  But it's not a great idea to try to force kids at this age to stick with something if they really have their minds set against it.  By talking with them perhaps you can figure out what the root of the problem is, and then decide together how to go from there.

Parent Report Cards

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Monday, October 07, 2013

 I got this great email last week from Beverley Cathcart-Ross at The Parenting Network – I thought it was so fabulous that I had to share it!  What do you think?  What mark do you think you’d get from your kids?

“As parents, we spend much of our day evaluating our children's performance - how well they do in sports and academics, are they reaching milestones in a timely manner and how are they measuring up?
Just for fun, we thought we would turn the tables and stimulate some family discussions about your performance. How do you measure up as a parent? From your child's point of view? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Do my parents start the day with a cheery "Good Morning" and a hug or do they start by telling me all the things I need to do to get ready?
  2. Do they give me lots of chances to do things for myself so I can practice and improve? Things like tying my shoes, setting the table, climbing the jungle gym at the park or making a sandwich?
  3. Do they give me an age-appropriate allowance so I can begin to learn the value of money?
  4. Do we have regular or occasional family meetings so we can together discuss things like routines, menus, family outings and our daily schedule?
  5. Does Mom or Dad always jump in to fix things and give solutions rather than asking my opinion or teaching me problem solving skills?
  6. Do they treat me respectfully, even if I am not always respectful to them, so I have a good role model to learn from?
  7. Am I afraid Mom or Dad is going to be cross if I give the wrong answer when they help me with my homework or piano practice?
  8. Do Mom and Dad give in to me if I have a temper tantrum or do they help me see that even though I can't have my way all the time, they care and help me deal with it?
  9. Do Mom and Dad apologize when they have lost their tempers or said something they really don't mean?
  10. Do they end the day with a hug and an "I love you", even if we have had the worst day ever?”

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Andrea Ramsay Speers • Psychotherapist & Parent Coach • Oakville Family Institute • 175 Glenashton Dr., Oakville ON • Tel.: 905-491-6949

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