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The Connection Between Our Expectations and Independent Kids

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I recently read a very interesting article titled “My Rules For My Kids: Eat Your Vegetables; Don't Blame The Teacher”.  (Actually, the first version I saw was called “How I Made Sure That All 12 Of My Kids Could Pay For College Themselves”, so I thought that it was going to be an article on finances and saving and investing, but actually, it had nothing to do with that.)  It describes how the author, Francis L. Thompson, and his wife raised their kids and what their expectations of their kids were.

What really struck me was the high level of responsibility put on the kids.  You can only learn so much about a family of 14 from one short internet article, but it really does seem that Mr. Thompson and his wife truly believed their kids were always capable of more.  I don’t mean that they pushed them to excel, but rather that they never bought into the idea that “they’re only kids”.  Not many of us have our eight year olds doing their own laundry, but the Thompson’s did.  In fact, many parents that I’ve casually mentioned this to have gone wide-eyed at the idea.  This then leads to a reluctant, “well, I guess they could do it” response, or a flat-out, “no way.  That’s crazy.” 

I’m actually of the opinion that we don’t expect enough from our kids.  I’m not saying that we should go back to pre-Industrial Revolution standards for our children, but if kids back then worked 12+ hours a day, six days a week, in a physically and emotionally demanding job, then surely – surely! – our kids can put their dishes in the dishwasher and be taught how to clean a toilet. 

We recognize that it takes time to train our kids to learn a new tasks, whether that’s cleaning a toilet, weeding the garden, or changing the oil in the car (as Mr. and Mrs. Thompson had their kids do starting at age 11).  And in our time-crunched society, it is simply easier and faster to do it ourselves.  So we start to develop a mentally of they’re-not-ready-now-but-they-will-be-later.  But we forget that there won’t come a time when our child just simply knows how to clean that bathroom.  There will be a learning curve, regardless of whether he’s three or 13 when we start to require more from him.  And if we lead our children to believe that they aren’t capable, or that there is no expectation that they contribute to the family, we’re setting ourselves up for pampered, disengaged kids who don’t feel a sense of responsibility to others, but who also don’t see themselves as capable and competent.  Listen, I would not have relished the task of rebuilding my own car as a 16 year old (that’s right, the Thompson’s did that too), but I also know that their kids who did must have felt like they could do anything once those cars became road-worthy. 

I think what I was really left with after reading this article was the reminder that kids rise to whatever bar we set for them.  I’m not talking about unrealistic expectations of perfection, but that if we believe that our children are capable and we provide the lessons and the guidance to take more and more responsibility in and for their lives, they rise to the occasion.  We need to raise our kids with the assumption that they can, not wait until they prove us before we believe it.

Bullying and The Adult Bystander

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In reading some information on bullying recently, I was reminded of an Oprah show from a number of years ago, that was a tag-on to the ABC Primetime series "What Would You Do?"  This particular show included a gang of girls bullying another girl (all actors) in a public park.  The question put to the audience was: what would the "innocent bystanders" in the park do?

Interestingly, many men looked over at the commotion, but few (if any) stopped.  A couple of women kept walking, but for the most part, the women came over and confronted the bullies.  What was disturbing to me, though, was as the bullies became belligerent with the bystanders, the behaviour of the bystanders escalated in childish ways.

The most alarming trend was that a number of the bystanders stepped in, tried to get the bullies to stop, and when the bullies wouldn't back down, the ladies started behaving like the girls: mimicking the girls, raising their voices, pointing aggressively at them, and even insulting them and calling them names.  Great example to set! 

The actors were given strict instructions not to swear.  That didn't stop a number of the adult ladies from swearing at the girls -- who were probably in the 13 to 14 year old age range.  Nice.

A couple of these women were on the Oprah show afterward and were asked about their behaviour.  Reassuringly, they both seemed somewhat embarrassed and sheepish, but one did say that she didn't remember behaving that way.  What a fascinating statement.  She got so caught up in the drama of the situation, that she automatically reverted to meet the girls where they were at, dropping, in a sense, to the lowest common denominator, instead of stepping up and trying to provide a healthy example for them.  And she didn't even realize she was doing it!

I think there's a lot to be learned from this little experiment.  And an important question to ask yourself is, if you were in that situation, what would you do?

The Truth, Lies, and Everything In Between

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Someone asked me recently, how much is too much information for a child when it comes to difficult topics like divorce, death, and bankruptcy.  Should we really be honest about these sorts of things?  It's a great question.  Obviously, as kids age their need for information and their ability to process this information changes.  So while we still need to be sensitive to their needs, we have a different balancing act to perform when talking to teens than when we’re talking to preschoolers.

Some kids have a sixth sense when it comes to knowing when something is going on.  Trying to keep a secret from them is a wasted effort.  Lying about it or saying nothing’s up sends what I believe to be an unhealthy message about your trustworthiness and honesty.  So while it isn't critical to give your child or adolescent the full details of your financial picture, for example, it is respectful and honest to say something like, "We're going through a bit of a tight spot with our money right now, so I have a lot on my mind, but we've got a plan in place and we're working it out."  That last part is really important.  Kids are extremely egocentric (in case you hadn't already spotted that for yourself) and instinctively think of how major situations within the family will affect them.  So we don't want them to feel responsible or overly burdened by the situation -- we want them to feel confident that you've got the matter well in hand...even if you are a bit stressed out about it.

Don't go further and put forward things that might not actually happen.  Saying that if your financial picture doesn't turn around you might have to withdraw your son from his school or extra-curricular activities is only going to cause him unnecessary worry.  We've all had times in our lives when we've been worried and anxious about situations over which we have no control; we don't want to put that kind of pressure on our kids.

Analogies can be helpful in situations like this.  Some kids are better able to understand a complex situation if it’s put into a context that they can relate to, especially younger kids. 

And lastly, don't push it.  Your child may come to you with a question, which you should try to answer as truthfully and factually as appropriate, but that may not mean that he wants to get into a big discussion about it.  Follow his lead and give him the space to open up in his own time.

You know what they say: honesty is really is the best policy.  Eventually they'll find out what's going on, and they'll be unhappy and angry with you if they've been mislead.  But at the same time, kids should still be allowed to be kids, and should be sheltered from the stressors you as an adult may be feeling.  Find a balance between being guardedly factual and reassuring, and you’ll be on the right path.

29 Ways To Keep Your Relationship Tuned Up

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, January 07, 2014
Why do some relationships last forever and others fall apart?  here are some ways you can make your partner feel appreciated again and prevent your relationship from becoming a casualty.
  1. Treat your partner as you would your boss, best friend, or best customer.
  2. Think about what your partner wants and give it to him or her.
  3. Think of ways you can do the unexpected and be thoughtful.  Remember how you acted when you wanted to win your partner over.
  4. Pay attention to your appearance.  Dress nicely; make the effort.
  5. Express your thoughts carefully.  Being married doesn't give anyone permission to let it all hang out.
  6. Spend regular time together alone.
  7. Look for ways to compliment your partner.
  8. Hug when you say hello and goodbye.  it feels good and it makes people feel loved.
  9. Learn and practice communication skills.  Relating successfully to another person requires a set of skills that can be learned.
  10. Be polite.  Just because you're married, it doesn't mean you can forget your manners.
  11. When you want something, say please.
  12. When your partner does something for you, say thank you.
  13. when your partner comes home after a day at work, greet her at the door and say hello.  Ask how her day went.
  14. When your partner leaves for work in the morning, say goodbye and "I love you" or "Have a good day."
  15. When your partner faces a challenge at work during the day, ask how it went when you get home.
  16. During your evening meal together, avoid the temptation to watch television or check your phone.  Look at your partner and have a conversation.
  17. If you want to make plans that affect how your partner will be spending time, check with him first and make sure it's convenient.
  18. When you ask your partner a question, make eye contact and listen to the answer.
  19. when you disagree with something your partner says, pay attention to your response.  Do you express your opinion without putting her down?  You can express your opinion assertively rather than aggressively.  For example, you can say, "I have another opinion.  I think we should wait until spring to have the walls painted," rather than, "That's silly!  We should wait until spring."
  20. Pay attention to how much of your side of the conversation is asking questions versus making statements.  If you tend to be the dominant one, ask more questions.
  21. Ask open-ended questions to encourage your partner to open up and talk.  Open-ended questions begin like this:  Tell me about...   What do you think of...   What was it like when...
  22. Have you become passive with your partner because that's the easiest way to avoid conflict?  Over time, this is not a good idea.  You will inevitably begin to build up feelings of resentment because you are stifling your feelings, thoughts, and opinions.  If you think you are choosing passive behaviour too often, think about discussing it with your partner and asking him to help you be more assertive.
  23. Researchers have found that people whose marriages last the longest have learned to separate from their families of origin (their own parents and siblings) and have appropriate, healthy boundaries.  They value and honour their own privacy and separateness as a couple.  This means they have regular, appropriate contact with their extended family, but that it is not excessive or stifling.  How do you compare?
  24. Check your communication with your partner and beware of using "You" messages.  These are statements that begin with you.  For example:  You need to come home by 6:00 tonight.  You shouldn't do that.  You should call me from the office and tell me when you'll be home.  Here is what you ought to do.  "You" messages are damaging because they make the other person feel bad or disrespected.  It feels like you are talking down to him or her.
  25. If you want to demonstrate to your partner that you respect and esteem him or her, try speaking with "I" messages instead.  When you start your statement with "I", you are taking responsibility for the statement.  it is less blameful and less negative than the "You" message.  You can you this formula: Your feelings + Describe the behaviour + Effect on you.  This is how an "I" message sounds: When I heard that you'd planned a weekend up north, I was confused about why you hadn't asked me first, so I could be sure to get the time off.  It takes some practice and you have to stop and think about what you are going to say, but your marriage deserves to be handled with care.
  26. Make a list of your partner's positive qualities.Share them with him and tell him why you think each is true.
  27. Ask your partner to do the same for you.
  28. Respect each other's private space.  Over time, many couples let this slide.
  29. As the years pass, many couples begin to feel like they are living in the same house, but have parallel lives.  Their paths cross in fewer places.  What is the trend in your relationship and what do you want to do about it?

The Sleep-Deprived Teenager

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, January 07, 2014

How much sleep do you get?  As someone who has struggled with sleep problems most of my life, I'm very interested in sleep issues and very conscientious about giving my own kids the best start when it comes to the best sleep habits.

Why are we as a culture so inclined to dismiss or downplay the importance of sleep?  I remember being in high school and having a friend moan, "I'm sooo tired!"  How often do we hear "I'm so tired"?  How often do we say it?

This can be a tough issue for teens.  Ironically, as kids age, they begin to need more sleep than they used to.  According to Dr. Marc Weissbluth in his (overall) great book Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child, "Many teenagers over age fifteen require more sleep than in previous years to maintain optimal daytime alertness."  Which could not come at a worse time, as homework increases, extra-curricular events increase, and the demands of part-time jobs increase.

Dr. Weissbluth describes the features Stanford University researchers use to define chronic and severe sleep disturbances in teenagers:

  1. Forty-five or more minutes required to fall asleep on three or more nights a week                OR
  2. One or more awakenings a night followed by thirty or more minutes of wakefulness occurring on three or more nights a week               OR
  3. Three or more awakenings a night on three or more nights a week

He concludes the paragraph on page 362 of his book by saying, "So, if your teenager has this kind of sleep pattern, don't consider it a 'normal' part of growing up."

If this sounds like your teen (or you), talk with your doctor.  Just be warned that many doctors have little to no background on adolescent sleep patterns, and may be inclined to dismiss it as just being a phase that they'll grow out of.  For some concrete strategies to try, check out Dr. Weissbluth's book for some strategies on developing good "sleep hygiene" (flip to Chapter 9 on Schoolchildren and Adolescence).  Everything from depressed moods to impaired critical thinking and school performance can be influenced by chronic overtiredness, so chat with your teen and actively seek out resources to help.

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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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