Parenting Q&A

I’m writing a book on parenting. I’ve never written anything longer than about a 5 page paper, and that was 20 years ago, but I’m doing it anyway.

As part of my thought gathering I put out a SURVEY to try and assess what kinds of things parents need to hear about. Hopefully with concrete examples I can address in the book.

(BTW the survey is still open, and you are welcome to TAKE IT)

So now I have a handful of submissions, and realize that I have things to say to THESE SPECIFIC (and anonymous) PEOPLE which I think will help them.

So here’s my responses to some of the questions:

Response 1

How do I keep myself from thinking negative thoughts about my parenting ability?

We’re all human. We are not perfect. We can get over-emotional. We don’t know everything. We are capable of learning. We are capable of changing.

You are on an endless path of self improvement, climbing an mountain without a top to become a more perfect you. This has always been true, but now the perfect version of you is also the perfect parent.

Parenting is a skill and you are getting better at it. In our minds we make the stakes so high (“my son’s entire future rests upon these decisions!”) but honestly kids are resilient. And humankind is resilient, if we weren’t there wouldn’t be so many of us. Everyone wishes they were better, but you are good enough. Parents today devote far more time and effort to their kids than any generation before. It will never be perfect, but if your child is secure in the knowledge that he is loved, then it’s good enough.

 Is it right to carve out time for myself if the kids are awake?

GOD YES! Not only do you deserve time for yourself, you NEED time for yourself. When you get it you will be calmer and happier, and therefore a better parent, and a better husband (and also calmer and happier!)

Like the stewardess says: “Put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others”

Describe a situation with your kids that you regularly struggle with.

Bedtime routines with my son get longer and longer as time goes on. He’s very good at slowly making the routines longer and longer until they become almost impossible to carry out in a timely fashion. Over time, he grows attached to every second of this routine, and he doesn’t want to let go of any of it.

You are the parent, and he is the kid. You decide how long a bedtime routine will take, not him. Your child has manipulated you, and you know it, and you are letting it continue. You need to explain the way the routine is going to go, and how long it’s going to take, and then execute the plan precisely, and leave him alone. And this manipulative little bastard is going to cry and whine and whimper and test your resolve. And it’s not an act. He really will be upset. And he really will get over it.

Decide the pattern. Communicate the pattern. Stick to the pattern no matter what. Things will renormalize and you will be much happier for it.

Describe a time you handled a situation with your child very well.

I seem to be good at explaining things to him in a basic manner, i.e. using tools, how things work, etc. I guess my particular gift is explaining things to her four-year-old like a four-year-old

 I think you sound a little dismissive of your superpower. The ability to take ideas out of your head, and accurately get your child to understand them is the basis of all education and will allow him to build a successful life. Bravo.

Describe in detail an interaction with your kid that went badly.

I have never struck or spank my children, even in anger. However, I have wanted to. And I have raise my voice further than I would have liked. I honestly don’t remember any details, I think because I don’t want to, but I hate it when I lose my cool around my kids. It’s not how I would want them to handle situations that frustrate them.

 I am not anti-spanking, but I am highly concerned at the part of the sentence that goes “even in anger.” When I am angry is the time I am LEAST likely to use any kind of physical punishment on my kid. Spanking is an incredibly quick and visceral way to convey into a child’s brain that they screwed up. But you are waaaaaay stronger than that kid, and you need to respect that size difference.

Spanking is not necessary, but respect of your authority is, and spanking a small child is not a bad shortcut to that authority that you MUST have in place. And if you don’t get that respect while they’re little, it’ll be 5x as hard when they’re older.

It’s better to remain calm in control of our feelings. This will let us pay more attention to how they are reacting to what we do, so we can more effectively modify their behavior… which is our job as parents. That being said, the PERFORMANCE of anger can be a very useful tool for getting your child to realize that what you are saying right now should have more impact than at other times.

 Response 2

I am not a parent but I would ask how I can tell if a child CAN’T do what is being asked of them versus is being stubborn and refusing to.

Communicate to the kid that you don’t care about whether they can or cannot complete the task, but you care very much that they TRY. Praise effort, not results. Whenever a child does well, don’t tell them about how wonderful a job they did, without linking that praise back to the effort they put in to get that result. I realize that this doesn’t quite answer your question… we still don’t know how to “tell” if the child can or can’t, but it kind of doesn’t matter. Whether than can or they can’t, make them try. The harder they work, the prouder you act, regardless of the outcome.

Describe a situation with your kids that you regularly struggle with.

I work in a school. I hate it when kids try to tell adults what they can and can’t do.

They are testing your authority. Act confident, they can smell weakness and will try to exploit you. Maybe confidence for you looks like ignoring stupid comments and doing what needs to be done. Maybe confidence looks like winning the verbal repartee to put him in his place.

(I’m really good with kids, but might not be so good with bureaucracies. lol)

Describe a time you handled a situation with your child very well.

As a former teacher I had a kid cheat because I had to leave the room during a test and a bully harassed him. I put the class to work and talked to him alone. I explained that if he does this he will fail classes. I keep up with this kid on Facebook and 7 years later he is an adult and he appreciates me.

This is perfect. You maintained your authority, and explained the natural consequences of the kids behavior in a way that he understood. He respected, listened, and learned (a lesson more important than what is on the curriculum). Well done

Describe in detail an interaction with your kid that went badly.

As volunteer with a teacher I had the class from hell..and I was constantly telling out of frustration.

As a parent I don’t have much experience dealing with kids more than 4 at a time. That being said, anger is one of the tools in your tool box, but the yelling should more for performance than for catharsis. You have to keep emotionally detached enough to mentally step back and observe the reactions to your performance. If it’s not working, try something else. If you don’t know what else to try, observe/ask the teachers that work.

After saying that I realize it’s limits. You need to observe someone establishing authority of this flavor of group of kids, and the teachers probably already have it. This means that the kids will react differently to the teacher than they do to you.

Hmmmm… Ask the teacher to role-play with you. You act like the bad kid and they act like a teacher in control of a class and see if that helps.


Response 3 

How do you get twins on the same sleep schedule?

Warning: No actual experience with twins.

If they’re babies, you may be screwed. This might just be your life for a year or so.

If they’re sleeping most the night, you need to establish a bed time routine. A repeated path from bath to dressed to bedtime story to cuddle to bed. Follow it like a machine.

Describe a situation with your kids that you regularly struggle with.

Sibling rivalry there isn’t much but I loath it when it’s happening.

When it’s happening, I recommend distraction to stop it.

After it happens have individual discussions with the kids. Explain that in life we need team mates for the hard times and their sibs will turn out to be their most loyal team mates… if they don’t screw it up now.

Describe a time you handled a situation with your child very well.

Her many medical needs, I quickly became her greatest advocate medically and academically.

Way to step up! Doctors and Teachers can both use their authority to short-circuit our brains into accepting what they say. Good job weighing their opinions with your own knowledge of the situation and making sure your kids are treated right.

Describe in detail an interaction with your kid that went badly.

I blamed her for something she didn’t do and found out later it was her brother and he let her take the rap for it. It went very poorly for him following that encounter.

This will happen with multiple kids. The closer their ages the harder to tell who did what, and twins is the logical limit of that.

There are several ways to handle this, the “fairest” is to do a full investigation of every event, and never punish without sufficient evidence. This is a ridiculously high standard which is impractical.

The most practical technique is to question both quickly, and in the absence of sufficient evidence, punish both. Hopefully one will confess. Then you praise the honesty and express pride in the honorable behavior, and then mete out the exact same consequences they were getting in the first place, because actions must have consequences.

The mistake you made was inevitable, but you still have to live with it. It sounds like your son recieved appropriately stacked punishment for the original infraction as well as for his dishonesty. That’s good. I hope you also had a conversation with your daughter in which you apologized for the injustice.