Wednesday 14 December 2016

My Top 10 Parenting Tips

   My kids are remarkably quiet, respectful, well behaved and smart. I started having kids late in life and I like to think that my maturity and wisdom had some impact, but they probably get all the good stuff from their mother's side of the family.

   Regardless, I have gathered all that I have learned as a parent and compressed it into this top-10 list. Yes, I know there are actually 45 things in the list, nevertheless, this is a top-10 list... with bonus material, because the internet is not interested in top-45 lists. Also, there are 46.

1/45 Advice Regarding Advice : Among the first things that come with the parenting experience is a strong set of opinions about parenting accompanied by a looming sense of guilt that you may be failing your child in some way. Children are cute and attract a lot of attention wherever they go, so to add to this self-inflicted pressure is the fact that all the eyes of society are upon you and judging you by your child's behaviour. So my very first advice to a parent is to resist shaming or criticising another parent. Their strong opinions will collide with yours and that sense of possible guilt will make them defensive and likely volatile. Unless they ask, never tell another parent how to raise their kids. And if they ask, be gentle. It's the hardest criticism to take and you may not know what you are talking about. Feel the overwhelming urge to share? Do what I do: write a blog that few read.

2/45 One thing to keep in mind that will help you sympathize with the parents of "wayward" children is that kids are born with natural dispositions firmly in place. Some of those built-in tendencies do not fit well into society and it can be a long and delicate task to redirect this innate behaviour without breaking the child's spirit.

3/45 Your children will act out, behave in bizarre ways or blurt inappropriate things in public. Try not to worry what others think because your kids can detect this and use your discomfort as a tool to get what they want. Remember: People who haven't raised children have no clue. People who have, are probably sympathetic. Those unwise enough to judge you, are not wise enough to competently advise you.

4/45 Yelling is ineffective. The one thing that kids crave above all else is your attention. And they don't discriminate between good and bad attention, the way an adult might. So when you yell at your kids for misbehaving, you may actually be rewarding their little reptile brains and encouraging their antics. For this reason, they are unlikely to stop jumping on the couch just because you yelled at them.

5/45 Actions speak louder than words. If their misbehaviour is physically interrupted, kids consider that a negative thing. Instead of yelling, get off your butt and stop them.

6/45 Follow through on your threats. This way, you'll be more careful about using threats and your children will learn to respect your authority. People who yell at their kids, but never physically enforce their threats have children who ignore them. And, they end up yelling a lot. You can't parent from a chair.

7/45  Similarly, follow through on your promises so that they become effective incentives, and also so that your kids learn to keep their promises, in the future.

8/45 Fight those early battles well: Parents are busy people and disciplining is often inconvenient. But, if you make a point of putting up with any inconvenience and addressing the issues early on, your kids will more quickly understand that they can not blackmail you with the inconvenience and you will endure far fewer interruptions, in the long run. Fail to do this and the smallest battles will rage on for years.

9/45 As long as your kids feel loved, safe and secure, the rest is much less important. The more love, safety and security you can provide, the less impact your parenting mistakes will have.

I'm not absolutely against spanking kids, but I have to mention that I've never had to do it in my eleven years as a parent. If they are well loved, then a well-deserved spanking will not psychologically scar them. However, as I believe they copy what we do, I can't really justify smacking a kid and then telling them not to smack others, or not to bully, because that's basically what a spanking is; conquering by force. The only times I've ever truly been tempted to smack my child was when he or she deliberately hurt my other child, or when they suddenly did something foolish and put themselves in harm's way. The reaction is instinctive, but I've managed to catch myself, just in time. I did, once, flick my son painfully on the shoulder when he recklessly endangered his little sister. It hurt his feelings more than his body, but I still feel guilty about this because of the look of betrayal he gave me.

11/45 Be fair in your punishments: If you punish too often, or are too heavy handed, you will be less effective. Especially in the heat of the moment, refrain from overreacting. I am slow to mete out punishment, usually starting with warnings, escalating to punishments if the behaviour persists.
Early on, I had a theory that consequence would be a much better teacher than punishment. For example, if they broke a toy, then that toy would not be available to them and would not be replaced and I hoped this would teach them to care for their possessions. At first, it seemed to work. I could sit with a 4-year-old and explain things like "if you don't go to sleep at bedtime, you will be tired the next day and might even get sick," and they seemed to get it and avoid the problem in the future.
   This idea worked really well until my kids were about eight. I guess that's when they realized that I was neither God nor Encylopedia Britannica and that the things I said might not be absolute truths. After that, they were not so easily persuaded by words and the idea of consequence. Instead, they began looking for ways to cheat the system. For instance, when my son got in the habit of chatting to his sister keeping her awake, long after bedtime. I am very reluctant to punish, so I talked to him a few times. He lowered his voice to a whisper but continued. Finally, I revoked all of his computer privileges. Then he finally understood that I was serious and that there were consequences that mattered to him. That problem vanished.

12/45 Fairness and expectation: Kids—especially below the age of six—don't see unfairness the way adults do because they only have the expectations that we give them. For instance, my kids are often not allowed the same sugary/salty snacks as most of the other kids they play with. When they were very young, we told them that it was because we wanted them to be healthy, and we demonstrated our resolve by leaving events the first couple of times they made a fuss. These days, my kids are usually the only ones not hovering around the chip bowl and pestering their parents for more. And they do not feel cheated at all. Further demonstrating the point is the fact that the other kids quickly accepted that "normal" was the William M. Dean-kids having only 3-4 potato chips while everyone else filled a bowl.

13/45 Don't expect to be fair, all the time. Just because you eat cake does not mean that they get a piece, too. That's not how life works and anyway, ultimately, everything balances out because every material thing you never got forced you to become a better person. My sister has a little saying that she uses to cut short the whining: "Life's not fair, don't compare."

14/45 Be stingy with rewards but generous with praise. Try to find something positive to say about anything your child is proud of but save high praise and rewards for when it's genuinely deserved. They will come to understand the difference and properly learn to evaluate their own efforts.

15/45 Lead by example: From what I've observed with friends and family, your daughter will tend to mimic her mother's behaviour and your son will mimic his father's. It's obvious to us that my son takes after my wife's family, in body and brain, and yet, he thinks and behaves more like me. The exact opposite is true of my daughter.

16/45 Kids copy–what you don't do, as well as what you do. I allow my kids to see stuff that includes foul language because trying to prevent exposure is impractical, but I do not swear. As a result, my kids know all the bad words and phrases, but they never use them.

17/45 Curse words: Don't worry about your kids hearing bad words. There is no way you can stop it and the lesson they really need to learn is not to repeat them. Bad words and most other taboos are completely arbitrary, but not respecting those taboos can affect your child's future, so they need to learn who those words will offend and what the social consequences are.

18/45 Sexual content: Don't worry about them being accidentally exposed to sexual images. Kids only "see" what they understand. If what they see generates questions, then they are old enough to hear the answers. However, be careful to only answer what they specifically ask. Answer clinically and don't take things further unless prodded by another question. You might be surprised at how many obvious questions they don't ask.

19/45 Violent media: Do worry about exposing them to violent media—especially movies. This scares kids and makes them feel unsafe. Also, so much of what the media serves is unrealistically frequent and sadistic, which can skew their world view.

20/45 Expectation, habit, comfort zones: One way to think about parenting is that you are instilling expectations, comfort zones and habits. An expectation might be "that you eat your vegetables because they are healthy." A good habit is something like brushing teeth. A comfort zone might be having a family reading time, just before bed. (Habits eventually become comfort zones, so the two are difficult—maybe impossible—to distinguish.)

21/45 No sugar before 5 years old: I read this somewhere and thought it might work, so we tried it with both our kids. They are now 9- and 11-years old and both like sweets, but are very picky. They won't eat crappy store-bought birthday cake and don't care at all that every other kid at the party is chowing down. They also do not overindulge in sweets and never hover when junk food is put out. We monitor it minimally, but it takes them almost the entire year to eat their Hallowe'en haul, and that's after they've given away everything they don't like. On the other hand, they must monitor me constantly to keep me away from their goodie bags because I'd lick sugar off a bee's bottom if I couldn't get it any other way.

22/45 Dental hygiene: Brush their teeth for them, at least twice a day, until they are 5 or 6 to make sure they develop the habit and learn how to do a good job. After that, they should brush after every meal and you will have to constantly check to make sure they are doing a good job. Electric toothbrushes have a built-in timer which makes it easier to set a standard. Beyond brushing, we make our kids floss while watching TV, using the little plastic dental floss sticks, often called kid- or line-flossers. When it's not convenient to brush after a meal, we give our kids sugarless gum. We choose the adult-oriented mint-flavoured ones because we don't want them to love it enough to develop a gum-chewing habit. We also restrict this to no more than once a day. Neither of my kids has ever had a cavity.

23/45 Be conservative how much dental work is performed on your children. The best medicine is to not get sick. Everything else is a compromise. Make sure that your kids brush well and floss regularly. Have regular checkups and cleanings. So many people have dental insurance through their jobs that it has become increasingly common that children have a lot of dental work done. Every filling they get will eventually weaken their teeth. When they are in their 40's and 50's, this will start to become a problem. I'm proof of that. I haven't had a cavity in more than 20 years and yet the teeth that were filled in my childhood are slowly crumbling apart around the fillings, and there is nothing I can do to prevent it.

24/45 Be stingy with medicine. The rule that we have been able to adhere to for the past 11 years is that our kids only get medicine if a sickness is preventing them from eating or sleeping. Only once, at Christmas, did we ever doses one of our kids to get him through an event, and only then because he was almost over the illness. On top of this, we make sure they get plenty of sleep.
   To fight fevers during the day, we've had good results from tepid baths. When their bodies are radiating heat, a tepid bath will feel uncomfortably cold, but we make them stay in at least 5 minutes and try to get them to fully immerse. If they can do 15 minutes, the relief lasts longer... a couple of hours, with our kids.
   We also give them homemade green tea popsicles which may help lower their fever, but certainly works as a distraction without introducing sugar, which I believe to be anti-medicine.

25/45 Children equate physical pain with emotional pain, or even just discomfort until they've gained enough experience to discriminate. At nine years old, my daughter is still unable to clearly distinguish many forms of discomfort from actual pain, which is sometimes panic-inducing for me, when trying to diagnose a sickness or injury.

26/45 Kids need their sleep. It's important for their general health, and doubly important if they are sick. I put sleep near the top of the health pyramid, second only to air. Kids who get lots of sleep don't get sick as often and recover more quickly.

27/45 Bedtimes should be strictly enforced, for the kids' good health, but also for the mental health of their parents. Every minute your children stay up past their bedtime eats into your recovery time. Tapped out adults can not provide their children with the best care.

28/45 When they are babies, don't tiptoe around the house while they nap. Make them bulletproof nappers. The first few times it might seem crazy, but babies will sleep when they are tired, regardless of the circumstances so that's the best time to train them to ignore their surroundings. If your children are well trained to sleep you can enjoy a few hours of normal adult time—have a heated discussion, entertain guests or watch a loud movie. Occasionally, my wife and I will turn on the light in their bedroom and have a short discussion, while watching them sleep.
   NOTE: This will only work when the kids need rest. My daughter always wanted naps, so she slept during the day. But, even as an infant, my son was simply never tired during the day and only slept at night. My daughter was the polar opposite, sleeping so much that I seriously considered seeking medical advice. I tried, but never found any way to change their natural sleeping patterns. 

29/45 Let the baby cry. My initial theory was that if I rushed in every time the baby cried, he would learn that everything is ok and that he doesn't need to cry. In retrospect, this was a foolish notion. In fact, he learned to cry whenever he was not otherwise occupied. It took months to retrain both of us.

30/45 Self-esteem is trust in oneself. Like all trust, it can not be gifted, but must be earned. Praise, alone, can not build self-esteem. Only real accomplishments are confidence/self-esteem builders. Encourage your kids to do stuff! This is especially important for girls because our society emphasizes beauty over personality and integrity while encouraging women to use their sexuality as social currency, all of which tends to undermine long-term self-esteem.

31/45 Let them be bored. It teaches them to think, imagine and how to cope with boredom. It also makes chores and reading more attractive. Admittedly, this is a tough one for parents to endure because children tend to wander around pestering the adults when they are bored. I heard one parent tell her children: "Go outside and do something. You'll feel better about yourself." And I thought it was very good advice because going outside is therapeutic and doing something—regardless how insignificant—contributes to self-esteem.

32/45 Hold your kids close whenever you can. Soon enough, they won't let you. Parenting is a never-ending process of letting go.

33/45 Spend time with them. One of the things they want more than anything else is time with their parents. You do not always have to come all the way down to their level or pay them full attention. My kids like playing in the yard while I'm gardening; happy to run and jump and come back to ask me questions or relate their observations about grass and bugs, every three or four seconds. It's not exactly adult time but I do get to dig up some weeds and, occasionally, complete an entire thought.
   For toddlers, a great summer idea I saw online was to give them a paint bucket of water and a paintbrush and have them paint the fence with water! Wish I'd thought of that one.

34/45 You can't pour tea from an empty cup. Take care of yourself and your spouse first. If you are completely drained, you will have nothing to offer your children. Also, a lot of parenting is about letting go. As your kids get older, they will want their independence. In their 20's they probably won't be around much. Your spouse is your only constant companion in life. Take care of that relationship, not only is it your life preserver, it is, ultimately, the cruise ship you want to get back to.

35/45 Don't let kids get between you and your spouse. Kids are natural manipulators. And they start surprisingly early. When she was about four, my daughter tried to leverage a divide between my wife and I during an argument by asking me a pointed question the answer to which would likely have rekindled the debate, had we not recognized the manipulation attempt. At that time, my daughter viewed her mother as "The Enforcer" and me as "Mr. Funtimes" and was hoping to secure an ally in her minor disagreements with my wife. We presented a united front, saying that we do not agree on the topic, but that we did not expect to agree on everything, which seemed to put her in her place.

36/45 Stay together as long as possible. A reason for splitting up that is commonly deemed acceptable is that your unhappiness will affect the kids by showing them a bad model of marriage. Generally, I don't agree. Kids are basically all about themselves. They are barely aware that you and your wife have a relationship, let alone that it may be a bad one. All they really care about is stability and security and having love heaped upon them. If they had a vote, they would tell you to stay together and be miserable. From what I've seen, even an amicable divorce is a psychological ordeal for children that should be avoided, if at all possible.

37/45 Lie to your kids: We all lie to our kids about things like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus not for their benefit, but for our own. We want to foster those too-cute moments of magical wonder and drink them in like ambrosia. Ok—but you're really not doing your kids any favours by convincing them that magic exists, not to mention confusing the "truth is always best" message. As soon as they become sceptical, don't invest a lot of energy into prolonging the lie. If they ask the question, it is completely ok to tell them the answer, provided they are old enough to keep a secret from other kids because if they tell other kids who aren't ready—or, more likely, whose parents are not ready—you will probably find yourself in a heap of social trouble. If your kids can't be trusted with such a secret, lie your butt off or prepare to face the social consequences.

38/45 Teach them that taking responsibility earns priviledge. All children should have chores. Start when they are very young, even though it will mean constant monitoring and reminding, because toddlers will accept work willingly. They have a built-in urge to grow up and no expectations, so they don't categorize tasks as "work" or "play." These chores should earn them trust, and privileges and lead to ever larger tasks. They also contribute to confidence and self-esteem.

39/45 Developmental Stages: It may drive you absolutely nuts, but while they are growing you will have to repeat the exact same things to them a million times until, magically, one day they seem to just suddenly "get it." It's not that they don't want to obey, it's that they can't.
   My wife and I exhausted ourselves enforcing things like "no running in the house," "no yelling in the house," toilet training and putting away the toys. I especially remember the running thing, when my son was about four. He was very smart and unusually obedient but when I asked him to stop running, he'd take about three walking steps and then break into a run again, apparently having completely forgotten the entire encounter. Then one day, he just didn't run in the house anymore. I eventually concluded that their brains were just not able to process the instruction until that one certain brain cell was born and then, suddenly, they could.
   I don't recall any such issues between six and ten years old, but now, at eleven, my son is suddenly overcome with energy which he constantly vents as piercing vocalizations. He seems completely unaware that he's even being loud, so getting him to quiet down is a continuous effort. My wife and I are anxiously awaiting the birth of that new brain cell.

40/45 My daughter is a bit messy, constantly leaving her things all over the house. To help her see how this is inconvenient for the rest of us, I started referring to her as my "roommate." The roommate analogy seems to help her understand that we are equally sharing the common spaces and that it's unfair for one person to monopolize that space. It also makes her think about the future when she might actually be a roommate. How to be a good roommate is a good concept to teach because if they have abrasive and indulgent habits at home, they may be difficult for others to live with which will affect every future relationship, from roommate to life-partner.

41/45 Once they are old enough to care, let them wear what they want as long as it does not impact anyone but themselves. Going out on a winter day without a jacket will not make them sick; only germs can do that. However, they should be taught to be prepared. Leaving home without appropriate attire may put someone else at an inconvenience if the child becomes uncomfortable, or there is an unexpected emergency situation.

42/45 Instead of phrasing a question as yes/no, presenting only acceptable options can avoid an unacceptable response. For instance, Instead of asking, "How much broccoli would you like?" try using "Would you like two pieces of broccoli or four?" Your child will feel like he/she has made a choice and will be more likely to willingly accept the outcome.

43/45 My sister's tip: At large gatherings, kids often get involved in petty squabbles which can lead to a near-constant line of disgruntled young ones complaining to the adults. When kids report on other kids, one effective filter is to say: "Is someone hurt? Is something broken? If not, then you are just tattling and we parents do not need to get involved."

44/45 The Attitude Dance: (Another of my sister's tips) Whenever my sister's kids persisted with a bad attitude, she and/or their siblings might call out "Attitude Dance!" at which point the offender had to dance while singing Patti LaBelle's New Attitude song until they snapped out of it. It's completely silly and slightly embarrassing, but it works so well that most of the homeschoolers in our circles now do it. I will say that this is something that is best started young. Once they reach the teenage years, it can still work, but you have to consider the embarrassment factor and use restraint in invoking it and, once invoked, you will need the support of all involved to make it stick. CAUTION: I would not recommend this for kids over 8 who attend school. A school contains a larger population than most homeschooled kids have to deal with, so schooled children can be much more exposed and affected by public opinion.

45/45 A friend of mine shared this trick for getting a fussy baby to accept a soother: if they spit it out, tap the end of it. They will instinctively clamp down and hold on to it, after that.

46/45 Another friend of mine makes her kids participate in the following conversation whenever they whine about a decision she's made that they deem unfair to kids...
MY FRIEND: "What do kids do?"
KID (rolling eyes): "What adults say."
MY FRIEND: "And, what do adults do?"
KID (resigned sigh): "Anything they want."
Oft-repeated phrases like this tend to cut short the whining.

   Of course, reading 46 or even 4600 parenting tips isn't going to make the job a breeze. I can only hope that you find some of these of such value that you name at least one of your children after me and mention me in your will. Anything beyond that may be asking too much.

*NOTE: This article is available as a series of illustrated flash cards
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