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Making Good Cents to Your Kids

In this world of fancy packages, machines that spit out money and easy finance, how do we teach financial responsibility and the value of money to our children? How can we prepare them for the day that they step out with a few boxes to begin a life on their own?

One sure way to learn about money is to have it, on a regular basis. Allowance is a great teaching tool. A set income that children can count on is essential to developing financial cents-ability.

Many parents believe that an allowance is a privilege that is earned for good behavior and completing regular household tasks. Because of that, lots of children are in the hole with no spending money! This can become nothing more than a power issue. Money is held back until the child performs or the child doesn’t perform until they see the cash. “What are you going to give me for it?” One big problem with paying kids to do chores is that once they have their own source of income, they stop helping. After all, if you were paying them to do the job then it really wasn’t their responsibility. I believe children should have a basic allowance which they always receive regardless of behavior and chores done. If they do not have this, they do not learn how to budget or to spend money wisely.

If you have a child that won’t help out, find other privileges to remove. Things such as television, computer time or free time to hang out with buddies. It might sound like this. “When you have emptied the dishwasher, then you can “watch your show, or go out the front door and invite your friend over.” “When our family has finished with our weekly clean-up time, then we all get to go off and do something we enjoy.” Keep the money out of it unless it is a responsibility that goes beyond the normal expectations.

How much money and when? I believe the saying goes “When they are old enough not to eat it.” I say four is a reasonable age to start. How much depends on what you expect them to buy and your comfort level. As children get older, they need more money. I like to use the equation of giving a child their age in dollars every two weeks. If they are six, they get $6.00 every second week. To be consistent, correlate it to your payday. This eliminates sibling disputes about who gets what and provides them with enough money to suit their needs. As they move into the teen years, they can be given a larger budget for clothing, school supplies and so on.

All responsibility is given gradually with practical hands-on teaching about banking procedures, sales tax, savings and other related topics. Of course a four year old won’t understand the math but watch how quickly they learn when money is involved. There comes a point when parents need to step out and let their children make their own decisions about what they do with their money. It might be hard watching them spend their money on dumb things, but have some faith that eventually your kids will figure this out for themselves. Best to experience the natural consequences of overspending as a child of 10 than at 25 with a high limit credit card. By the way, don’t become a Visa mom or dad. Lending money between allowance payments just gets them used to borrowing rather than waiting it out. Avoid the temptation to give children more money as a loan or a gift if they have spent all their allowance on treats or movies. They won’t learn to budget if you keep bailing them out.

Children really appreciate something when they buy it for themselves. It gives them a sense of ownership and pride. Kids really do think twice when the money is coming out of their own wallets. I believe giving an allowance helps us step out of this overindulgent trend that is so easy to get pulled into. Let’s face it, kids have a lot of stuff today. If they aren’t buying it with their own money, you must be footing the bill. Allowance builds in delayed gratification. Sure, you can pay half for those bigger items.

Buying a child something when you can’t afford it and resenting it later will have negative effects. Overindulgence is a sure-fire way to set your child up for financial disaster. Many parents of adult children state their regrets of having overindulged their children. One father commented that while his daughter (27) worked hard at two jobs; she would spend her money on elaborate things and beg her dad to bail her out when she couldn’t pay her rent. He confessed that as a divorced dad he raised her with a large dose of parental guilt.

What is your relationship to money? Children will learn a great deal from you. Watch the messages that you pass on. Do you impulse buy or do you plan your larger purchases? Do you overspend and then stress about it later? A child may feel frightened when they see you getting upset about money matters. Children need to know your doing okay and that they will be taken care of. Keep heated discussions about money away from the kids. Those are adult issues.

Finally money and teenagers. Giving them a living budget to work with will prepare them for the years ahead. Sit down with them and discuss their needs. Negotiate a budget and stick to it. They will learn to work within that framework. They may think twice about the $160.00 running shoes. This also eliminates ongoing battles about money (hopefully). At some point, they may take on a part-time job and you can pull back on your contributions. There may even come a point where they pay you a little rent.

I don’t agree with forcing a child to save part of their allowance. I really believe that it is important for children to get to that place themselves. Having a bank account of their own can be very empowering. My son asked for one at the age of 9. By the time he was ten, he saved a couple of hundred dollars and earned himself a debit card. With this new responsibility came some external rules and slowly he gained full control. Now both my children have bank accounts and cards. They wait for their bank statements to arrive in the mail as eagerly as I used to wait for the ice cream truck. We didn’t force them to save a percentage of their allowance. This is coming from an internal desire to watch their money grow and have a sense of independence.

As far as charity goes, introduce your children to the concept of a spectrum of wealth. The concept is this: There will always be people richer than we are, and there will be people poorer than we are. What can we do to help those who have less? It may not be a financial offering. It might be an act of good will like cutting an elderly neighbor’s lawn or volunteering for a worthwhile cause. I find children have generous hearts and when they make choices to contribute it is genuine and fulfilling.

Remember that children are not fools, just younger people. Teach them, give them time and trust them.

Parenting Teens

Recently I gave a lecture on parenting teens to my Monday night class. Many people asked for my notes so here they are.

Parenting Teen Girls

One thing I hear from parents over and over again is concern for their young girls and their body image. It isn’t unusual for a slim nine-year-old girl to express concern over her weight. What is going on? We know the media plays a huge role in all of this and I too have heard the same concerns voiced from my very petite daughter as well. I have concluded that there are several important areas to focus on:

  • Health first, educating our daughters about the radiance of health is a good place to start.
  • Do some media busting and counter that powerful force with some education about the tools used to make people appear beautiful.
  • Give positive messages about your own comfort with your body shape.
  • Spend time with massage and brushing your daughter’s hair to help her feel good and comfortable with her body.
  • Never comment on her weight or state concerns about eating too much.
  • Role model self-care and healthy living.
  • Try not to over-react when you hear your daughter complain about her weight, avoid saying things like: “Don’t be silly, you aren’t fat.” or “You look fine.” Dismissing doesn’t help and she may not believe you after a while. Listen to her and let her express her thoughts and feelings. You can say something like; “It is difficult living in a culture where looks are emphasized so much. Most people struggle with this issue no matter how they look.”
  • You may share times where you felt self-conscious too and how did you work through it?
  • Give her specific and sincere positive feedback spontaneously about her strengths.

The strong bodies that girls enter into puberty with slowly start to soften and spread just at a time when our culture tells them that thin is beautiful. Girls feel enormous pressure to be beautiful and are painfully aware of the constant evaluations of their appearance. Many girls are afraid of their bodies changing and feel a loss of control; they would just like to stay young and avoid the pressures of growing up.

While walking through the mall with my twelve-year-old daughter I couldn’t help but notice the sideways glances from other young girls walking by. I stayed behind her and observed her reaction. She seemed to stiffen a little and adjust her hair, as she too was aware. I could understand why the getting ready time was getting longer. As a mother, I want her to be relaxed about her looks yet I am also aware of how painful not feeling attractive can be. I made an oath to myself right there and then to refrain from being judgmental about the perceived shallowness of this age group. I vowed to myself that I would support her with the fake and not so fake piercing, the streaks in the hair and the clothes that look too low or too high to me and acknowledge that they are a part of her world. Instead of moving into fear and trying to control this powerful force I surrendered fully at that moment to faith or at least trust that she knows what she needs to do and that I have what it takes as a mother to support her (I hope).

This doesn’t mean that I haven’t taken time to teach her. We have had and continue to have open dialogue about sexuality, how men think in comparison to women about sex and relationships, the pitfalls of premature sexual experiences, the value of being in a respectful relationship, media and the messages right through to sexual safety and health. We can overdo the teaching so we need to listen and be available to our children’s agenda rather than our own. One day in the doctor’s office while waiting for an appointment I was thumbing through a magazine and saw a model whose image had been stretched so much she was missing the middle of her body. When I pointed this out to my daughter she replied, “Mom, does everything have to be a lesson?”

For a while I thought her pants looked a little too low but I buttoned up my lips as much as I could and within a short period of time she commented on how uncomfortable the low riders really are. She asked me why anyone would want their butt hanging out of their pants. I have learned not to be too gushy and enthusiastic when she gets one of these great insights. I have developed that kind of expressionless, neutral yet pleasant look that many mothers seem to wear through this stage.

What are the messages in our culture around looks? We’re all aware of how a girl feels if she loses in the constant “beauty contest” of the peer group. But it’s also true that if a girl is too beautiful, she’s seen as stupid or ditzy, or identified as a sex object. Beautiful girls often doubt that they are liked for reasons other than their packaging. Being beautiful can create a lot of rejection, as girls are jealous and boys write the beautiful girl off as a snob.

Many girls, whatever their looks, seem to lose themselves in the shuffle. They stop asking important questions like “Who am I?” “What do I want?” and instead ask “How can I please my peers?” It is as if the authentic self gets buried under the junk values of our culture. I have heard my own clients at the young age of twelve tell me how they lose themselves in the tight tunnel of being nice. Be nice or risk getting called a bitch. Or parents may say, “Smile when you tell me about your bad day.”

Depression or the blues?

Hormones can have your daughter seeming high one day and depressed the next. This emotional volatility can have parents walking on eggshells. While estrogen actually makes the brain cells more active, progesterone makes them more inhibited. Progesterone has been compared to anesthesia because it seems to put the brain to sleep. While there are many other contributing factors that control mood such as personality traits and cognitive factors it is helpful to observe the swing effect of hormones.

Mary Pipher, in her book Reviving Ophelia says, “All girls experience pain at this point in their development. If that pain is blamed on themselves, on their own failures, it manifests itself as depression. If the pain is blamed on parents or peers; it shows up as anger. This anger is mislabeled rebellion or delinquency.”

Besides hormonal effects, the teens can be a time of getting tossed around emotionally by social, school and family pressures. How can a teenager stay strong with who she is when at the same time she is so painfully aware of her flaws and shortcomings? How can she bask in the support of her family when it is a time for being independent? How can she fit in when she doesn’t agree with what she has to fit in to?

Watch your daughter through the dips and turns and look for times where she is experiencing joy, a sense of success and an ability to communicate with somebody in a meaningful way. Does she care about herself even though she may feel discouraged? Is she still moving forward and taking an interest in things? If so, chances are the down times are simply the blues. If you aren’t seeing any peaks then get her some help. An adult mentor, a counsellor or a group experience can be an emotional lifesaver through these years. It isn’t a time to bury our heads in the sand even though we may feel like it when we are on the receiving end of the three D’s; distant, defiant and down. Stay calm, stay cool but watch her.

What helps the blues?:

  • Exercising regularly is a very important tool in fighting depression.
  • Help your child with her image, shallow as it may seem, it matters.
  • Help your child focus on making a few new friends if need be.
  • Ask your child what kind of relationships she wants. What would she like to be appreciated for?
  • Help your child be aware of how she behaves when she feels empowered and then suggest she borrow that behaviour when she needs it.
  • Ask your younger teen daughter to think of boys not as dates but as friends. Allowing these friendships de-sexualizes the relationships and gives her a chance to figure out what she might look for in a partner down the road.
  • Help her be true to herself. Validate her feelings and teach her to ask for what she needs.
  • Help her separate thoughts from feelings.

Mothering Teen Daughters

There is no greater insult in our culture than to be told you are acting just like your mother. Yet to hate our mothers is to hate ourselves. Girls can become painfully critical of their mothers. Mothers are asked to love completely and yet know when to distance emotionally and physically. This is harder than I imagined and I find myself going through a grieving process while my youngest child moves closer to her peers and ever more distant from me. My inner child comes out often feeling rejected, geeky and very hurt as my adult mind says “Don’t be silly, you teach classes on this, you know it is normal.” “Talk to me!” I hear myself saying as my daughter stares right through me. Where did she go? Those panicky times of hearing our mouth say things we wish it wouldn’t are often more frustrating than our child’s behaviour. The truth is, my inner child can be much more volatile, irrational and insecure than my daughter can. Learning to walk away, breathe, run around the block or take up belly dancing are all good options to get through these years with some dignity.

Being a mother comes with a lot of uncertainty during these years. Mothers want their daughters to date but are terrified of date rape, AIDS and other diseases. They want their daughters to be independent but are aware of how dangerous the world is. Many girls have difficulty being close to their mothers during Junior High and High School. They too feel sadness as they reject the help of the one person who wants most to understand their needs. Healthy mothers model self-sufficiency, self-respect and can be responsive to family members rather than responsible for family members.

Fathering Teen Daughters

Fathers have one of three kinds of relationships with their daughters: supportive, distant or abusive. Many are distant because they don’t have the skills to deal with their turbulent daughters. Fathers who see nurturing or emotional closeness as wimpy may well never have closeness with their children. Yet, the role of a father can be extremely powerful. Supportive fathers tend to have daughters with high self-esteem. Good fathers are nurturing, physically affectionate and involved in the lives of their daughters (and sons). Fathers can often lend a voice of reason while mother and daughter struggle to define their relationship.

A father has an important place in discussions of sexuality with his daughter. He can help his daughter understand the nature of male sexuality, so that she can make educated choices about how she dresses. He can validate her strength, intelligence and creativity and show her that these traits are very appealing in a woman. He can allow his daughter to have an assertive voice in the safety of their relationship. He can develop an ability to discuss feelings and resolve family conflict for the good of all, most likely a skill which he did not learn in his childhood.

Teen Boys

My son is half way through his fourteenth year as I write this and I am really pleased to see that there isn’t this immoral spirit taking over his body as many parenting teen books would have us believe. He has creatively skirted around some of the typical trouble spots such as shop lifting, smoking pot and setting the teacher’s porch on fire at Halloween. Now I know I can’t get too cocky here there are more years to come but what I am seeing is someone who has great moral values and who makes good choices for himself, actually, better ones than I made at that age.

I am watching him while he navigates through these tender years. As the abstract thinking comes in I can see him struggling and questioning the adults around him. It is kind of intimidating because he sees through a lot of bunk including mine! Have you ever listened to teens at this age talk about their teachers or adults in general? They pick up on everything from the two bit lectures to the two faced comments about abusing drugs and alcohol.

It seems that as their minds start to move in the world of abstract they also seem to lose their ability to make simple decisions. Teens can become overwhelmed with daily choices and can surprise parents with their need for direction or assistance in making these choices. The fun part is being asked and then having your great suggestions rejected.

I notice that my son still talks about his feelings but in comparison to his sister, he talks about them less, where I couldn’t say that even one year ago. I have learned to watch my expectations around how much my son should share. I actually think I have been disrespectful of who he is when I have called him to the plate and looked him in the eye to talk about feelings. It is overwhelming for him at times and I need to respect that. I think that without this kind of respect we can actually neglect our young fellows. Michael Gurian writes about this extensively in his book “A Fine Young Man”.

While I see this neat person emerging with his long hair and tall slim body I’m watching closely to see that he’s okay. I watch to see how overwhelmed he is with school work and friendships. I observe how much time he spends in his room or in front of a video game. Is he staying active? Does he have close friendships? Is he having fun and finding joy in life? Is there something he feels passionate about? Does he know what he needs and can he ask for it? I’m trying to stay out of the way while showing him that I really care. Watching without being intrusive and supporting without fixing.

Boys aren’t so tough:

Boys are much more fragile than they appear. Gurian’s book says “Boys have a greater risk of suicide (four to one) and for mental health disorders (six to one). While girls are more overt with their emotions, boys tend to mask them. The feelings can easily go underground. Only one out of six adolescents diagnosed with ADHD are females. This may be why boys have a history of more accidents.”

Blanenhorn and Reichert state that, “An MRI scanning shows that a male brain is much tidier than a female’s. On average they have higher spatial concepts. A boy’s emotional cycle is not controlled by hormones. He also has a lot less brain activity around emotions because of the way his brain is formatted. It doesnt mean he won’t have ups and downs, he will. It does mean that he won’t have the same fluency as a girl when it comes to discussing emotional issues. So we know that the reason boys talk less than adolescent girls is because of how the brain is constructed. He may be very verbal about a cognitive issue like how best to set up a tent or put a puzzle together. He may debate issues with verbosity, but he will be less likely to talk about how he is feeling.”

Blanenhorn and Reichert studied the self-esteem of boys and found that they had exactly the same plunge during the middle school years as girls. Like girls, they suddenly become aware of all of their flaws. Boys tend to cover up their insecurities with the male bravado. They act tough, get a little louder and can engage in somewhat cruel or aggressive behaviour. This type of posturing can have boys lose their focus as they get caught up in the act. It is especially tough on the tender hearts because rolling with the punches is that much harder.

Often parents talk about the mood swings of girls. Boys are dealing with testosterone, an anabolic steroid. Testosterone helps the body to produce calcium and phosphorus in order to make big bones. Testosterone is a physical hormone that propels the male to display physical and social aggression. Testosterone creates a push for action and solution and puts the emotional processing off to the side until later. As an aggression hormone, it links with the brain system to create efficient methods for reaching goals. Gurian says “For the male, emotionality is very often synonymous with danger, and danger is the very thing testosterone exists to contend with; by causing him either to persevere over it or to quickly solve issues and therefore deflect it. Once again, testosterone cuts off emotional opportunity.” When the male kicks or curses people distance. When they spit (yes boys spit more than girls) and show dominance patterns it doesn’t exactly make people want to run up and hug them. A lot of male behaviours cut off emotional connections, unlike those of the female, who cries four times more than her 15 year old male friend. Crying brings people to her and elongates the emotional process.

We have known the effects of testosterone on male emotionality forever and without getting into the science of all of this can we accept that we need to acknowledge and respect the differences? Expecting boys and men to talk about and process feelings with face to face contact is intrusive at the best of times. Yet we need to stay connected. How do we do that?


Tips for parenting boys:

  1. Make a point in one or two sentences, not much more
  2. Tell a story or anecdote to illustrate the point
  3. Ask for a response. If none is forthcoming, try asking for a story
  4. Listen for feelings when he talks and feed them back respectfully.
  5. Asking about what he thinks or what is important to him can help identify his needs and why he feels as he does.
  6. Don’t be afraid to allow silences in the conversation. But help a young man see that silence is not permission to get up and leave.
  7. As much as possible taper the conversation to allow him to have the last word.
  8. Don’t sit across from a table trying for eye to eye intensity. Do something side by side. Ask him to help you fold laundry or carry and stack wood or something.
  9. Bring it up again later to see if he got it.

How we can show respect for men:

1. Honour how men show compassion. Men can sacrifice their own bodies and sometimes their own souls to take care of other people.

2. Men show immense compassion by problem solving and are often condemned for it. Males problem solve so that the emotional flow of a group situation remains manageable. They problem solve hoping to relieve stress from the female. Be gentle when you reject their advice.

3. Males show compassion by leaving others alone. Men will often stand by wordlessly waiting. This action is a way of showing compassion. The words may not come easy so watch your expectations. The caring is there, it just might look different from a woman.

Pointers for parents of teens:

  • Encourage another loving adult to be available.
  • In our homes give kids both protection and challenges.
  • Set firm guidelines and communicate high hopes.
  • Practice negotiation rather than having rigid rules; love and respect are most important.
  • Listen and give them as much parent time as toddlers had.
  • Don’t be too eager to talk or they will back off.
  • Listen for what you can respect and praise.
  • Good communication encourages rational thought, centered decision making and conscious choices. It looks at options, risks, implications and consequences.
  • Congratulate teens on good judgment, maturity or insight.
  • Convey a reassuring message that says “You are strong enough to deal with this but I’ll be here if you need me.”
  • Give reassuring messages that say “Tomorrow is another day.” “Nobody is liked by everybody.” “Nobody is perfect.” without minimizing their feelings.
  • Keep your sense of humour.
  • Don’t take things too personally.
  • Parents need to stay calm through the storm, calm parents hear more.
  • Use a sandwich technique for feedback focus on the positive first and last.
  • Encourage teens to have friends in both sexes and desexualize the relationships
  • Read teen magazines and books to stay up on things.
  • Know your child’s teachers
  • Discuss important issues like alcohol, drugs, violence, social pressures and appearance.
  • If they share their drug experiences listen for how much (???)

Mealtime Blues

In my travels I come across a lot of parents who struggle with their young and mid year children around mealtime.

Mealtime is one of the most stressful times of the day. This is an area where a lot of old belief systems create problems for families. Many parents expect their young children to sit still at the table and eat all their food. We also teach them to stuff food into their bodies by bribing them with dessert.

What we get are kids who sit at the table with their mouths tightly shut, often refusing everything but dessert. The table can be a stage for negative attention-getting behaviour, and therefore a battle night after night.

There are many beliefs at work that can keep us in horrible power struggles:

  • Children should be able to sit still at the table before the age of 7.
  • Children must be taught good manners.
  • Children should eat when we tell them to.
  • They must finish their food.
  • Dessert is a reward for eating.
  • Children can’t think for themselves about their own hunger or fullness.

How much is enough?

Nursing babies aren’t told how much to eat, or forced to keep nursing when they have had enough. They know exactly how much their bodies need. As soon as they are eating solids and the amounts can be measured, the parents somehow assume that responsibility.

I have watched parents chase their children with two-hour-old hot dogs asking them to take one more bite. Yes, I know that they are just hungry later and want to eat between meals. Eating small amounts more often is actually a healthier way to eat. Don’t make an issue about how much! Serve small amounts and know that children, when not forced, will choose a healthy balance for themselves. Your job is to provide the food but their responsibility is to eat it. Trust them, they won’t starve themselves.

How long should they sit?

A lot depends on the child’s activity level and of course their age. Allowing children to sit at the table for a short period of time doesn’t teach them poor table manners. Children under three can’t sit for more than a couple of minutes. You may end up eating separately or at different times during the young years. As they get a little older they will begin to sit for short periods of time. They will be more likely to sit if they are also part of preparing the meal or setting the table. If however, it is a tense experience, this process will take longer. Keep it pleasant and they will want to join you when they are in the mid-years.
Now that my children are young teens they enjoy cooking and have been part of the process for many years. They are the ones insisting that we come to the table.

With older children you can insist that conversation is respectful at the table. That means no talking about green slugs and no fighting. That is a boundary violation to you and crosses over the line. If they choose to fight or disrespect the boundaries, they can take their food elsewhere. Maybe you have an area where you can eat peacefully if this happens. Kids won’t like it but taking action and protecting your needs is important.

Food Fads

Problems will arise during the toddler years when the child’s appetite drops with their growth rate. Parents see their child eating less and begin to worry if they are getting enough. Most kids go through stages where they only want one thing. This is normal and it does pass. Don’t make a big deal about it.

Sensitivities & Allergies

Be aware of the possibility of food sensitivities and allergies. The best way to discover whether your child is allergic to something is to remove suspect foods and then slowly re-introduce them into the child’s diet. Food allergies can create changes in your child’s behaviour. Kids sometimes dislike foods they are allergic to, and sometimes (in “addictive allergies”) crave them.

Creative Meals

Variety is the spice of life, and a little creativity sometimes helps introduce new foods to your children. We used to set up a tablecloth on the living room floor and have picnics in there in front of the fireplace. Putting a variety of foods on their plates in small amounts can keep mealtime interesting while introducing new tastes.

Mealtime Help

  • If they are not hungry after a few mouthfuls, don’t feed their dinner to the dog! Put it in the fridge for later in case they get hungry before the next meal.
  • Let children help select the dinner menu.
  • Make food attractive and serve small amounts so you aren’t stressed over wasted food.
  • Let the child serve their own dinner onto their plate.
  • Avoid having a running commentary on how much your children are eating. Keep your eyes off their plates!
  • Teach children about nutrition so they can make healthy, informed decisions.
  • Don’t reward a child for eating or punish a child for not eating.
  • Never use food (including desert) as a reward or withhold it as a punishment.
  • If you know they don’t like the food, make them a simple alternative, like a sandwich, or let them make it and clean up the mess themselves.
  • Have the child clear their plate and put it in the dishwasher so you don’t have to judge their consumption
  • Let them cook! And, the sooner the better! Get them involved in cooking and they’ll be more likely to eat something.

Encourage Self Help

  • Keep a container of freshly chopped veggies and fruit in the fridge so the children can help themselves throughout the day between meals.
  • Have plastic glasses in a bottom drawer and an easy-to-pour container in the fridge.
  • Teach them how to cook and let them prepare meals for the family. Increase their skills as they grow older. (Be prepared to eat some weird stuff.)
  • If they are stuck on one food, tell them they can have it three times that week and let them plan the weekly menu. (Be prepared to eat noodles for breakfast.)
  • Allow them to listen to their bodies and respect their inner voice. That voice needs to be trusted, especially where their bodies are concerned.

The Framework of Limits

At LIFE we talk about the framework of limits. Inside the framework the child takes on responsibility for himself. He is given responsibility slowly by explicit teaching and guidance. Once old enough, these responsibilities become kid issues. Children can exercise freedom of choice within this framework along with the lessons that come with these choices. Parents don’t interfere by rescuing, nagging or lecturing. As the child grows, the framework expands and contracts. Two steps forward as they push for autonomy and independence, one step back as they cling for reassurance.

Outside of this framework we as parents support limits. Limits represent safety, respect, responsibility and values. When the child crosses over the boundary, he enters into the territory outside the framework. This is where family issues exist. For example, a kitchen left in a mess by a child is a family issue because it effects everyone. A child’s messy bedroom is a kid issue as long as there are no dying hamsters or rotting food on the floor. Here is an example of what this looks like for an eleven year old girl:

Supporting Limits

Limit setting can become clear when you break it down to two questions: What is the limit that we want to set? How do we enforce it?

Respect: “Your freedom to swing your arm ends where my nose begins!” In other words, I will ignore some of the normal, stage related mouthiness, rolling of the eyes, defiance and so on but when you cross my personal boundaries, I will let you know. Get clear with where your nose ends! To figure that out, you need to consider the child’s age.

How do you teach respect? While a “time out” may be necessary at times, the true teacher of respect is empathy. Talking about people’s feelings and how our behaviour can have an effect on others.

If a child acts aggressively or rude we can go into the child’s feelings and find out what their viewpoint is. Why did they act that way? What was going on for them? If we put our agenda aside temporarily and really listen, we can come to a place of understanding our kids. When we do this we can often feel the judgment we have of our child wash away. In most cases when dealing with children, their feelings need to come first. They don’t have the maturity to put their needs aside if they have big feelings going on. When the child has had a chance to get those feelings out and have them reflected back then they might be ready to hear how you or the other person is feeling. This is how children learn about respect at a level that goes beyond punishment and reward. There may be a consequence in place but the true learning comes from having an honest open exchange.

The Gift of Owning Feelings – Allowing children to own their feelings and in turn owning our own, develops healthy emotional boundaries. We provide structure by setting limits on behaviour which harms others; we provide nurture by accepting a child’s feelings. Children need both. This isn’t easy if we grew up in families that didn’t accept negative emotions in children. “Say you’re sorry.” Is a classic line that tells children to feel something other than what they are really feeling. Rather than reflecting their true feelings of frustration or anger, we are telling them to feel remorse. When children can have anger or frustration validated, they will often come to a genuine place of feeling sorry and express it sincerely. We can say, “It is absolutely not okay to hit your brother even if you feel really, really angry. Come and tell me how angry you are.”

Telling children what they should enjoy or when they should be hungry is another way of insisting that they feel the way we want them to. “What do you mean you didn’t have fun at the birthday party? There was cake and balloons and lot of kids to play with.” Everyday in many ways we can talk children out of their feelings, which sadly chips away at their own inner guidance and sense of self. The discipline for the parent is to learn to let go of this emotional control and replace it with acceptance and understanding. This kind of respect will guide children to a deeper level of moral development.

How do you teach responsibility?: One of the best ways to teach responsibility is to let kids experience the bumps and bruises of real life consequences. Of course we are there to support them emotionally but they need to learn to pull their own wagon. That means getting clear with kid issues and stepping out of the framework. If it is a kid issue, get out of there! An eleven year old needs to forget his homework and experience the embarrassment or frustration of not having it – forgetting lunches, sleeping in and missing class – smelling bad and having a friend tell him or being cold without the coat. Parents take that learning away too often and the end result is that they (the parent) will be blamed when something goes wrong. Get out of there!

Kids need to learn that when they take responsibility they create freedom in their lives. Freedom is exactly the consequence that you use to teach that. When we all chip in with the Saturday morning clean, we can all take off and have some fun. When, then. Use the positive consequence of giving freedom to a child who has taken responsibility.

“Because you come home on time and let us know where you are if you are going to be late, we can be flexible with your curfew.”

“Because you got dressed on time this morning, we can stop at the park on the way to pre-school.”

The flip side is that when they don’t take responsibility, there is less freedom.

Take time to teach -Remember to take time to teach your child to take responsibility so that they feel confident. We have outlined four stages for taking responsibility on:

Level 0: The child is too young to have the responsibility but the parent includes them by explaining what they are doing and letting the child help. The age depends on the task.

Level 1: This is a time of explicit teaching and practicing. Let your child know they are at this level and explain we are all level 1’s when learning something new. This can apply to anything such as washing dishes, riding a bike, being home alone, babysitting … the list goes on.

Level 2 : The child has learned the skill involved and now needs some guidance and perhaps a reminder. Some people feel their kids stay stuck at this stage and that may be true with family issues but if it is a kid issue, they can progress the next level.

Level 3 : No parental intervention or nagging! This disciplines the parents more than anything to stay out of that framework. Let the child take over the task. Natural consequences will teach him here, you can let go.

How do you teach values? : We come into parenthood with all kinds of values from how we sit at a table, manners, style of dress and much more. These values were probably learned in our own childhood and we learned them from our parents. Many of these values need to be examined carefully. Do we really think a three year old should sit at the table for half an hour and say please and thank you while keeping her elbows off the table? If we do, we could have many power struggles on our hands. Sometimes values need to be challenged and our children will be the first ones to do so. For example, why is it okay for girls to wear hats inside and not boys? These kinds of values will be challenged and if they don’t make sense, perhaps we need to relook them. This requires flexibility and a willingness to take an honest look at our own belief systems.

Values are taught by our modeling and while children may rebel against them, they will often come back to them as adults.

How do we enforce safety? : Safety is the one area where logical consequences need to be discussed ahead of time and carried through with. Matters that concern safety such as riding a bike with a helmet, a limited number on the trampoline, not playing with sticks or driving a car responsibly are the types of limits that need to be supported by a parents willingness to take action. Taking action means simply following through with the agreed upon consequence. It doesn’t mean yelling, lecturing or getting angry. As a matter of fact, when we do that, we take away from the consequence. It becomes “all about your anger” versus “a bad choice made by the child”.

This is where you get to practice what we call “dead head responses”. This is how it might sound with a seven year old:

Parent: “Gee son, I’m sorry to see you riding without your helmet, we discussed this and now I am going to have to remove your bike privileges for three days.”

Child: “Oh come on, give me another chance. I’m going to look like a geek if I don’t have a bike.”

Parent: “Maybe so.”

Child: “My friends will all leave without me and I won’t have anything to do.”

Parent: “Maybe so.”

Child: “Fine, be like that. You are the meanest dad in the world.”

Parent: “Maybe so.”

Having a dead head answer stops the parent from “biting the bait”. It gives the parent a little safety line to hang onto instead of jumping in and getting into an argument.

Anger Chart – Healthy Process for dealing with Strong Emotions

In our chapter titled The Intelligence of Emotions, it features an Anger Chart that shows a healthy process for dealing with strong emotions. While doing the radio show and discussing anger and the chart, many people called asking for a copy. Many people find themselves feeling very intense emotions while parenting their children. Parenting can certainly raise the stress levels to an all time high. What Dr. Miller and I talk about in this chapter is the importance of paying attention to underlying feelings. Those feelings are there to tell you what needs aren’t being met. If you can catch them and try to meet some of those needs, there is a much greater chance of controlling behaviour when the strong emotions come up.

Our chart uses the word anger as an acronym and encourages people to pay attention to the early warning signs. When you notice yourself going there, get out, gear down and don’t deal with issues until you have reached the voice of reason!

Steps to awareness: How this can be effective:
A Attend to your early signals of anger. What do you feel in your body? How do you behave? You can catch anger before it escalates. When you increase your awareness of the early signals, you can create choices around your behaviour.
N Negotiate with those around you about your anger, not about specific issues. Choose distance and time. Discuss this strong emotion with your family. Come up with a signal that means you need time out: Give me five, Grumpy guy alert, Bag lady alert. Or negotiate with yourself and just choose distance until you have calmed down. Even turning your back and breathing can be effective.
G Gear down from behaviours to exploring feelings, and identify them if you can. Pay attention to your own triggering thoughts that may provoke anger. G = Get alone
E = Express your emotions
A = Analyze your thoughts
R = Re-examine your beliefs This process can take time. Articulate your feelings. Ask yourself whether they are old or new. Use your feelings to explore what your needs are. Catch negative trigger thoughts and replace them with healing ones.
E Express your feelings and needs assertively. When you _____,
I feel_____
because _______.
I want/would like you to _________.
R Resolve issues if possible. It may be as simple as making a positive request. It may mean engaging in conflict resolution. It may mean resolving the issue within yourself. Resolving conflict stops the circular motion of old issues and patterns from constantly recurring. Resolution doesn’t have to be complicated, but it can’t exist without the preceding steps. Often we need to feel anger to know there is a boundary that needs to be addressed.

7 Myths About Raising Teens

Challenging myths and making choices about how we think about things can bring us a sense of relief and the peace we so desperately crave when we are raising our teens. And you know, it feels good to control something, even if it is “all in our head”.

The Consequence The translation: There should be some kind of punishment to teach my child to behave. Let’s face it, although we have packaged the term “consequences” very nicely into our parenting repertoire, the effectiveness of removing something, grounding someone or making somebody do something they don’t want to do is questionable. After years of teaching parenting and raising kids, I can say that, other than an occasional time out for anger management, I have used very few consequences/punishments with my kids. I may feel like taking away everything they own when I am upset with them, but when things calm down, I gain perspective. Kids learn from natural, life experiences and that learning will go deeper if they have the support of their parents rather than a fear that their parents will punish them.

Honesty The statement: My teens should be honest with me. Okay, so are you really going to keep your cool when your teen comes home and says, “Today I took a puff of a joint on my way home from school?” How about “Right now my friends feel more important to me than school work” or “Yes, as a matter of fact I am having sex?” When parents say they don’t trust their teen, they often mean they still believe he should tell them everything he is doing, even if he gets in trouble for doing it. We make it hard for teens to be honest, and maybe that’s not all bad. But isn’t there a point when a teen is allowed to have some privacy about his life experiences? Perhaps teens would share more honestly if we become less intrusive about their business.

Freedom The belief: Teens need unfettered freedom and less connection with parents. Actually, true autonomy doesn’t exist without a relationship with a parent or caregiver. When we listen to our teen and respect her ideas and values, she develops confidence and a positive sense of who she is. In this exchange between a teen and a loving adult, true autonomy can flourish. Freedom without a connection can simply be translated into the word “lost.”

The Bad Influence The story: A teen’s friends will lead him astray. Like adults, teens tend to choose friends based on interests; most close friends will have shared values. Values come from family and they will be churned, regurgitated and spit out as something teens call their own. The positive influence of peers is underrated. Friends can keep each other safe, give each other honest feedback and teach empathy. Friends of the opposite sex can help teens think about what they want in a person when considering a relationship. Parental judgment about friends, along with with a poor parent/teen relationship, is more likely to lead a child astray not his friends. So stay cool, don’t judge, and maintain your position as consultant.

Risk The fear: Most teens participate in high-risk behaviour. Eighty per cent of teens go through these years without any high-risk behavior or serious mental health issues. This 80/20 statistic is no different for adults. Teens want to take risks and jump into the adult world. They want to be seen as older and capable. Risktaking in the teen years becomes more likely to occur when parents don’t give teens enough responsibility. Teens look for ways to meet an urgent need for respect. They want somebody to notice and respect them doing older things. If family applauds their abilities and views them as capable, they are less likely to turn to a group who plays with much greater risks.

Sass The complaint: Defiance and mouthiness shows complete disrespect. Because parents play such an important role in a teen’s self-concept, teens have to work hard to gain validation, fighting for the recognition they desperately need. Shocking parents can be a wonderful way for teens to force them into submission. How else can they get a parent to view them as adults rather than children? Teens are smart; they know the value of shock. Appreciate the energy your teen expends to teach you to treat her differently. Consider that the behaviour isn’t disrespect; it is deep love in motion.

Perfection The impossible dream: As a parent I should know how to handle things. Raising human beings is complex, as are our feelings as parents. There is no exact science to this process of growing people. Neither psychologists, educators or members of Mensa (the high-IQ) Society have all the answers when it comes to parenting. There are many approaches; if what you’re doing isn’t working, try something else. If you don’t have the answers, ask for help. If nothing seems to be working, perhaps you need to adjust your idea of what “working” is. Accepting there will be times when you simply don’t know what to do is one of the most important aspects to parenting. It keeps us humble, open and possibly teachable. Just don’t be surprised if your guru happens to be your child!

Getting Going in the Morning

I need some help with getting my nine-year-old daughter going in the morning. After her alarm clock goes off I have to remind her at least three times to get up. She plays with the cat and talks instead of eating her breakfast. She is so distractible that she can take 20 minutes in the bathroom! It doesn’t bother her to be late for school since she doesn’t get into trouble for lateness, so there is no natural consequence unless you count my irritability. What can I do?

I’m wondering whether you’re expecting too much of your daughter. She evidently doesn’t have the maturity to focus her attention and do things within a short time frame. Many young children are unable to do this.

Here are some ideas to prevent the problem from occurring:

  1. Can you get up earlier in the morning? That way she’ll have more time to get through doing the things she needs to do. The same with bedtime – can you start earlier? Young children are much more distractible than parents expect them to be, and it’s important to allow time for this rather than expecting them to be able to organize themselves like adults.
  2. Your daughter may have low blood sugar in the morning; many children do. A glass of juice right by her bed for her to drink before she does anything may help her get herself going.
  3. Your daughter is now old enough to be learning to read. Can you put up charts with reminders of what she has to do? She could help make the charts. One in the bathroom, one in the kitchen. She can check off when she’s completed something. The chart will replace your reminding and nagging. Your daughter is at the age when charts work best. She can feel proud of herself for completing a task and checking it off. You can use stickers on the cart for rewards.

We parents often protect our children from consequences that seem unpleasant for them, when those unpleasant situations are exactly what they need to motivate them to change. Here are two natural consequences you may not have allowed:

  1. Tell your daughter you won’t wake her up any more, and put her alarm clock on the far side of her bedroom, so it will ring and ring until she actually gets out of bed to turn it off. Then let it happen.
  2. If your daughter isn’t ready for school in time, take her there in her pyjamas, with her clothes in a bag. You may be rescuing her from this kind of natural consequence when she needs it to happen. If being late at school isn’t a sufficient consequence, the embarrassment of arriving in her pyjamas will be! I imagine it will only happen once.

Conquering the Mess

My 11-year-old daughter loves doing crafts but she will not pick up after herself or put away stuff after she has finished or lost interest in the project. Also she eats and doesn’t take her dishes off the table and unpacks her school bag and leaves it all over. Our house always looks a mess. After I’ve left stuff a while and asked nicely for her to pick up, I nag her, and eventually I pick it up myself, which makes me very resentful. How do I get her to do it herself?

If your daughter were living on her own, her behaviour wouldn’t bother anyone else, and there would be natural consequences for her messiness being unable to find things, living in a mess, and having dirty dishes. But because she lives with other family members, she has no consequences, and you all suffer. Her messiness is problematic to other family members, but not to her, and your nagging and resentment bothers you more than it bothers her. You reward her messiness by picking up after her. There are no negative consequences to your daughter’s leaving everything around. My guess is that most of your family are conflict avoiders, and you don’t enjoy the conflict created by confronting your daughter with this problem. If you prefer to continue this way, be reassured that when she gets to adulthood and has to live on her own, she will learn to clean up after herself unless she moves out to live with a roommate or partner who cleans up after her like you do.

If you want her behaviour to change, you will need to tolerate a period during which you make and enforce some rules and consequences. Because she’s a pre-teen, I suggest you make a family decision into which she as well as other family members have input. This would work better than just laying down a law you have made up. You could have a family meeting in which each person expresses how they feel about stuff left around. Then you could make a family decision about how to handle it.

There are several options that family members (including her) might come up with. Everything she leaves around could be put on the floor of her room and the door closed. You’d still have to pick up after her but you wouldn’t have to live with the mess; she would. She could be asked to do her crafts and homework in her room until she is able to put them away. Things she leaves around could be confiscated for a week, so that she’d get in trouble at school for incomplete homework, and wouldn’t be able to do her crafts. She could only be allowed to eat the next meal after she has cleaned up her own dishes from the last one. And so on. The basic idea is that she and no one else would feel the discomfort from her failure to clean up after herself. You won’t nag and you won’t put everything back neatly in its place for her.

If you follow through with a plan like this (that means all family members consistently following through on what you have decided), her behaviour will change. But it will take hard work and consistency on everyone’s part.

Surmountable Challenges

My daughter doesn’t seem to want to try anything new. She whines and cries if I try to leave her anywhere. I’m worried that she won’t be ready when she is supposed to start kindergarten in the fall. Should I keep her home for another year?

When my youngest son was four years old, his father was the at-home parent while I went to work. We decided that our son would benefit from attending preschool. However, when his dad took him to preschool, the little boy whined and cried and didn’t want to enter the preschool. For a couple of weeks his dad stayed at the school with him each day and eventually took him home early, thinking the child must not be ready to separate in this way. Eventually the preschool gave us a deadline to decide, and our son was left there for an afternoon. He loved it! He was happy to socialize with the other kids and learn the new tasks the preschool provided. If his dad had continued to give in to his anxiety, he would never have learned that he could handle this new surmountable challenge.

While a healthy, secure attachment is very important for a child’s emotional health and self-esteem, it is important for parents to help their child to venture out and explore. Sometimes parents who themselves had insecure or anxious attachments to their own parents transfer their anxiety on to their children and try to keep them close when the children should be moving out into the world with confidence, facing surmountable challenges.

A surmountable challenge is one that stretches the child a little and forces him to grow up and learn new skills, but is still manageable rather than overwhelming. If we protect our children from such challenges when they balk or whine, they will not learn self-confidence. A child will not learn to protect himself in the world if we are continually there to do it for him. We cannot protect our child from every possible situation that comes up. Children need information and skills in order to protect themselves. Children who are overprotected have very little confidence in their ability to make a choice. They will often look to others (peers or adults) to make decisions for them. Children need to face stressful situations and work through them, and not be protected from them if the risks involved are reasonable. Of course it would be neglectful to allow our children too much responsibility too soon. We need to find the balance.

Keep on exposing your daughter to new situations which are manageable, like playdates, swimming lessons, or part-time daycare. If she has a shy or slow-to-warm-up temperament, she may balk at first. Don’t give in to her whining by changing your mind, but don’t just dump her there. Remain present at first and give her encouragement by saying you know she will be able to handle it. As she learns she can handle these shorter separations and new challenges it will be easier for her to make the transition to kindergarten, and she will develop into a confident adult rather than a fearful one.

An Adult Relationship

The time of parenting teens is one of intense change. In the earlier stages of raising adolescents we buckle up, expecting to go through a period of conflict or uncertainty. In those early years we are often intently focused on the act of parenting but, ideally, as our teens mature we begin to parent less, support more and start sharing a life with a neat young adult. We start to see that light at the end of the tunnel. We also begin to see space in soon-to-be empty bedrooms for the big screen TV, along with more freedom and less responsibility. Hmm. Sounds kind of delicious.

But there may be another thing you have to deal with your marriage. That is about to change too.

Once the kids walk out your front door, you may find yourself face-to-face with your partner and have absolutely nothing to say. If the kids have been a focal point in your relationship, it may be time to take a look across the dinner table and get to know that familiar face again. After all, in a few short years, that person might become your traveling partner. Wouldn’t it be nice if you actually enjoyed each other’s company?

Couples who have been married 25 years or longer have the second highest rate of divorce because staying together “for the sake of the kids” is no longer an issue. And, with the challenges of raising kids removed, the relationship may also feel a little dull, especially if you haven’t taken the time to connect in the past.

Hopefully, raising teens has given you some valuable lessons about relationships. Living with a teen has probably taught you a lot of humility and patience. You may have also developed some pretty great communication skills along the way, including how to listen, how to talk respectfully, and how to resolve differences without completely losing it. Hopefully, you have learned you aren’ perfect and you aren’t always right. Your teen would have taught you this during her stage of criticizing everything that came out of your mouth. Maybe her lessons have helped you move on to the next stage of your marriage.

Somewhere along the way you have likely learned other relationship lessons as well. Possibly the most important one is that you are responsible for your own happiness. Your partner can only be accountable for so much. In his book, How to be An Adult in Relationships, David Richo says, “Mature adults bring a modest expectation of need fulfillment to a partner. They seek only 25 percent of their need fulfillment from someone else, with the other 75 percent coming from self, family, friends, career, hobbies, spirituality/religion, and even pets.” Taking responsibility for your own happiness is also a wonderful departure gift for your kids, allowing them to separate from you without guilt or confusion.

A mature relationship accepts that there will be challenges and that the original romantic stage was really just a temporary state of insanity. Would you honestly want to go back to the time when the basis for falling in love may have been nothing more than liking how your partner smells?

It’s likely that neither you nor your partner knew what you were in for when you got together. How could you have? And even in its mature phase, there will still be times of conflict in any relationship. Most people who share a history experience phases of being unloving, even fantasizing that their partner will ride off into the sunset and forget their way home. Conflict is not only normal; it is a necessary component to any healthy relationship. Conflict allows us to be two separate human beings rather than one symbiotic blob. We have to be able to move through contention in order to rest comfortably in commitment.

Looking back, you may see that what you shared with your partner wasn’t just love, but also values and respect. You didn’t have to agree on everything and hopefully, over the years, you’ve learned to disagree with dignity. You may have learned that simply being right doesn’t really feel great if it shuts your partner down completely. Perhaps you’ve even found a place for the “yes, dear”, as you’ve learned to suck it up for the love of peace and harmony. And though some may find the only way to achieve peace and harmony is through separation, it’s nice to know you have tried your best.

If we’re lucky, at the end of the day we learn that the purpose of a relationship is to enjoy happiness rather than to endure pain. And as our adolescent kids begin to experience that insane, romantic kind of love, we might be there to show them the mature model. Yes, we might seem kind of old and boring in our polyester pants or high-waisted blue jeans; but we can show them enduring love, healthy boundaries, conscious choice and direct, respectful honesty.