Encouraging Individuality

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

There are things that your child might do and wear that make you cringe. For example, Kira got her tongue pierced a few years back and all I could think was, “Ouch!” (And, “Stop lisping!”) Yet she was happy, and who were we to tell her who to be? Admittedly, she was over 18 and could make her own decisions, but she still lived with us and I suppose we could have “laid down the law”. But that would have only bred frustration and animosity. [Fast-forward a few years and she figured out on her own that the tongue piercing made it difficult to get the jobs she wanted – and there is a hole in her tongue that remains to this day].

It can be even harder when your child is not 18 yet but still desiring the freedom to express themselves. We certainly put limits on it, such as restricting piercings to ears only and forbidding tattoos before 18, because we do feel the kids need to be emotionally mature enough to make permanent or semi-permanent decisions about their bodies. But if the kids want to dye her hair random colors, or wear crazy outfits that don’t suit my OCD-inspired need to match from head to toe, so what? Hair grows out. Styles change.

All of our children have their own personal style which they embrace and love. As long as it is appropriate and they have good behavior, to us there isn’t a problem.

The thing is, looks are definitely deceiving. Some of the nicest people we have ever known have been covered from head to toe in tattoos and piercings. As children we have to restrict their expression to some extent but parents need to remember that outside appearances don’t tell the whole story – and teach our kids tolerance and appreciation for difference.

A teenager who likes the gothic style is not guaranteed to be depressed. Listening to heavy metal music, as Parker does, does not make him an angry person. Being blonde does not make you unintelligent.

Perhaps if we all celebrated our own unique and wonderful selves a little more we’d be less inclined to judge.

United You Stand

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

parenting togetherWhen there is more than one person caring for a child there are bound to be disagreements. It can come down to personal preference or may actually be differing values based on how your were raised. But the disagreement itself is rarely the problem; it is how that disagreement is dealt with.

Communication is key when raising a child, and can perhaps be even more crucial when in a blended family. When Dave and I first married, Kira was norotrious for asking first me, then her dad about doing something and then taking whichever answer she liked best. It left us wondering what happened, and often frustrated with each other because we each thought the other had undermined our authority. Yeah, Kira was a sneaky one, but it taught us a lot about having a united front.

We started to realize that we had to talk to each other when the question was asked. We would tell each other, Kira just asked me about going to the park, but I said no because she hasn’t finished her homework. Then, when she went to the other parent to ask the same question, she’d get the same answer – and we were able to address with her the innapropriateness of trying to pull a fast one by being so sneaky.

Before we worked out the need to have such open communication, we would end up frustrated with each other in front of the kids. The disagreements only fueled the motivation of the kids to take advantage. They weren’t being bad; they were just being kids. It wasn’t their fault; it was our need to improve. We learned quickly how unpleasant it is to have your opinion undermined in front of a child, even if the other person does have a point. It doesn’t encourage respect and breeds dissatisfaction in relationships.

Dave and I learned to talk about our disagreements about discipline in private. It gave us time to listen to and respect what the other was saying without an audience. We could work out differences and come to a consensus and feel good about it, while also demonstrating to our kids that we were a team.

It didn’t take long for Kira to realize her approach would no longer work, and it forced Dave and I to confront and overcome some of the differences in our parenting styles. As we realized that we were both operating from a place of love and concern, disagreements about what to let the kids do or what kind of house rules we would have became minimal.

Sugar High

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASugary treats are fun. I have a hard enough time saying no to ice cream for myself, so imagine how hard it is when the kids want it. Dave and I could give in each time the kids want some sort of dessert but it’s really not the message we want to send. We try to restrict treats for all our sakes, because it’s definitely not the healthy choice.

Too much sugar is not good for you or your kids. Cavities are a huge risk with a high-sugar diet. Childhood obesity and other health complications have been directly linked to sugar consumption.  Worst of all, the habits your kids form now will likely influence their health and habits as adults.

The easiest way to limit sugar is to keep it limited inside and outside the house. Set the right example, and show your kids how to have balance. A couple of cookies after a healthy dinner? Sure. A whole package of oreos for an after school snack? No way.

It’s all about moderation and balance, teaching our kids to make healthy choices most of the time so that a treat is a treat and not a habit.

Something to Fear

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

pebThere are rational and irrational fears. Children especially can be fearful because there is so much they don’t know. As a parent it can seem silly, but not taking a child’s fear seriously can make things much worse.

Your child might be scared of the dark, a stuffed animal, loud noises, swimming, or the color of peanut butter. As a parent, you don’t want your child to be upset or scared. Your first instinct might be to turn the lights off or toss them into a pool to show them that nothing’s wrong. Well-meaning, but forcing your child into an uncomfortable situation can potentially be traumatic.

Solving a problem always starts with a conversation. Find out why your child is frightened and discuss ways to either lessen their fear or at least work around it. A nightlight could make a huge difference and “special” goggles might make the pool approachable. See what your child is willing to try and the problem might fix itself. You are their safety net and you always them to think of you that way. If that means an extra check under the bed every night, then why not. There’s no harm in it.

Stress Management for Kids

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

parkerI have a confession. Every weekend, Dave and I play Mario Kart on our Wii. It’s more than just a video game. It’s a way to recognize that it is the weekend, that the work week is over. And it’s a way to relieve stress. During the game as we race, we get wildly competitive, scream and yell, and really let loose. It’s a wonderful stress release, much like our morning walks during the week.

When your children get upset, regardless of age, they feel many of the emotions that adults do, including anger and stress. Things get messy (sometimes literally) when your child has all of these emotions flying around but doesn’t know how to handle them yet. Younger children especially might throw toys or lash out physically.

Teach Your Child to Manage Stress

Even when a child is too young for critical thinking, there are better ways to handle a tough situation besides kicking mom in the shin and throwing legos. Expose your child to some harmless forms of stress relief.

  • Engage your child in physical activity. Run around outside, crank the music and dance, or jump up and down to release stress in a healthy way.
  • If screaming tends to be the release your child turns to, give them a safe outlet to get it out. Teach them how to scream into a pillow when frustrated, or have a 2-minute yell zone that helps them get the stress out.
  • If your child is prone to throwing things when frustrated, take them out and throw a ball with them or even let them throw clods of dirt at a tree or something.

Finding safe outlets for your child will give them relief and the ability to understand that their anger and stress is ok. How they handle it is what is important and soon they will hopefully be able to use more words than actions.

Discipline and Your Kids: Always Follow Through

tantrum

It doesn’t seem to matter if your kids are 2 or 12 or 17 and 3/4. All kids know exactly how to push buttons and they are completely ok with pressing every one of them (as if it were their full time job). Sometimes, it feels like my buttons are big and red and say “PRESS ME NOW.” The thing is, when kids are misbehaving, you can’t ignore it and you can’t dismiss it (even if you’re tired, at the end of your rope, or are on your last button). You know you have to dole out some sort of consequence, but wow, parenting is exhausting.

It’s when they’ve worn you out the most that you have to be committed to following through.

If you tell your that Action A will lead to Consequence B and Action A has been set in motion, you have two choices: You give the kid the promised consequence, or you don’t. If you do, your child learns that every choice has a consequence and that the boundaries you promise exist really do.

If you don’t, chaos ensues.

No, really. Maybe not all at once. But if your kids learn that their bad choices or poor behaviors don’t have the consequences they thought (and they will test) then they’ll assume that you’ve lost control, that they are in control, and that they can get away with that behavior and more.

It multiplies exponentially, too, so that if you aren’t following through when your kids are young, it will be even harder to regain control when they get older. Many parents make the mistake of threatening with something that they either can’t deliver or don’t feel comfortable doing, so keeping your consequences enforceable helps.

Our son would occasionally throw a very embarrassing and loud temper tantrum in restaurants. The first time it happened, we were embarrassed but tried to quickl quiet him. The next time we went out, we told him before we ever got out of the car that if he didn’t behave, we would leave. We didn’t even get a chance to finish reading the menu and he was throwing a tantrum. Dave and looked at each other and made a critical choice that has paid off since: we took him out of the high chair, thanked the waitress, left her a tip anyway, and walked out.

DId it suck that the one time we finally managed to have money, time, and energy to go to a restaurant we’d been dying to try that we couldn’t stay? Oh yeah. Would it have sucked more if we’d have coddled our son through his tantrum and not followed through on our consequence? I’m certain of it.

As much as it sucks being the bad guy, sometimes you have to. Kids need boundaries. It’s not always pleasant but it’s better than the disrespect you’ll earn later.

Disclaimer: the son mentioned above is child #4. We had a lot of practice getting here and still aren’t perfect at it. But we keep trying!

How do you handle these kind of discpline issues with your kids?

 

#BacktoSchool: The Battle of Homework Hill

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Back_to_SchoolSchool will be back in session here soon, and once again we’ll begin the battle of homework hill. You know, the part where teachers assign huge projects, send them home for the kids to do, and leave unsuspecting parents to pick up the pieces the night before the project is due.

The thing is, kids need parents to be part of their success academically. They need you to teach them how to prioritize homework over video games; they need you to teach them how to break a big project down into manageable steps.

Doing homework at the end of a long work day, which usually means sitting at the computer for even longer than we already have isn’t always what we want to do. But as parents, it is certainly something our kids count on us to do.

It’s worse when our kids are not enthused about the assignment. It’s worse when our kids forget to tell us they need posterboard (by tomorrow). But it is part of the back to school process.

We also understand that many times our supervision is necessary, which is not really what we want to do at the end of the day, but it is what it is. What makes this experience even more tedious is when the child is downright unhappy with the task of completing their assignments.

In our house, we require homework to be done before anything else. No computer time, no video games, no friend time, no iPods, no dance lessons, no guitar lessons until homework is done. We aren’t ogres. We let them go to the bathroom and get a snack.

[Tweet “Make homework the first priority after school to keep your kids on task. #backtoschool”]

Because our kids have had this expectation from the start, we no longer have to wrestle with them. They simply know it has to be done. It saves us the enormous stress of bedtime homework and the even lovelier early morning oops homework.

It’s not a perfect system, and there are times when we just can’t get all the math problems done before we have to head out the door for dance class. But for the most part, we’ve solved the battle of homework hill by making it the top priority – the JOB – for our kids after school.

When other activities are not allowed until after homework is done, kids often find a motivation to complete assignments that wasn’t there before. It sets a standard of good priorities and gives your child time to complete everything. They may not be in love with the task but homework (done well) is non-negotiable.

Healthy Snacking

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

healthy grocery shoppingFrom fruit snacks and juices to crackers and cookies, there are a lot of snack choices in the grocery store isles. If your kids are like mine, they are begging for all o them.  What’s worse is that every single one of these potential snacks is likely to have some label boasting about its nutritional value. It’s tot that they are lying. There really are essential nutrients buried somewhere beneath the sugar.

It’s frustrating to navigate, because even the snacks you thought were healthy probably aren’t. Fruit snacks are loaded with sugar and other go-to snack choices have high sodium levels and trans-fats. You also have to watch out for organic products, because the label for organic by itself does not guarantee healthy eating, as organic products can have just as much sugar and calories as a non-organic snack.

When it comes to snacking for both you and your child, try to shop fresh produce as much as possible. Vegetables and hummus make for a delicious snack and  a piece of fresh fruit satisfies the sweet tooth. It’s pretty easy to pack a small bag with an ice pack to keep snacks cool, and if you do really need a portable snack, consider a handful of nuts (for those without food allergies) or a string cheese.

Making smarter snack choices is good for your kids and teaches them better eating habits, but it’s good for you, too.

Time-Out Doesn’t Work: Now What?

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

tantrumYour child has earned time in the corner again, like every child is bound to do. Problem is, your child doesn’t quite mind time-out. They practically mock you as they smile and sing in the corner as if nothing was amiss. Clearly you need a new tactic.

Each child is going to react to rewards and punishments differently. If the traditional methods aren’t working, you need to assess the situation and decide what would really send the message home to your child. You may have to restrict privileges such as a favorite toy or television show, or even go as far as keeping your child home from something they were really looking forward to. One missed bowling party will show that you mean business.

It might feel a little cruel to go beyond time-out and no, this isn’t going to be fun for you, either. But if your child isn’t getting the message, you have to let them know that poor behavior is not acceptable. They will get the hint eventually. Just remember to start small and escalate only as needed (and always add a touch of love). Most importantly, you have to be able to follow through.

They will call you bluff, and that’s not a position you want to be in. Rules are in place for a reason; it’s out of love, not dominance.

[Tweet “Rules are in place for a reason; it’s out of love, not dominance.#parenting”]

Breed Curiosity and Adventure in Your Kids

20130908_135630Everyone has their comfort zone, no matter the age. We all have a preferred activity or lifestyle, and it is hard to stray into the unknown. But we are probably born with a passion for curiosity. What changes?  Maybe we become complacent or simply learn to fear what we don’t know. But you have to think about your reaction to life in general, because that is what you’ll be passing on to your kids.

Children take on the qualities of those who surround them, which is most often the parents. Therefore, a parent who encourages a child to try new things most likely does so themselves. And whether you realize it or not, you’re teaching your child about the world indirectly. Anxiety especially is easy to pick up on. Children can sense if you’re nervous about something and will copy your behavior. Just like that, your child can learn to fear something even if they haven’t experienced it.

[Tweet “#Parents easily pass along fears and anxieties to their kids. Let them try new things.”]

This is not to say you should fake it for your child. But when you take an opportunity to broaden your own horizons and set an example, your child may benefit. No one’s asking you to start mountain climbing to face your fear of heights. It could be something as small as trying a new food. You may have fears that your child does not. Be proud that your child can do things you can’t and support them the best you can. Pushing the limits is not a bad thing, and teaching your child that everyone’s limits are different is not a bad lesson either.