The Parent-Coach Approach

As a young mum, I loved to help the kids to explore and make discoveries. Freedom and creativity were abundant in our house. Being the lovely mother that I was, I tended to become child number four and join in making a big mess. We would all have a wonderful time.

The Parenting Place from New Zealand* would classify my natural parenting style as a ‘Jellyfishicus’ parent—somebody who is warm, friendly and loving to their kids, but who, for whatever reason, does not use any form of control, does not set boundaries or make any rules.

But if the kids fought, or the noise got too much, or the mess became hugely overwhelming, my niceness wore off. My attempts to take control relied upon very public, personal explosions.

It sounded very much like: ‘Don’t leave this big mess to me. You made it with me. If you don’t clean up, you’ll have to go without dinner.’

Unfortunately, lovely Jellyfishicus parents tend to become overwhelmed when they have lost all sense of control. Then they turn into a different type of parent—the ‘Sergeant-majorcus’ parent. Sergeant-majorcus parents like to be ‘in control’ all of the time. They like order and yelling out orders. All family duties are carried out in a military style. There’s lots of control—lots of rules, but little, if any, warmth.

What would happen after I’d started shouting was that the kids would end up cowering in the corner—if they hadn’t already been sent to their rooms. Nothing would get done, and inevitably I would wind up with a headache.

There is another style of parent that would emerge after the headache appeared: the ‘Parentus Absentus’ variety. Though I was there, I wasn’t really there. The kids were safe, largely supervised by the big sister, and I was conscious enough to help out in the case of fire or blood. But anything not constituting an emergency was pretty much ignored.

Thank God for older, wiser parents and teachers who showed this mother other ways. They taught me a parenting style that works most of the time and that anybody can learn to apply, no matter what their natural personality might be. It is the ‘Parent-Coach’ style.

Most of us can think of great coaches that we’ve encountered during our lives. They may have been sporting coaches whom we were privileged to train with, or coaches (such as NRL or AFL coaches) whom we admired from the sidelines. They may have been teachers, choir or orchestra conductors. Or they may be mentors who walked alongside us.

Great coaches show respect to their players and in return earn the respect of the players. Great coaches apply a balance of warmth and control, encouragement, discipline and independence. Great coaches know each of their players, with their strengths and weaknesses, and work with them. They work on inbuilt strengths to compensate for weaknesses, and teach skills step by step where natural ability is lacking. Great coaches teach skills in bite-sized chunks, giving opportunity for the players to practise, and gradually incorporate new skills into the game-plan.

Great coaches teach the rules of the game, showing where the boundaries are—and what the goals are. They inspire by getting a team to have a common goal, to recognise what needs to happen for the team to get there, and then walking alongside each member of the team, so that each individual recognises their own important role in achieving success for the team.

When my children grew, I was able to share the Parent-Coach principle with other parents.  Parents can usually identify to which of the parenting styles they are naturally inclined. Some also recognise that different circumstances, and even different children, can bring out differing styles within each parent. When parents discover the Parent-Coach principle, they soon recognise that this is an achievable goal for them, regardless of their natural style.

In The Parenting Place’s ‘Toolbox’ course, parents are given practical and positive ways to implement Parent-Coach ‘tools’. Usually just ‘tweaking’ some of the things they do already makes a big difference, but sometimes, trying a completely new concept is beneficial to their family.

For example, many parents use timers in their homes for particular roles, such as cooking. I used to use it for ‘Time-Out’ for the children’s bad behaviour. These days I recommend using a timer for more positive things.

I recommend a timer for children who don’t have a sense of urgency in such things as getting ready for school. It helps for parents to first observe what is taking so long and break it down into do-able chunks for the child. Then use the timer for the chunk that seems to take longest for no particular reason.

Or use it when a child asks for your undivided attention, but you have ten minutes of work to finish before you can take a break. ‘Here. When this timer rings, I will be finished doing this work. Then we can play together. Okay?’

One family’s dawdling child made the family late for school every morning. When applying the Parent-Coach principle, the parents recognised that this child loved Mum to stay at school to help with reading each morning. So Mum and Dad began to set the timer for the amount of time their daughter needed to get dressed. If their daughter was dressed before the timer went off, Mum had time to stay for reading. If dressing took too long, Mum would have to use the ‘Kiss-and-drop’ lane at the school instead. The child was in control of her own destiny. Within a week, the family was no longer late for school, and Mum was able to stay for reading every day.

The greatest coaches love their players! That’s the element where we as parents have an advantage over most coaches.

As parents we have more reason to love our children—a lifetime investment. Being a Parent-Coach style of parent is do-able and makes the journey much, much more enjoyable.

*For great parenting advice, and to find a Toolbox parenting group in your area, see www.theparentingplace.com

 

Thanks to the mums from MOPS for their questions

Thanks for inviting me to be on a panel of mums, for mums, at MOPS Elizabeth.

It was a privilege to share my answers to the following questions, which I’ll post as I translate them from note form to readable form over the next few weeks.

  1. How do you resolve conflicts in different parenting styles between yourself and your husband/partner? eg where one partner is stricter than the other
  2. Now that you’re an experienced Mum, if you could tell yourself one piece of advice to really listen to when you became a new mum, what would it be?
  3. How do you balance your time between being a wife/partner and a mother so that no-one feels they miss out? What about when you have more than one child?
  4. If you could have one family rule or value, what would it be?
  5. What are your strategies for raising toddlers? e.g. dealing with whinging?

 

 

 

Year 12 Survival Hints for Families

It was past 10.30 pm in the middle of the week. Our daughter was in Term 3 of Year 12. She probably should have been sleeping, but there was a meltdown.

The cause? An essay that needed to be handed in the next day, and an empty page in front of her.  

How many marks do you need to pass?’ I asked her.

‘Well, this is the third part of a three-part assignment. I finished the others weeks ago.’

When we averaged out how much she had already received for the other two sections, we worked out that in order to pass this assignment, she needed to achieve only about 20 per cent: two out of ten.

‘It seems to me that if you put your name and about three sentences on this assignment, you could achieve 2 out of 10. So, anything more than that is a bonus. Do you think you could do that?’

She looked at me, stunned. ‘Are you serious? Would that really be okay with you?’

‘Would that be okay with you is the more important question. If getting fantastic marks is keeping you from finishing, perhaps you need to relax a little and just do it. I reckon you can get 20 per cent. I’m going to bed. Goodnight.’

I went off to bed, but not before I’d received a big hug and saw her contentedly sitting on her bed, typing away on my laptop. Next morning she told me that she had finished in about 40 minutes. And several weeks later, she said, ‘I got my essay back, Mum. I got 86 per cent.’

Somebody has said, ‘When a child does Year 12, the whole family does Year 12.’ We agree!

We’ve now survived four of our kids doing Year 12. Anybody else who’s had a Year 12 in their house probably understands what I mean by ‘survived’. We thought that third time round it should be a breeze. We were wrong. Thankfully, by the fourth child, we’d relaxed somewhat. 

Unfortunately, it’s really easy to get caught up in the storm when our kids are struggling with deadlines and the pressure of Year 12. But what can we do to keep the whole family sane?

Here are some things we’ve learnt.

Try to keep Year 12 in perspective.

Year 12 is one year out of a life-expectancy of 80-plus years. Yes, a great score enables our kids to get into their first choice of university courses. But there are all sorts of detours that they can take to eventually achieve the same goal.

What makes people ultimately employable is not their Year 12 score.  Developing people skills, playing in a sports team or participating in a group, as well as working on stickability, perseverance, creativity and using initiative are attributes every person can achieve, regardless of academic ability.

Keep our own lives balanced.

Only then can we help our teens balance their lives. Help them to see the value of maintaining a balance between the mental, physical, spiritual and social aspects of our lives.

Get to know the teachers at the beginning of the year

and keep in touch with them. Teachers work better with parents who encourage and are interested, and want to work with them.

Let the teachers know your tricks for motivating your child. For example, kids often respond better if you speak their love language: Are words of encouragement their best aid to learning? Do they prefer spending quality time with others in order to get their work done or might they benefit by time alone in the library? Does physical touch such as big bear hugs or rigorous activity help them? Do they learn through doing things for others or really appreciate others doing things for them? Do they respond to rewards and gifts as simple as stickers? (Don’t ask me how I know this!)

Use incentives

Make handing in assignments and essays worthwhile in the student’s eyes—for example: ‘Once you’ve finished that assignment, why don’t we go to that movie you wanted to see’.

Give them the opportunity to see where a good score might take them. Encourage them to speak to other adults in different occupations and explore opportunities for work experience.  University open days can also be inspirational for students who are struggling to see the point of studying. They demonstrate careers that our kids (and we) may never have dreamed of.

Let your young person know you’re interested.

Know their schedule. Get them to post their weekly school schedules and assignment due-dates on a family calendar, or print out a copy of their diary – so that you don’t plan a camping trip the day before an assignment is due. (Don’t ask me how I know this one, either).

Remember that you are the adult

You might need to monitor their time management. Plan rest days or weekends in which nothing is happening. Practise a weekly ‘Sabbath’ with them – that means to consciously have a day of rest – with no homework and a complete break from school-life.

Encourage part-time jobs, but not too much!

Part-time jobs help them to see the bigger picture, learn responsibility and accountability. The teachers at our local school have learnt that those who do well work part-time jobs six hours a week or less.

Be on the same page.

If your child wants to achieve, watch for ways to help.

If your child is hoping just to finish, encourage them to hand in all their assignments.

If your child has no intention of studying, it’s no use nagging—although it may help to give them a reality check if you encourage them to get a job and let them manage their own finances. That way they can find out how tough it is to pay for things on a low wage.

Some things you might try: Keep them supplied with healthy snacks and a walking partner. Sit with them while they study and help underline passages, or copy out charts that they need to learn by rote and post them all over the house (especially in the loo). Be a sounding-board – but remember that any expression of frustration is not a personal attack.

In our home, Year 12’s were exempt from doing the dishes. That was a small way that the rest of the family could let the Year 12 know that we supported them.

Be aware of different learning styles.

Recognise your student’s need for suitable study conditions. Some people need bright light and open areas in order to study, while others need dim light. Some need to have noise around them. One of our children found it useful to go babysitting for friends so that she could study there undisturbed. Mozart has been known to enhance concentration. Other music could be left for relaxation time.

 

Life may be tough during Year 12. The less pressure we apply and the more available we are as parents, the better it will be for the students in our lives. By encouraging our students to keep at it, balancing school life with a healthy lifestyle and maintaining friendships, and not too much computer/screen time, we can create positive memories of Year 12—hopefully for the whole family.

 

Originally published as ‘Year 12 Survival Guide for Parents’ in The Lutheran, 2012 August edition. http://www.thelutheran.com.au

 

Watch them take off and fly!

Tiarna was only 12 months old when we moved to Memphis. Within weeks of our arrival, she made friends with a particular gorilla in the Memphis Zoo.

We lived only a mile away from the zoo. With a family membership, we visited up to three times a week – often enough for Tiarna and the gorilla to form quite a bond.

The gorilla would see us coming, early in the morning, and climbed up to the viewing window. Tiarna climbed up onto the ledge on our side of the window and the gorilla sat next to her on the other side of the glass. There they sat, copying each other and communicating in some form that seemed to mean they would look for each other the next time.

Jesse was nearly three. He seemed to have two speeds – full speed and asleep. The ‘rangle-tangles’ (that’s Hahn-children language for orangutans) were not as accessible as the gorillas. But they knew us well enough to wave to us – particularly to our little, blonde, bouncy Jesse.

We soon discovered that Jesse had an amazing affinity with birds. Memphis Zoo had an indoor, thermostatically-controlled aviary where birds from all over the world were free to fly around, all year round.

Inside the aviary, we wandered along the paths very slowly. Often we stopped to sit and practice being very quiet.

Jesse sat on a low rock wall and birds came right up to him – most often a bleeding-heart dove and her chick. Many people asked  to photograph Jesse with the birds within centimetres of his face.

It was almost magical … until the peace shattered when someone burst into the aviary, running, shouting and sometimes even chasing the birds.
We had lived in Memphis for a couple of years when the zoo installed a Butterfly House. On our first visit we wandered through with Jesse’s pre-school group and a tour-guide.

During the tour, many butterflies landed and stayed on the floral dress I wore – obviously attracted to the colour of the flowers.

The children were fascinated, and I felt rather privileged… until I wriggled and they flew away.

At the end of the tour, we watched butterflies emerge from cocoons. One butterfly hatched completely and took its first flight while we watched.
On my next visit, I remembered to wear the same dress. I stood still in the Butterfly House and about a dozen butterflies settled on my ‘flowers’.

Other people noticed and came to have a closer look.

A girl came up to me and demanded that the butterflies come on to her dress.
She yelled at me.
She yelled at her mother.
She yelled at the butterflies.
The butterflies took flight and flew to the farthest corners of the enclosure.
The child reminded me of the children in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
So did her mother.

The mother pleaded with me to help to get butterflies onto her daughter – as if I had a magic wand.

I couldn’t help – just as if she’d asked me to arrange for the birds in the aviary to come close to her daughter, or for the gorilla to play with the child.

 

A couple years ago Jesse left our home to go renting with a friend, and Tiarna flew to Ireland to meet up with a childhood friend from Memphis (not the gorilla!). I think a piece of my heart went with each of them.

As I sit today and write, I think back to that mother in the Butterfly House, and I recognise that I have plenty of what she had.

I would much prefer to be with my kids wherever they are; making sure that they have everything that they have ever desired; that they can be happy; making  the world safe and perfect for them; and wanting to take their place in scary times (bungee jumping and sky-diving not included!).

Then I remember back to our first tour in the Butterfly House.

When one of the other mums reached out to help a butterfly out of its cocoon, the tour-guide stopped her. The tour-guide stressed that in order to develop their wings properly the butterflies had to go through the struggle of coming out all by themselves.

As parents, it’s always tempting to protect our children from any struggles and to try to keep them happy. But we run the risk of growing beautiful children who can’t cope in the real world.
We can encourage them to learn, and we can influence their environment so that they can make wise choices.
But we cannot live their lives for them.

If we keep them so safe that they cannot learn consequences, or prevent them from experiencing that struggles are a necessary part of life we run the risk of them becoming dependent on us or others approval…always.

If we protect them from taking responsibility for their part in accidents, we don’t allow them to learn about cause and effect.

We can get in the way of their learning while they are young by not allowing them the freedom to explore within safe boundaries.

If we take it upon ourselves to be the provider of all happiness, we can prevent them from discovering that happiness is something they can experience from within themselves.

Our job is to prepare them for life; to let them know that they are always loved and to allow them to grow.

Our children need room to learn, to struggle, to laugh, to cry, and to stretch in order to develop their own wings.

And when they are ready, only by letting go of them can we watch them take off and fly.

 

Originally published as ‘Learning to fly’ in The Lutheran magazine, 2013, September edition.                                                  www.thelutheran.com.au

My terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day*

 

The dad was screaming at his child. Every instinct in me wanted to run up to the child and whisk him into my arms as I yelled back at the dad.

Then I remembered.

We’d dropped off our eldest at kindergarten for the morning, and the house seemed too cold and lonely to go back to. So my younger two children and I headed to the library.

Normally the library was a place of solace. On Thursday mornings the library was alive with storytelling and great family-friendly activities.

This wasn’t Thursday morning.

I could usually find some books with which to settle my kids at a table within an arm’s distance of me, while I had a quick look at some reading matter a little more advanced than Dr Seuss.

But not this morning.

While I was two metres away from my kids, they started some sort of uproar.I don’t even remember what they did. But I do remember the face of the security guard as he suggested I try to come back another day when the children wouldn’t be so disruptive.

So we headed for home.

But we needed milk, so we popped into the drugstore (yes, we were living in the USA at the time).

We didn’t end up getting milk that morning. The kids caused a racket.

And in less time than it takes to get a flagon of milk and line up in a 20-person-long queue, another security guard came up to us. In his sweetest, deepest Southern-USA accent, he said,

‘Ma’am, y’all need to leave the store. These chillun’ are disturbin’ the other customers’.

Mortified, I grabbed the pusher and the hand of my three-year-old, and we headed out—without the milk.

Our house still seemed cold and lonely, so I headed to our friend’s home, where the kids felt right at home and joined in the activities without fear of being expelled.

As the kids played, my dear friend poured some freshly brewed coffee and listened as I burst into tears and related the goings-on of the morning.

‘… and then … and then …!’

And then I looked at my friend’s face. She’d evidently been trying to keep a straight face, but could no longer hold it in. She burst into fits of laughter.

‘What’s so funny?’ I asked.

‘Well, after all you’ve been trying to tell me about being a Christian, at last I know now that you’re real! This has spoken more to me than anything else you’ve ever said. Thank God you’re human!’

She continued to speak words of truth, encouragement and compassion. Her words were loving, caring, concise and compelling.

She knew us so well.

We were everyday friends and shared most aspects of our lives. So she knew of the stresses and strains on our young family.

She also knew of the unrealistic demands I had placed on myself as a young mum of three young children in a place a world away from everything and everybody we knew.

She was also a doctor, and picked up pretty quickly that at least one of our kids had a fever—something that I’d overlooked. Several hours later, another burst eardrum revealed itself as the cause of my ‘terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day’*.

 

As soon as I remembered that day, I was able to think about the dad in the shopping centre in a different light. I was so quick to judge—just like those people in the drugstore. Several of them offered words of advice:

‘That child needs discipline.’

‘If he were my child, he would have had a spanking by now.’

‘You shouldn’t come here if you can’t control your children.’

None of the advice had been particularly helpful, and none demonstrated any form of understanding.

They did not know that we had been up all night with various demands of the children.

They did not know that we were from the other side of the world and really needed somebody to give us a break.

They didn’t know that the child who was being most boisterous never complained of pain, but acted up in other ways. He must have been screaming inside but didn’t know how to tell me.

The people knew nothing about us yet were so quick to judge.

And here I was, doing the same thing.

The dad and the child left the building.

And I felt sorry that I didn’t do anything. I hadn’t given any word of encouragement. I hadn’t offered any help. I hadn’t even given the understanding smile that I’ve since been practising.

I hope it says, ‘Yes, sometimes we do have terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad days. I understand. I hope your day gets better from here, but I promise not to contribute further to your misery.’

These days I try to keep a bottle of bubbles in my bag, which often is all the distraction that distraught dads need. A dad with those magic bubbles in his hand turns into a super-hero in the eyes of a small child, and in the eyes of judgemental onlookers.

For the times when I’m not armed with bubbles, I have rehearsed some lines which I have actually used, such as:

‘Not a good day? Can I help?’

‘I hope your day gets better.’

‘Would you like me to help you with your trolley?’

‘I remember those days. Is there anything I can do to help you right now?’

I usually receive some funny looks—but, in comparison with being a judgmental, older person with a poor memory and no clue of the cause of anybody else’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day, it’s worth it!

 

Originally published in ‘The Lutheran’ magazine, September, 2012. http://www.thelutheran.com.au/

 

 

 

* from the book Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Two-ice-cream days

It had been a big day. As I put our five-year-old to bed, I asked him ‘Did you have a good day?’

‘I had a great day,’ he said.

So I asked him, ‘Why was it a great day?’

‘Oh mum!’ he exclaimed, as if it were completely obvious. ‘Because we had 2 ice-creams of course!’

 

I guess I was taken a little aback. He’d played all day with almost all of his cousins. His grandparents had showered him with love and his favourite things. It had been a really happy day for lots of reasons.  So I continued the question,

‘So that’s what makes a great day, then …when you have two ice-creams?’

‘Yeah!’ Again he gave that exasperated look that means something like ‘Are you for real mum? Of course.’

He continued though.

‘You know when we went on our holiday and we had ice-cream for dessert and you said we could eat as much ice-cream as we like. That was the best day.’

That was the first day of a recent two-week holiday which included toboganning, whale watching and climbing tall towers, and his favourite part was …ice-cream?

 

Kids have a great way of putting life into perspective. While we are often carried away with making things bigger and more exciting, kids seem to revel in the simplicity.

How many children are swamped by technological gizmos and are still bored, only to find delight in simple pleasures such as digging in the dirt, splashing in water or stirring the cake mix?

How often does a toddler delight in the paper wrapping from the Christmas present rather than the present?

 

Especially if life has been too hectic lately, why not take a step back today and turn off the television, DVD and I-pad?

Then steer your kids in the direction of a pile of dirt, a stack of boxes or some water and plastic cups, jugs, funnels and implements from your kitchen and see the wisdom in simplicity.

Oh – and don’t forget the ice-cream!

 

Originally published as ‘2 Icecream days’

in The Lutheran, 24 July 2006, Vol.40, No.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School Daze: Settling into School Life

‘Mrs Hahn, I didn’t think this would happen in your family!’

I can still hear the words of our principal when my child (who shall remain nameless) threw their body down onto the ground in the middle of the school driveway, arms and legs flailing, refusing to walk home.

I had decided that it would be good exercise to walk home with my child after their first day at school. When I think about it, that probably wasn’t one of my better ideas.

Though eventually enjoying school, each of my children struggled with the stresses and strains at the beginning. One cried from separation anxiety—made worse by their mother hanging around to try to calm the hysteria. Another asked to be dropped off at the kerb so they could walk up to the school alone — only to return to the car to ask us to open the very heavy front door of the school.

At the end of the first day, from more than one child we heard, ‘There’s no point going anymore. I didn’t learn how to read or write.’

What I learnt in the process of beginning four children in three different schools I’ve shared with other mums and dads who have all said, ‘It’s so nice to know that it’s normal!’

Hints for beginning school that I’ve learnt so far:

  • Beginning school is tiring for all concerned: A more regulated structured day, as well as little bodies and brains that struggle to keep up with each other’s demands, is much more than we can expect of anybody without experiencing some teething problems.
  • Little bodies that are beginning school need lots of rest, lots of love and lots of energy replenishment.
  • Learning, making new friends, trying new things and growing is hard work. So it’s important to plan your child’s day so that she can rest and ‘chill out’ after school and replenish energy.

Our family found it helpful to have a supply of yummy, easy-to-eat, healthy snacks in the car, to restore a little energy supply and get us home without too many tears. Another family I know walked home with picnic food, stopping at a playground along the way to eat, rest, play and relax.

A comfy chair or bed at home, and having ready a supply of favourite storybooks and a milkshake or smoothie for the children to sip while I cuddled and read to them became a safe haven for them (and me) for the first few weeks of school. It also helped to create great memories by giving them devoted time to share the joys and frustrations of their day.

  • It’s worthwhile to resist ‘play dates’, extra-curricular sports and other activities after school until little bodies have become used to the increased demands of school.

In our family, we decided to plan that we had specific nights of activities, and other nights of rest. We also restricted each child to one sport or physical activity such as gymnastics or ballet at a time, and one musical instrument. It’s not only exhausting for kids to be taxi-ed all over the district, but also exhausting for their parents. 

  • Sticking to familiar and established routines such as baths, bedtime stories and prayers helps children to settle and relax for a good night’s sleep, and helps them to have control, knowing that not all of life has changed.

Many schools adjust their schedules for school beginners by having a mid-week day off, having shorter days for the first few weeks or having naps during the afternoon. If you feel that your child needs an occasional ‘early moment’ and would benefit from an afternoon nap, don’t be afraid to negotiate with the teacher to pick him up at lunchtime:

  • Keeping in touch with the teacher is about the best investment you can make, as far as their education goes. 
  • After school is not the best time to go shopping!           
  • After the excitement of beginning school wears off, many children come to realise that they are stuck there!

Be prepared for the end of the honeymoon period. Anticipate ‘tummy aches’, sore heads and sore toes (even if imagined, all of these are very real to your child) and have suitable strategies planned. While being sympathetic and loving, it is also possible to be matter-of-fact and deal with the situation confidently and appropriately. In our home we have often used the same strategy I learnt from my mother: ‘I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. You obviously need some more rest. Why don’t you go back to sleep? I’ll pull the curtains and make sure it’s quiet and dark so you can sleep. I’ll check to see how you are going later on.’

Importantly, the child needs to know she is taken seriously. If she is genuinely sick or needing to catch up on sleep, she’ll soon be back to sleep, and it will become obvious in other ways that there is a genuine illness. However, if the ‘sickness’ is her strategy to stay home, a morning in bed resting without television, games or books is very likely to inspire a quick recovery by recess time. And sometimes, little bodies just need to have a rest.

  • We found that celebrating ‘getting bigger’ helped our children to accept the changes more readily; by going on special weekend dates alone with Mum or Dad; having extra responsibilities, such as helping with the shopping by using the shopping list; or even being able to stay up a little later than younger siblings.
  • Remember that there is definitely somebody out there (probably at your school) whose child has outperformed your child’s tantrum.

Registering discontent is normal and healthy — it even seems to be part of a 4–6-year-old’s job description. It does not mean you are a bad parent, but it does give you the prompting to learn new strategies as your child grows.

Listen to your child. Ask how they feel and acknowledge their feelings as important. Avoid asking ‘WHY?’* Instead, ask something like ‘What happened?’

*’Why’ is a tricky question to answer if you’re a child because it opens up many more questions – and you can get into trouble for not answering the right way, or according to the adult’s expectation.

  • Your child’s teacher will be able to reassure you about particular behaviours you may be worried about and can also suggest ways you can work together to help your child to settle into school life.

If you speak with other more experienced parents you may also be reassured that your child is not the main contender for the Academy Award for melodrama!

 

Originally published as ‘School Daze’ in The Lutheran, February edition, 2008.

Money Matters: teaching kids the value of money

Mum’s birthday was approaching. I decided to give her a surprise and buy her a present. On my way home from school, I took a slight detour—via the main street. Boldly I walked into Eudunda Farmers, chose a lovely perfume and took it to the shop assistant.

‘Book it up, please!’ I said as I signed my very grown-up eight-year-old signature in Mum’s ‘book-it-up’ book. The shop assistant was most helpful and gift-wrapped the lovely present. I went home, gift in hand. A few days later I gave the lovely gift to my mother.

As I remember, Mum was very gracious. She said ‘Thank you’ and then asked where the perfume had come from.

Then she explained that ‘booking it up’ wasn’t all there is to paying. She would have to go to pay the shop, and we would have to go without something else because we didn’t have enough money to just ‘book it up’ whenever we felt like it.

But she knew I’d done it with the best of intentions, so we would call it ‘squits!’ this time.

But I was not to book anything else up without arranging it with Mum first, or I would have to pay for it myself.

I learnt a big lesson that day, and I think Mum did too, because at around the same time she began to give us a weekly allowance, so we could actually learn to save, spend and learn the value of money.

These days I work in a church setting, where we regularly hand out emergency food parcels. Some people are in need of help because they are experiencing a tidal wave of circumstances beyond their control. We are privileged to be able to help them with food and refer them to other services.

But others have never learnt the skill of budgeting, problem-solving or having to plan beyond today.

In February, when the Christmas sales have been forgotten and the payments begin, these people are likely to return to us because they can’t pay for food, gas or electricity. We’ll be told that their payments to department or electronic stores have been due this week. And very often, those payments are more than their income.

They’ve simply never learnt the ‘book-it-up’  rule—that anything bought on credit is not really yours until it’s paid for, and that you have to pay for it somehow.

As parents and youth leaders over the past few decades, Chris and I have learnt that different kids, different personalities and different life experiences lead to different attitudes to money.

We’ve tried to enable our kids to learn about money in small, manageable amounts while they’re little. By the time they’re adults we hope  they’ve learnt about managing money in a way that will protect them from the world’s lies, ‘You need this for your life to be fulfilling’, ‘Get this and you’ll be happy!’, ‘More is better!’

We want them to have experienced the consequences of handling (or mishandling) money before it means that their car is reclaimed or they get a bad credit report.

Where possible we’ve tried to relate kids’ money management to real life.

We’re not in favour of paying kids for jobs that simply need to be done in a family. In every family it’s important that we work as a team. If somebody doesn’t empty the bins or feed the dog, somebody else suffers.

So, rather than earning money to do ‘team’ jobs, our children have received a ‘salary’—an agreed fixed amount. But if they don’t pull their weight, they get charged.

It speaks pretty loudly to an eight-year-old when you hand him his allowance and then ask him to pay you back because you made his bed, emptied the bins or fed the dog, which were his jobs. It also helps teenagers to appreciate the value of reward for effort if they are expected to pay their sibling for doing the dishes, or pay for a takeaway meal for the family if they didn’t take their turn to cook.

Salespeople are taught the tactics of putting something in a customers’ hands for them to ‘feel’ ownership; the same principle works with allowances that have to be paid back.

Once our kids reached high school we gave them a debit card and transferred money into it regularly. To get the debit card they needed to present us with a budget which included clothes (except uniforms and sneakers), youth, Christian giving, savings, sports fees and phone credit (no going out if there is no credit on your phone; it’s a safety issue).They needed to demonstrate accountability.

We’ve also had a rule in our family for years that we don’t purchase on impulse. If somebody decides while we’re shopping that they simply ‘must have it’, they need to think about it for 24 hours before we buy it. Usually it is forgotten by the time we leave the shop. That rule has saved us making lots of poor decisions!

One of our children had her heart set on a game of Cluedo and had been saving for it. When she saw it advertised in the junk mail she asked me if we could go to buy it.

‘This is such a good sale. It’s 30 per cent off. Couldn’t you buy it and I’ll pay you back?’

Stored in my memory banks was the ‘book-it-up’ rule. So I came up with an alternative plan—lay-by. I explained how lay-by works, and we went to the shop to set up an account in her name. The shop assistants took time to explain all the details to our eight-year-old. For the next few weeks my daughter paid about 50 cents a fortnight, until she had paid in full.

What an accomplishment! She’d paid for an item herself, recognised its value, and only received it when it was really hers.

To have a real-life understanding of how money works is something that is important to children. It gives
them experience, teaches them problem-solving and risk assessment, and hopefully will prepare them for life in the big world where, unfortunately, money does matter.

Postscript: The author reserves the right to give a false impression of being a perfect parent. She’s not! Ask any of her kids!

 

Originally published in:

The Lutheran, 2010, February edition

The Disciple in Discipline

 

‘We think it’s time that we start to discipline Tommy’, the mother of a toddler told me.

I’d been enjoying watching Tommy play: pushing cars around after each other, over mountains and tracks, running into traffic obstacles and finding alternative ways of getting around them. Every now and then Tommy would look up and give his mum a very cute, cheesy grin, which his mum would return. Tommy would then continue with his very serious work of play — complete with the obligatory ‘brmmm…brmmm’.

‘What do you mean by discipline?’ I asked Tommy’s mum.

I thought back to several months before when I was presenting a six-week course. The fourth session is about ‘discipline’. For as long as I’ve been presenting this course, I’ve been intrigued that formerly absent dads appear out of the blue for this particular session. This course proved to be no exception.

On this particular night,  I felt reasonably confident that most of the parents were Christian. So I began with a big, empty whiteboard and wrote the word ‘discipline’ at the top.

‘What do you think of when you see this word?’ I asked.

Very quickly the whiteboard was covered with words: time-out, thinking time, spanking, distraction, self-discipline, self-control, naughty corner, removal of privileges, punishment, consequences, ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’, control … you get the picture.

I’m sure the list could have continued, but the space on the whiteboard didn’t. It was fairly obvious that we each had our own ideas about discipline.

I then crossed off the ‘ine’ from the end of ‘discipline’ and replaced it with an ‘e’. ‘Disciple.’

‘Does anybody recognise this word?’ I asked and I watched the faces change as I continued.

‘We know that Jesus had disciples. Let’s have another look at our list and decide which of these words describe how Jesus ‘disciplined’ his ‘disciples’.

Together we crossed off three-quarters of the words on the whiteboard.

With my own energetic and inquisitive children, I really struggled with discipline. People told me that my particularly ‘enterprising’ child needed a good dose of medication. That child certainly copped a fair degree of the only thing I knew then — a ‘good spanking’. But all that achieved was to rob that particular child of a sense of adventure and creativity.

Eventually, having heard a lot from authoritarian, hands-off ‘experts’, and feeling like a failure, I sat down in a library with my Bible, alongside a Hebrew and Greek Bible with translation, and searched every reference to discipline I could find.What did I learn? That discipline means ‘to train’ and that a ‘disciple’ is a follower who follows a leader — the ‘disciplin-er’.

When I saw discipline through Christ’s example, I saw a demonstration of love through patient leading, through example, through instruction, story-telling and the use of analogies, as well as through pre-empting and warning of what to expect. When I looked at discipline as what Christ did with his disciples, I saw that it was not punishment or retribution. Even though he had all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus did not use discipline as a form of power or control.

So my approach to discipline changed.

I realised that I had treated discipline as a reaction to my kids’ actions, and, mostly, the kids were getting into trouble because they’d do things I didn’t expect or want them to do. There was a lot of ‘don’t’ without instructing what to ‘do’. With a fair bit of practice, we were able to turn it around.

Discipline became proactive rather than reactive. It meant that we would try to stay ahead of the kids — to plan that our days would begin and end in a more predictable fashion.

Our kids responded really well to being told what to expect each day, or every moment.

For example, we told them: ‘Today is Monday. You need to get dressed, and have breakfast and then we’ll take you to pre-school. We’ll come to get you after pre-school, and then we’ll have lunch and a rest and then we’ll go to the zoo for a little while.’

Then, having given them a virtual map of the day, we would navigate them through it according to their age.

Our five-year-old could manage all that information, while our three-year-old needed step-by-step information, and our baby needed to be taken through it all.

We used charts so that they (and their mother) could have visual prompts for routines such as getting dressed and going to bed. The children knew what to expect and what was expected of them.

Life became more ordered and therefore predictable, as did our children’s behaviour.

When the lives of our children turned upside-down when we moved from the USA back to Australia, the reminder charts and routines were portable and offered reassurance that not everything in life had changed.

We also needed to appreciate our kids’ individual differences.

For example, being aware that each of them would dawdle at a different stage in the morning, we used that to our advantage. We used breakfast as the motivation to ‘hurry up and get dressed’ for the child who took ages to dress but loved breakfast. We made the child who took great pride in personal appearance eat first because of the tendency to dawdle at breakfast.

We smiled more and said ‘Yes!’ much more often.

Since then I’ve also learnt to say, ‘Yes, when you have …’

For example, when our ten-year-old asks to use the computer, our response might be, ‘Yes, when you’ve finished your homework and taken out the rubbish’. It gives positive instruction, gets the job done, and everybody wins.

The Parenting Place in New Zealand uses the motto: ‘If a kid feels right, they act right’. If children can go confidently into a situation, knowing what to expect and what is expected of them, they are more likely to act right. If they are confident that they are loved unconditionally, they are likely to follow instructions and return to the safe base of their parents’ arms in between adventures.

Did Jesus’ disciples always do as they were told? Did they always understand what Jesus told them? Did Christ punish them when they got it wrong? A look from him was all they needed.

Parents have the perfect example of discipline from Jesus, and the incredible, humbling opportunity to look into the eyes of our children to see the reflection of our example to them.

 

Originally published as:

‘The disciple in discipline’ in The Lutheran, February 2010 Vol44 No1 P32-33

 

 

 

 

Priority Number One

I read in a leadership post the other day, that in order to get where you want to go, you have to prioritize and let nothing get in your way – especially other people.
Yesterday, I read about putting your ‘future self’ as a priority.
So, today, I made my list of priorities, in accordance with the unwavering directions of the leadership coaches.
I began working towards Priority Number One.

The phone rang. So in the next few minutes, my daughter will arrive here, crying.

Where is leadership then?

In this mother’s heart, mothering is the leadership path I will take; today, tomorrow and into the future.

In the words of John Lennon’s song ‘Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans’.
I’ll be truly living – not fighting against the plans I may have made, but believing that what I choose to do today is the best I can do to show love – and that must always be my priority.