Tag Archives: discipline

My version of the ‘You’re Grounded’ Points List

Naughty boy2
I recently became enamored with a Points List that a mother used when her kid got grounded. Basically, the mother created a list of things her child could do to get off groundation, each task attached to a certain number of points. Once the child reached 500 points, they were done being grounded.

I think this parenting hack is brilliant, mostly because it puts the length of the grounding into the child’s hands, and they’re learning several things in the process:
– How to strategically rack up the points to finish faster (hint: the larger items aren’t always the best way to get there)
– Motivation to do lots of chores without procrastinating
– That getting in trouble really isn’t worth it

My son has had his Xbox taken away for pretty much the whole school year because his grades slipped past the point of being acceptable. The rule was he could get them back as soon as he brought his grades back up. However, today is the last day of school, and his grades never budged.

I’ll be honest – I hate punishing my kid. And with summertime here and no way of him getting his grades back up until school started, I really wanted a way to give him back his game system. However, he still needed to earn those grades back.

In came the Points List (click to enlarge).

On the list, there are a few items to take note of.

The first is the one 50-point item: deep cleaning his room. My son’s room is a disaster area, and it will probably take him a full day to get the job done. This is why it has so many points attached to it. And while every other item on the list is stuff he can choose between to do, this is the one item I have made mandatory.

The second is “G-rated Lucas.” Like most 13-year-old boys, my son finds humor in some of the grossest or inappropriate things. 24 hours of no potty-talk is totally worth 15 points to me.

Third is the large list of 5-point items, particularly the letter writing items. He can probably whip up every single one of those items in one day, which will add up to a lot in a very short time. But I thought it would be a nice touch for his grandparents to get a nice note from him. Also, Ella is a little girl we know who is working very hard on her reading. How awesome would it be to receive a letter from a 13-year-old friend?

Fourth is the 20 points for reading Forever Thirteen and writing a book report. Yes, I am shamelessly enticing my son to read the book I wrote through a points system.

Fifth are the negative points. While the majority of the list are items that can help him earn his Xbox back, there are a few things that will keep him from earning it back as fast. This was my chance to try and turn around a few of his pesky bad habits – like sneaking food in his room or borrowing without asking.

And there you have it. If you’d like to download a copy of your own Points List, here is a link to mine in a Word Doc so that you can change it as you see fit: Wine Country Mom Chores Points List

To spank or not to spank

When my kids were younger, I used spanking as one of my forms of discipline. But I never did find it to be an effective way to teach them what they were doing was wrong, and it sometimes felt like a step backwards. Plus there was that inevitable feeling of guilt as the parenting movement steered towards positive discipline and away from using spanking to guide kids.

I began to research different ways to deal with misbehavior.

When the kids were older, I admittedly strayed in my resolve to guide my kids positively. I wasn’t spanking, but I would call my form of discipline anything close to positive. Seriously, if you don’t make a conscious effort to keep things positive, it’s easy to stray from – and it takes a ton of work to not cross the line from positively guiding to totally being taken advantage of by kids who are getting away with everything. Instead of being a guiding force with their future in mind in every action I made with them, I instead screamed like a banshee and took their most cherished items whenever they made me mad.

The result? My son, who was grounded more often than his sister, was constantly in trouble, and would only get in more trouble as he argued against every form of punishment. And I would run out of things to take from him and end up suffering more than he did when he grew bored with nothing to do.

I stumbled on a new form of disciplining him by giving chores for infractions rather than stripping his room of all his favorite things, which I wrote about HERE. It’s funny how some readers took issue with this discipline, especially when this has always proven to be the most effective in stopping the behavior immediately without making things worse. There is less arguing going on, and there are always chores that need to be done. And the anger either of the kids feels is worked out through a little elbow grease in whatever they’re cleaning.

CNN recently wrote an article on the very same subject, citing different mothers’ examples of non-spanking methods in their ways to discipline their children (if you look towards the bottom, you’ll find my own opinion included as well). Some of the recommendations include practicing different scenarios, praising good behavior, giving kids the chance to have the floor in discussions about behavior, keeping your cool, and doing what works best for each of your individual children. You can read their article HERE.

What has been your most effective way to guide your children away from misbehaving? Do you agree that parents should avoid spanking their children? Or is spanking getting a bad rap?

Mom spanks, kids taken away

A mother had her kids taken away from her when she was taken to court for spanking her child.  But was that really fair?  I don’t think so – especially since I spanked my own kids as they were growing up.

Yes, I am one of those parents who spanked their kids. I will probably be totally lambasted by admitting that, but I ask you to keep reading before commenting.

While the majority of the punishments we doled out to our children were along the lines of a time-out or taking a favored belonging away, spanking was on our list of acceptable punishments. Of course, the number one rule was that spanking was not to be done in anger, something that was very challenging to adhere by, and ultimately caused us to avoid spanking as much as possible. We knew that if we spanked in anger, we would be using the punishment as a way to get out our aggression than to turn around the negative behavior they were being punished for. So it was used sparingly and for infractions that needed to be spelt out plain and clear to a child that wouldn’t fully comprehend a long, drawn-out lecture as an alternative. 

And, of course, the only thing we spanked with was our hand.

Both my (ex) husband and I had been spanked as a child, making this form of punishment a familiar choice for discipline. I can’t say I was scarred by the experience of being bent over a knee and given a swift paddling for hurting my sister, saying a bad word, or sassing my parents back. I don’t even consider it abuse. It was just the way things were done in those days. And believe me, it caused all of us to think twice before doing anything wrong that our parents might catch us and then pull out the almighty hand – or worse, the belt or wooden spoon.

There was one time that my sisters and I were bouncing on the bed with one of our friends, making ourselves go higher and higher. We were having so much fun that we never noticed my father rounding the hallway to stand in our doorway. I had just gotten through telling my friend for some reason that spankings never hurt me. I have no idea why I even told her this, but I had to eat my words as my dad yanked me off the bed and had his hand walloping my butt in no time flat. As I cried elephant tears, my unscathed friend innocently pointed out that she thought spankings didn’t hurt me. I kind of liked her less in that moment….

When my ex and I became parents, spanking was well on the way of being considered unacceptable as a punishment. But many were still on the fence. We were one of those families. We didn’t view spanking as the most positive form of discipline, but didn’t completely rule it out (obviously). While I ordered every Positive Discipline book I could lay my hands on when my terrorist son was a toddler, the spanking punishment still hung out as one way to correct misbehavior. But because of society’s view on spanking, we knew not to spank in public. It wasn’t because we were ashamed of spanking, it was more because we didn’t want someone misconstruing our discipline as abuse on our child and taking our kids away from us.

I had a friend with a very rambunctious 3 year old who took off running in a crowded local store while they were shopping, terrifying his mother as she frantically searched for him. When she finally caught up with him, she let him know how scared he had made her, giving him two swats on his diapered butt. Another shopper witnessed this and immediately called the police, and my friend was almost in danger of losing her son.

Rosalina Gonzales, a Texas mom recently in the news, actually did lose her child, along with the child’s siblings. Her mother-in-law had taken the two year old to the hospital when she noticed red marks on the child’s bottom. The action landed Gonzales in court where she not only lost all three of her children, but also faces five years probation, as well as having to pay a $50 fine to the Children’s Advocacy Center and attend a course of parenting classes. Let it be noted that “prosecutors described it as a ‘pretty simple, straightforward spanking case’, and said Gonzales didn’t use a belt nor leave any bruises.” Let it also be noted that Texas does not outlaw spanking as outlined on the website for the state’s attorney: ‘Texas law allows the use of force, but not deadly force, against a child by the child’s parent, guardian, or other person who is acting in loco parentis. Most parents do, in fact, use corporal punishment at least occasionally, and most do not, in fact, consider it abusive.’

But the judge had some very stern words for Gonzales regarding spanking.

‘You don’t spank children today. In the old days, maybe we got spanked, but there was a different quarrel. You don’t spank children. You understand?’

In the meantime, all three of her children are now in their grandmother’s care until the judge has deemed Gonzales “capable” of caring for them.

Nancy French, a writer for the National Review, is speaking out against what she deems an unfair sentence for Gonzales, asking those who use spanking as a form of discipline to speak out.  “I’ve spanked all three of my kids, and they aren’t raised yet,”  French says.  “Spanking is far less emotionally manipulative than twenty nagging reprimands, it’s fast, and it’s certainly effective.”

These days, my view on spanking is much different than it was when the kids were younger. It’s possible I have an easier time making that decision since my kids are older and long past the age when I felt spanking was necessary. But I do believe if I were raising young kids today, I would prohibit spanking from entering my house. Truth was, spanking did little for me when I was younger except to make me fear the punishment rather than learn right from wrong. And I know it was the same for my kids.  Spanking may have been a quick way to get the message across, but I don’t really believe it was effective.  I can see now that it’s not impossible to break away from the spanking habit and find another form of punishment that is just as, if not more, effective as a way to discipline and turn around negative behavior.

But I still can’t believe that spanking should put a family in danger of being torn apart.

What’s your take on spanking as a punishment?

Forced to enforce

“What is that?” I asked DQ when I came into her room to wake her up.

“What is what?” she asked, moving the covers slightly to conceal what I was pointing at.

“That,” I said, flipping the covers aside and grapping the lime green cell phone that had been hidden underneath. “I thought you told me that it was put away for the night. You lied to me.”

“I didn’t!” she protested. “It was put away.”

“So when was the last text?” I asked her, flipping it open to reveal an unread message that came in at 12:45 am. She grabbed it away from me before I could read any further.

“I was asleep then,” she said, clutching the phone as if it held top-secret information.

“Uh-huh, right. So when was the last text that you sent?” I inquired, attempting to get the phone back. She stealthily maneuvered it out of my reach, but saw that I wasn’t kidding around. She opened it up and scrolled down.

“12:30,” she said sheepishly.

Dang it. Dang it! Why does she have to do this to me? I mean I set up guidelines, and mostly she obeys them. But this bending of the rules? I had told her in the beginning, on Christmas day when she was presented with the phone, that she had a strict 9pm phone curfew. I told her that if she couldn’t follow that rule, among the other rules I had put in place, I was going to have to take the phone away. Only once before I had caught her bending this rule. I let her off with a warning that if I caught her using her phone again after curfew that the phone would be taken away. And I had done my best to be naïve to the subsequent rule bending that occurred after that, meaning that I had purposely not checked to make sure that she was following the rule – choosing to “trust” that she was putting the phone away at the proper time. But there was no denying it this time. I mean, it was in plain sight. And now she was forcing me to do something that I didn’t want to do…

Be the parent and take the dang phone away.

It’s not like I enjoy punishing my kids. I actually hate it. Things are so much easier and more serene when we are all getting along. I like my kids, and I’m pretty sure they like me. But as parents, we run the risk of sometimes NOT being liked when we have to enforce rules to keep them safe, to help them learn how to be responsible, and to allow them to get enough sleep at night instead of staying awake texting until the wee hours of the morning.

And sometimes I wonder if kids purposely break rules to see if their parents are paying attention. I mean, it’s almost like they WANT to be caught with how obvious they are in their monkey business. Either that, or they really believe that parents just won’t notice. For example, remember that one friend of mine with the pothead son? She ended up voicing her displeasure at his habit, and forbade him from letting any of the wacky weed into her home. And he promised her that it never had, and it never would. But when she was collecting laundry from his room, he had left a half-filled pipe right on his dresser table. Either he really thought it was invisible, or he wanted to get caught.

Or there’s the third option, if I remember correctly from my own hijinks as a teenager – rebelling for the sake of rebelling just to prove to parents that they can.

In my purse is one lime green cell phone, buzzing away with questioning texts wondering where my daughter is. And stuck at home is my daughter, her thumbs going through texting withdrawal. And me? I am not exactly jumping for joy about having to enforce punishment that I laid out from the very beginning. But what kind of parent would I be if I didn’t? What kind of message would I be giving her if I set rules and then allowed her to break them? I mean, we’re supposed to enforce the rules as parents.

Right?

Is it mean to punish kids with chores?

A mom/grandmother wrote to me today regarding the article, The Excuse Maker vs. the Howler Monkey. She wasn’t in agreement with using chores as a punishment, and actually found it mean-spirited that I would infringe chores on him as a consequence. In my comments, E wrote the same thing. And I have to say, that I do get what they are saying. But the other impression I received from their feedback is that punishing a child in general is mean. And I seriously question why giving a child chores as a consequence is considered “mean-spirited” when our own parents used to spank us with their hands, a belt, a wooden spoon, a switch… I have to say, giving a child chores, to me, is actually much kinder than the discipline of yesterday.

Not only that, this new consequence has been working out really well for our family.

For one, I’ve been “howling less”. This is good news for both me and my son. For me, I am not getting worked up and agitated when I am howling at my son. I am keeping a lot calmer. And in return, my son is keeping a lot calmer with me. And also, who wants to listen to an out of control howling momma? I know I wouldn’t. And now my son doesn’t have to either.

Secondly, my son has suddenly made the shift to take on his own responsibilities. At 9 years old, and being that the routine of sports and a 2nd home has been in place for years, I do expect my son to follow through on the same things I’ve always expected of him. Before we set these consequences in place, my son would claim he had finished packing up his uniform, or that he did his homework, etc. His father or I would take the time to remind him several times about what he needed to do, and still he’d forget in favor of playing with his friends or with his toys. So the forgetfulness was due to procrastinating and being lazy. Hence, the consequences.

Now these consequences were agreed upon by the two of us. We sat down one morning and discussed a solution for helping him to remember. We came up with other solutions like making a list of things for him to do that he can check off. And we both agreed on the cleaning solution, as taking his items away or keeping him from his friends was not working. I promised him that I would never make him clean more than he could handle, and I’ve made it a point to be right there with him when he does have an extra chore placed on his shoulders. And truth be told, the cleaning consequence has rarely been used. For the first week, he was cleaning every day because he was leaving things at school, at home, at his dad’s house, not doing his homework but saying that he had…. You get the picture. And that week was very hard on the both of us. But after that first week, a shift happened when he suddenly took the time and care to take ownership of his own responsibilities. This morning, for example, I only had to tell him once that he needed to gather his uniform for baseball. Usually he would pack half of it, and then forget the other half. This time he had a clear image of what he needed to pack, and he set forth doing so. And this has become the new norm. Everything is a lot easier now, and a lot calmer.

And I can’t forget to mention how cool this new procedure has been.  My son and I have used this time to spend together as he learns how to do new things.  I have taught him how to do laundry, and he has realized that he actually likes doing dishes (just like his momma).  And sometimes chores can be as simple as helping me prepare dinner.  It all depends on how bad the infraction was (as we use this discipline technique for more than just forgetfulness).

It’s hard, as a parent, to know the right way to guide your child so that they can handle more responsibilities as they age. I am a firm believer in consequences, as they are something we will have to deal with for the rest of our lives. And it helps to cement clear values in them so that they make the right decisions on their own. But I am always open to suggestions from parents who have a different idea on how to raise children and guide them in life.

Do you offer consequences for your children in areas they were struggling with? If so, what kinds of consequences do you utilize?

The Excuse Maker vs the Howler Monkey

Howler MonkeyThere is a certain sound resonating in my household that is akin to fingernails on the chalkboard or a dog howling out of tune in the middle of the night. Without warning, this noise modulates into a higher pitch with each note, getting more frantic if it is left to continue. This annoying clamor, unfortunately, is an epidemic. What starts out as an innocent first becomes a habitual occurrence. They come more frequently as time goes on. And the result of this reverberation to anyone within earshot (mainly those it is directed at), is an elevated heart rate, a clenching of the fists and teeth, an ability to see red, and a sudden burst of mania that comes forth as a string of shrill commands even louder than the original sound.

I am, of course, talking about the “excuse maker”.

It’s funny. I used to view whining as the all-time most annoying sound ever to experience. I would tell the Taz to put his things away, and fight him as he gave me a slow, “But whyyyyyyy……..?” The whining would grate on my nerves, and would usually result in said item to be taken away. But now? I would gladly welcome back the innocent whine to this:

“Pleasemompleasedon’tmakemedothatIjustneedtofinishdoingthisandyou’re
ruiningmylifeandIwilldieifIcan’tfinishdoingthisandIjustwanttofinishthislevel
itwillonlytakeasecondwhyareyoualwaystellingmewhattodoIcan’tstandthis
pleasemompleasepleasepleaseplease…..”

Except, imagine that run-on sentence made in one breath and getting shriller with each syllable until it is barely a squeak by the time it ends. And me? I am clenching and unclenching all parts of my body until I am one big ball of stress ready to unleash. And unleash is what I do.

Mr. W was describing his own mother’s conduct when he and his brother’s would pull some sort of childish action. For many years, she would remain calm, talking in a quiet voice about their misbehavior and what the consequences were. But being that there were three boys in the family, and being that their antics were only getting more mischievous as they got older, Momma W ended up correcting them in a much louder way. Read: she turned from a controlled superior to something that more resembled a screeching howler monkey. And, of course, this would leave her boys in hysterics (on the inside, of course), and unable to take her seriously.

Frankly, she had lost control. And when I look back at how I’ve dealt with the Taz as he’s frustrated me to no end, I wonder what kind of screeching animal he’s comparing me to.

The biggest obstacle I’m struggling with the Taz on right now has to do with responsibility. Our biggest dispute is over his ability to remember important details I have laid out for him. When he goes to his father’s house, he forgets half of his clothes at his dad’s house when he comes back to me. When he goes to school, same deal (it’s amazing he doesn’t come home naked…). Getting ready for baseball games is an interesting ordeal, as he has left his uniform all over the county (his dad’s house, school, his friend’s house, my parent’s house…). He consistently gets late notices from the school library for the books he has failed to turn in despite reminder after reminder from me. Homework that we have meticulously worked on the night before comes back unread in his homework folder because he hasn’t turned it in, or he has left his folder on the kitchen table. When it is time for chores, he will goof off if left to his own devices. I have to stand over him to get him to do anything. And after 10 minutes of that, the “excuse maker” and the tears start.

Frankly, I’m exhausted. I can understand the importance of keeping on him to get all of his responsibilities straight when he was younger. But at 9 years old, it is my belief that he should be able to manage his own responsibilities to a degree. At the very least, he should be able to remember to bring home all the articles of clothing from his father’s house or his classroom, turn in his assignments on time, and not have to be reminded constantly to do the same thing that is required of him every single day. And, unfortunately, growing tired of repeating myself, the Howler Monkey comes out in me. I think the Taz has successfully learned how to tune out the Howler Monkey.

When relaying the tug-of-war I’m experiencing with the Taz to one of my friends, and lamenting about my reaction to his irresponsibility, she relayed to me how her grandmother handled it when she was young. Her grandmother rarely raised her voice. Instead, she’d keep her voice in an even tone, alerting them of their screw up. And then she would calmly point them in the direction of the bathroom. For the next few hours the mischievous child would scrub the room from top to bottom. And when they were done, their grandmother had to inspect it and approve. More times than not, she would find one or more things wrong, shake an entire can of Ajax over the whole bathroom, and order them to clean it over again. To this day, my friend cannot stand the smell of Ajax, and will not let it anywhere inside of her home. And she also learned to stay the straight and narrow.

What I got from my conversations with Mr. W and my friend is that a quiet voice and a firm composure is much scarier and more effective than a screeching Howler Monkey.

This weekend we had the chance to test this theory. The Taz left his baseball hat in his desk at school on Friday, meaning that he wouldn’t have it for Saturday’s baseball game. The old me would have howled at him, ranting and raving the whole way to the store as we bought a new one. His punishment would have been ineffective, as the screaming and yelling on my part took up a good majority of the energy I could have used on creating a real consequence. Instead, I kept calm and told him that Saturday morning would be spent cleaning my bathroom top to bottom. And I explained to him that the yelling in the house was going to be kept to a minimum. If he failed to execute the minimum responsibilities required of him, he could expect to do some heavy cleaning as a consequence. This seemed to go over well with the Taz. And the next morning, he woke up before I did to clean the bathroom and get it over with.

cleaning 002

He woke me up to come check his work, and I did with a critical eye. I told him all the things that still needed to be done.

“ButMomIhavebeenworkingsohardonthisallmorningandIjustwanttohavefun
whydon’tyouevencareaboutmethisistoohardyou’reruiningmylifeIjustwantto
goouttoplaywithmyfriendsandI’mhungryandthebathroomlooksfinewhycan’t
Ibedone?”

Instead of clenching and unclenching my hands, hyperventilating with a raised heart beat, or seeing red, I stood there watching him in anticipation. His “excuse maker” tapered off and he waited for my reaction.

“Are you done?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said.

“Good. Now do what I’ve told you to do. You can eat breakfast only when you have finished.

We went through three more occurrences of failed cleaning attempts until I finally sat cross-legged by the door and pointed out one by one what needed to happen for me to be satisfied. 2 hours of total cleaning time, and he was done.

I’d love to say that this one event has cured him of all irresponsibility altogether. Of course I would. But come on, we’re talking about kids here.

“Mom, I’ve decided I want to quit baseball,” the Taz told me last night as I drove him from the meeting point his dad and I set up halfway between our homes.

“Why?” I asked. I had just finished telling him that we had an extra practice the next day.

“I just want to quit. I’m not enjoying it.”

I told him we weren’t just going to quit like that. And then it occurred to me why he was having a sudden change of heart.

“Did you remember to pack your uniform from your dad’s house?” I asked him.

“Um….no. I have everything except for the jersey.”

Right now I am enjoying a quiet house with a purring kitty, fondly eating some strawberry yogurt. And upstairs, the Taz is plugging away at making sense of the chaos in his room until I deem it acceptable. Maybe it’s going to take some time until he has mastered the art of responsibility. But my house is about to get really, really clean.

Is there a Howler Monkey living in your home? How about an “excuse maker”? Share your horror stories, or how you accomplished getting those two unwelcome guests evicted.

Loving the Bully

Years ago, I was helping out in my daughter’s 3rd grade class. The classroom was a room of organized chaos as the parents and I helped out on the latest project. But the vibe in the class was good as everyone participated in something that was more creative than doing seatwork for hours on end. But in a corner of the room, there was a different vibe. One of the kids, a noticeably larger kid than the rest of his 3rd grade peers, was doing his best to create conflict. He was taking pens from another student to finish his project, and claiming them as his own. And when the student complained, the bigger kid yelled out that they were his. Seeing that he wasn’t going to get away with it, he finally threw his papers and the pens across the room in defiance.

“Outside!” the teacher yelled out. The kid was angry at being called out, and stomped out of the room, slamming the door as hard as he could. The teacher made a quick call to the office, and then went back to her students.

This wasn’t the first time that I had seen this kid act out in the classroom. My daughter had shared a class with him once before, and the story had always been the same. Teachers didn’t know what to do with him, and he didn’t care one bit about school or in behaving properly. But for some reason, I liked the kid. He was funny and had a great smile. And I knew there was something underneath that just wasn’t being reached.

I quietly excused myself from the classroom and joined the kid outside. He was kicking the wall to the classroom in frustration and defiance, determined that if he was already going to get in trouble, he was going to make sure that he got enough of it in. I sat next to him.

“Hey,” I said. He didn’t answer. “Rough day, huh?” He gave me a sideways glance and continued kicking the wall. “You know, your teacher called the office. And they are probably going to call your parents,” I said.

“So,” he said.

“Well, what do you think your mom is going to say?” I asked him.

“I don’t have a mom,” he said.

“Alright, what about your dad?”

“He won’t care,” he said.

The kicking of the wall did finally cease as he finally opened up a tiny bit about his home life. His dad actually got mad at him all the time. And he also lived with his grandmother. We talked about what things he liked about school (nothing, he reported), and what he liked to do for fun. And throughout the conversation I could see that this was a boy who was crying out for attention, somebody to notice him as a good kid and worth something. And he wasn’t getting that at home, at school, anywhere.

Sometimes we, as a community, fail our kids.

It’s not like my family is immune to bullies, or at being angry over victimizing members of our family.  Just this summer, the Taz was involved in a skirmish with a kid that was three times bigger than him.  It was a scary situation for him, and for me that had to then think quickly about how to deal with it.  In the beginning I saw red over a giant of a kid picking on a kid so much smaller than him.  And I was ready to string him up in a mob mentality.  But as I talked with him and his parents, I saw a young boy inside of a big body that was so insecure that he took offense at my little son laughing at him.

“Almost 30% of youth in the United States (or over 5.7 million) are estimated to be involved in bullying as either a bully, a target of bullying, or both. In a recent national survey of students in grades 6-10, 13% reported bullying others, 11% reported being the target of bullies, and another 6% said that they bullied others and were bullied themselves.”  (www.safeyouth.org)

Thing is, it’s hard to show love to a kid who is lashing out. You can’t hug a thrashing wildcat. And let’s face it, if it’s our kid on the receiving end of a bully’s rage, we’d prefer to throttle the kids than to try and help him.  Thing is, this kid had it so ingrained that he was unlovable that he was determined to fit the mold. Focus on a kid’s bad side too much, and that’s all they will see as well.

I was in conversation this weekend with a man who did work with kids who were classified as bullies. He passionately told me about these kids. These were the kids who were picking on smaller kids to feel power. They were the ones who decided that the rules didn’t apply to them. They were the ones being sent out of the classroom so that the rest of the class could actually learn something without disruption. Many of these kids who were trouble in their younger years were the same ones who were joining gangs or causing illegal trouble when they were older. The black and white of it is that they are a problem. They are picking on our kids and making them victims, causing so much fear in some kids that they are afraid to go to school.

But there is a gray side. And that is what their family life looks like at home, and the reaction to them as events escalate. It is very rare for a kid from a loving and attentive family to join a gang. Gangs feed on those kids who aren’t getting love and attention at home. And the kids who join, join up with the desire of being accepted once and for all, to have a FAMILY. And on the outside that is what they feel they are getting. For once, they have a group of people that are there for them through thick and thin. And the loyalty in a gang is strong. So strong that when a kid decides that they can’t be involved in the tumultuous life of a gang, it is near impossible to get out.

How would a bully’s life change if they had someone there to tell them that they matter, that they are worth it, that their talents are great and their possibilities even greater? The program that this man briefly told me about sounded so hopeful and enlightening, it made me wonder if programs like this exist in our community. What are we doing, or what can be done, to help change the direction of bullies who are going down a slippery slope? I hear all the time about programs dedicated for victims of bullying. And that is definitely necessary. But are there any bully prevention programs that help the child that might be reacting to something bigger than just victimization, and to ward off future violence and trouble?

Boys Raised by Moms

When I got to work this morning, Mr. W had left a book on my desk called “Assertive Discipline for Parents”. He had been reading it, and I expressed interest in it and asked to borrow it when he was done. It was still on my desk when one of my co-workers came over and saw it. At first my co-worker joked about it, but then he mentioned that it’s actually a good subject to read up on. He brought up a lady friend of his that had to cancel their lunch date because she needed to come home and fix her son lunch. Her son’s age? Oh, he’s 18.

Single parent households are much more prominent in this day and age. And in many cases, a boy is raised by a single mom. Single moms are tough. They are the ones that wear “the pants and the skirt”, as Mr. W’s single mother says often. They are the breadwinner and the homemaker. They are the ones who are stretching a penny to make a nickel, and making a full dinner out of what’s left in a bare cabinet.

But then there is the difference between mom’s and dad’s. I have heard often that single mom’s just can’t raise a man like a father can. And as my son tunes me out after I’ve repeated instructions to him 5 times, yet jumps the first time his grandfather barks an order, I wonder if it’s true. This was why I was borrowing the book from Mr. W. I wanted to learn more effective ways to guide my son without getting into a battle of wills, or giving up altogether. And when I hear of moms coddling their perfectly capable sons, and knowing there have been many times I’ve been guilty of such myself, I wonder how differently things would be if my son had been raised by a man rather than by a woman.

What do you think? Are boys raised by single mothers bound to be less of a man than a boy raised by his father? Should boys only be raised by their fathers, and girls by their mothers? What’s the answer for single parent families?

The difference between moms and dads

Growing up, I was fortunate to have both my parents in the home. My dad is a real estate appraiser, and though he worked a lot, we were often able to accompany him on local road trips when he went to look at houses. Sometimes we’d ride along with him, fascinated by the beauty of some areas that we never would have seen otherwise. Other times he would drop my mom and us three girls off at the park so we could have a picnic. He’d join us when his appointment was done.

Dad was the one who had the ideas for fun places to go and things to see. Who knew that sitting in the lobby of a fancy hotel, as if we were guests, enjoying hot chocolate by the fire could be so much fun. But with Dad, it was his way of instilling make-believe in us. It wasn’t because we were poor, mind you. But because my dad was so busy all the time, he was sharing with us his way of coping – a one hour vacation from reality. Our favorite place to go was to the Sonoma Mission Inn (now the Fairmont) in Sonoma. The waitresses knew him by name, he visited so often. “Go wash your hands in the bathroom,” he’d whisper to us. “The soap is amazing!” And we would. (note: he’d offer us vacations in a bottle every year for Christmas by presenting us with our very own Sonoma Mission Inn Soap to use in our bathroom. It was one of our favorite gifts) Without fail, we’d all order hot chocolate and Crème Brule, taking the smallest bites possible after breaking through the caramelized crust of the pudding, mulling it over our tongues as we tried to make it last as long as possible.

In the winter we’d take weekend trips up to the Sierras. The 4 hour drive was broken up in two parts, always a stop in Lodi. We were creatures of habit. We had our favorite Carl’s Jr. that we stopped at in the evening. And whenever we hit the town in the morning, we had our favorite little diner, ordering our breakfasts by the number. And thanks to my dad, I can’t even think of the town of Lodi without humming a few bars from “Stuck in Lodi Again”. The drive was also peppered with us girls taking turns singing our favorite songs in the backseat as if no one were listening, then making each other giggle uncontrollably, and my dad yelling to keep it down – every 5 minutes. We’d argue with him, thinking that he was being ridiculous since we were having a good time and not fighting. Now with my own kids giggling in the backseat of a small vehicle, I think I understand. Once up on the mountain, it was dad who went skiing with us, putting us in a ski class while he ventured out to the more experienced slopes, and then joining us later to take a few easy runs with us. When we graduated to snowboarding, he stayed with his skis. But he took pictures with us and our snowboards just to be a part of the fad.

But there was more to Dad than just offering us a fun time. He was also the heavy hand in the family. If we got in trouble, sooner or later we were going to have to face Dad. And there is nothing worse than being the brunt of Dad’s anger. And let me tell you, as the oldest, I was there quite often. If I stepped out of line, my Dad was right there to pull me back in. “We didn’t raise you this way,” he’d glower, as I suffered the repercussions of sneaking out at night, or being caught with a cigarette, or when I’d “borrow” the car and not return until the wee hours of the morning. Wash my mouth out with soap? Time outs in the corner? Bah! Dad wouldn’t bother with that. In my younger years, every infraction was met with a couple hard swats on the bottom. And it was worse to be spanked by my dad than by my mom because Dad made sure we remembered it. “Wait till your father gets home,” is all my mom would have to say for us girls to stop in our tracks. And even though our infractions were committed hours earlier, Dad would stop by our rooms and let us know that our misbehavior was not going to be ignored. As I got older, there were times when he’d be so angry that he’d offer up the silent treatment. There was nothing worse than knowing I had stepped out of my dad’s graces, that he was so disappointed in me that he couldn’t even speak to me. Every morning we had a ritual of waking up early and reading the paper over coffee while everyone else still slept. During the silent treatment, he’d be in his office, avoiding me at all costs. But inevitably, one morning he’d just be there. We’d sit for an eternity of minutes in silence, both mulling over what we want to say in our minds, but afraid to speak first. At least I was. But the silence would eventually be too much to bear, and I was most likely the one who would offer up my apology first for being such an ass. And he’d accept my apology graciously, and would then talk about why it was so upsetting when I acted a certain way. There would be tears and frustration on my part and a level emotion on his as we worked it out. And then he’d invite me over for a big hug that he knew I needed more than anything. Once again I was Dad’s girl.

I had a different relationship with my mom than I had with my dad. With Dad, I was able to share things at face value – favorite songs on the radio, places I’d like to go one day, how much fun we had doing something or other, how I was doing with my studies, needing $20 for the movies with my friends… With my mom, I was able to confess the contents of my heart. A boy at school likes me, and I’m nervous about going to the school dance with him. A different boy, who I had liked for 3 years, kissed another girl in front of me and I am heartbroken. My friend just had to go through something really traumatic, and I don’t know how to be there for her. All the kids are wearing this certain kind of style, and I don’t think I’ll look good in it. There’s something wrong with my body and I don’t know what’s going on. It was mom who talked to us about the birds and the bees, and who told us that we could come to her if we became sexually active so that she could get us on some birth control. And when we did, she kept our confidences, much to my father’s disappointment in later years, never telling him what was going on. With her, the things that we couldn’t speak out loud to many people could be told to her. And she made it safe to do so, even bringing up certain things that might be too embarrassing for us to talk about first. If we just couldn’t talk about it, Mom always knew the right book we could look through to answer our questions, and maybe spur some dialogue once we became more comfortable. When I experienced the first dealings of mortality after a childhood friend died of brain cancer in 7th grade, it was Mom who held me when I could finally cry three days later. And she was the one who went with me to the wake so I could say my goodbyes. When my own infant son died of a stillbirth, my mom held my other hand as I gave birth, not leaving my side once even as scary as the situation was. And it was my mom who taught me how to attack the ground and make 6 inch holes in rock hard dirt so I could plant a daffodil garden in his honor. She knew I needed to get the aggression out on a life that is so full of things that aren’t fair. She knew I needed to do something for him since to everyone else he never even existed. And she knew that I needed to get some sunshine and fresh air instead of laying on the couch day in and day out, as I would have rather done. She got me to open up to grieving, and to eventually be able to see the day as something new, rather than just life after my baby died.

Growing up, it was a lot easier to get into fights with my mom. My mom was a yeller. That was her main punishment. And we’d yell back. It would be World War 3 in our house as we fought back and forth at the top of our lungs. To this day, I wonder what the neighbors were thinking. Getting our mouth washed out with soap was her favorite way to discipline. And secretly, it was ours too. It tasted awful, but it was over in a moment. And it was nothing that a little toothpaste couldn’t fix. But sometimes she’d get so angry that she’d bring out the wooden spoon and paddle our behinds. We learned not to put our hands in the way to cushion the blow. A wooden spoon coming down hard hurts a lot more on the knuckles than it does on the soft cushion of our derrieres. But the thing with Mom, if she had to resort to a spanking she would feel awful about it later. A screaming and yelling match happened because Mom was so angry she could think of nothing else to do. If she got so angry that she had to take out the wooden spoon, the incident would be followed up an hour later with an apology.

Dads and moms are very different when it comes to raising kids. In general terms, dads are the ones who initiate all the fun things. They are the ones who come down hard, and teach us to mind our steps if we don’t want to suffer the consequences. And they are the ones who will be there if you need help. Moms are the ones who nurture us by making sure we are fed and bathed. They make sure we have the skills to take care of ourselves when we are older – teaching us the right way to wash a dish and load it in the dish rack so it dries, how to create buttermilk using only milk and vinegar, and how to fold the towels correctly so that they all fit in the cabinet. They get to our hearts by talking about the things we hold close to us. They are a lot gentler in their approach, and not as intimidating when they are screaming at us than our dads are when they throw down the gauntlet. Kids growing up in two parent homes get the benefit of both parents’ personalities. And where each parent is lacking, the other is able to pick up and be the strong suit.

So what does that mean for single parents who only have one side or the other?

I got an email today from a man who is in his own single parent household, raising an 11 year old boy. And because I have been having so much focus on my son lately as I deal with his behavioral issues, he offered to supply me with his own wisdom about raising boys from a male perspective. He hasn’t been the first male to offer such wisdom.  And it got me thinking about my role as a mother, and my lacking role as a father.

I have two kids – my almost 12 year old daughter, and my almost 9 year old son. If you’ve been reading along, you’ll notice that not much is written about my daughter. Partly that is due to the fact that as a pre-teen, any mention about her would embarrass the living daylights out of her. But also it’s because I get her. A long time ago (no, not that long…), I WAS her. So when she gets mouth and sullen, or when she had a hard time saying anything without a heavy dose of attitude, I get it. And we give it back and forth to each other until we reach a “White Flag” moment, hug, and move on. But my son? I don’t get him. I am not a boy. I didn’t have brothers. The things and feelings he’s going through, I just don’t understand them. When he looks me in the eye and tells me that I obviously don’t care for him because he isn’t getting his way, and he tells me this after I’ve just spent the whole day working, doing errands on my lunch, grocery shopping, making sure his homework is done, fixing him his favorite food, making sure that his pajamas are clean by throwing in a quick wash, balancing my checkbook to find that I have nothing left after paying all of the bills and signing him up for baseball…. When he claims that I don’t care about him, after everything I do, because I’ve told him that it’s bedtime and he can’t play video games, I see RED. When he tells me that I’ve ruined his day, or that he wishes he had another family, or something else that he knows will go straight to my heart and leave a black hole, I am at a loss. And the way I deal with it when my emotion is on my sleeve does not strike fear in his heart. It only leaves him with more of a reason to insist that I don’t care about him. And being a single mom, it makes me wonder how I can do things differently so that he is raised up to be an extraordinary man – as if he had both parents in the house.

This last week, things came to a head between my son and me. And I want to get to that soon. But for now, I have several questions for you:

Were you raised in a single parent home, or a home with two parents?
What does your own family look like now?
Do you see differences in the way moms and dads raise their kids?
Is it possible for a single parent to be both the mom and the dad?

Kids and Lying

The other night I was getting the kids ready for bed when I saw it. Or rather, I felt it. My boot was stuck to the floor of our bathroom. I lifted my foot to find a half wad of bright yellow bubblegum stuck to the bottom of my shoe, the other half still on the floor connected to my shoe by sticky strings of the gooey mess. I was appalled. This is the kind of predicament you might find yourself in out on the streets from some lazy sap who chose to dispose of their gum on the ground rather than in the garbage. This was not something I thought I’d find in my own home.

There are three people who live in this apartment – my daughter, my son, and me. It couldn’t have been my daughter, as she has braces and is forbidden from chewing gum while her teeth are bracketed. And she follows that rule religiously because she doesn’t want sticky bits of gum adhering to her braces. And it couldn’t have been me as the gum I chew is not sugary or yellow, and I know how to dispose gum properly. So that left my 8 year old son, a boy who is notorious for throwing his trash where he lays. But this was an all time low, even for him. I questioned my daughter first, as she was the closest to me. And she swore it wasn’t her. And then I called my son upstairs to question him. He denied fault adamantly. Being that it was late, I didn’t press the issue any further, but instead let him know I was very disappointed in the lying and that gum belongs in the trash. And still he denied fault. I put the kids to bed in frustration.

The very next night I was putting things away when it happened again – bright yellow gum on my floor. But this time it was not on the slick linoleum of our bathroom floor, it was on the carpet of the kids’ bedroom. And it would take more than just pulling it up and disposing of it. I had to cut it out of the rug. I called my son upstairs again and asked him about it. And he swore up and down that it wasn’t him. After much discussion about the gum, he finally admitted fault. As a result, he got his computer and video games taken away, and a huge lecture on the importance of telling the truth.

Kids lie for many reasons, the biggest reason of all to avoid trouble. Dr. Victoria Talwar conducts a study on lying through a research team at McGill University in Montreal Canada. In one of her studies, she has a child face the wall and guess what toys the researcher is holding in their hands based solely on the sound the toy makes. If he could guess all three toys correctly, he was promised a prize. The first toy emitted the sound of a police car. The child guessed correctly. The second made a baby’s cry. After a little hesitation, the child guessed that it was a baby doll, and was correct. For the third test, the researcher placed a soccer ball on top of a greeting card that made noise. She cracked the card and out came the sounds of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”. The child struggled with the answer. But before he could say anything, she told him that she needed to leave the room to get something, and asked him to promise not to peek. 5 seconds in, the child visibly fought the urge to turn around and look at the toy. He actually started to turn, but then stopped and faced the wall. But 13 seconds in, he gave in to temptation and turned around to see what the toy was. The researcher came back and was barely in the door before the child blurted out the answer. She told him to wait until she was seated. This gave him time to realize that he needed to sound a little less sure. “A soccer ball?” he guessed. The researcher told him he was correct, and the child lit up for ‘guessing’ correctly. Then the researcher asked him if he had peeked while she was away. He quickly answered ‘no’. But then the researcher asked him how he knew it was a soccer ball. The child shrank down in his chair and thought a bit before giving his answer. “The music sounded like a soccer ball.” He thought more about it, and then said, “The ball sounded black and white.” And then he thought even more and finally told the researcher that the music sounded like the soccer balls they played with at school – they squeaked. He ran his hand along the ball to prove his point, nodding to let the researcher know this was his final answer.

As parents, we can actually be at fault in producing lies out of our kids. We know the child did it, and yet we want them to admit it. We test their ability to be honest, and many times they fail. When I found the gum on the floor, I knew my son was the culprit. And yet, I asked him if he did it. He later admitted to me that he didn’t want to tell me the truth because he didn’t want to look stupid, and he was afraid that I would get mad. It never crossed his mind that I would get madder over the dishonesty. In his mind, he wasn’t going to get caught. But by asking him about it, I was virtually setting him up to tell a lie. Kids don’t need to be tested on honesty so often. By doing so, what’s really being instilled in them are more chances to lie – and to become better at it. I confronted my son by asking IF he had spit his gum onto the floor. His immediate reaction was to say no. I should have said, “Son, when we spit our gum out it needs to go in the trash and not on the floor. You can help me clean this up, and gum chewing is being taken away for the rest of the week.” By saying it like that, I’m not setting him up to lie.

Is lying something I should punish my child for? Child and Family Psychologist Dr. John Irvine of Australia spells it out like this: “For older kids it’s a touch more complicated, so let their motive govern your management. If it’s attention, take notice of honest efforts. If it’s to escape savage punishment or a court martial, handle the penalty quietly and respectfully. If it’s fear of disapproval, lift the rate of approvals. If it’s to frame others, work on the jealousy and hurt rather than the lie. If it’s to protect others, get your information elsewhere. Kids are more likely to tell the truth if they feel trusted and secure in their relationship, so in general terms the secret is to concentrate not on the lie but on tactful and courageous ways of handling truth.”

Lastly, a child is less likely to lie if they know that it disappoints you. Talking to your child about the importance of honesty produces a calmer and better response than punishment. “You really hurt me when you lie,” is often more effective than, “I’m really going to hurt you because you lied.”

Do you have effective ways of dealing with dishonesty? Or do you remember whoppers your child has told, or even ones you are guilty of as a kid? Share them in the comments section!

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