Archive for December 31, 2010

Guilty Mom Complex

Hello to all!!!  Pardon me while I catch my breath.  I happened to look at my stats before deciding to write this blog and discovered you made Wednesday’s blog (Sowing Seeds) the top hit blog I have ever written.  Remember the contest involving 200 hits?  You actually did it!  Couple that with the fact that the month of December had more total hits by far than my first two months combined and what you have left is—a speechless blogger.  OK, not completely speechless; but you get my drift.  Thank you for reading my blog and passing it along to other parents!  Now, let’s get down to business.

Speechless (film)Promise I found this movie poster AFTER writing I was “speechless”

As a lot of us know, Friday’s are saved for questions from parents and today I have a chosen a difficult one.  A mom I’ll call “Barb” asks, “How can I not feel guilty as a mom because I can’t do it all?”  Barb is married, works full time, and has 3 children.   She feels she never has the time to accomplish all the things she wants to do in her professional and personal life.

Barb’s story and general question is all too familiar for a lot of us- not just moms. Some of us struggle to put in the time needed at work with the time wanted at home.  Keeping the house clean, maintaining a social life, and spending quality time with our children/spouse is hard.  Oh, I almost forgot that some of us would like to do more volunteer work in our places of worship or communities.  The burden can feel very heavy at times.   

The first thing I want Barb to know is “doing it all” is a myth.  Seriously, how many people does anyone know who can really “do it all?”  I can’t think of one.  While I’ll admit some of us do a better job than others, no one is perfect. 

Placing pressure on yourself to do it all is an exercise in futility.  I do believe though placing a little pressure on yourself is a good thing so let’s redirect that pressure into something a bit more manageable.

For example, let’s say you don’t think you are spending enough time with the kids.  I would challenge you to know exactly how much time you DO spend with your kids.  If you would like more time, here are some ideas.

1.  Pull your kid out of school during your lunch break.  If this idea doesn’t appeal to you, how about eating lunch at their school?  Clear it with teachers if you pull your kid out of school so you can figure out the best time to do it (as not to interfere with quizzes- tests).

2  Another idea is to schedule kids similar to meetings at work.  Many of us have a calender which is typically full.  Block out time purposely to know what you are going to do with your kids and how long it’s going to take.  Unless there’s an unavoidable crisis at work, don’t reschedule your kids.  Take this as seriously as you do any other meeting or you may not be as likely to follow through. 

3.  Keep your kids involved in activities with you at home.  Instead of you making dinner for the family- let the family work together to make the dinner.  This creates more family time and saves you from having to do it all.

I could go over countless problems overworked and overstressed moms and dads have like Barb; but here’s another piece of advice that may help.  On a piece of paper, prioritize what is important to you right now, what can wait, and what you can delegate.

For example, my wife and I are having a New Years Eve party.  The problem is I am raising and educating my kids, marketing a book, and writing this blog.  I don’t have time to do (above and beyond) cleaning.  Regardless, I wrote a small list this morning of simple things I could do while the kids were occupied.  

At 12:00, I decided to bake the boys a pizza for lunch. The plan was to clean some things while it was baking and while they were eating.  Sound easy enough?

Well, it was easy until I glanced over and saw my oven on fire!  Although I didn’t write it down, I knew the priority was to drop the cleaning supplies and put the fire out.  I am thankful I caught the problem in time.  My house is fine and no one was hurt.  Thinking about this story, here is my question.  What fires are going on in your life that have to be extinguished?  It’s simply called prioritizing.  When you stretch yourself too thin, you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished little and the fires will still roar on.  

Here’s a final thought to illustrate the point.  There were only two things I really focused on as an elementary school teacher in the public schools- reading and math.  If everything else in the day didn’t go well, I could accept that.  I didn’t have the same attitude about weekly faculty meetings, didn’t care about the state (of Kentucky) and what they do to teachers in bottom tier schools with low test scores, and didn’t care about what other teachers gossiped. 

When children can read and perform math problems, they can do almost anything academically. But if kids can’t do those two things, they won’t make it in the classroom or in life.  Low reading and math skills were the fires I tried to put out every day.

To Barb and all of my guilt filled moms and dads: please lighten up a bit, prioritize what’s important, and have a fantastic 2011.  Now, if you don’t mind, I have some cleaning that needs to be done.    

Sowing Seeds

Buckle up early for this blog because I’m jumping in head first!

The kids I’ve worked with in my life have looked up to me the same way your kids look up to you.  It didn’t matter if it was St. Josephs Children’s Home, as a public school teacher, or my own kids.  Being the authority figure and acting like the authority figure are two different things though.  For example, a teacher may BE the authority figure the kids are supposed to look up to; but if they don’t ACT like the authority figure, respect over time is lost.

The reason I made this distinctions is because we, as authority figures, have a golden opportunity with our kids.  As long as they respect us, they will take our words and actions to be meaningful and trusted.  Because of this simple fact, here’s the plan.  Let’s encourage kids to achieve heights they never thought they could. 

Children victimized by the United Kingdom's Ch...
Kids are looking to us right now for help!

At  St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, we worked a lot on behavior because that was a major factor in getting a child ready to be in a  foster home or better yet- adopted.   Because kids there looked up to me (along with many other super house parents) I used to praise them to no end for good behavior.  The various forms of praise from me were the seeds sown.  On the flip side, I didn’t baby them when they behaved poorly.  I had a clear goal of where I wanted them behaviorally even if they had lost some hope for ever being adopted. For some children, the goal was achieved but I worked tirelessly for years in order for that dream to be realized by all.

Another example could be found when I was teaching.  In the classroom, kids would sometimes tell me they couldn’t read.  Those were fighting words in my classroom.  I would go out of my way over time to prove to them they COULD read but they needed to practice to get better.  Since I was the authority figure, I could sow those seeds within a child and eventually have them reading at a higher level over time.

Don’t get me wrong.  Sowing seeds doesn’t always work.  But, it’s not my job to know when this tactic will work and when it won’t.  It’s my job to command the respect of children so when I sow the seeds, they have a chance of “sprouting.”

Here’s an example of a time your humble blogger apparently failed.  This story occurred on a picturesque fall day.  My son, Cameron, and I were driving to one of his tennis lessons. I remember pumping him up saying things like “let’s really concentrate today” and “hit the ball like your coach taught you.”  I also threw in “you can beat those kids even if they are a little older.”  In my own mind, I sounded like General Patton pumping up the troops.  In other words, the seeds were clearly sown and greatness was sure to follow.  It was at this point that Cameron exclaimed out of the blue, “Look daddy, there’s a bird in that nest!”

For the record, Cameron played fine that day.  Regardless, I’m not sure anything I said registered at the time;  but that’s not the point.  I tried to do what I could to encourage Cameron to play his best tennis. 

It’s not only your choice when to sow the seeds; but what seeds are to be sown and how often.  Though my tennis example with Cameron may prove it doesn’t always work, I will guarantee there are many times it does. In order to get the best out of kids, they have to have confidence.  Though parents sowing seeds is not the entire equation for a child to excel, it’s certainly an important step.

On a final note, any parent who has a child’s respect can also fall victim to sowing negative seeds.  If, for example, I told my children they were ugly, dumb, inferior to others, or not very good at something, they would completely believe me.  All parents should watch their words very carefully because the consequences are potentially devastating.  I once heard long ago, “don’t be the parent who thinks they know how the book ends before the final chapter is even written.” Even if your child isn’t the best at something (and whose child is) it’s still important to make them feel good about themselves and what they are doing. 

We want our children to be happy.  We want the best for them. Together, let’s sow seeds to give our kids every chance to achieve these things.

My next blog will be this Friday, I have several interesting parenting questions to choose from. If you have a parenting question, it can be sent to

Take care of yourselves and your families and please don’t forget to pass this along to other parents!!!     

The Bottom Side of Normal

Hope everyone has recovered from their Christmas weekend.  I am excited to be back with you!  Over the holidays, I acquired some new followers from near and abroad and want to welcome all of you.  The lessons I hope you take today can be implemented where ever you live no matter where your child goes to school. 

Today’s blog is part two of what I started last Monday called An Educational Opportunity.  Basically, I said to use some of the time off with your kids to gain an educational edge.  I also talked about interpreting grades beyond the letter (A-B-C-D-F)  If you haven’t seen it already, I’d encourage you to look at it.  The goal is for you, the parent, to look beyond your child’s grade and concentrate on the intricacies.  What makes his/her grades so high or low?  What could have been done better?  A specific way for me to explain this is to focus on my three year old, Luke.    

Luke is one happy and fun loving kid.  He’s the child you may find in the grocery store hollering, “Merry Christmas” to everyone he passes.  Another example of his spirit could be found at Christmas Mass.  He was a bit slow in his responses (understandably) and when the congregation said, “Amen,” he would holler it a second too late.  People would turn and laugh which was a bit embarrassing; but funny as well.

The main problem with Luke is he has a speech delay and was recently tested for a second time.  My wife and I found out he scored on the bottom side of the normal spectrum.   At first glance, that may seem pretty disappointing, right?

For those of you who have regularly seen this blog, you know about my oldest child’s educational achievements.  Details can be found on earlier blogs (October15th and October-18th editions) but he has tested in the top 1% nationally in reading and math.  One may think I may be disappointed Luke is not following in the footsteps of his brother.  One may also think my prior education blogs may not be as valid because I can’t produce the same result with a different kid thus far.   But wait. Before making any assumptions, did you remember my advice of looking beyond the initial grade?  Of course you did and that’s why you’ll keep reading!

Here’s more of the story.  Luke had fluid in his ears for what could have been months.  Lauren and I didn’t take him to the doctor because we didn’t know it existed.  He didn’t get ear aches like his brother so there was not  a reason to be alarmed. If it would have been treated, the speech problems would have been much less severe.

The first time Luke took the speech test, he was so low, he couldn’t even complete it.  To go from that to the bottom side of normal was a huge leap.  Obviously, I’m very excited about the results.  I’m also extremely confident in my abilities to teach and I feel Luke and I are off to the races (educationally speaking).

Because this blog is partially meant to teach, let’s attempt to apply Luke’s circumstances to your kids.  When your child receives a grade in any subject, knowing the back story is as important as the grade.  Let’s say, for example, your child went from a “B” last year in math to a “C” on their last report card.  The key to helping as a parent is to pinpoint the subtle changes.  Were his/her study habits different?  Was there something taught last year that wasn’t retained in your child’s mind this year?  If I asked, could you adequately explain the problems to a simple guy like me?

Now, let’s flip the scenario.  Let’s say your kid went from a (C+) to an (A-).  The same basic rules apply.  Pinpoint the positive changes and capitalize on the success.  Did your child study harder?  Did you give them more of your time/encouragement? Did the teacher have a positive impact?  What were the factors of change? A leader teach is able to help this student wi...Image via Wikipedia

I certainly can’t go over all the grading scenarios in education.  But, as a former teacher, I know this.  The grade in any class should stem from an overall body of work.  There are reasons some children succeed and others don’t do as well. When you find and attack those reasons, you should expect better report cards.

On a side note, if your kid is already doing exceedingly well, why not challenge the teacher to provide more difficult material? True learning only occurs when additional knowledge is gathered and retained by the student.  In other words, it’s possible for a kid to get an “A” in a class and not learn much.

If you enjoyed The Bottom Side of Normal, please consider sending it to a parent who would enjoy it.  That gesture would mean so much to me.  To those of you who have ever passed along my material, thank you!

This Wednesday, I am back with a behavior blog.  The title will be Sowing Seeds.  It’s a tactic I’ve used for years with good results.  Can’t wait to tell you all about it.      

Lasting Impressions (The Story of Grant)

Quick housekeeping note:  The $50 check is in the mail to St. Joseph Children’s Home.  Thanks to all who competed in my “hits” contest. 

Today’s behavior blog is about a high school senior in Louisville. KY.  I don’t want to embarrass him in any way so I’ll call him “Grant” and not tell you where he goes to school.  Grant is from a high school in Louisville, KY. which overall is not doing very well.  By that I mean under 50% of the students who graduate are considered ready for college.  He’s a nice guy but not someone who I regularly talk to.  Last week though he sat beside me while my son was playing tennis and instantly engaged me.  Grant is a clean cut African American of average size. I can tell you in all honesty I learned a lot more from him than he did from me in the 45 minutes we talked.

The reason you are going to “meet” Grant is because he’s someone who I believe is going places in life and has some interesting insights.  I’ll tell you several things about him in this blog but it’s his behaviors and attitudes about his high school surroundings that struck me the most.   If your child isn’t going to the best school in the world or if they are underachieving for whatever reason, they might be able to learn from Grant as well.

One of the things that got my attention about Grant was that he scored a 30 on his ACT’s (out of 36).  I went to one of the best private high schools in the state of Kentucky and I didn’t do as well as Grant.  How in the world did he do so much better than me and most everyone I know?  What were the secrets?

When asking Grant about his success, he said he had a fear of letting himself down.  Grant does not settle for mediocrity.  For example, on the morning of his ACT, he wasn’t able to eat breakfast.  He’s convinced he can do better by making that one adjustment. 

Grant spoke quite a bit about his family.  It’s worth noting his “healthy fear” of his father.  His mother and grandmother were also spoken of highly. Grant’s family also seems important in the respect that he has older cousins he looks up to.  They aren’t able to get together as much as he would like but he could call any of them and they would be right there for him. 

Success in the classroom is really important to Grant as well.  He said when he enters a classroom, it’s “go time.”  I normally expect this type of talk from athletes before a contest.  Hearing that phrase from a student was interesting to me.  Grant also talked about “separating work from play.”  I had the impression he goofed off on occasion in the hallway at his school.  In the classroom though, it was all business.  Finally, he said he liked “to have his mind stimulated.”  That implies to me that Grant has some engaging teachers who are able to accomplish this.  He even mentioned a philosophy teacher with tatoos but always dressed well.  According to Grant, this particular teacher “makes me think.”

When asking Grant about the problems at his school, he had some interesting insights as well.  He talked about the environment at school.  Specifically, if you were in the wrong environment at school, that could be trouble.  The right environment I assumed would lead to greater success.  He also said that he “liked to learn from all.”   He actually thought the environment held greater weight on the subject of problems at his school versus the parents of the students or the school itself.  Though Grant and I don’t see completely eye to eye on this issue, the fact is he is in the trenches every day. 

Grant doesn’t know where he wants to go to college yet but he wants to “go somewhere I’ll blossom- not just grow.”  What do you think the odds are Grant will accomplish this goal?  I’m betting the odds are high.

Grant strikes me as the kind of person who dictates his environment versus letting the environment dictate him.  While I realize all of our children are not going to be exactly like Grant, that’s OK.  Cameron (my six year old) is far too young to learn all the lessons Grant could teach him.  Regardless, the one lesson I want Cameron to work on is separating work from play at school.  It’s a goal that he can accomplish (for his age) and one that will serve him well over time.

Grant is an inspiring young man to me.  I believe we, as parents, can learn from Grant and apply his positive lessons to our children.  Although it wasn’t his intent, I believe Grant made me a better parent today.  For that, I thank him. 

There will not be a question/answer blog this Friday.  It’s Christmas Eve and I am going to spend all the time I can with my family. I will check in again Monday with an education blog.  Until then, Merry Christmas to you and all you love.    



An Educational Opportunity

Happy Monday to all of you.  For some of us, our kids are on Christmas break.  This is the perfect time to think about what is really going on with their education and how you, as parents, can separate your children from the pack a little bit. 

At this point, you have been able to digest the report cards of your kids and get a handle on their strengths and weaknesses.  My questions to you are how did they do in their classes, how do you know, and how can you help?  The best way I can explain these is to use my child Cameron as an example. 

1.  How did Cameron do?  Cameron is in a Catholic school which uses the traditional way of grading. (A-B-C-D-F)  For those of you who do not have a traditional form of grading, your job may be a bit more difficult.  Cameron received straight A’s.  For those of you who have kept up with this blog, that would not come as a surprise.  (He reads and works on math skills typical of a third grader with me).  I was a lot more pleased with Science, Social Studies, and Religion grades because we don’t work on those subjects as consistently.

2.  How do I know how Cameron did?  This is a trick question for me and maybe some of you concerning your kids as well.  I should be pleased with the grades. Straight A’s is the best he can do— or is it? 

In Cameron’s case, he didn’t actually learn anything in reading or math because he already knew the material.  Therefore, an “A” isn’t a big deal.  I knew this would happen and I’m not upset at all.  Here’s the point.  If your child had to work hard to receive whatever the report card said, you should be pleased.  But what if the class is moving slowly academically or your child has superior skills to the class/grade level?  Is an “A” as big a deal?  This is an important distinction which leads to the next point.

3. How can I help?  In Cameron’s case, we go over every wrong answer he receives at school or at home.  I have the attitude more of a caring teacher than of a tough parent in these cases.  What’s important to me is the knowledge- not the grade.  I want to give Cameron every chance of understanding what is being taught.  In my opinion, this attitude places less stress on my child while accomplishing the overall point of school which, of course, is learning.

Now that we have these points established, why do you think I am writing this blog now?  The kids aren’t in school.  Well, here’s why.  This time period is your golden opportunity as it is mine.  Over the next couple of weeks, we have the chance to really dig in and help with our children’s education.  “Daddy School” (the boys education with me) doesn’t end when schools are out.  I’ll typically set aside some time with the entire point of working with Cameron and Luke (my 3 year old) on their academics. Of course, my boys aren’t working on Christmas day or even on the weekends.  What we do though is work during the week directly at their skill level- not grade level. 

Social Studies classroom at Port Charlotte Hig...Image via Wikipedia
How can a parent take advantage of this???

What may surprise you is how much you can accomplish in a short period of time.  Working with Cameron will take me 30-45 minutes daily (the latter if he is intensely focused).  This still gives him the rest of the day to play and enjoy his time off from school.  This extra amount of time allows us to bond and for him to grow as a student.  Being a student shouldn’t be confined to 187 school days.  In one way or another, we all should be lifelong learners. 

With your children, you have three choices.  The first is to forge ahead with your child’s education no matter what the report card said. If, for example, they are good readers; help them practice to become better with more difficult material.  

The second is to target skills in a subject where your child is having difficulty.  Let’s say, for example, your kid worked hard and received a “C” in math.  This is a perfect time to go over the material in which the child struggled and possibly show him/her some upcoming material that may be a bit tricky.  If you do this, there is an opportunity to receive a better grade on the next report card.

The final choice you have is to do nothing.  Let me be extremely honest with you.  Parents who do not create extra opportunities for their children to learn are going to have a hard time keeping up with the kids who have proactive parents.  I’m not judging anyone but it’s a fact.  To use a sports analogy, it would be like someone off the street trying to throw a football as accurately as an NFL quarterback.  Odds are pretty low of this happening. Parents and kids who put the time in are going to be better equipped when the subject material becomes more challenging. 

My contention is the extra amount of time you place in your child’s education will pay off substantially for those who take advantage of it.  There are a lot of desks empty across America right now.  Will you take advantage or will you let this opportunity pass you by?  The choice is yours. 

My next blog will be written on Wednesday.  I hope between now and then you’ll think about this blog and make whatever choice you feel is best for your family.  All the best!!!

Appreciating Christmas and Contest Results

Good Friday to all of you!  Today, I want to share with you a topic a new business associate sent to me.  She is hoping to help me gain some media publicity and I am very thankful.  There are certain people (and you know who you are) who I haven’t met but would really like to see me succeed with this blog/book.  But something funny happened along the  way.  The more I wrote on this topic, the stronger I felt about the my answer to the question.  For all the parents who worry about their kids receiving the true meaning of Christmas, this blog is for you.  Also, the end of the blog includes the contest results along with the winner. First, here’s the question I was asked to answer.     

 Santa Claus with a little girlImage via Wikipedi 
PARENTING: Teaching Kids to Appreciate What They Have during the Holidays —
I’m writing a post about how the nature of Christmas has turned into “buy, buy, get, get.” This is not a religious piece, but more about how we can teach our children to appreciate what they do get. As parents, we often feel our children will be upset if they don’t get the newest, most expensive toy. How can we teach them to appreciate what they do get? How, as parents, can we give our children a holiday without the stress of feeling as though we need to break the bank?

The following was my reply:

I was forwarded an inquiry by you from a business associate concerning Christmas.  Specifically, what can we do at Christmas so….

1. Kids feel appreciative for what they get.
2. We, as parents, don’t feel as though we need to break the bank.
3. We, as parents, don’t feel upset if our children don’t get the latest greatest toy.

First, this is a situation mistaken as a Christmas problem.  The truth is, for many of us, it is a year long problem.  It is only in this nature that I can adequately answer the questions.

First, kids should be taught to show appreciation with the words “please and thank you” consistently.  These are basic manners that should not be set aside at Christmas.  As parents, we have to understand there is such promotion/excitement over this one day that kids are overloaded with emotion as it is.  It is our responsibility to remind them of such basic courtesies. 

Appreciation can not be instilled on this one day alone.  Therefore, if a parent hasn’t taught lessons on being appreciative all year; this would be a hard day to get the message across. Regardless, a parent should still try their best.  The goal may be to start now in order for their children to gain a better appreciation towards Christmas next year.

As far as parents feeling as though we need to break the bank, this is only true if WE don’t remember the meaning of Christmas.  Granted, it’s a season of giving- but not a season for going bankrupt or paying a Visa card interest bill until April 2011.  We should give gifts within our means.  If the child has been taught how to appreciate what they get and we remember the meaning of Christmas, there won’t be a problem.  If, as parents, we aren’t happy with finances at Christmas and our ability to give, that is a separate money problem; not a Christmas problem. 

Therefore, there’s no need to feel upset if our children do not have the latest greatest toy.  Not to be too religious; but there is a reason for Christmas. We celebrate in different ways around the world; but focusing on the reason for Christmas is the best anecdote for one’s misgivings about not having a $300 Xbox with a $50 game. 

All the best,

Clayton Thomas

I’ve always said one of the basic tenants of this blog is to make parents merely think.  Whether you agree/disagree with this blog is not too important to me.  What is important though is once you think about the tenants of today’s blog, you have an even better understanding of your own decisions concerning your family.  When that happens, you would have to be considered (in my eyes at least) a better parent even if you think I am full of it.  On that note, let’s get to the contest. If you are not familiar with the contest, my previous blog explains everything.

I have some good news and a touch of bad news.  Which do you want to hear first?  I knew it!  You want the bad news first so we can end the blog on a positive note.  Great minds think alike!!!

The bad news is we didn’t reach 200 hits.  Trust me when I say I was pulling for you and I worked/promoted hard to help you.  200 hits would have been a big jump from my previous high admittedly.  There is a saying that goes something like “sometimes when you reach for the stars, you may only hit the moon.”  We did achieve 159 hits (as of this writing) which was the most thus far for one blog.  This represents over a 20% increase versus the previous high.   Remember when I said my original goal was 100 hits in one month?  We have far exceeded original expectations.  Also
, barely halfway into the month of December, this blog has been “hit” more than either of the previous two months.  (The blog was started in October 2010)   

On to the good news: The winner of the contest is (drum roll please) me.  This means I am donating $50 to St. Joseph Children’s Home in Louisville, KY.  If you are not familiar with this organization, they take in children who have been removed from their natural families due to severe abuse/neglect.  The job of the organization is to place the kids in position to be adopted or transition into foster care.  This takes a lot of time/ work based on where the child is mentally and the emotional scarring involved.  This is where I learned most of my skills with children.  Subsequently working in a classroom for seven years, raising two great children, and writing this blog are easy because of the opportunity St. Joseph’s gave to me.  

One of my bucket list goals is to repay every dime St. Joseph’s ever compensated me.  The knowledge I received concerning how to work with kids was more than enough payment.  I am not rich and I have a family to feed/college to pay for/ retirement/ etc… but the money they will receive based on this contest is a very small step towards the goal.  

I want to thank everyone for reading this blog and participating in the contest.  There will be lots more fun in the blogs ahead.  Please pass this blog along to others you feel would enjoy the message and I will check in again Monday.   

A Season of Giving

If you read Monday’s blog, you know today’s behavior blog is all about how I get kids to do things.  Part of this answer is inspired by the blog I wrote October 27th called Motivation.  I go into details about when you motivate a kid, you can get them to do nearly anything.  If you haven’t read it, it would be worth your time.  I’m going to go into a bit more detail; then I am going to see if the tactics used with my kids will work on you as well.

My favorite ways to get the behavior I want from children are praise, encouragement, and general affection ((i.e. hugs, pats on the back, and kisses (for my kids)).  I also use rewards and consequences to my advantage.  Rewards don’t have to be extravagant.  But they do need to motivate the kid to perform the same behavior I am looking for.  Consequences does not mean I have to give spankings.  Sometimes raising my voice a bit or placing a favorite toy in time out is all that is needed.  (An evil eye tends to work as well).  The point of consequences are to give the message, “I don’t want to see that behavior any longer.”

When I do these things effectively, I reduce noise, frustration, and time outs.  No one is perfect and I’m not claiming my house always resembles a sense of calmness.  But, people who know my children could tell you that even when they misbehave, it is usually short lived.  These same tactics were used in the classroom and St. Joseph Children’s Home.  My departments/classrooms were typically quieter than others but always fun and engaging.  That’s the way I’d like your children to view home as well.

Now to try an experiment with you.  Most people who visit this blog regularly know I have three purposes.  One is to promote general ideas of a yet to be published book called Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures.   A second motivation is this blog gives me the opportunity to help others and/or to make a great child/parent even better.  Finally, (this is the least known by people) I do it for my kids.  I want them to view me as a person who tried to make a difference.  When I have to talk about parenting issues three times a week, it makes me be a better parent because I’m forced to remember my roots.  My son, Cameron, is also inspired by this blog just like he was when I wrote the book.  For example, I’ve shown him a map of all the places in the world this blog has been read and you should see how his jaw drops.  It’s priceless!   

Here’s my experiment.  I hope you find my blog inspires and gives down to earth opinions.  The behavior I am looking for from you is to be excited/motivated over what I am trying to do with this blog.  Because I love to motivate to garner excitement; here’s what’s going to happen.

I am going to run a contest.  If you decide to participate and win, you will be able to choose one of two prizes.  The first prize choice is a $25 gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse.  It’s one of my favorite restaurants so I hope you enjoy. 

Outback Steakhouse logoImage via WikipediaWould doubling the money help?  OK!  The other prize you can choose is a $50 donation to the charity of your choice.  Hopefully, I will learn between now and then how to do it in your name.  Wouldn’t it feel good to give your favorite charity some extra cheer before the holidays?  If you are ready to compete, here are the ways of entering the drawing.

WASHINGTON - MARCH 26:  A smiley face was draw...Image by Getty Images via @daylife1.  I would like more friends on Google Connect which is located on the right side of the screen.  If you sign up, you will be entered.  For the 12 people, excluding my wife, who are already there, you will be automatically entered.

2.  The second way is to leave a comment at the bottom of this post.  Now that the box is set for anyone to use, I’d like to know what you think of my motivation ideas.  An alternative would be for you to add your own ideas on how you motivate your kids to behave.  One comment=one entry to the contest.

3.  Finally, I would like to receive even more parenting questions for the Friday free for all blog.  You can email them to  Leaving a question will grant another entry. 

Obviously, one person has a total of three chances to win the contest.  But, if you know me, there’s a catch.  I said we were competing, right?  I want to play as well but I’m not going to be in the drawing.  Here’s the idea.  The most amount of hits I have received on one blog is 122 achieved this past Monday.  While I appreciate this to no ends, I bet if you tell more of your friends about this contest, I can raise even more awareness.  Everyone likes to eat and many have a favorite charity. 

I win the contest if this blog receives less than 200 hits.  Not to worry though.  If I win, I will be choosing the charity option.  A $50 check will be written to St. Joseph Children’s Home.  Without this organization, I wouldn’t be the parent I am today and you wouldn’t be reading this blog.  Based on this condition, I will feel like a winner no matter what. 

My wife told me when she and her siblings were little, they would wrestle their father. The catch was they could never win until they all worked together.  The 200 hits idea means you have to work with your fellow readers to beat me.  Tell a friend, a family member, or a person you work with.  I’m sure if you work together, someone is going to eat well or give a gift to a worthwhile cause.

Here are some random things I want to clarify before the contest begins.

1.  If you have a common name like Brian or Kim, you had better include the last three letters of your last name to be entered.  If you don’t do this, I could have winners with the same name and be forced to draw again.

2.  I am not high tech.  I’ve said before my parenting skills are much better than my computer skills.  There won’t be a live broadcast of the drawing.  You’ll have to trust that I am playing this game honestly and fairly. Many of my friends will enter I am sure.  If someone I know wins, that’s the way it goes. If you can’t trust me to run an honest contest, please do not play.

3.  The contest ends Friday before I post the free for all blog.  Depending on how many entries I have, there is a possibility the winner won’t be announced until the published Monday blog.  Ideally, I’d like to get the contest over with as quickly as possible so the recipient can have the prize before Christmas.

4.  If you win and choose the charity option, it must be an obvious charity I can easily verify. For example, I won’t have questions if you choose The American Red Cross.  Contrarily, if you choose The Society of Charity Cheats; there may be a problem.  Again, if you do not like these rules, do not enter the contest.  I am not cutting a check unless things are clearly on the up and up.

5.  On the day I announce the winner, you have a week to pick your prize and send me contact information (especially if you want the Outback Steakhouse gift card)  the winner will be able to email me.  If the winner does not respond, another name will be drawn.

6.  Finally, I am sure I haven’t thought of everything.  Let’s be honest- there are probably certain ways this contest can be manipulated/ruined for all who participate by means I haven’t anticipated.  If that’s the case, I can’t run another contest like this.  Please play fairly and honestly.  I want someone to win the gift certificate, donate to a charity of their choice, or give to St. Joseph Children’s Home. 

Check back in Friday so I can update you on the contest and enjoy my free for all topic. 

I wish everyone the best of luck!!!

Who Do You Blame?

Welcome to the Monday edition of the parenting blog.  Today’s topic is who is to blame for today’s educational condition.  I think a lot of us would agree that our public schools, in general, aren’t getting the results we’d like to see.  Those of us who can place our children in private schools are going to do so unless the public school around your home is an exception to the rule.  My question is simple but the answer may be complicated. Why can’t our public schools compete more closely with the private schools? 

The Courier Journal (my local newspaper) ran an interesting article yesterday from the Associated Press. According to the Associated Press-Stanford University poll, 68% percent of adults believed parents should receive “heavy blame” for what’s wrong with the US educational system.  The other answers that could have been chosen were teachers, school administrators, the government, and teacher’s unions.  What also struck me as interesting was moms were more likely than dads (72%-61%) to say parents were at fault. Questions and results for this poll are available at

In 1999, I interviewed for my first teaching position.  One of the questions I received from the panel was “what would you do if an irate parent came into your classroom and started using profanity.”  The reason this story comes to mind is even before I was hired; parents were being posed as a potential problem.  For the record, a parent never pulled that on me.  But, it must have happened to someone or it would have been unlikely a question like that would have been asked. 

Looking at the list of possibilities on the survey, there is a lot of blame to go around in my opinion.  Here’s a brief analysis as to why.

1.  Parents- They set the tone before a child ever enters a classroom.  Trust me.  It doesn’t take long for me to figure out which parents work with their children academically and who doesn’t.  Also, parents can either work with a teacher, be non-committal, or work against a teacher.  I can say with certainty that if the attitude is anything but the first option, a child is more likely going to have problems in school.

Here’s a shocking statistic.  According to Attendance Counts which is an advocacy group, 1 in 10 kindergarten and first grade students misses a month of school every year.  This would obviously be an example of working against a teacher.  The most consistent manner parents worked against me was not following through with homework.  Every time one kid did their homework and another didn’t; it only widened the achievement gap.

2.  Teachers- The problem with teachers (especially new ones) is they are on an island.  What I mean is there is not a great deal of support.  I didn’t understand how bad it was until my son attended kindergarten at a private school.  The teachers really had their act together from day 1 because they worked so closely together.  When my oldest son transferred to his current school, I saw the exact same thing.  My child’s teachers implement school wide discipline rules (which actually have bite ), the same homework, tests, and classwork.  I was a good disciplinarian in the classroom so behavior wasn’t an issue; but I sometimes wonder how much better my teaching skills would have been if I worked in the private school environment- especially early in my career.

3. School Administrators- This is a bit tricky for me.  As far as principals go, they didn’t have nearly as much power as an outsider may assume.  Not only that; but they didn’t have a union to fall back on.  Principals I worked with did as they were told because they could be easily replaced.  I honestly question how many original ideas my principals implemented in their respective schools. I could even make an argument I had more autonomy than they had because of my union.  This may not be the best example but it’s almost like blaming a private in the armed services for following through with an order from a commander.  For example, how can I blame a principal for making us teach material they would have tweaked/changed if they could have?  When materials are bought by a school district, they are expected to be used.  Because test scores were low, administrators didn’t have a leg to stand on.  They were yes men/women.    

Analyzing higher administration, they choose a lot of programs which were different than the way most people reading this blog learned.  There was a lot of pressure to try something different because children were falling behind 10/20 years ago.  They abandoned subjects such as cursive handwriting and phonics.  They were replaced by word walls and inventive spelling (spelling the way a word sounds versus the true spelling).

One of the math programs I was required to teach was called Investigations.  Manipulatives were used to solve problems as opposed to writing problems with a pencil and paper.  It seemed to me that problems occurred when students took standardized tests because–wait for it—the tests used pencil and paper.  Also, because the students didn’t have the manipulatives at home, assigning homework was pretty difficult.

4. The government- I didn’t mind the federal government when I was a teacher.  President Bill Clinton helped pass legislation that dropped class sizes from 24 to 18 students at Title 1 schools.  This enabled me to key in better on struggling students.  I also had good assistants working with me which was a real help.  When I transferred to a non-title one school, my class size shot back up and my assistant help was very limited.  In theory, I was working with more skilled students.  Truthfully, this wasn’t always the case. 

When No Child Left Behind was implemented in 2001, pipe dreams took the place of realistic expectations at the federal level. I believe overall test scores from schools across the country back up this opinion.  Children continue to be left behind (by federal standards) at an alarming rate.  For those interested in the goals and progress, I found this study interesting.     
On a state wide level ( I reside in Kentucky), there was a lot of pressure to bring test scores up.  There were small pockets of success but most of it was a complete failure.  I mentioned in an earlier blog that our state wide test was dropped.  The reason given was money. The truth is a lot of schools were not even close to achieving the required goals.  There was going to be egg on the face of many officials if they didn’t discontinue the test.

5. Teacher’s unions- The biggest knock on them from what I’ve heard and read over the years is they won’t get rid of bad teachers.  This is indeed the case.  But there is a reason.  Union members pay dues which include legal services if there is a  need.  Of course, this rarely happens. But if, for instance, a school got rid of a teacher because they stunk at teaching and the union didn’t fight for that teacher, they could be sued by the teacher.  If a teacher is totally inept, they can be potentially transferred but letting them go is probably not going to happen unless there’s a case of abuse.  This is especially true if a teacher has tenure.  I received tenure after my third year as best I remember.  Had I proven enough at that point to be virtually untouchable?  You make the call.    

So there you have it.  Who or what do you want to blame?  Do you like the list or is there something else that hasn’t been mentioned.  I’d love to know what you think and now that my comment box is working, you will have your chance.  Do you agree with the
moms and dads surveyed in this poll that parents are to receive “heavy blame” for what’s wrong with the US educational system?

I hope you come back Wednesday to read my behavior blog.  I want to show you how I can influence the behavior of children to get the results I want.  The way I am going to attempt this is by influencing YOUR behavior.  We’ll see how I do.  It should be a lot of fun!

All the best,


The Story of Susan and Anne

Today’s free for all blog is one I have really looked forward to writing.  It’s about a woman in West Virgina who I’ll call Susan.  For all my new followers, I don’t like to give a lot of identifying information about my readers because I respect their privacy.  Keeping identifying information private will lead other parents to trust me with their delicate situations.  One person’s question could help many other people with the same problem.  It’s for this reason if you send me a parenting question, I will handle it with great care.   

Susan, in essence, had many questions.  If I had to sum up her questions, it might read, “what am I supposed to do with this child?”  Susan has a daughter named “Anne” who was a real mess.  Anne is 4 years old but has got temper tantrums down to an art.  She had a “potty” mouth, liked to throw things, hollered, scratched, and be generally unpleasant when things didn’t go her way.  To make matters worse, Susan had a mother who would tend to meddle and compromise Susan’s authority.  Also, Susan is in school studying the social sciences. I certainly applaud her but it is an added stress.  Also, Susan does have a partner named “Alan” but I don’t know if he is a live in boyfriend, if they are engaged, etc…

The first time I chatted with Susan on the phone, she was a bit rattled.  She explained so many different problems that I would have needed a notebook handy to remember everything.  She gave me the impression that little was going right with her child and she was at her wits end.  What Susan didn’t quite realize is that she had three things going for her.  Before reading on, if you are having troubles with your child, try to grasp good things that are going on.  It can potentially make your problems seem more manageable.  Here are the three good things I believed Susan had. 

1.  Alan seemed to be a real help.  From what little I know, he seemed to be really trying to make a positive difference for Susan and Anne.  For example, I know he’s employed and I know he tries to be involved with discipline.  

2.  Susan had an open mind.  Those who think they know everything can not be helped.  Though I am the author of a parenting book and blog, I’m not above listening and learning new things.  Susan was an excellent listener as well.  She listened to my reasoning, subsequently asked for clarification, and challenged me for new ideas.  I know Susan had looked for help from others as well.  She seemed to be taking everyone’s advice while trying to make the best decisions for her family.  That’s a winning strategy.

3.  Susan had me to lean on for help.  I’m not bragging but I’d been through every war Susan was fighting.  In the areas Susan was having problems, I am, shall we say, “battle tested.”  It’s a product of working with 400+ kids. When any parent is having problems, there needs to be a mentor/partner to lean on.  It’s been my experience that the hardest battle a person will ever fight in parenting is the one they fight alone.

I decided the best way to help Susan was to give general pointers but really attack one problem hard instead of attacking all the problems at once.  The problem I attacked was bedtime.  Susan didn’t have any kind of solid routine with Anne.  I may use bedtimes in a future blog so I don’t want to harp on it now.  I will say that having a bedtime routine has many advantages.  I explained Luke’s bedtime routine to Susan and told her to use the ideas she was comfortable with.  Basically, Luke takes a bath, puts on his PJ’s, brushes his teeth (with parental help), reads a story (with both parents- separately), and goes to bed with the book previously read and his aquarium turned on.  The process starts around 6:30pm and ends between 7:15pm-7:30pm.

At last check, Susan didn’t copy my routine exactly; but that was never the point.  The point is she needed to start HER routine and stick with it.  What happened though over time was amazing.  I only worked hard on night time behavior but things started to change during the day as well.  For example, the last time I heard from Susan, Anne hadn’t even had a time out in previous three days.  The tantrums had also ceased.  This could have been because the child was getting enough sleep or maybe Susan felt more empowered/confident during the day and the child reacted in a positive way. I don’t honestly care about the reason for the turnaround.  What I do care about is that the family can look at each other as less of a trouble and more of a treasure.

One overriding theme I heard from Susan was how she had “mistakes” in raising Anne in the past.  For example, over a period of time, Susan placed Anne’s grandmother in the role of a parent as opposed to letting her be the grandmother.  The way I see it, grandparents have already had their turn being day to day moms and dads.  Though I’m never opposed to grandparents helping/being involved, they should not be leaned on to the point of making them the unofficial parent.  I am guilty of doing this when Cameron was younger. It led to problems with my mom.  Like Susan, I originally thought the ensuing problems were the fault of my mom.  When I analyzed the situation more carefully; I realized the fault was mine for placing my mother in that position.

Susan seemed to me to have a complex over her past mistakes.  I felt like having this complex was compromising her ability to be an effective parent today.  No matter what mistakes she had made, it was time to get over it, deal with today, learn from the past, and most importantly; move on.  Though I can’t say definitively that’s what happened, her actions seemed to suggest it.  There’s an old saying that you can’t cry over spilled milk and I, for one, believe it.

Over time, Susan may have more problems with Anne.  Everyone else with children will as well.  But I believe she is up for the challenge and may prove to be a parent other children would be envious to have.  I wish her continued success and I hope all of my readers can learn something positive from Susan’s story.

On Monday, I will be writing an education blog.  I have several different topics to cover but will take the weekend to decide which I will attack next.

Finally,  I know I may sound like a broken record but I would appreciate my readers who found Susan’s story of value to pass it along to other parents. This blog is growing and you are the reason.   Many thanks!!!   


Building for the Future

Today’s behavior blog is going to be a little different.  Instead of talking about what has worked for me and my children in the past, I want to talk about the future.

Building relationships with children not only pays dividends now; but for an indefinite time when it comes to behavior.  Once the relationships are built; it’s also easier to motivate, encourage,and discipline children.  I also want to create memories for Cameron and Luke that will last forever.  This evening, I will be taking another step.

Though Cameron doesn’t know it yet; he is going to have an after school surprise.  Tonight, I am going to take him to see the University of Kentucky Wildcats versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball game.  This will be a huge treat and I can’t wait to see the reaction on his face when he finds out. 

We won’t get home until extremely late so the odds are he is going to miss school Thursday as well.  If you’ve read my prior blogs, you may think I have officially lost my mind.  What about routines?  What about education?  What about perfect attendance?

I have 5th row seats and could have taken anybody to this game.  I chose Cameron because of all he’s done and all the dividends it will pay.  He’s more than earned the right to break free of the routine for one evening.  I’m not worried  about him missing school because he’s approximately two years above grade level.  As far as perfect attendance, that was never my goal.  My goal is for Cameron to be as bright as possible and look back on his childhood with the fondest of memories.   

I think we can agree that Cameron will have a super time with me at the game.  These “moment builders” will pay off as they always have.  Because I occasionally take him to these surprise events; do you realize how easy it is for me to get him to sit down and do extra homework?  It’s one thing for me to “force” him to do it but it’s another for him to have full cooperation.  Part of the reason he works so hard for me is because of what I do for him.  He loves and trusts me.  Cameron knows there will be times I am hard on him; but there are also times he will have rewards out of the blue.  That’s one of my tricks:  I keep him guessing.

Knowing me, I probably won’t tell him at all.  One of my favorite ploys is to tell him to “go get ready” out of the blue.  When he asks, “for what?” I give him a small smirk and repeat my direction.  I doubt if he will find out where he is going until he sees the marquee in front of the stadium.

When the night is done and both of us recover, Cameron will go back to his routines.  We will continue to build his mind and body to the best of our abilities.  For one night though, he’ll have a large Sprite, a tub of popcorn, and yell with all he’s got, “Go Big Blue.”

With all the discipline and structure for children this blog provides, I want you to know there’s nothing wrong with doing things out of the ordinary.  I’d encourage all of you to do something a bit different with your kids over the next few days.  If you can surprise them with the event, that’s even better!  Check your local newspaper.  There’s always something going on.

Can’t wait for you to check in for a free for all Friday.  I have a story about a parent who asked me a question about her out of control child.  Little did I know how a few minutes of my time would impact a person I”ll probably never meet.  With all the success/curiosity this blog has generated, one mom’s story continues to make this journey incredibly worthwhile.

All the best!!!