Archive for August 30, 2011

When Fear Isn't Enough

Fear can be a terrific motivator for a child.  It can drive him/her to clean their room even if they don’t want to.  It can make a child perform better in school (fear of failure or fear of peer embarrassment) than they would have originally thought.  It can also keep a child’s behavior in line during those push comes to shove moments.  Yes, fear can be a wonderful thing to have and a great parenting tool as well.  So, why can’t fear alone make a child be the perfect angel, get the best grades in school, and/or be the ultimate parenting tool?

I would honestly say that 90% of the children I’ve worked with (my own included) have feared me- at least somewhat.  But, fear has limits.

Here’s an example.  I can make my children clean their room any time I want.  It’s not difficult because most of the time fear is an external motivator.  My children don’t want to see me upset or receive consequences; therefore the room gets cleaned quickly.  But, if fear worked all the time, my children’s rooms would stay clean consistently even if I weren’t hovering over them.   It is possible to make fear an overriding motivator but only if I want to get a bit extreme.  For example, if I threatened to spank them each time I saw an unkempt room; that could possibly work although there are no guarantees.  I’ve actually never spanked my children.  My suspicions are that it would also take a few beating to get the message across.  Surely, there has to be a better way.  In this case, there is.

The trick is to turn an external motivator such as fear into an internal motivation within the child.  This may sound like high level psychology but I’ll bet some of you do this more often than you think.  Here’s an example in my home.

Desired Behavior: Putting on a Seatbelt

In this case, I created the great seat belt race.  I hate getting into a car and waiting for everyone to get in properly and get their seat belts on.  Therefore, we have competitions.  You may be surprised how often I come in last.  My 7 year old has been taught the safety of seat belts.  But, my 4 year old just wants to win.  The truth is I could use fear to get them to hurry up but I like my method a lot better.

Don’t get me wrong.  A little fear inside a child can be healthy as long as a parent understands its limits.  There are plenty of times I use it to get what I need.  My goal as a parent though is to teach, encourage, and model various behaviors until my children have an internal motivation to do them on their own.  It’s a long and lengthy process but one that is well worth it.

I will write to you again Friday.  Have a terrific week!

Growing Up Versus Getting Older

Good morning to all of you.  The more forceful tone of today’s post stems from several stories I have heard after my bullying post last week.  If you haven’t seen the post, it can be viewed at Many emails were sent to  Instead of responding to each one, I’m going to have to peel the gloves off a bit because there is a point which needs to be driven home.

Bullying on IRFE in March 5, 2007, the first c...

When it comes to bullying, disrespect, and general rudeness of children, let me be very clear.  Just because a child is getting older, that doesn’t mean he/she is growing up. Poor behaviors can be learned from a number of different means.  Neighborhood kids, older siblings, television, and even parents come to mind.

Getting older simply means the child/adult is still breathing.  Therefore, we are all getting older by the second.  By contrast, here’s what growing up means to me.  A child (or even an adult) is maturing and growing into a responsible citizen.  When a person is “growing up” he/she can make a positive impact on society in whatever way they choose.  For example, a 10 year old child who is going to school to learn is growing up.  Contrarily, a 16 year old punk who merely takes space in a classroom and causes trouble for others is only getting older.

There are times when parents dismiss poor behavior in a number of ways.  For example, some may say “My child is going through a phase.”  Others will use the line “They’ll (the children) grow out of it.” Although bullying along with the other behaviors mentioned often has roots in middle school, one of the reasons it persists in high school and beyond is due to the fact it was either not addressed at all or addressed so poorly, the child didn’t get the message.

There are also many behaviors not addressed in very young children which develop over time in aforementioned middle school students.  If you remember nothing else in the post- take this lesson to heart.  Poor behaviors in children are a lot like weeds.  If they are not removed, they will continue to grow until all the beauty around them is strangled.

The “phase argument” from parents is really misguided and over used so allow me to be clear.  Puberty is a phase.  By contrast, poor behaviors are signs of character flaws.  These flaws typically have not been adequately addressed completely by adults in the child’s life for whatever reason.  Many times, these character flaws are corrected with simple parenting or other adult intervention. (a school or church, for example)  Character flaws aren’t evil.  We all have spots in our character which could improve.  Besides, if our children were perfect already, they wouldn’t need us.  But, when we do not do our jobs as parents, these simple character flaws can grow.  Just like weeds, they are more difficult to remove the longer they are allowed to stay in place.

As parents, it’s our job to teach children right from wrong.   I can’t tell you how many character flaws I have corrected in children or how many flaws my mother corrected in me.  I can tell you I did my best to help the kids I worked with because it was important.  Your child does not need you to help them get older.  They can do that on their own.  Your child needs you to help them grow up.  The only question in the end is….. Will you take the time to care?

I will check in with you again on Tuesday.  Until then, take care of yourself and the ones you love.

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Taking Pride in Yourself

Regular readers of this blog know my focus is on helping with their children.  I take a lot of pride in knowing what a difference I have made through your comments and emails. Today’s topic will be a bit different but very effective if utilized properly.

One aspect of parenting underutilized is taking pride in you.  By this I mean not just as a parent but as a person.  Many people I know don’t want to toot their own horn because it is not in their nature.  Regardless, if you aren’t tooting your own horn for the good you do- who will?

Now, you may ask why this is important.  The answer is pretty simple.  You are modeling for your child what pride looks like.  This is different than when the child does something good and you clap for them.  When you take pride in something you do, the child receives a visual which is totally different than the feeling the child gets when they take pride in themselves.

Here is an example of what I am getting at.  I take a lot of pride in writing this blog and my children know it.  Because I take pride in my work, my children look up to me in a different way than if I were only doing this because it was my job.  Don’t get me wrong, a parent can certainly take pride in their career.  I’m saying that because I take pride in myself with blogging, I give my kids another reason to be proud of me.  Because my kiddos are proud of what I do, it helps in other areas such as academics, athletics, and discipline.

Another way to think about this is to picture a dad you know who doesn’t have a job and responds by getting drunk all the time.  Do you believe the father is proud of himself for what he is doing?  Do you think children with this type of father can take pride in what their dad is doing? If your answers to these questions are “no” then we are on the same page.

Therefore, my message to you today is this.  Think about something you do every day that you are proud of and let it show in your actions and in your work.  When you do this, your child will respond positively to you which will cause a lot more happy times in the long run and fewer problems as well.  Also, be proud of what you have accomplished with your parenting.  Though we’ve all made mistakes, giving ourselves a pat on the back for the good we have done for kids is well deserved!

I’ll check in with you again Friday and I hope you have a great week!

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A Quiet Effect of Bullying

This is a revised post of an article written several months ago.  It is timely though because school is back in session.  I hope a day will come where children don’t have to worry about bullies in school because the mechanisms will be in place to stomp it out.  As a former teacher, I never tolerated bullying and even helped teachers in other classrooms with the problem.  I hope you’ll have a deeper understanding of bullying and what you can do after reading this post because the “quiet effects” aren’t discussed often.  Best wishes!


About two weeks ago, I reconnected with a girl I had not seen since grade school.  One thing she said which really struck me was my mom seemed so “sweet” and I seemed so “sad.”  I don’t dispute her claim. But, I was shocked that was her memory of me after 25 years.

The reason I seemed so sad back then was because I was miserable.  The primary reason was bullying.  Every once in a while; bullying is brought into the national conscience because it drives someone to their death.  In my book Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures, I use Phoebe Prince as an example.  Prince made national news because bullying helped lead to her suicide.  Over time, the topic subsides until the problem claims another victim.

I would argue that the problems and effects of bullying are more subtle on a day to day basis.  This is something that concerns me greatly.  One of the many consequences is sadness/depression.  Don’t get me wrong.  This blog is not meant to be a pity party because I was “sad.”  The problem of bullying is too difficult for anyone to quantify but I’ll tell you what it did to me and let you make your own conclusions.

True bullying started for me by, of all people, a football coach in third grade.  It carried on in some way, shape, or form until high school.  By the time I made it to high school, I was a mess.  I didn’t have any self confidence. My grades were average to below average.  It wasn’t until years later I considered myself intelligent.  The fact is I had to work harder than some others in high school because certain building blocks of education I should have had in elementary school weren’t present.

In grade school, I was always worried about what was “next” instead of the lessons in front of me.  When would I have another problem in school?  When would I have another fight on my hands?  Would I find pornography in my yard when I returned home? Would there be another egg to clean off my bedroom window?  I can safely say when I was more worried about factors outside the course work in school than the work itself; it reflected in my overall learning.  I don’t think I realized how much intelligence I had until I completed my Masters program at Bellarmine University with a 3.7 grade point average.  Turns out I wasn’t as dumb as many had perceived- including me.

Although schools have a big part to play in solving the problem, my regular readers know I don’t like to rely solely on any school.  There are too many kids and too few adult eyes.  My advice to parents has two simple parts.

1.  Teach your child about bullying before they enter a classroom. Some parents stink at teaching manners to their kids and your children should be well aware.  Children without good manners are excellent bullies because they don’t know any better.  It’s also a good idea to create pretend bullying situations at home and then discuss how they can be handled. Bullying takes on different forms the older a child gets.  Therefore, if you do this before 2nd grade and expect that lesson to last through high school, odds of success are minimal.

Also, if you wait to teach your child their lesson when the bullying occurs, you run some risks.  Perhaps the biggest one is the damage accomplished before you get wind of the problem.  To use a boxing analogy, I’d rather teach a boxer how to punch before a fight than after he steps in the ring with a trained professional.  I’m not saying that you have to teach your kids how to fight.  That is your decision.  But, I want kids prepared for problems they may face in school.  It’s harder for your child to be prepared if you do not train them.

2.  Keep your finger on the pulse. When you see mood swings in your child, that’s a warning.  Some of us attribute mood swings to hormones or “kids just growing up.”  I’ll argue that while those factors are in play; there’s usually more to it.  Dig deep enough in your child and you may discover the underlying problem.  Once a problem is discovered, it can be attacked with vigor.

This may sound obvious to some of you but all bullying situations in school should be reported.  Don’t assume that children will grow out of it or the teacher won’t do anything.   I have witnessed times when bullying happened out of earshot of the teacher in charge.  There are lots of children in a classroom so this is more common than you may think.  If a teacher doesn’t handle the situation quickly- report the problem to the principal and document each case.  I have worked with many principals and all of them took bullying seriously.

I’m sorry if I left out a lot of aspects of bullying.  It simply can’t be covered in one blog.  I wrote an entire chapter for my book and I’m still not sure if I did enough.

I wish you and your family the best.  I hope your child never goes through what so many others have. More importantly, if they do, I hope you can help provide the tools to give them the support they need.

I’ll check in with another post Tuesday.  Have a terrific weekend!

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The Nonblog

For all of the fans and readers of this blog, I do not have a post today.  My power went out Saturday and just came back on late last night.  Thanks for your understanding and I will write to you on Friday.  All the best!

Do You Know Where Your Kids Are?

For today’s post, I want to change things up a bit and use a humorous story to illustrate a point.  About a month ago, I told my eldest child to clean his room and go downstairs to play after he was finished.  My bedroom is on the same floor and I was finishing cleaning the bathroom while he worked.

When I came out of the bathroom, I walked down the hall to my child’s room.  I didn’t hear anything (which is a bad sign) and wanted to know what was going on.  Upon entering his room, I found everything clean and in order.  Therefore, assuming all my directions were followed, I decided to take clothes out of the dryer to my bed and sort them.

As I was sorting them, I noticed I hadn’t made the bed yet so I stopped and reached underneath the comforter for the bed sheet.  As soon as I did, my child rose quickly from underneath the covers and scared the (insert curse word) out of me.  I’m not sure how high I jumped but I’m confident I set a personal record.

While I understand it’s important to know where our children are for a variety of reasons, I have placed the scare factor as one of them.  The boy really got me good.

Though unimportant to the story, here are two additional notes.  The first one is after I regained my composure; I jumped on top of my child and tickled his ribs for quite a while for pulling that prank.

The second note is that he has tried to scare me since but I’m on to him.  I could make him stop by using consequences but that would take the fun out of it.

I’ll check in with you again on Tuesday.  Have a great weekend with your family!

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Because of what I have done with Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures and the blog, I have a unique opportunity to speak to parents daily about the highs and lows of parenting.  I enjoy studying things parents do that work and ideas that I would scrap.  I call what I do parentology (No, this isn’t really a word).  Parentology is my study of parenting.

Most of the parents I talk to will not be met face to face but I value their opinions and sympathize with their issues.  One reoccurring theme lately has been their realization that they don’t always get the right answers while trying to parent.  It has led to some frustration in some parents because things don’t always work as planned.

It’s not possible for a parent to make the right move all the time with their child.  Mistakes are part of what makes us human.  The way I look at it is that mistakes should be accepted for the time being but worked on in order to not make the same type of mistake again. Being conscience of this has been a key to making me a better parent.

One sure way to work on correcting mistakes is by reflection.  Simply thinking about the problem at hand and pondering how it could have been handled differently is a big step. This tactic is great for single parents but it’s even better for parents who are married because you have a partner to bounce ideas off.  Parents who are single though can still seek out priests, counselors, and trusted friends to have virtually the same effect.

Now that I have given you a solution for when things do not go as planned while parenting; allow me to give you a solution I’ve seen used many times which fails miserably.  It’s called the “beat myself up until I am blue in the face” method.  This is when a parent convinces themselves of what a poor parent they are over a mistake they made and won’t let it go.

There’s nothing productive about this for you or the child.  A child needs to see you be a beacon of light- not wallowing in self pity because you can’t figure out how to make your child eat their peas.  Trust me, I’ve seen this (in many shapes and formats) many times.

Attaining perfection or even being close will never happen.  It’s like jumping as high as you can to touch the clouds and being disappointed when you miss.  The goal with parenting should be to accept your strengths and faults honestly.  From there, find the avenues to improve on your areas of weaknesses while maintaining the good qualities which make you special.  If you can find a way to do this, I promise you will be several steps ahead of a lot of parents.

My next post will come to you this Friday and my wife is going out of town for a couple of days.  Therefore, it will be just the boys and me together before I write to you again.  Why do I have the feeling there’s going to be a lot of blog material between now and then?  Best wishes!

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Cross Country Blues

As regular readers of this blog know, I like to talk about parenting, teach about parenting, and learn from other parents.  I find great satisfaction in becoming a better parent and helping others become better as well.  Please pardon me though because for today’s blog, I have to construct a couple of levels to the soap box.  A lesson was reinforced to me last night that I hope others can learn.  Allow me to explain.

My oldest child participates on a cross country team for the YMCA.  He was recruited by the coach and seems to like it.  While cross country isn’t my favorite sport, the rule has always been for my children to be active.  What they do is up to them.

During tonight’s practice, there were two children crying while running.  I understand pushing children to become better at what they are doing but I just don’t get why a child needs to be pushed that far.  To me, all sports should be used for the purpose of fitness, promoting competition, building confidence, and learning how to work with a team.  Oh, and I forgot the most important reason for sports.  It’s a thing I like to call HAVING FUN!

In Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures, there is an extensive section on how sports are positive for many walks of life (even outside of sports).  There are so many sports from which children can choose.  Why push a kid to tears when they are in a sport they don’t enjoy?  What is a parent trying to get out of the sport?  In last night’s case, it was completely the parents’ fault.  The cross country coach is competitive but has a laid back personality.  The parents of the children crying wouldn’t let them stop running.

For all of my readers, let me leave you with this.  Sports are like food.  There are some things children like and others they don’t care for.  To this day, you won’t catch me eating a mushroom for some of the same reasons you won’t catch me driving my child to tears in a sporting event.  If they don’t like it then they don’t like it.  Children are individuals and they will find their passion in a sport (even if it’s only for recreation) over time.

Since I referenced my book once, how about I do it one more time?  At the end of every chapter, there is an assignment which is short but meant to reinforce what was taught. Therefore, here is your assignment.  Ask your child over the weekend what sport they would like to play and go play it with them.  You may totally stink at the sport but your child will appreciate the time you are spending with them.

My next post will be on Tuesday.  Until then, all my best to you and the ones you love. (Now, how I do climb down from this soap box anyway?)

Minnesota state meeting – Cross Country

This spot can be fun if parents are not driving their children to tears!

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The Belly Floppers

Disclaimer: Although I am not certain “belly flopper” is an actual term, I am using it to describe a person who belly flops figuratively speaking.

Over the weekend, my wife told me that my oldest child is going to start school in two weeks.  My first thought was where has the summer gone?  School supplies have already been bought and there’s nothing to worry about.  When my wife told my son about going back to school; he looked surprised but acted ready.

For a lot of families, what I described isn’t exactly the norm.  Parents stress about school shopping and the stress passes along to their child.  Parents stress about the next grade and the stress passes along to their child.  Parents stress about the teacher and…… get the picture.

Being the on the other side of the desk as the teacher, I watched these stressed parents year in and year out.  Some children were unfazed by their parent’s stresses but others took their cue and had a lot of stress at the beginning of the school year.

Secretly, I thought of these kids as “the belly floppers.”  The impact of returning to school for these children was like belly flopping into water off a cliff.  They knew school was going to happen but the “landing” was shocking.  The children who “belly flopped” were always the ones who looked like they were in a trance the first week of school.  It was almost like school work was foreign and they didn’t remember the most basic concepts taught the previous year.

There may be some who are reading this and do not quite realize how serious this can be so let me put it this way.  I only could think of 3 children, in all my years of teaching, who “belly flopped” into school and finished in the top half of my class academically.  All children settled down mentally in my classroom eventually.  But, perhaps the stress and/or lost time were too much to overcome.  I would argue it was at least a contributing factor.

I would like the children of anyone who reads this to be the opposite of a “belly flopper.” There are many kids who enter school hitting the ground running.  Teachers like love these types of children.  Here are some suggestions on how your child can hit the ground running.

1.  School shop early.  When you get the supply list, beat the procrastinators and make school shopping a pleasant experience with your child.  I would even suggest things like buying the backpack your child chooses (if it’s within your means) because it gives a child that little something extra to look forward to going back to school.  You may spend a couple of extra dollars on their preferred choice; but your child will be in a better frame of mind going to school.

2.  Meet the teacher(s).  Schools usually have times when parents and kids can get situated and drop off supplies in their classrooms before the first day of school.  They get to pick their desk and get the general lay of the land.  This drastically decreases the shock on the first day.   Teachers like seeing the parents before the school year begins.  They keep mental notes of which parents go out of their way to meet them.  A favorable impression is important and will most likely be passed along to your child.  It’s human nature.

3.  Start the school year with your child before it begins. You can do this by purchasing an inexpensive workbook that correlates with the grade your child is going into.  The child will get a feel of the material that will be taught.  Also, when the child runs across a concept that they don’t understand, they can get help from you before the school year begins.  This also greatly decreases the shock value of a difficult school lesson during the school year.  When other children are struggling with the material, your child will look like a star.

Returning to school can be rough for some children. I wish all of your children the best of luck!!!

My next post will be on Friday.  I look forward to having you back.  Don’t forget, if you place your email in the subscription box, the blog will come directly to your email without having to remember a thing.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

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