Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

Not so long ago my fifth-grade child turned in a sloppy book report and brought home a poor grade.  I started in with a lecture on taking pride in your work and soon enough I had worked into a lather about taking your time, checking your work and that sloppy work was unacceptable.  As I built to a crescendo, I realized that my child hadn’t gotten a word in edgewise in about 10 minutes.  Nor had she looked up at me.  Eighty percent of what I said had not registered.  She had probably disengaged from my 100 mph lecture and was simply awaiting the pronouncement of a punishment or for me to stop talking.

I vowed to revamp my strategy for the next time.

When I do all the talking, I come away with no real sense of the nature of the problem and how to best fix it.  My child reverts to silence and the occasional ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  This denies me the two things that I — and all parents — need most:  more information as to what exactly is going wrong and secondly for the child to learn the lesson and remember it long enough to put in an improved performance at the next opportunity.

A few weeks later, I found a school test with a bad grade written in red in my child’s schoolbag.  This was my chance.

The fouled up math test wasn’t complicated or tricky.  Straightforward equations, wrong answers.  I started out with a simple, “Tell me what happened here?” and handed my child the test.  “I rushed through it and didn’t check my work.”  I asked if we had ever discussed this problem in the past.  “Yes.”  So you agree that we have dealt with this problem in the past and it still isn’t fixed.  Is that something that me as a parent should be concerned about?  She said, “Yes.” Tell me why I should be concerned.  “Because if I rush through, then I will get things wrong and a bad grade.”

I felt like a football coach breaking down the game film at halftime and making adjustments in the locker room before the second half.  My child and I proceeded to go through what happened on that test step-by-step with me asking the questions and she providing the answers. It felt like a genuine give-and-take.  If she could successfully present me with a valid reason why poor performance on this test should not raise parental concerns, then I was prepared to let her off scot-free.  But as expected she knew where my questions were heading and preemptively confessed to the problem, explained that she is too distracted by her friends in the classroom, and told me she needs to focus better.  She then came up with a suitable punishment: no Facebook or cellphone until she could demonstrate that the problem was fixed.

I became a convert to the second approach.  I came away with a much clearer understanding of why she makes easy errors on tests that had left me scratching my head.  By explaining herself in her own words, this (I hope) thus lessened the chances of a repeat performance.  I don’t have to worry about the punishment fitting the crime because my child had confessed to the crime, described in detail how the crime was committed and then levied the punishment.  Lastly, if this problem resurfaces, I can say, “Remember when you told me ….” and be confident that indeed she will remember her own words.  And if I have to take even stronger measures, I can simply say, “We did it your way last time and now we are going to do it my way.”

But if my revamped strategy works, hopefully it won’t come to that.


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I took my kids on a 7-day roadtrip down to the Gulf to see the oil spill up close.  It was a fascinating, education and sad trip.  The image that will stay with us is this one of a oiled-up pelican trying to fly.  We saw it at Grand Isle State Park just as we were leaving.  Workers approached the bird with a net, but it had the strength to evade the net, beat its heavy wings, and fly back to the oily water.

I will have more blog entries on this trip in coming days/weeks.

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Three times in recent weeks an uncomfortable topic has come up in conversation with my kids; child molestation.  First,my children have heard the drip drip drip of charges in the news against Catholic priests.  Secondly, something happened at my kids’ elementary school a few weeks ago that prompted a call to the police.  Finally the movie Precious came out on DVD.  Child molestation is not an issue my wife and I had planned to address in detail at this moment but now that it has come up, I figured it was time for my  12, 11, and 8 year old to become aware that this issue not only exists but is a topic open for discussion in our house.

I found, however, that the harsh reality that some people feel the need to touch children in a sexual way is almost impossible to explain.  When my kids asked the inevitable question, Why?, I really had no words that get at the motivation of a molester. … (more…)

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I am sure that nobody is interested in my youngest son”s potty habits but I am and this is my blog, so I’ll blog about it.  The last time I visited this subject, I thought I had my son pottytrained and comfortably in underwear last summer when he was 2 and a half.  He and I, for example, flew on a plane to Denver, spent four days and four nights and flew home all without a diaper bag or an accident.  He continued his dry ways for the next four months or so much to my delight.

And then something happened about a month ago. .. (more…)

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It has been exactly two months since my son stepped foot Hooters.   Hundreds of people from around the world have left comments about my blog post both positive and negative, some thought provoking and others just nasty and dismissive.  The last word (at this blog anyway) goes to Catherine Otwell, who waited on us that day and emailed me recently asking to write a guest post because she’s got something to say.  I think it speaks for itself:

My name is Catherine, and a few weeks ago my photo was featured in a story on the homepage of AOL. Totally unaware of the situation, I was bombarded by phone calls and text messages telling me to check AOL’s top stories.  Initially, I was pleasantly surprised as my friends called exclaiming, “You’re famous!”

When I came home, and finally was able to see the article, I quickly remembered the Saturday when Bob came to Hooter’s with his son after his football game. As I read the article, I was intrigued by Bob’s experiment. I kept reading. Finally, I came to the comments. I was not surprised to see how many people have distaste for Hooters, especially when it comes to children. However, I was disappointed to see how quickly people judge the restaurant and the girls, without even stepping through the doors.

Firstly, Hooter Girls are not the enemy. What you see in the photo is a 20 year old, George Mason student. I was a professional ballet student at the Washington Ballet, I graduated in the top of my class with an IB diploma, and the only thing that stood in the way of Georgetown was the tuition. I support myself on entirely on my own, and I am paying my way through school. (more…)

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Kids Growing Up Soft

A few weeks ago I had a serious talk with an old friend until 2 in the morning about raising our kids.  He has two young kids. I have four.  We marveled about how our kids are growing up with many advantages that we did not have at their age, and wondered if perhaps they have it too well.

Like my wife, my friend came to the United States as a war refugee from Vietnam.  His family –dad, mom, and four brothers– lived in a cramped apartment in New Jersey.  His dad supported them on a near minimum-wage job while the kids were tossed into the public school system before they knew much English. They suffered greatly during those years.  His youngest brother tragically drowned one day, sucking the life out of the family and causing his mother to suffer a breakdown that led to crushing medical bills.  He overcame all that, and the hardship he went through made him the man he is today.

The thing is, this conversation took place while we were blowing through a bottle of wine in his nice home in the suburbs.  Our kids and our wives were asleep upstairs in the four spacious bedrooms.  He pointed out the dilemma he thinks about all the time: he wants to provide for his kids so that they never have to suffer like he did.  But if he does a too good job of providing, then his kids might grow up soft. (more…)

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Washing dishes

Washing dishes

My wife and I have always wanted our four children from an early age to develop a sense of responsibility and eventually an actual work ethic to prepare them to go out in the world someday with a healthy understanding of how things work.  This process, I think, should begin early by teaching 2 or 3 year old to clean up toys when they are done with them.  You build on it later by having your kids as young as 3 or 4 begin doing simple chores such as getting the mail.  Still later as chores become routine and the work becomes heavier, you can offer your kids an allowance as an incentive.

Here’s how we did it:

CHORES:   There are a lot of things that small kids can do to play an active role in keeping the household running.  I started with having my kids at four years old … (more…)

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