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Too Involved with Your Kids?

Parents can take a quick quiz on their involvement in kids' lives Parents: Here is an "Am-I-too-involved-with-my-kids-and-need-to-get-a-life?" quiz:
  • When my child's girlfriend breaks up with him, do I throw myself on the bed sobbing wondering what went wrong?
  • My child gets a "B" on his school social studies project. I worked really hard on it and think I - I mean she - should have gotten an "A."
  • It's the big game season. The coach doesn't seem to be giving my child enough play. I demand play time for him and threaten to call the coach's loan at the bank, where I am president, if my request isn't granted.
If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, you are in deep trouble. All right, maybe they're slightly exaggerated, but paying attention to our own feelings during the ups and downs of our kids' lives bears attention. Feeling excitement when something wonderful happens for our children, and feeling disappointed when something bad happens, is a normal and healthy part of being a parent. However, it's a question of proportion. If your reaction is greater than your children's reaction, you've lost that objective parenting edge that helps your child work through the experience.

Kids need perspective. If you are happier than, sadder than, or angrier than your children, they will end up feeling responsible for taking care of your feelings, rather than their own. If you find yourself apoplectic with regards to your child's normal ups and downs, then it's time for you to look inside and identify what is pushing your buttons.

Remember parents, it's not "I live my life, I live your life." Kids need to know that your feeling good is not dependent on them feeling good. So, go - get a life, which includes your kids, but is not only your kids.

Respect Is a Two-Way Street

How many of us have said to our children at one time or another, "You will not talk to your parents that way"? How many have been privy to a conversation in which one person says to another, "Do you believe those parents let their kids talk to them that way?" What is "that way"? After all, one family's disrespect can be another family's fooling around.

How do you know the difference? There is a fine line between sarcastic fun, like, "Hey mom, did your pants shrink in the wash," and "I don't have to," or "You can't make me."

The most important tool parents have in this defining dilemma is the all-important gut feeling. Trust it. If you are moved to either smile or laugh at your child, you are responding to some loving fun-a small shot of "gotcha!" If you're moved to cringe or gasp-as in, "I can't believe that just came out of your mouth!" Your child has probably stepped over the line. Remember, however you react, you're modeling appropriate behavior. The "screaming banshee" model may feel great but is probably not useful in teaching kids appropriate confrontation and resolution skills.

Express your anger and disappointment toward disrespectful behavior- but do it calmly. With younger children, give them a time out to think and return to you with a genuine apology. But most importantly parents- wield your power! Next time this child comes asking for a favor, calmly and lovingly remind them that you love doing things for them when you feel respected and appreciated.

Respect needs to be mutual and consistent; we are not born with it, it must be learned. Kids see how we communicate with them-and with our spouses, colleagues and greater community- and follow suit. If parents are controlling, demanding and disrespectful, expect the same from their children.
The Developing Child

Recently, I met with a group of parents of teenagers to discuss that age-old problem of parent/child communication. Most were there out of frustration with this process, and were tired of patching walls from too many slammed doors after a "differing of opinion" with their teenager.

I asked each parent to reminisce a bit about there own teenage years. I wondered whether as teenagers they had "good communication" (whatever that is) with their parents. Guess what? They didn't talk to their parents either. Some things don't get better with time. What does get better is as parents in this century we are not satisfied with non-communication, i.e. blank stares, a mumbled yes or no or the outright "mind your own business" that our children often inflict upon us. We want to understand and share their feelings. The problem occurs when the parents want to get closer and share more, just when the teens are ready to move away and share less. That old developmental task called "separation/individuation." What a paradox.

So parents, if you want to know more about your teenager, you actually have to ask less! Have conversations-not inquisitions. Share yourself, and your experiences before expecting your chilled to confess all. Share especially those moments in your life of which you are the least proud. If kids see you as "too perfect" they will not feel free to let you in to their "imperfections."

I think what is so difficult for parents of teenagers is that a relationship that used to be is easy and effortless is now difficult and mind-boggling. Relax with the process. If you can hold on from ages 13-20, you'll get your "little" girl or boy back by age 21. Remember, no matter what age, you need to let you kids know that you're not only interested in what they do, but what they think.
Time Out: Discipline Corner

Maybe George Washington never told a lie, but I know few people, adults or children who don't resort to some sort of fabricating, stretching of the truth or outright lying when faced with confrontation. Even from a young age, as early as 3, kids seem to intuitively avoid feelings of shame. For example, "did you do something to make the baby cry?" said in an accusing tone to your 3 year-old may follow with, "No, uh, uh not me. It was the dog who did it!" as the reply. As your children get older, the dog excuse again comes in handy when confronted by their teacher about the missing homework, as in "the dog ate it." Moving into the teenage years, the length and breadth of the lies seems to intensify, as does their creativity. This occurs to such extremes that teens start to believe their own "stories" and become indignant upon being discovered.

Get out of uncomfortable situations
As adults we often find ourselves in situations in which we use lying as a way to avoid hurting someone's feelings or to get ourselves out of uncomfortable situations. Kids observe us squirming our way through these situations and wonder why it's OK for us to "tell stories" but not OK for them. All right parents, you have to admit they do have us on that one. The job for parents is to figure out the difference between the harmless lies (the ones we tell) and the ones that mean your child is involving himself or herself in situations that you feel are inappropriate. In either case, you must create a climate in which there is a positive payoff for truth telling.

Unrealistic Demands
Additionally, you need to do some self-analysis to determine whether your child is lying to you because your demands are usually non-negotiable and sometimes unrealistic. Remember that if parents say no too many times to too many things, your child will start to do them anyway. Kids cite this reason most often for lying to their parents, "they never let me do anything." Granted, some requests are off the wall. But instead of a carte-blanche "NO" - offer some alternatives that might make both parties happy and reduce the need for secrecy and lying.

Here are my three golden rules to encourage open honest communication.
  • Truth telling is encouraged through calm, loving, two-way conversation.
  • Leave room for negotiating and shared decision making.
  • Everybody makes mistakes.

At one of my parenting parties the other night, a mother of a 12 year old girl asked me a question about the appropriate dress for a 12 year old girl.

I asked her to be more specific and she went on to describe the cleavage action her daughter displays in her low-cut tee shirt. I heard a few murmurs of jealousy from my middle-aged group of moms, I think wishing they had a cleavage problem, but that's another discussion.

I resisted an eyebrow raise, hearing my own mother's voice in my head, "you are not leaving the house in that shirt young lady. But this is not 1965, so instead of drawing from my own experience I will attempt to use my expert's hat.

To finish the story, this mom went onto say that she didn't feel like there wasn't anything she could do or say. How could she possibly be able to compete with today's culture, blahblah magazines, TV etc. OK so parents, this kid is 12, you are still very much the bottom line.

The trick is to get your kid to do what you want without challenging them to go put that t-shirt on in the girl's bathroom when they get to school. Use your relationship, humor, and demonstrations to get them to see your point.

To use your relationship, you might say that you totally understand how dressing like a slut, no only kidding, ok start over, you could say that you totally understand that she is proud of her body, that's a good thing, you are a beautiful girl, and I am so happy you like the way you look, but that is not something that she needs to present to the world quite yet. You might put on a revealing top yourself, and then ask her how it would feel to go visit her classroom to help out in such a revealing shirt.

I would say that you understand that attention definitely feels good, but that you would rather see her get some attention from achieving something rather than from showing her hot little body. Also remember parents you have the money, so when you go shopping exercise your veto power. This doesn't mean she has to dress like a puritan, but cleavage or butt cracks at 12 are definitely a no no. You can also explain that this is a safety issue, and that when she is older she will have more experience and ability to deal with the attention especially if it is unwanted by scummy old man or young man, for that matter, and your job as a parent is to keep her safe.

You might also go over the rules of the school, most school now have dress codes and so your work will be done for you. And by the way, if your young tween is already dressing like a 16 year old she is probably also behaving like one, overly flirtatious, and provocative. If she is that needy for attention you need to figure out why. Because at 12 she is spending more time imitating and fantasying about the future rather than being happy and excited about the present.
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