The Book: Have Happier Children – in 7 Days or Less!

It’s finally here! Now, you can turn around your day-to-day experiences with your child – from surly to excited, from listless to energetic, from moody to even-tempered.

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I’m waiting to hear your experiences as you apply the solutions and begin to Have Happier Children 🙂

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


When Do You Stop Being a Parent?

No matter how much you love your child, this question would definitely have crossed your mind if you’ve been a parent for a few years. There will be days when your child drives you up-the-wall, round-the-bend, over-the-top crazy, and unbidden, the thought comes to your mind: “When can I get off this parenting rollercoaster? When can I be me again? When can I get my life back again?”

I’m sharing 3 stories by way of an answer.

A friend of mine has 2 children: a boy and a girl, who often scrap with each other. She is the kids’ first and last court of appeal, and they keep badgering her till they feel the other has got his / her comeuppance. My friend’s mother, who lives with the family, tries to restore peace. She does this for one reason only. In her words, “I love my daughter. Of course, I love my grandchildren too, but they trouble her so much, that I can’t bear to see her going through this nonsense for hours every day. I’m sure I’d be able to get them to stop, if only she’d allow me to spank them, but she doesn’t!”

This lady has an adult daughter who is herself a parent, but she still feels for my friend – her child. She hasn’t stopped being a parent.

***

On www.getorganizednow.com, a reader sent in an organizing idea. She wrote: “My handicapped son was in his wheelchair ready for the bus to arrive. I had his jacket on and tried to zip it up when the zipper pull broke off. Not having time to take the coat off and put another on, my husband asked for a plastic bag tie. He slipped it through the hole where the zipper pull had been pushed it in half way then twisted it to make a great temporary pull. I pulled the zipper up just as the bus arrived.

My husband and I are in our early 70’s. Our son is 57 and attends a day center for 5 hours every day. This is our respite time. We visit friends, shop, and sometimes we have lunch out. We have to be home every day at 2:45 to get our son off the bus.”

***

A friend who quit the corporate world to pursue his childhood passion for photography had his first solo exhibition recently. At the launch, I was speaking with his father. “What awesome photographs!” I said.

My friend’s dad who is in his 70s, replied, “Yes, he’s really good” – and stopped.

I was incredulous. “Good? He’s way better than good!”

The gentleman seemed to be struggling for words. Then, “You see, he’s my son, so I don’t want to say too much.”

“Why not? I have a daughter, and if I feel she’s doing a great job, I have no compunction saying so to anyone, including herself.”

“If that’s how you feel, let me tell you what I think. I am amazed, bowled over, and so, so proud to see his work. I always knew he was talented, but seeing his work exhibited like this – solo, at a gallery – has simply blown me away. And he’s following his heart, his passion – what more could a father ask?”

***

There are times – many times – when your children get on your nerves, and you wish you could get a break from them. But that’s really all you want – a little break, a breather.

You never stop being a parent – and that’s just the way you (and I!) like it. 🙂

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Wasting Time

When I was a child, we got up in the morning, got dressed, went to school, came back, played with our friends, did homework, spent time with our parents in the evening, listened to the radio or watched TV, and got into bed. We got 3 meals a day; we got enough exercise, enough sleep, enough entertainment, enough social activity, and enough family time.

Our parents managed pretty well too. They did their own work, spent time with us, and never seemed to rush from one person / place / activity to another.

The idea that there ‘wasn’t enough time’ – for anything – had not yet been invented, apparently! 🙂

By the time I reached teenage, time began to acquire focus. I heard my parents tell me not to ‘waste’ time: on the phone, meeting people incessantly, watching TV all evening, day dreaming…

Today, our children hear it from birth: Don’t Waste Time.

I’m sure you’ve said it to your child at least once (not if you are a newly-minted parent, obviously): “Don’t waste time! There’s so much to do – get on with things…”

One day, my irritated daughter shot back at me, “I’m NOT wasting time, okay? I want to read this book.”

“But you’ve read it at least fourteen times already!” I protested.

“Twelve,” she smirked, “but what difference does that make to you? It’s my book. I’ll read it two hundred times, if I wish it. It’s none of your business! I don’t say anything about the books you read; you don’t interfere with my reading.” (Topsy-turvy logic, I agree. After all, I’m the parent, and parents have the ‘right’ to comment on what their kids are doing, whereas the reverse is pretty off-the-wall. But I have always given her equal rights. If this is kind of conversation is what equality entails, so be it, I say.  Sometimes I think I let her get away with a bit too much in the name of equality, but there are some lessons only time can teach. And time needs time…)

I would normally have dismissed this outburst as another of the crazy, inexplicable things she does (that’s one of the ways we keep peace: we agree that the other is ‘simply nuts’! And then we place statements, incidents and outbursts in the ‘simply-nuts behavior box’ and put it aside 🙂 ), but I was in ‘listening‘ mode.

When I stopped to think about what she’d said, this is what I realized:

1. Much as I love her, it is her life, and her time. One way or another, that time will be spent.

2. I have very little control over how she (or anyone else, for that matter) spends her time. If at all I have any control, it is over how I spend my time. But here, I duck my responsibility, and say, “I have so much work, so many things to do, so much to handle, so many responsibilities, that I simply don’t get any time for myself!” Big-time responsibility-avoidance! 🙂

3. I can choose to ignore the reality of how little control I have over how she spends her time, and (i) worry about it, or (ii) explain to her, nag her, plead with her, and hound her to spend her time the way I believe is best for her, or (iii) both. This will create conflict between us, and that conflict will spill over into all areas of our lives. And there is no way to resolve this kind of conflict, because it is based on one of us being ‘right’ and the other one ‘wrong’.

4. Since it is her life, she has first dibs on choosing how she spends it. While she may or may not please anyone else with her choice; the one person she can definitely please is herself. She might as well make choices that please her. At least she will be happy, if nobody else will…  

5. She can be an independent, worthwhile adult (the goal of parenting, in my view) only if she makes her own choices and accepts the consequences of those choices. Choosing how to spend time is also a choice. And the earlier you let your child begin to make this choice, the quicker and better he will learn what works for him and what doesn’t.

6. Time cannot be wasted; just like money cannot be wasted. ‘Waste’ is an opinion or a judgment of someone. If she wants to be word-perfect on five hundred novels, re-reading them for the nth time is a ‘good’ investment of time for her.

7. Everyone’s ‘good use’ of time is a ‘waste’ of time for someone else.

If you stop to think about it, I’m sure you’ll realize exactly the same thing about how your child ‘wastes’ time!

You wasted time too, you know, in the past. You probably still do. Celebrate the fact that you ‘waste’ time. A life in which time is always spent towards the achievement of one goal or another, is ultimately, a life devoid of spontaneity, enjoyment, and joy. Incredibly sad, don’t you think? What’s worse, it’s unnecessarily sad.

The next time your child ‘wastes’ time, let him. Either you will learn that he wasn’t wasting it, or he will feel he could use it differently. Either way, you will still have time with your child – because you both realize that your time is your own, and you will choose, happily, to spend some of it with each other!

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Where Does the Day Go?

In the 10 days that I haven’t posted, I’ve been busy with the stuff that life hands out to each of us from time to time. As I dealt with one thing after another, at the back of my mind, I was thinking about Time – yes, Time with a capital ‘T’.

24 hours; a full day. And it’s gone before you know it. As you haul your exhausted, tense, sore, pained body and mind to bed and think about your day, you find yourself compiling a long list of all the things you meant to accomplish today but didn’t.

To this list, you add the unexpected additions to your workload that cropped up during the day. Such as the house guest you can’t refuse, an aching tooth that needs to be attended to, the baby sitter cancelling at the last moment so you have to either arrange another one or not attend that important official dinner (with your partner) tomorrow evening…

Your list is burgeoning. In fact, it is bursting at the seams. When you wake up in the morning, you hit the ground running, taking phone calls, checking email, fitting in a workout, getting the kids organized, doing household chores, getting yourself out the door (or ready to work indoors), working … All the words you can think of end in ‘ING’. Yup! You’re DO-ing things all the time.

As you drive (driving), you’re thinking of the presentation you need to make. As you eat lunch (eating), you’re reminding yourself to pick up the test reports from the hospital on your way back home. As your child greets a tired you and you’re responding and listening to her, you’re thinking of how you can get as many things crossed off your ‘To Do’ List before the day is done.

No matter what you do, you bemoan not having enough time to do all the things you’d like to do, to meet all the people you’d like to meet, for as long as you’d like to meet them (Ah! But will they have the time? 🙂 ), go to all the places you’d like to visit…

Your life, interrupted – by lack of time.

Alright. Suppose you do have enough time to do what you’d like to do. What might your day look like?

Stop right here and write what your ideal day would look like. Include everything you can think of, and be sure to build in transition times. For instance, once you’re dressed, you don’t really dash out the door. You take a couple of minutes to collect everything you need to take with yourself, maybe check to see you have switched off the gas, shut the windows – all of this takes time.

My day would ideally look like this:

Sleep: 6 hours. Okay, maybe 7! 🙂

Exercise: 1 hour (I’m a far cry from here right now!)

Quiet Time: 1 hour (another far cry, and it will probably be small chunks that add up to an hour)

Personal time (bathing, dressing, grooming, eating, drinking water): 1 hour (minimum!)

Chores (Cooking, Housekeeping, Laundry, Accounts, Grocery shopping, Home maintenance): 2 hours

Transition time (from one activity to another): 30 minutes

Keeping track of what’s going on: 30 minutes (newspaper, social networking – I don’t watch any TV)

Relaxation (Puzzle time 🙂 ): 15 minutes.

Driving: 2 hours (this is something of a minimum for me, on most days)

Hey, wait a minute! I haven’t ‘done’ a thing – no ‘work’, no social stuff, nothing professional or community-related or fulfilling, no phone calls, and more than 14 hours of my day are gone!

I suspect your ideal day would also look something like mine, give or take an hour or two under one heading or another.

On top of this, I have a kid (as do you! 🙂 ), I have family members who expect (rightly) that I am available to them at least some of the time, that we spend time together to share what’s going on in our lives, I have clients to whom I have committed my time and skills, I want to write for myself (the blog, creative fiction, story-telling)…

There’s just one four-letter word that fits this scenario: O-U-C-H!

You turn anxious eyes towards your child, looking at how she spends time, ensuring she doesn’t waste her time. You try to teach her to use her time wisely, productively from the very beginning.

“Hurry up!”

“You have 5 minutes to finish this project before we go for basketball practice.”

“Don’t waste time!”

“Read fast!” “Write fast!” “Eat fast!” “Pack your bag quickly!”

“Why do you take so long to get dressed?”

“Stop admiring yourself in the mirror – we’re getting late!”

And what is she doing? She’s got her eyes turned to you! She’s looking at how you spend your day. She sees you irritable from lack of sleep, but pushing yourself to stay awake so you can finish working on that document. She sees you listen to her tell you about her day as you’re trying to watch the news, cook dinner, and get a load in the wash. She sees you ‘help’ her with her homework while you change her little sister’s diaper, sew a missing button, tidy up the living room, and fix an appointment with the plumber for that leaking faucet.

And the child that woke up happy and bright, eager to face the day, slowly learns to get up exhausted, jump unwillingly out of bed, and zombie her way through the day. From you. The same way that my child learns from me.

When is it going to change? Remember when you first started working? You were in your 20s (maybe even in your teens), and you thought you ruled the world. If you could only push yourself hard enough, you’d be on top of the tree. And once you got there, you’d rest and relax and ‘enjoy’ your life.

Well, it’s been a good few years since then, and if you’re honest with yourself, you ‘enjoyed’ yourself more then, than you do now.

As you’ve just seen, even after you’ve achieved everything you want to achieve, you’ll still be spending more than half your day doing the same stuff you do now (and that is without ‘work’!).

That is half of your life. Might as well enjoy it, don’t you think?

I didn’t think so, till I read a Sufi story, the upshot of which was: People are strange; they keep rushing toward the future, at the end of which is death. They say they want to live, to enjoy life, but they hurry on towards death.

You’ll never have it all done because life is a present continuous entity – always ‘ING’. Free yourself and your child from the tyranny of time. It is a worthwhile gift to give your child.

And if ever you find yourself with nothing left on your ‘To Do’ List, know this: You are dead.

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Motivating Your Child

Motivate (verb): to provide with a motive or motives; incite; impel.

I’d agreed to conduct a few sessions on Fun with English as part of an Integrated Summer Workshop. One day we explored Creative Writing. The next day, a Grade 8 girl’s mother came to meet me.

“I really liked that you made them write something yesterday. My daughter writes quite well. Have you seen what she wrote?”

I told the lady that I hadn’t yet looked at what the children had written.

She continued, “I keep telling her she should write something – if not every day, at least every week. But you know how children are – they don’t listen to their parents. 🙂 I wish you would tell her to write something and show it to you. She enjoys your workshop – I’m sure she’ll be motivated by your telling her, and she’ll write something for you.” She looked hopefully at me.

Many years ago, I was convinced we could motivate our children. Give them enough inducement (enough ‘carrots’) and they would fall in line – with their parents’ wishes, of course. Even with my own child, I would keep trying to ‘motivate’ her to do different things – try skating, solve puzzles, write a journal… The three I mention here were dismal failures. Others had more satisfactory results, but I was beginning to tire of the whole bag of tricks.

It was such a lot of work for me! I had to keep on and on at it. Also, when I’d first start motivating her, it would seem to work. But after a bit, it would take enormous amounts of motivation to get her to make the slightest change.

There had to be a better way, I guessed. So, from being a convinced motivator, I graduated to just flirting with the idea of motivation. Sometimes, I’d just dig my heels in and NOT motivate her. Let’s see what happens, I’d think.

And I found what I’d have realized a long time back if only I’d stopped to think dispassionately about it. (Ah! But that’s the rub – it’s so difficult to be dispassionate about your children. :-)) Nothing happened! Nothing at all – neither good nor bad.

Say I’d been trying to get her to wear a T-shirt she disliked. When she was very young, what seemed to work was, “It’s so nice!” She’d eye it doubtfully, but give in. After a bit, I had to up the ante. “It’ll make me happy if you wear it.” (I know! I’m writing the blog from cold, hard experience! :-)). That didn’t work for too long!

One day, as I was looking through my closet for ‘something to wear’, she handed me a dress that had been hanging there forever. It was appropriate for the occasion, but I didn’t want to wear it. “But you’ve never worn this dress, and it’s been hanging here for months!” she said. Well, years actually, but – er…

I get a direct stare from her. “You should wear it. It’ll look nice on you. It’ll make me happy. I think you’ll look great in it. Think how much money you spent on the dress.” I was handed all my own arguments in one big bundle. I fumbled for a response.

Finally, I resorted to pulling rank. “Listen, I don’t want to wear it, and that’s that.” Obviously, I never again tried to get her to wear the tee (or anything else!) that she disliked.

So: motivation? I don’t know.

At the end of the day, people do what they feel like doing. That explains procrastination as well. You need to work on that report, but you don’t feel like it. You’ll find any number of ‘reasons’ why you couldn’t get to it, and then stress yourself out trying to do a good job and get it in on time.

Why should it be any different for your kids? They are complete human beings (except, with shorter life experiences) in their own right.

Your son draws great cartoons, and he’s doodling stuff all the time. You can appreciate what he draws. You can tell him you’d be willing to let him to take a class in cartooning if he wishes it. That’s about all you can do. Beyond that, it is his call.

Your daughter may be great at gymnastics. She’s so good she could go professional, the teacher at school tells you. You ‘motivate’ her to go to a class. Maybe she’s just not interested! Maybe she’s happy with gymnastics as just an activity.

But you’re so intent on ‘motivating’ her ‘for her own good’ that you keep pushing it at her. Besides, you are a ‘dedicated’ parent, and want to ‘help’ your child fulfill her potential and not ‘waste’ herself (a sentence full of ‘inverted commas’: a life lived inside inverted logic, actually.) You will both feel pressured and unhappy about it. However hard you try to ‘motivate’ her, your effort will end in grief.  

The bottom line is: no one can motivate anyone else. Not as a parent, not as a spouse, not as a friend – it simply ain’t happening. (Think about it: if we could be ‘motivated’ by others, we’d all be fit and super-successful at our jobs! 🙂 🙂 You may be inspired by someone, but motivation is a different ballgame.)

Motivation, the only kind that matters, comes from inside a person. No matter how much you ‘motivate’ him, beyond a point, your son won’t do something he doesn’t want to do. Besides, for how long will you go on motivating him? On the other hand, if he’s motivated, you’ll have to move heaven and earth to deflect him from his chosen path! 🙂

Know, as you try to ‘motivate’ your child, that you are systematically harming your relationship with him.

He will resent your inability to accept his choices – he will resent your inability to accept him. Like everyone else, he wants to be appreciated for who is he now, today – not be treated as a work-in-progress which will be fully appreciated once it is complete.

I told the parent at the workshop what I thought about ‘motivating’ children (or anyone, for that matter). “If her writing is to have any meaning, she must write for herself first – before she writes for anyone else.”

She wasn’t happy with what I’d said, but she saw the point. “But what should I do?”

“Let her be,” I said gently.

What you can do – all you can do – is to encourage your child in whatever he is motivated to do.

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


Are You Killing Your Child with Carrots?

Many children in the world are brought up without praise. This is sad, to say the least, and has terrible consequences for their self-esteem, behavior, and the quality of their lives as children. And as adults. Obviously, it also affects how they will raise their children.

But you are probably not such a parent. You know that praising your child is a very important part of showing how much you love her. You have read all the literature about propping up her self-esteem, about affirming good behavior with praise and discouraging bad behavior by ignoring it. Carrot, carrot, carrot. No stick. And it works.

When she’s little and tries to stand on her own, she falls with a thump. You encourage her to try again. She tries again. You praise her. Carrot. She falls back down. She tries yet again to stand up. You praise her. Carrot. She falls back down. She tries once more. Carrot. There’s no need for the stick! Everything’s perfect.

This is what happens all the time – when she says her first syllable, first word, learns to stand without support, then walk, then run. More milestones are celebrated with praise. First sentence, first scribble, saying “Please” and “Thank you”, asking for permission, listening to what Mom and Dad say (let’s be honest – this one’s called obedience 🙂), putting her toys away, feeding herself, feeding herself without making a mess, finishing all the food on her plate, dressing herself, wearing her own sandals and shoes, identifying numbers and alphabets, learning to read and then write…

Of course, potentially dangerous behaviors need to be actively discouraged, and you do so. This is the ‘Beware! List’. She has to be taught initially to stay away from – and then to be careful around – electrical sockets, hot dishes and liquids, sharp edges, glass, and so on. Whether you explain, scold, warn, demonstrate, play-act or spank, you find ways to teach her that she has to watch herself around all this and more.

Every time she successfully negotiates the ‘Beware! List’ you praise her. Of course! That’s what any loving parent would do.

So far, everything is going swimmingly.

As your child engages more with the outside world, you begin to caution him. As he grows, there are ever greater threats to his safety and security. You want to protect him from hurt – both physical and mental.

You teach him how to cross a road – not that you ever let him cross it alone at this stage, but for years you keep teaching him. “Don’t accept things from people you don’t know.” “Don’t go anywhere with a stranger.” And each time he behaves appropriately, you praise him. Carrot.

He does ‘good’ things, and you reinforce his behavior by praising him. Carrot. He avoids things from the Beware! List and you reinforce yet again with praise. Carrot.

The point is this: Too many ‘carrots’ will lead to trouble.

This doesn’t mean that you must use the ‘stick’. That is a decision that you alone can (and should) make for yourself. If your parenting style doesn’t involve the ‘stick’, know that when you withhold the carrot, you’re wielding the ‘stick’.

If your child gets praised for everything he does (and doesn’t do), he becomes a praise ‘junkie’. This phase will occur at some time or other in each child’s life, but it is important that he move beyond it relatively quickly.

It is totally understandable to heap appreciation on a 5-year old who brushes his teeth well. But if he’s expecting to be praised for the same skill at age 10, you have a problem on your hands.

Essentially, you need to wean him off the old carrots, and get him on to ‘bigger’ carrots. Like doing chores around the house, learning new skills – whatever is appropriate to his age and ability, learning new attitudes…more grown-up stuff.

What happens if you don’t?

Firstly, nobody – not even you – will be able to praise him for a particular achievement for the rest of his life. “Lovely! You tied your shoelaces so well!” sounds wonderful and genuine when your child is 7. It sounds ridiculous if he’s 12, and you probably wouldn’t dream of even mentioning it by the time he’s 15.

Secondly, after a point, the praise sounds false, even to the child, as in the ‘shoelace’ instance above. And he will wonder why you feel the need to praise him for an ordinary, everyday occurrence.

Thirdly, his thinking and behavior will be distorted by his addiction to praise. People will figure out his sensitivity to praise, and manipulate him till he’s miserable. And he won’t know why. “You share your allowance with me every week. You’re such a good friend!”

Fourthly, you may continue to find opportunities to praise him as he grows, but will anybody else? Out there in the world, who really cares? We all know the answer to that question: No one. Basically, when it comes right down to the wire, practically no one cares.

But as he begins to form relationships outside the family, and as these ties strengthen with time, he will be increasingly bewildered by these friends who are not appreciative enough of him. One of two things might then happen. Either he will redouble his efforts to win their praise, which might move him farther away from what he wants. Or he will wonder what is wrong with him. Or both things might happen.

Self-doubt, low self-esteem, discontentment, misery. Stick, stick, stick, stick. And not one of these sticks is actively wielded by anyone! Not one of them is ‘meant’! It is your child alone, who is beating himself up with these sticks.

Fifthly (is this ever going to end?!), even if he is lucky enough to find good friends, human beings are fickle. The thing that delights a person today may irritate him tomorrow, leave him unmoved the third day, and arouse his contempt on the fourth. But your child will want praise all the time! Which is simply not possible.

Your child will live without ever basking in the glow of achievement for its own sake. He will feel all his achievements diminished if they are not praised by someone (or everyone!). What a needless tragedy!

Here’s an item to add to your Beware! List: Do not kill with praise. You’ve added it? Carrot. 🙂

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂