The old saw “success has many parents but failure is an orphan” is never truer than when you’re dealing with actual kids.
When your child brings home straight A's or helps a little old lady carry her bags, it’s tempting to think “he gets that from my side of the family” or “I taught him that.”
When that same kid throws a tantrum or refuses to clean his room, we think, “Where did THAT behavior come from?”
We solve the “nature vs. nurture” question of child raising by assuming if it’s a fault, he was born with it; the virtues come from us.
As the parent of teenagers, I know it’s a bit early to be giving parenting advice – lots can still go wrong. But I mentioned to a friend who has a preschooler that I used to tell my kids if any stranger tried to grab them they should yell, “Help! He’s not my father!” or “She’s not my mother,” instead of just “Help!” She asked where I learned that. Well, someone passed it on to me.
So here’s a few more practical tidbits I’ve gleaned along the way:
* Make reading a way your kids can stay awake past bedtime. When our sons were young, they had to be in bed by 9 p.m. but they could read as long as they wanted. The Harry Potter books tested that rule because they were so engrossing that our boys would stay up way too late with pleas of “just one more chapter.” They felt like they were getting away with something and grew up to be avid readers.
* Fruit comes first, junk food later. A friend’s son and husband call her the “Fruit Pusher” because she’s always leaving cut up fruit on the table for snacking – it’s the original fast food. When my kids get home from school I’ll get them fruit and talk about their day. If they want fatty or sugary snacks after that, they’re on their own. By then, they’re not as hungry and eat less junk. Lessons in school have helped. The other day my oldest ate a large pastry and then announced with a groan: “That was a bad life choice.”
* Ask open-ended questions that call for more than one word answers: “Tell me what happened in the movie?” “What was the best thing that happened in school today? What was the worst?” “What were the five most important inventions ever and why?” If you ask, “how was school” type questions, you’re likely to get monosyllabic answers.
I once read an essay by a man who said when he was growing up his parents would ask him and his siblings at the dinner table, “What did you do for someone else today?” It got them in the habit of doing good deeds.
* Good discussions with kids have a chemistry of their own. If you have an interesting one going, try to let it run its course even if it’s inconvenient. If you break the spell, it’s not always easy to get them on the subject again when you’re ready to talk.
* Most kids like to teach. They are taught and told what to do by teachers, coaches and parents all day long. If you want a kid to open up and gain confidence, ask him about something he knows.
If you have practical tips of your own, please feel free to send them to me in an e-mail or post them yourself below. If I get enough helpful ones, I’ll collect them in a follow-up column.
Oh, and the things I did wrong in parenting? That’s for another day.