Articles for Parents

Everything listed under: character

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    Tips for Raising Kids in a "Me" Generation

    We’ve all been there. We watch parents cave to a child's demands and think, “I would never let that happen with my child. I have no intention of raising an entitled kid.” 

    Oh wait - that’s not at all how it actually goes!

    But how many times have I been “that” parent, who after a long day, just wants to get home? Even after being so proud of myself for saying no, I eventually give because I just want it to be over. I beat myself up a bit and tell myself I'll do better next time.

    Honestly, most parents don’t set out to raise self-centered children. However, as we try to give our kids what we didn’t have or to ensure their success, we spend an inordinate amount of time, energy and brainpower focused on them. Unfortunately, this leads our kids to believe they are and should be the center of attention everywhere.

    In my head, I know this is not a good thing. My professional training shows me this is not conducive to good outcomes for young adults. And research tells me this kind of parenting is not ultimately helpful to my child or any other child. BUT, how do we as parents put the brakes on and change our ways? And why would we want to stop doing things that we believe will ultimately make our children successful adults?

    It's helpful to begin with the end in mind. I don’t know about you, but outside of extenuating circumstances, I am not interested in having my child dependent on her parents for the rest of her life. I want to see her spread her wings and realize all she can do without our direct assistance.

    What does it take to raise a child who isn’t entitled?

    • Avoid leading your child to believe he/she is the center of your universe. In real life, your child will not always be the center of attention. Avoid putting this belief in his head - don't make him the focal point in your home.

    • Teach your child what it means to be accountable and responsible for his/her own behavior. While this one can be painful, it is super-powerful and important. Instead of saving the day when your child encounters a difficult person or a problem, allow your child to problem-solve, figure something out and actually deal with it. This will help build self-confidence. When parents take responsibility for a child's behavior and removes the consequences (good or bad), kids miss opportunities to learn and grow.

    • Help them understand that just because you want something badly doesn’t mean you automatically get it. People tend to be less appreciative when they get things without earning them. Teach your children that anything worth having is worth working for. It's a lesson that will serve them well throughout their life. Also, avoid the trap of believing it’s about the stuff.

    • Teach them the importance of giving. Whether helping with chores (without getting paid) or serving in the community, teach children how to be givers. Giving can help guard against a sense of entitlement.

    In an interview about hiring practices, Schwab CEO Walt Bettinger, shared that he intentionally takes interviewees out for a meal. He always arrives early and requests that the wait staff intentionally mess up the person’s order. Why? Because he wants to see how they will handle the situation. Through the years he has learned that a person’s heart and their character matter as much - if not more than - what’s in their head.

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    How Children Succeed

    What exactly does it take for a child to succeed in life? Is it good grades? High test scores? Tenacity?

    According to Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character and Whatever it Takes, adults focus on high test scores, pre-admission to preschool and SAT scores as child-success indicators.

    Based on research, however, Tough says we focus too much on these areas. He believes that the most important qualities have more to do with character. These skills include perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control.

    Tough and his wife became parents while he was writing his book. Surprisingly, the research actually made him a more relaxed parent. When his son was born, Tough was very much caught up in the idea of childhood as a race - the faster a child develops skills and the better he does on tests, the better he’ll do in life.

    These days, the author is much less concerned about his son’s reading and counting ability. While he certainly believes those things are important, he's more concerned about his character. He wants his son to be able to recover from disappointments, calm himself down, keep working at a puzzle even when it’s frustrating and be good at sharing. He also wants his son to feel loved and confident, and have a full sense of belonging. Most importantly, Tough wants his son to be able to handle failure.

    It's hard for us parents to let our children fail. Why is that? Because everything in us wants to shield them from trouble. But Tough and others are now discovering that we may actually harm our children when we try to protect them. By not allowing them to learn to manage adversity or to cope with failure, we produce kids who have real problems when they grow up. Overcoming adversity produces character. And character, even more than IQ, leads to real and lasting success.

    According to Tough, scientists realize that early adversity in a child’s life affects the conditions of their lives. It can also alter the physical development of their brains. This knowledge is being used nationwide to help children overcome constraints.

    Regardless of socioeconomic status, Tough contends that children with the proper support in the most painful circumstances can still achieve amazing things. But many children do not grow up with that right support. For example, there may be two parents in the home who are so bent on their child’s success that they never let him experience failure. Or at the completely opposite end of the spectrum, there's no support to help the child get back up when he fails.

    For more insight on parenting, download our E-book "4 ways to stay connected after Baby" Download Here

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    The Blessing of the Skinned Knee

    Is it possible that a skinned knee, failure on a test and not planning your child's life completely is really a good thing? Dr. Wendy Mogel, clinical psychologist and author of The Blessing of the Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus, would say yes.

    "The biggest problem I see today is that loving, devoted parents, armed with good intentions, treat their children like royalty," says Mogel. "Parents are putting themselves in the role of butler, secret police, talent agent, ATM and hospital staff member, doing things for their children that they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves."

    Mogel believes this parental behavior is ultimately a bad set-up for kids.

    "I frequently see parents who treat their children like hothouse flowers, who must depend on their parents for survival," she says. "They overschedule, overprotect and overindulge their children to the point that the children end up feeling a combination of entitled, dependent, anxious and like they don't measure up."

    In many instances, these young people head off to college full of hope. Three months later, they return home because they didn't know how to deal with their roommate or the professor refused to spoon-feed them information. Perhaps, they simply don't know how to work through problems on their own.

    If it feels like Mogel is stepping all over your toes, you are not alone.

    "There are many great parents out there with fantastic intentions who get carried away in their efforts to raise a successful adult," Mogel says. "In the end, nobody wins. Boys go on strike, girls become perfectionistic, and parents get angry."

    So, how can parents avoid falling in this trap?

    Mogel provides these words of encouragement to well-intentioned parents:

    • Kids go through phases ... glorious ones and rotten ones. Do not confuse today's snapshot with the epic movie of your child's life.
    • Know the difference between a child's wants and needs. Don't fall for the smooth-talking 15-year-old's line: "Mom, you'll probably want to buy me a brand-new car. It'll be really, really, really, safe ... definitely safer than me driving your big, old van." Privileges are not entitlements.
    • Let them learn to do for themselves. Remember, your child is competent.
    • Listen four times more than you talk. Before you nag, remind, criticize, advise, chime in or over-explain, say to yourself "W.A.I.T" (Why am I talking?)
    • Remember that disappointments are a necessary preparation for adult life. Stay calm when your child isn't invited to her friend's party, gets cut from the team or doesn't get a lead role. Without these experiences, your child will be ill-equipped for the real world.
    • Be alert, but not automatically alarmed. Stop and ask yourself: Is this situation unsafe or just uncomfortable for my child? Is it an emergency or a new challenge?
    • Don't take it personally if your teenager treats you badly. You can't always judge his character on the consistency of in-house politeness, clear speech or degree of eye contact. Instead, notice what teachers say and whether he's welcome at his friends' houses. Also, observe his manners with neighbors, salespeople and servers in restaurants.

    Mogel readily acknowledges that parenting is hard work and that the competition is fierce. However, parents who are intent on raising self-reliant, resilient and accountable young people will gladly put forth the effort.

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    Kids and Sports: What Really Matters

    Jim and Susan* were very purposeful in their decision to let their 6-year-old son play baseball. Jonathan seemed to enjoy the game and actually played well enough to make the All-Star team.

    “The regular season ended on a Saturday and All-Star practice began on Mother’s Day,” says Jim. “They practiced every day that week with their first game on Friday. Between Friday and Tuesday, the team played nine games. The general atmosphere was ‘win at all costs.’ The coach spent a lot of time yelling at the kids if they missed a play. There was very little positive encouragement when players did something right.”

    After witnessing this, Jim and Susan began questioning their decision to let their son play.

    “I knew things were not good when we showed up to a game and our son said his stomach hurt,” Jim says. “I figured it was probably nerves. When we got home, Jonathan went outside and played baseball for a couple of hours. That was when we really knew we had a decision to make.”

    Ultimately, Jim and Susan made the joint decision to pull their son off the team. When they told him about their decision, he actually seemed relieved.

    Forty million kids play youth sports. Yet according a National Alliance for Youth Sports poll, more than 70 percent of kids who begin a sport before age 8 will not play that sport in middle school.

    Michigan State University asked 30,000 kids why they play sports, and they said because it’s fun. And while they value winning, it isn’t why they show up to play.

    John O’Sullivan, founder and CEO of the Changing the Game project, says that kids are not becoming better at sports. They are becoming bitter instead. He notes that kids say they quit playing sports because they're tired of being yelled at and there’s too much emphasis on winning. They're also afraid to make mistakes. When winning matters to parents or coaches more than anything else, it can totally take the joy out of playing.

    “The single most fundamental thing we teach is something I learned from Coach Bruce Brown,” says O’Sullivan. “You can do your part by starting with five simple words: I love watching you play.

    Heath Eslinger, University of Tennessee Chattanooga wrestling coach, encourages parents to focus on what is important in the big picture, not just what is important now.

    “Improvement in sports happens through repetition,” says Eslinger. “If I play a baseball game, I may never touch a baseball. If that is the case, there is no way I can improve. Repetition comes from play, and that is so much more beneficial.”

    Eslinger believes parents need to let their children walk through organic struggles versus placing them in supplemental struggles, which are all the extracurricular opportunities. Organic struggle centers around two things: relationships and responsibility. How you treat people and how you take care of responsibilities will always be around.

    Many positives and life lessons can come from playing sports. Before you involve yourself too much though, it’s probably a good idea to examine exactly what you want kids to learn from playing the game. Whether you are a coach or a parent, you get to decide what is more important - winning and performance, or making better people of character.

    *Not their real names.