Category: parenting

Dealing with Bullying

One of the biggest challenges I’ve found as a parent is wishing I could do more and not knowing where to stop. There’s a pull between wanting to help your kids out as much as possible, and wanting to let them be self-sufficient. In some cases, the choice is clear, and you don’t really need to debate too much about whether to help or stand back. Cleaning their room, for example, is a task best left to the kid. I’ve stepped in to help my kids clean their rooms over the years, and I’m discovering in hindsight that was only enabling their “live in sloth” habits. Now that we have the newly made chore sheet, I haven’t had to do any room cleaning, and the kid rooms stay much cleaner.

On the flip side, there are times it’s definitely worth it as a parent to step in and help. When they’re struggling with homework, for example. A case in point has been my efforts with DC to improve her reading this year. (Proud Dad moment: DC has been reading books on her own for a while now, and entered in a “Bikes for Books” program at school. You got one entry for every book you read, and she did six or seven, telling us she wasn’t taking to too seriously. She won a bike. I know compared to Tomas 6 or 7 books read isn’t a huge accomplishment, but I also know that the DC from the beginning of the year would never have voluntarily read through 6 or 7 chapter books on her own. She’s come a long way, and as we read in the evenings (We’re up to Castle of Llyr now in Prydain), I’m consistently impressed by how much her reading has improved. I’m not saying that’s all due to me reading with her, but I know I’ve helped, and that feels great.)

But not every decision has an easy answer, and I think that’s where the whole Helicopter Parent route becomes an easy trap to fall into.

You want your child to succeed. You want to do everything in your power to make sure they do, because heaven forbid twenty years down the line, when they’re struggling with finding a job, you wonder if you’d only pushed them harder in school in second grade if this all could have been avoided. That’s partly a joke, but there have definitely been times when I’ve felt like the failures I make as a parent now are messing up things for the future, and that’s a bad feeling to have. (Interestingly, I don’t blame my parents for any of my screw ups as an adult, though I do credit them for many of my successes. Is that called “paying it backward”?)

But it’s more than just schoolwork. Fact: middle school is hard stuff. I remember living through it, and it wasn’t an easy ride. I went into Junior High with one group of friends and came out with an entirely different set. The friends I’d had before pretty much turned their backs on me, and I had to flounder a bit to find my place. My old friends stopped being interested in the same things I was. They started being meaner. Or maybe it was just to me. I know not everyone goes through that, but I certainly did, and I see my kids going through rough times at school as well. Times that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, the same way I still remember those times way back when.

And I want to step in. I want to shield them from insults and bullying. And Denisa and I do step in from time to time, emailing the school and making sure they’re aware what’s going on. But it’s Lord of the Flies in there sometimes. Teachers can’t watch kids the whole time they’re at school. There’s recess and gym and lunch, and you should never underestimate the ability of kids to find a way to make their opinions known. I hear what’s been said to my child or about one of my child’s friends, and I just want to run into the school and Hulk out on the people saying it. At the same time, I think back on the careless things I said in school, and I try to assume the same thing is what’s happening now. It’s so easy to focus just on yourself as a child. To not realize the words you say have real impact on other people. Kids can be so set on proving how normal or cool they are they that they’re willing to stomp on just about anyone or anything to get there.

That said, if any of you have experience helping your kids through bullying at any age, I’d love to hear how you handled it. I learn a lot from others, and I’d definitely like to crowdsource this one. Thanks in advance.

Developing Self-Confidence

As I work on raising happy children, one of the things I keep doing is looking at myself. What makes me happy? What qualities or skill sets have I developed that help me most? And I think one of the biggest is the ability to be self-confident. Specifically, the ability to be able to ignore what other people think I should be doing (or wearing or thinking or saying) to instead have confidence that what I am doing is good for me.

(There’s the flip side of this, of course, which is dangerous: being unwilling to acknowledge that what I’m doing is harmful to myself or others. Balance in all things, but today’s post is on developing self-confidence.)

There are two big things that come to mind when I think of how I’ve become self-confident. The first is a small 6 second clip from The Jerk. In the movie, Steve Martin’s character has become fantastically wealthy. He has all the money he’ll ever need. And what does he do with it? He spends it on trying to become the “cool” people he sees in the media. This is best summed up in this clip, where he’s been trying to recreate a drink he’s seen in commercials, because he wants to “Be Somebody.”

For me, this represents just how shallow and useless trying to “be somebody” is. You can do whatever you want to try and look cooler or fit in. You can follow the herd, but in the end, you’re still the same person you were before, just with a stupid drink and a tiny umbrella in it. Once you can realize that having something or wearing something doesn’t actually change anything, you can break outside the constant drive to conform.

The second big thing is a broader concept that I don’t, unfortunately, have any short movie clips of. It’s a principle I’ve heard years ago, and it’s stuck with me: Avoid the need for external validation. I’ll call it the “Who’s a Good Boy” principle, because it always reminds me of dogs. Dogs are all about the external validation. They want to be told what a good boy they are. So they’ll eagerly do what you ask, so they can be rewarded. Cats, on the other hand, embody internal validation. They know just how awesome they (think they) are, and so they don’t care what in the world you do or say. They just go on doing what they want.

In people, of course, this looks a little different. External validation for people (in my opinion) means you get an actual “thing” that shows you you’ve succeeded. It’s different from the first “Be Somebody” concept because the thing in this case is something you need to earn. You can’t just buy it. So it might be getting a promotion at work. It could be winning a prize in a contest. For a lot of writers, it’s getting that fabled book deal.

Don’t get me wrong. Getting promoted or having your book published is lovely. But it can’t be the main reason you’re working or writing. Or at least, it’s really better if it isn’t. Because external validation is almost always out of your control. You can write the best book you can, and things might not pan out in your favor. You can work as hard as possible, and someone else might get that promotion. And then what are you left with? No validation at all, and that’s a crummy place to be in (especially when you’re downtown and need someone to pay your parking).

It’s much better to be doing something because you want to do it. Because you enjoy doing it. Down that path, you’re happy because you’re doing what you want, not because someone gave you a Scooby Snack. External validation also seems to be the root of peer pressure. You want the praise of your friends, so you do things you wouldn’t necessarily do otherwise.

How do I try to avoid that trap? I ask myself if I’m enjoying what I’m doing, whatever it may be. If I’m not, then I ask myself why I’m doing it. Sometimes you do things you don’t like because you have to. That’s life. But if the only reason I’m doing something is so I can get something else, it’s a good idea to examine that “something else” and see how worthwhile and necessary it is.

If my kids could all grow up to know they don’t need to fit a mold to be successful or happy, and they don’t need someone coming and giving them something to be happy either, then I think they’d be well on their way to becoming happy people.

How about you? What techniques, approaches, or gems of wisdom do you use as you do your best to raise self confident kids?

On Parenting

Since the beginning of the year, Denisa and I have been attending a weekly parenting class offered by our church. (Well, most weeks. Some weeks it was just me, some weeks it was just her, and we had to miss entirely once or twice, because life.) It’s been an interesting experience, as much of the learning was done through sharing different experiences between the parents who were in the class.

My biggest takeaway was that each family is very different, and the things that work for one household won’t necessarily work for another.

This is frustrating in some ways, because I like to think there is a Good Way to do things, and that if you talk to enough people, you can figure out what that way is and make it work for you. But with so many approaches out there, that throws a wrench in that plan. You might follow someone else’s advice perfectly, only to find that it totally didn’t work for you.

The other takeaway is that parenting isn’t a thing that you learn once and then master. It changes from child to child, and from age to age. What worked for one child perfectly might stop working as they get older, and it might not work for the child’s sibling either.

As if that weren’t enough, it seems to me that no parent can really truly prepare for what’s going to hit them as soon as they get a baby. I remember the old “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Book.” It made it all seem so straightforward. And it kind of is, for those first few years. As a parent, you have a fair bit of control over what your child does, who they play with, what they eat. You name it. You have a lot of control.

But as they get older, it’s your job to cede that control over to them bit by bit, so that by the time they’re heading to college or a career, they’re fully ready to tackle the challenges life might throw at them.

Parenting it tough stuff, and I think my biggest frustration with it is how much of the time it feels like I’m flying blind. I’m on a rollercoaster with no brakes, no rails, and no real guarantee that the thing is going to turn out okay in the end. Denisa and I have come to points where neither one of us really has a clue what we’re supposed to do, and the advice we solicit from friends and family doesn’t seem to help too much either. (Because of that whole “what works for one might not work for all” thing I noted earlier.)

So what do we do? Honestly, we pray for guidance a lot, and that’s gotten us as far as we are now. I have to hope it’ll continue to help.

In the end, I think I’d sum up my parenting style (so far) as follows: I like to treat my kids as full fledged members of the family. I want them to know that their voice is heard and their input is important. When we make rules, we make them with them, not simply “for” them. Communication is a huge part of it for me. The most frustrating times have been the ones where my kids just don’t want to talk about what’s upsetting them, and I enjoyed the pieces of the class that went over different approaches to talk to kids.

For me, family comes before friends. I’m much more concerned that all members of the family are getting along and spending time with each other than I am that my kids are having great friendships outside the home. This doesn’t mean I don’t want them to have friends, but if something comes up that conflicts with a family activity, family wins out. I still talk to some of my high school friends and a few college friends, and there are a couple of middle school friends I have contact with now and then, but they play such a small role in my life. On the other hand, I’m still with my family. Those ties are strong. I want that for my kids.

I wonder how many times over the years I’ve said things (on the blog or in person) that have shocked other people. Things I take for granted that most sensible people believe, which actually many people don’t. I assume it must be fairly frequently. At least a few times a month. Maybe even a few times a week, since I blog so publicly. I base that assumption off the fact that in the bit of interaction I have with friends, they still manage to surprise me now and then by what they let their children do or don’t let their children do. There are things parents allow (or don’t allow) that just don’t compute with me, so logic says there must be things I do or don’t let my children do that seem like terrible decisions to others.

This is another one of those blog posts that doesn’t really have a conclusion. There’s no big “aha” moment that brings it all together. Just a general observation that parenting is difficult, and if I (or you) think someone is clearly doing it wrong because it’s different from how I (or you) would do it, it’s perfectly fine for me (or you) to take notes about how I (or you) won’t make those same decisions, but as for speaking up and telling you (or me) how that’s wrong for you (or me)? Maybe it’s better to bite my/your tongue and realize we might both be right (or wrong.)

How’s that for a sum up?

A Quick Report on the Chores Chart

I let you all know last week that I’d switched up how we’re running chores in my household. It was a drawn out process, filled with family debate and short tempers at time, but in the end, the whole family went along with it. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but it was worth a shot.

Nearing the end of the second week of the new system, I decided to do a walk through of the house to assess how it was going. And lo and behold, each and every room looked good. Not spotless, and not perfectly tidy, but tons (tons!) better than any random spot check weeks ago would have turned up.

Better yet, there has been much less complaining about the chores around the house. Denisa is getting the help she needs, the kids are doing what they’ve been asked to do, and it’s all been going great so far.

Of course, I realize we’re still in the honeymoon phase of the relationship. Things feel different, and so the kids don’t mind doing things as much. But I have good reason to think this has the potential to stick. For one thing, the kids themselves have been talking about how much they like the new approach. They know exactly what’s expected of them each day, and they know it’s up to them to get it all done. They also know they only need to do their least favorite chores for one week of the month. They’re a fan of that.

Denisa and I have been easing them into it, as well. “Clean room” is one of the daily chores they each have, but we haven’t dictated that they need to have a spotless room right off the bat. Instead, they’ve been allowed to work for 10 minutes each day on cleaning their room, but they have to do it consistently. Go figure. It works.

It’s also really helped that they see me actively doing my chores before I do fun things each day. They see me come home from work and get right to work on my chores, sweeping or cleaning a room. And so they feel like they’re part of a team, and not just on their own. (Though I’ll add that it’s added stress to my life in that respect, as it means there’s more things I need to stay on top of.) Yesterday I even saw one child get up from the table, rinse their dish and put it in the dishwasher, even though they weren’t on table clean up. They just knew it would be their turn to do table clean up eventually, and so they could see the advantage of everyone chipping in some.

I don’t mean to say that having a single dish be cleared up should be cause for mass celebrations in the street. But when you consider what that dish stands for, maybe it makes more sense.

So far, so good. Can definitely recommend.

Proud Parent Moment

You might recall we signed Tomas up to take the SAT this past January as part of the Center for Talented Youth (CTY) program. My brother and I had both done this back when we were Tomas’s age, and I thought it would help him to be prepared to take the test later on, when it really counted.

From what I remembered, I’d done a fair bit of practice and preparation for the test, back when I was in seventh grade. We had a teacher who went over tips and tricks of the test for weeks? Months? (Time always seems longer in hindsight. For all I know, we had a single after school prep session, and that was it.) Either way, Tomas didn’t have much of that. Instead, he and I used Khan Academy’s practice tests to make sure he had an idea what to expect. Beyond that, it was me just basically telling him how to approach the test.

But there’s a difference between knowing the theory and actually applying it. Case in point: I discovered this was the first scantron test he was going to take. So the night before we went over how that worked. How to fill in bubbles. How to follow the directions. Good times. And then when we actually went and I dropped him off at the test, it was intimidating. He was there with a whole bunch of older students, of course. A few of his friends who were doing the same thing he was, but by and large it was high school Juniors or Seniors. You could tell Tomas was worried about it all. Who wouldn’t be?

I tried to do everything a good parent should do. Remind him to try his hardest. Remind him that this was just practice, and that for now, the grade he got really didn’t matter. He came out of the test feeling good about things, and we really thought no more of it. Project successful.

Yesterday he finally got his grades back. The SAT has gone through changes over the years since I took it. Back in the day, the best you could get was a 1600. Then that became a 2400, and now it’s back to a 1600. The average score a BYU accepted student gets is a 1280. The average score to get into the university where I work is a 1050.

Tomas got an 1130.

Denisa and I were, of course, very proud of him. But it was even more rewarding to see him be proud of himself. Not that I want to raise little stuck up humans who think they’re all that and a bag of chips, but I think it’s important to be able to know you did a good job. Tomas beat my score from back when I took it. (I think I got around a 900.) In fact, he even earned “High Honors” through the CTY program, which means he did better than 70% of the other CTY students who took the test. Middle School can be tough times. There are many reasons to feel down about yourself. It’s great to have tangible things you can look at that help you feel good, instead.

Anyway. He qualified for any CTY program he’d care to enter. Of course, the question now is if he wants to go to one, and if Denisa and I can afford it. The answer to the first is probably, and to the second is probably not. It costs about $5,000 to do a summer camp. That’s a lot of dollars. On the other hand, his scores also make him eligible to take AP classes through CTY, and those AP classes just cost about $1500, which is much more doable. I’m not honestly sure what AP classes our local high school offers, but it’s nice to know that if Tomas wants to, he’ll be able to end up supplementing his education with additional content.

In any case, it was a great day in the Bryce household yesterday. Thanks for letting me share, and go Tomas!

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