Category: parenting

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!

Solving Family Problems with Excel

Denisa texted me yesterday with a problem: household chores had gotten out of control. The kids seemed to be taking them very lightly, and she was feeling overwhelmed by having to continually run around cleaning up after them. So I turned to the one resource that never lets me down in times of crisis: Excel.

I suppose it says something about me that when I’m confronted with a problem, I like to break it down into cells, columns, and rows. But really it’s true. If you take any big overwhelming job and break that up into individual pieces, it becomes far more manageable. Sort of like building something awesome by following Lego instructions.

So I made a family chore sheet.

I searched the internet a bit first, looking for inspiration (and hoping someone already had such a sheet that I could just copy). I didn’t find anything that satisfied our immediate needs, so I created one by scratch. There were a few things I thought it would be important to have on the sheet:

  • Rotating chores: We’ve been doing permanently assigned chores for the last year or two, and that just hasn’t seemed like it was working. The problem (as I’ve seen it) has come down to an issue of equality and the grass is always greener. It’s easy to look at the chores someone else is doing and decide they’re getting things much easier. With rotating chores, that problem is solved. If any of the chores really are easier or harder, it’s no big deal, because everyone takes a turn with them.
  • Parental inclusion: I knew either Denisa or I had to be part of the rotation. It didn’t make sense to include Denisa, so I volunteered myself. For me to be able to pitch this as a family chore sheet, I needed to prove to the kids I was in the trenches with them. Otherwise it turns into an us vs. them mentality. Nobody needs that.
  • Very clear instructions: “Clean your room” hasn’t been enough, it seems. The definition of a clean room is too up in the air. So now I put on the sheet precisely what cleaning a room will entail.
  • Carrots and Sticks: The carrot is simple. Once the kids are through with their chores, their time is their own to spend as they see fit. Video games, computer, movies. Whatever. But the stick is also simple. Until the chores are done, no electronic devices (anything with a screen that plugs into the wall) can be used. And the only way they can be deemed “done” is by having Denisa or me sign off on the sheet.
  • Mechanism for squelching complaints: I came up with a three strikes policy for this. Kids get strikes each week for talking back, lying about chores, using electronics when they shouldn’t, or needing more than one reminder to do a chore. The first strike is a warning. The second strike means they can’t have dessert the rest of the week. The third strike means they need to pick a chore from a separate list (with chores that don’t need to be done as often) and do that in addition to their other chores that week. Any additional strike costs them $5. We’ll see how that goes.

So after I had the sheet made, we introduced it to the kids last night. I didn’t think it would take a terribly long time. Go over the sheet and move on. It turned into an hour long discussion. The kids wanted precise definitions of what was expected of them and when. But after all was said and done, they seemed at peace with it all, and they all agreed to follow the new rules.

In the end, I believe a lot of the success or failure of this new approach is going to rest on the way it’s enforced by the parents. If Denisa and I can stick with it for a few weeks, I think things will be fine. But it’ll take some work to keep at it, and there might be some growing pains involved. But if the end result is kids who are more active in keeping the house tidy, that would be great.

Wish us luck.

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