The Power of Choice

Children lack power.  They can control very little in their lives, until they get a license to drive and the keys to the car.  So, when they don’t get choices, they seek power; they just find ways to push our buttons, in the hope that perhaps we will give them choices.  You can’t blame them for wanting to have a little control over their lives.  They are human (most of the time ☺), and humans by nature want freedom, even if it’s just a bit here and there.  But when humans are backed into a corner and have no choices, they rebel. They find a way – any way – to get a little power, a little control, a little something that makes life more enjoyable for them.

“Children, quite naturally, find out that parents are defenseless against disrespect.  Thus parents are terrified by it…So we need a way to manage ourselves so these guys will have no success in pushing our buttons, no matter which way they poke and prod our psyche…” (Loving Our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk p.101)gripe out

Before you can give a child a choice, whether it’s in the classroom or in the car, you have to be in control of yourself.  You cannot, must not, give children choices (power) because you are sick of hearing them whine and complain.  Instead, you have to get yourself into neutral gear, not frazzled, fried, or frustrated.  That’s easy to say, but what do you do when your child (or student) is angry and you are losing patience?  You have to downshift.  Decelerate.

“When your child wants to argue with you, these one-line phrases are your best friend.  They are your sanity.  They are a way for you to kick your brain into neutral while the other person is trying to drive you into the Crazy Ditch.  They help you become sort of like a cloud, something that doesn’t react – something that cannot be controlled.  When your kid is throwing a fit, it is absolutely the worst time to have a reasonable conversation with that person.  Your child is absolutely emotionally wasted.  Your child is not looking for solutions at this time; he or she is looking for victims. This is a good time to just be a cloud.  Say, “I know.  I’m sorry.”  You are telling your child, ‘I am going to manage me while you struggle with you.’” (104-105)

To decelerate an argument, you have to stop lecturing and start giving very short responses to your child’s complaining, whining, worrying, and begging.

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Discipline vs. Punishment

Heart-to-Heart Connection

A long time ago, in a land far away, I was the principal of a small elementary school.  One of my first disciplinary problems was with a 12-year-old boy who was riding his bike aggressively on the playground and sidewalks after school, which was against the rules.  He continued to disobey the orders of a teacher to stop, and he was sent to my office.  I called his mother and told her that he would be punished for directly disobeying the rules and the authorities.  I felt confident that I was doing the right thing, but this mother flipped out.  She agreed with me that he was wrong and deserved a negative consequence, but she could not believe that I was using the word punishment.  She lectured me for ten minutes about why punishment is not appropriate with children and how we should be disciplining children in love, and that if I didn’t know the difference between the two then I had no business leading a school.

I was stunned by her outrage.  I was amazed that she could be so passionate about what seemed like a very minor difference in word meaning.  It’s not like I was going to beat the child at the whipping post or anything.  What was the big deal?

Well, now that I have 13 more years in education, I see that she was right.  There is a huge difference between punishment and discipline.  Punishment is all about behavior change.  It works on the outward behavior first and foremost.  The hope is that enough punishment for bad behavior will force the child into a pattern of good behavior.

Punishment can be delivered without any love at all.  In fact, it’s meant to be rational, impartial, and free of emotion.  Take the criminal court system as an example.  The judges, jurors, and jailers don’t make the laws (legislators do that).  They don’t enforce the laws (policemen do that).  They punish lawbreakers who have been caught by the law enforcers.  The goal of the justice system is to objectively apply a punishment to fit the crime.  It’s about destroying the will to do that negative behavior again.

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Heart-to-Heart Connection

Parenting, teaching, and coaching are mutual pursuits.  At this stage in my life, I am involved in all three, and I firmly believe that the daily problems I face, the skills I develop, and the lessons I learn are parallel.  So, when I recently read a book on parenting, it actually spoke more to me as a teacher and coach.  The book is Loving Our Kids on Purpose: Making a Heart-to-Heart Connection by Danny Silk.

At first, I was not impressed because I had pre-judged the book by the back cover; however, the more I read, the more I found it to be insightful and helpful.  I kept thinking about my behavior as a classroom teacher – how there are so many times when I win the battle but lose the war with kids.  PunishmentI began to see more problems with my behavior, and I eventually gained both inspiration and vision to change, along with some excellent practical advice for parenting.
This will be the first of a four-part series related to the book, in which I comment on some its most profound truths.

The Power of Connection

The goal (of parenting) isn’t to get them to clean their room; it is to strengthen the connection to your heart. We will deal with the room, but if we lose the connection, we’ve lost the big stuff.  We may win the battle, but we’ve lost the war.” (176)

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Real Men Drive Minivans

There comes a time in a man’s life when the favorite car gets traded in for a minivan.   It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and in time you start loving its usefulness.  You begin to think that it’s worth all that money.  Then you see all the stains, smells, dings, scratches, and dents that pile up on that thing, and you just want to scream.  It’s one of many little – and not so little – sacrifices that men make for their families.  One day I heard one of the car guys on Car Talk call the popularity of the minivan the “wussification of the American male.”  I laughed, then wanted to cry.

Leading kids, whether its parenting, coaching, teaching, or mentoring, requires self-sacrifice.  But it’s really not a sacrifice; it’s a series of trade-offs that may seem awful in the short view, but they are worth it all in the long run.  72estate05-crop

I had a baseball coach in middle school who had this awful Chevy station wagon, but it was a great way to lug half the team and all the gear around town.   He hated that old beater of a car, but he loved us.

Andy Gullahorn is a terrific singer/songwriter from Nashville who should be a lot more popular than he is.  His song “More of a Man” speaks to all the 30-something Dads out there.

The summer when I turned sixteen / I got up each day before the dawn / I was building barns and bailing hay / Worked harder than the day was long.  /  Now I’m 30 and I have three kids / I watch Dora the Explorer in the morning / I feel a sad truth sinking in / Maybe I was more of a man back then.

Buy the song on iTunes for a buck, or do yourself a favor and buy the whole album.

There are many things I miss from my bachelor days or the days with my wife before kids.  But the trade-offs are worth it all.  And so much of life is a package deal.  With the deteriorating minivan comes countless smiles and laughs.  And meaning.

So I suck in my protruding gut  / On our monthly dinner night / You’re saying something about the kids  / As I watch these young men pass me by. / I remember I was just like them / I was lonely but I called it independent  / And if lonesome is what manly is / Baby, I was more of a man back then.

This reminds me of one of my favorite movies, The Family Man, which always reminds me why “I choose us,” minivan and all.

Embracing Interruption

Today was the first day of the school year, the day when the hallways of our middle school are jam-packed with beaming 12-14 year olds.  They are beaming with delight at being reunited with their old friends, beaming with suntanned faces full of braces, and beaming with shiny new school supplies, locker decorations, and fresh-out-of-the-box Nikes.
back to school
It’s pretty exciting, really, even for a guy who has socks older than these kids.  The buzz is real.  You can feel it all day long.

And on day one of school, it feels right and very innocent.  Every one is curious all day, going from classroom to classroom, anxious to discover who they will be with all year.  Teachers feel the same way about it, checking out the kids, seeing if we might know their parents or siblings.  We are all trying to get a feel for what the whole year might become and trying to make the best of the fact that there is a year of hard work ahead.  There is great hope that this might just be the best year yet.

I had that exact thought this morning just before school started.  This might really be the best year yet, of all my 16 years attending the first day of school as a teacher.  Then, just before the apex of this blissful moment, I was interrupted by the piercing bong of the PA system and an excessively loud announcement, which was irrelevant to about 998 of the 1,000 people on campus (myself included).  I hate that PA.  Buzz killed.
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Don’t Baby Them

BENEFITS OF STRUGGLING

“A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared, he sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole.

Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther. Then the man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily.

But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened!

In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.

What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were God’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life.  If God allowed us to go through our life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. And we could never fly.”

chrysalis

I got this in an email forward, years ago.  It’s simple, yet profoundly important in relation to helping 10-14 year olds in their struggle in the chrysalis of adolescence.

Too often adults expect too little of the kids in their care.  Adults can cripple kids by solving every problem for them or by removing every painful thorn in their path.  It’s best not to baby them too much.  They need to stretch and writhe in solving their own problems in order to grow up strong enough to solve much bigger problems later in life.

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Growing Up and Away?

A friend of mine recently expressed frustration with the way that everyone seems to write off their kids around the age of 12.  He said that he hears people say very matter-of-factly things like, “Well enjoy your little boys now because it won’t be long before they are teenagers and they stop loving you.”  Or they sadly bemoan, “Yeah, I miss those days when my kids hugged me everyday and meant it.”  Or they state in exasperation, “I don’t even know who this kid in my house is anymore.”

My friend is worried about this happening to him.  He has three boys under the age of 7, and he is absolutely loving them.  He told me about how his oldest boy is learning to share and sacrifice for his little brothers at times.  He described it as absolutely beautiful.

And then he said, “I don’t want to lose my connection with them.  I don’t think I have to, but everybody is telling that it will happen, as if there isn’t anything I can do about it.”

Continue reading Growing Up and Away?