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May 9, 2016
10 Best Parenting Ideas

10 Best Parenting Ideas: 3. The “Decisions in Advance” List

We meet so many families that have gone through so much worry and grief because of a single bad decision that one of their children has made. Sometimes these disastrous choices involve drugs or sex or un-thinkingly accepting a ride with someone who has been drinking. Other times they are as basic as cheating on a test or shoplifting or just getting involved with the wrong crowd. Often they are “default decisions” that come about from not making a good choice—not qualifying or applying for college, not going on a mission, or not keeping commitments or going to church.

Children don’t intentionally make these bad choices because they are black-hearted little demons that want to ruin their lives, or our lives. The bad decisions are most often made because kids are blind-sided by peer pressure that they had not anticipated and were not prepared for.

There is a simple sequence of things you can do that can prevent many of these painful and consequential bad decisions.

First of all, starting early when they are preschoolers and in the early elementary grades, try to talk a lot with children about decisions…about how fun they can be and how important they are. Use the word “consequences” a lot and help them see how consequences are tied to decisions. Let young kids make as many decisions as possible for themselves—anything from which shirt to wear to which kind of juice to have for breakfast.

Then, when the child is nine or ten, at the back of his journal or diary (something every child should have) have him write the headline, “Decisions I Have Already Made” or “Decisions in Advance.” Explain that there are two kinds of big decisions– the ones you can’t make until you know all your options and are older (college, marriage, profession, etc.) and the ones that are actually best made in advance (whether to do drugs, whether to cheat on tests, whether to smoke, whether to go to college, etc.).

Get him excited about making the decisions he can right now, and help him understand that now is a much better time to make them than when he faces the peer pressure that may be there when the decisions come up. Ask him if he’s got any decisions in advance that he wants to write in the special place at the back of his journal. Explain that when he writes one down, he should sign his signature by it and date it…so it’s like a contract or promise to himself.

But then hold him off a bit. Even when the child understands the concept of decisions in advance and has one in mind, ask him to wait—not to write down any of those decisions just yet—to think about each one for a week or two.

When he comes up with one, say, in essence, “Wait. Before you write it and sign it, let me tell you a story about what might happen to you in a few years.” Then try to create the most difficult possible scenario for the decision he’s proposed. For example, if he’s said his decision in advance is never to do drugs, have him imagine he’s at a party when he’s sixteen and a group of his friends want him to try a pill. “Come on—we’ve all taken one—they make you feel great, and in a couple of hours you will be back to normal” The girl he’s with takes one—everyone’s looking at him—what does he do? What does he say? If he seems hesitant and unsure, say “Lets think a little more about that one before you put it on your list and sign it.” Talk about it a little more, and when he feels sure he could handle the situation and even knows what he would say, tell him “Great—now I think you’re ready to list it and date it and sign it in your journal.”

Working carefully with a child to build his list of Decisions in Advance will not be a guarantee that he will never make a mistake, but it will be a deterrent to bad choices and will make him feel like he has “been here before” and role played the decision long before the peer pressure arrived.

May 2, 2016
10 Best Parenting Ideas

10 Best Parenting Ideas: 2. The Ancestor Story Book

Editor’s note: This is the second article in a series of 10 where the Eyres are sharing the ten best parenting ideas they have come across during their three decades of writing to and speaking with parents worldwide. The ideas are not in any particular order, but each represents a simple, practical “best practice” that can be implemented in any family. Most of them center on a “prop” or physical object that symbolizes the idea and makes it real and memorable.

As we speak to and with parents around the world, particularly in developed countries where kids are given so much, we are constantly asked what can be done to help kids develop more “grit”—to make them more motivated and determined to do their best and to fully apply themselves to the challenges and opportunities they face.

Interesting new research reveals that one of the factors that contributes most to a child’s grit and resilience is knowing the stories of his or her grandparents and great-grandparents.

One of the best things we ever did in our family was to make up a big “family tree” with pictures of our children’s parents (2), grandparents (4), great-grandparents (8), and great, great grandparents (16). Linda actually painted a big, old oak tree on a 4 x 6 framed canvas. The tree has nine branches, each with a picture of one of the children. Smaller branches go out from each of these nine, suggesting the children they will someday have. Our own two pictures (mom and dad) are on the trunk. Four roots go down from the trunk, each with a photo of a grandparent; each of these splits into two so there is a total of eight smaller roots, each with a picture of a great-grandparent. In our case we were lucky enough to find photos of the next generation—sixteen great, great-grandparents which we glued onto the next and lowest set of sixteen sub-roots.

Something about this tree painting with its quaint, old-fashioned pictures was remarkably reassuring to our children. They looked at it often, and with real interest. I’ll never forget our seven-year-old one day, idly tracing with her finger a path from her limb down through the trunk and into the roots. “I’m one-fourth like you,” she said, pointing at one of her grandmas. “And I’m one-eighth like you” as her finger went down to one of her great-grandmothers.

It was the popularity of the ancestor tree that led us to take the next step — the writing of our personal family “Ancestor Stories Book.” It consists of a big leather-bound book of blank pages on which we’ve written some simple bedtime stories based on actual experiences of people on the ancestor tree. There is “The Honesty of Grandpa Dean” (a story of how he hit a parked car one night on the way home from a date. The dent was small and no one saw, so he drove on home. But he thought about it, went back, found the owner and offered to pay). Or “Great Grandma Margret’s Trip to America” (how she immigrated from Sweden on a rat-infested ship).

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As our children were growing up, these “ancestor stories” became their favorite bed time stories. Each connected in some way to a value — courage, responsibility, respect, sensitivity…and they were always told with the ancestor tree as a reference point. (I’m one-eighth that person…I must have some courage in me, too.”)

Not all the stories were about successes or with happy endings. Many were about hard times. The best stories, and the ones they remembered best, were the “osculating” stories—the ones that told of a difficult time that became a learning experience—stories that included both success and failure.

You don’t need a complete gallery of four generations to do this in your family. Just grandparents and great-grandparents will do. And the stories can be simple — just any experience you’ve heard — any incident that shows some positive things about an ancestor. Write them into simple children’s-story language, and perhaps have your children illustrate them.

The stories are only part of what you can do to acquaint your children with their forbearers. Create your own variations of “ancestor identity.” We know one family that makes videos of living grandparents telling about their childhoods. Another takes short vacations to the places where their ancestors came from. Another visits cemeteries and tells stories and memories at the grave sites of the people they are talking about. Still another celebrates birthdays of dead ancestors, complete with a birthday cake and candles, remembering and passing on all they know about them. The main thing is to create positive connections and to help your children feel a security and a heritage that they are proud of, that they are motivated by, that they can identify with.

See you back here next time when we will move to the third idea in our top ten.

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