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August 1, 2016

10 Best Parenting Ideas: 8. Mommy Dates and Daddy Dates

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While we often think of parenting as a collective thing—as “doing things with our kids”—in actual fact the most real and effective parenting is done individually—one parent with one child. It is this one-on-one time that is the focus of best-parenting-idea-number 8.

So many good parents we know and have observed, both moms and dads, manage to get this one-on-one time through the simple habit and practice of “mommy dates” or “daddy dates.” Often this practice begins with small children, but we have seen it continue to be beneficial and meaningful right up into the teen years.

The basic idea, of course, is to give a child all of your attention and focus during a little outing that could range from a special evening together to picking him up from school to go to lunch together to simply taking her along on a couple of errands.

The best “dates” are the ones where the child gets to decide where you will go so that he feels real ownership in the date and in the relationship. And there is a cumulative relationship-improving benefit is the dates happen regularly. While once a week would be wonderful, once a month may be more realistic. Schedule your date with each child well in advance and put it on a calendar so you both can look forward to it.

Then, when it happens, make the effort to focus all of your attention on that individual child. Ask questions that go beneath the surface. Use the word “feel” in your questions. “How do you feel about a certain class in school, about a particular friend, about the team you are on, about your relationship with your brother…” Avoid the temptation to lecture or advise or judge. Just ask and listen.

Find genuine things to complement the child about—be specific about what you love about him or her.

Keep some kind or record or list of your “dates” with each child, something you can both take pleasure in remembering. One way to do this is to have a simple notebook into which you tape some little tangible reminder of each date—a bit of sagebrush from the hike you went on, the wrapping from the straw you drank your beverage from at the lunch place, the front of the program from the concert. These “daddy date books” can become treasures of personal, bonding memories as the years pass.

Sometimes, particularly if there is a need to have a more extended one-on-one talk about a particular problem or concern, or if there are some behavior problems to sort out or a relationship with a child that has gone a bit sour, there may be need for a longer and more extended mommy or daddy date. In these instances you might consider taking a child one-on-one on a longer trip It could be a business trip (it may be expensive and inconvenient, but it can pay huge dividends) or a long weekend trip, or a hike or campout, or anything else you can conjure up. Just being alone together while traveling allows communication to develop. Don’t push too hard — don’t interrogate. Use the techniques of “active listening,” (paraphrasing back each thing the child says) “ranking,” (how much are you enjoying that English class—from one to ten?). Let topics develop naturally. Be willing to talk about things you’re not particularly interested in. Express your joy in being together. Express your confidence and love and tell the child he is your priority and you are committed to him unconditionally. Be satisfied with small progress. Don’t expect one trip to solve everything.

Work out your own formula and schedule for daddy dates or mommy dates, but have them, and have them regularly. The benefits will last forever!

July 5, 2016

10 Best Parenting Ideas: 6. The Family Vision Statement

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Every business seems to have one—on a plaque, on the wall—an attractively worded statement of vision and purpose and goals. Some call it a Mission Statement. Employees are proud of it and hopefully do their part to bring it to pass.

For many years the late Stephen Covey was our mentor, along with his wonderful wife Sandra. One night at dinner, many years ago, Stephen asked us if we had a Family Mission Statement and we were embarrassed to say that we did not. I had a mission statement for my consulting company, and he said that was fine, but that a family vision statement was ultimately more important—that it would draw our family together and give each child equity in the family and an identity larger than him or herself. We began to think about how to develop one and how to get the kids involved in the thinking.

About that time we happened to meet a man who carried two mission statements—in the two inside breast pockets of his suit jacket. In the right pocket was his corporate mission statement—he was president and C.E.O. of a highly profitable mid-size company. In the left (“over my heart,” he said) was his family mission statement. He told us that he and his wife had taken their three teen and elementary-age children to a resort hotel for a long weekend, rented a conference room there and held four two-hour sessions (interspersed by swimming and activities) where they hammered out a family vision statement.

He said they’d started just talking about their family, their love for each other, their desire to stay together and support each other, and how they could use what they had to help others. The dad had read them some corporate mission statements and asked if they thought one was needed in the family. At a second session they had each written down what was most important to them and, interestingly, a list of their favorite words. At a third session they’d each written up a simple personal mission statement—hopes and dreams for their individual lives. At a final session they pulled everything together and created a family mission statement. They had a big, framed copy at their home and each carried a laminated personal copy.

We did something similar, although some of our sessions were held on camping trips and in the van on long road trips. We didn’t rush the process and we made sure every child was involved and had a voice. We kept emphasizing the idea that this was a chance to design the type of family we wanted to have. Some of our kids were teenagers, and they decided that they also wanted to have a personal mission statement. For example, 15-year old Noah came up with the following”

“My vision is to be one who is looked upon by others and by God with a smile always. To be filled with a joy which others can feel. To find this joy through service. To watch, to absorb, to learn, to find, to discover. To always look forward to the next day.”

Our first draft, collectively-written family mission statement, because it had so many inputs was more than a page long. Then we whittled it down to a couple of long, run-on sentences:

“Create together an identity-building, support-giving family institution which fosters and facilitates a maximum of broadening and contributing by its members, each of which become strong, independent individuals, committed spouses, and parents beyond their parents; first receiving and then giving the gifts of joy, responsibility and sensitivity and approaching the world with attitudes of serendipity, stewardship and synergy. Help children to grow up and spin off into independent orbits, still feeling the gravity and light of parents with whom there is a consulting relationship in which advice is freely asked for, freely given and used or unused without offense to parent or pressure to child.”

After some additional discussions, it was finally shortened to a three word “Family Mantra” that simply said, “Broaden and Contribute.” Because it had been boiled down from longer statements and from everyone’s inputs, it meant something to each of us and has influenced our individual and collective decisions and directions now for more than 20 years. One year, our children had it done in gold-leaf and calligraphy and gave it to us on a plaque which still hangs on our wall.

Editor’s note: This is the sixth 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. Each is coupled with the key parenting challenge that it helps to solve. 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.

June 20, 2016

10 Best Parenting Ideas: 5. Refined Family Traditions

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Everyone, particularly every child, needs an identity larger than himself—something he belongs to, feels part of, gains security and protection from. It is kids who do not get this identity from families who are drawn to the rituals, tattoos, symbols and traditions of gangs or other substitutes for families.

Strong traditions exist in every lasting institution, whether it is a school, a club, a business, or a country. If families are to be lasting and permanent, they also need traditions. Traditions are the glue that holds families together. Kids love and cling to family traditions because they are predictable and stable in an unpredictable world.

Almost all families have traditions—often centering on holidays or other special occasions—but parents who come to realize the importance of traditions and their ability to teach values to improve communication, to give security to kids, and to hold families together…such parents can refine and redefine their family traditions and give them true and lasting bonding power.

We suggest that you start by assessing and analyzing your family traditions. What do you do on each holiday? Each family birthday? Do you have some weekly traditions—such as a special Sunday dinner? Are there some monthly traditions such as going over the calendar and the family’s schedule for the month ahead? Make a list of your yearly, monthly, and weekly traditions.

Then, as a family, ask yourself three questions: 1. How much joy, how much fun comes from each tradition? 2. What values are taught by each? 3. Are there some gaps—some months without a holiday or birthday tradition? With these questions in mind, revise and re-design your family traditions. Formalize them a little by “writing them up” on a chart or in a special book.

Here’s a sampling of what happened to us as we went through this reassessing process:

  1. We revised some traditions (For example, our Thanksgiving tradition had essentially been to eat way too much and watch football all day on TV so we decided to shift the emphasis to thanks by making a collective list [on a long roll of cash register tape] of all the little things we are thankful for. Each year we try to “break the record” for the number of things listed.
  2. We decided we needed at least one major family tradition each month—to look forward to and anticipate. Most of these centered on a birthday or holiday, but there was nothing in May or September so we started a “welcome spring day” (a hike) and a “welcome fall day” (a picnic).
  3. We listed all the traditions, by month, in a big, leather-bound book. A little description of each tradition appears on the left and a child’s illustration of that activity appears on the right.
  4. We worked some of our ancestors (the kids’ great grandparents) into our traditions because we wanted our children to have that extra identity of knowing where (and who) they came from. We wrote up some simple bedtime stories based on real experiences of these ancestors (especially experiences that illustrated honesty or courage or other values), and we now have a little birthday party for them, which includes “their story.”

Here are a few family traditions others have mentioned that we particularly liked:

  • Bedtime “happy’s or sad’s.” As you tuck a child in bed ask, “What was your “happy” today? Your “sad?” Over the course of many evenings, you’ll learn a lot about your child’s friends, social situations, school, fears, etc.
  • Sunday dinners. While the old family dinner concept may have pretty well lost out to fast food and over committed schedules, once a week is still realistic. Pick a day and reserve dinner. Use the time to talk about schedules for the week and then ask each other questions about feelings, dreams, priorities, and concerns. (This may become the weekly family meeting discussed earlier.)
  • “1 to 10.” When kids have a hard time talking about their feelings—or where you’re getting just “yes” or “no” or “fine” answers to your questions, try the “ranking” technique. Say, “I’m going to mention five separate things to you and you rank how worried you are about them from 1 to 10.” “Ranking” works on everything from how much they enjoyed a date to how important they perceive various things to be. Once they’ve ranked something, it gets easier to talk and ask further “active listening” questions about whatever the subject is.
  • One incident will illustrate the “staying power” and bonding influence of family traditions. On my (Richard’s) birthday in October, we had always raked huge piles of leaves with the kids and then jumped in them, stuffed them in our shirts, thrown them in the air and just generally had a wild time. We thought as the kids got older, their interest in such a frivolous activity would fade. On the contrary, as teens, the leaf piles just got bigger. Finally, one year, three of our children were away at school or living abroad. On my birthday, three birthday card-sized envelopes arrived. As I opened the first, a leaf fell out and a note, “Dad, I honored your birthday tradition. Here’s a leaf from my jumping pile. Don’t forget, even though I’m far away, I’m still part of our family. I love you.” Through my tears I opened the other two — and a leaf fell from each.

Editor’s note: This is the fifth 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. Each is coupled with the key parenting challenge that it helps to solve. 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.

June 6, 2016

10 Best Parenting Ideas: 4. The Family Bank (and Family Economy)

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In our own work with parents, we often survey our audiences as to what they think is their biggest parenting challenge. The number one vote getter is entitlement—higher than quarreling, higher than peer pressure, higher than disrespect or dishonesty or drugs or anything else. Kids who have an entitlement attitude, who think they should have whatever they want, right now, without waiting or working for it—tend to lose motivation, lose gratitude, lose respect, lose all the things their parents want them to gain.

The best way for parents to deal with this widespread problem is to understand that we give our children more by giving them less, and to set up a family economy where they share household responsibilities and have weekly paydays instead of weekly allowance days.

It is amazing what a profound effect some kind of a wooden chest with a big lock on it can have on children when it is explained as a “Family Bank.” Kids are made more confident and competent by responsibility. A strong family institution needs a way to divide and share the work of the household and a way of letting kids earn a small “share” in the family’s income.

Here is an example of one way to set up a Family Economy (Each family should tailor-make its own system but this example will help). This approach works best for kids between seven and twelve. If you can start it during those years it can continue to work into the teens.

Caution: Don’t try to set this up overnight. It will take a lot of discussion and some trial and error. Remember that infrastructures take time to build but then they save time. Here is the implementation sequence:

  1. Do a big chart of all the household work that exists. List everything from doing the breakfast dishes to sweeping the patio. Explain that those who do a share of the work should get a share of the money that comes into a family. While everyone should take care of their own room without pay, there are plenty of “common areas” in the house and yard that need to be taken care of—and daily tasks that someone needs to do, and those who do them should shave in the family income
  2. Tell kids that this approach will allow them to earn more than they could get as an allowance and that with their earnings they can buy their own toys and devices and clothes. Kids in this age range—seven to eleven—are flattered by responsibility. (Note that this system doesn’t require any additional money. Parents are simply taking the funds they spend on children anyway and channeling that money through the kids who “earn it” and make their own purchase decisions—learning economic and motivational lessons through the whole process.)
  3. Set up a pegboard or chart (pegboard is better because it’s more permanent—more impressive as a prop) and explain that there are four things each child can get “credit” for each day: (a) Getting up and being ready for school on time; (b) One “zone” or area of the house or yard (not their own room) that they make sure is clean and in order; (c) Daily homework (and music practice if applicable). And (d) Being ready and in bed by bedtime. Each day they can fill in a “slip” (on their own initiative—without a lot of reminding from you) with a “1,” “2,” “3,” or “4,” depending on how many of they’re four pegs or checkmarks they completed. A parent must “initial” the completed slip to make it official.
  4. The slips go into a slot on the top of the “family bank” and Saturday becomes “pay day” when the bank is opened and each child receives an amount proportionate to the total of his slips. He can take his money in cash or leave it in the family bank. He is given a checkbook (an old or extra book of your checks) with which he can deposit money to the family bank (with a deposit slip) or draw it out (with a check). When he goes shopping with you, he brings his checkbook and writes a check out to you so you, in turn, can pay for what he buys. He keeps track of his balance in his check register.
  5. This “family economy” can be enhanced in a number of ways. A child can have an interest-paying savings account as well as a checking account in the family bank. Parents may want to pay a high interest rate on the condition that the savings are to be used only for college. When a child turns sixteen, real checking and savings accounts are opened for him at a local bank or a discount brokerage and all the money in his family bank account is transferred in. Children might also be encouraged to donate a certain percentage of what they earn to church or charity.

This type of “family economy” has been used by thousands of families, but as a personal testimonial, let us just say that it has been a huge blessing in our family. Kids have learned principles that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

  • Principles of self-reliance, (I recall nine-year-old Jonah calculating how much he’d have by age sixteen at the 10 percent per quarter interest we paid on his “education only” family bank savings account. I also recall the look of pride on his face as he wrote out a real check for his full freshman year tuition.)
  • Lessons about the dangers of instant gratification (eight-year-old Saydi spending $80.00 of “her own” money on a pair of designer jeans and wanting to “turn them back in” or sell them to someone the next day because she realized she had no money left in her checking account).
  • Lessons about depreciation (Josh wanting to “sell-me-down” rather than hand-me-down the outgrown clothes he’d bought to his little brother who wanted “a good deal”.)
  • Principles of restraint (ten-year-old Talmadge saying he’d decided to ask himself three questions before he bought anything: “Do I want it,” “Do I need it?,” “Can I afford it?”)
  • Lessons about saving (twelve-year-old Shawni observing that “If I put come in savings right when I get it, it’s like I never had it so I don’t miss it.”)

Good as the “money lessons” are, it’s the life lessons that really count…lessons about responsibility, about motivation, about self-reliance, and about doing your share.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth 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. Each is coupled with the key parenting challenge that it helps to solve. 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.

May 9, 2016

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

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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.

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