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June 20, 2016
10 Best Parenting Ideas

10 Best Parenting Ideas: 5. Refined Family Traditions

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

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

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.

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