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Paying Attention l July/August 2014

A local summer camp recently asked its 6- and 7-year-olds to answer a simple question: name something you’d like your parents to start doing with you. Among the responses given by the children were: “Talk to me during dinner,” “Play more games with me,” and “Read me stories.” Responses like these remind us that many of our kids want more of our interest than we realize. In fact, many find themselves competing for our attention.

For lots of parents, work life consumes inordinate time and energy, aided by handheld devices that make work possible wherever we go. One estimate suggests that 10% of Americans are workaholics.1 The proportion is as high as 23% among doctors, lawyers and psychologists. 2 In a survey of Canadians, 38% of those with incomes over $80,000 described themselves as work addicted.3

Let’s be honest: children’s conversation isn’t always compelling. What engages us more? Often it’s some text or email, or checking a favorite website, or our Facebook newsfeed — frequently more interesting than stories of playground dramas or classroom lessons. Kids can no longer count on our undivided attention while we’re in the car, sitting around the meal table, or waiting in line at the grocery store. Walk through family restaurants and notice how many devices are resting on the table, within parents’ reach.

Children need our focused attention to know that they’re important to us, important simply for who they are regardless of their marks in school or skills on the soccer field. When they have to compete for our interest, their sense of self-worth can be easily undermined. What’s required of us is slowing down, paying attention, and accepting that being with the kids will often be less stimulating than when we’re engaged with our devices. (Same for the kids: putting away their devices may leave them under-stimulated … but available for connection with us.)

Let’s show our kids that when we’re with them, we want to be with them fully, a team of two, facing the world together with nothing coming between us.

1 Sussman, Steve, et al., “Prevalence of the Addictions.” Evaluation & the Health Professions. March 2011; 34(1): 3–56.

2 Doerfler, M.C. and P. P. Kammer. “Workaholism, Sex, and Sex Role Stereotyping Among Female Professionals.” (Sex Roles, Vol. 14, Nos. 9/10, 1986).

3 Kemeny, Anna. “Driven to Excel: A Portrait of Canada’s Workaholics.” (Canadian Social Trends, No. 64, Spring 2002).

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Whose Homework? l June 2014

For too many families, homework time has become the organizing element in the hours between 5 and 10 p.m., dictating when dinner is served, how parents spend their evening, what family activities can or cannot occur. Many parents are slaves to a steady stream of “Can you help me?” or “I don’t understand this” or “What am I supposed to do on this worksheet?”

A 2013 report of the National Center for Family Literacy found that 50 percent of surveyed parents struggle when it comes to helping their children with homework, often because they themselves don’t understand the material, or their child isn’t welcoming the assistance, or they simply can’t make the time amid everything else that demands their attention.1 For many parents, homework time is stressful all around.

But why should parents be stressed? Whose homework is it anyway — theirs or the children’s?

Reviewing three decades of research about American parents and their kids’ academic lives, one research team came to the conclusion that parental involvement in kids’ homework yields few benefits for children, and might even backfire.2 “Consistent homework help almost never improved test scores or grades,” the researchers found. “Most parents appear to be ineffective at helping their children with homework. Even more surprising was that when parents regularly helped with homework, kids usually performed worse.”3 Once upon a time, teachers — not parents — reviewed children’s homework, meting out necessary consequences for shabby or incomplete effort. It worked well then and it can work well now, provided we step aside, stop “enabling,” and remind ourselves that some of life’s most important lessons are only learned through mistakes or failure.

What could parents be doing if they weren’t overly involved at homework time? How about Mom and Dad sharing a glass of wine and catching up on the events of their day — in other words, nurturing the marital relationship, upon which children’s sense of security absolutely depends. Or how about parents using that time to unwind after a long day — reading the paper, surfing the Web, taking a speed walk — recharging their batteries to be better available to the kids (or spouse) after the homework is done.

There’s not a lot of time for parents and children to be together during the school week; why squander it being the homework police?

1 http://www.familieslearning.org/public/uploads/press_releases/1388265133.4NBO.PR-Half-of-Parents-09-2013.pdf
2 Robinson, Keith and Angel L. Harris. The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement with Children’s Education. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press) 2014.
3 Robinson, Keith and Angel L. Harris. “Parental Involvement Is Overrated.” New York Times, April 12, 2014.

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Fifty Years of Dreikurs l April/May 2014

In the car, the kids get noisy and rambunctious. You’re distracted by their bickering and loud voices. You’ve admonished them many times during car rides but their behavior hasn’t changed. What should you do?

Arguably the finest child management system ever developed is celebrating fifty years of guiding parents to sanity and effectiveness: Rudolf Dreikurs’ Children: The Challenge. Much copied by other parenting books since its 1964 debut, Dreikurs’ system shows parents how to allow natural and logical consequences to deliver the lessons we want our kids to learn (without relying on yelling or spanking or other conventional punishments).

Minutes after arriving at work, you receive a text from your daughter indicating that she left her lunchbox on the kitchen counter that morning ... and will you bring it to her at school? What should you do?

We all need a system, an approach that guides us in how to handle the many difficult moments occurring throughout the child-rearing years. No license is required to raise children; no certificate affirming that we’ve completed some essential class. Do we know what we’re doing? With a system like Dreikurs, we enjoy the confidence that comes from parenting with a consistent set of tried-and-true principles; we’re not starting from scratch with each challenging moment.

Despite your second request, the children haven’t come upstairs for dinner. This happens regularly and you’re tired of always yelling after them. What should you do?

Especially in a two-parent family, a shared system bestows the added benefit of both parents working from the same roadmap. It’s natural that two parents, each with their own family backgrounds and personalities and temperaments, will approach discipline from different perspectives, sometimes tripping over one another. Sharing a child guidance approach reduces those disheartening times when frustration with the kids turns into frustration with a spouse.

Become a more effective parent by adopting Children: The Challenge as your child management guidebook. Thousands of used copies, decades old but in fine condition, float in cyberspace for as little as a quarter. For something as important as child rearing, don’t fly by the seat of your pants; embrace a wise system.

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