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No. 1 for Parents

May 3, 2010 by rogermcintire | Edit

After nature’s basics, the most important, the primary duty of being a parent is finding things to like ! At first we do it automatically; Baby smiles and we say, “yEs.” But often in those first years we forget this basic of all they are going to learn.

“Do you like me?” Children are forever looking for this answer in Mom’s or Dad’s approval, disapproval or correction and it’s easy to overlook it. The approval answer is crucial to both friendship and parenting. As with good listening habits, liking habits are part of the overall parental attitude the children will take to heart.

Every time the kids do anything, parents react negatively or with support or indifference. What a parent likes and doesn’t like about what’s going on is constantly expressed. We parents know the bad behaviors well but we are less specific about the good.

Mom: “Leave the baby alone, Nathan”

Nathan: “I was just going to pat him.”

Now Mom has a choice. She could say, “I know what you were going to do. Now just stay away, YOU will wake him!” Or she could say,”I like to pat him too, but IT will wake him and he’s tired.”

She has the same choice when the mistake is already done: (Nathan drops his jelly sandwich.) She could say, “YOU are so messy! Look what YOU did!” Or she could say, “Oh, look WHAT happened! Better pick it up and get a paper towel.”

If Mom goes with her first impulse, she emphasizes Nathan, the person. YOU will wake him, YOU are messy! If she chooses her second choice in these examples, she emphasizes a situation that she and Nathan are dealing with together: IT will wake him. Look WHAT happened.

It won’t make a lot of difference to Nathan on these two occasions, but over the days and weeks, Nathan ends up with a very different message about himself, and a very different relationship with Mom.

Many of us had a good mother like Nathan’s. Very concerned, always carefully watching, correcting, often lecturing. But Nathan was frequently disagreeable and angry. When I asked Nathan’s mom for examples of Nathan’s good behavior, she had trouble getting started but finally came up with common ones such as “doing well in school” and “getting along with others.” I asked her to look for specifics of these during the next week and compliment Nathan when he showed success.

At our next meeting she reported an odd reaction after a compliment. Nathan said, “What’s the matter with you?” After another week of being on the lookout for chances to show a little liking, Nathan’s mom encountered another odd reaction:

Nathan asked, “Do you like me?”

“Nathan, I’m your Mother, I love you. Of course I like you,” Mom said.

“Wow,” said Nathan; already ten and just finding out that his mom not only loves him, she likes him!

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Our teens are forever following the latest news about their celebrities and the glamorous lives they lead. Surely success and money would lead to lifelong happiness. But as the biographies come rolling out, we learn success and money just didn’t do it.

The great and near great often trip over their own egos and bad habits. They dabble in drugs or alcohol, and then get stuck in these very sticky habits.

Children start with things, “Mom, if I could just have that toy, I would be happy! It was on TV; everybody’s got one.”

Parents of teenagers will recognize this routine. There’s just one more thing and then…there’s just one more thing.

First it’s toys and things, then quickly it’s the money that would bring us the things. I suppose none of us ever completely leaves this “Money and Things Could Make Me Happy” stage, but by the time we reach our teens, our experience with the celebrity stories has added Stage Two: “If I Could Just Meet Mr. (or Ms.) Right, I Would Be Happy.”

But even when Mr. or Ms. Right comes along, he or she usually comes up short on making us completely happy. Most teens are infatuated with an idol for stage two but remain well-attached to the toys-and-money view of stage one.

Or, with the help of parents, they may discover Stage Three: Happiness is a do-it-yourself job. The control, in the end, belongs only to you. And it’s not the destination that brings happiness; it’s how you handle the trip. What priority do you give to things, people, and your own inner talents today?

Here’s where parents, grandparents, and other adults in the family can help by helping a son, daughter or grandchild in conversation that takes inventory of a child-teen’s successes and strengths: “What a talent you have for understanding these computers. Your mom and I need you around just to keep us out of trouble!” Or, “I heard the way you helped your friend Lisa with her homework. You are a good friend.”

Happiness is not achieved by more shopping or even by the right companion. It comes from satisfaction with what you are and what you are doing. Parents can help their children with this growth by reminding them of their talents, their good points and satisfying moments.

Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 12 Steps to a Better Relationship and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times. Comment here or go to http://www.ParentSuccess.com.

A short excerpt from chapter one

In this book, “Grandma, Can We Talk?,  I offer some advice for Grandparents experiencing those awkward moments with their grandchild when the topic of conversation has run dry. Strategies for dealing with topics from sex to friends, school, and dangerous habits can help Grampa or Grandma encourage reasonable conversation and a comfortable relationship.

The first chapter, “Listen Well’” presents the important point that children are especially sensitive to personal comments, “What Are You Saying About Me?”

Suggestion 1:  Listen Well

…When your grandchild asks, “Grandma (or Grampa), can we talk?” your answer needs to be a careful one. If you have this part right, your adult experience will be available to your grandkids at a low price. Go slowly here and review your conversational habits when talking with your grandchildren.

  1. “What are You Saying About Me?”

Your pet dog will perk up his ears whenever his name is mentioned. Most children beyond the toddler stage have the same interest. They “tune in” to the parts of conversations that are about them, and they are a little less interested in the rest. The most important part of the conversation will be, “What are you saying about me?” Talks with grandchildren can go sour immediately when we think their mistakes are the most important topics, while the children, first of all, pay attention to the implied personal evaluation!

“You should have seen what happened in school today, Grandma.”

“What, Donald?”

“Keith got in an argument with Mr. Effort, and they ended up in a real fight!”

“I’m sure it wasn’t much of a fight.”

“Yes, it was. They were wrestling!”

“I hope you didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“Naw, all I did was cheer.”

“Cheer? Listen, Donald, you’ll end up in trouble right along with Keith! Don’t you have any more sense than to…”

Let’s interrupt Grandma here for a moment. She criticized Donald’s story: (1) she thinks Donald exaggerated because it wasn’t much of a fight, (2) she thinks Donald might have had something to do with it, and (3) she thinks Donald should not have cheered.

Grandma centered the conversation on what she disliked about Donald’s behavior instead of the story. All this happened in a 20-second talk. Donald, like most children, will resent the way his Grandma turned his story into a talk about his mistakes. In the future, Donald will drift further away, and Grandma will get fewer chances to talk.

Grandma’s style of continual correction puts Donald on the defensive. Donald only wanted to tell his story for the joy of it, without corrections that lead in other directions. Here’s the first point of possible misunderstanding and conflict. A child may extract a signal of personal evaluation in less than a sentence. If the signals are negative, up come the defensive reactions before any useful exchange begins.

Let’s back up and give Grandma a second chance with Donald’s story and see how she can steer clear of making it all about Donald.

“You should have seen what happened in gym today, Grandma.”

“What, Donald?”

“Keith got in an argument with Mr. Effort, and they ended up in a real fight!”

“How did it all start?” (Grandma ignores the possible exaggeration, doesn’t express doubt, and shows interest instead.)

“They just started arguing about the exercises, and Keith wouldn’t give in.”

“Hard to win against the teacher.” (Grandma’s comment is a general remark about teacher-student relationships, and it’s not critical of Donald.)

“Yeah, Keith is in big trouble.”

“Did they ever get around to the exercises?” (Grandma is interested in the story, not just in making points and giving advice.)

“Keith was sent to the office, and then we tried these safety belts for the flips. Do you know about those?”

“I don’t think we had them in my school.”

“Well, they have these ropes…”

Donald may have a clearer view of the incident now, and he may understand the hopelessness of Keith’s argumentative attitude. He wasn’t distracted by having to defend himself when he told Grandma the story. And now he’s explaining something to his Grandmother. Grandma wants to hear Donald’s story, not give him a lesson about his behavior and possible mistakes.

Children are forever on guard to protect their fragile self-confidence. Donald is on the lookout for Grandma’s opinion of him. We grandparents sometimes concentrate our efforts on their childish mistakes, but the kids give the lessons a low rating, at best.

  1. Slow Down, Use “It” Not “You.”

Deliberately slow your pace of conversation so your child-teen can slow his. Even a sassy teenager is not likely to have your way with building thoughts into words and will become defensive when he’s rushed or runs out of vocabulary.

Ten-year-old Marie: “This terrorism business is awful.”

Grandma: “Well, you just have to learn to live with it. The world is dangerous.”

An argument has already started. Of course, Grandma didn’t mean that terrorism is not awful, she just moved on (too quickly) and made Marie the topic instead of terrorism (You just have to learn…) and missed her opportunity to agree with her granddaughter.

Grandma is next in line for a “Yes, but…,” an exchange leading to a louder argument because her pace is too fast. Now the focus has changed to Marie winning the argument. Grandma will make her points, and Marie will struggle to stay even. Distracted now by the argument, there will be little help with anxieties about terrorism. Grandkids in this situation copy the adult’s argumentative style of looking for mistakes to correct. A simple conversation has turned into a competition.

Eleven-year-old grandson, Joey: “I’ve got so much homework.”

Grandma: “Sounds like…they gave you…a lot.” (Good remark. with a slow pace, and Grandma only repeats what her grandchild said.)

Joey: “How can I do all of this?”

Grandma: “Well, why not start with…” (Grandma stops and remembers to avoid jumping in with advice.)

Joey: “I’m not going to do any of it!”

Grandma starts to remind her grandson he’s likely to be grounded for the week if homework is not done, but Grandma remembers to avoid punishment and instead says, “You’re really good at math, maybe you could start there.” (Grandma risks a quick-fix mistake, but mixed with the compliment about math, it’s likely to be taken positively.)

Learning the “it-habit” instead of the “you-habit” can also reduce the stress of conversation by allowing her youngster to stay on his topic. When Grandma got her second chance with Donald, she said, “How did it all start?” Using “it” helped avoid the instant-evaluation-of-Donald pitfall, it also helps Grandma avoid taking over the topic.

When a conversation seems threatening to your grandson or daughter, keep your conversation slow and look at the subject as an “it” instead of “you.” This tactic avoids the trap of “attack, defense, counter-attack, and counter-defense.” Conversation doesn’t make a good competitive sport.

Let’s give Grampa a chance.

Grampa: Leave your baby brother alone, Justin.

Five-year-old Justin: I was just going to pat him.

Grampa’s first impulse may be to say, “I know what you were going to do, just stay away, you’ll wake him!” His second impulse might be, “I like to pat him, too. But it might wake him, and he’s tired.”

Justin drops some crumbs from his potato chip bag.

Now Grampa’s first impulse might be to say, “You are so messy! Look what you did!”

But his second impulse might be, “Oh, look what happened. Better pick those up before they get trampled into the carpet.”

If Grampa chooses his first impulse in these examples, he emphasizes Justin, the person. You will wake him, you are messy. If he chooses his second reaction to each event, he emphasizes a situation he and Justin are dealing with together: It will wake him. Look what happened. It won’t make a lot of difference to Justin on these two occasions. But over the long haul, Justin will end up with a very different message about himself and a very different relationship with Grampa.

To learn more go to Amazon,com and search “Grandma, Can We Talk?

 

This morning, Attorney General Hector Balderas launched a new ad campaign targeting New Mexico teenagers and parents with children under eighteen in an effort to combat sexual predators.

The ad, titled “Monsters”, reminds New Mexicans that monsters behind their computer, tablet or phone screen really do exist in the form of sexual predators seeking to abuse children and teens. The ad can be found at http://www.facebook.com

This blog is a shortened chapter on Attorney General Balderas’s concern from Teenagers and Parents: 12 steps to a better relationship. See https://rogermcintire.wordpress.com  

Computer Companions

Anyone (even parents) can see any note a child-teen gets or sends on a computer device. Geeks with a little computer savvy can copy them, use them, anywhere. You might as well spray-paint them on a fence downtown or, if they go even a little viral, then on the town water tower. Parents need to see what the kids type and read what comes back.

Teenagers average almost nine hours each day using online music, games, videos, TV, or “chatting” according to a 2015 report by Common Sense Media. Tweens, ages 8 to 12, average six hours reports Jim Steyer, the director of the study. Over 2600 teens were interviewed. Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2010 study said the average then was five and a half hours for tweens, over eight hours for the 11 to 14 group and nine for the 15 to 18 year olds—more than the daily hours of school. The trend is definitely up.

On the positive side, schoolwork online is a growing demand for a teenager’s digital attention. Yet 25 percent say their parents know little of what they watch on TV or do on social media.

Mom:   “Jason, are you still on that cell phone of yours?”

Jason:   “Yeah, I’m talking to Mark.”

Mom:   “Mark, who?”

Jason:   “He’s my fellow fullback on the J-V soccer team.”

Mom:   “Well. get off and come to lunch.”

Jason:   “Just a second.”

Mom:   (A minute later) “Jason, come now!”

      Jason muttered “gotta go” while texting, then he shoved his phone in his pocket and went into the kitchen.

Mom: “I’m starting to think that phone was a big mistake.”

Jason: “Mom, Mark’s a friend. We were just talking over the game.”

Friends are an important part of life and social media has become the connection of choice for teenagers. Parents need to be careful in setting limits because many teens “talk” with friends a lot more since the social media has become so popular. Time spent socializing has gone way up. But Mom is right to worry about how much time is OK, yet the time chatting with friends is not a waste.

A study by the Pew Research Center reported a lot of flirting on the net by teens but three-quarters said they never dated someone they only met online. However, of those who had a steady friend or partner, 38 percent expected to “hear” from their partner every day. Eleven percent expected hourly check-ins. Forty-eight percent had resolved arguments online and 70 percent had conversations that made them feel closer.

Among 12 to 17-year-olds in the U.S., 95 percent are online. Three out of four access the internet by cell phone or other mobile device and 20 percent say they have received unwanted sexual solicitations.

In 2016 we had over 800,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. Of course, most of them are online. Seventy percent of our teens will accept “friends” regardless of whether they know the person making the request. Only 25 percent of 12 to 17-year-old victims told their parents of the sexual predators they met on line. Only 10 percent of victims of cyber bullying told their parents.

Girls are more likely to be harassed online with unwelcome flirting and 69 percent said that social media gives too many people a window into their private lives.

 

  1. Use and Abuse of the Electric Window.

Computer and handhelds have become the gadget of choice and sometimes trouble for teens socializing with friends, surfing for informative sites, doing school work or playing games.

Socializing. In my childhood, the family telephone was just off the living room. No one in my neighborhood had a phone of their own unless they lived alone. My end of the conversation could be (and was) heard by all. If Mom answered the phone and it was my girl friend she handed me the phone while holding up five fingers. I had five minutes to talk. Everyone listened, it cost money not to be squandered and “time online” was a continual subject of argument.

Thankfully, the good old days are gone and now we all have phones that can do almost anything. Yet they can also be very private and time limits remain a problem. Children and parents have to learn when to turn off the gadget.

The internet may establish a fear of missing out that keeps a teenager up to the wee hours. He might not only fear missing out but he might also fear missing anything, says Sherry Turkie in her review of high-tech gadgets in the lives of teenagers. Her book is Reclaiming Conversation. The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.

But something is missed, Turkie says, phones may also separate people. One dad reported his time with his seven-year-old on a school field trip He realized that while texting and sending photos to friends, he had ignored the opportunities to talk with his son.

Surfing. The library and encyclopedia have been replaced for many students with a handheld that can search quickly through many sources. But while a trusted librarian can keep a student on track, a search engine can go in many directions and the sources presented are not always friendly or in the best interests of the student. The trust a young student has in a discovered site may be greater than his trust of parents and teachers It is important too keep the lines of communication busy with discussions of the latest discoveries of your student’s surfing.

School Work. Most schools now presume students have a computer device on hand and assignments often require some surfing. It’s an opportunity for parents to stay up-to-date with their son or daughter’s work.  

Games. The nature of games has become so mesmerizing that walking into traffic or a construction site is becoming a danger.

           

2,   Does He (or She) Have an Electronic Addiction?

Is addiction the right word here? Alcohol addictions will be defined elsewhere in this book as persons whose drinking habits produce excessive absenteeism from work or school and complaints from friends and family.

How does an electronic addiction measure up to that definition? Excessive absenteeism could extend to times when your teen is at school but mentally absent because he is texting friends or surfing the web. Complaints from family and friends would include times when a teenager is absorbed in his computer or mobile device and paying no attention to present friends and family. I think the definition of addiction fits.

We already know alcohol-related car accidents will still be the biggest killer of our teens until they pass college age. Now we can add multi-tasking to the reasons for the fatal crash.

 Who is Tweeting You Now? The Dangers of Facebook, Emails, Tweets and Texts.

 Ninety-five percent of teens in the U.S. are online. Also, 3 out of 4 access the internet by cell phone or other mobile device.

  Teenagers who fear being embarrassed often feel safe when tweeting, texting, or posting on Facebook. It allows more time to think over a potentially embarrassing faux pas and it also allows them to be unidentified.

 Nevertheless, it is also a danger to your teenager because unidentified people could be sending your off-spring scams or worse. How old is the author of the next email exchange with your teen?

Friends, Bullies and Meanies All Chime In on the Net

            Bullies often prefer social media because they not only have a victim but also an audience. Not just to admire them, but to add to the victim’s embarrassment. Be a frequent companion when your son or daughter is on the net.

 Scanning the Internet for Fun, for School and for Trouble   

 “Let’s look it up on google,” your teenager may say. Stay well informed with what your son or daughter is looking up on the internet by working with your teen on one screen. Make a habit of asking them to show you what was interesting, frightening or violent. Let your child-teen have the computer seat while you watch and the two of you talk over what is presented. Of course, you can’t always watch but, as a frequent visitor, you will be more informed.

At some family times, the social media should be off limits. For example, dinner times should not be times when one person is staring into his or her lap at a little window. Keep the family table clear of these distractions.

Blocking some sites as off-limits can help, but how do you block the sites she or he will hear about tomorrow. Time limits can be useful, but at sometimes, to stay up-to-date, you need to sit next to your teen to learn what is going on.

Mom:   “What are you doing on your cell phone?”

Fifteen-year-old, Marie:  “Just texting a…friend.”

Mom:   “Who’s the friend?”

Marie:  “Mom, do you have to know everything? Just a friend.”

Mom:   “I just wondered.”

Marie:  “Don’t I get any privacy? Do you need to know everything?”

Mom:   “No, but the net is used by dangerous people. I don’t want you to get into trouble.”

Marie:  “I’m doing my own private texting—it’s nobody else’s business.”

Mom:   “Nothing is private on the net, it’s the business of anybody savvy enough to cut in and read your stuff.”

Marie:  “Oh, Mom, nobody cares. I’m just talking to Jim somebody. He’s not even in our school.”

Mom:   “Wait, where does this friend live?”

Marie:  “Mom, I don’t know. Around here somewhere, I guess. Leave me alone.”

Mom:   “How old is he?”

Marie:  “How should I know? Stay out of my private life.”

Mom:   “This is on the internet, so it’s not your private life.”

Marie:  “What’s the big deal? We met in this chat room I follow.”

Mom:   “The big deal is you’re talking to some boy (or man) you met in a chat room, you don’t know his name, his age, or where he lives.”

Marie:  “Just bug out.”

Mom:   “No, I can’t bug out. Don’t text this person again. And if he sends you a text, please show it to me.”

Of course this is not the end of this problem. Mom needs to stay up-to-date on this conversation.  If Marie remains cagey and secretive about “Jim Somebody,” Mom should be nosy until she’s satisfied that Jim is a legitimate friend. Minors shouldn’t have privacy on the public internet, there are too many predators.

Marie needs to learn that social media is not private. There is a record of everything. This is not a diary. Online, it is always possible to keep records and they can be reviewed for any purpose. Marie’s access to the net should remain limited until she is mature enough to be careful.

The most important part of managing your high-tech teenager is to be available–available to talk and listen to your teen, to discuss his or her concerns, and to provide your adult perspective.

The Consequences of Being Busted!

Caught shop-lifting or driving under the influence, very few people, even adults, would understand the circumstances, the lawyers, and a lot of other details you don’t see in TV shows. Because of these vague aspects, your teenager might not have a clear understanding of the likely consequences for not-quite-innocent internet behavior. This lack of understanding can keep the deterrent aspect of our justice system from having its best effect on your teen.

Teens are likely to belittle a parent’s warnings of consequences, and they may be partly right that they will get off easy that first time. So if short-term consequences are mild, emphasizing the long term ones may sound pretty weak to the young and short-sighted.

Unfortunately, many of the consequences require long-term thinking – not a familiar task for a teenager. The shadow of a conviction lasts a long time in these days of high-tech data banks. The system never really forgives you. Everyone gets to know and your teen gets to keep no secrets. The information given on job, school, and loan applications is easily checked and you can’t just “not tell them” anymore!

Parents should do their best to dispel the magical thinking and the self-serving delusions that are short on facts. Internet “friends” who may tempt your teen into trouble will always be short on facts.

For example, if your daughter or son were arrested for some internet activity, would he or she know the possibility of waiting in jail? Would he know who is responsible for fines and expenses? How much do lawyers cost?  Who has to pay?

In the long term, a conviction can also limit your future opportunities – job and credit applications will explore your record and financial institutions will bring it up. Will a conviction jeopardize a college loan or a job application at a computer programming company? Teens need to know what they have to lose.

One quarter of our teens are alcohol abusers by the time they leave high school. They are teens whose drinking habits produce poor work, excessive absenteeism from work or school, and complaints from friends and family. Alcohol-related accidents remain one of the biggest killers of sons and daughters until they pass college age.

Often a parent first discovers a teenage drinking problem on the morning after:

“Boy, do I feel terrible this morning!”

“Are you sick? What did you have when you were out last night?”

“Ah, just the same old stuff.”

“Todd, you must have had something different from the same old stuff.”

It will probably turn out that Todd was tempted by a few beers for short-term fun and now he has the day-after long-term misery.

Looking beyond the short- to the long-term consequences is one measure of growing up. Even parents can have trouble looking ahead to drinking problems:

“Let him have a little beer, what harm can it do?”

“As long as it’s in the house and nobody is going to drive, it’s OK.”

Drinking habits often produce strange excuses: “I couldn’t help it, I was drunk” is a common teenage misunderstanding of responsibility.

Traffic laws don’t excuse the drunk driver of responsibility and often teens don’tseem to understand that drunkenness is not an excuse for stupidity; it is stupidity. Nevertheless the most common excuse a teenage girl gives for getting pregnant remains, “I was drunk.”

But drinking and driving remains the most dangerous part. All parents dread that terrible phone call in the middle of the night: “This is Officer Jones of the West Virginia State Police, your son has been…”

While teens make up only 6.9 percent of the driving population, they account for 13 percent of the alcohol-related fatal crashes. In 2003, expect 17,000 deaths nationwide due to drunk driving. About 350 will be from West Virginia and 40 of those will be teenagers.

West Virginia’s legal limit of blood alcohol that defines DUI is now set at .10 percent. While our state ranks fifth with 8.24 alcohol-related traffic deaths per 100,000 population each year, our legislature refuses to lower the limit to .08 percent as most states require. Even that’s equivalent to four shots of hard liquor within one hour on an empty stomach, but our legislators evidently feel that is all right for drivers coming down the road at you.

What can parents do?

First, stay informed, on every occasion, about how your son or daughter is going to get home from a party or other activity.

Second, disallow all social events with alcohol.

Third, support and respect the laws concerning drinking and driving and the officers who enforce them – the next car they stop, just in time, may have one of yours inside.

Strict laws do work as I found out during a celebration with my wife’s large family in Norway. Her cousin accidentally picked up her husband’s wine glass by mistake and touched it to her lips. Her face showed near terror as she realized what she had almost done! She was the designated driver for her part of the family that evening and, in Norway, the road blocks and breath tests for any alcohol consumption are almost inescapable.

In the Norwegian courts, any evidence of alcohol and the automatic fine is two months salary! That can’t be brushed off even by the wealthy. Results of behavioral tests and blood levels determine the jail sentence (up to one year) to be added to the fine. The law is strict and drinking and driving is very rare compared to the U.S.

Our legislators have a responsibility to provide an effective law beyond unenforceable suspensions and trivial fines manipulated by DUI lawyers.

Some will say their freedom to judge their own drinking and driving is more important than a few deaths, but they are wrong and we should say so.

It only shows a prejudice against the young to crow about getting tough with teens because of their 14% of the drunk driving fatalities and then wring our hands and coddling the adults responsible for the other 86%.

Copy, fax, mail, or e-mail your support of more strict drinking and driving laws to your legislators today. Send your elected judges the message that enforcing the drinking laws will get your vote.

 

Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times: 7 Crucial Habits for Parent Success. Contact him through Parentsuccess.com.

O

Christmas is less then a week away and I, as usual, have put off getting gifts for my grandchildren right down to the last days. I want to get them something that will teach and benefit them, not just another splashy piece of plastic in its little molded card that will hold their attention only until the next gift is opened.

It’s not easy to find a lasting gift in the newest list of plastic heroes with special powers that are the rage of the 6 to 12-year-old set. Last year Pokeman cards, lost out to Harry Potter books, toys, games, and t-shirts. But Harry Potter might not make the top ten this year. No customers are as fickle as children, so with six days left, who can predict the next best seller.

I remember very few gifts from my own childhood. One or two stand out, but most were broken, lost or in the trash after only a few months. I do remember my Aunt Emily’s card promising me a trip to the Science and Industry Museum in Chicago. She didn’t have a lot of money, so she gave “services.” We went while school was still out for the holidays, and I still remember where we had lunch. I don’t remember any other gift from that Christmas.

Memories of gifts during my teenage years are also a blur except I remember that my older cousin, Harold, picked up Aunt Emily’s idea and took me bowling one year. The next year, he took me back to his old college for a day just to show me what college was all about. I graduated from that school years later.

For our own nieces and nephews, we have taken the hint from Aunt Emily. My wife, Eileen, gave a card to our niece, Ashley, that said, “Good for one lunch and adventure trip with Aunt Eileen.” During lunch at the Smithsonian Ashley said, “This is great. I wish you would always give this kind of gift.”

But lunches, museums and other special trips are not easy gifts to give. Often they don’t make a big impression at first and they may be inconvenient, time-consuming, and costly later on. If you think a regular gift needs to be part of Christmas morning, maybe you could make a secret promise to yourself to give a special “services” gift later on.

Time is the most precious of these gifts we give our children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. It is truly irreplaceable and the memories will last into their adult years.

So this holiday season consider a gift of your time – time to listen without jumping in with criticism or advice; time to seek out one of the many capabilities or likable characteristics of the children and let them know you found it; time to give over more responsibility so the child-rearing moves along toward adult-rearing; and time to show tolerance so that tolerance will be admired.

For the Christmas morning gift under the tree, my guess is no better than yours, but gifts of time will make the lasting memories.

Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 12 Steps to a Better Relationship and Staying Cool and In Control. Contact him through Parentsuccess.com.

Getting the kids off to school can be a chore and an aggravation if they resist with frequent reasons for not going. Some students will snatch at any excuse: “It’s too cold…it’s too hot…it’s too boring or too much work, and of course the ever popular “Mom, I don’t feel good.” Keep up on the details of your child’s school situation with good listening skills; even your child may not know why he or she doesn’t want to go.

Alanna: “Man, is that school boring!”

Mom:”It’s really getting you down.” (Mom just uses different words for “boring”; this is reflective and better than, “You shouldn’t be bored!”)

Alanna:  “You bet.”

Mom:”What’s the worst part?” (Here’s a good “it” question. It starts with “what,” instead of “Why are YOU so bored?”

Alanna:           “I don’t know. I guess it’s the whole thing.”

Mom:”What’s the best part?” (Good question that may help Mom help her daughter. Better than: “There must be something wrong [with you]!”  That would be threatening.)

Alanna: “I like seeing everybody, but my new math is so hard.”

Mom:(With a tip on the focus of the problem) “Let’s look at the math.”

A complaint about boredom such as this is familiar to most parents. Mom put the “quick-fix” suggestion on hold and waited for her daughter to bring up the reasons. Because Mom allowed her daughter to direct the topic by asking questions and responding reflectively, information flowed to Mom instead of from her as advice.

When the conversation is about school, listen for clues to problems. School  counselors say there are six common reasons for truancy:

 

  1. To avoid scary situations: bus, school room, tests or teacher.
  2. To avoid uncomfortable social situations: bullys, teasers, perceived hostile teacher.
  3. To get attention at home: Mom (or Dad) provide more personal attention at home.
  4. To stay home for entertainment (TV, computer games, play).
  5. To avoid possible embarrassment from going back after previous absences.
  6. To avoid the inconvenience and effort of getting up to go, having clothes ready to wear, keeping materials ready for school, or keeping up on homework.

How can a parent help with these problems??

1.Keep listening so you are up to date on school activities and problems.

2.Watch those late-nights. Often a child demanding to stay up is the same one demanding to miss school the next day. A child short on rest is more easily aggravated by a test, a teacher’s correction, or a teasing student. It’s the same problem a tired adult might have. Allowing late-nights may mean a whole day of trouble, an absence, or at least a big argument in the morning.

3.Keep an eye on the morning drill for getting to school. School buses usually won’t wait and it’s easy to make trouble for yourself by procrastinating too long in the morning.

4.Build support for school and school activities. Praise learning, respect it, make it useful to your child, now. Let him or her: balance the checkbook, do some cooking, figure out your next trip on the map, explain TV news about science, art, or government.

5.Volunteer. Volunteer in order to get a first hand look at the activities and atmosphere in school. Volunteer to help make the school more attractive for your child.

When an absence is unavoidable, try these suggestions to keep it from becoming a habit:

1.Limit entertainment for just staying home (TV, computer games, etc.).

2.Check all excuses with a call to the school (“The buses aren’t running today.” “We’re supposed to get out early anyway.”) Your child may not have the right information. Even the favorite, “I’m sick,” may be suspicious if it always seems to come up on school mornings, complaints are vague, and improvement is miraculous! Also, if your child is old enough to be left alone, be suspicious if he seems anxious to get you out to work: “I’ll be alright – just go!”

3.Don’t allow other activities to take priority over school: “I need to stay home to get ready for the soccer trip, practice my school play lines, catch up on old school work.”

4.If you are suspicious but must leave your teen by him or herself, come home at irregular times now and then.

Send your questions or comments to Dr. McIntire e-mail at sumcross@aol.com or visit Parentsuccess.com on the net. He is the author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times, and Teenagers and Parents.