Kids Follow Our Lead- Everyone Grab a Middle Seat!

It was early at the Oakland Airport, but the kids were excited. I was excited too, because we were about to leave for Florida on vacation. We’re a Disney-loving family, so our first trip to the (other) happiest place was the perfect way to start the summer.

It was time to board our plane and I knew we could run into a little fun, because I had sort of goofed up. You know that procedure on Southwest Air where you need to check-in exactly 24 hours before your flight, or you board last? Well… I had forgotten to check in early and we were boarding last. Also, you probably know that there aren’t assigned seats on Southwest. This is also a key component to the story.

We got on the plane and realized that there were hardly any seats left. There were a few open “middles” with the person in the aisle pretending not to see anyone else, hoping that would cause them to keep walking. This is the point where my wife and I said to each other, “Do we raise unafraid, independent kids or not?”

We told the kids that they needed to find a middle seat somewhere/anywhere and that we’d do the same. Also, we told them to have a nice fight and that we’d see them in 6 hours on the east coast. As it turns out, our daughter was in row 33 between two strangers, our son was in row 23 between two strangers, and my wife and I were up near row 5. We also were getting to know new friends.

In this situation and so many others, I believe that our kids take cues from us and respond in kind. I quietly thought to myself as we boarded, “What if something happens? What if they have nothing to do? What if someone takes them?” Although truthfully, where is someone going to take them anyway? But Renee and I both calmly said to them with our demeanor, “You’re strong. You’re independent. You don’t need me to entertain you.”

Their reaction then followed suit. They got into their seats, settled in, and had a pretty boring flight. This could have all been different if we had begun freaking out, asking the workers to get a bunch of seats switched, and infusing anxiety into the kids. They would pick up on our behavior right away, because they watch and listen, even when it doesn’t seem like it.

I ended up learning a lesson after accidentally getting into boarding group Z (there is no such thing, but it felt like it). My job as the parent to my kids is to stay calm and pass that along to my kids. They should eventually learn from me how to calmly handle issues and that they are more capable than they realize. All went well that day and we made it to Florida just fine… at least until my son got his foot stuck in the escalator at baggage claim, but that’s a story for a different day.

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Giving Our Kids the Gift of Confidence: Daddyeous Protectosaur

The above photo is of my mother, circa 1987. And 1988. And 1989. You get the point. What was I doing while she was getting all this beauty rest? This:

Oh, and this:

All. Day. Long. When I was a kid, summertime meant that my friends and I would hop on our bikes and head over to a baseball field in our neighborhood. Sometimes along the way, we’d grab Baskin Robbins ice cream, then spend literally hours at the field. The end of the day would come and we’d come home dirty, exhausted, and ready to do the same thing the next day.

My mom would ask about the day, tell me to get cleaned up for family dinner, and remind me that I still had jobs to do around the house. During the day, she hadn’t texted me, called me, or found-my-iPhone.

What’s out of place at this “kids” playground? The adult!

Fast forward to today. Check out this photo captured by yours truly, budding amateur photographer. You’ll notice a gorgeous modern play structure designed for the enjoyment of little ones. You’ll see the detailed colors and thought that has been put into the creation of a fine zone for children. You’ll also come aware of a seating area for adults in the bottom right corner of the photo. This area is empty, because you can also observe the main feature of my work of photgraphic art: daddyeous protectosaur in his natural habitat. He is posted within easy sightlines of his prized creation, poised to pounce if she happens to slip or if any child dares be mean to her. He is sipping his nummy latte, but deftly only has the cup over the bottom of his eyes for maximum peeking efficiency. In this pose, daddyeous protectosaur is ready for anything. Unfortunately, his child may not be.

Is there a balance we can reach? Can parents today raise independent kids without turning them completely loose in a dangerous world? I believe the answer is YES! Accepting that our kids will sometimes fail is key, although difficult. Not checking their every move and step, but allowing the consequences of both is critical. Many of us have that backward: we check up on every single thing they do, then save them from any negative results that come from their actions. We pester, nag, and chase them about chores and homework, then blame anyone but them when they are held accountable.

What are a few ways that us parents can let our kids grow up and begin to walk on their own two feet? Try these to start with and you’ll be thrilled with the future adults you begin to see bloom:

  1. Let them play. I catch myself often wanting to micromanage my kids’ play, but I come to realize that they’re doing fine without me! Some of the best play happens when we’re not hovering so much.
  2. Don’t answer for them. When an adult asks our kids “How are you?” or “What’s your name?”, we can train them to answer that person politely for themselves.
  3. Allow them to do some tasks on their own. It’s amazing what kids can do- basic cooking, cleaning, yardwork. The only thing that often holds them back is that we won’t let them.
  4. Have them order food for themselves. Kids of nearly any age can learn to look a server/cashier in the eye and speak up to order their meal. This is a great area to train them in speaking to adults and an awesome confidence builder.
  5. Let them try to solve their own small problems. It is every parent’s instinct to swoop in and rescue their child. The reality is that we won’t always be there to do that. A child that never has an opportunity to problem solve will seek out help as a teenager, a young adult, and beyond. This will leave them vulnerable to accepting help from the wrong sources if they cannot find the confidence within themselves.

These kids are gifts from God and sometimes all of us can lovingly treat them like China dishes, making sure that they don’t break or crack. What may help them more than that is realizing that God has given them to us to prepare them for a life that is ahead. That life is full of victories and hardships alike. We can gently expose them to some of these things now to strengthen their roots as a capable child of God. Then when mighty winds come later, they can stand strong and not topple. Not only that, we may get some extra beauty rest like my mom did and be extra beautiful when we get into our sixties.

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Focus on character: You’re a Human Being, Not a Human Doing

What am I praising my kids for- Is it for what they DO, or for who they ARE?

That is a question I constantly ask myself while trying to build confidence in Bauer and Reese. For kids at ages 10 and 12, I want them to know I absolutely love being their dad and I always accept them, even when they fail.

The easiest thing to do is default to praising their accomplishments. I mean, it comes naturally right? When Bauer does well at basketball, it’s the normal thing to say “great shot.” When Reese gets a good test score, I’m used to telling her, “I’m so proud of that good grade.” But focusing on the accomplishment itself doesn’t tell them we’re proud of THEM, it tells them we’re proud of what they DID.

Reese has always been a good speller. A highlight of her school year is the annual spelling bee. She studies for the weeks leading up to it and works super hard to get the words right. I remember doing the same thing when I was 10. The only difference between her and I? She gets the words right. She has typically finished well in the bee and a good friend hilariously joked to me recently, “Ya know, Reese is like the Tom Brady of the spelling bee. She’s already won enough and she should just be done now.”

Going into this year’s bee, she practiced and prepared as usual. The bee came and it was really fun. All the kids were so brave and confident. They were spelling words that you wouldn’t imagine, all in front of a pretty big audience! Finally, after a tense spelling battle, Reese misspelled a word. She was out. An awesome girl from her class won the bee. That sweet girl had also worked very hard, studied the words, and been excited and ready for the competition.

When the competition was over, I knew that Reese would be disappointed. I went up to her, gave her a hug and told her this: “Reesey, I’m proud of your courage in front of all those people. I’m proud of how hard you worked. I’m proud of how brave you were to take that on.” I focused on her character, not on what she had done.

The year before this, she had won the spelling bee. Afterward, I saw her and said something like this: “Reesey, I’m proud of your courage in front of all those people. I’m proud of how hard you worked. I’m proud of how brave you were to take that on.” I was not proud that she had won, I was proud of what what she had done to get there- effort, hard work, determination.

The best part about focusing on character rather than accomplishments is that it’s something our kids can control and repeat in the future. They can’t control if they always win, get an A+, or finish in first place. However, they can always be strong, brave, honest, loyal, courageous, trustworthy, and kind. These traits will get them somewhere in life and will also result in great rewards. Those traits are what I praise.

The truth is that there will be times when our kids finish last or don’t win. So what do we praise then? Instead of giving them a “Great job honey!” that they know is obligatory, we can build up the person that they are and are still becoming. They aren’t appreciated because they win something or finish in a certain position. They are loved and accepted because they are a human BEING, not a human DOING. When they know this from us as their parents, they can focus on building strong character, rather than doing things to win. Then great results will naturally follow.

Each one of us is a human BEING, not a human DOING!

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Exposing our Kids to the Right Things: Everyone Else is Doing It!

I couldn’t BELIEVE the things my parents would NOT let me watch when I was a kid.  In my mind, EVERYONE got to see all the best movies and they basically had run of the television in their homes.  I remember how badly I wanted to watch some of the coolest action movies when I was a wee lad.  Well, that was a no, and now I know why.

As Renee and I continue to try raising independent kids who can confidently think for themselves, I am careful to remember that there is a balance in doing this.  We want our children to grow to be strong, wise, and ready to face what life has for them.  We also do not want them exposed to dangers that may permanently or irreparably harm them. Continue reading Exposing our Kids to the Right Things: Everyone Else is Doing It!

Raising Responsible Kids: The Fistfight That Taught Me a Parenting Lesson

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It was my first year on the job as principal when these two eighth graders got into a fistfight.  It may have even been my first month.  I was so excited about beginning in my new position, that I hadn’t even considered there would be problems along the way.  I’m far past that stage now to where I typically beware of slipping on a stray banana peel if some issue hasn’t popped up by 11a.m. each day.

I’ve discovered over the past several years that we don’t have many good old fights at our school.  The few that we do have just involve pushing or name-calling, kind of like a skirmish in the NBA.  But this day involved actual haymakers and it was clearly instigated by one of the two kids.  To shorten the story, Student One turned a quiet recess snack time into a game of “let’s see what happens when I fire a ball at Student Two’s head?”  Well, what happened was that Student Two quickly changed that game into “let’s fight” and the gentlemen were soon in my office.  They were red-faced and looking as if they had both just run the mile at P.E. Continue reading Raising Responsible Kids: The Fistfight That Taught Me a Parenting Lesson

Teaching Good Choice-Making: When I’m a Parent and I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

For a kid going to school in the morning, you’d think there would be a few necessities: clothes, lunchbox, backpack, shoes to name a few.  But I realized a few months ago that my daughter may not have the same qualifications as me for a successful day of learning.

We all got in the car to leave and headed off.  We weren’t late, but I had a meeting at school that day, so there wasn’t extra time to stop for coffee or anything like that.  The drive was pretty normal and sports talk radio was on for all to enjoy or ignore.  Then about 12 minutes into the ride, Reese informed me of this little tidbit: “Dad, I don’t have my shoes.”  Have you ever really not known what to do as a parent and a million choices of what to do go through your mind at the same time?  That was me at a stoplight while wondering how she did not notice that she was walking out to the car in bare feet. Continue reading Teaching Good Choice-Making: When I’m a Parent and I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

Teaching Independence: Preparing Our Kids For the Road

“Many of us prepare the road for our kids; what we should be doing is preparing our kids for the road.”  This quote was courtesy of Ray Johnston, Pastor of Bayside Church in Roseville, CA.

There seems to be quite a tension for us parents when it comes to protecting our kids and letting them experience failure.  The truth is that many of us hurt deeply when our children fall on their face, literally or figuratively.  However, the other side of this coin is the simple fact that life will not be easy for our kids, just as it has not been easy for us.  One day, we will not be there for them and they will need to be ready to succeed, fail and face challenges. 

“Many of us prepare the road for our kids; what we should be doing is preparing our kids for the road.”             ~Ray Johnston

Continue reading Teaching Independence: Preparing Our Kids For the Road