Are You A Rescue Parent?

By trying to protect children from failure actually set them up for greater failure later.  Merrill Hutchinson

By trying to protect children from failure actually set them up for greater failure later. Merrill Hutchinson

Earlier this year my daughter in law shared a video with me that showed her kids hiking with her on a wet sloppy trail.  At first, it looked like a great family adventure out in mother nature on a beautiful trail. Suddenly, our two-year-old grandson took off running up the trail. Before anyone could really react, he tripped and fell flat on his face.  Mud and water splattered and his entire face and belly were covered with mud. This was not a little stumble causing a fall to the knee. This was an all-out face-plant! The next thing you hear on the video is my daughter in law chuckling and saying, it’s all right, you’re fine.  When she finally caught up to him, he began to stand up and when he saw she was smiling, he began to laugh. She laughed right back at him and they continued up the trail.  

Now, maybe this shouldn’t even be a story worth referencing, but I believe it has merit.  After working at the elementary school level for over 20 years, I have met many parents that would handle this scenario in a completely different manner.  Just speculating, but I can imagine parents that would have yelled at their children as soon as they took off running. “Don’t run, you’re going to trip and fall!”  Or, after seeing their child fall, running in a panic as if their child just broke their neck. Or, maybe having a child on a leash just to prevent them from even having the opportunity to leave your side.  Or, the ultimate in protection, “No, we are not going to hike on a muddy trail. Someone could get hurt and it will be a muddy mess.” Which parent are you?

We love our daughter in law not just because she married our son.  We love them as parents to our grandchildren because we believe they are raising their children to be problem solvers.  They are growing up to be strong, courageous, adventurous, and most importantly, victors and not victims. On a daily basis, they allow their kids to take reasonable risks. As parents, they are teaching our grandchildren to celebrate the victories but also learn from the mistakes. 

No doubt, parenting can be difficult; wondering if you are doing and saying the right things.  Wondering if your discipline is effective and meaningful. Wondering if you are growing your kids to thrive and survive in a sometimes cruel world.  Wondering if you are giving your kids too much or too little. These may be real thoughts and fears, but here’s the important question I think you need to ask yourself.  What kind of adults do you want your children to grow to be? In my 20 years of working with parents, I more often than not get the same answer. “When my child is an adult, I want them to be happy, independent, well-adjusted, and feeling successful in their life.” AWESOME! Me TOO!

As parents, we understand we can’t guarantee our children a problem-free life.   In fact, there’s a better chance we could guarantee them a life with challenges and problems. None of us are guaranteed a problem-free life, but if we want our children to succeed in life and be well adjusted later, we must equip and teach them NOW how to navigate problems and failures.   I would suggest that attempting to remove all the problems, or solving the problems for your children, places them at incredible risk for a very tumultuous and unrewarding life. By trying to protect children from failure actually set them up for greater failure later.

So, how can I help my child grow to be that adult that is happy, independent, well-adjusted, and feeling successful?  

  • Realize and understand that your child is not perfect and neither are you.

  • Don’t own your child’s mistakes or short-comings.  If they fail, allow them to fail. Don’t argue with the teachers, coaches, referees, or anyone else about something your child did wrong. When they mess up, look at the situation as an incredible teaching moment!

  • Never make excuses for your child and never tolerate excuses from your child.  Excuses are the first step to allowing your child to become a victim. “It’s not my fault” are words that should not be tolerated in your home. 

  • Limit the amount of time that you will allow your child to pout or feel sorry for themselves.  Yes, there will be emotion when a child suffers loss, rejection, or makes a mistake. That’s okay!  But please do not allow them to get stuck there. Once the emotions settle, train them to shift into problem-solving mode. Again, you do not solve the problem.  Encourage them by saying, “Okay, that didn’t go the way you wanted. What are you able to do about it now?” That’s empowerment!

  • Practice what you preach.  Allow yourself to make mistakes, and own them! When you’ve made a mistake let your children see that you admit the mistake and that you are able to work toward solving the problem. 

  • Encourage age-appropriate risk-taking and allow them to own the natural consequences of those risks.  “Yes, you can ride your bike and jump off your homemade ramp, but if you wreck, you need to understand you could get hurt.”  With that being said, if they wreck, you do not scream and yell, “I told you so!” Instead, we say something to the effect of.  Wow! That looks like it hurt. Are you okay? Alright, go clean up your wounds and get back on your bike!  

  • Encourage exploration and exposure to activities your children are good at and things they are not necessarily good at.  This is all part of the discovery process. They may find something they excel at that ultimately directs the pathway of their life.  Or, they may find something that they never want to do again, and they will have solid reasons for why they don’t want to do it. 

My parents were not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but when I look back at what they gave my siblings and I, I am so grateful. I am most grateful that they taught us about putting our faith and trust in God in this difficult world. I am so grateful they taught us to be honest and hardworking and take responsibility for our actions and teaching us to take risk and trust that things will work out.  As I write this I hear my dad’s voice saying what he so often said to us; “Do something even if it’s wrong!”

None of us are guaranteed a problem-free life, but if we want our children to succeed in life and be well adjusted later, we must equip and teach them NOW how to navigate problems and failures.
— Merrill Hutchinson

One Size Does Not Fit All

How many times have you made the statement; “I wish these kids came with an instruction manual!” Yes, don’t we all!  

One Size Does Not Fit All!

One Size Does Not Fit All!

In an effort to help people, many experts have written books about child rearing, but all too often, the information falls short. This is especially true in dealing with difficult subjects such as discipline, self-esteem, confidence, and social interaction.  You quickly glean through the well-intended tactics from your favorite new book, only to find out that it doesn’t quite work like they said it would. Ugh!!! What’s even more frustrating is when you use the material on one of your children with excellent outcomes, but it’s a complete failure on their sibling.  Typically, I will hear parents say, “They both live in the same house, have the same parents, live with the same rules and experiences, how could they be so different?”

Welcome to parenting! If it were only so easy as to read a book and have all the answers.  What many fail to realize is the uniqueness of every child. It’s for that reason that one size simply does not fit all.  So, how do we go about raising these unique beings? Over the years, I have had the opportunity to try many different tactics and ideas.  Some made me a believer, others, not so much. One thing I came to realize is that I needed to stop looking for “cookie-cutter” answers and take the time to learn who the child was.  Let me explain.

I listen to people talk about bringing back paddling into the school, of which I’m not opposed. However, I will tell you that paddling is not the answer for all kids. I've dealt with some kids that need little more than a stern voice to curb an unwanted behavior.  On the other hand, I’ve seen kids that I truly believed you could have hit with a 2x4 and they would respond with, “is that all you got”?

I’ve also heard people discuss how building confidence and self-esteem is critical.  On the surface, this seems reasonable, but again one size does not fit all. Some kids come to us with confidence dripping out of their pores.  In fact, if they don’t know how to handle it, they can be some of the worst people to associate with. Ever met someone who was always right or difficult to teach or coach? This type of confidence exudes itself as arrogance.  And, yes, there are those kids that doubt everything they say or do. Never believing they are good enough, constantly seeking affirmation, and quite frankly, often just as difficult to be around as the arrogant child.

As a parent, understanding this scripture is critical to raising your unique child.

Romans 12:4-8 (NIV)

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Yes, every body part has significant value to the total body.  One is not better than another. Would it make sense to make your eye function and behave like your ear?  That’s ridiculous! So is it ridiculous to think we should expect the same function and behavior from our kids. Should they all go to college? Should they all play sports? Should they all like to read? Should they all be leaders? The easy answer is NO!  But, way too often we see parents pushing things that may very well be what the world is saying is important, but not what God intended for your child.

 How do we deal with these unique kiddos?  

1. Spend time working on what your child needs the most help with.  If your child is a naturally confident, borderline arrogant child, you may have to help them understand and practice humility.  Teaching them how to listen to other’s point of view.  Teaching them how to let others go first. Teaching them to be better listeners and value the opinions of others. Teaching them to openly admit when they are wrong and make necessary apologies.

If your child lacks confidence, then you most likely do not need to spend a great deal of time teaching humility. Rather, you could begin to work on their positive self-talk.  You do not tolerate or accept excuses or down-trodden talk. You strongly challenge them to take action. If it leads to a win, you celebrate it. If it leads to a loss, you teach them how to learn from the failure.  

2. Teach your child to NEVER be a Victim! No matter what cards your child has been dealt, they will have their share of failure in their life. Teaching your child to come out as a victor rather than a victim is a lifelong tool that will serve your child well no matter who they are. Whether your child is an academic genius, or struggling to pass school, a potential pro-athlete, or sitting the bench, you can still teach them the value in never being a victim. We do this by teaching our kids to own or take responsibility for everything they do.  We do not tolerate excuses or blames.  No, it’s not the referee’s fault that you lost the game.  It may sound good at the time, but it completely removes responsibility from your child to get better.  Teaching your child to be a victor is one of the most empowering things that you can do. They will no longer have to wait for things to go their way.  They will begin to understand what it means to Make it a Great Day rather than Have a Great Day!

3. Teach your child the value of Self-Discipline. I remind my kids even when they don’t want to hear it; “I will discipline you until you can learn to discipline yourself!”  That is the key to why we discipline our children.  We really just need them to self-discipline. Again, no matter who your child is, research has proven time and time again, that a necessary trait for happiness and success in life is self-control.

Your kids will not like this parenting tactic, but you owe it to them to help them to practice the skill of self-control in their daily activities and decision making. Immediate gratification and self-control are on two opposite ends of the spectrum.  Help your child move toward the side of long term success and happiness - self control!

4. Teach your child about God and why he created them the way they are.  As your child grows up, they begin to have the ability to compare.  Yes, they compare how good they are, how bad they are, how tall they are, how smart they are, how athletic they are, how artistic they are, and the list goes on.  They soon realize that they are never going to be the best at everything. Someone will always be better! This is where we get into the self-esteem concerns. Self-esteem drops when a child believes there is something wrong with them.  Simply stated; they aren’t good enough!

Teach your child about their total uniqueness. They entered this world as a unique Child of God made in His image.  No one in the world is who they are. No one in the world has the exact combinations of talents, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses.  This combination has been hand selected by God. Teach them to stop wanting to change what God has created and embrace who He intended them to be.  Teach them to identify their strengths and then build them. Teach them to identify their weaknesses and how these weaknesses will help steer their path to serve out God’s intention for their life.  

Don’t fall into the trap of letting the world determine who your child should be.  Encourage them to be who God intended them to be. Like the old adage says, “God doesn’t make junk”!  

My Top Ten List for Discipline

In my last blog, When Did Discipline Become a Dirty Word?, I promised my top ten list of discipline principles we have used when working with families over the past 30 years. We know these principles work, and we are intentional about applying them in our own home. Yes, they are very common sense, but I think as parents we have made this discipline thing too complicated. Keep it simple. Trust me; my wife and I blow it on a regular basis.  But when things get tough in our home, it’s usually because we are not following one of these ten principles. So here’s our Top Ten:

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Top Ten List of Discipline Practices:

  1. Be An Authoritative Parent Not An Authoritarian One -Did you even know there was a difference?  Authoritative parenting simply means your children know who’s in charge and they trust and respect your leadership.  The authoritative parent demonstrates what the family values through a consistent example. Authoritative parents model things like hard work, strong academics, faith, manners, respect, honesty, integrity, etc. You determine your home’s environment, educate, and then reinforce those values in your children. Think of yourself as the captain of the team.  The captain leads, and the team follows because they trust the captain. There is peace and order in the home, because the kids know mom and dad have a plan and know how to carry it out. Many parents confuse this with being an authoritarian where there is super high expectation and little freedom and communication. That’s not what we are talking about. That’s more like being a dictator. Remember... Rules without relationship equal rebellion.  

  2. Model and Teach Them To Serve Others- You may already be shaking your head because as good as that sounds on paper, your children are still not following your lead. Hang with me. Children come into this world as selfish beings. This selfishness usually begins to rear its ugly head between the ages of 2-3 years old, which is why they call it the “Terrible Twos”  If our kids have any chance at all at being well adjusted, successful adults, they must learn how to serve others. When children learn to serve and help others, they learn to live for something bigger than themselves, whether it be their family, team, community, business, etc. When they don’t learn to be good servants, they become selfish individuals that range from being annoying to being dangerous and self-destructive.

  3. Model and Teach Good Character -Often, we think of good character as just having good manners, but it goes far beyond manners.  Good character includes: honesty, trust, integrity, work ethic, responsibility, self-control, and resourcefulness just to name a few.  Yes, parents should expect these attributes to be enforced at school, but first and foremost, they start in the home. This is best done by modeling it to your children, and then expecting it from them in return.

  4. Model And Teach Respect and Obedience for Authority - Respect for authority is essential in in developing your child’s gifts, talents, skills, and aptitude. If your child is left to think they are in charge and know what’s best, they will fall short of all God has planned for their life. Adults like teachers, coaches, mentors, pastors, police, firemen, etc. have a tremendous opportunity to influence and help our children grow to their fullest potential.  That’s only if the child is raised to honor, listen, and learn. The fastest way to lose this positive influence and growth opportunity in your child is for YOU to argue with the authority figures in your child’s life. Disagreeing with teachers, coaches, referees, police, etc. only shows your child disrespect for authority. This is not to say authority figures don’t make mistakes, but it’s still important to always treat them with respect and the benefit of the doubt.

  5. Set Reasonable And Clear Expectations -As a parent, it’s important to let your children know what you expect up front.  At the age of two or so, you can begin to let your child know what you expect in your home.  Whether it’s to say “please and thank you” or to return a toy back to its proper place. These are things that you must make clear.  Otherwise, you will find yourself frustrated when your child doesn’t behave like you think they should. You often will take it as misbehaving, when in fact, you simply have made your expectations clear.

  6. Enforce And Follow Up on Expectations -So often I am asked, what is the best technique for discipline. Is it rewards, spankings, timeouts, remove privileges, chores, etc? Let me be clear, it is not about the technique or consequence you use.  The best form of discipline is the one that is effective, safe, and implemented consistently in an age-appropriate way. I have seen positive rewards work and fail. I have seen spankings work and fail. I have seen raising your voice work and fail.  My point is this; come to an agreement with your partner on what you are going to enforce. Let your child know what your expectations are, and then enforce those expectations using an effective, safe, and age-appropriate discipline. Most parents believe they are disciplining their child when they are yelling all the time, or telling their child to do something over and over again.  If you have to constantly yell or repeat yourself multiple times, you are not using an effective approach to discipline. You may have to change a consequence depending on it’s effectiveness, but your values and expectations should be consistent. Believe it or not, those consistent values and expectations are what gives your child emotional peace and security. Even when they don’t like the consequences.

  7. Talk Less; Act More -We can all fall guilty with this.  I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in my office with a student and talked way too much about how to solve a problem.  The student would nod as if he understood what I was saying, and I would think “yes, he’s getting it”! Only to have the student walk out of my office and commit the same offense 20 minutes later.  Ugh! Bottom line - talk is cheap when it comes to discipline.  Lay out your expectations, let the child know what the consequences will be, both good and bad, and then carry them out!  If you are telling your child five times to pick up their shoes with no consequences, then you are sending a loud message that you really don’t mean what you say.  Mean what you say and say what you mean. Your expectation should be- when I ask you to do something I mean it! Yes, they may not do it the first time, but make sure they experience a consequence if they don’t. This creates a clear expectation, which creates predictability and ultimately results in security for the child.

  8. Follow Up with Love and Encouragement- So often when discipline is taking place, emotions are usually running high. There is often a storm brewing inside the mind of the child, and quite often, inside the mind of the parent.  There is anger, fear, anxiety, frustration- you name it. Humans have a difficult time using both the emotional side and the logical side of the brain at the same time. For this reason, when the parent is disciplining, he or she needs to refrain from using too many words.  I have been guilty of thinking that the more I talk and explain myself, the more they will understand. WRONG! When the child’s brain is emotionally charged, they are hearing very little of what you are saying. They are just thinking, “oh no, what’s going to happen next?”.  So, be of few words, say what needs to be said, then allow a time for emotions to settle. This may be 30 - 60 minutes. Once you have seen the emotions calm, then it is essential for you to follow up with your child. This is when you briefly recap what the discipline was for, and what your expectations will be in the future. This is when you let your child know that you were upset with a specific behavior, but your love for them is unwavering. Once this conversation is finished, do not continue to rehash or throw it back into their face. Let it go and move on! 

  9. Encourage And Praise Often - You are your child’s number one fan! You are their first mentor, provider, and encourager. Most every word that comes out of your mouth carries incredible influence in the life of your child.  More than buying gifts and material rewards, your child thrives on your honest praise and encouragement.  I say honest, because false praise and encouragement can be more detrimental than good. Don’t falsely inflate your child’s self-concept.  Yes, they need to be effectively corrected and told when they have done something wrong and ways to improve. Please refrain from giving gifts and rewards for expected behaviors.  Your words are so valuable, they mean so much more in the long run than any gift you could give. Make sure to encourage the things you value like their effort, attitude, or sportsmanship.  

  10. Never Argue With Your Child -Yes, I said NEVER.  When you argue with your child, you send the message that they have the ability to change who you are as the parent and what you stand for.  If they feel like they won you over once, you can guarantee they will push back over and over again. Think back for a moment, would you ever even imagined arguing with your parents?  As a kid, I was frequently annoyed and upset with my parents, but the idea of arguing with them, especially as a young child, never crossed my mind. I clearly understood they were in charge, and I lived in THEIR house.  As a parent, don’t argue or negotiate with your child, until you can trust their value system. Once you trust that they are operating with a similar set of values, then you can allow more back and forth conversation and let them weigh in on different decisions.   

In the end, your child needs you to be their leader and encourager.  They need to learn from your example. More is caught than ever taught. This top ten list is what we use in our home to develop mental, physical, social, and emotional tools in our children. Research has shown these tools to be essential in growing to be a well-adjusted successful adult.  So set the values, goals, and expectations you want for your family, model them in your home, and don’t look back. Our kids are counting on us!