Secrets of Raising Successful Kids

 

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What I neglected to teach my kids, they learned from swimming.

Yesterday, while driving to the mountains to escape the summer heat of the desert with a friend, we talked about how different our childhoods were and how our parents were much less hands-on than we have been with our kids. It was fun to reminisce about the good old days. It’s also kind of sad to think about how sheltered our kids are today and that they didn’t get the chance to ride their bikes for miles and miles and play in the street with neighborhood kids.

For example, we both recalled our first day of kindergarten when our mothers took us to school. The second day, we were walking on our own! Our kids were chauffeured everywhere, every single day by good ol’ mom.

Here’s an interesting article that gives nine somewhat scientific steps to raising successful kids. There are some good tips in it and I agree strongly with several–like kids need to play outdoors more and have chores. Here’s tip number three from “Want to Raise Successful Kids? Science Says Do These 9 Things:”

“3. Send them outside to play
This research applied specifically to boys, but it’s common sensical for girls as well. In short, smart parents will advocate for their kids to get a significant amount of unstructured recess time during the school day–and never to have recess withheld as punishment.

Unfortunately, researchers say we’re more likely to do the opposite in schools now: overprotecting kids, trying to keep them safe from all physical dangers, and ultimately inhibiting their academic growth, because lack of physical activity makes it harder for them to concentrate.”

I had a ton of chores growing up. I’d cringe coming home from school or on weekends to my mom’s difficult-to-read handwriting filling every line on a legal yellow pad with chores to do before “we played” or “watched TV.” We had to weed the garden, sweep the steps, vacuum the entire house, cook dinner, clean the game closet, etc.

I wasn’t as good as my mom at making my kids do chores. They were so busy with school and the pool that I felt they didn’t have the time for more work. I know that was a mistake. I had attempted having them do the dishes every night, but that turned into more trouble than if I did it myself. Also, my daughter developed a unique allergy to dishes. Her legs and arms would break out in blotches whenever it was her turn. I couldn’t let her off the hook while making my son wash dishes, right?

Another thing that’s not on the list but should be is letting my kids fail and suffer the consequences. It’s a nice reminder to let kids fail while they’re young and you’re not paying $30k for a year of college. Consequences are what make them steady, reliable adults. I should have let my kids fail when they were younger so they could learn the consequences. I took way too many trips to school with forgotten homework or lunches.

All in all, despite me, they’re happy and hard working. I think that swimming taught them about hard work since I failed in the chore department. Also, swimming taught them how to turn a missed goal or failed swim into motivation to try harder. So, despite my not being a perfect mother, letting them experience life with the swim team taught them life lessons that I neglected to teach them.

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Ribbons and medals received for hard work from her coach.

How do you parent differently than your parents?

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10 Life Skills Our Kids Need — BEFORE College

After my son left for college, I realized that I was negligent preparing him for life. Yes, he had good grades. Yes, he had the right “stuff.” But he was seriously lacking on a few life skills. I spent time teaching my daughter the basics before it was her turn to leave. She was better prepared for the daily tasks–although that doesn’t necessarily mean life won’t throw you some bumps in the road.

 

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My son giving his high school graduation speech.

“He tried college a couple times. It just didn’t take,” a dad of one of my son’s friends told me last night at the grocery store.

Next, I got a call from a close friend, whose happy-go-lucky daughter checked herself into a campus hospital, because she felt so overwhelmed and out of control.

Another friend told me their son quit after one semester after too much partying and not enough studying. Yet another mom left on a rescue mission to help a child in need.

What the heck is going on with our kids and college? My own son struggled to find his way his freshman year.  

All of these parents, myself included, believed college was the best and only choice for their kids.imgres-1

Maybe college isn’t for everyone? Maybe we did too much for them? Maybe we didn’t let them fail often or enough?

I’ll talk more about why kids are struggling in college on another day. And if we have an epidemic on our hands.

But, first, I want to share basic things kids need to know before they leave for college. I was often surprised at questions my son would ask me during his first year at college. I’m going to make sure my second child checks off every item on my “top 10 things kids need to know before going to college” list.

  1. Banking skills. Know how to write a check, make a deposit face-to-face with a teller, fill out a deposit slip, and use an ATM card for deposits and withdrawals. Balancing a check-book falls under the banking list.
  2. Laundry. Have your kids do their own laundry so they know how to sort white and colors, hand-wash, hang dry, and fold–and what it feels like to be out of clean clothes. The clean underwear does not appear by magic! imgres-5
  3. Cooking. Teach your child some basic cooking skills like scrambling eggs, making spaghetti, baking a chicken, steaming vegetables, and cooking rice. 
  4. Grocery shopping. Just like clean underwear, the food in the fridge doesn’t appear out of thin air. Teach how to make a list, look for coupons, find sale items, and learn how to read unit pricing on shelves.imgres-6
  5. How to get to and from the grocery store. This may seem obvious, but I’ll never forget the phone call I got from Robert: “Mom. I’m at Costco and how do I get home with cases of water, yogurt, and Top Ramen on my bike?”  Hmmm. Good question.
  6. Budgeting. If your child hasn’t worked at a job and you provide their basic necessities, they lack budgeting skills. My son got his first paycheck working a summer retail job. The check was for $175. He bought his girlfriend a dress for $110 and spent the rest on dinner for the two of them. Very romantic, but not practical when he needed to eat the next week and month.
  7. Theft. At college, thieves are everywhere. My first week of college, I hand-washed some sweaters and hung them out to dry in the bathroom. Within minutes — gone. I had a bike stolen from my sorority storage room — and a locked bike stolen when I used a restroom during a ride around Green Lake. My son’s laptop was stolen when he left it in a study area in his dorm. Make sure they have “find my laptop” activated and never leave anything unattended! Don’t use a chain or cable lock for your bike — use a solid bar type. 
  8. Professors. They set aside office hours and only one or two students bother to stop by per semester. They are thrilled to help and meet students face-to-face. This can help for future referrals, references, internships — and grades. Have your kid meet with each professor at least once, every semester. It can’t hurt!images-2
  9. Cars. Basic things like checking tire pressure, oil and water levels, changing tires and pumping gas. Maybe they won’t have a car right away, but at some point they will and car maintenance is not an instinct. It’s a learned skill.
  10. Learn to say no! College means hanging out with friends, listening to music, parties, dances, rallies, job opportunities, football games, intramural sports, going out to eat, etc. Studying is priority number one. Learning to say no will help your kid stay focused.
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My daughter with Waffles.

What other essential life skills would you add to the list?

 

How to best prepare your kids for “adulting”

katrobAre your kids prepared to leave the nest? Do they know how to do more than go to school and complete their homework? With helicopter and snow plow parents not allowing them to fail, let alone do the dishes or laundry, a lot of our children are not prepared to become adults.

In the Sarasota Herald Tribune, two parenting experts I enjoy reading, Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman, give a strategy to help prepare your kids for the next step. They suggest to adopt an apprenticeship mindset.

Here’s an excerpt from “PARENTING: Preparing our kids for skills of adulthood.”

Adopt an apprenticeship mindset

Preparing our kids for adulthood is one of the paramount duties of parenting. By the time our kids leave our homes, they should be able to run a household; learn anything they may need to know; make, manage and grow money; and contribute to society.

As adults, our kids will need to know what to do when the toilet backs up. They will need to know what to do when they are sick or injured. They will need to be able to plan and prepare food, negotiate a sale, research products they want to buy and maintain their vehicle.

One way to help prepare our kids for adulthood is to adopt an apprenticeship mindset in the family.

When your toilet gets hopelessly clogged and you have to pull the toilet to remove the clog and then replace the wax ring before reinstalling the toilet, grab a kid and have them help you. Talk about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

When it’s time to change the oil in the car, do you take it someplace to have it changed or do you do it yourself? Talk to your child about why you make that particular choice. If you take it in to have the oil changed, tell your child where you are going and why you chose that place. Take them with you and, on the way, talk about why you do oil changes and how often. If you change the oil yourself, take your child along and have him or her help you.

If you have to get quotes for a new insurance policy, pull your child into the process. Talk about why insurance is important and how it works. As you research your options, keep your child by your side and discuss what you find.

When it’s time to pay the bills, pull up a chair next to you and let your child be a part of the process. Talk about the bills and why they are important. Point out due dates and talk about the consequences for missing due dates. Talk about your family budget, and help your child understand that everything has a cost.

This idea of treating your kids like apprentices seems so simple but it does take time. When we get busy, it often feels easier to do everything ourselves. I failed my son in preparing him for his first year of college, which is why he struggled. After learning what my son didn’t know — like how to get home from Costco on his bike with milk, cereal and Top Ramen — I made sure that my daughter was prepared.

Because I homeschooled my daughter for middle school, I had time to teach her about daily tasks and chores. Everything we did was a lesson from pumping gas to opening a checking account (which is probably why she couldn’t wait to start high school and escape!) In contrast, my son took too many AP classes and was always on the go, rushing from homework, to swim practice, piano lessons, plays, science fairs, etc. I did his laundry and drove forgotten homework to school and everything else I could to make his life run smoothly.

My tip for parents is to follow the advice to teach your kids daily tasks they’ll need for adulthood. I made a list of ten things they need to know before college, here. Also, if they’re busy, let them fail and not be perfect. They also need to learn how to pick themselves up after failure.10575366_10204674805333844_4491881722162368424_o

How do you teach your children the daily skills they’ll need for survival on their own?

 

Too much parenting isn’t helping

robert bunnyIn an article in Fatherly  called “Science Suggests Parents Are Taking Parenting Too Far” by Patrick A. Coleman, Parents who want to give their kids every advantage are spending more and more time and money on kids, but science is finding that it’s better to step back and find balance.”

I figured this out for myself. The more I did for my kids, the more I crippled them. Sometimes it doesn’t show up for years, but the damage is done.

Here are some interesting excerpts from the article:

According to a recent study by Cornell University, a majority of parents see world-consuming hyper-engagement as the best method of child-rearing. Going all in on kids has become a cultural best practice, begging this simple question: Does it work? Ask a scientist and they’ll likely tell you no.

Parents who really want a kid to get a head start will often push their child to hit developmental milestones early. The problem is that hitting a developmental milestone early does nothing to improve a kid’s outcomes. Also, pushing them to develop early might actually be detrimental, according to a recently published study by infant attachment expert Dr. Susan Woodhouse of the Leigh University CARE lab.

“We were trying to understand what parents are doing that really matters for children to become securely attached by 12 months,” Woodhouse says. In other words, she was looking into parental behaviors that help babies orient to their parent in a developmentally appropriate and secure way. “What our data showed is that when a baby really needs you and is crying, if you responded at least half the time, the baby would be securely attached.”

Woodhouse calls this the “secure base provision” which simply means parents are responding correctly to a baby’s cues enough times that attachment can form. Importantly, in order to reach the secure base provision, parents don’t need to respond to their child’s cues correctly 100 percent of the time, or even 80 or 70 percent of the time. They simply need to respond correctly 50 percent of the time, which Woodhouse likes to call “good enough” parenting. The clear virtue of this approach is that it allows parents to behave less mechanically, lowering levels of stress, and shielding kids from the potentially deleterious second-hand effects of anxiety and parental busyness.

kat chairThe article explains why we shouldn’t be interrupting and hovering over our kids all the time. They need time to figure out how the world works without us interfering:

But that’s not the whole story. Responding to a child is one thing, but so is letting them explore independently. “When the baby is not in distress, learning about the way the world works and exploring, parents get the job done by not interrupting the baby and making them cry,” Woodhouse explains. “When a cry shuts down the exploratory system and gets the attachment system activated. The exploration stops. The baby isn’t doing their job anymore and that creates insecurity.”

That reminds me when my kids were young and they were playing at the park. My husband and I were sitting on a blanket a few yards away. Our toddler girl fell off the swing, face planting into the sand. My gut reaction was to run to her and see if she was alright! My husband held my hand and said “Shhh!”

We watched as she picked herself up, dusted off some sand and hopped back on the swing. What would have happened if I had my way? I’m sure I would have been carrying home a sobbing child.

But insecure attachment in babies isn’t the only risk of being over-involved. According to a 2012 study, published in the journal PLOS One, kindergarten-age children’s risk for anxiety disorders later in life might be correlated to maternal anxiety or excessive maternal involvement. After tracking 200 children into their elementary years, researchers found that children were more likely to have diagnosable anxiety if mothers had responded positively to survey questions like “I determine who my child will play with” or “I dress my child even if he/she can do it alone.”

The fact is that parenting is stressful enough. But when parents take burdens, either social or educational, off their children’s shoulders, kids do not learn the crucial coping and organizational skills necessary to become functional adults.  

Schiffrin’s most-cited study looked into a child’s self-determination — essentially the ability to make decisions for oneself, feelings of autonomy and having relationships. A child who has strong feelings of self-determination generally also has a sense of well-being and happiness. Schiffrin wondered if helicopter parenting, defined as a developmentally inappropriate level of involvement, affected a child’s self-determination. And … yes. Very much so.

The point of the scientists quoted in this article is for us parents to stop helicoptering, quit snowplowing and find some balance. Good enough parenting is being there when our kids need us, but allowing them room to grow and thrive to become self-sufficient.

kat and rob beachWhat are your thoughts about doing too much for our kids?

Helicopters, snowplows, submarines and “dog moms”

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My son

Have you heard all the new names for parents? We used to have helicopters, but now there are snowplows and submarines. My daughter told me that I’m more of a “dog mom.”

“What’s a dog mom?” I asked.

“You keeping me on a leash or locked in a crate.”

Ouch! Although it’s kind of funny–I mean sort of–if its not true. I guess I should be joyful that she coined a new term, right? Remember, you heard it here, first. “Dog mom.”

In “How Parenting Styles Affect Kids: Snowplow vs. Submarine,” by Maria Schwartz on Teenlife, she explains in more detail about different styles of parenting and how we should strive to become submarines.

Labels for different parenting styles have come and gone for just about as long as there have been parents. Since the college admissions scandal made headlines last month, there has been a lot of talk about the perils of “snowplow parenting” — clearing a path for children by shoving obstacles to the side.

Like the tiger mothers and helicopter parents who came before, snowplowers are highly involved parents who take a proactive and often authoritative role in their children’s lives. Any parent can understand the desire to do everything in their power to make their kids’ lives better. And, with the advantage of age and experience, it can be easy for parents to believe they can — and should — make all the right choices for their children.

The downside of snowplow parenting

There is, however, reason to believe that the kind of top-down micromanagement involved in some parenting styles is doing more harm than good. When children aren’t given a chance to fail, they get little practice grappling with the frustrations and challenges of failure.

On the other hand, kids who lose the student council election, get cut from the basketball team, or get the C they deserved instead of the A they wanted learn valuable lessons about hard work, resiliency, and handling disappointment.

“We learn to adapt and recognize new opportunities when something doesn’t work out,” wrote Rebecca Pacheco in The Boston Globe earlier this month.

So instead of emulating a snowplow or a helicopter, parents should consider drawing inspiration from another source: the submarine. Submarines are powerful machines that gather intelligence and are ready to pop up when needed. But they spend most of their time “guiding & protecting” below the surface.

In the same way, parents who step back (or below) — while their teens take charge of navigating the seas of school, relationships, and personal growth — give their kids a chance to make mistakes, find solutions, spot opportunities, and — most importantly — gain confidence. But, like a submarine, they are ready to surface when needed to provide information, guidance, or protection.

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My daughter

Schwartz includes three tips to be an effective submarine parents: letting kids fail, being a sounding board and getting them out of the house into an independent activity.

Those three tips are good ideas. Without allowing our kids to fail, they won’t know how to pick themselves up and continue on. We’re taking away a valuable life skill of resilience. Listening is so important, too. How often do parents try to give advice and tell our kids what to do when all they want is someone they trust to listen to the?

As for independent activities outside the house, My kids learned so much from their weeks at swim camp when they were younger. They got to stay in dorms with other kids, have college-age counselors, be coached by Olympians. What great memories and independence they had. There are so many activities available for our kids these days. Let them go to experience something new without us hovering and yanking on their leash.

Don’t be a dog mom. Undo that leash, open the crate and let them run!

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Waffles at the beach

What are your thoughts about all the new parenting labels?

Are parents to blame for our millennials’ angst?

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When the kids were young and I hadn’t messed up parenting too badly, yet.

I watched a video posted on Facebook by one of my children’s former swim coaches about millennials in the workforce and the problems they face. It really made me reflect about my own parenting and kids. There’s an increased number of kids in this age group with depression, committing suicide and overdosing. That’s terrifying, don’t you agree? What can be done about it? And why is it happening?

You can watch the aforementioned video here

Here are the four main points of the video:

ONE
Bad Parenting

I hate that bullet point and know I’m guilty of some bad parenting myself. The main idea is that our kids were told they are special at every turn, whether it’s deserved or not. Consequently, millennials often suffer from low self esteem. While we’re trying to make our kids strong, mentally and physically, we’re doing something very wrong. We have highly educated, competent kids who don’t believe in themselves. Maybe everyone shouldn’t get a participation trophy in tee ball. It’s one of the reasons why I like swimming. Every mili-second dropped and ribbon received is truly earned. The clock doesn’t lie.

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Before the computer and cell phone I thought the The IBM Selectric II was the greatest invention ever.

TWO
Technology

Checking our number of likes, texts, etc. give us a jolt of dopamine. That’s why we get addicted to our phones. Social media and cell phones are not much different than other highly addictive substances like tobacco or alcohol. When teenage brains are exposed to dopamine, they get hooked and their brains get hardwired. Hearing this part of the video makes me want to look at my own cell phone usage and make some changes—a good thing to think about for New Year’s Resolutions (I’ll write more about this later). Social media is preventing our kids from developing personal relationships and may lead to depression and being unable to handle stress.

THREE
Instant Gratification

Our kids have grown up in the world of instant gratification. If they want to watch a movie, they turn on Netflix. If they want to buy something, they click on Amazon and it’s delivered the next day. I interviewed a psychologist and wrote about instant gratification here. Job satisfaction and relationships aren’t a click away. Instead they are messy and time consuming, but our kids aren’t learning these skills of waiting and working for things.

FOUR
Environment

Maybe our corporate environments aren’t a good fit for young people. Our kids blame themselves when it could partially be the fault of the company they work for. Companies need to work extra hard to build the children’s social skills and work on their lack of confidence. We need to work on interpersonal relationships and one good way to start is to put the phone down.

What are your thoughts about millennials and their angst? Do you think it’s our fault they are suffering from depression and anxiety? Or, does the environment and technology play a bigger role?

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Selfie of Mom and me playing BINGO. She is the best mom and my role model.

5 Tips for Parents of Graduating Seniors

Here’s a story I wrote a few months before I officially became an “empty nester.” Many of my friends are going through the transition from full-time parents with their kids graduating high school and starting the next phase of their lives. This story is for anyone facing the empty nest or having their oldest child graduating high school. Trust me, it gets better and you’ll learn to love some “me” time.

I’ve written about the top 10 things kids need to know before leaving for college. But, what about us? When our kids leave, it’s a drastic change in our lives.

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When we took our son, our oldest child, to University of California Santa Barbara, I was strong. I was emotional about moving him into the dorms, but I was excited for him, too. I loved college. They were some of the best years. I was excited for him to love it, too.

But, then we said our good-byes. It hit. Like a punch in the stomach. Then, the tears. Oh, my! I wasn’t expecting that. The drive home, my younger child, age 15, looked at me in horror. I was falling apart. Thank goodness for her riding in the car with me. I probably would have wailed like a complete idiot without her staring at me.

 

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My son on our friend’s sailboat during orientation weekend.

Now, I have a few months left before I face a totally empty nest. What did I learn the first time around to prepare me for this time?  I wish I knew some secret to make it easier.

During orientation, UCSB gave parents a few tips on how to parent your college kid. This is what I remember:

1. Give them space. Don’t hover, don’t call too often, never call before 10 a.m.

2. Set up a time to make calls on a weekly basis — and not more often than that.

3. Expect them to get homesick. It’s natural they will miss home-cooked meals, their own room, their friends, pets, and you!  Reassure them that this is normal. They tend to get homesick around six to eight weeks. It will get better. They’ll adjust. But, will you?

4. Be sure to send a few care packages. Their favorite cookies, toiletries, something to make them smile. Mid-terms and finals weeks are ideal times to mail care packages.

5. Take time for yourself! Write, paint, sew, take a yoga class. Do something every week for just you. Make a list of things you used to love doing, but through the child-raising and working years, haven’t found time to do. Make another list of things you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t. You’ll find your way.

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The quilt I made my son out of his swim tee shirts.

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My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.