Lessons for Everyday Parenting

The Connective Parenting Newsletter, April 2014

  • Ever get sick and tired of your kids asking for one more thing?
  • Ever feel taken for granted because your kids don’t appreciate all you do and buy for them?
  • Ever wish your teenager was more responsible with money?
  • Ever wish your children had a little more patience and would stop expecting things to happen RIGHT NOW?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, my advice to you is give them an allowance.

Having an allowance will teach your children how to manage, use, save, and value money and develop delayed gratification. Growing up with an allowance will insure that your children manage their own finances responsibly. When children have their own money to spend, they quickly learn the value of what they spend it on. A tempting toy that breaks the first day becomes a lesson in quality. Parents and ATMs are no longer considered or available as an endless supply. Children and parents no longer spend useless time arguing over money and buying.

Giving children an allowance sends a message of trust in the child’s capability. Most important, a child who is raised responsibly with an allowance does not blow it financially after leaving home.

When do I start an allowance?
This depends on your child. We started giving our son a quarter a week when he was five or six. He had no idea what it was for and never remembered it. We stopped and started again when he was eight. Our daughter was piling pennies as a toddler so we started hers at five. By the time she was seven, she bought herself an American Girl Doll. When she was thirteen, she paid for a $1700 violin.

How much do I give?
This is completely personal and depends on what you expect your child to pay for. When our children were little, allowance was for toys and treats. I always bought their clothes but when they were older, they could add to the money I agreed to spend if they wanted the more expensive items. When they went out with friends, their allowance covered movies and snacks.

Some parents give allowance in two or three segments: 1) spending money, 2) savings account, and 3) charitable giving. Spending money is just that. They must be allowed to spend it on whatever they want in order to learn its value over time. When they blow it on candy, they have nothing left for that toy or video game. When they beg for more money, you can say, “You’ll have it with your next allowance.”

When the amount is decided on, be very clear what it is to be used for so your child is clear and battles can be avoided. If it is to cover all treats and toys, allow your child to blow it all and then empathize and acknowledge his disappointment and anger when you say that next time he can save up to get what he is begging you to buy now. In this way, allowance is a great teacher of boundaries.

Is that all they should get?
It’s a good idea to give your children the opportunity to add to their savings by paying them for irregular jobs around the house like raking leaves, cleaning the garage or bathroom, having a lemonade stand. My daughter loved a job she had piling bricks for a penny a brick. We paid for our children’s school lunches each week and they decided whether they wanted to buy lunch or make their own and save the money.
When they complain that they’ll never have enough money to buy x, y, or z, you can suggest extra jobs. As they get older, they might rake leaves for the neighbors or sell some of their old toys at a yard sale. Extra money given for birthdays or holidays always adds an encouraging boost.

What if they never save any money?
When they beg for that game “everyone else has”, the unnecessary accessory, the toy they will die without, that is your cue to encourage savings — unless you give the needed money to avoid a meltdown or disappointment. Acknowledge how hard it is when you don’t have the money for something you want, share a story of your own, and ask your child if she would like your help to save up at least part of her allowance each week. Help her figure out how long it will take and mark it on the calendar. Extra jobs can speed the process but in today’s world delayed gratification is a most important lesson. The pride experienced when your child finally has the money and makes the purchase herself is worth every ounce of patience.

Do I withhold it when they don’t do their chores?
Allowance should never be tied to chores. When allowance becomes a reward for chores, it loses its teaching value. If it is a reward, it is also a punishment when the chore is not done. This is territory for feuds and resistance. An allowance is for learning the value of money.

Regular jobs are expected because the child is an important, needed member of the family team. Chores can change and should be decided on together but should have no connection to allowance. Allowance should be given regularly each week or month regardless of the child’s performance or behavior for its true lessons to sink in.

But why should I just hand over money to my child for nothing?
Giving your child an allowance is like giving your child swimming lessons. Learning to swim means he can be safe in the water. Growing up with an allowance means he learns to be safe with money.

Questions and Answers

I want your questions. Here’s how it works: You email me a question to bh@bonnieharris.com, and I answer pretty quickly. I put it in a newsletter at a later date. Please try to keep them brief without leaving out critical details.

<pFears and Anxiety

Q. My bright and rather sensitive nearly three-year-old has become worried about less familiar people (particularly men), separations, abandonment and perceived aggression from her peers. This plays out as extreme shyness, tremendous difficulty with partings from Mom and Dad, terror at getting left behind and yelling ‘No grabbing!’ ‘Stop that!’ and ‘Go away!’ at little kids who approach her on playdates. I’m a worried about whether it is a bit extreme for her age. I definitely get that she is having a problem rather than being a problem. I had a mother with poor boundaries, and I’m having trouble validating my daughter’s feelings without trying to solve the problem for her. I need to learn how to balance the desire to be loving/accepting and supportive with letting her learn how to deal with these normal human emotions.

A. It sounds like you are approaching the problem well. See if you can “bundle” her various fears and have her give them a name, like her gremlins or her grumbles or a nonsense word she makes up. You want her to see that her fears are a problem she is having and can deal with rather than seeing herself as afraid—she is a competent kid who has some fears rather than she is a fearful child. Use the name she comes up with. So was that your grumbles that got you feeling upset when …? Start a story about a man she doesn’t know who is walking down the street and ask her to say what he does next. Perhaps you add that he stands on his head or twirls around—something silly. Also see if she will draw her fears. Give her paper and her favorite markers and ask her to show you what her fear look like. This might be hard at her age but her scribbles can be a way of “putting her fears down on paper”—simply doing that can help. For the separation anxiety, it’s important for you to feel confident about where you are leaving her and convey that you know she is scared and you know she will be able to get through it. When you get upset that she is upset, then she fears there must be something to be upset about. With playdates, ask her what she wants when she yells at someone. Then role play with her telling the child what she wants or doesn’t want. Don’t expect that this change things but it will help eventually. Also assure her that her fears will change and go away as she gets older.

Anger is a problem she is having

Q. My strong willed 8 year old lashes out at my husband and I – sometimes the moment she gets up and is mean to her 4 year old brother (willfully stepping on his drawing). I’ve tried the “it sounds like you are really upset” – this get’s a “duh” and the behavior continues. I try to not take it personally and not overreact, but this isn’t acceptable behavior. When things escalate and she won’t go into another room, I tell her I am taking some time away for myself, because I don’t like to be talked to this way, and I go up to my room. I try to figure out what she’s trying to teach me, but I am concerned that in large part, it is her temperament. She can be very loving and caring for us all at times and has no problems at school or outside the house. Her meanness and disrespect is just scary at times and I don’t know how to react or figure out the issue.

A. You’re right, her behavior is not acceptable, but when and how it ends is most determined by how you respond to it and that is determined by how you perceive it. When you perceive that she is mean and disrespectful, you will get angry and react reproachfully. The Buttons work helps you to reframe those assumptions so you can get closer to compassion. It is important that you understand that her angry behavior means she is having a problem, not being a problem. You can reframe your assumptions to something like, She must feel so threatened by all of us that she has to lash out to protect herself. I wonder what she is protecting herself from. Do you see how that takes you to compassion for the problem she is having. It sounds like she has some cumulative distrust of what you think of her and what you are going to do. She needs a consistent accepting approach (of her, not her behavior) from you and your husband for a while before she will trust that you understand. When you have compassion, then you can address her anger in a less patronizing way. “It sounds like you’re really upset” is not getting to it. Leaving her to take time for yourself and not be treated in a way you don’t like is good – much better than sending her away. Don’t react in the moment. Later when you are both calm, come back to it. This is the step that most parents don’t want to do, and it is the MOST important one. “You were really angry this morning when you yelled at us/stepped on your brother’s drawing. Can you tell me what your anger was about? I want you to be able to say it rather than hit or lash out. I’m ready to listen.” She may or may not respond but if she does, do just listen and acknowledge her point of view. You don’t have to know what to do about it. Just take it in. What she may be teaching you is how to listen to her and truly hear her. Her temperament will not accept what she perceives as injustice and unfairness. Her behavior is provoked by her emotions not her temperament. I think she’s telling you that you don’t understand her and she feels that life is unfair—especially if it looks like her brother gets fairer treatment.

What’s the Problem?

Q. My almost-12 year old son is one of those kids who is resistant to being told what to do, and has some attention issues. I would like him to get ready for bed without me reminding him every step of the way and get ready for school with just minor cues for what he must do/remember in the process. We ask him “have you done ____?” and he’ll say, “Oh, I forgot”, and sometimes begin to do it and sometimes just carry on with what he is doing. Then another reminder/question a little later, etc., and often he never does what was asked. For many years, we have had systems in place to help–a cubby by the door, a posted list of tasks, a easy-to-remember chore schedule for the one or two morning chores (feeding the cat), consistent routines/expectations, etc., but he needs prompting through each one. I don’t want to keep cueing him constantly, because I think he relies on it and won’t take responsibility himself as long as we cue him through every morning! Is it unreasonable to expect a 5th grader to do these things? Also getting him in the car on time to get to school is difficult because he chooses to stick to his own agenda (staying home would be a treat) and move at his own pace.

A. Yes, it is reasonable to expect a 5th grader to do these things, especially when you have provided help with a cubby, check list, etc.—unless your 5th grader can’t. It’s always individual. Perhaps he has more attention or executive function issues than you think, which may make it harder than you expect for him to stay focused on one step after the other. Or you may be right that he has grown dependent on your reminders so he doesn’t have to pay attention to the checklist. If that is so, it is important that you pull back from cueing him, letting him know of course. Can you allow him to fail, to forget things, not hand in homework, etc. in order for him to take responsibility? Lecturing and nagging will not teach that. But you have to access whether letting him fail (I would take on feeding the cat for awhile) will encourage him to step up to the plate or cause him to feel more hopeless because he truly is incapable of handling the steps alone. Pull back in increments. Are you sure he would be happy to stay home if he missed his ride to school? What if he was already late and his driver stopped off to do errands on the way to school—meaning he would be very late? Many kids are mortified at walking in late. Tell him the car leaves in 10, 5, then 2 minutes and then leave, having a back-up plan, of course. If you haven’t already, do have a heart-to-heart with him about how difficult this problem is for you and problem solve together about how things can improve. Find out what his agenda is. If it’s to avoid school, then the problem changes. You have to find out what the problem is before you can know what to do about it.

Story

I surprised my son by picking him up after school because it had turned cold. But then I told him I wanted him to come with me while I registered him for summer baseball camp. He said he wanted to go straight home, and I went spiraling down into an internal reaction about how ungrateful he is and how had I managed to raise such a selfish kid, etc, and my attitude soured. He insisted I pull over and let him out, he slammed the door and walked the rest of the way home. After registering him for camp, which was of course a boring process of form-filling (What was I thinking? That it would somehow make him feel grateful?), I saw so clearly how my initial impulse to give him a ride (and also summer camp) was something I chose to give, but I’d poisoned it by sending the message that he was an ingrate, didn’t deserve it, and that I was a victim with a rude son. I went right back to my own childhood when I felt this very same bitter vibe from my mother, who often used to call me “selfish” when I didn’t want the same thing she did and who went on at length about her endless sacrifices to us kids. I felt grateful to my son for his rejection of that vibe from me, insisting I let him out of the car that I’d attempted to entrap him in. I wanted to apologize right away, and when I walked in the door he had left a note: “Sorry Mama” on the floor and was waiting for me. We engaged in a beautiful do-over, and I told him how I’m trying my best to do this mothering job in a new way, and I love that we can apologize as soon as possible when it feels bad and get back to connection.

Scroll down for this month’s Q&A’s

translating talking back behavior
Translating Talking Back Behavior

“Don’t you talk back to me, young lady!” Doesn’t that phrase send chills up your spine? Did you like it? So, why pass it on?

Talking back was problematic for our parents and grandparents when bringing up children to be seen and not heard held high value. Parents weren’t going for independence; they demanded obedience. But even though we now have research on children’s brains and emotional needs, and we want our children to have the voices that we never had, we still expect children to snap in line. The idea of “talking back” sits rudely in our subconscious minds, triggering old emotional scars and provoking our ineffective, yet familiar, reactions.

I asked parents for “talking back” behaviors. Most were in response to being asked to do something.

“Hold on a minute” or “I know.”
“That’s not fair” or “But why…?
“You are kidding me, right?
“I hate…” rants
“You’re so mean. You hate me!”
“What happens if I don’t?”
“You’re not the boss of me” or “I’m not going to do that.”
“I hate you. You’re dumb.”
Eye-rolling
Door slamming
“Get me my water, slave!”

Do we seriously expect our children to “yes ma’am” us when we tell them to do something they don’t want? Is it really not okay for them to say, “No” or “It’s not fair” or even “But why…”? What do we expect them to be prepared for when peers offer drugs, alcohol, etc. Is this another double standard?

Judging any behavior as “talking back” provokes emotions of anger and thus controlling, angry reactions—yelling, punishment, and ineffective consequences. Which in turn results in “talking back”.

One mother reported that talking back is when her words, “Don’t talk to me that way,” get back, “Don’t you talk to me that way.” We typically don’t judge our own behavior as rude or disrespectful. This child is clear, “If you don’t want me to talk to you rudely, don’t you talk to me rudely.” Imagine if you had said that to your parents.

Most of us were brought up by a double standard. It’s okay for parents to talk and behave however they want, but children must be respectful no matter what they may be feeling. It’s time we stopped using double standards and start following the golden rule.

What to do:

  1. Stop, step back, and translate the behaviors. When I asked parents what they thought their children were saying, most answered, Stop trying to control me or I don’t like what you said. When we think about what they are trying to tell us and don’t take their behavior at face value, we are better able to respond rationally.
  2. Lighten up and play. Sometimes we take our children’s behavior too seriously and catastrophize that, “Get me my water, slave” or “You’re not the boss of me” portends a bigoted, power-hungry dictator. Playing the game can lead to laughter and silliness. A lesson on slavery and prejudice will likely get an eye-roll.
  3. End double standards. Be the model you want your children to become. Be very conscious of disrespectful and inconsiderate remarks and demands you make on your children. Pay attention to the mirror they may be presenting you with.
  4. Stop punishing your child for rude behavior (includes taking away privileges or time out). Punishment is disrespectful and rude to a child. It is power held and teaches a child that controlling another is how to get what you want.
  5. Set realistic expectations. Do you expect your child to do what you want when you want it—cheerfully? Allow grumbles and “I know” and “Hold on a minute”. If she is doing what you ask, allow the steam to escape while it’s being done. If he’s in the middle of something, ask him when you can expect it done. Taking the trash out, shutting off the computer or going to bed is not your child’s agenda, it’s yours.
  6. Respond to testing behaviors as experimenting. “What if I don’t?”, “I don’t have to” and “I hate you” or “You hate me”, are experiments. Will you love me no matter what? is the question of the child who doesn’t feel unconditionally accepted.
  7. Once all your words and behavior are respectful and considerate (anger can still be respectful), then you have a fair and logical argument to a child’s rude comment. Stick with, “I don’t like to be spoken to that way. Can you try again, please?” until you both find agreement.

Respect is learned by feeling respected. If you demand respect at all times, you might get obedience but you probably won’t get respect.

 

Questions and Answers

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Q. My husband and I see the world differently. He is a type B personality (always looking for his keys) and my son and I are type A personalities(we never misplace anything). How do we raise our son with two different and most times opposing parenting styles? Do we follow Mom’s style when Dad’s at work and Dad’s way when Mom’s at work? It seems to be the only way we are able to get goals met without melt downs from sometimes all three of us. I figure that our son is learning flexibility and that different rules apply at different homes or with different people. My husband, on the other hand, thinks we’re confusing him. He and our son seem to butt heads more often than our son and I do, so my husband thinks that son and I are ganging up on him.

A. I know of no families where the mother and father have exactly the same parenting styles. What you described is different personalities, who will inevitably see things differently. You’re right that he is learning flexibility. The important thing is that you and your husband respect each other’s differences rather than criticize them and try to make one right and the other wrong. If you both love and accept your son, he will do just fine learning from different types of people. Your husband and he probably butt heads more because they are very different. Or your son feels his judgment. They must learn to accept each other and each other’s different ways of doing things. Problems arise when people try to change each other.

Why Kids Don’t Do What You Want

Q. We are having difficulty getting our 6 1/2 yo daughter to listen to us & reciprocate. When we want her to do something, like clean up her room, do her homework etc, we usually tell her in a normal tone. Half the time she doesn’t respond, so I need to raise my voice to get her attention. She nods her head in agreement but then the action doesn’t follow right away. This really bugs me but sometimes I control myself waiting for her to do what she is supposed to. After a reasonable time, I have to yell at her and only then will she do it. When we discuss something serious about her behavior, she busies herself doing something else. If I leave, she has a tantrum and says ‘Sorry’ like a 100 times. Sometimes I give in and ask her to calm down before continuing the discussion, but sometimes I say I am very upset and can’t talk right now. Eventually when we do get to discussing, she listens attentively but unfortunately it’s the same old story the next time. She mostly says what we want to hear to end the conversation but doesn’t care about it.. The problem is we can’t spend so much time on this. We are 2 working parents with a 15 month old toddler. I wanted a positive relationship with her, but I am really lost and fear for our relationship.

A. I will point out a few key phrases to show how your assumptions about your daughter’s behavior get in your way. First you said, “I have to yell at her…” This means your assumption is that you have no choice, she is making you yell. So she has learned that she doesn’t have to do anything until you yell. If you’re going to “discuss something serious about her behavior” of course she will busy herself doing something else. That’s quite normal. Then if you walk away, I imagine this comes with some guilt-tripping, which provokes the “Sorry, sorry, sorry.” She has to figure out how to make you happy again. You are getting upset and angry over her normal age-appropriate behavior. She’s 6 ½ and of course doesn’t want to clean her room (pretty young to do that alone) or do homework (she’s way too young for homework). She listens when you yell to try to please you but you still expect behavior that is unrealistic. Do you assume that discussing the situation will get her to understand the importance of it? She agrees to try to please, but can’t do what you ask, you get upset again, and the cycle replays. What she needs is your understanding that she doesn’t want to do these things, but you expect that she should do what she is told right away. Try letting her know that YOU want her room cleaned, that you don’t expect her to want to do it, so you want to set up a time with her that works for both of you and do it together. Play music and have fun together doing it. Also understand that she doesn’t want to do homework and ask if she wants your help or wants you to sit with her—whatever will make it more pleasant for her. I suggest talking to her teacher to say that you will not be expecting her to do homework. Your limited time and need to care for your toddler are not her problems. She should not be asked to do what she’s told to make your life easier.

Video Games: Worth the Fight?

Q. My son is 15 and we have a good respectful relationship. Our family has always been about limited screen time and we have resolved many technology issues. I have tried hard to respect and understand my son’s point of view, his interests, the times we live in, and what his friends are allowed. So we allowed a smartphone when he started high school, and he bought his own Xbox. He enjoys sports games and Minecraft. We had a big conflict last year when he wanted Call of Duty. After some discussion, I just had a hard line NO, basing it on my problem of not wanting those types of games in our house, and my concerns about young men growing up immersed in this violence, etc. Everytime it comes up, he gets angry and ends up walking away. My husband supports me but says if it was up to him, he would allow him to buy it himself with restrictions on time played, etc. I can’t decide if I am being too rigid. He keeps asking, when can I get it, when I’m 16? 17? He is all around a good kid, good grades, nice person, etc. I would appreciate any thoughts on this that would help me sort it out.

A. This is such a huge issue. Ask yourself what you’re afraid of and match that to the reality of your son. Our fears only take us away from our children. It sounds to me as though you have managed the situation extremely well and have set a good foundation. He sounds like a very responsible kid. So what are you afraid of? Do you think that playing Call of Duty will turn your son violent? Be clear with your son that you do not approve of a gaming company making it fun to do what they do in the game and then let him describe to you what he likes about it and why he wants it. My son, also a very responsible teen, was focused on the game’s amazing technology, quality of design, and the actual quest of the game. I agree that it would be great to have the same quality in a more admirable story line, however I do believe that violence is attractive to boys especially—but that it does not provoke violent behavior unless there is also violence in the child’s real life. Your discussions about it and what it means to you are as valid as his points about why he wants it. Do allow his voice and come to an agreement. Imagine if children carried out what they read in fairy tales. I also think that you have done a great job in preparing a foundation of connection with your son and now it is time for him to make more decisions about what he does and doesn’t do. When fights start to drive him away, that is the time to reevaluate and see that the problem is not worth the relationship.

Story

As is often the case, you’ve struck the very issue I’ve been working on in myself lately: taking responsibility for my own feelings (and allowing myself to feel them), and recognizing others are entitled to feel their feelings without my emotions complicating things. How liberating for us all! Truly, at 51, this is a remarkable change. A friend said to me some years ago “Stay in your own boat,” and from that a visual came to mind—small boats in flowing water, each one piloted by a paddler navigating eddies and currents. Capsizing seems likely when paddlers attempt to climb from one boat to another. A few words from an experienced paddler may be helpful to someone hung up on a rock, but climbing aboard? That’s just crazy. I am finally learning to stay in my own boat. It’s about time.

 

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