Saturday, December 12, 2015

God's Perfect, Imperfect Plan / Joshua Abbott


Mormonism may actually be the only religion that acknowledges that there are things that God cannot do, not because He does not want to, but because the power to do them does not exist, or that if He attempted to do them, He would actually cease to be God and all would collapse into chaos.
In a recent conversation relating to gays and lesbians in the LDS Church, a dear friend of mine said something that really stuck with me. He said something to the effect that he believed the Plan of Salvation is perfect, but that it doesn't seem so perfect in this instance.


To be honest, I'm not sure I would describe the Plan as perfect, at least not without a very bold asterisk. It reminds me of a quote by Winston Churchill: "it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried."


The problem with calling something "perfect" is that it can create certain implicit or subconscious expectations that the thing will be just as we would wish it to be, or that it would be free of negative aspects or terrible trade-offs. But such expectations are almost certain to be disappointed. I don't believe the Plan of Salvation is all that we would hope or wish it to be, but that it is perfectly designed to accomplish the purposes of a perfectly kind, loving, and merciful Father.


Similarly, when we say that God is "perfect," I don't understand that to mean that God is exactly as we would want or hope Him to be. Instead, I think it means that He lives in perfect compliance with eternal principles that govern all things, including Him. Or when we say He is "all-powerful," we don't mean He has the power to do anything, but, rather, that He has all the power there is. Mormonism may actually be the only religion that acknowledges that there are things that God cannot do, not because He does not want to, but because the power to do them does not exist, or that if He attempted to do them, He would actually cease to be God and all would collapse into chaos.  


So no, I don't think we can say that the Plan is subjectively "perfect" any more than we can say that God can do anything or even that God Himself is "perfect" by any mortal definition. This may sound like semantics, but choice of language often makes up the greater part of meaning.


In fact, in some ways, the Plan is even worse than we often acknowledge. Just by presenting the Plan, Heavenly Father lost a third of his children. Those were our brothers and sisters, whom we may have spent eons growing close to, and there's no reason to believe we loved them any less than those we grow to love in this life, or that they were somehow inherently evil or inferior to us; in fact, descriptions of Lucifer before his fall suggest just the opposite. They did not even get the option to elect the status quo ante and continue as spirits in Father's presence, but were cast out forever. To any true egalitarian, the "Plan of Happiness" would be judged an abject failure right from the start.


And it doesn't stop there. Those who opted to follow the Plan would suffer greatly in mortality--especially the innocent--and most will never regain the Father's presence, regardless of all their efforts and the Savior's sacrifice. Viewed in that way, it sounds like a terrible plan.


Yet, notwithstanding all of that, we literally shouted for joy when the Plan was adopted. I suppose one could argue that we did so naively, in lacking mortal experience, but we certainly weren't deceived about the realities of what lay ahead. Nor was our joy misplaced, because the Plan is also far more wonderful than we in the Church usually recognize. With very few exceptions (i.e., sons of perdition), everyone born on this earth will inherit a kingdom of glory. That's incredible, if you think about it. It means that any person you may talk to on the street most likely will, regardless of which Kingdom they inherit, become a being of such glory and light, that we in our current state could scarcely stand in their presence. That's not to say they (and we) won't have to go through great difficulties before getting there, but that will be the ultimate outcome.


We seem to have in Western society a cultural bias toward always being in first place, as if anything short of that were failure and that second place is just first loser. Sadly, that attitude seeps into our discussions of the Gospel as well. But if we could get a glimpse today of what the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom is really like, my guess is that we would fervently plead to opt out!


We might not even survive the experience of glimpsing it. Saying that most people will not inherit the Celestial Kingdom almost makes it sound like a popular nightclub with bouncers at the door to keep out the crowds of unworthy souls pressing to get in. But the likely reality is that no one currently living on earth would, in their right mind, want to enter, and most people never will want to, even in the resurrection. The only way we would ever actually want to experience that state of being is if, by then, we have become that type of being.


This is where the Savior's mission, and our role within that mission, come into play. In addition to a universal resurrection, the atonement accomplishes at least two other things:  


First, it relieves us of the pain and suffering we experience as the consequence of sin, both our own sins and those of others.
Second, it transforms us into beings with the capacity to receive the glory that comes with inheriting a kingdom of glory.


Christ's ongoing mission is to effect both of these changes for each of us to the greatest extent possible. Our divine privilege as members of His Church, is to be guided by the Holy Ghost to do and say the things that will help those around us receive these changes to the greatest extent possible, even as part of working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.


Ultimately, I really don't understand the purpose of mortal suffering. Anyone who has heard of, for example, child soldiers, has to question the existence of a loving God. Saying that the atonement is infinite is really just an admission that we, with our finite minds, won't be able to fully comprehend it in mortality.


It may turn out, however, that each of us knew and accepted the circumstances of our mortal life before coming here. If so, I like to think we did so with the understanding that those circumstances were individually tailored to optimize our individual progress toward eternal joy. In some cases, certain individuals may have been willing to accept particular conditions only with the assurance that you or I would find them during this life and provide them with the love and encouragement they would need.


Remember the Parable of the Divers, in which a young diving competitor who appeared to be doing badly on each dive actually won after accounting for the high degree of difficulty of the dives he was attempting. We can only perceive performance, but degree of difficulty is just as important. Based on that principle, I believe many of us will be surprised, if not shocked, by who we would meet in the Celestial Kingdom.


The only way through this or any difficulty is to hold onto faith. Faith is such a powerful thing because it opens the door to Hope, which in turn leads to Charity. And that's when everything changes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Judy - Discipline Is Not a Dirty Word #29



I once had a co-worker with two children who never set any limits for them. Those kids were scary to be around because you never knew what they would do next. I saw them suddenly start screaming, or climb up on my desk, or tip over all the potted plants, and their mother never said a word. I often thought if it were scary to be around them, think of how scary it must be to be them. They kept pushing, trying to find the limits of their world, and there weren’t any. As a result, no one wanted to be near them, including kids their own age. In effect, they were frightened, lonely children because their parents didn’t know how to control their behavior.


Discipline is the system whereby we civilize our children to live peaceably and happily in our society. It is not necessarily punishment, although sometimes that too is needed. Mostly, however, it is teaching and guiding. Even very small children understand when you tell them in a certain tone that something is unacceptable behavior, so follow through by teaching them a better way.


WARNINGS VS. THREATS


Warnings and threats are not the same thing, although some parents seem to use them interchangeably. A warning is a one-time statement that must always be carried out. A threat is an empty promise that probably won’t happen, a lie that betrays the reality and certainty of natural consequences.  Don’t ever threaten to do something and then not follow through! I can’t say this strongly enough. If you ignore this advice and threaten without follow-through, you lose all credibility with your kids. You might as well save your breath because ever afterwards they will merely tune you out, no matter how dire your threats are. If you do finally snap and carry out a threat, your kids will be disbelieving and indignant. “What was that all about?”


Also, Mom should never threaten their kids about what Dad will do when he gets home. What would you be teaching them about their father? Do you really want them to fear him?  That doesn’t seem healthy for anyone.


As I’ve said before, choose your battles carefully. What things can you be consistent about? These will probably be the same things you feel most strongly about. They will vary from family to family. Some parents can’t abide disorder of any kind, others will not allow sassing, still others will not condone any fighting. Whatever your strongest feelings are, that’s where you’ll be consistent. This is a good thing, because, frankly, consistency is one of the hardest things in the world to achieve when you live with kids day in and day out.


When our kids were younger, their friends all thought they had very strict parents. When they got older, their friends commented on how lenient we were. Guess what? We were the same parents. We may have been a little older and tireder, but we set certain standards when they were young so we could ease off when they became teenagers because they had internalized those standards.


I once knew a family counselor who told me his philosophy: when kids are young, they need more Dad (meaning more structure and discipline) and less Mom (meaning gentle, loving acceptance). When they’re teenagers, they need more Mom and less Dad. In his opinion, problems usually arose when it was the other way around. He said what often happened was that dads left the care of their young children almost entirely to moms. But when their kids are teenagers, Dad panics and steps in with a heavy hand, trying to make up for years of his hands-off approach. This occurs just as the kids are trying out their independence. Not only does it not work--he can’t really change their behavior no matter how hard he comes down on them--but it also causes terrible rifts in the family.
 
NATURAL AND LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES


Whenever possible use natural or logical consequences when your child misbehaves. Unfortunately, natural consequences can be dangerous. For example, the natural consequence of children running in the street is that they get hit by a car. Therefore, you try to come up with a logical consequence for the same behavior, such as not allowing the child to go in the front yard by himself. If a child won’t brush her teeth, the natural consequence would be that her teeth all rot and fall out. The logical consequence is not to allow her any sweets at all until she does brush her teeth. See the difference?


At one time we could not prevent our kids from climbing and jumping on the sofa. Granted, it was an aging couch, but it was the only one we had, and we wanted it to look as good as it could. Repeated scoldings made no permanent difference. After a lecture, they stopped jumping for a while, but soon they were back at it. I knew they just forgot in the frenz y of the moment.


Finally, thinking of logical consequences, we made the decree that no one except Mom and Dad could be on the sofa or even touch it in any way for one month. During this time they could sit only on the floor or a chair, not the sofa. The first few days there was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, but they eventually accepted the situation. To a child a month is an eternity, and so it seemed to them. They all remember sitting around on the floor because the sofa was off limits. Afterwards, when they were allowed back on the sofa, they were much more aware of what they were doing. For a long time, they treated that old couch respectfully and didn’t take it for granted.


There is a very good book on this subject called Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay, which we’ve found to a great resource.  Here’s what Amazon.com says about it:


This parenting book shows you how to raise self-confident, motivated children who are ready for the real world. Learn how to parent effectively while teaching your children responsibility and growing their character.  Establish healthy control through easy-to-implement steps without anger, threats, nagging, or power struggles.





Sunday, October 18, 2015

Judy - Developing a Team Spirit #28




Over the years we came up with several group activities that let our kids know they were part of something larger than themselves. When they felt like they were part of an important organization, like the family, they felt they mattered because the family mattered. This feeling not only strengthened their sibling relationships--they often stuck up for each other at school--but it cut down on friction inside the home as well. These activities are beyond the normal, everyday things like eating dinner and playing or reading aloud together. The following are a few of our favorite things to do:




  1. “I like you because...” We occasionally devoted our weekly family council meetings to this ego-boosting exercise. Everyone formed a circle with one member sitting in the middle. Then we went around the family and each one told why they liked that person, why he/she was special, and what they especially enjoyed doing together. Each member of the family got a turn in the middle and even the very young ones, who might not have understood what was being said about them, loved all the attention. This activity was  enjoyable for everyone, even me. We didn’t do this more than once a year or it would have lost its appeal.


  1. Link by Link.  Since our family was so large, another popular game was to build a chain out of construction paper with each link representing one member. Everyone got to choose the color they wanted to represent them, and then we cut strips of equal length and width. As we linked the strips together in order of birth, we told each person’s story. First we interlocked Lloyd’s link with mine as we told how we met, courted and married. We then joined each child’s link to the chain and told stories about that person’s birth. We especially stressed how excited everyone was to see the new baby. When we were finished, we pointed out that every link was important and the chain would not be complete without any one link. We used to display these chains in the dining room for a month or so.


  1. The Family Tree. A more permanent exhibit in our dining room was an embroidered family tree that spanned five generations. It was often the focal point of dinner table discussions and was a conversation starter when guests came over. It was an enjoyable way for the kids to get to know something about their ancestors which included a German mercenary who deserted the British army during the American Revolution. He hid out with a colonial family and later married their daughter. Another ancestress was the person who wove a section of the red carpet for Queen Victoria’s coronation and later walked across the plains with a wagon train to settle in the Salt Lake Valley. Her wagon had to stop three days outside of Salt Lake while she delivered her baby. Our kids had grandfathers in World Wars I and II and learned their stories. Every family has inspiring people and events, and it makes kids feel good about themselves when they realize they are descendants of courageous people like these.




  1. Family Videos. It’s a good idea to record important events like the first step, an elementary school program, holidays, or even just playing together. You’ll probably find that these are your kids’ favorite videos to watch. You could take it a step further and set up an interview station and invite relatives to sit down for a brief taping. Ask for a little personal history first, then lead into such questions as, “What are your funniest childhood memories?” “When you were growing up, which of your relatives did you especially admire and why?” “What traits would you say describe the family personality?”  Have a list of questions ready and ask away. While we didn’t have the means to make these videos until later, we did have videos of two interviews of our family that appeared on nation-wide TV. We watched them over and over.


  1. A Family Motto. When our kids were still small, Lloyd came up with a ditty we all chanted as we walked along: “We are the Abbotts, the mighty, mighty Abbotts! Everywhere we go-o-o-, people want to know-ow-ow, who we are, so we tell them...We are the Abbott’s, the mighty, mighty Abbotts...” Eventually the older kids didn’t appreciate singing this at the top of their lungs in public, but the younger ones sang out with gusto no matter where they were. When Kristen babysat another family, she taught their kids to sing our song, and I wondered how those parents felt about their kids singing, “We are the Abbotts...”



  1. Seasonal activities. Holidays are a natural time for tradition-building, everything from dying Easter eggs to decorating the Christmas tree. But beware--if you do something twice, it will become a hide-bound tradition that will be expected from then on. But this is a natural time for fun projects that involve the whole family. And maybe it’s even a case of the more the better.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Judy - Implementing the TRC Bank #27


TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO MAKE DECISIONS


The TRC bank (Trust, Respect and Confidence, see Try A Little TRCallows parents to fulfill their primary function, that of mentor. By instilling values we teach them to make correct choices. Lloyd and I always felt that by age fourteen they should be able to make most of their own decisions. As mentors, we didn’t work hard to raise a bunch of independent thinkers only to clamp down on them when they started to think independently.


One spring we bought new bunk beds for the boys’ room. I listened as Lloyd discussed with 13-year-old Aaron how to arrange the room. Aaron asked, “Where should we put everything now?” Lloyd answered, “Well, it’s your room. How would you like it?”


Aaron thought a few minutes, then with Lloyd’s help they moved around the furniture. When they were finished, Aaron had done a good job of putting together a livable bedroom for himself and his brothers. But not matter how it looked, it was now his room, and he kept it cleaner than he had before.


Homework is another area for developing confidence.






I didn’t have to remind them to do it; by the time they were in middle school they knew better than I the stomach-churning consequences of unfinished assignments. Their homework was their business, not mine. I knew I would have resented it intensely if they came home from school and nagged me about the dishes not being done, or inquired sarcastically when I was going to make my bed.


This was not to say we were not extremely interested in how they did. If they brought home a poor grade, I hied myself down to the teacher to understand what happened and what we could do about it. And we helped when asked. I saw Lloyd struggle mightily with “word problems” and I had my share of typing late night term papers, and of course science fair projects often turned out to be major family undertakings. But in general we tried not to thrust our eager help on them uninvited.


The same went for bedtime, within limits. I tucked in the little ones with songs and stories, but by age 12-14, their bedtime was more their own affair.


They could stay up as late as they wanted until 11:00 pm, which was lights out. They could get up as early as they wanted and most of the family was up by 5:30 or 6:00 because of paper routes and early classes. Having said that I have to add that I’ve seen cases where kids have so much homework they are up till the wee hours of the morning. I think this is terrible, and parents should intervene if possible to avoid this situation. If there’s nothing you can do, I don’t see any harm in letting them sleep all day on Saturday if they can.  





I didn’t feel I was abdicating my role as a parent when I let my kids determine their own choices. On the contrary, besides making deposits in our TRC bank, I was preparing them to leave home successfully and be independent. Decisiveness is a skill we learn by making decisions, some of which may turn out to be wrong. After all, they do have “teenage brain” which is undeveloped and not quite mature. But it’s much better to make a few wrong choices while still at home where we can help than in the unforgiving world outside.


When I mentioned to other parents that teenagers should be able to make most of their own decisions, there is usually a gasp and a shocked, “No way! My son/daughter couldn’t possibly...” It that’s true, it’s because the parents have not taught them how or let them try.


WITHDRAWALS


Parents do have to make TRC withdrawals at times by setting rules for the family. We found it much easier to set limits before the teen years. We didn’t have many rules, but were were serious about the ones we did have. I tried to save my TRC withdrawals for important things and not expend much energy on trivial matters like haircuts. Or course your idea of what is important may differ from mine. So decide how strongly you feel about an issue before you make an issue of it.


Some of our statutes were unpopular--no single dating before the age of sixteen, for example. We acknowledged their feelings but still expected them to obey. A common statement heard about the food at the dinner table was, “You don’t have to like it; you just have to eat it.” The same principle applied to family rules.


It was especially beneficial if the kids themselves could help formulate the rules as much as possible. As a family we tried to foresee and discuss potential problems. If 11-year-old Ben asked, “Mom, what would you do if I shaved my head and pierced my eyebrow, nostril and tongue?” or 17-year-old MaryRuth asked, “What if I went out on a date and didn’t come home till 5:00 am?” No matter how outrageous the possibility, I tried to remain calm and discuss consequences. Talking it over ahead of time would, I hoped, head off the actual occurrence.


But not always. Once I was home, reading a book and minding my own business, when Ben came home and said, “Look what me and James did at the mall!” I looked up and saw he was wearing an earring. For once I was caught by surprise and my careful facade shattered. I screamed and fell off my chair. Ben quickly exclaimed as he helped me up, “Not really, Mom. See they’re fakes that peel right off. Although now I know how you really feel about it.” Because we laughed about it later, this experience turned out to be a deposit and not a withdrawal.


If we can live and let live as much as possible, instead of trying to direct their every move, we can go far to bridge the generation gap as well as make necessary deposits in our TRC bank. I can testify that it is even possible to enjoy your child’s teenage years.





Sunday, September 13, 2015

Judy - Try A Little TRC #26


When some of my children were teenagers, they came home from school one day and told me about a big discussion they’d had at lunchtime. Their friends had enumerated all the things their parents did that drove them crazy. They mentioned such parental foibles as refusing to let them choose their own friends and clothes, nagging them about chores and schoolwork, and showing a general lack of trust and respect. My kids said they had nothing to add to this litany of complaints and felt left out because things were different at our house.




I remembered with gratitude a speech I’d heard from Stephen Covey many years before. I’d never forgotten it and tried to live by it. Covey said that in any relationship, but especially with our teenage children, we have a TRC Bank. The currency in this bank is Trust, Respect, and Confidence. As in any other bank, we need to keep the deposits ahead of the withdrawals. Whenever we demonstrate trust in our children, respect their abilities and opinions, and show confidence in their decisions, we make deposits. When we have to rebuke them, criticize them, or even just set limits, we make withdrawals. If we have not made enough deposits to cover those withdrawals, our relationship is overdrawn and on the way to bankruptcy. On the other hand, if we have a healthy balance in this bank, we add to their self-esteem and strengthen our connection.


One summer I worked part-time in the women’s section of a large department store. While there I saw the same scene enacted repeatedly: a mother and her teenage daughter waging a fierce argument over which swimsuit to buy the daughter. Looking at the suits, usually I couldn’t see much difference, even in price. I could understand the objection if the daughters wanted something totally sheer or a string bikini, or if it cost the earth. The argument, however, was usually over taste--the mother’s versus the daughter’s. These mothers were making withdrawals on already shaky accounts over something that was essentially unimportant.


I wanted to shout at them, “For heaven’s sake, she’s going to wear it, not you!” I knew when the girls were forced to submit, they would be resentful every time they wore that blasted swimsuit.


When my own girls wanted to buy swimsuits, I assumed they knew our standards of modesty, recommended what they should spend, and let them do their own shopping. They were capable, intelligent girls, and their taste in clothes differed from mine because the current styles were more important to them. If they did make a mistake and buy something horrible, they soon knew it by the reaction of their peers without my saying a word.


Of course I didn’t teach them to buy clothes that summer. Even in first grade they had definite ideas about what they liked to wear. When we went shopping, I mentioned price and modesty and then let them choose their own clothes.


There are many other ways we make TRC deposits and withdrawals with our kids.


TRUST


I once heard an example of parents not trusting their son, a 13-year-old seventh grader. Two of the boy’s classmates accused him, as a joke, of threatening them with a knife in English class. The vice principal investigated and was about to call his parents when the teacher said the accusation was ridiculous and nothing had happened. The boy was relieved because he told my son, “My dad never would have believed me. He would have believed those other guys, and I don’t know what he would have done to me.” Whether this was true or not, he believed it. He honestly thought his father had no trust in him.


I’ve been asked, “What about friends? What if your child suddenly takes up with a real scumbag?” When I was a teenager, one of my best friends had a boyfriend her parents didn’t like. They constantly criticized him and finally forbade her to go out with him. Like a Victorian heroine, she left the house with her friends, then left us to meet him. We watched this go on for months and often talked about it. Frankly, we didn’t like him either. Our teenage wisdom told us her parents were going about it all wrong. “If they had trusted her,” we told each other, “she would have seen by herself the kind of guy he was.” Eventually, she told us she was only dating him to spite her parents because by then she didn’t like him either. Meantime, she had wasted nearly a year on that loser.


RESPECT


Our neighbors had a teenage daughter who babysat for her two little brothers after school while her parents worked. She told my daughter she didn’t mind babysitting so much, although it was hard to clean the house, do the laundry, and fix dinner when she had a lot of homework. But what infuriated her almost to the point of running away was being taken for granted. Her parents disregarded her efforts, and treated her the same as her brothers--ordering her to go to bed, criticizing her clothes, etc.


As I listened to this girl talk to my daughter, I could see she was crying out for respect and appreciation. Her parents could have made large deposits in their TRC bank if they had treated her as a third partner in the family organization. They had given her many adult responsibilities with no adult rights and privileges. I knew two other families in almost the same situation, and in both cases the girls left home prematurely: one married at sixteen and the other ran away and got pregnant. A little appreciation would have made a big difference.


A less spectacular but still important way to show respect for children is to believe them. When mine told me they didn’t feel well enough to go to school, I always let them stay home and it never got out of hand.

Once my 10-year-old daughter had just had a new haircut. As she was about to leave for school, I said, “Your hair needs brushing; let me do it.” When I brushed it all the curl went out of it, and she sank down on the stairs in tears. She sobbed, “I just spent an hour trying to curl it with a curling iron. Now they’re going to say I look like a boy again!” I felt terrible for her and I said, “Honey, do you want to stay home this morning? We can fix your hair, and you can dry your eyes. Then I’ll take you to school at lunchtime.” And that’s what we did. On the note to her teacher I said she wasn’t feeling well that morning--perfectly true.


I shudder to think what would have happened to our relationship if I had ignored her feelings, rushed her out the door because she was going to miss the bus, and sent her off to school in tears. Admittedly this was easier for me because I wasn’t rushing off to work myself. But even if i had been, I like to think I would have found some way at that moment to ease her bruised feelings, maybe simply by acknowledging them.




CONFIDENCE


One day Kristen, 15, came home and told me about a conversation she’d had with a friend at school. Her friend had complained, “Don’t you hate it when your mother tells you to do the dishes, then says, ‘Be sure to scrape the plates and don’t forget to turn on the dishwasher.’ Don’t you hate it when she tells you step by step as if you didn’t know anything?”


Kristen replied, “I sure would if it ever happened.” She told me she was glad that when I gave her a job, I let her do it. In other words, I showed confidence in her ability. She had been doing dishes, as well as many other chores, for years and by now we both knew her capabilities.


I saw the sad results of too little confidence and too much parental interference among my college roommates. One of my first roommates agonized every morning about what to wear because her mother had always laid out her clothes for her. When she left for college without her mother, she was in trouble. Several other girls could not make themselves study because the habit had never been internalized. Their parents had always told them when to study and how to do their homework. Suddenly, there they were, far from home and on their own, nobody nagging them to hit the books, and they folded. Because their parents evidently had no confidence in them, the girls failed to develop the necessary skills and confidence in themselves.



Today we would call these people “Helicopter parents.” It’s my belief they do their children no favors. I would even go so far as to say they are crippling their kids’ ability to navigate in the real world.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Judy - Self-Esteem Part 3: Praise and Appearance #25


PRAISE


Children are like sponges who soak up everything we say to them. If we say, “You’re so stupid or clumsy or slow,” they believe it and act accordingly. If we let them know we think they’re beautiful or smart or funny or creative, they will believe it and that is how they will act. The trick is how to let them know.




We know it’s important to praise our children, at least I hope we know this, but there is a right way and a not-so-right way to do it. The best way is to DESCRIBE what you are praising: “I see a nice, clean room with all the clothes picked up and the bed made.” Then say how you feel about it: “It makes me feel grateful because now I won’t have to do it.” I heard of one mother trying to come up with something positive who finally looked up and said, “You have a beautifully clean ceiling.”





The less-right way is to say, “You’re wonderful.” Although it might sound good, often kids think to themselves, Yeah, but if she really knew what I’m like, she wouldn’t think that.


One of the best books I’ve read on the subject is How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and How to Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Farber and Elaine Mazlish. Yes, they are the same ones who wrote Siblings Without Rivalry. They not only tell how to use praise effectively, but also some of the problems with praise. For example, it can make the child doubt the praiser, i.e. “You look so pretty in that outfit,” might lead to: she obviously doesn’t know what looks good on me. A better way could be to say/describe, “That looks like it fits you. How does it feel?” This puts the deciding back on her shoulders and lets her know you have faith in her ability to shop.


Believe it or not, praise can also be threatening. “You did that project perfectly. Good job.” He might think, but how will I do next time? So describe what you see: “I see there is a lot of information on the poster and yet it is very neat and easy to understand.” This lets him know he did a good job because you’re saying the project was well done.


Vague, nebulous praise can even appear manipulative. “I think you’re great,” might make him think, why is she saying that? What does she want from me? So try something like, “I couldn’t help but notice how nice you were to that little kid. I feel so proud when you do that.”


Done well, appropriate praise can not only help a child’s self-esteem, but also help your relationship with him.


APPEARANCE


Another way that kids can feel good about themselves depends on how they look, or at least how they think they look. I found it was helpful to go to their school occasionally and see how the other kids were dressed. It can be enlightening and comforting to see all the boys slouch around with their shirts out, or all the girls’ hair looking like birds’ nests. My feeling is your child should fit in as much as possible among their peers. One caveat is modesty and safety-- if the order of the day is a sheer blouse with no bra, forget it.


Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to dress them well either. I read about  one family making $150,000 a year that had to “scrimp and save to outfit their kids for school.” Phooey! You don’t have to dress them that well, and if you feel like you do, maybe they should go to a different school. Besides, if you succumb to such pressure, what values are you teaching them anyway?


I’ve been surprised how very young children can be so opinionated about what they wear. I know several toddlers whose mothers won’t buy anything unless it’s kid-approved because that tiny little person absolutely will not wear it unless they like it. You mothers know who they are, and all I can say is Good Luck. Maybe when they go to school their peers will let them know whether an outfit is acceptable or not.






Another aspect of appearance is cleanliness. It’s amazing how much difference it makes to the presentation not only of clothes but also to the wearer. Some kids, mostly girls, are naturally clean and will pretty much take care of themselves. Others, (I don’t want to seem sexist here, but frankly it’s mostly boys) need lots of help keeping clean.


Parents can start when they are babies to get them into the habit of a daily bath. I have to admit I was not very good at this. When I had six kids under eight, I only bathed the dirtiest ones every day, and the whole bunch only on Saturday nights. Fortunately as they got older they were able to take care of their own personal hygiene and then they did much better.


Hairstyles are a surprisingly large area of contention between parents and children--again, even the young ones. Both of you may have strong feelings about hair and those feelings may not coincide. It might be helpful to see how all the other kids look and try to fit your idea into their idea of what’s cool in some kind of compromise. Some people spend all their energy into how their kids’ hair will look and then their parental credibility is shot for more important issues. My personal feeling is that hair is some of the “small stuff” as in “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Let them be embarrassed years from now by their class pictures, knowing it was their own fault and not yours.





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