October 31, 2006

Drugs, Sex, Violence, and Unsupervised Use of the Internet

Protecting Children from Things Which are Illegal, Immoral, or Life Threatening

Learning from Experience

The statement that kids learn best from experience is the truth! We must give them lots of opportunities to learn from real experience. That being said, I also believe that we must have some limits to when we allow them to “learn by doing.” A few critical times when we must not let kids simply learn by experience are when the activity is illegal, immoral, or life threatening. At those times we must be the adults in the situation to protect them from self-destruction. We absolutely must teach them howto make these critical decisions BEFORE they are in the situation. We cannot allow our children to "learn from the experience" of making the wrong decision!

Drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, and driving or riding in a car with someone who has been drinking would be the most obvious situations that come to mind where it could be fatal to let kids "learn from the school of hard knocks". Lately, I have come to believe that unsupervised use of unfiltered Internet access might be another specific situation I might throw on that list as well. We cannot wait until our children have tried any of these things to teach them how to make good decisions! Most of the time these things do not allow a second chance.

Like a Speeding Truck

In every one of those cases, the danger of the first experience is too great to allow them to learn by experimenting. The way that I always tried to keep it straight in my head while raising our sons was by imagining one of our kids running toward the street with a truck approaching at a high rate of speed. Would I act to stop my kid from running in front of the speeding truck? Absolutely! Would I be particularly concerned at the time if I offended my child by acting on their behalf? Absolutely not! Would I care if the neighbors or their friends were disapproving? Not in the least. I would act to save my child first!

Drugs will destroy our children even more certainly than a speeding truck!

I include alcohol as a separate item on the above list, even though it is a technically just another drug. It receives special and separate mention simply because it is viewed so differently by society. It is also different because alcohol is legal for adults. But, a more important distinction is that alcohol is lethal to young people.

In my experience, alcohol has been the #1 killer of kids who sat in my classroom, 47 of whom are now dead. 4 died of natural causes that probably could not have been prevented but the other 43 were ALL either stoned or drunk or both at the time of their death! Most were drunk! The overwhelming drug involved in all but two of the rest of the cases was the legal one… Alcohol.

I just cringe every time I hear a parent say, "Oh, well, it's just alcohol!" My gosh, would they casually watch the truck rushing toward their kid and say, "Oh well, it is just a truck!"

Please subscribe to this Blog or keep checking back on this Blog because I am working on a six-part article about the new threat that is now killing thousands of American kids… this threat is called Methamphetamine or Meth for short. Meth is rapidly becoming the most perilous “Speeding Truck” that is heading for your children. You owe it to your children to become completely informed about Meth and the danger it poses to your children. You better start today, putting a plan in place to prevent your children from even experimenting with that terrible substance because most people who try it just once, never again can live without it.

Attitude is Everything

Not the Child's Attitude...
It Is the Parent's Attitude That Is Critical

The other day I was talking with a very frustrated mother about her daughter who was driving her crazy. She told me she was at wits end and she wanted to know what to do to change her daughter. She described her daughter's annoying behavior to me in great detail. “She is argumentative, stubborn, defiant, surly, rude, and she throws fits!” the mother said. I listened as the frustrated mother described in detail each of these annoying attributes of her daughter's behavior. After a few minutes of ranting, she paused long enough for me to get in a word and seeking more information, I asked, “How old is this child, fourteen, sixteen?”

I was shocked when the mother told me, “No, she is two and a half!” Her answer hit me so suddenly I must say that I broke out laughing. I know the mother must have been offended by my laughter but I could not contain myself. This lady had just told me she was being totally dominated by a two-and-a-half-year-old child! Whoa! Who is the adult in this situation? Which person in this interaction is capable of anticipating future conflicts and developing some effective strategies and plans to deal with the situation in a dignified and constructive manner? The mother seemed to be more guilty of just REACTING to circumstances than the child.

After regaining control of my laughter, and apologizing profusely, I attempted to give the lady some guidance. As I meet parents all across the country, I find this mother’s dilemma to be common. Her situation was so similar to the difficulties that many parents express to me. Instead of just reacting, parents need to develop a plan of action. They must develop a plan for teaching the desired behavior.

I meet so many parents who are so focused on what their children are doing wrong, that they fail to see that the child is simply responding and reacting to the actions and expectations of the adults in their world! I know this parental attitude is an easy trap to fall into. My gosh, for my first eight years of teaching, I too was caught in the trap of just REACTING to children! Then I learned to change my attitude. I began to develop a plan for teaching the students what I wanted them to do and everything changed.

Parents Must Have a Plan

Our attitude toward our children and our role in their world is so critical. We must be the ones who are controlled. We must be the ones who have the plan. We must be the ones who devise the guidance for them so they can learn to behave differently; to behave in a productive manner. we cannot just react... we must ACT with a purpose.

The Vital Role of Parents Cannot Be Denied

Let me make myself clear here. I am NOT saying that all children are the same. I am NOT saying that the same technique will necessarily work for all kids. Most truly effective techniques are individually tailored to each child. Some kids are born to be more stubborn than others. I am NOT saying that the only determining factor in a child’s development is the action of the parents. What I AM saying is that regardless of the child's genetic makeup, parents have a vital role in teaching their children appropriate behaviors for dealing with their world. The parent’s attitude is critical! The behavior of children is a direct reflection of the expectations of adults in their world!

So what advice did I give this mother? I simply told her that she first needed to decide exactly what she wanted to teach her daughter and then she needed to go about teaching that behavior to her daughter! The change that the mother needed to make was her ATTITUDE! If she wished for her daughter to ask politely when she wanted something instead of "whining, crying and throwing a fit," she needed to teach that behavior very precisely to her daughter. I told her that she needs to teach her daughter what words to use; what tone of voice to use in asking for things; what her body should look like; what her face should look like when she is asking. I explained to the mother that the one time when it will most likely be impossible to teach this desired behavior to her daughter is when she is using the undesirable behavior! If the mom waits until the daughter is screaming, yelling, crying, and acting out, it will be almost impossible to teach. I explained to the mom that she needs to teach her daughter the desired behavior BEFORE the daughter is misbehaving. (To learn some effective skills for teaching the desired behaviors I referred her to our Parenting with Dignity Video Series and to my books, Parenting with Dignity and Parenting with Dignity the Early Years.)

The attitude of the parents must be the controlling element in the process of effectively raising kids. This mother had come to me for advice on changing her daughter but received advice on changing herself! If her child knew how to behave differently and get the desired result (the toy, the cookie) she would use that behavior because it works! The mom needs to explain to the daughter that using words like "please" and "thank you" will be more effective in getting what she wants from the world and then let her own actions show her daughter that those words do work! When the daughter uses the words, meet her requests. When the daughter whines and crys, she needs to let her actions do the teaching by ignoring those inappropriate actions. It is almost always the case that when parents come to us for advice on changing their kid's behavior they almost always get advice on changing themselves! Once the parent changes the child will respond to the more effective plan. The attitude of the parent is the first change that must take place.

I visit schools all across the country. During those visits, I hear school personnel make statements about the conduct of students and from my point of view the statements sound almost ridiculous. I hear statements like, “The kids in this school just won’t listen.” Or I hear, “There is just no respect among the kids in our student body.” I also hear statements that sound equally ridiculous to me like, “Oh, we just have such great kids in our school. They just behave so nicely!”

What do I find to be ridiculous about these statements, you ask. Think about those statements for just a minute. Both are saying that somehow the behavior of the students has nothing to do with what the adults have taught them. I believe that the students who behave respectfully have been effectively taught to do so! And, I believe, likewise, that the students who behave disrespectfully have been also been taught to do so (even though the adults did not intend to teach them that.)

Kids Will Give Us Almost Exactly What We Expect of Them

What each of those statements is telling me is that the adult making the statement believes that the behavior of kids is somehow determined by factors other than the attitude of the adults who are teaching them! No one will ever convince me that one geographic area will produce a collective group of misbehaving kids nor will anyone ever convince me that one geographic area will produce a collective group of polite, considerate kids.

The behavior of children is not geographically determined: kids’ behavior is determined by the attitude of the adults who are teaching them!

October 30, 2006

We Are Too Busy

A Parent Asks Mac About "Not Enough Time"
Dear Mac,
We are having a terrible time with our thirteen-year-old son. We feel that he is being "led astray" by a group of his friends who just seem to lack any kind of direction from their families. They stay out late, never seem to be required to do homework and they all seem to be lacking on guidance from their parents. We fear that our son might be doing drugs with them even though we have not caught him yet.
We would love to take your advice and start a Parenting with Dignity class but we just do not have the time? Do you have any other suggestions for what we might do. Do you have any suggestions for something that we might do that is less time consuming?
Are there not any laws that govern what families can allow their children to do?
Concerened Parents
Mac's Answer

Dear Concerned Parents,

The longer that I work in this field of Parent Education the more militant I become about the need for effective parenting. As I travel around the country I hear parents everywhere tell me that they are doing everything in their power to raise their kids “right” but that it is the “other kids” that lead their kids astray. “Peer pressure got to my kid,” they say. And then in the next breath they tell me why they are too busy to have anything to do with a parenting class.

Let me just say (and I hope I am not offending you) that to view the boundaries of your HOME as being limited to the boundaries of your house is a fatal error! The boundaries of your HOME stretch around everywhere your kids travel in a given day, week, month, year, or their lifetime. If you are not willing to reach out and attempt to exert an influence on that whole environment then you must, by definition, accept what it gives you!
Columbine High School Paid a Heavy Price for Not Having Time
The people in Littleton Colorado who had kids at Columbine High School really could not complain about what happened to their children at their school because they had not acted to create an environment of respect and dignity for all kids. I am aware that I sound very harsh in saying that. I do not mean to attempt to point a finger of guilt. I am just trying to state a fact that you must not ignore when you say that you do not have time to start a class.
Those families went into their own respective homes and shut their doors and said, “ it is not my problem.” Or more likely, they said, “I am too busy to worry about other people’s kids. I have too much going in my life to worry about other families and what other people’s kids are doing. I have a list of the things I am doing with my own kids so I can’t be bothered.” Believe me, they were bothered and it was no minor inconvenience!

One thing that is the absolute truth is that it is not possible to say “I am too busy” and then expect that all other families will teach their kids to respect the rights of others and that all kids will be equally instructed in moral and ethical behavior. The only way that you can insure that is to meet with the other parents and come to some general agreement about the kind of things that your community is going to collectively teach to the kids of your community.
Involving Government Is Not a Solution
Government can’t solve family problems with laws. Neither can money or state agencies. The only solution to the behavior of children is the parents themselves and their actions.

This is not rocket science. It is very simple. Go get a Mormon family, a Catholic family, a Jewish family, a Hindu family, a Buddhist family, an agnostic family, an atheist family, a Muslim family, and a couple of families who have never given a thought to their spiritual orientation and put the parents from each family in a room together. Throw into the mix differing colors of skin and differing cultural backgrounds and even some different languages. Then ask that diverse group to discuss what they want for their children and they will very quickly come to almost total agreement. They will all want honesty, integrity, diligence, hard work, respect for self and others, happiness, dignity, respect for diversity, a sense of spiritual identity and spiritual bearing (even though it may be a different definition of spirit) , pride in family, home, community, and so on. The key is to get them all in one room to meet each other in small groups and come to the agreement that all are going to act together as a community to teach some common values. It is the piece that is missing from modern American society.
Saying, "I'm Too Busy," Is an Acceptance of Failure

To say you are to busy to do it is to say that you accept the way the community is! Sending your children out to grow, develop, and learn in a community like that is turning your children out into some pretty dangerous territory. I do not believe that we can afford to let this go to chance.

All we are asking of you and other parents like you is that you give the issue of parent education in your community the same amount of time that you give to brushing your teeth. (If you brush your teeth twice a day you spend roughly an hour a week brushing your teeth.) Entering or sponsoring a Parenting with Dignity class is not an admission that you are doing anything wrong or that you are a bad parent. Rather it is a recognition that a community as a whole is much more effective at teaching moral, ethical, and spiritual behavior if they do it together rather than in isolated little houses.
Our Nation Is at War!

I hope that I do not offend you with my direct challenge but traveling the nation has really made me see that we are at war in this nation… and I am not talking about terrorism. There is a force much stronger than terrorism at work in this world. We must fight it with everything we have or it will destroy us much more certainly than terrorism.
The Only Solution Is To Act as a Whole Community
We are at war over the ideas that live in our kids’ heads. We, as the adult population of this nation, have a moral obligation to our children to instruct them. We cannot afford to say that we are too busy to do that. We cannot afford to go into our homes and close the doors and say that we will teach our own kids and ignore what is happening outside of our doors. What is happening outside our doors will affect our own kids probably as much as what we do inside of our own houses. There is no short-cut. We must act collectively in our communities. To do otherwise is to accept what is out there; gangs, drugs, promiscuous sex, violence, intimidation, disrespect, hatred, inappropriate public behavior and more!

Our program is totally worthless without volunteer effort from caring people like you. We cannot do this on our own. Athletes are continually being bombarded with the obligation to be role models but what about the rest of us? Are we not obligated to act upon our own behalf for the instruction of our community’s kids?

Please join us. Please order a copy of our Parenting with Dignity Curriculum and get startedin your community.
Mac Bledsoe

Build a Community of Family Values

America Needs the Sound of Family Values at Work
One of the real dangers of traveling around the country conducting conferences on parenting issues and writing books and articles like this one about parenting is that a person can begin thinking that he really is an expert. I fight against letting myself feel like some expert and, almost daily, something happens to bring me back to earth and demonstrates to me very graphically that I have barely scratched the surface of knowledge about parenting! Just such an event happened when we were invited to visit the Yakima Indian Nation to conduct a series of parenting classes using our "Parenting with Dignity" Curriculum. (Facilitator's information.)

I was going to conduct the first class session on my own, without Barbara, and I showed up about an hour ahead of time at the Yakima's beautiful Tribal Headquarters outside of Toppenish, Washington. I was shown into their impressive big auditorium where the classes were to take place. Taking advantage of their great facility, I brought all of my materials into the room, set them up and started looking over my notes in preparation for my presentation.
Soon, the tribal members began to show up and fill the auditorium. I was a little bit startled when I saw that they were bringing all of their kids! The mothers with babies sat in the front row and spread their blankets out for their babies to play exactly where I was planning to stand. The older kids started doing homework in their seats, playing in the aisles, and riding skateboards in the foyer outside the room. Man, was I annoyed by what seemed to be an intrusion into my self-important world.

After fifteen minutes surrounded by all of that action by all of those kids, I suddenly came back to earth and realized I was hearing a very familiar sound. The sound I was hearing had been a normal and regular part of my early life when I was growing up! The Yakima’s actions were teaching a very powerful lesson to me!
The Sound of Kids Among Us
You see, while growing up, I had heard this very same sound on a frequent basis. A little way up the road from our ranch, where I grew up, was Fairview Hall, the local Grange Hall. It was a big, old, two-room, barn-like building that was used for just about every gathering in our community. The familiar sound I was hearing at the tribal center was the sound of kids, adults, and extended families gathered together! At least once every month, and often more frequently, our family would go to Fairview Hall for some neighborhood event. Sometimes it was a wedding, sometimes a funeral. At other times it was the Christmas party, the Easter party, the Halloween party, or the Thanksgiving party. And then there were the Farm Bureau Meetings and the annual "Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed", the occasional Saturday Night Dances, or some other equally important events.

When we were at Fairview Hall, entire families always attended. Man was it ever exciting for all of us kids! At a wedding everyone dressed up and used happy but formal behavior… well, until the reception, when things became pretty festive. At a funeral everyone wore nearly the same clothes that they wore to the weddings, but their behavior was much more reverent and serious. At the Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter parties, families were in a festive mood as the gatherings began, but there was also a very solemn religious part to each of those celebrations when all in attendance acted much more like they did in church. Then there were dances, receptions, and special meals.

Kids were ever present and kids were always an important part of every event! Even at formal Farm Bureau meetings, we kids played quietly in the back room and learned to be respectful of those proceedings. When we became old enough for 4-H we were then included in the formal meetings. We got to see democracy work… personally! We learned Parliamentary Procedure by watching adults use it to conduct business. We learned that in a meeting like this, people only spoke one at a time when recognized. Many kids today have been denied this privilege!

Building a Community to Raise Our Children

In the process of attending all of these varied events, all of the kids in our community, myself included, were privileged to watch the behavior of adults in a wide array of situations. I did not realize it at the time, but now I do; I realize that I was learning appropriate behavior for all kinds of events and occasions by watching an imitating adults! Not only was I learning these behaviors, but, so were all of the other children I was growing up with!

I was learning to adjust my behavior for differing situations by watching my parents and other adults do so. This community was teaching their children in the most powerful manner they ever could. They were letting us learn by personal experience! Not many of those parents were probably even thinking about teaching things to us kids. But, like I so often say, teaching does not necessarily require intent. They were teaching us, very effectively, no matter what they intended! Unfortunately, in many American Communities, we have lost that.

This does not mean that everything those people taught us by their actions was perfect; but I can tell you this for sure; as I look back, I learned most of my behaviors for most situations by watching adult’s behaviors. Being with adults in a big variety of situations and at a variety of events shaped my behavior.

Now, standing in front of an audience on the Yakima Indian Reservation, I was seeing and hearing this very same kind of teaching taking place! These elders of the tribe were wisely teaching their children how to act in an appropriate manner by modeling that behavior and then by letting the kids practice it! It was really important for me to see that we could very easily conduct our classes with lots of kids among us.

Just this weekend I watched this very same process at work at the first birthday of our youngest Grandson. Our son, Adam and his wonderful wife, Courtney, hosted a birthday party for their son, Mac. They invited about twenty-five families from their neighborhood to drop by for hors d’oeuvres, refreshments, and birthday cake. These families brought all of their children to the party. There must have been at least forty kids ranging in age from one to thirteen. I watched as the parents taught their children how to greet other guests and how to behave. The adults modeled appropriate behavior for an occasion such as this for their children with very little effort.

The older children were playing with the younger children and even they were doing lots of teaching too. The older children were learning and teaching at the same time. Kids were learning to share and negotiate. They were learning how to respectfully greet adults and to watch out for those who are smaller. The whole event was just wonderful to watch.

Gathering with a Purpose

Just think how powerful this type of gathering could be if it took place every month. Those gatherings could be held simply for social reasons or they could include meetings for a variety of purposes, but the meetings would be a socializing tool for those families. Pair those meetings with some conscious thought about teaching certain appropriate behaviors to children, and then they would have a much more powerful educational tool.

It is a pretty simple concept to understand really; it is easier to teach something to your own children if similar behaviors are being taught to their playmates! So easy to expect your children to use manners at a gathering like this if every other child is doing so too! I know; I saw it happen! (Learn more about the Parenting with Dignity Curriculum.)

In the mean time the adults would have a reason to hold a fun get-together with friends on a regular basis.

Expectations for the Behavior of Children

How can we adults expect kids to know how to act at a funeral or a wedding if they have never been to one? All too often in modern America, we view a baby crying at a wedding as an annoyance or an unpleasant glitch on the videotape of the event. We must stop behaving like that and allow our kids to be with us. We must accept the fact that their behavior may not be perfect. While they are with us, we will be effectively teaching them by modeling for them the appropriate behavior.

Annoyed By Our Children?

About a week after the gathering with the Yakima Indians, I was sitting on an airplane in Seattle, as the plane was loading for a flight to Boston. A young woman came up the aisle carrying a very young baby and baby bag. She also had a three-year-old daughter in front of her and a five-year-old son following her. Just as she passed our seats the little three-year-old became frightened and began to cry while attempting to turn back up the aisle. This woke the baby, and it began to cry. Next, the five-year-old began shouting at his sister and there was quite a commotion right there in the aisle next to us. That fellow sitting next to me looked over at me and rolled his eyes (assuming that I shared his feelings) and said, "Well, it looks like it's going to be another one of those trips!"

My response, shaped by my recent experience with the Yakima Nation, was, "Now there's an idea that will rule your world if you choose to let it, sir. But, I have another idea that could live in your head if you would choose to let it. Those kids with that woman... they belong on this airplane! Their mother is here! Sir, it is my observation that our nation cannot afford another generation of young people growing up being viewed by us, the adults, as if they are an annoyance to us! We brought them into the world, we must teach them how to act and behave by allowing them to be in our world with us."

We, as a nation of parents, must recapture the sound of our children among us; we must have them with us at church, weddings, funerals, celebrations, in public places, and at meetings. We must give them guidance on how to act in these situations. Then we must let them join us as we model those appropriate behaviors for them. (Click here to learn how to use the Parenting with Dignity Curriculum to help build a community like this to raise your children.)


What I am proposing becomes pretty heavy stuff for us adults, because it requires all of adults to be very mindful of our actions and to behave appropriately around our children.

America must recapture the sound of our children among us. We must let them learn by watching us!

October 29, 2006

"You Can Fake Like You Care,

But You Cannot Fake Being There

Busy family schedules can rob our children of needed attention.

In the lives of our kids it is often easy to become caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life and forget to "show up" in our kid's lives. It is common, in the hurry of the day to speak much more cheerfully to the person serving coffee at the Quick-Stop on the way to work than to those in our family that we love. With the busy schedule that most families live today, it never hurts to stop and develop a plan for SHOWING THAT WE CARE. We cannot just assume that others know that we care. Our children are especially in need of our presence in their lives. They need to experience their value in the world expressed in many ways by parents. In order to give them that attention we must have a PLAN.

Here is a list of ways that we can show our love for our children: (and remember that spouses can benefit from the same loving actions!)

*Notice them... get caught staring at them and even throw in a wink.
Answer their questions with full attention at eye level.
*Create traditions and fight for them.
*Laugh at their jokes.
*Include them in your jokes. (If that makes you uncomfortable, Maybe you ought to change the jokes you tell.)
*Smile at them frequently.
*Acknowledge them with a heartfelt "Good morning!" and a "Hi!" when you see them.
*Discuss their dreams with them (nightmares included.)
*Be relaxed in their presence.
*Just sit with them while they are doing things.
*Say their names.
*Contribute to their collections.
*Hide surprises for them to find.
*Kneel, squat, or sit so that you are at their eye level when you talk to them or listen to them.
*Go and find them at unexpected times.
*Play outside together.
*Surprise them.
*Remember their birthdays and other significant days in their lives. ("This is a celebration of the day that you took your first step, trip to the doctor, etc.)
*Ask them to tell you about themselves.
*When they ask your advice give them a choice of options and let them choose between them.
*Give them time to think while answering questions and, of most importance, listen to their answers.
*Stay with them when they are afraid.
*Notice when they are absent and let them know that you miss them.
*Follow them when they lead.
*Play with them... Adults can start the water balloon fight!
*Expect their best... and accept that their best might not perfection.
*Be available.
*Do what they like to do.
*Share their excitement.
*Be honest.
*Be sincere.
*Include them in conversations.
*Brag about them when they don't think you know they are listening.
*Call them from work.
*Eat meals together.
*Plan discussion topics for dinner and announce them ahead of time.
*Tell them what your expectations are for their behavior.
*Practice desired behaviors with them before they are in the situation.
*Introduce them to adults and tell the adult something of significance about them rather than telling them about the adult.
*Help them to see mistakes as learning opportunities and not failures.
*Tape record messages to them.
*Tape record them.
*Video tape them just being themselves... like during one of those dinner conversations.
*Write them letters and send the letters to them in the mail.
*Go places together... take them along on errands.
*Build something together.
*Give them jobs at home that require thought and planning.
*Let them do the jobs that you give them.
*Welcome (and use) their suggestions.
*Make decisions together.
*When you make decisions for them include them in your thought processes so that they can make that decision next time.
*Help them to take stands on moral and ethical issues and then stand with them.
*Hug them.
*Set boundaries but help them to understand the reasons for those boundaries.
*Believe what they say.
*Tackle new tasks together.
*Cheer for their accomplishments.
*Encourage them to help others and recognize them when they do.
*Create a safe environment for them.
*Share secrets.
*Stop and enjoy time together; even a minute at the bathroom sink.
*Be consistent but flexible.
*Praise loudly, criticize softly.
*Let them act their age.
*Tell them about yourself.
*Tell them what you believe and why you believe it.
*Help them to become an expert at something.
*Laugh with them DAILY!
*Ask their opinion about things.
*Show that you are excited to see them.
*Let them tell you how they feel.
*Display their artwork around the house... nicely framed.
*Thank them!
*Smile at them constantly.
*Keep promises... even small ones. In there eyes promises are all the same size.
*Find a common interest.
*Let them pick the music, at home or in the car, and listen to it with them.
*Apologize when you've done something wrong.
*Hold hands.
*Take a walk.
*Read aloud together.
*Read moral literature and help them understand it.
*Use your ears more than your mouth.
*Show up at events.
*Learn from them and let them know what you learned.
*Tell them how terrific they are.
*Always suggest a better behavior when they have chosen an inappropriate one.
*Be nice.
*Look them in the eye when you talk to them.
*Give them space when they need it.
*Use the rides in the car as interaction time.
*Tell them how much you like being with them.
*Develop a "secret word" for your family.
*Meet their friends.
*Meet their friend’s parents.
*Admit it when you make a mistake.
*Be honest with them and in their presence.
*Give them a private nickname and don't use it in front of others. (Let them do the same with you.)
*Above all laugh, Laugh, LAUGH, and laugh some more.
*Print this list and use at least one each day.

You can PLAN to show your love for your kids. Add to this list or create a new list of your own. Search elsewhere for lists of ways of showing that you love and care for your children. We found many of the ideas on this list in YMCA handouts, church bulletins, childcare brochures, and other places.

Remember that you can fake like you care but you can't fake being there. The common element to each item on the above list is time.

Kids spell love "t-i-m-e!"

Give your kids lots of your time and they will grow up knowing that they are valued people!

October 28, 2006

Values, Morals, Ethics, and Traditions

Tools to Help Kids Make Great Decisions

We must eliminate from our minds a few phrases when we are making decisions about how we will be raising and teaching our children. We must erase sayings like: "When I was a kid..." and "If I had done that when I was a kid, my dad would have..." or "Back when we were in school they used to..." Thos phrases do not help young peopleto make decisions!
"Because I said so!" Teaches kids nothing about how to make good decisions!

Now, this advice may sound odd coming from a man who is an avowed believer in traditions. However, there is an important distinction to make here. We must hold onto the old ways of doing things, if, and only if, they are valid, meaningful and if they produce the desired results.

Honesty is a good example of an “old way” that that I feel ought to be held tightly to. It is an ancient idea that has been taught to generations of children and used by generations of allages to produce very positive outcomes. We ought to keep using honesty and teaching it to our children for only one reason; because it is a concept that works.
Use Effective Parenting Techniques!

In this same light, we must be willing to move toward, and use, new and valid ideas and methods of raising our children if those new ideas make meaningful and positive changes in our children’s behavior. We need to keep our eyes open for new methods and techniques that will allow us to work “magic” with our kids.

As parents and teachers, it is imperative that we have sound behavioral, moral, spiritual, ethical, or legal justifications for the methods we are using to teach our children. We must be able to explain to our kids in a very logical way, why we are asking them to behave in a particular manner. In essence, we must not only decide: 1) WHAT it is we want our kids to do, but we must also decide, 2) WHY we want them to do it! Once we have made those two all-important determinations, then we must find ways of communicating these expectations and reasons for making decisions to our children. We must communicate those ideas to our children so that they can make great decisions for themselves.

"Because it was done to me," is never a good enough reason.

In my book, Parenting with Dignity you will read about innovative ideas and concepts for teaching your children how to make great decisions based upon sound values, morals, ethics, and proven concepts. Some of these techniques will fly in the face of the old adage “when I was a kid . . .”

In some of the methods presented in Parenting with Dignity you will realize that really great parents often must act on behalf of their children, even though it requires that they do some things that fly in the face of doing again what was done to them when they were kids!

There have been a ton of mistakes made in the past and we are doomed to repeat them if we are not careful to think long and hard about the justification for duplicating those actions with our kids, i.e. 1) What do we want them to do? and 2) Why do we want them to?

History demonstrates why we cannot just “do to our kids what was done to us”. Two events from American History demonstrate the obvious problems with doing what has always been done before.

Slavery was not only common in America, but it was also legal, and most early Americans accepted it. We certainly would not advocate the continuation of the practice of slavery today simply because it “was done before”.

Neither would we teach our children that women should be second-class citizens in the United States today, even though they were not even legally recognized under the Constitution until the 19th Amendment was adopted in the early 20th century. Simply saying that women should not vote only because they never had in the past was a ludicrous idea.

Likewise, it is foolish for us to assume that our children should always learn in exactly the same way that their parents were taught.

Parenting with Dignity is not proposing the abandoning of all former standards of teaching and raising young people. Rather, the book is saying that we ought to make the standards logical and explainable in a reasoned sort of way that makes sense to parents and children alike.

In this book you will read about situations where parents have sometimes risked going beyond “what has always been done before” in order to change a child’s life. Please read this book with an open mind and an open heart to appreciate what it really means to be a parent.

October 27, 2006

Yelling at Kids

Yelling at kids teaches!

Yelling at kids teaches kids that people do not mean what they say until they yell.

Yelling at kids teaches them to yell back.

Yelling at kids teaches kids to yell at others.

Yelling at kids teaches kids to ignore adults who speak to them in respectful and dignified tones.

Yelling at kids teaches kids that they are not worthy of being spoken to in civil tones.

Yelling at kids teaches kids that a reasonable way to relieve stress is to yell at others.

The point here is that yelling at kids teaches them a lot... but it rarely, if ever, teaches them anything of much value. I do not think that yelling indelibly scars kids nor does it do them irreparable psychological damage; but it certainly does not help them to learn productive ways of interacting with the world. I guess you could say that I am opposed to yelling at kids for the same reason that I am opposed to punishment; it does not work in any way of the ways it is intended.

I was sent to my room thousands of times for teasing my sisters. I was told to go in my room and think about how to treat my sisters. I did. I thought about how I was going to get them out behind the barn just as soon as I got out of my room and hold their heads under water in the horse trough for tattling on me. Sending me to my room did not teach me how to get along with my sisters. The desired or intended result was a far cry from the real outcome. My parents intention in sending me to my room was to teach me how to treat my sisters in a much nicer manner but what they got was far different from what they intended. Yelling at kids brings about a very similar kind of outcome.

A child who is yelled at on a regular basis simply learns that he doesn’t have to listen to instructions delivered in a quiet and dignified voice.

Teaching does not require intent!

We adults are teaching children every minute we are in their presence! Even though we may have no intention to teach nor any idea about what we want to teach… we are teaching just the same. Kids learn our language at their own pace and other than a little work on some specific vocabulary they learn it quite completely with little intent on our part. Kids rapidly learn the tense of verbs and they often learn it from parents who cannot intellectually define the tenses of the verbs they taught! The point is that kids learn many things from us without us intending to teach them.

Kids in France speak French. Kids in Japan speak Japanese. However, take the French girl and raise her in the Japanese home and she would speak Japanese! Raise the Japanese kid in the French home and he will speak French. Raise them in my home and both will speak English. Language acquisition may be genetic. All normal human beings speak; but the specific language they speak is learned! Kids learn the language that they are exposed to.
Children learn Non-Verbal Language Just as Easily as They Learn Words
Not only do kids learn the spoken language they are exposed to, but they also learn to interpret and use all of the non-verbal ways of communication. They learn what a civil tone of voice means. They learn what words like “please” and “thank you” mean. Children raised in the presence of adults who rarely speak in a conversational tone and who never enforce anything said in that conversational tone learn that adults rarely mean what they say in a conversational tone. Kids who hear yelling all the time begin to feel that it is normal conversation. They will react to this language just as naturally as kids in France react to French. If yelled commands are the norm, then kids react to them in a like manner. Kids can, and do learn that yelled commands too can be ignored. I witness that dynamic in many homes.

In working with a family for the 20/20 program I found a couple with a son who didn’t seem to obey many commands or requests for action from his parents. I watched a week of tape from their home and discovered an amazing thing. Every time his mother or father said his middle name in a loud and yelling tone of voice, his head turned and he listened to what they said and he usually did it! “Joe!” did not get his attention or action. “Joseph!” was equally ineffective. “Young man!” expressed in a conversational tone of voice did little to interrupt his play.

But when his parents said “Joseph Alex!” in a loud, yelling kind of voice, he quite often listened and usually complied! Why? They had taught him that when they said his middle name in a shouted voice, his time of ignoring was done and he knew that they would enforce the following command, so he complied.

Joseph Alex had learned exactly what his mom and dad had taught him, "Mom and Dad only mean what they say to me when they say my middle name!" Even though they did not intend to teach that to him, that is precisely what he learned from them. It was pretty simple to restructure effective communication in that family. All that the parents had to do was duplicate the actions they had previously used with their son when they shouted his middle name, only in the restructured situation they had to do it with their first civil and polite request for “Joseph Alex” to perform some desired action. Say it civilly and politely… but enforce it. It did not take long before Joseph was willingly obeying dignified and respectful commands. His parents had taught him a new language! The first step lay in restructuring their own plan of action and in taking control of what they were teaching their son. And man did those parents feel much more calm and less stressed. The key is that Joseph, too, seemed far less stressed and he was much more likely to do as he was asked.

This brings us to another important reason why yelling at kids is highly ineffective. Yelling destroys the dignity of both the parent and the child. Kids can learn to respond to calm demeanor just as easily as they can learn to respond to yelling. When parents yell at kids, the stress level of everyone in the home goes up, but “yelling-related stress” increases for no one more than the parent. I learned this simple concept while teaching.

One day, while I was teaching at Walla Walla High School, I had had a particularly tough day of being angry and loud with students and was feeling stressed out by my ineffective interaction with my students. (The kids were probably OK with it… they had learned the “language” of that guy who yells during third period!) My stress level was near the breaking point. In my frustration, I sought out the council of Lola Whitner, a master teacher who taught in the room next to mine. I said to her, “Lola, how do you do it. You are sixty-five years old, you are a perfect lady, you are barely five feet tall, you speak to kids in a respectful conversational, tone and yet the same students that I feel compelled to yell at are so quiet and respectful with you, and you never raise your voice. Help me. I must learn to do what you do!”

Very quietly she replied, “You have quite a temper, Mac. I can hear you through the walls. (She chuckled as she said that.) However, I have one question for you; can you ever control your temper? Can you ever speak quietly and respectfully to your students?”

“Well, yes, sometimes I can control my temper,” I replied. “But often I just blow up.”

“Well, Mac,” she replied very calmly, “If you can control your temper some of the time then you just demonstrated to yourself that you CAN control it. Now that we have established that you are capable of controlling your temper, may I point out to you that if you do not control your temper it is a choice! Why don’t you choose to control it all of the time?”

Her simple question changed my life forever! I finally realized that my actions were my choice! I never again yelled in anger at a class! I chose to be different and I was! The biggest thing that changed was my feeling of control and power over my life. I, once and for all, preserved my dignity and the dignity of my students by choosing not to yell; by choosing to speak in a civil, dignified, respectful, and polite manner I created Dignity for myself and flr my student!. They rapidly learned that even though I was speaking calmly and in a polite and dignified tone, I still meant what I was saying. My classroom became a respectful, dignified, and relaxed place; just like Lola’s.
There Is No "Quick Fix"

I was recently asked what would be my short-term suggestion as a solution for parents who found themselves yelling at their kids, and I have none.

I do not put much stock in short-term solutions to life-long types of problems. Lola did not propose a short-term solution to my problem and and a short-term solution would have been of little value to me. Therefore, I would not suggest one for anyone else. The solution to the problem of yelling at kids lies in changing the manner of speaking to children FOREVER. The long-term, life-changing solution does not involve going into a room and shouting, or hitting a punching bag. The solution does not lie in counting to ten or leaving the room. The solution lies in deciding to be different, today, tomorrow, and forever. The solution lies in letting the calm of self-control waft over you. The solution to yelling at your children lies in committing to a plan of action for how you will act before the yell-triggering situation arises; and then following your plan. This plan will bring dignity and peace to YOUR family.
Anticipate Situations that Used to Trigger Yelling

Now, to augment this newfound self-control derived by deciding to be calm, dignified, and respectful, and committing to a plan of speaking in a conversational voice, it is necessary to anticipate the situations or circumstances where you have been tempted to yell in the past. Those situations are almost always quite predictable. Identify those times and then develop a very specific plan of action for those situations. Actually practice the words that you will say and the manner in which you will say them.

Identify Situations!

For example, let’s say that one time when you have lost control and yelled in the past was when you would ask your kids to help with setting the table for dinner. Previously they drove you crazy by ignoring your requests for help. So you would resort to yelling and the result was little if any change in their behavior. Build a plan for this specific situation.

Create Your Plan!

Rather than standing in the kitchen and yelling, as you have previously done, with little results, lay out your plan to go to where your kids are and say respectfully, “I need your help. Would you please get up now and come in and set the table? Look at me kids. I am smiling and I am speaking in a polite tone of voice. I even said ‘please’, but I really mean it.” If they do not immediately start to move to set the table, move squarely in front of them and ask politely in a calm tone, “Excuse me, but what did I just ask you to do?” (You may have to point out to them that you just asked a question that you wish to have answered because they are now in their Ignore-Mom-or-Dad-mode.) Stay right in front of them and wait for their answer. As soon as they can repeat what you have said, say, “Ok, so you know what you have been asked to do and I am going to wait right here until you start, so please get started right now.” All of this is said in a respectful and pleasant tone of voice at a conversational volume.

Be patient. It may even take weeks for this new dignified approach to begin to take hold because the kids have literally had years of ignoring your conversational statements and years of hearing you yell at them. It will take time to “learn the new language” you are speaking!

All too often I find parents looking for gimmicks or tricks to use with their kids, when what really works is to make simple and fundamental changes in their own ways of thinking and acting. Usually the people who yell at their kids are the same ones who will become the most upset if their kids were ever to yell back. It is pretty easy to get caught in a trap of holding higher standards for kids’ behavior than we hold for our own behavior.

Some Key Questions
Now, before we leave this topic of yelling at kids, I would like to throw out one last question for the consideration of anyone who is choosing to yell at a child.

“On what basis have you decided that you are justified in yelling at your kids?”

To follow up that question here are a few more to answer.

“Is it justifiable to yell at kids because you are older?”

“Do you deem it justifiable to yell at your kids because you are bigger?

“Do you view it to be reasonable to yell at your kids because you are the parent and have parental authority?”

“Do you feel justified in yelling at your children because you are older and have more life experience?”

It would seem to me that all of these would constitute reasons for you to NOT yell at your kids.
“Is there ever any viable justification for yelling at a child?”

Yes, I will grant you that it might be justifiable to yell at a kid if he was running toward the street and a truck was coming, or if she was reaching for a boiling pan of water on the stove; but short of an emergency, is there any reasonable justification for yelling at children? If not, then why not adopt the ideas above and take the action to stop it?

In closing let me just say that there are millions of well-adjusted adults who were yelled at as kids. I would simply say that they arrived as well-adjusted adults in spite of the yelling and not because of the yelling. Do not ever use the old fallacy of, “It was done to me, therefore is justifiable for me to do it to my kids!” as an excuse for your actions. Do what works. Yelling simply does not work very well. Having a plan for dignity and civility works. Use that plan!

Establishing a Relationship with Kids

Play with Your Kids

Play establishes a relationship

As I travel the nation putting on parenting events there is one very common question that keeps being asked… “How do you talk to kids, especially to teenagers?”

Well, let me tell you, I do not believe that there is a simple answer to that question because there are just about as many answers as there are kids! There is one thing that I do know to be the truth about being able to carry on a conversation with a young person; it is almost impossible to talk with a child with whom you do not already have a relationship! It is virtually impossible to discuss important issues with a child who views you as a stranger. Play gives parents an opportunity to build relationships with kids.

I am convinced that the best way to build a relationship with a child is through the medium of play. A wonderful side effect of playing with kids is that playing is fun for adults too… it is an excuse to extend childhood! Like my grandfather used to say, “You can only be young once but you can make immaturity last a lifetime!”

Play does not have to be complicated nor organized. Look for opportunities to play with your kids daily. On a hot day, pick up some water balloons on the way home from work and start a water balloon fight. Get squirt guns to cool a hot summer evening. Start the barbeque and create your own gourmet burgers. While the barbeque is warming up and the burgers are cooking, start a neighborhood game of baseball in the street using a homemade ball made with a wadded up wet sock (that way no windows get broken.)
Some Suggestions for Establishing a Habit of Play

Stop by the local Good Will or used sporting goods shop and pick up an old set of used golf clubs. Pick up some Whiffle Balls and then when you get home set up a golf course around your yard or around the neighborhood by stapling or taping paper plates to various trees, light poles, fence posts, corners of buildings, and other usable landmarks. Write the numbers one through nine on the paper plates. You now have a new golf course. To play you start at plate #9 and hit your ball toward the landmark labeled #1. To score on a hole your ball must be hit to within a club length of the object. Count your “strokes” just like in golf. The person with the lowest total strokes after 9 holes is the winner. This game can be a blast when played in a forest, in a yard or it six or seven back yards that join. Enlist the neighbors to play with you. Set “tee times” and develop handicaps. The possibilities are endless. Post scores, make up impromptu leader boards and develop your course ground rules. Follow the lead of the kids.

Create a neighborhood newspaper on your computer. Put kids in charge of publishing it and have them interview neighbors about upcoming events in their respective families.

Get out the video camera and make a music video. Pick a song to use as the theme and then shoot footage to make a statement that matches what the song says. Let your hair down and get into it with your kids. Let them shoot you in everyday life and put music to what they have shot. You might really learn something about the way that the kids see you and your family life.

Get the ingredients for making ice cream sundaes and break them out as an evening family activity. Set the ingredients up in the garage or on the porch and let your kids invite a bunch of their friends over to join in. Sit around in lawn chairs and enjoy the company as you eat the treats.

Set up a Badminton court in the back yard and leave it set up throughout the summer. In free moments challenge your kids to a game. Create new games and set up courts and fields. Take some chalk and create a shuffle board game on the sidewalk using sticks as your implements and slide plastic coffee can lids as your pucks.

Set up a Horseshoe game in the back yard. Get a dartboard and set it up on the back porch or in the kitchen. Start building a big puzzle and leave it set up in the living room; work on it during spare time. Play Cribbage, Gin Rummy, Chess or Checkers. Play tennis, swim, hike, ride bikes, take a walk in a park, go fishing, get creative and find ways to play with your kids.

What will happen when you establish a spirit of play with your kids is that you will find that it will become easier and easier to talk with them. (For more suggestions please go to our website and get a copy of Parenting with Dignity.) When people are in the act of playing it is almost impossible to be silent. The natural talk that surrounds play will break the ice. Once the talk becomes natural it becomes much easier to talk about important topics. When play becomes a regular part of life in your family then, when feel you have something that you really need to talk to your kids about it will not seem so odd or forced. You will have established a communication channel via the interaction of playing with your kids! In the meantime you will have had a delightful time laughing and playing with someone you love… your kids!

October 24, 2006

Self Respect

The Ideas in the Heads of Parents Will Rule Their Worlds
"There is no greater joy nor greater reward than to make a fundamental difference in someone's life!"
Sister Mary Rose McGready

A few days ago I was with my grandkids having dinner at a local restaurant. There was a family sitting near us with a father, mother and three children, who looked to be around ages 8,10, and 12 or 13. Their children were exceptionally well behaved and the family seemed to be very happy as they ate their dinner while laughing and talking.
As we got up to leave, that father got my attention and he said, "Your name is Mac Bledsoe isn’t it?"

"Why yes," I replied, "How did you know that?" I asked.

"Well, I was in the Idaho State Penitentiary when you came there to speak about five years ago!" the man replied.

That took me by surprise and all I could say was something like, "Wow!"

Then the man really shocked me when he said, "The ideas in your head rule your world, right?"

He then proceeded to surprise me with his next few statements. He said, "While I was in the prison down in Idaho, I went through the Parenting with Dignity curriculum 5 times over three years. Every time I went through the course I learned something new but the main thing that I learned is that the ideas in my head will rule my world and that nobody can put an idea in my head without my permission!"

He continued, "I am now choosing good ideas to store in my head. Because of that I am now a faithful and reliable husband to my wife here." His wife blushed at this comment but the tears in her eyes led me to believe that this was an honest statement.

"I am a dedicated father to my three children here. I am straight and sober, I have a job, I am supporting my family, and I am a very happy family man!" he continued to my obvious amazement and joy!


Then that father shocked me even further with when he asked, "Do you ever see that big son of yours? If you do, will you tell him thank you for me? He was with you that day down at the Pen and he said something to me that I have never forgotten. It might be the most powerful idea that I now allow to rule my world every day… he said ‘respect yourself… if you do not respect yourself, how can you expect other to do so?’ I have that written on the wall at home and I use it to make almost every decision that I make!"

Man, was that a gratifying encounter to find someone, just by chance, who had used our curriculum as a tool to turn around his life! Could you use the curriculum that way?

What are the ideas that you have chosen to rule your world and to offer to your children to rule their world? Pick them carefully and do not wait, because it could be too late.

October 23, 2006

Help Kids to Select Worthy Heroes


In today's society like in the past, kids have heroes. This is a good thing. However, in modern society it seems the process of selecting heroes has become rather muddled or confused. Fame should not necessarily make a person a hero. We, in our family, have experienced this from both sides: first as parents of two sons who chose heroes while growing up, and now with two sons who have distinguished themselves as outstanding athletes
who are often the object of hero worship.

Please hang in here with me on this one so there is no misinterpretation of what I am attempting to say. We do believe that both our sons are worthy heroes. Both are moral, ethical, kind, honest, and admirable people with a strong sense of family. Both are civic minded and both give back to their respective communities. It is just alarming to see how so many people have selected them as heroes who know nothing about them. Many children have been taught to, or at least allowed to, select their heroes/role models based upon nothing more than skill at a game or fame. Few of these kids know much about their heroes beyond some perceived skill. If children had been taught some criteria or standards for selecting role models, it would be different.

Diligence, Honesty, Loyalty, Integrity

Allow me to illustrate with a personal example. Barbara's Father, Dick Matthews, died suddenly a few years ago. His five grandchildren delivered the eulogy at the funeral. It was obvious to all in attendance that "Grandpa Dick" was a hero to all five. As they spoke of him through their tears, they all mentioned his hero status in their eyes and used words like loyal, dedicated to his wife, hard-working, honest, a man whose word was his bond, as well as describing a fun Grandpa who always had a smile a mile wide.

Dick Matthews was quite a fellow. Nobody could outwork him outside his home. He built houses for a living but he also ran a 120-acre farm and did odd jobs on the side as was needed for extra money for the family. If ecessary, I'm certain he would have taken a night job to provide for his family and he did all of his work cheerfully, and with a bounce of purpose
in his step. Inside their home it was a different story. In his house, Dick was the king and Maxine, his loving wife of 56 years, waited upon him and and foot. It was not a "modern" romance but rather one from a previous generation and it worked beautifully for them. Dick earned a living and Maxine kept up the home.

Then, ten years before Dick's death, tragedy struck that loving couple and Maxine was stricken by a severe stroke. Overnight she became in need of around-the-clock care rather than being the caregiver. Without the slightest blink, Dick became that 24-hour, 7 days a week caregiver and on top of that he began to do all of the housework! He did all of the laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping and everything else Maxine had done for all the years of their partnership of love. He even did her hair and put on her makeup!
During Dick's last year of life, they came to visit with us up at our home in Montana. While out to breakfast alone with Dick one morning, I was struck by the enormity of the change he had made on behalf of his loving
wife and I asked him how he made such an amazing change so suddenly and so cheerfully. His answer really affected me that day and it will always be in my memory. He looked back at me, got tears in his eyes, and then quietly said, "One day 56 years ago, I said 'I do'..."

Man, I think that everyone deserves to be loved like that just once!

At his funeral each of his grandkids said that one thing they had learned from Grandpa Dick was to honor commitments! They each got the message. He was a hero to all.

Help Children to Pick Heroes; Carefully and Precisely

We as parents and as adults need to hold people like Dick Matthews up as heroes to our children! We all know people in our families and in our neighborhoods that are so worthy of being heroes to our kids. We must not be so careless as to think that kids will seek out these remarkable but often quiet people; we need to teach them what a real hero is and point out some in their immediate surroundings. Sure an athlete makes a flashy hero and many are worthy of the status, some musicians too are worthy, but let's be careful to teach our kids what makes a person worthy of “Hero” or “Role Model” status. (More on our website: Teaching Values to Children )
What are the criteria for picking your heroes in your family? Make tomorrow "Hero Day" in your family and talk about what makes a real hero!

The Role of a Strong Father

Dads Really Count!

For over nine years I have been visiting prisons. With a few exceptions they have been prisons for men. An interesting thing has jumped out at me as I meet more and more prison inmates... almost all of them did NOT have a father present in the home while they were growing up!
As I have looked more deeply into this phenomenon, I have found that if there was a father present in the home of some inmates, his role was not that of a Strong Father Figure!

Having a Strong Father Really Counts

I definitely seems to me that the role of a strong father cannot be downplayed. Children need BOTH; a mother and a father! The part of that equation that is missing for most men in prisons is the father half of the equation. I always try to not speak outside of my experience and I rarely put much stock in statistics because they can be distorted in many ways but in this case my personal observation is supported by the statistics! Prison officials show me statistics that show that as many as 80% of the inmates do not have a father figure in their home!
Now, I doubt that many of you who are reading this column are going to raise children that will wind up in prison... but, that does not mean that the role of the father in the lives of your children will be any less important. Now, I do not have my head in the sand; I read about the number marriages that end in divorce. I know that the statistics say that about half of all marriages in America end in divorce. So be it, but that does not mean,in any way, that the importance of the father in raising those children of divorce decreases. The father must still be a strong father to those children; even though the father may not be present in the home on a daily basis.
I believe that both parents must be present and strong in the lives of their children. Stepparents are a reality of life but they cannot completely replace the father and the mother of the children. Please do not misinterpret anything that I am saying here. Many "blended families" really work well. In some cases it may not be possible for both the father and mother tp be present in a child’s life. Tragedy happens and a child may lose a parent to early death. At other times one of the parents may not live in a close enough proximity to a child to be in active daily contact with the child and there must be some concessions made. A child who has lost a parent ought to be enrolled in a Big Brothers or Big Sisters Program, or something similar, so that they have the experience of having two strong parent figures. If a divorce has separated the parents, they must both make every effort to make certain that two strong parents are present in the child’s life.

Kids Need Two Strong and Involved Parents

Now, I hate it when people only talk about the half of the marriages that end in divorce, so I am not going to do that here. Let’s talk about what this topic says to those of us who are NOT divorced. I believe that it says the same thing to all of us too! Kids need the influence of both parents! Both parents must be strong in their role of raising their children. A strong mother is important. A strong father is important. Kids need both as they are growing up.

Further Help

(For further advice about what both parents can do to fill a huge role in the lives of their children please visit our website: parentingwithdignity.com and order our DVD curriculum or one of my books.)

October 17, 2006


Permissiveness, Rewards, Punishment, Fear of Failure, and Love.

When I first began to teach parenting skills, I named the curriculum I was creating, Self-Esteem Programs. I learned very quickly that using that title was a mistake! It turned out that using the words “Self-Esteem” caused more problems than it was worth. The biggest problem it created was that people had so many different definitions, connotations, misconceptions, and preconceived ideas of what was meant by the simple terms of self-esteem, self-image, self-concept, and self-worth that I was saddled, more often than not, with the task of defining and clarifying terms than with teaching some effective parenting skills. Not only did I have to redefine the terms, but I also had to overcome many common and negative emotional reactions to those words. Many thought I meant total permissiveness. Many thought I meant that parents ought to try to alter outcomes for children so their children never experienced disappointment. Many thought I meant that we must stop evaluating the performance of children and just throw “atta boys” at them instead.

In particular, there were large numbers of parents who held negative thoughts and misconceptions of what was meant by the term self-esteem. The minute I used the term, so many parents believed I was a person who advocated being soft, permissive, or undemanding with children. That is the furthest thing from the truth, but once they formed that opinion of me it was difficult for them to even hear the parenting information.
So, from the very early days of developing our Parenting with Dignity program, I simply stopped using those words. I have found other ways and other words to convey the critical concepts to parents. It has worked very well because I seldom have anyone forming opinions of my parenting information before they have heard it!

Right now please avoid jumping to any conclusions based upon your preconceived ideas of the intended meaning of those volatile words. Please read on.

Self Esteem and Accomplishment

Since my very first days of working with children, it has been my belief that way too many people associated self-esteem with accomplishment or performance. All too many parents seemed to believe that they could alter their children’s self-esteem by altering or creating artificial outcomes for them. In other words, many parents and educators seemed to believe that they could protect or build self-esteem by taking down scoreboards and using codes instead of letter grades or percentage scores for grading student work. Some even mistakenly thought that it meant that no students would ever fail a subject in school. Their opinion seemed to be that if they could alter the outcomes for kids, then they could help all kids to have positive self-esteem! My experience in teaching taught me something very different.

What I was observing in my classroom was that some of the most self-assured and self-confident kids often were those who were not academically accomplishing at a particularly high level. On the contrary, some of my students who were doing the most extraordinary academic work were those who seemed to have the toughest time thinking well of themselves. As a matter of fact, often it seemed that over-achieving kids were driven to achieve by a low self-esteem!

It seemed that kids with a healthy self-esteem were able to “feel good about themselves” in spite of their achievement and kids with bad feelings about themselves could not achieve enough to right the ship and “feel good about themselves.”

This phenomenon seemed to hold true with adults as well. Many adults seemed to be on a fruitless chase for the better job, the better house, the better car, the next promotion as if grasping the next “better” acquisition would finally create inner happiness… but it never seemed to be enough!
On the other hand, as I met more and more adults in my professional and private life, lots of them seemed to live happy and fulfilled lives with few notable accomplishments and little in the way of material wealth. Their sense of self-worth seemed to be tied to something more internal than external.

As I searched for an explanation for my puzzling observations, I also realized that there were many people with both great accomplishments and great material wealth who were very satisfied with their lives and who seemed to hold a high regard for their own self-worth.

Further searching found that just as many people who had not accomplished much nor amassed much of anything in the way of material wealth were unhappy and held a debilitating and low sense of self-esteem.
Self-esteem seemed to somehow NOT be connected to accomplishment! People seemed to be able to form their self–concept, either positiveor negative, independent of accomplishment, material wealth, and level of performance.

The question then became, “Well, what is it that creates or forms a person’s self-image?” There had to be something that shaped a person’s sense of self-value. This search led to the formation of Rule #4 in our Parenting with Dignity program. “It doesn’t matter what you say, it is what they say to themselves that counts!” The key ingredient in what a child feels or thinks about him/herself is what they say to themselves about themselves!
Unconditional Love

Further study led me to deduce that the key ingredient in a child being able to think well of self was LOVE... unconditional love! Children, who were confirmed in the belief that they were loved unconditionally, were children who were able to think well of themselves, almost totally independent of accomplishment or material wealth. That led to the formation of Rule #5 in our curriculum, which is, “Send them a constant and continual message of unconditional love!” Anyone who has heard me speak on this topic will know that I feel our Rule #5 is the most powerful tool available to parents in their search for ways to raise independent, self-fulfilled, and self-reliant children.

It became quite evident to me that self-esteem is not very closely connected to accomplishment or performance. During my the recent part of my investigation, I have found that what I have believed for so long, seems to stand up to scientific study! Research is now showing that self-concept is made of one third performance or accomplishment and two-thirds from unconditional love! I do nt believe that it is anywhere near that precisely measurable.

What does this say to us as parents?

It says the same thing I have been saying for years! (And believe even more strongly today... ) "The effective parent is NOT the one who insures successful performance or accomplishment for their children! The effective parent is the one who provides a constant dose of unconditional love! It echoes precisely what is repeatedly expressed in our Parenting with Dignity program… "the most effective tool at the disposal of parents lies in their ability to express love to their children!"

To parents of young athletes it says, “Your kids are going to have lots of coaches, but you are the only parents they will ever have. Let the coaches coach and you be the parent who is constantly there to offer the unconditional love; in spite of the score.”

To parents of students it says, “Your kids are going to have lots of teachers. Let the teachers teach! Be there to support the teachers in every way that you can; but above all, be there with constant doses of love in spite of the level of the child’s achievement.”

Love does not mean permissiveness! Love does set boundaries. Love can be expressed in holding high expectations. But, above all, it must be unconditional and not tied to performance. Children must have families and homes that serve them as an arena in which to practice skills, attitudes and performance. The key is, they are practicing. Some times they will reach the pinnacle of their own expectations, or even the expectations of parents. Sometimes they will fall short, and perhaps even fall very short. They will be disappointed without parents heaping on their disappointment too. What they need to know, always, is that their parents love them through success AND disappointment and are always on their team to teach them how to turn a disappointing behavior, grade, or score into something more positive.

Love is not just a word you say; it is something that you do! You can fake like you care but you can’t fake being there. Love is a participation sport!

And remember the time you feel least able to tell kids that you love them is usually the precise moment their hearts are most open to receive your message of unconditional love!

Express your constant and unconditional love for your children.

October 16, 2006

LISTENING - The Most Important Part of Parental Communication

If you do not listen... they will stop talking!

All too often, when people say that they can't communicate with their kids what they really mean is that they don't know how to talk so that their kids will listen. What they forget is that their own listening habits are probably more important than any thing they might say!

One of the most loving and personality-shaping things that a parent can do for a child is to simply listen to them! Kids of all ages have questions, thoughts, feelings, and observations, which will be very enlightening and instructional to parents who can learn to listen.
Listening can be life saving!

This behavior of listening to children can begin at the very earliest of ages. When our first son, Drew, was 4-5 months old we took him to our Pediatrician, Dr. Verne, an extremely perceptive and intelligent man. He said something to us that made great sense and ultimately saved Drew's life at the age of 8 months. While in his office, Drew began to cry after receiving a shot. We, the young parents, began to comfort our little boy by saying, "Oh, don't cry Drew, you're OK. Don't cry."

Dr. Verne interrupted us and said something very challenging and something that changed our behavior forever. He very calmly said, "Don't tell him to stop crying, he is trying to tell you something in the only way he knows how… listen to him! The shot hurt and he is telling you that! Listen, and respond to what he is telling you."

From that day on we tried our best to listen to our own children, as well as to all of the kids we worked with at school. About 3-4 months after listening to Dr. Verne's sage advice, Drew began to cry rather violently in the middle of the night. We became alarmed and Barbara called the Emergency Room. The On-Call Doctor had her describe the situation and made a diagnosis over the phone. He concluded that our baby had gas and he phoned in a prescription for a mild pain medication. Barbara thought about that for a moment after hanging up and she said, "That doesn't make sense. Drew is trying to tell us something about how he is feeling… we need to listen to him; not give him a drug that will hide the symptoms."

So, at that moment, in the middle of the night, we called and awakened Dr. Cobb, the doctor who delivered Drew. (Dr. Verne, the Pediatrician, was out of town.) He told us to bring the baby in and let him take a look at him. To make a long story short, after he examined Drew, he immediately loaded us in his car and drove us to the next town, where an internal surgery specialist operated immediately and saved Drew's life! Had Barbara not listened it most certainly would have been fatal!

Man, did we ever learn a lesson! Kids so often give us tons of information about how they are feeling and thinking, if we will just stop talking, telling, and explaining and listen with all of our intellect and understanding.
Questions are often disguised.

Now let's move ahead to a period that has been wrongfully labeled "the Terrible-Twos." At that age kids are attempting to establish a sense of self and they are incessantly asking "Why?" Instead of becoming alarmed, annoyed, or angered by this questioning behavior, what we need to do is listen carefully to the questions. (Sometimes the questions are cleverly disguised as tantrums or fits.) They are asking about the world and how it works, and if we respond by ignoring them or telling them to be quiet we are simply teaching them not to ask for guidance from adults. They will get the answers but they just won't get them from you. It all starts with listening to them! Once you develop a habit of careful listening, children rapidly learn that the way to get information to use in making the critical decisions in life often is to ask Mom and Dad.
Listening becomes critical with teens.

When they become teens they enter into the next period which so many parents wrongfully label annoying. What kids are doing in the teen years is asking similar questions but about more difficult topics. Listen carefully to the questions and listen completely. They are just like 2-year olds only, "Why can't I have a green Popsicle?" and "Why can't I wear pajamas to the store?" are replaced by, "Why do you believe in God?" and "Why can't I stay out with the gang until 1:00 in the morning?" The key here is to listen carefully and only give answers that are carefully thought out. Give them answers that they canuse to make good solid decisions.
At these times it is imperative to stop what you are doing and give the child absolutely 100% of your attention and listening ability. Put down the paper, turn off the TV, stop working and look them in the eye as they speak. So many parents miss this critical moment for input into their children's stockpile of ideas that will rule their world.
Rather than listening and answering carefully, many parents ignore the teen and wait until the he/she has asked elsewhere and gotten a different answer from another source (often the other source has given much less desirable advice.) Then the parents try to express their disapproval of the bad decision and they try, usually unsuccessfully, to change the decision and poor behavior after the fact.

We learned later that there were six key words or phrases that we could use to listen effectively. They are: "Oh?", "Really?", "Wow!", "Uuummm!", "I didn't know you felt like that!" and "Tell me more." These particular words are not magic and you can devise some of your own, but you must have some key phrases like that, ready to offer at the drop of a hat anytime a child begins to talk to you. These phrases must be non-judgmental evidence that you have heard what is said, without interrupting or offering your own thoughts before they are asked for. In that kind of atmosphere kids can, and will, openly express themselves! Then, you, the parent, will begin to learn what they are thinking, feeling, and wondering about.

Another key element of effective listening says that, at times, a parent must simply bite their lip and not say anything. Kids may not be seeking advice but rather simply looking for a sounding board. (This would never apply when a child is sharing thoughts about something illegal, immoral, or life-threatening!) By simply listening, the parent leaves open the lines of communication so that a child's thoughts can be safely and confidently shared.

In closing, it is important to note that a critical offshoot of this approach is that listening to them clearly says something very important to the child. It says, "You are a valued person with valid ideas and I like to hear them." It builds confidence in a child's thinking, reasoning, and decision-making abilities.
Listen carefully and constantly to your children.

First time visitor?

For those of you who are new to Parenting With Dignity, welcome. I'm glad you found us. I would imagine that one of the first questions you might have is "what can PWD do for you, or how can we help you"? Rather than toot my own horn, I ask that you read this article that was just published (10/12/06) by the Springville, NY Journal. A quote from the article...
Parenting with Dignity has also become especially significant in light of continued school violence in everything from large, urban districts to small, rural ones like West Valley. "You name a problem that's facing American youth today, and I can trace that problem back to the adults that failed to teach," he(Bledsoe) said. "It's a failure on the part of adult society. Way too many adults talk about the younger generation as if they had nothing to do with them. Kids are what we taught them to be, and give us what we're willing to accept. The only time you fail with a child is the last time you try." (Click here to read the article).

The best way to discover who we are, what we do and how we can help you is to "take our website tour". If you are a parent or educator, our curriculum can help you become better at your toughest and most important job. Our most popular means of teaching better parenting skills is through watching our DVDs. To encourage people to get this information and begin using it right away, we are offering a terrific special promotion right now. If you purchase our 3 DVD boxed set, we will give you your choice of one of my latest books, AND we will ship everything to you Priority Mail FREE! Click here to learn more.

PS: Be sure to bookmark this site as we plan to discuss new ideas and parenting-related information almost every day. Thanks.

October 11, 2006

Punishment, Consequences, and Respect

For years, Mac's newsletter contained a section called "Ask Mac". This feature is now part of the blog. If you have a question for Mac, use the "COMMENTS" link below.

Dear Mac,
I can't find a way to teach my 13-year-old son Ben (name changed for privacy) how to respect others’ property. He will not leave his brothers’ and sister’s things alone. He uses their clothes, he eats their candy, he goes into their rooms and plays with their toys and does not put them back, he rummages through his father’s drawers and leaves a mess, he wears their mittens to go out and play, and he simply will not respect others property. His friends complain that he does this when he visits their houses too. Yesterday he even used his sister’s toothbrush!

I know that your Parenting with Dignity course teaches natural consequences rather than artificially created consequences. I think I agree with you, but so far with this issue everyone else is receiving the consequences except Ben. We tried using punishment and that failed miserably. It seemed that when we punished him all it did was to make him more secretive when he got into others things. Can you help?
Dear Distressed Mom,

It is true that we, in our “Parenting with Dignity” program, do not teach parents to rely on punishment (defined here as an artificial consequence created by parents in response to the inappropriate behavior of children). This is not because we are opposed to punishment, per se, but rather we are only opposed to punishment because we simply don't believe it works very well in producing long-term appropriate change in behavior.

Granted, punishment is quick and easy for parents to use. It is usually mindless for most parents. They don’t even have to think. All they need to do is just react! Therein lies one of the biggest problems; punishment is only reactive in nature. Punishment is based in failure! To use it you must wait for the child to do something negative or wrong in order to bring punishment into use. (Unless you are silly enough to suggest that you would punish a child BEFORE he does something wrong or inappropriate!)

Now, I will grant you, if the punishment is harsh enough and immediate enough, it may occasionally result in short lived behavior change… but rarely will it create lasting, life-long change. You even said it quite accurately in your letter; it often just makes kids "sneakier" in an effort to not get caught. Many Kids just seem to make it into a game and when it becomes a game, they usually win!
Lasting Change in Behavior

I am making the assumption that lasting change in your son's behavior is what you are seeking, so... I will try to explain what my thoughts are about your son's seeming lack of respect for the personal property of others.

First, a couple of general comments as a place to start -- my basic belief about all human behavior is: "The ideas in your head will rule your world!" And, I also believe the exact same principle is true for kids... "The ideas in kids’ heads will rule their world!" It does not matter whether the ideas are right or wrong, good or bad, happy or sad, legal or illegal, moral or immoral, and it does not matter where the ideas come from. An idea can originate from the pastor at church or some kid on the street; it can come from you, the TV, or the Internet. But, once the idea gets into a kid's head it will rule his/her world. So the only question of significance in shaping a child’s lasting behavior is, "What idea would you like to have rule the world of your child in this situation?"

When you answer this question, notice that your strategy immediately begins to take shape. And, once you have effectively TAUGHT that new idea, you will have changed your child's behavior forever! Since you now have given the child a new idea to rule his/her world, the change is permanent. (It took me about six years of classroom experience to learn that my actions did not qualify as teaching until the behavior of my students changed. Until that critical discovery took place, what I had done in my classroom did not qualify as teaching! It could be categorized as saying, explaining, showing, demonstrating, yelling, nagging, etc., but it did not become teaching until the behavior of my students changed!)
Being Persistent
Remember this difference between saying and teaching as you work with your son. Your goal is permanent change in behavior; and until you get the desired behavior change, you must keep trying.
In the case of your son I would like to ask you, “What is it you want him to do?” Notice that I did not ask "What do you want him to stop doing?" but rather I asked, "What do you want him to do?" There is a huge and critical difference between those two questions. The second one gives guidance about choosing appropriate behavior and the first just takes away one behavior without giving the child any idea of what to do to replace the negative action. (This is rule #1 in our curriculum.) Telling a child to stop doing something is like telling him to jump. If you don't tell the poor kid where to land, most often he will land right where he took off! This sounds exactly like what you are experiencing with Ben. Your son’s insistence upon repeating the exact behavior that you have told him not to do, should demonstrate to you that without a replacement behavior, he will continue to take, use, and abuse other’s people’s stuff!

“WHAT SHOULD HE DO IN THOSE SITUATIONS?” (Answer that question in detail and you are well on your way to creating a change in his behavior!) “WHAT IDEA OR IDEAS DO YOU WANT HIM TO USE TO GOVERN HIS BEHAVIOR IN THOSE SITUATIONS?” (If you cannot state these ideas precisely and in behavioral terms, which he can understand, how can you expect him to use any of these new ideas to rule his world?) Do you want him handle only things belonging to him? Do you want him to replace items he uses? Do you want him to ask before he touches anything not belonging to him? I cannot answer these questions for you because it is not clear to me, from your letter, exactly what you want him to do, but in order to teach him what you want him to do, you must be precisely articulate your expectations to your son! If he is like most creative and intelligent kids I have taught, you must also be able to answer "Why?"
Being unarmed to answer that question, you will leave yourself open for argument and further inappropriate behavior.
Devising New Strategies
Next, “What strategies will you use to teach this new idea to him?”

First of all, let's avoid even talking about consequences for inappropriate behavior for a while because it is much more important to discuss what strategies you will use to structure appropriate behavior. Then, once we are done with that I will briefly discuss some of the reasons that consequences often fail. (It seems appropriate at this point to make the observation that it is extremely common to hear parents worry about the consequences of inappropriate behavior before even considering an attempt at teaching the or desired appropriate behavior!) My first eight years of teaching I was caught in this exact trap. One day it dawned upon me that if I could identify for kids exactly what was the desired behavior in a given situation, and if I could express that behavior in language that they could understand, I could drastically increase the chances of getting them to do it!

In most cases we parents have an idea in our heads that the first thing we must do when kids misbehave is to jump immediately to consequences. Consequences ought to be our last thought and our last action! It seems to me that when we resort to consequences, we are admitting our attempts at teaching have failed!

Here is your immediate problem: ever since Ben was old enough to pick up things, he has taken other people's things without asking. Did you ever teach him how to make that decision? Did you ever even attempt to word a description of what you would like him to do? Did you tell him what to do in the presence of others’ belongings? Or did you just tell him what not to do, without any suggestion of what to do?

It is never too late to teach a new idea.

He either uses it all up if it's a consumable product, or he doesn't put it away. Then he forgets he has had it so when we ask where it is, he says he never had it. (I believe that he actually doesn't remember because about 1/3 of the time
he knows where he left it and will get it for us).I have grounded him, taken the TV away, taken his property away; hurt him, talked to him about how it makes me feel, scolded him, and had him agree to ask before he takes things. Nothing
has worked for long. Usually when I run into a problem with Ben, if he can feel what it is like to be on the other end, he gets it. However, when I took his stuff and hid it, it didn't faze him because he loses his own stuff so much that he didn't even realize that I had taken it.

Well, this simply proves my point that consequences, (especially ones that you create) don't work very well to change behavior nor do they work for very long when they do! So, at this point I would again ask, "What do you want him to do?" When you have answered this question in detail, stating exactly what it is you desire for him to do at the very moment he is about to use someone else’s property; I would ask the critical question. "Now, how can you best TEACH him to do that which you have described?"

The Worst Time to Teach Is During the Negative Act
It would be impossible for me to teach you how to run a video camera in the middle of your son's first baseball game or his first birthday party. You couldn't focus on the camera or the task of operating it. Kids can't focus at stressful times either. Yet, that seems to be the time when so many parents most often try to teach a lesson to a kid... right in the middle of misbehavior. Don't let yourself get caught in that trap. Pick a time when you both are calm and there are no distractions and then proceed to TEACH him what he should do when he is contemplating "borrowing" another’s property.

Usually the worst way to teach anything is through words. Think about how you learned to ride a bike... by getting on a seat and grabbing the handlebars. Nobody learns to ride a bike by reading a manual or by listening to parents talk about it! Do the same here as you teach respect for others’ personal property. "Put him on the seat and give him the handlebars!" Tell him, "When you see some M&M's sitting on the table, it is appropriate to find the owner and ask if you may have some. As a matter of fact when you ask, you should also find out how many you may have. So, here are the M&M's. Now, you show me exactly what you will do the next time" and then let him do it! Let him actually ask you if he may have some and have him ask you how many he may have.

Wait and watch while he does just as you suggested. Do not leave the teaching situation until he does exactly as you have requested. If he does not do it exactly as you wish, make corrections and have him try it again. Wait a day and do the exact same exercise, only this time, do it with one of Dad's tools.

Then, a day later, do the same thing with another item that he might be tempted to "borrow." Remember, it took you a couple of repetitions to learn to run a video camera or to ride a bike so it will naturally take him a few repetitions to learn to ask before using another’s property. Keep repeating your detailed expectations until he does it without any coaching or reminding from you.

All the while it is important to get him to self-reward for his newly developed behavior. By this I mean you continually point out to him how good it feels to do what is right and how good it feels to respect others’ property and how much others appreciate his thoughtful efforts and how proud you are of his new behavior!
Here are some examples of his behavior:
Last night my husband was looking for his black hammer. Does this hammer have a specific place it belongs? Does your husband ever leave it out without returning it to its' proper place? It is harder to ask a kid to do something if you don't do it yourself. He asked the kids and I if we had seen it. No one had seen it but Dad found it in Ben’s closet. I never have any tape even though I bought Ben 4 rolls of tape for X-mas and 4 rolls for his birthday. I have even written “MINE, HANDS OFF!” on my tape, but it is gone the next time I want it.
Like I said earlier, telling him what not to do resulted in his failure to do what you wanted. What should he have done in that situation? What should he do the next time he needs tape and he can't find any? He seems to need help in putting his stuff where he can find it. Do you want him to be better organized? Do you want him to ask permission? Do you want him to scrap the project he is on? You will have to answer these and other questions if you are going to have him make a positive change in his behavior.

The remote controls are always missing because Ben has carried them wherever he is going - the kitchen, bathroom,
refrigerator, under his bed, under the couch.
Man, I used to do the same thing all the time. I would get up with the darn thing in my hand and then later I would find it on the stove or in the refrigerator, or on the counter in the bathroom. It was not until I finally developed a habit of putting it in one spot that I could ever find it. Man, I would get angry and frustrated and accuse everyone else of losing it then I asked myself, "What do I want?" I wanted to be able to find it and I could drastically increase the chances of that if I always put it in the same place! I identified what to do! I changed the idea in my head and it changed my behavior.

I had two umbrellas - one I carried in my briefcase and one in my trunk. I took them out and let the kids take them to school one day. I haven't seen them since even though Ben swears he never took it, and Sarah swears she brought hers home.
When you give him the umbrella tell him exactly where it goes when he is finished using it and then before you give it to him have him model for you exactly what he will do with it when he returns it. Do not make the mistake of thinking he has heard you simply because you have explained... make him show you. (This is Rule #3 in our curriculum) If you tell him what you will do to him if he doesn't return it, the idea you have just planted in his brain is a very clear picture of failure! Don't go there! Simply tell him the desired behavior.
Last summer when we were building the back fence, I found my husband Steve's miter saw that had been missing for a
year. It was bent and rusted and stuck between the steps of the playhouse, but when asked, Ben claimed he hadn’t used it.
Take him to the shop and show him where things belong and how to put them there. If he says he knows where they go, tell him you are going to show him just to make sure he knows. I had the same problem with one of our sons and when I showed him where I kept tools in my shop a surprising thing happened... he proceeded to point out to me a much more logical way to organize and together we really put things in order!

You might create a powerful idea in his head by asking for his help in creating order in the shop.
Artificial Consequences

Now, for a brief comment about consequences: I believe they should be a last resort and only used when all else fails. This does not mean that I, in any way, am advocating leniency. Be firm, direct, and demanding with regard to your son's behavior. Always let him know exactly what you expect him to do. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and always do what you say you are going to do! No exceptions! If you do create consequences be certain to make them fit the offense logically. If he takes his sister's things without asking, then her room becomes off limits to him. If your tape disappears then he can't use your tape, ever. If necessary, put it in a locked drawer.
Keep the Anger Out
Do not lecture him or “brow beat” him, just do what you say you are going to do. Always explain the ground rules of this last resort before hand: it is not reasonable to dish out artificial consequences without spelling them out in advance. If you do decide to resort to consequences, please remember what happened to me as I was growing up. I was sent to my room at least 1000 times for teasing my sisters. While suffering the consequences of my inappropriate behavior, I never one time held an idea in my head that my parents wanted to rule my world. When I went to my room the ideas that filled my head were: 1. that I hated my sisters, and 2. that my parents weren't fair. I vowed over and over that as soon as I got out of my room, I would get my sisters out behind the barn and hold their heads in the watering trough for tattling on me. And as I sat in my room fuming with anger about how much I hated my folks, never did I think about how I would treat my sisters in a reasonable manner because nobody ever gave me a suggestion of what I should do in place of my inappropriate behavior.
This is driving my husband and me nuts. It makes our daughter scream when her stuff is found out of its place used, empty, abused, and tossed wherever Ben was when he started on the next idea/project. He is extremely creative, and usually takes others' property when he is making something.

HELP! What would you do? I would appreciate your advice. Thank you for your time.


Distressed Mother
Being creative is praiseworthy! But... it is no excuse for abusing other family members' stuff. Have your daughter teach him where her things belong and have her express to Ben how important it is to her to have her things in their place. Absolutely, do not let her wait until he has taken her stuff to give him this instruction. Remind your daughter to do this teaching at some time other than when he has just violated her personal property!

I might even suggest that you hold a family meeting to discuss the ground rules of respect for personal property in your home. Do not make this a “family vs. Ben meeting" but rather make it a meeting where all are discussing the “family rules” and allow Ben as much input as everyone else.
A Final Thought
One final thought. This problem is really not one of "stealing" or even of "dishonesty". Rather it seems to be only a problem of a son viewing things in the home as sort of a big pool of common property. Teach him in that context... that you are simply defining the limits and boundaries to personal property inside your home. Some property in the home belongs to all and some is private property.

Now, here is a sobering thought for you to ponder for just a moment: don't worry too much about further disturbance of your own private stuff... because most likely you are only looking at about 4 - 5 more years and then Ben will be gone from your home! Then you will have your tape and saws all to yourself! Please be sure that you delight in his random creativity while it is in your home... because soon enough it will be gone.

Good luck and I will be interested in your reply.


Mac Bledsoe