I Get Inspired by a Dear Abby Letter

One of my best day care provider friends, Karen, and I both like to read Dear Abby. I don’t know if that’s a day care provider thing, something about how we care for other people and here are all these broken souls (aka crazy people) searching for help in the newspaper.

For me, it also means a quiet moment at lunch time (if I get a lunch break), and I get to peek into some other adult’s life because I see so few other adults.

Anyway the following letter was copied from Dear Abby’s May 28, 2010 column:

DEAR ABBY: My mother was physically and verbally abusive to my sister and me when we were kids and teenagers. She’d slap us if we accidentally dropped a piece of spaghetti or scuffed our shoes. If she thought we were talking back, she’d really lose it and things would get ugly. My sister is a mother herself now, and her kids are brats. I know it’s because she doesn’t want to be strict or abusive to them like our mother was to us. I am engaged and thinking about a family of my own someday. I don’t know how to discipline children or how to correct their bad behavior without becoming abusive. How can I treat my children with kindness, but still have them behave well and be respectful? — WANTS TO END THE CYCLE

DEAR WANTS: Contrary to popular belief, not everyone is born with the instinctive ability to be a good parent. Parenting is a skill, and like most skills, effective parenting has to be learned.

Bravo, Dear Abby!!! She goes on to tell the woman to take parenting classes etc. but this sentiment – that we all have to learn how to be parents – is the absolute and final truth about childrearing.

And, I would add, that anyone can learn how to if they try, and it’s never to late to start.

Before my boys were born I was a college graduate, an excellent employee, and an all-around pretty normal and happy person. But none of that qualified me to actually raise kids.

And some people were raised in abuse and neglect and suffered terrible tragedies. That may not automatically give them the skills to raise kids, but it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t.

AND people who were born of privilege can raise hellions, and people who were born of neglect can raise angels. I, born of stability and love, hope that I’m raising my kids in stability and love too.

In case you’ve got that burning question in your mind, Well Amy, HOW do I raise kids without abusing or spoiling them, here are some basic rules (all learned the hard way):

— Give them boundaries. They are screaming for boundaries. They’ll yell and cry and fight them, but really – do you think the two-year-old wants to be in charge? They want Mommy and Daddy to be in charge! It makes them feel safe. And they really need to feel safe and cared for.

— Use natural consequences. If they throw a toy, they lose the toy. If they hit their sibling, they have to go be away from you for a while. If they scream – they can go do it outside or in the other room. Give the consequence calmly but stick to it. Check out this program by the king of natural consequences.

— Mean what you say. This means don’t threaten something that will never come true (You won’t get a birthday party!!!) or that you’re not willing to follow through on. You might say, “No TV tonight!!” but then how the heck are you going to make dinner?

— Use your tone of voice and body language. Make eye contact, and be firm and clear but not mean or loud.

— Don’t negotiate. Don’t explain for 20 minutes. No means no. Stop using so many words. My friend who works with special needs kids had one who would tell her, “Isaidno!” in a really cute angry-kid way. We’ve all adopted that phrase. (It’s really fun….try it….stamp your foot while you’re saying it…)

— No spanking!!! (More on that soon. That’s a WHOLE other post.)

— Turn it around. Instead of saying NO to behaviors you don’t want to see, encourage them to do what you want to see. “If you want to play with her toy, why don’t you ask her for a turn?”

— Praise praise praise, good behavior, all the time. It doesn’t have to be gushing dramatics. Just “Hey, I noticed you shared that toy, and that was really nice of you. Thanks for doing that!”

— Never mock your kids. It’s just plain mean. For us to treat them that way and then expect them to respect us is just insanity.

— Give yourself time-outs. I like to go in the other room and swear.

— Say you’re sorry. No one is perfect – we all yell at our kids. When Older Son was young I was desperate. I would scream, slam the door, and even – I hate to admit – lock him in his room. I can’t even dream of doing something like that today. One night I was yelling so loud at him that Dave could hear me up the block driving home. I think he thought I lost it that day.

— Forgive yourself. Remember that they will push us as far as they can and when you lose it, it’s because you’re human. You would react the same way with anyone treating you that badly. Which leads me to:

— Practice your own self-defense. Our kids would have us running non-stop, serving their every need. At some point we need to say I have rights and it is my right to sit and read this newspaper without getting up to get your third snack of the morning!!! This is not selfish. It is teaching them that you deserve respect too.

— Read this book, especially the kid on page 33 who says, “Treat me like you treat your customers.”

— Make it fun. ENJOY your kids. Be silly. Put on music and dance. They will grow up and move on before you know it. If you keep the tone light and fun, they will respond. If you start nagging and yelling, they’ll respond to that too.

And as our kids grow, we have to keep re-learning and adjusting our parenting skills. One of my dear wise women friends once said, “The hardest part about this job is that it keeps changing every day.”

Parenting is the hardest job you can have. Be ready for it. And just love those kids.

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