THE BULLY FREE ZONE

bullyingSometimes I mentally rehearse how I would respond if my family were in danger.  If an intruder broke into my home what would I do?  If we were attacked on the street would I be courageous enough to protect them?  I am not sure what gets me thinking about these things, and many times I try to put them out of my mind.  Today however, I watched the documentary Bully directed by Lee Hirsch, this film has got me stirred up again, but this time it is more disturbing.

In my fantasies of family danger I am powerful, swift to action, and able to put myself in the place of my children when they are in danger.  Bullying is a much different beast.  Those who bully tend to be more covert, they have practiced and honed their skills, and many times they are bullied themselves.  The problem with bullying is how powerless adults seem to be in protecting those who are bullied.

Bullying usually does not occur when adults are around, adults cannot sweep in and meet might with might.  In many cases, as depicted in the film all adults can do is talk with the one who is bullying.  They sit in an office and rationalize about kindness, respect, friendship, and permanent school behavioral records.  It all just seems very weak and vividly demonstrates a universal principle that adults hate to admit.

“ADULTS CANNOT CONTROL THE ACTIONS OF CHILDREN”

            I think we hate to admit it because of how scary it is.  Aside from physical coercion we have absolutely no control over the behavior of children.  I cannot make my son clean his room, do his homework, be kind to the neighbor, or apologize to his brother.  Children tend to behave based on what they perceive will get them the thing that they want.  Many times we adults do not understand the pay off for a child’s behavior and therefore fail to find a way to change it.

            I think one solution to this problem is to stop trying to control something that we cannot.  We cannot control a child’s behavior so let’s give it a rest.  Let’s be real and honest with our kids.  Let’s end the charade we have been perpetrating all these years and tell them the truth.

“SON, YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE THAT CAN CONTROL YOUR ACTIONS”

            I believe that when we let go of attempting to control our children they will become better citizens.  Please do not misunderstand me I do not think children should be allowed to do whatever they want, have no rules, and no responsibility.  I believe that adults should set the structure and expectations for behavior so that WHEN the child crosses the line appropriate and logical consequences follow.  Adults have fallen into the trap (myself included) of wanting to control a child’s behavior in order to get a certain outcome.  This outcome based parenting sends the message that adults control the child’s behavior; I want to send the message that kids are in charge of their behavior.  They are able to choose their actions and the consequences that follow are part of their choosing.  When adults control behavior, children can blame the adults for the following consequences both good and bad.  When children control behavior the consequences are theirs, they own them.  These owned consequences are the powerful payoff that reinforces or discourages certain behavior.   This is how children learn that they can make life what they want it to be.  In the long run children that know they are in control of themselves are children that step up to stop bullying.  These type of children will “Be More Than Bystanders” by engaging in the following activities

    • Be Their Friend
    • Tell a Trusted Adult
    • Help Them Get Away
    • Don’t Give Bullying an Audience
    • Set a Good Example

Bullying is a very difficult problem.  Solutions must be long term rather than short term.  All adults must play a role in protecting and empowering children at school and in neighborhoods.  A first line defense is to remember that children are in charge of their own behavior.  We want them to be in charge of their actions because when they are in charge they are actively choosing what they want life to be.

For Further reading on how to empower children to stop bullying visit stopbullying.gov

 Have you or your kids ever been bullied, how did you respond?

Before We Talk Gun Control, Let’s Talk Self-Control

 

d4a89-8281447_sI see the video of students running to embrace their parents after the Columbine shooting.  I hear the 9-1-1 calls from Aurora Colorado.  I fear for my child’s safety following Newtown Connecticut.  The images of these tragedies continue to raise serious questions in my mind, what is wrong with our society?  Where does this violence come from?  And what can be done to protect my children?

In the months following the Newtown Connecticut shooting my questions have been societies questions.  The issues have been discussed on news shows, experts have weighed in and there are all sorts of opinions.  Recently however the discussion seems to have focused on gun control.  Who can own them?  How many rounds should they hold? What is the difference between hunting and military style weapons?  And should there be a national gun registry?

I am afraid that these discussions about gun control miss the more important point.  If we are seeking to answer the questions, “what is wrong with society?” “Where does this violence come from?” and “How can we protect our children?” then we must instead be talking about self-control.  We have become a nation of self-indulgence.  The Centers for Disease Control reports that over 1/3 of American adults are obese.  The collapse of the U.S. housing market revealed a pattern of gross overspending and irresponsible lending.  In my work as a school counselor I see many parents indulging their child’s every desire while expecting very little responsibility.  We are surrounded by technologies designed to make life quick and convenient while avoiding the arduous and difficult.

Our children are told that happiness comes from living in the moment, following their heart, and being themself.  Yet according to the U.S. census bureau between 1990 and 2009 for every 6.8 marriages there were 3.4 divorces.  The emphasis placed on self-indulgence does not seem to create successful relationships. What if this over indulgence of self actually makes it easier to discard important relationships?  What about the influence celebrity?  In 2012 Americans spent $1.37 billion on movie tickets.  Many look to these movie stars as well as athletes as role models for success.  However, based on the number of front-page mug shots and court appearances even these cultural figures struggle with self-control.    I am very concerned that my children are growing up in a nation that views impulsivity, selfishness, and self-aggrandizement as virtues rather than vices.

Why are we surprised when a product of this culture does exactly what he was taught to do?  He follows his angry heart, disregards the value of others, and impulsively, irrationally, and selfishly murders innocent people? The real solution for the gun control problem is a radical shift in our national values.  Self-control must not be viewed as an attempt to limit individual freedoms.  Instead, it must be viewed as the ability to choose what is best rather than what is immediate.

Self-control provides a person the power to direct ones life.  I have encountered many students who do not know this.  They seem to believe that self-control is a position of weakness rather than strength.   They are convinced that limiting themselves will result in limited freedom.  What they don’t realize is that controlling ones self is the ultimate in freedom.  The ability to control our impulses, emotions, and desires may be the most difficult task of life.  However, as we learn to harness these inner experiences we are set free from the ups and downs of inner volatility.  We realize that others have absolutely no control over our inner world and thus no control of us.  “I am the only one who can control me.”  What a great freedom and responsibility.  The freedom provides the path to make life what I want it to be.  The responsibility requires that if life is not what I want it to be, I have no one to blame but myself.  Man Life is tough!

My guess is that those who perpetrate mass shootings never learned the lesson of self-control.  They never realized that they were ultimately in control of their thoughts, emotions, fantasies, and actions.  I would guess they felt a sense of their life being out of control.  I imagine they felt provoked to commit these crimes and saw no other escape from their prison of anger, hurt, and loneliness.  My hope is that as we shift from a culture of self-indulgence to self-control that the would-be murderers will regain the power to direct their life.  I hope they will find freedom in valuing others, connecting in relationships, and living in reality.  That is the best gun control only an individual can create.

This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project

Do As I Say Not As I Do?

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us. Ephesians 5:1

I learned another important lesson of parenthood the other day, and like many other lessons this one was the direct result of something involving my child.  My family and I have had the wonderful blessing of spending this Christmas with my wife’s family.  Her brother is here, her sister’s family, parents, and of course, the associated kids.

One of the great things about visiting with family is watching the children play together.  They spend the days outside playing with bicycles, searching for treasures, and building friendships.  Two days ago however we ran into a little snag.

My wife and I had left the house to run an errand with two of our children.  We got a call from my mother in law that something had been broken at the house.  It appeared that one of the two boys we had with us was the culprit.  Driving home we decided that the “suspect” would have a private talk with grandma before he moved on to any play activities.   We knew that she was not upset but that she wanted to reinforce the lesson of confessing and apologizing if you have damaged a piece of someone else’s property.

As we pulled into the driveway I parked my father in laws truck next to my brother in laws relatively new car.  Since it was the holidays and we had two kids with us it was a bit of a struggle to get out of the car.  I opened the door and began unloading the boys and the packages.  As the “suspect” jumped out I leaned to my left and bumped the truck door pushing it further open into the passenger door of my brother in laws car.  I put down my belongings, pulled the door partially closed, and surveyed the damage.  I had left a dull silver/grey scratch the size of a quarter on the dark black paint.

My first thought was, “Oh Sh*t”. My second thought was, “he may never notice, maybe I could wipe it off.”   My third thought jumped right to my poor son marching his way to a private discussion with grandma about the stone cross he had broken.  To be a father with any integrity and character, to be the father that I claim to be, I must tell my brother in law what had happened.

I went inside and watched as my son sheepishly spoke with his grandmother telling the story of how the stone cross came to be broken.  As expected, she was not upset with him.  She only asked that next time he tell her when something at her house was broken.

Moments later my brother in law walked in the house and I sheepishly told him about his car.  I apologized as he walked outside to check on the damage done.  As expected, he was not upset with me and only thanked me for telling him that it had happened.

I wonder who learned the bigger lesson?  My son won’t remember this experience and I am pretty sure “not me” will be blamed again in the future.  I think this lesson was a Christmas gift for dad.  I learned that the way I live my life speaks much louder than the words I say.   This was a simple reminder that in order to raise children with integrity, honor, and love for Christ, I must first possess that which I hope to pass on.

I pray that my boys see more of Christ in me than they do of me.  I know that it is only through His grace that any child of mine will become a child of His.

 How do you experience God’s grace in parenting?

"Stuff Dads Say" E-BOOK

 

This is the final post in my Series “Stuff Dads Say”.  What I thought would take a couple of months wound up taking more like six but I am excited to have covered what I believe are the most important messages that dads send their children.  I am even more excited to let you know that I have compiled all of my “Stuff Dads Say” posts into a very affordably priced E-book.  This book is a short and encouraging read that would be a perfect “virtual stocking stuffer” for a husband, son in law, grandpa, or new father.  Check out the links below to read more about it.

 

How Do You Ask Nicely?

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“A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself” 
Proverbs 11:17

I live in a house with three sweaty, stinky, rough and tumble boys.  They love to wrestle, play in the mud, eat lots of food, and make funny noises.  Being an older and hopefully more mature version of these creatures I have sometimes found it difficult to know the appropriate level of manners to require of them.  I am thankful for the high standard that their mother has helped me to set and the lessons our boys have learned from it.

Early on in our parenting experiment my wife began to require our children to say please and thank you at the appropriate times.  We had never really discussed this expectation but since she was from the south it was something that had been stressed in her home as a child.  At first I thought it was a little over board, “come on, the kid can’t even talk and we are teaching him signs for please and thank you?”  Being the laid back person that I am I followed her lead and persisted in this expectation.

As the years have rolled by and the children have multiplied I have fully embraced the expectation set in those early days.  I regularly find myself saying, “how do you ask nicely” as a way to remind my children of there appropriate manners.  They always know how to respond and more and more lately they have not needed the reminder.

It seems today that manners are less and less of a priority.  I have met 5 year olds that say words not even adults should utter out loud.  Many times people are surprised to here children speaking with respect.

I may be a little idealistic but I firmly believe the above scripture, “A kind man benefits himself.”  I am not teaching my children to say please and thank you to  get them a better job, or more money.  I think the scripture could just as easily say, a kind man respects himself, controls himself, befriends himself.  When we set high expectations for our children’s manners and behavior they begin to see a picture of who they can be.  They can’t be perfect but they can be self-controlled, respectful, kind, generous, and a good friend.  These are qualities that I hope my children learn from saying there please and thank yous.

 

The Secret of Power and Control

My wife and I are in serious trouble! Today my five year old discovered the most well kept and important secret of the parenting world.  I was hopeful that my boys would not discover this secret for several more years.  Now that the middle child has figured it out however, it will not be long before the other three catch on.

He has discovered that when it really comes down to it, I cannot MAKE him do anything.

We stopped at a local restaurant to grab dinner following his soccer game.  I was rushing home to pick up his older brother so that I could take him to his cub scout meeting.  As we left the restaurant he stopped, just outside the door.  I was walking ahead of him and looked back to see him propped up against the wall scraping his soccer cleats on the ground.  I said, “come on buddy, let’s go” He said, “No” and just stood there.  He looked at me with a knowing smirk; he saw that my hands were full, I was in a hurry, and that I had few parenting “tools” at my disposal.

Thankfully, I had gotten off work a little early today so I was in a pretty patient frame of mind.  I remained calm and began racking my brain for the best way to handle this situation.  We stood there looking at one another for nearly a minute.   It began to feel like the stand off at the OK corral, whoever moved first, was doomed to lose.  After searching for the most helpful tool in my bag for this situation, I came up empty.  I was unable to think of a logical or enforceable statement to convince him that he should move on his own.  So, I walked back to where he stood, took his arm and walked him to the car.  Eventually he decided to walk on his own, and climbed into his seat.

As I reflect on this situation I am struck by the simple truth, I CANNOT MAKE HIM DO ANYTHING.  At this point he is only five, I am bigger than he and I can take him by the arm and walk him to the car.  In ten years if he decides to take a similar approach about going to school things will be different.  I will not be able to physically move a fifteen year old as I did my five year old today.

This was a power struggle, he realized that I was in a hurry and short handed; he decided he was going to exercise his personal will.  I am reminded of how important it is for parents to admit and be OK with the fact that we cannot MAKE our children do anything.  All we can do is state what we are going to do.  We cannot control our children, instead we must explain the expectations or limit and then manage our own responses accordingly.  When the child does not meet the expectation the parent can let go of forcing him to “do” something and provide a logical consequence for the decision.  If the child meets the expectation he learns a lesson about responsibility, if the child does not meet the expectation and experiences a consequence, he learns a lesson about responsibility.  Either way the lesson is learned and the parent maintains sanity by understanding, “I don’t have to control my child, only my self.”

Over what has your child power struggled?
What are your favorite enforceable statements?
What are your “go to” phrases for enforcing limits?

The Wisdom of Solomon???

My kids fight!  I am not sure why, I am not always sure what about.  All I know is that sometimes just when I think things are going really well and I have got it all under control, people start hitting each other.

Most of the time these fights, and other crazy things occur when I am not in the same room with my children.   They are downstairs and I am trying to catch a moment of stillness, or I am changing the baby while they are playing in the other room.  Typically one of them will run to me and begin to recount the story of what happened.  These are the moments of parenting that I find most difficult.  What do you do?  It feels good to support the crying child, tear into the other room and bring “justice” to the situation.   Unfortunately, I am not really sure what happened,  Who hit who?  Why did he hit you?  It can all be quite disorienting.

Someone told me once to never place myself as the judge in these types of situations.  I was told that these scenarios are lose, lose for parents and children.  If we choose the crying child, the “hitter” feels unloved.  If we choose the “hitter” the “cryer” feels unloved.   I was advised, instead to intervene with comfort and then a question to both parties.  Provide comfort to the hurting child and then ask the question, how are you going to handle that?

I really like this question it can be used in many situations and it always provokes thought.  It is so tempting, and usually easier for parents to give answers, provide solutions, or give instructions.  Asking, How are you going to handle that creates discussion, it allows your child to think through their choices and hopefully to make one.  The best part is that when they make a choice and act on it, no matter how it turns out they are responsible.  If they choose wisely and the situation turns out well, they are responsible experiencing a wonderful sense of accomplishment and joy.  On the other hand, if they choose unwisely, they are also responsible for those actions.  They are left to face the natural consequences of their behavior with no one to blame but themselves.

What other questions do you find yourself asking your child?
How do you promote thought in tough situations?

Oh, Let’s Try That Again

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”
Psalm 103:13

Do you ever find yourself correcting your children for the same thing over and over again?  Sometimes I think, “I put you in a timeout for that yesterday, and the day before, how many times do we have to do this?”  At times I get frustrated, why are they not learning this lesson?  Do they not understand what is being taught? When will they learn?

Unfortunately the answers to those questions are: no they do not understand right now and it will be a long time before they do.  I have learned that many times we parents misunderstand how discipline works.  We seem to think that our children are like piggy banks.  They come to us empty of knowledge and it is our job to fill them up with the lessons of life so they know how to act.  Each time we discipline is viewed as dropping a coin in the bank.  Once that “coin” has been deposited the lesson is learned.  One deposit equals one lesson right?

It has been helpful for me to think of children as wheat fields, rather than piggy banks. A wheat field is spread out as far as the eyes can see with stalks about waist high.  If you were to walk across the field and then look behind you, it would be possible to see a slightly worn path where you had been.  If you walk that path one time it will eventually go back to its original state.  If you walked over that path hundreds or thousands of times however, it would be well worn and very clearly visible.

Think of these paths as experiences in your child’s life.  Each time they have a similar experience, it is as though they had walked down the same path.  Imagine the “throwing a ball” path.  The more they throw a ball the more worn that path becomes and the better they get at throwing the ball.  Athletic trainers call this muscle memory neuroscientists call it a neuropathway.  The more they experience a certain behavior the more likely they are to repeat it.

Applying this analogy to how children learn from discipline can be helpful in understanding why we find ourselves correcting the same behavior over and over again.  Sometimes those behaviors have become well-worn paths and in order to change the behavior we need to create different paths using different experiences.

I recall speaking with a mom whose son had a habit of taking things that did not belong to him.  She had decided that instead of the normal punishment she would begin to practice picking things up and putting them back down.  Her plan was to create a new neuropathway.  She wanted to create the experience of seeing something that is not his, wanting it, looking at it, and leaving it be.  I was blown away by her wisdom she was not sitting back and waiting for her son to steal so that she could react with a consequence.  She was proactively creating new experiences, and neuropathways.

I believe that viewing our children as wheat fields rather than piggy banks can be extremely helpful for parents and children.  For parents it can help to reduce anger.  When I am trying to fill a piggy bank and it seems that the lessons are never learned eventually anger is the result.  When parents are angry they are less able to parent effectively.  When we view discipline as creating healthier pathways and experiences I am more able to remain calm and view an incident as yet another opportunity to wear a desirable path.

In our house we love redo’s when our oldest hits his brother, we say “Oh, let’s try that again.”  And we repeat the situation in a more appropriate manner.  When our youngest throws a fit, “let’s try that again.” Prescribing the words to use telling us how angry and upset he is about what happened.  As we repeat over and over again these experiences of positive behavior the paths become worn and behaviors more common.

We don’t do this perfectly, but we are working to create new pathways for ourselves, of patience, compassion, and joy.  I am hopeful that you will as well.

Please start a conversation and leave your thoughts and comments below. 

Where Does it Hurt?

“Who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.” Psalm 113:6-7

Before I had children I thought I knew a lot about being a parent.  I had been working with teens for years, read many parenting books, and observed (judged) parents for countless hours.  In my arrogance I thought that I was well prepared to raise the “perfect” child.

When my first child was born I was halfway through my graduate program studying marriage and family therapy.   I had so much to learn.  At this point in my life I thought it important to raise a son who did not over-react when he got hurt.  So, I set about under-reacting to my son’s needs.  I thought that if I was calm and collected and acted like nothing was wrong he would learn to respond the same way.  When he falls down he will get up and dust himself off.  When we drop him at the baby sitter he won’t shed a tear.  He will be strong and he will be independent.

What a mess!  I was parenting from my own needs rather than my son’s.  I needed a son who did not bother me, did not whine, and allowed me to stay disconnected from others.  What my son needed was a father who was attuned to his needs.  He needed a father that responded with compassion and grace.  He needed a father that said, “Where does it hurt?”

I am so thankful for the difficult and challenging lessons that followed those first nine months of parenting.  As I gained experience as a counselor and parent, the Lord was busy refining me into the father my son needed.  I learned that my parenting approach was actually starving my child of compassion, nurture, and love.  The more I closed my heart to his hurt the harder he cried out for me.  The more I said, “suck it up, boys don’t cry” the more abandoned he felt.  Paradoxically my plan to make him tough was actually making him emotionally fragile.

 I was privileged to attend a professional training as a counselor that revolutionized my approach as a parent.  I found in this training that compassion and nurture are vital to a child’s normal development.  I discovered that children who are not touched, held, or cuddled would actually die.  I learned that if a parent is attuned to their child’s needs and provides the appropriate level of nurture and compassion, their child would not have to ask for it.  This child is then free to grow, play, explore, and laugh rather than having to worry about being nurtured, loved, and protected.

It was a slow process, but I found that when I asked, “where does it hurt?” my heart began to soften and my son began to relax.  He finally knew, “my dad will protect me, I am safe from being harmed”

I strongly believe that our sons need fathers that will respond with compassion rather than dismissal.  Ignoring a child’s hurts and saying “boys don’t cry” does not make them stronger, it makes them emotionally fragile.  It is when fathers (and mothers) respond with empathy, compassion, and care that boys learn to manage their hurts and control their changing emotions.  I challenge fathers to  “stoop down to look upon your boys and girls, raise your poor son from the dust and lift his bloody knee from the ash heap.” Paraphrase Psalm 113:6-7

How do you show compassion to your child?
What valuable lessons have you learned as a parent?

How have you witnessed the harm of a “boys don’t cry” culture?

Eyes of Compassion

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

I have been privileged to meet a wide variety of people in my time as a therapist.  I have known children that were neglected and abused.  I have met teenagers that struggled with addiction, sexuality, and anger.  I have cried with the mother whose parental rights have been terminated.  At times the stories of these individuals are overwhelming and disheartening.  At other times their stories reveal to me in a very powerful way the exceptional grace of God.

I have learned that when people experience extreme pain, hurt, and rejection they begin to see themselves and the world differently.  These children, teens, and parents that have been through so much, begin to believe that they are “bad”.  They somehow view themselves as the sum of all their choices, and each mistake made adds to the conviction that they are worthless.

I often wonder how God views these children of His?  Does he keep a list of all the mistakes and shake his finger in disgust with each one added to the page?  Maybe he gets really frustrated with them and lashes out in anger?  Is it possible that he really doesn’t care what happens to them?

I think that God looks upon those who are hurting, broken, and wounded with great compassion.  I believe that he sees the prostitute, drug addict, child abuser, and rebellious teen with love rather than disgust.  I imagine God looking upon the brokenhearted and saying, “my child, come to Me, I will make it better.” I imagine tears rolling down his cheeks, as he knows the emptiness of drug abuse.  I can see sadness in His eyes as He feels depression and self-hatred.   He must experience terror when he sees through the eyes of the abused child.  John the baptizer says, “Look the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! “ John 1:29

I am thankful that, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”.  If only we could see those who are hurting with the compassionate and loving eyes of our father

How can we begin to see with the eyes of God?  How would seeing with the eyes of God change the way we respond to Sin?