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It Takes a Lotta Sittin' Gettin' Chicks to Hatch...

Remember that funny little Louis Jordan song, "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens"?

I was thinking about it the other day when the line about "... it takes a lot of sitting, getting chicks to hatch" popped into my head and stayed there. Coming off a discussion with some moms about the challenges of raising pre-teen and teen-aged daughters, it seemed particularly appropriate.

A lot of times the best thing to do as a parent is...


Wow is that ever hard. We're trained to act, to do, to pre-empt, to save our kids from their own mistakes.

But sometimes, sitting on our hands, and biting our lips, is exactly what's needed.

Why do I say this?

First off, with pre-teens and teens who are seeking their own independent identities, and more control over their lives, our actions are seen  by them as a power threat, as us trying to  control them-- and regardless of how sensible it seems to us, it generally brings about rebellion. So you get friction which adds fuel to the fire and is usually totally unnecessary.

Worse, when we show and tell them exactly what they need to do-- or try to-- we are robbing them of the opportunity to learn for themselves. To learn that they have the resources to solve their own problems, that they can fix their own mistakes. And that we have inherent faith in their ability to do so. Giving them the exact prescription and demanding they follow it undermines their feeling of control and is hugely discouraging.

Usually our impulse to control comes from our feeling powerless in a given situation. But we need to remind ourselves who has ultimate authority. We do.  We can let out the leash a bit without harming that authority. And don't we have the car keys? The back account? The final say? Don't be fooled into thinking you are browbeaten just because your teen is pouting or throwing a nasty tantrum. While it's not fun, you'll survive it. And so will the relationship if you refuse to get reeled into it.

So, the next time you find yourself in a tussle over who gets the last word, and who makes the final decision about something, think about sitting on your hands. Do nothing except outline your kid's choices and the consequences of each choice, good and bad. Yes, you can help by exploring alternatives with them, but give them the power to implement the decisions. Do it calmly and with reasonable choices. And then---let them live with it.

Those chicks are hatching regardless of what we do.

The Money Quote

Do you sometimes feel like an ATM?


The question of money is usually a big one in families with teenagers. With all the activities and social engagements, teens (like the rest of us) need a lot of money to finance their lives.  

SO—must you resign yourself to being a human ATM? 

The answer, according to STEP positive discipline, is: yes and no.

There’s NOT much you can do about the cost of car insurance, clothing, college, or even feeding that six-footer that used to come up to your knee. 

However, even if you are independently wealthy and have no budget limits, there is much you can do—and some very good reasons-- to teach your teens practical skills about money. 

The best way to do that is to give them some to work with. A budgeted allowance, with parameters decided on in advance, (how much they’ll get; what they are expected to pay for with it; any spending that is off limits for either moral or budgetary reasons) will help them learn how to properly handle money.

Ideally this starts when they are very young (of course the amounts and parameters are very different for young ones) but if you’ve never given your kids an allowance, the teen years are not too late to start. 

Remember that the allowance is distinctly NOT in payment for regular household responsibilities (another topic; every family should require these).  

It’s simply because, as adults in training, they need to learn this important skill—for your benefit now, and their benefit in the future. 

An important caveat is that you are firm in your agreed-upon limits; you don’t make advances on allowance (it’s paid weekly or monthly, your decision) and you don’t bail them out of bad spending decisions. Period. The real world wouldn’t, and they need to have that experience with how the real world works. 

You can also teach them about the proper uses of credit and other financial planning. If they are already earning their own money with a part-time job, you can set parameters for the management of their income. For example: some percentage for charitable giving, some percentage for savings; some amount for spending. But don’t second-guess what they spend it on. Let them make mistakes or successes- these are the lessons that are better learned on their own. 

This approach will ease the burden for you of feeling constantly drained of cash, as well as setting your teens on a sensible course for management of their own money in the future. Bonus: much less friction over spending issues.

Adolescence Getting You Down?

Your beautiful babies are growing, developing, maturing. Sometimes into creatures you barely recognize. What’s happening? A little thing called puberty.


It’s hard for us, as adults, to reach all the way back to those days and really empathize with what our kids are going through in middle school years. But if those awkward, scary, exhilarating years are memorable to you at all, you can add a big dollop of today’s culture, insanely mounting social pressures, body image problems and the “always-on” aspect of social media-- and ratchet up the pressure ten-fold.


How best to deal with a child who some days you barely recognize, who seems to have forgotten the sweetly cooperative relationship you once had?


One of STEP’s most powerful prescriptions: encouragement. Sounds simple, but it’s especially hard when your patience is being tried on a daily basis.


It’s an approach that requires flipping the typical communication exchange. Instead of giving in to the temptation to notice and remark (or nag) on all the things that annoy you about your budding adolescent, consciously look for, and focus on, the silver lining.


For example- observing your bossy, back-talking 12 year old**, think instead: well thank goodness, she’ll never be a wallflower or let anyone walk all over her. Your dreamy, disconnected mess-maker? Appreciate the creative artist within. And say something encouraging of that.


Almost any “negative” trait has a flip side; it’s all in how you look at things. Over the years, I’ve taught STEP to groups that contained both parents and teachers of the same child. Often their perceptions of the child couldn’t have been more different.


Sometimes it was the emotional distance the teacher possessed that revealed the “good” aspects of the child’s personality, which a parent overlooked. Other times the gap in perception was revealed simply because the child felt encouraged in the classroom but not in the home—and acted accordingly.


The point is, once you start to refocus on the good, the bad aspects or habits that drive you mad start to recede. Appreciation, demonstrated affection, encouragement—all these help to build your relationship and help you negotiate the hazardous waters of adolescence.


Please note:**this is not to imply you need to put up with sassy talk, or messy rooms. It’s just that we tackle those things separately, when we learn about how to engage cooperation, and discipline without punishing.

Damage Control-- What to Do When You've Been a "Bad" Parent

It's always great to see STEP ideas in the media. Today's Wall Street Journal's Work & Family column features discussion with Adele Faber (of the "How To Talk..." series) and research info on the downside of yelling at your kids.

We yell when we feel angry and have no other tools in the toolkit to deal with the anger. "Taking it personally" -- when we see our kids misbehavior as a direct threat to our authority, or when we feel the behavior reflects badly on us-- is the main reason we let loose with yelling.

I was a frequent offender in this department before I learned STEP. It led me to many a tirade, where I'd work up a good head of righteous steam before I finally shut up. Once it blew out, I'd see the effect of my words on my kids faces-- devastating. Most of the time they were just doing the things that kids do before they know any better, Other times it was the frustration of the same offenses over and over.

While the Journal column mentions the long-term damage to children from excessive yelling and spanking, I don't think the suggested remedies go far enough. Yes, having age-appropriate expectations of your children is smart, and building a margin of time into your daily routine to allow for mishaps is an excellent idea in general, especially for parents of little ones.

But just "learning to notice the warning signs in your body" would not have helped me when my frustrations were building up to DefCon 1 levels.

What a blessing it was to learn STEP. The use of consequences for those repeated but minor infractions gave me the proper tool to deal with those things before they became a major source of my frustration-- and yelling.

Learning how to use "I-messages" to let my kids know when I felt disrespected or frustrated helped me head off the full-blown, I've-had-it-up-to-here tirades.

And gentle, sensible reflective listening helped me show my kids that their concerns were important to me-- as well as modeling to them how to be a good listener.

It's daily work, even for a family like mine which has practiced STEP for over 12 years. The little struggles, disappointments, and frustrations of family life can sometimes get the better of us. But STEP works for me every time I use it.

Changing the Game-- of Parenting

More reinforcements for the parenting ideas taught by STEP: failure, freedom, and focus on the important stuff.

John O'Sullivan is a professional soccer player and youth coach who believes the current approach  to youth soccer not only overlooks the best talent for the future of the sport, but actively undermines the  love of the sport and the ability to create deep talent pools of kids who are passionate about playing.

His cautionary tale is one of a kid who gained a spot on a Danish youth soccer squad only because they were desperate to fill the ranks of the new club being formed. Not one coach associated with the team thought the kid had any talent or future whatsoever. Six years later that kid was the starting center back in Denmark's World Cup match in South Africa.

Here are some excerpts from a recent article, explaining what Coach O'Sullivan recommends:

Focus the vast majority of time on technical development, especially comfort on the ball, with as many players as possible through U-12. This is what STEP endorses in terms of behavior-focus, as opposed to critiquing the individual.

Identify your weaker technical players and give them the best coaching, helping them catch up to the strong ones to build deeper player pools.Kids need encouragement to do their best. And we need to help them to do their best-- not anyone else's idea of their best. Unleashing that passion with encouragement, we're often surprised at the outcome.

Through U-12, keep no standings, play for no state championships. Instill a love of the game, and let the games belong to the kids. Let them fail, let them figure out how to solve problems instead of solving them for them (that means you too, parents). Give them the game! Self-explanatory.

EDUCATION for coaches! We have a ton of licensed “professional” coaches who know little about child development, child psychology, and effective educational tools. We need to provide more avenues for learning, as well as environments where they are allowed to develop players instead of focusing on winning. As with STEP, focusing on the end point, such as grades, not only misses the point but undermines the effort to get to that end. Kids can achieve grades easily enough, under pressure. Cheating for instance. That will not develop the knowledge nor the wisdom that knowledge is meant to engender. It also catches kids up in the deception: I'll pretend I'm learning, you pretend you care about anything but the report card.

EDUCATION for parents! Yelling constant instructions from the sideline, pushing your kids to your own goals instead of theirs, harassing them on the ride home after games, and inadvertently or not,tying your love of your kids to their sporting outcomes is ruining a generation of young athletes. Yes, its the norm, but it is completely wrong! When parents sign a kid up for youth soccer, they, too, should be enrolled in ongoing education.We need to teach parents how to help, instead of telling them to step aside and leave it to the pros. Sign up for a STEP class! Yelling, telling, berating-- all these do is undermine your relationship with your child and make them angry and discouraged. Firmness with kindness, discipline with high expectations-- these techniques will bring out the best in your child. And ultimately in you.

For more information about Coach O'Sullivan, see here:

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