Chrstmas Spirit

Chrstmas Spirit
My wife and kids having a little holiday fun

Monday, January 31, 2011


Welcome back my friends!  Today's post is going to have two parts to it.  The first is comparing public school teachers to illusionists while the second is going to say goodbye (for now).  Off we go!!!

I've always been amazed with illusion.  First, you see it; then you don't.  They can do card tricks, slight of hand, and even levitate.  How they do it, I don't know. But these acts entertain millions and I am one of them. 

One of the tricks that baffle me are the escapes.  I know there are secrets as to how they do it but I typically don't know how it's done.    When people have their hands tied, handcuffed, and shackled by their feet, escapes shouldn't be possible.  Yet, they are time and time again.

Thinking about these incredible acts, it strikes me as amazing that teachers are supposed to make the magic happen much like an illusionist no matter how unrealistic the trick really is.  Here are some examples.

1.  Teachers aren't handcuffed but they are significantly restrained by what they can and can't do.  For example, when  discipline problems exist in the classroom, there is not much a teacher can do besides deal with it to the best of their ability.  Remember, every minute spent dealing with a behavior issue is a minute taken from your child's education. The time lost is not accounted for when future tests are taken.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot an administration can do as well.  I remember as a teacher some colleagues would get mad at the principal and the counselor because of their lack of help.  The problem is there are hundreds of kids in a school and they have a laundry list of things that have to be accomplished.  In all my years, I never caught a principal or counselor playing card games on the computer or sitting around doing nothing.

2.  Teachers are expected to solve what appears to be an unsolvable mystery. What is a teachers job?  Simplistically, most of us would say to teach.  But, since teachers are evaluated on test scores, what happens when they are low?  Does it mean a teacher spent almost 10 months with a kid and didn't teach?  That seems a bit unlikely.

Test scores are obviously a quantifiable measure of progress.  But, this isn't like working the line at Ford Motor Company.  The parts aren't all the same.  Yet, teachers are supposed to produce a highly qualified and highly efficient test taking machine. Does this mean I disapprove of testing?  No.  Does it mean I approve of standardized testing?  Not really.  Again, it's an unsolvable mystery to me.

One of the main differences between an illusionist and teacher is this.  An illusionist only appears to have an unsolvable mystery.  With teachers, it's real.

3.   Teachers are expected to "perform" like illusionists with kids even if they aren't ready for the course work.  When a third grade teacher has to work with a 1st grade brain (happens a lot more than you may think) then either you give the kid extra instructional time (which means the other kids get less) or partially neglect the kid (in the air of fairness to the others) or totally neglect the kid (in order to work with the other kids who are on or closer to grade level).  There are not too many more options for teachers. Whatever direction the teacher goes will directly influence your child.

The grandest illusion of all is when parents believe schools will solve the problems.  The public has been fed the same line way before I started teaching and year after year, there are many parents who believe them.  That's why they get so mad at the system when problems occur.  They actually were fooled in believing it was going to work to begin with.  While it's frustrating even to me at times, I don't get surprised or upset.  I have responded by educating my kids to the best of my ability and wrote a blog almost 6,000 people have hit telling you all about it and what to do.   

Teachers work very hard but many are in a "box" they can't escape.  I was in that box as well and didn't realize it until years AFTER I left the profession.  When I taught, I can guarantee you I worked a lot of hours, ran a disciplined classroom, and taught the lessons I was expected to teach to the best of my ability.  There were kids who exploded with knowledge as the school year progressed.  There were others though who I couldn't help enough and continue to be "shackled" to this day.

Please keep a finger on the pulse of your children's education and help whenever you can.  Don't get caught up in the illusions.  I promise you'll never regret a minute of life working with a child you love.  

As I said before, this will be my last post for a while.  I try not to say never because I know better.  For those who have been following, you know I wrote a parenting book and am looking for the right publisher.  It takes an extraordinary amount of time to do this.  I am to the point where this needs to be my focus.  The purpose of the blog was to help great parents become even better and to get my name in the cyber world.  I truly feel I have accomplished both in a big way and had a lot of fun in the process.

I have had many people ask me about the book and when it will be available.  I am not sure but if anyone who has followed my work would like to purchase a copy down the line, shoot me an email.  If and when the book is published, I am sure I will be deep in the blogosphere again.

As far as people who have submitted parenting questions, I plan on responding to you privately.  If you are going to take the time to ask a question, I should take the time to answer it to the best of my ability.  This blog will also stay up indefinently.  If you have a question in the future, feel free to shoot me an email.  My door will stay open for you.

I wasn't sure how to end this blog until I checked my Twitter messages (@claylauren2001) about 10 minutes ago.  A girl I've never met wrote to me "we are beginning an adoption process from an orphanage and wanted some tips."  I fully admit I teared up a bit.  Anyone who knows my past would understand why.  If I help this stranger out in the smallest bit, all the hours spent in the creation, promotion, and writing of this blog will have been worth it.

Thanks again to everyone who has made this blog the success it's been.  Thanks for telling your friends.  Thanks for your comments.  Thanks for your words of encouragement.  If all goes well, maybe I'll be in a town near you someday signing my book.

Goodbye (for now) from the world of Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Handling Failure

I am glad to have you back again!  I am noticing some of my parenting questions getting more difficult.  I think some of you out there are trying to test me.  Well, bring it on because I asked for it.  There is an email address on the right side of the screen all questions can be sent to.  If I don't think I can answer your question, I'll send you a return email privately.  Please be patient with me.  I only answer one question per week for now.  On that note, buckle up because this ride will not be pretty. 

Today's question is from "Amy" who asks "How should I respond to my child who has failed at things important to her?"  Amy mentioned grades and a cheer leading team as examples.

First of all, allow me to be blunt- failure stinks.  What I would like to impart to you is our children do not have the same mental capacity to handle a failing situation like most of us do as adults.  There were times when I was a kid that I failed and my mom (God bless her) would give me the ol shake it off speech in one way or another.  "Shake it off Clay.  It will be just fine."  Another line used more than once went something like, "It won't even matter when you are an adult." (But mom, I am only 11)

I'm not angry in the least at my mom but the truth is she didn't know what to do or what to say.  I would be willing to bet there are a lot of parents who mean well just like my mom but don't know what to do as well.

The first glimpse I had at looking at what was perceived as failure through the eyes of a child came at St. Joseph Children's Home.  I'll guarantee few parents who read this will understand failure like a child who goes through an adoption fair, doesn't get "picked" and watches one of his buddies who does.  I won't get into the process but it goes on for quite a while before the adopted kid actually leaves.  Therefore, everyday the "chosen" kid is still at the home is a reminder for the unpicked child.

Some of the children in these cases were inconsolable for a while. It was really hard on me personally to watch these things happen even if I was happy for the newly adopted child.  This was especially true when a kid looked right in my eyes and asked that familiar question, "Why couldn't it have been me?"  Another of my heart wrenching "favorites" was "What's wrong with me?"

I told you that story because I had a general response/attitude that worked for me in these dire times and I hope it works for you as well.  My response was something like "I know things didn't work out for you but I'm right here and I think the world of you."  The only reason this worked for me was because the relationship I had with certain kids was top notch.  Anything less, and the kids would have interpreted my words as pure B.S.  In these moments, that is the last thing a kid needs.

When it comes to Amy and her question.  Grades come and go but if they are important to the child, then they should be to you.  Let's pretend, for example, we are talking about a math grade.  I would display a nurturing attitude with a tough undertone (because that is my nature).  Here's how this would look.     

I'd put my arms around Amy's kid and let her cry.  When she was finished, I'd let the child know how smart she is and that we were going to work through this problem together.  In the ensuing days though, if I ever saw the kid slacking on the math work, I wouldn't be quite as nurturing.  I'd give subtle reminders of how that math grade made her feel and encourage her to stay focused.

Cheerleading is pretty much the same story.  Any time a child doesn't make a team, it is devastating because of (1) the feelings of failure for not making the team and (2) having to face the peers at school who did.  Although the math grade may be more important to you as a parent, the cheerleading problem may be harder in the eyes of the child.  After all, the math grade is private.
Photo taken at a public event of event partici...
It is not easy to face the girls who beat you in school

I'd like to know why she didn't make the team by talking to the coach.  (Don't pressure the coach to include the child on the team).  Find out what she can improve on and attack the weaknesses if the child is willing.  If not, it may be a good idea to find another sport which she is better suited.  Let the choice be hers.

As all of us know, failure is a part of life.  No one succeeds at everything.  But, the effective parent will get down on the child's level, help them through the pain, and teach towards the future.

Thanks to all who stopped by today.  If you think this post is worthy please pass it along to another family.  

This Monday, I will be back with an education blog.  I am going to write the illusionists piece I premised last Friday and some similarities they have with teachers. Break out your magic wands and hidden keys and I'll see you Monday.    

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Competing for Mama

Today's behavior blog will focus on the relationship some children have with their mothers. In my home, the boys really like their mommy time.  I used to joke that when my oldest son was smaller, he was mommyfied.  (I know spell check- it's not really a word)  The competition for mom's time is fierce.  They are competing with dads, the television, the internet, the phone, and their siblings.  What is it about mothers?   More specifically, what is it about mothers versus fathers when it comes to competing for time?

Even as a stay at home dad, the boys competition over mama is much greater than their competition for my time.  For example, I could be on the phone 20 minutes without being disturbed.  My wife can't be on the phone 20 seconds before I am shooing a child away from her.  One may think I could be sore about this lack of gripping attention.  Quite the contrary.  I could have guessed this would have happened even before I had kids because I saw the same things at St. Joseph Children's Home.

There's something about moms and their ability to connect with small children.  One of my theories is that it has to do with affection.  It could be that mom is home more or that when she is home, more of her time is spent touching children (in appropriate manners).  At. St. Joseph's we had some strong willed women who could show affection as well.  They were dedicated and really knew their business. Children gravitated to them especially in time of need.  As a matter of fact, in our youngest department with kids ranging in age from 3 to 5, I would approximate women logged over 95% of the hours.  

What's interesting to note is that when I worked alone, the children would open up in the exact same manner when they needed anything.  But, they didn't compete for my time.  This also held true in the classroom where I obviously worked alone.  In other words, I didn't have children crying for their moms when I was teaching.  Although I wasn't out to win any popularity contests, most of my students really liked me.  This has led me to believe that while children will take affection from dad, there are times they would rather have it from mom if there is a choice. 

Bill CosbyBill Cosby performing "Himself."

These beliefs reminds me of an old Bill Cosby comedy routine which spoke to the power of moms.  Basically, he said he was hoping for a son to be a great football player one day.  Many hours would be spent working with the kid to be the best he could be.  Due to the time and hard work, the kid could go on to a major university, score a touchdown, stare into the television camera afterward, and yell, "Hi mom!"  The stumped look on Cosby's face will forever be etched in my mind.

I've always felt there was a lot of truth to be garnered from that skit.  Moms are special and I've never met a man who could really take their place. Even though the opposite is true as well, I've never actually witnessed children competing for a dad's time or at least not nearly on the same level.  Keep in mind I know there are homes out there where this precisely happens but with all my experience, I would have assumed seeing it by now. 

I believe my boys would perch on my wife's legs all day if we would let them.  The only time they have ever been disciplined for hanging on mom too much is when I can tell she's getting a bit tired of it.  (Even then, I'm not too hard on the boys).  The only thing that bothers me from time to time is with all the competition for mom's attention; I worry mom doesn't win often enough.  By that I mean if other mothers are like my wife, when do you carve the time and place all the attention on yourself?  At. St. Joseph's, it was different because the house parents were compensated employees.  All the house parents (outside of myself and a couple of other ladies) also had their own homes.

As a dad, I really feel one of my roles is to encourage and prop up my wife on the highest pedestal possible.  Of course, she will read this and get emotional (because her husband is so great) but the truth is I have an alternative motive.  I want my boys to have the deepest respect and love for their mom because in some way, it translates to being a good man, a good husband, and one day, a good father. If this means competing and /or clinging on to my wife for a small period of time in their lives, so be it.  These days won't last forever.  One day, the competition will be over and, in the end, all of us will hopefully be winners.

I guess the lesson in the end to all parents but especially to the dads- be patient with your kids.  Back away from time to time and let the kids have their time with mom.  But when you see your better half getting a little tired, be there to peel the kids away for a while.  This is a competition after all.  The kids do not get to win every time. (wink) 

All my best to parents and children who still cling to their momma's legs (figuratively and literally). I'll be interested to read the comments.  I'd like to know if there is a competition for mama in your home and how it is handled.

I read an interesting parenting question I would like to answer on Friday. The general topic concerns kids failing and how it has been handled on the children I have worked with.  I look forward to having you back on this road of tantrums, troubles, and treasures. (or as my father in law calls it: t-cubed)

One final note: If you know any parents who have small children who "compete for mama," please consider passing this blog along.  I certainly hope it helps by letting them know they are not alone. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Education Children Deserve

Good Monday morning to all of you.  Before I get started on today's topic, I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for coming.  Over the weekend, my blog surpassed 5,000 hits.  Considering this blog is about 3 months old and there were two major holidays, I'm very humbled- thank you.

I would also appreciate a bit of understanding for today's blog.  Last Friday, I teased a post that was going to compare illusionists to teachers.  That post is laid out on paper and ready to be written.  Over the weekend though, a story in my local newspaper really struck a nerve. After conferring with my editor (me) I am going to address it instead.

My question today is what type of education do children deserve?  This question has tugged at me for a while. This leads me to the article in the newspaper that had to do with the Wade County school district in Raleigh, North Carolina and its plan to move toward neighborhood schools.  Of course, there is a public outcry like in a lot of cases where a major change is being made.  Both sides of the aisle have their strong supporters and neither side wants to give an inch.

I can certainly see why neighborhood schools makes sense. Obviously, parents could be more involved in the school and there would be a huge savings in the cost of busing.  There is also a dirty little point to be made as well.  In many schools, if you were to eliminate the lower economic families by sending them back to their neighborhoods- test scores would most likely shoot up immediately at those schools.  That would make certain principals, teachers, and remaining kids look very good.

The argument against neighborhood schools is equally as compelling.  Some people would claim that diversity of race and cultures is a good thing.  Neighborhood schools would eliminate that in many areas.  Another point is we had neighborhood schools as late as the 1960's.  How did that work out for us?  Finally, if we went to neighborhood schools, some schools in hard hit economic areas would most likely fail miserably.  What would we do then?

If you are someone who has read my blog for a while, you know that I really advocate working with your children and relying as little as possible on the school system.  The argument over neighborhood schools is the latest reason.  We had these same debates and many others 11 years ago when I started teaching.  Despite any changes that were made, not much has helped when you compare the data.

For what it is worth, the first school I taught in (Portland Elementary in Louisville, Kentucky) was a neighborhood school and it was a nice place to work.  We had our share of problems (academically) but we made strides and improved test scores every year I was there.  After I left, the principal I worked for retired. A new principal was brought in and (from what I can see) has done some great work including improving the test scores.  The improvements may not be enough in the eyes of some people though.  Being that I worked there and know the neighborhood, I would say the school should be proud its accomplishments.   

As far as whether I think there should be neighborhood schools; here's the truth.  Neighborhood schools are a great idea but there is a huge drawback.  The drawback is I doubt if they will work in many areas.  Let me explain.

In order for neighborhood schools to work in my opinion, there has to be an understanding that there will be areas where poverty, discipline, and overall culture will be at an all time low.  These area would have to be inundated with the brightest educational minds the district could muster.  The student- teacher ratio would have to be extremely low (6:1 would be ideal).  There would have to be at least 2 full time assistants for every class.  Teachers would have to have a 25% pay increase over their peers at higher performing schools (based on educational rank and seniority) directly hired by the principal.  Because of the lack of overall space and to keep the ratios low, two full time teachers would most likely have to team teach in every room.  It is very possible two full time security guards would be needed in each school as well.  Even if all these ideas were to happen, it would take years to see tangible results because the kids are that far behind.  In short, this is simply not going to happen. 

Before any of these ideas could be implemented, one more thing would be needed as well- cooperation.  I am talking about the teachers, principals, unions, school boards, local and state government, and, of course, parents. If it is one thing I have seen over the years, these groups have their own agendas and getting along with each other is not one of them.  It is sad but true. 

So what kind of education do children deserve?  That's not a question any school can answer (unless you want to hear the standby answer- students deserve the best education possible).  Rather this is a question only you, the parent, can answer.  Here's my advice for what it's worth.  Your job should be to let the talking heads fight, beat each other up, and get little accomplished.  These people are good at it and have been mastering the art for many years. The names may change but the results generally stay the same.

I understand you can debate me on this by citing your tax dollars for instance.  I understand your concerns should be heard as well.  I also understand your voice is important.  But, what I understand the most is that time is ticking when it comes to your kids.  I've made my decisions concerning my children and have been very pleased with the results.  My hope is for you to be equally happy with the educational progress of your kids.        

In the meantime,  I want you to continue working diligently with your kids on their reading and math especially.  Take an active interest in your child's report cards and focus on your kids areas of weakness.  It is also a good idea to form support groups with other parents and have study nights. (Ever heard the saying it takes a village to raise a child)  The point is the more you take control of your kids future, the less you have to worry about what a school is going to do.

Usually, my blog posts are more light-hearted or have a humorous twist.  The truth is that debates such as neighborhood schools angers me because I think of the kids I used to teach.  Most are not receiving a good education today (though I bet their teachers are working hard) and I wish there was more I could do.

This Wednesday will be the long awaited behavior blog called Competing for Mama.  I will lay out some insights and the opinions may surprise you.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Is it OK to Lie to My Kids

Happy Friday to all of you.  I'm so pleased you have come back to my blog to read this intriging topic from a person I'll call Joan.  As I was thinking about the answer to today's question, I felt like I was going through a minefield.  It seemed at every turn, I would make an argument that would eventually blow up.  Hopefully though, I've thought this out well enough. Joan (and all of you) can make your own decisions as to whether I am correct.   

Perhaps the best way to start is to lay out my definition of a lie. Therefore, according to, a lie is "A false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive."

Joan had some good points to be considered.  She wants her children to know that lying is not the right thing to do.  I would think most of us would agree with that.  She also thought she was being hypocritical if she lied to her kids but enforced the fact that her kids should not lie.   

I may be making a bold statement but I would bet a vast majority of my readers have or will lie to their children for some reason.  For example, who places money under their child's pillow when they loose a tooth?  How about who comes sliding down the chimney on December 25th?  Finally, who is the best parenting blog writer on the planet? (all right, I made the last one up) While I realize I have readers all over the world, I hope you get my point even if you don't participate in these particular falsehoods.

The prior examples are what I call lies of innocence-  We tell "stories" to our children to celebrate a certain time or event on their level.  While I understand that it is still lying by definition, I don't believe there is any harm.  Therefore, you can bet that the Easter bunny will be making a stop at my house in April. 

I was driving through Hamburg when I seen this...Image via Wikipedia

There are other lies though which aren't so innocent.  Several months ago, I was told a story by a "friend" which really bothered me.  Basically, this person's mother lied to my friend about who their father really is. This person didn't find out the truth until her adult years and has understandably been very bitter since.   

In my opinion, lying and whether it is OK can be found in the circumstances.  (Now we are getting in the deep weeds because everyone has to define their own circumstances). Although I am not big into lying to children, I can certainly recognize situations as to why it is done.  Except for the lies of innocence, I've often told children I would rather tell the truth and hurt their feelings rather than lie.  For the most part, I've stuck with it over the years and haven't regretted it yet. 

I will say that for any of us, we are taking a risk when we lie even if it is a lie of innocence.  The risk is that we will eventually be caught. If and when that happens, will the modeling we have perpetrated rub off on our kids? In other words, will they believe it is all right to lie based on what we have modeled?  Also, will our overall credibility with our kids be less?  If so, how can we teach future lessons they will listen to and follow?  Finally, as in my prior example concerning the lie about my friends dad, will the lie(s) cause severe harm to the relationship with our children?   

I'd like to believe I select my lies carefully.  While I am the guy singing the accolades about the tooth fairy, I wouldn't tell my kids on a hot summer day, "when the ice cream man passes and his bell is ringing; that means he is all out."  Some people may not believe there is a difference because lying is lying.  In the end, it really is a personal decision.

To sum it up for Joan, is it ok to lie to your kids?  Probably not.  But, I don't think when my children learn the truths behind some of the little lies, it will affect them or their ability to tell the truth due to the nature of the lie. Only time will tell if I am right and that's no lie.

On Monday, I will be throwing an education blog your way.  Over the weekend, I would like you to think of your favorite magicians/illusionists. Their "escapes" from situations are pretty amazing, aren't they?  I'm going to compare these performers with teachers in some of your kids classrooms.

Have some fun with your family this weekend and I'll see you Monday!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Note of Apology

Today's behavior blog (Competing for Mama) is not available.  I stayed up late last night and placed the final touches on it.  This morning, I woke up to reread the completed piece and post it only to discover that most of it was gone.  Rather than rush my way through it this morning, I am going to save it for the behavior blog next Wednesday.

This Friday, I am going to write an answer to another parenting concern.  Here's the question:  "Is it ok to lie to my children?"

Take care,

Clayton Thomas

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why Reading Stinks!

Have you ever wondered why some kids love to read while others seem allergic to books?  Today's post will not make every kid a reader overnight but it may give a few insights as to why kids feel as they do about reading.

When I was an elementary teacher, I had to assess kids immediately so I could know where their reading skills were compared to where they should be.  What I also informally assessed were their attitudes on reading and I came up with some common themes.

First though, let me clear some misconceptions to make sure we are on the same page.  There is a line I draw between reading and decoding and this difference is important.

Decoding is when a child pronounces words properly from whatever they are reading.  When I worked with kids though, I defined reading as decoding plus "knowing what the heck you are talking about."  A simple example would be when a child reads a stop sign.  A child who decodes that word (like my youngest son) has no idea why the sign is there or what to do.  An older child though could decode the stop sign, know why it is there, and have a clear picture in his/her mind as to what is going on.

Now, let's get to why reading stinks.

Picture was found after writing my Space Shuttle point.  I couldn't resist.
1.  Reading stinks because sometimes the material is either too hard to decode or comprehend.  It would be like giving many people a book called "How to Fly the Space Shuttle."  I'm sure there are some adults who couldn't decode all of the terminology (including myself).  Others may decode it but really wouldn't have a firm grasp on how to do it.  Just like children, if your space shuttle manual was too long, complicated, or confusing, you would probably get tired of it as well.

2.  Reading stinks because there's no one to share it with.  In a classroom, I didn't have this issue but at home, any parent could.  If a child is forced to read at home while the adult watches TV, talks on the phone, or plays on the internet, it appears to the child that reading has taken a backseat in their life.  To make matters worse, if a child doesn't have a nice quiet area to read and has to watch their siblings playing while they are working; their concentration would be so far gone, it would make reading nearly pointless.

3.  Finally, reading stinks because the material is boring.  When a child is forced to read material they don't like, it can turn them off from the process all together.  While I will grant you sometimes kids have to read things in school they don't want to, I would hate to think we make children read so many boring things that they despise reading all together.  That would be a shame.

Remember in the beginning of the post when saying that I informally assessed attitudes about reading?  Here's why.  In the beginning of every school year, my job (as I perceived it) was to get a child's attitude in the right direction concerning reading.  It was more important than even the subject itself.  Some kids had a negative attitude about reading or a complete lack of confidence.  I had to get these things turned around as quickly as possible because if I didn't, teaching the subject would have been useless.   

As adults, we choose what we want to read but when working with kids, we should be mindful of our choices.  If, as adults, we pass on to our children "reading stinks" by our actions, our kids are much less likely to be good readers. It's really important to take an active role in reading because our children are always watching us.  A parent can take an active role by reading themselves but they can also help by taking an interest in what their kids are reading.  

I found this out recently when I was sitting on a couch reading a book.  My oldest son walks up to me and says "I thought only mom read books."  The reason my child said this is because I don't read a lot of books.  I wasn't aware though he was observant of this.  I explained to him I read books occasionally but I like newspapers and magazines more.  Kids are much more observant than we think so it's important to give the best impressions possible.   

The truth is reading really stinks for some kids but it doesn't have to.  There are things we, as parents and educators, can do to help kids if we choose.  Though reading is not a skill learned overnight, it is one that will last a lifetime.

This Wednesday, I will be back with my behavior blog.  The title will be "Competing for Mama" and I think you'll find it pretty interesting.  All my best to you and the ones you love.  

Friday, January 14, 2011

How Do I Know

Today's question actually came from a friend several month's ago.  "Rick" and his wife have an infant son.  Rick is a great guy but tends to worry (like many parents) and sometimes that worry leads to asking loaded questions.  Rick's specific question to me was "How do I know if I am doing a good job (being a father)?" Though today's answer applies to fatherhood, women should take note.  Many of the things I am going to talk about applies to mothers as well.  Therefore, I am going to direct my answer to Rick towards parents in general.

The reason I call this a loaded question is it depends on what one's definition of a good parent is.  I gave him an answer that sufficed for the time being.  I wanted to share that answer but I also wanted to expand on it because I've had several months to think about it since.  Keep in mind this is a blog not a book.  I'm certain to leave out some important details and that's where you come in.  If you believe after reading this I left something out, feel free to add it to the comments section at the bottom of the post.

One of the keys in assessing Rick's "job" performance occurred when he questioned himself.  Reflection is a big theme in my Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures book and it certainly applies here.  I wonder if Rick is trying to model himself after someone else and if so, how is he doing?  Before I get any trailblazers piping up, remember that parenting has been going on since the beginning on man.  Odds are most of your good (and bad) ideas with kids have probably been used by someone before you.  As for me, I've modeled myself after specific men and women from St. Joseph Children's Home.  It is a good thing I listened and learned because I did not grow up with a father. 

Another key is what are you providing to your child to help him/her grow?  I'm sure there are many things but some that come to mind are religious beliefs, time, finances, love, caring, education, understanding, discipline, sympathy, and direction.  Generally speaking, parents would claim they provide these things so let's push the idea.  Which areas are your weakest and should be attacked now?   When you figure out that answer and attack it, you're doing a better job as a parent already.

The truth, in the end, as to how you are doing as a parent can be seen in the eyes of your child.  As they are growing up, are they reflecting the values you are teaching them?  Are they someone to be modeled by other children; or someone to be avoided?  Are they respectful to all adults and specifically, their mother?  These answers can be found quickly.  All a parent has to do is pay attention.  Another piece of the puzzle is once you find the answers, do you settle or do you continue to parent and build upon these traits.

US Supreme Court building, front elevation, st...Image via WikipediaPossibly this story will sum it up best.  I remember hearing about a 1964 Supreme Court case (Jacobellis v. Ohio) where they were talking about whether a movie was pornographic.  I am paraphrasing but Justice Potter Stewart said, "I can't define pornography; but I know it when I see it."  When you see good parenting occurring, take mental notes and apply them when the time is right.  Many times, the "job" of a parent is to read, react, and regroup.  I'm sure if you can accomplish this, not only are you a good parent but you're going to get better every day.

My next blog will be posted Monday and it will focus on an educational theme.  Until then, have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Anticipating Behavior

Thanks for coming by the Wednesday behavior edition of my blog. Today we're going to learn how to be mind readers (almost) and talk about a topic that really sets parents apart.  I will warn you though that this is an easy topic to grasp on a broad scale but applying it to specific situations can be tricky.  The key to being good at anticipating behavior takes time, practice, reflection, and sometimes a little luck.  Here we go!      

In all my time working with others at St. Joseph or as a  teacher, the anticipation of behavior could be pinpointed as an area that set people apart.  In other words, those who could do it were easy to work with and those who couldn't.... (recess anyone?)  Certain house parents were hard to work beside because they couldn't see the next move from the children they were working with.  Sometimes parenting is similar to a chess match.  Good chess players may know the basic tenets of the game but great ones know how to win by anticipating and out thinking their opponent.   Here's a couple of examples to illustrate the point.

An example of early-style Staunton Chess Set

 My mother used to babysit my oldest child while I was still teaching.  One day, she walked out of her house for some reason and Cameron came behind her and locked the door.  He was probably 2 1/2 at the time.  There was no way for her to get back in.  She left the house (what choice did she have) and walked down the road to where her brother in law lived.  Eventually, they found a way to get in but, as best I remember, the process took 45 minutes or so with an unsupervised child in the house. 

This story has stuck with me so every time I leave the house to get the mail, bring in the trash cans, or grab the newspaper, I always bring my house key.  Wouldn't you know about a month ago, my youngest child did the same thing to me.  Luke thought it was pretty funny until I used my key to get back inside. After I got in, he wasn't exactly laughing.  

No one is perfect at this skill though.  I'm certainly not the Anticipation King so here's a story that will prove it.  About a week and a half ago, I was upstairs when I noticed half the doorknob had been taken off on the guest bedroom door.  The screwdriver was sitting on the night stand.  Obviously, my wife did it.  Why, you may ask?  I have no idea.  (If she reads this, I'm sure it was for a good reason- wink wink)

Upon seeing this, I knew it should be fixed but I was busy at the time and thought I would get to it later.  A couple of hours passed and I was in the basement working on a blog.  My oldest son came to the top of the steps and yelled, "Dad, mom needs you."  I would like to tell you I jumped out of my chair and glided to my wife to alleviate her concern.  The truth is I walked up the stairs thinking, "what now?"

Lauren was at the bedroom door clearly flustered.  My youngest son had gone into the guest bedroom, shut the door and pulled out the other side of the door handle.  Unfortunately, the door locked and he was trapped.  Of course, the screwdriver I wanted was still inside the room.  I worked with the door for a minute but couldn't find the trigger to release it.   It was at that point when I went into "man mode" and determined I needed my hammer.

By the time I made it back upstairs with my tool of destruction, Lauren had worked with the door some more and successfully unlocked it.  When the family went downstairs, I reattached the doorknob, heavily taped the lock on the inside part of the door, and brought the screwdriver downstairs.

Had I only anticipated things properly, I could have avoided the whole fiasco.  Sometimes, that's what happens.  You mess up, reflect on how you messed up, and learn form it.

This Friday, I will return to answer another parenting question.  Hopefully, I will not be answering any questions about doorknobs or hardware supplies.  I also want to thank my readers who looked at last Friday's post A Good Problem to Have.  There were almost 400 hits and 23 comments as best I remember.  All the support is greatly appreciated!!!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Inventive Spelling

Happy Monday to all of you.  Today's education blog is going to give you another inside look to what is going on in some schools around the country.  I believe when parents are informed- children will benefit so let's dive in.

D U C Dat? (Did you see that)  In a nutshell that is your first lesson in a practice known as inventive spelling.  A trend that seems to be growing every year are the growing number of high school students who can't read or write on grade level.  There are several reasons leading to this problem but I believe you can look at inventive spelling as one of the factors.
I love this inventive spelling
I still haven't figured this out.

 Wut r u talkin abowt?  (What are you talking about)  I'm talking about kids in school who write assignments for their teachers based on how the words sound to them as opposed to the proper spelling. Instead of being corrected by these educators, they are praised for their effort and creativity. 

The reason this concept is so important for parents to know is so you can have an awareness to what goes on in some schools.  When I was a teacher, spelling wasn't emphasized as being important.  As a parent, that statement should concern you.  I did my best to teach students how to spell properly because I felt strongly about it; but not because spelling was a requirement defined in the core content.  

The alternative means of teaching spelling is called foniks (phonics).  Some may shudder as you read the "p" word (f word if you are an inventive speller).  At the heart of it, phonics has been the best method I have seen for children to learn how to write.  Let me put it another way. Although children have shown me different styles of learning over the years, I have never seen a child who was able to write on grade level who had not learned basic phonetic principles.

There's a reason cat is spelled c-a-t.  While I admit there are lots of words that aren't spelled the way they sound, it's important to know the rulz (rules) and learn over time when the rules do not apply.  Though it's a lengthy process, 13 years of education (more if you count pre-school) is easily enough time to work out the kinks.

Inventive spelling , to me, is cute to read from a kindergarten or even a 1st grade student.  Though I didn't let the errors go unchecked, I did appreciate the students' effort during my time in the classroom.  Writing can be a difficult subject to teach.  It takes a lot of time and patience  It baffles me though how any grade (above K or 1st) would buy into inventive spelling.

Please remember the primary point of writing for anyone is to communicate on paper.  If the reader can't understand what the writer is trying to communicate, then the writing is, in effect, worthless. Let us fast forward a few years ahead.  If a child can't spell correctly, what type of college would you expect that person to attend or which job could you expect them to land?

Here's another way of looking at it.  When was the last time you did something incorrectly, stuck with the same plan, and got it right without changing anything? Inventive spelling counts on the fact that although the word is spelled incorrectly now, it will work itself out over time.  It is a theory I have never understood. 
 Group of children in a primary school in Paris

There are plenty of schools who will pass students on from year to year even if the children can't spell.  Therefore, you have two choices as a parent.  Either trust that the school is right (making me wrong) or take what I am saying seriously and work with your kids on how to spell. You can easily do this by looking at classwork and reading carefully what your children are writing.  This can also be accomplished by making sure all homework assignments are written properly.  Rest assured, I have made more than one kid erase a word and spell it correctly.  None of them were scarred for life.

For those who would like a little more information, here is a link from the National Right to Read Foundation that I hope will help. 

This Wednesday, I will be back with my behavior blog but until then ... Hve a grate da! (Have a great day)     

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Good Problem to Have

I hope everyone is having a terrific day.  We are approaching another weekend where many of us will be involved watching our children play their various sports.  It's in this context that I will answer another parenting question.  Although the blog will focus on school age children, even if you have younger ones- pay attention.  You may be fortunate enough to have this problem one day. 

The dad, who I will call Mike, is married with 3 children.  The kids are doing great academically (mostly A's sprinkled with a B here and there).  Athletically, they are also doing well- especially the middle child (So far, it seems like I need Mike's advice).

Here are the concerns.  Mike's kids work extremely hard and he wants to know how to maximize their abilities without burning them out.  My interpretation of the email was he was especially worried about this happening athletically. Mike doesn't want to push his children to the breaking point.  He singled out his middle child who is very gifted. Mike wonders about this child playing sports with his age group because he would be so much better versus playing against older children so he wouldn't always be the best on his team. He's also wondering if there are burn out signs to look for.  My first reaction to this email was (I hope my readers are slowly enjoying a cup of coffee because this might take a while). 

Before you read on, please take a second to think how you would answer Mike's question.  If you would like to help Mike, feel free by adding a comment at the bottom.

I hope Mike along with all of my readers know I'm not one to tell people what to do (on most occasions) but I will give you some things to think about.  Therefore, I'm not going to tell Mike which age group he should allow his middle child to participate.  The point is I want Mike to make the best decision for his family.

Three questions came to my mind that Mike should answer in the privacy of his home.  What are the goals for the children?  What's the point?  Who's calling the shots?

What are the goals for the children?  By this I mean what does Mike hope to achieve when his children play sports?  Is it physical fitness, learning teamwork skills, an athletic scholorship, a professional career, etc?  Knowing the goals will help Mike choose a path.  For example, if his kids only played for fun, they wouldn't get burned out until it wasn't fun anymore.  Contrarily, an athletic scholorship requires a lot of drive, extra time on the ball fields, and a commitment to excellence.  When thinking about the goals, everyone had better be on board.  (Specifically Mike's wife and the children)

Understand, I don't mind how Mike's family approaches sports of choice as long as the children's grades remain high.  What troubles me is when I see parents who dog their kids repeatedly over a sport. It often means they are trying to get their kids to accomplish something in sports they didn't have the ability to accomplish.  Sports are supposed to be an outlet for the children- not the parents.  

What's the point?    Most parents (including myself) want to see their kids excel in sports- but why?  Is Mike looking for his children to develop self confidence, a sense of pride, and/or friendship with the other players?

Could there also be a slightly darker point?  I talk in depth in my book that some of my former coaches had only one point- winning.  We are talking about amateur athletics.  If a parent's or coaches sole point is to win, that could be a problem.  The pressure for any child to always win may be enough to drive him/her out of the sport.

I think Mike is safe if he genuinely didn't care how his kids performed in a sport as long as they tried their best and had fun.  Sometimes as a parent, it's wise to tell yourself to "back off" and it isn't easy-especially if your child excels.

Who's calling the shots?  I would like Mike to be as encouraging as he wants.  In the end though, let the children make up their mind on how far they want to go with sports.   The truth is there is only a miniscule chance the kids will be playing next to Kobe Bryant or Derek Jeter in the future.  More likely than not, the children will need to use their brains to earn the same things Mike has in life (a college degree, stable income, and great kids).

Derek JeterAs far as pushing kids to the breaking point and signs to look for, that's a bit tough for me because I don't think I've pushed a child that hard.  Therefore, I haven't seen it firsthand. Subtle changes in behavior or attitude may be something to watch for.  One question I would have for Mike is this. "Does quality time with your kids revolve around anything besides sports?"  Truthfully, if Mike does lots of activities outside sports with his kids, the odds of burning them out on sports would be minimal in my opinion. 

Keep this in mind as well.  If Mike is a strong authority figure in his house, I wouldn't expect his children to come to him and explain that they need a break or they no longer wanted to play a particular sport.  It probably wouldn't happen because of the mere possibility of disappointing their father.  That's why looking for more subtle changes is important.

Depending on their family dynamic, if Mike's wife happens to be more sensitive than him (as is the case in my home), she may be a valuable resource.  I believe Mike should consider expressing his concerns to her, explain he really needs her help, and tell her to let him know if the children are giving her some negative vibes.  This only will work though if Mike promises not to argue when she speaks up.  Any arguing could result in Mike losing the one resource that can help keep his fears in check.   

Let's get this straight as well.  As long as Mike continues to quietly monitor himself, it's less likely the kids will burn out.  Just by writing me this email, I have the feeling Mike is already accomplishing this. 

 I hope my general thoughts and questions help. I want Mike and all my readers to have all the fun you can watching your kids play the sports they love.  Be encouraging and only push as long as the children express an interest in being pushed.  It's a special time so savor every minute of it and allow your children to do the same thing!

If you happen to enjoy today's blog, please pass it around to some other parents who would like it as well.  Thanks so much!!!

On Monday, I'll be back with an education blog. There are several topics I have in mind.  Hopefully, it will be worth the wait.   

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Changing Lyrics

I hope all of you are having a wonderful Wednesday.  Thanks for stopping by.  Today's behavior blog was set and ready oldest son decided to misbehave and become my new blog topic.  Cameron is a great kid.  But, like a lot of great kids, he is still prone to messing up.  As a matter of fact, there are a lot of great adults who fit that mold as well.  Therefore, it's on that note where I will begin.

The Gambler, by Kenny Rogers, gave me the "beat" of how to approach today's blog.  He sang, "You have to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, and know when to run."  My lyrics doesn't have the same smooth style but it goes like this:  You have to know when to be mad, know when to be glad, know when to close the distance, and know when to step back.
21 Number OnesImage via Wikipedia

Last night, Cameron brought me his library books around 6:30pm and asked if we could return them together.  He knows I am a sucker in a library.  Instead of just returning books, he would get to peruse and get more books even if it meant staying up past his bedtime on a school night.  It's a game I love playing to tell the truth- but don't tell him I said that.

I was busy finishing an email on my computer in the basement.  I told him to get his coat on and we would be on our way soon.  Right before I finished my email, I heard a familiar walk across the main floor overhead.  The hard footsteps meant only one thing- the wife was coming to see me and she was not happy.   I tried to think of what I did wrong so I could weasel my way out of it- but came up blank. 

The good news was I had avoided trouble (this time).  The bad news was Cameron had "back talked" her and was currently hollering and throwing things in his bedroom.  Back talking is a behavior that's pretty common in children and I will address it more fully in a future post. But due to his back talking, his library privilege had not been "renewed."  The other behaviors came after mama laid down the law.    

My initial reaction was shock but it shouldn't have been.  Cameron had smaller behavior problems earlier in the afternoon.  He could have been tired after a long school day plus "daddy school." Though I don't know the reason, we now had a problem in the Thomas household.  Sometimes I want Lauren to handle behavior problems.  This time though, it sounded like a war was brewing and I wanted to show support to my wife.

Here's where my "song lyrics" come into play:

You have to know when to be mad- Truthfully, I wasn't mad at all.  Lauren had already handled the situation.  Although she didn't ask me to help her, I don't think she minded the added support.  A tip I learned long ago was it's not always prudent to handle an angry child with anger.  That's because anger between two people typically builds off of each other.  There are some exceptions to the point but this was certainly not a case that qualified.   

Know when to be glad- Maybe it was just me but I was excited he was so upset because he could NOT go to the library.  It tells me my wife and I are doing something right.  I'd be much more concerned if he didn't like the library.  I remember heading up the stairs with a small smirk on my face. 

Know when to close the distance- I was two floors away when the problem occurred.  There was no doubt I was going to be in Cameron's room.  As for how much more distance needed to be closed, I'd have to wait to see how this situation was going to shake out.  I don't mind placing my hands on a child who is completely out of control; but I like to evaluate things before I take it to that level. 

Know when to step back- Right as I entered the room, Cameron had slammed his closet door.  I gave him the "I dare you to do that while I'm here" look.  When Cameron saw me, I received the "fear of the father" glare I suspected I would get.  I'm sure he thought to himself  "What is my dad going to do to me?"  It was at this point I threw a proverbial curve ball.  Instead of speaking harshly, I calmly said "I can't believe you would act like this because you love going to the library.  You are much smarter than what you showed to mom."  I held his gaze for probably 5-10 seconds (which to most kids feels like 5-10 minutes) then I walked out.

I could have handled the situation in a variety of ways but what would have been the point of piling it on?  Lauren laid down the consequence and I helped Cameron get his behavior under control.  In short, I got what I wanted.  All it took was an eye gaze and two sentences.  You might be surprised to know that even with the toughest kids in my professional life, this tactic worked almost all the time.  Later in the evening, Cameron cried and gave mom a heartfelt apology. That's when I truly knew the problem was resolved. 

This Friday, I will be answering a parenting question.  The crux of it is what do you do with good kids in terms of making them better?  Think about it for a couple of days, come back Friday, and we'll compare answers.  Until then, all the best to you and the ones you love.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Achieveing a New Year's Resolution

New year - which direction?Which direction will you go in 2011?

Happy 2011 to all of you.  I hope you are reading this post in good spirits and with an open mind because we have some work to do.  The first thing I want to talk about are some of the best ways I have seen in achieving a New Year's resolution.  The next thing is talking about my resolution because I'm going to need your help.

New Year's resolutions seem to be difficult for a couple of reasons.  The first is the highs and lows of life and how it gets in the way of what we are trying to accomplish.  The second is that a year is a long time. Having the same drive to achieve a goal on day 1, day 122, and day 364 can be difficult.

It's important in a family for everyone to help everyone else achieve their resolutions.  Life will still have it's highs and lows for each individual; but having the support of your family can help offset them.  Though I don't have a shred of statistical evidence, I would bet many resolutions are not achieved simply because people try to accomplish them alone.  You can actually help your kids with their goals as well by showing a passion while working on your resolutions.  After all, iron sharpens iron. 

It's also a good idea to make goals as a family and post them somewhere for all to see.  You've got to be accountable to each other and willing to have your own feet held to the fire when you are not sticking to the goals.  

For example, my wife had the goal last year of running a 10k (6.2 miles) on a treadmill.  To some, that may not be a big deal but to her- it meant everything.  I tried to help by keeping up with my workouts, giving her positive encouragement, and allowing her time to go to the gym while I took care of the kids.  I'm proud to tell you that on December 31, 2010, the goal was accomplished.  I couldn't be more proud.

The second tip I would give would be to break a year into parts and attack your New Year's goal incrementally.  For example, if you'd like to loose 20 pounds this year, try stating the goal like this:  "I will lose 1.66 pounds per month."  That's it.  According to what I have heard from Weight Watchers, losing a pound per week is reasonable. Therefore, losing 1.66 pounds in a month isn't too hard.  Is it?  In a year's time, the resolution will have been accomplished.

Now for my goal.  My New Year's resolution is to sell the Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures book to a publisher.  I have three reasons for this.

1.  Selling the book may allow my wife to work a little less.  She has been our sole bread winner for 4 years.  Without her sacrifices, the book nor the blog would have come to fruition.  Please understand that if you have learned something from my writings or have applied one thing from this blog to your household, part of the credit has to be given to her.

2.  Selling the book would mean reaching even more people with the positive messages I am sending.  I believe I can help a lot of good parents become even better; but they may be harder to reach if the book is never published.

3.  The final reason I want to get Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures published is I already have an outline for a follow up book.  After writing the first book, I was so drained because it took 11 months.  Honestly, I didn't believe I had another book in me.  It looks like I was wrong.  The follow up book will have more stories and anecdotes and really fun lessons for parents to think about.  Right now though, it doesn't make a lot of sense to write a follow up book until the first one is published.

I told you in the beginning of the blog I needed your help.  Here are my requests.

I want you to hold my feet to the fire like I suggested earlier.  Encourage me if you read good blog posts.  Tell me what you liked and why.  If the posts were not up to par, tell me why as well and how it should have been improved.

Continue sending me parenting question and referring people to this site.  I believe in the six degrees of separation.  I'm not that far from having Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures in the hands of a publisher.  Sooner or later, this blog will receive enough hits that a publisher will come across it and want to know what all the commotion is about.

If you have happened to see the children's movie Horton Hears a Who starring Jim Carrey, I feel like we are on the speck of Who-ville shouting "We are here, we are here, we are here!"
Horton Hears a Who!Image via Wikipedia
Thank you for all the time and encouragement you have given.  Here's to a great 2011!