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Monthly Archives: September 2017

Your kids can’t help but encounter the news — they may hear about scary stuff on the playground at school, they may see the newsfeed on your phone or tablet, overhear the videos you play on your laptop, or read the headlines. Once they’re able to read, you can’t really shield them from it, but you can moderate their experience.

Kids’ main concern, whether they voice it or not, is that they, and the family, are safe. Hearing about people fighting each other in the streets and getting run over by cars is frightening. Listen to their fears and reassure them that you know how to keep them from harm. Your kids notice the way you handle the news to determine their own approach. If you can stay calm and rational, they will, too.

Approach them about what they already know about something they heard about in the news. Since they probably heard it from their friends, they’re likely to only have partial or incorrect information. Help them differentiate between fact and opinion. (Not necessarily easy for us to do ourselves these days!) Ask them for their thoughts about what they’re seeing or hearing. Explain as much as you think your child can digest and understand.

The website Common Sense Media has some helpful resources and information on how to approach this topic, particularly with sensitive kids. “Many kids can handle a discussion of threatening events, but if your kids tend toward the sensitive side, be sure to keep them away from the TV news; repetitive images and stories can make dangers appear greater, more prevalent, and closer to home.”

Take time to watch their short video about kids’ views of the news— young people take in more than we realize! Here’s a Media Tool Kit designed specifically for parents.

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Imagine this scenario:

You overhear an argument between your two daughters going on in the next room. When you go in to see what’s happening you witness your older daughter pulling her younger sister’s hair. In the heat of the moment you say, “I’m sending you to your room until dinner time for pulling your sister’s hair!”

Is that the best way to teach her not to hurt her sister?

Punishment focuses your child on the consequence of her behavior rather than on the hurt her behavior caused. If you talk to your daughter about how she hurt her sister and how it feels to get hurt, that will help her build empathy, rather than feel bad about herself. You can also check in with your younger daughter— is she hurt? Model empathy for both of them, instead of reinforcing your older daughter’s behavior with negative consequences.

Imagine this scenario:

The first time you discovered your middle school age son took money from your wallet to buy snacks at the corner store, you requested that he ask you if he needs money. The second time he did it, you grounded him for a night. Now you suspect that he’s done it a third time even though when you ask him, he denies it. You ground him again, this time for the entire weekend.

Is grounding your son the best way to teach him not to take money from your wallet without asking?

Research that’s been done on kids’ moral development indicates that to avoid future punishment, they are likely to sneak and lie in order to escape being caught, meaning that grounding your son could actually encourage him to be dishonest.

Because you’re their authority figure, it’s a case of “might makes right” even when your kids thinks their punishment is unfair, or isn’t warranted. This “power over” dynamic means moral choices may become more difficult when they are in a position of power. Also, if your son sees your punishment as a “way to make him stop behaving badly” then he isn’t taking responsibility for his behavior and the choice he made to take money from your wallet. Engaging with him about his decision to take your money may result in a more meaningful outcome.

Frequently, consequences like yelling, shaming, grounding, physical force result in your child only remembering the consequence, and his/her anger at you for imposing the punishment. GIving your child the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and make proper amends makes a much more lasting impact. I know this from personal experience. One spring, before I realized it, my son had used my iTunes account information to buy movies online. Over the course of a couple of months the bill added up to over a hundred dollars. I let my son know how much it hurt to discover he was using my account without my permission, and I laid out the expectation that his summer earnings would go towards paying me back. I could see that he felt genuinely badly about his behavior. And, the opportunity to make amends for his choices reinforced the valuable lesson learned.

Alfie Kohn, the author of the 2006 book, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason suggests parents learn to shift their idea of discipline from a “doing to” (punishing) to a “working with” dynamic. Discipline is really about guidance. He recommends imagining how things look from your kids’ point of view and making your relationship with your child, and mutual trust, paramount. You can read his answers parents’ questions about punishment and discipline in the New York Times article, Punishing Children With Love.

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