Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

The power of choice

January 15, 2013

When my oldest son Philo was about two years old, he was utterly defiant. So I thought.

Once day, as he repeatedly tapped his dinner plate with a spoon, I said, “Philo, stop doing that.”

He continued and I repeated, this time more firmly, “STOP doing that!”

He glanced at me, and then looked away and mumbled, “GO doing that.”

It struck me as odd that he would respond in that way. I noted at the time he was learning about opposites.

That night, I while reading a favorite parenting book I read that children from a young age want to assert themselves as choice makers. It has less to do with defiance as it does the human impulse to be an independent thinker.

I can relate. Who can’t?

I realized he wasn’t being defiant by saying the opposite, but simply trying to make his own choice. I hypothesized that if given a set of choices, he would cooperate with my wishes.

The next evening at cleanup time, instead of announcing “it’s cleanup time,” I experimented by asking, “Philo, do you want Dad to help you clean up or Mom?”

“Dad,” he said eagerly as he started cleaning up right away.

Likewise, at bath time I asked, “Philo, do you want Dad to carry you to the bath or do you want to walk there like a big boy?”

“Big boy!” he declared, marching proudly to the bathroom.

After several days of this, and into the week, months and years that followed, it was clear that he was on his way to independence as a cooperative and proud choice maker.

And it sure made dinner time a lot easier 🙂


Like magic, the screaming toddler is quelled

February 16, 2012

By Stacey Devlin

For more than 10 months, we fought with our three-year-old son, Tige.

Arguing, cajoling, pleading, screaming, reasoning, crying, everything –  and when all that failed, spanking. Nothing worked, and I started to think, is something wrong with me, or with him?

If you’ve ever heard of the book, Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, that sums up our relationship.

In fact, I got that book and tried to find the key to making things easy, but when the answer didn’t jump out at me in the first 30 pages, I put it aside. I have little time for reading with now two little guys running around, and my desperation for an answer has left me impatient with any lengthy books on child-rearing.

Tige is beautiful, spirited, loveable, but trying.

When his little brother was born, Tige’s behavior got worse, and I found myself throwing tantrums right alongside him. After many long nights, relentless battles over dinner, clothes and manners, and prolonged frustration, I lost my patience.

I felt like I was out of control, and I was spanking him knowing that it wasn’t teaching him anything.  Frustrated, I talked with other moms at our church. They too had “spirited” kids.

Even though I desperately wanted Tige to listen, and for his behavior to improve, I didn’t want to take that spirit out of him.

One mom from church told me that of the 50 plus parenting books she’d read, the only one she really ever needed was 1, 2, 3 Magic.

I immediately got it.

1, 2, 3 Magic, Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas W. Phelan revolves around the principle that children are not little adults. They can’t be reasoned with, they’re not going to see the light when you explain something time after time, and they can’t be reasonably expected to listen the first time you ask them to do something.

It’s all part of being a kid.

And so as we learn not to fight with them like they’re adults, we see that our job is to calmly help them understand that what they’re doing is wrong.

The great thing about this book is that it is quick to read. We covered it in about 45 minutes, and were soon resolved to be a 1,2,3 team.

So far, it’s been successful. When I see Tige complying with our requests using the 1,2,3 method, it makes me feel like a better parent. It’s tough not to get emotionally involved by forcing him to comply, but when I restrain myself – which is the underlying theme of the book – I feel calmer, and I see that he’s calmer too.

I’m hardly yelling anymore, and at the time of this writing, I haven’t spanked him in two weeks. I feel great and I can tell that he does too.

We move past one small obstacle at a time – but best of all, we’re happy as a mom and kid doing it together.

Our Top Pick: Parenting Book

January 20, 2012

I know I’ve raved about this book before (here and here) … but after reading through it again last night into the small hours, I just can’t help myself from sharing it once more.

Raising Good Children: From Birth Through The Teenage Years by Dr. Thomas Lickona is simply one of the best tools a parent can have to help their children along the path toward morality. I cannot recommend it enough.

Don’t just take it from me – see the customer reviews at too.

“Raising Good Children” … such a simply title, packed with profound truth.


5 Tips for Buying a Child’s Guitar

November 30, 2011

A friend of mine recently posted to Facebook, saying he was looking to buy his 8-year-old daughter a new guitar for Christmas, and wondering if anyone had suggestions.

Having been asked this question many times, I thought I would share a bit of what I’ve learned over the years.

I’ve played for more 20 years, taught for more than 15, and have seen many students come and go. My recommendation for starter guitar would be an inexpensive one, with a case, a strap and a guitar stand. And I cannot stress enough the importance of replacing the steel strings with nylon ones.

1. Buy Inexpensive. An inexpensive guitar is just as good to learn on as anything else. And you’d be surprised how fast a young kid can accidentally punch a hole in a $200 acoustic guitar. And anyway, getting familiar with the physical feel of the instrument, and developing fine motor skills is what’s important first. And that takes time. If your child likes playing, after a few years she’ll develop a better ear and will probably want a finer instrument, which then it makes sense to invest in one. But until then, I don’t see any reason to pay any more than $30/$40 dollars for one now while she’s getting familiar with the feel of the guitar. Plus – spending less on the guitar itself now allows for the accessories I list below. It also leaves some room in the budget for a few starter lessons, which I also highly recommend.

2. Get a case. Getting a case does a few things. First, it teaches the importance of caring for and protecting the instrument – a good lesson to learn on a $40 instrument, rather than a $140 one! Second, it makes the guitar mobile. And really, for those who love it, guitar playing is a lifestyle. Having a case allows her to take it with her camping, on vacations, or a weekend trip to Grandma’s. Those times away from home and away from the mundane – on the road so to speak – are some of the most developmentally rich experiences for a young aspiring musician.

3. Get a strap. A strap is good because at that age, kids still enjoy performing. And that’s a huge part of the learning curve. Having a strap gives her the chance to stand in the living room and perform a new song for you. She’ll love it – almost as much as you will. Further, a lot of learning is by imitation. While she’s practicing, in her room for example, if she has the means to stand up like she’s on a stage performing for a crowd, that will certainly help build a good sense of confidence.

4. Get a stand. A stand is paramount. In my younger days as a California beach bum, my room mate had a guitar stand with a 12-string acoustic on it next to the sofa. Everyday when I’d come home, I plop down on the sofa, and habitually pick up the guitar. Sometimes for 5 minutes, sometimes 2 hours. In either case, it afforded me daily practice. It wasn’t forced or formal – it was just part of my daily routine for about two years. Musically, I developed more in those two years than I did prior or since. Looking back, if the guitar had been in the case the whole time, I never would have played as often, if at all. But it was right there every day, resting gently on the stand saying, “hey, play me!”

5. Replace steel strings with nylon. The reason I advocate the use of nylon strings is because steel strings hurt. And they really hurt in the beginning, where a player logs a lot of hours on the guitar. It takes time to develop ability and time to form calluses – and it’s painful in the meantime. About 75 percent of the people I know who have tried and failed at the guitar, many of which are adults, have given up simply because of this fact. It hurts. Nylon strings are much softer and easier on the fingers and allow them to build up resistance over time. For a kid, there is nothing more repelling than a task that is both technically difficult and physically painful, as learning to play a guitar with steel strings is.

To cut to the chase, here’s a good starter guitar kit on for example: Guitar Kit

If you look midway down the page, they list the “Frequently Bought Together” package that included the kit, a bunch of picks, and a stand for little more than $40. If I was in the market for a kit for a 5-to-10-year-old child, I’d consider something like that. Whatever you decide, take note of the length of the guitar. The one listed here is 38″. I probably wouldn’t want to go too much larger than that. Good size for an 8 year old, and still leaves some room to grow into.

And hopefully, from the moment they unwrap it under the tree, that growth will last for years to come.

When words end

October 28, 2011

Father/Son moment of insight tonight: There comes a time in every deep discussion or debate between a father and son when words should simply cease, solution notwithstanding – not because we give up on resolution, but because there comes a time when words should give way to silent reflection on what the other has said.

Neither father nor son, we can’t flow from the heart, when we’re spouting from the mouth.

(photo: Enokson@Flickr)

Save tomorrow, today.

October 6, 2011

I remember some years ago, I was working a PR campaign for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Because of some unimaginably high adult drowning statistic, we were tasked with trying to come up ways to get more people to wear life jackets. At some point, during these meetings, we concluded that we would just give up trying to teach adults a common sense lesson that could save their lives, despite the stats.

So, we stopped counting beans, and we started planting seeds.

We went into schools, and took our message to the kids. In turn, the kids took the message home – and in years that followed, the drowning numbers dropped. Moreover, these children will carry that message with them throughout their whole lives.

Today, as adults – for all of us seeking change – I suggest we forget trying to enlighten Congress. Let’s give up on imploring Wall Street. Instead, let’s take our message home, to our kids, and teach them what it means to be an honest, compassionate, generous and kind citizen. And let’s teach them that it’s good to plant shade trees, even under which we know we’ll never sit.

Teaching my kids to speak the truth

September 29, 2011

UPDATE: So when he came home, I told him I shared our story with some of my online parent friends. He was not really happy about that at all. “What?!” he said. “I thought you said you weren’t going to tell anyone?! I thought that was just between us … you lied!” Ouch. He went on about it for about 2 minutes and finally concluded firmly, “Well … I forgive you Dad, one hundred percent.”

But in the end, he is right to be upset about it and I’ve concluded, it was a mistake to share this story with others online. I told him I would not, and I turned around and did. The value of sharing insight with other parents, even for the innocent sake of learning together, is not greater than the value of sharing a solid impenetrable trust between a father and son. My take away – our take away – is the reminder that as parents we are far from perfect and we are seldom if ever “right,” in what we do. And thus, between my 7-year-old and I, the playing field of truth and honesty is now level. I think this puts him at a powerful position.  I will explain this to him and I hope he hold the position honorably.

Today, my 7-year-old son lied.

It was a big lie.

He lied to his nurse, his teacher and both his mom and me, saying he was “super exhausted” and couldn’t finish out the day at school. But, he didn’t put on a very convincing act. After he got home, while still in the car, my wife and I interrogated him to no avail. No fever, no nausea, no headaches … nothing. Just “tired,” though he didn’t look it, and had no reason to be as tired as he claimed.

The only thing I knew for certain was that he was well enough to go back, and finish out the day. On the way back to school, just he and I, I told him I was giving him a chance to come clean, and I promised him – between him and me (it wouldn’t leave the car) – he could tell me the truth and I wouldn’t get mad. With that, and quivering lip, he opened right up, and the unfiltered truth spilled right out of him. Having just celebrated his 7th birthday yesterday, all he could think about at school was coming home and playing with all of his new toys – and so he fabricated the “exhausted” story to ditch second grade. I told him I wasn’t mad, and that in fact, I understood how he felt. I’ve been there.

I told him I thought it was a bad choice, and why, and I helped him understand what kind of a life he can expect for himself if making bad choices becomes habit. I told him once we got to school, he needed to come clean with them too, which, though a little apprehensive, he did honorably.

And I think he understands how silly his choice was, and that no one’s going to come unglued on him for it. I told him again, as I always have, that if he’s always honest with me, he won’t get in trouble – no matter what.

I’ve thought about this a lot – and I’ve definitively decided today, that from here forward, rather than grind down my kids for lying, instead, I’m going to give them an incentive to tell the truth. And I’m going to avoid getting angry about it. It’s thus far the most effective approach I’ve found to foster honesty.

How to earthquake proof your furniture

August 23, 2011

Whenever we stare a natural phenomenon in the face, like say, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake, we often wonder, “how can I keep my family safe?”

As I type this, I would estimate that there are no less than a quarter of a million articles hitting the web right now about being prepared for earthquakes. And so here I won’t echo the pundits’ cry for stockpiling food and water, having an emergency phone tree set up, and keeping your gas tank at least half full.  But I will mention one of the most overlooked, most dangerous, and yet easiest to avoid hazards in the home when it comes to tremors: bookshelves, dressers, and other high furniture.

It takes a big quake to topple a building, but it doesn’t take one to tip over furniture, especially that top heavy shelf, loaded with board books in the kids’ room.

A quick safety install will help you sleep better at night. Most new furniture purchased today comes with these kits included in the assembly hardware. But if not, the hardware is super easy to find. Some of you may already have.

Here’s the basic hardware needed:

Wall Anchor – This style is available in the hardware section in nearly department store, and at just about every hardware store I’ve ever been to. You can certainly find it in the big box stores too. This is hands down the best, easiest to install, and one of the strongest drywall anchors out there. They usually come packaged with corresponding screws. Plus – it’s minimally invasive, which means if you remove it, patching the hole with plaster is piece of cake. For anyone who’s ever struggled with drywall installs, this is a godsend.

Straps or Brackets – There are a lot of different kinds of both straps and brackets on the market. When I’m talking about brackets, I’m talking about a simple “L” bracket, with one end that mounts to the top to the furniture, and the other to the wall. Straps do the same thing and in fact, they might be the easiest way to go. Straps from an old backpack or duffel bag can be cut to length, singed at the ends to avoid fraying, and used just as well. Whether you buy or make the strap, I recommend using a nail to poke pilot holes through both ends where the screws will go. This will keep the strap from twisting around the screw when you install.

Screws – As most of the wall anchors come with screws, you should have what you need for the wall. When attaching the strap or bracket to the furniture however, a wood screw is best. You should choose one that is slightly shorter that the panel your screwing into is thick. I recommend drilling a hole that is smaller then the screw. This will avoid the wood from cracking, and will ease screwing. Be careful not to drill all the way through the panel. Also avoid making a hole that is the same size or larger than the screw itself as this will prevent it from getting any bite into the wood. If this happens, simply stick a toothpick or two into the hole, and break it off clean at the surface of the panel. This will fill the hole enough to make the screw go in tightly.

Final steps – Once your wall anchor is installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and you’ve made your pilot hole in the furniture, you’re ready to tie the two together. Use washers as these will prevent the screws from slipping through the bracket or through the pilot holes you made in the strap.

Tighten everything snug. The holes in both the dry wall, wood or press-board furniture can easily strip if over tightened.

And that should do it.

A bit of a disclaimer here – I’m no expert and please don’t take my suggestions as gospel. The procedure above is simply something I’ve done in my home, that if nothing else, helps me sleep at night knowing I’ve lessened the risk for my family. The risk is not gone. But it is less.

Baby Instructions

July 27, 2011

I’ve heard many parents say they wish their babies came with instructions. Here’s a start. (click for large image)

Speak softly and carry a big heart

July 2, 2011

Six months and one day ago, as we rang in the New Year, my resolution was to refrain from raising my voice at my boys.

I gave it my best effort.

I had almost forgotten about it until two days ago when my oldest son asked me, “Dad, have you ever yelled at me?”

“Of course,” I said, trying remember the last time I actually had used volume to make a point, but I came up cold.

I really don’t remember the last time.

The resolution to speak softly has become a new habit and now, having broken the old habit of shouting, here’s what I’ve discovered.

Yelling discourages dialog. It says, “I’m louder. I’m superior. I win. The end.”

Not yelling encourages listening. Now when I speak in corrective terms, my kids listen carefully. If I tell them quietly but clearly, “if you don’t go up stairs right now and clean your room, I’m going to come up with a trash bag and clean it myself,” they know I mean it.

Yelling gives us a false assumption that we’ve actually punished. After spouting off an angry pitch at our kids, so often we take no further action toward correcting their behavior. When children are little, yelling is terrifying to them. It is enough to get them moving. But as they get older, they get desensitized to it. The problem is, we keep doing it thinking it is still effective.

Yelling is knee jerk. It’s from the place of anger, the place of irrational reaction.

Not yelling is controlled. It’s from the place of caring, the place of rational response.

Personally, I feel a lot less stress when I don’t yell. When the boys do something that would otherwise make my blood boil, I find myself thinking calmly in the gap between emotion and reaction, and asking “what is the most effective way to deal with this?”

And then I apply it.

If it doesn’t work, I try something else. But I don’t get irrational.

Yelling, I have discovered, is one of those psycho-somatic things … like smiling. If you do it, the corresponding emotion soon follows.  So even if I wasn’t mad, all it took was brief shouting session to get me there.

I know many parents who are semi-to-staunchly authoritarian. Some might think that my newer softer tone makes me a push over.

Some might even say it makes me a weak father figure.

But I would offer that any action born from anger is not controlled – and that in fact, it takes a great deal of strength to restrain our actions – especially when we are angry.

Comparatively, acting on impulse seems weak.

I’m happy I broke the yelling habit. In doing so, I’m setting a better example for my boys.

Over time, they too will understand what I now do: we don’t have to use a loud voice to make a strong point.