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My child skates through life avoiding his responsibilities.  I have to wake him up and pick out his outfits even though he has an alarm clock in his room and can choose his own clothes.  If I don’t nag, threaten and bribe, homework won’t get done – He even needs special reminders to hang up his coat. Shouldn’t all these things be his responsibility and not mine? 

It’s the start of a new school year and the perfect time to take stock of how well your child is handling his responsibilities.  School, after all, is full of assignments, deadlines, and homework – not to mention he must also take care of his books, school supplies, and personal belongings – all without assistance from you.  If he’s having any trouble juggling these things, it can impact his grades, his teachers can become irritated, and even if he comprehends all his work, his self-esteem can be knocked down a notch or two. Has a teacher ever said, your child understands the material but he doesn’t get his assignments in on time?

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Finally, after the coldest winter in years, spring is in the air! The warmer temperatures and sunshine are a balm to the spirit. While your kids are outside playing in the fresh air, it’s a perfect time to enjoy the quiet. Pour a cup of tea, put the laundry aside, and carve out some “me” time. I’ve spent the winter writing a new e-book that I think you’ll enjoy. I’ve always thought parenting books should be fun to read as well as educational so I’ve come up with something that’s aimed to entertain you as well as inspire.

The idea for this book came from a parenting workshop I held years ago. I was sharing a story about how hard it was to get my daughter ready for school in the morning. I joked that what I really needed was some invisible tape over my mouth to stop all the micromanaging. Everyone got it. This got us thinking about other magical tools that would be useful. We let our imaginations run wild and came up with all kinds of gadgets until someone suggested we invent a pill to make kids obey. We laughed . . . but we knew we had gone too far with that one.

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Your brother has never been sent to the office.
Your cousin Matthew remembered his Mom’s birthday.
Joanna is the athletic one.

Whenever you have two or more children it’s inevitable that comparisons will be made. One talks your ear off while the other barely says a word. One keeps her room neat and tidy while the other doesn’t.  It’s impossible to not notice the differences.  This kind of observation isn’t just relegated to families with more than one child. It’s just as easy for a parent of an only child to compare their child to a friend or relative, or even to themselves when they were young.

It’s important to consider how kids feel when we talk about these differences. Is it a way to spur a little healthy competition in order to bring out their best or does it simply create problems? As you’ve probably already guessed from the title of this article, I believe comparisons are heavily loaded with minuses and offer no real benefits to your family. They are powerful messages that can interfere with relationships and self-esteem, and their negative impact can be felt for a lifetime.

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Giving your child choices is a great way to help them feel empowered and independent, which helps them move confidently into handling more responsibility as they grow. Parents who give their child choices send a powerful signal that they have confidence in them, and that builds their self-esteem.  When you say,” You can decide”, it sends a message of trust. “I trust you to make a thoughtful decision.  I don’t need to be the boss over you, because I know you can think things through, and that you have good judgement.”  By handing age-appropriate decisions over to them, they also get the practice they need in learning about outcomes.  Since choices lead to consequences, it helps them learn what happens when they decide to handle a problem in a particular way.

Although there are many good reasons to use this approach with your child, it’s also important to remember that choices have to given to children in a thoughtful way.  Too many choices or inappropriate ones can backfire or create feelings of being overwhelmed.  Here are some things to consider when presenting choices to your child.

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Before your child goes to school for the first time, here are some things that should have already taken place.

Present a positive picture of school. This can be done by talking enthusiastically about how much they are going to be learning and all of the new friends they are going to make. Point out that the fact that they are ready for school shows how much they have grown. This is a right of passage for children and it should be treated like one – as a celebration.

Make a pre-first day visit.  If they have never been there before, children will have trouble imagining what school will be like. It’s harder to prepare yourself for something you have no first hand knowledge of. For that reason, it’s a good idea to take your child to their new school one or two times during the summer break so they can actually see where they are going and can get used to the environment. If possible, introduce them to the teacher as well. Explain cheerfully and confidently that this is where you will be dropping them off every day.  This helps your gives your child a concrete idea of what school is. Making it concrete makes it less scary.

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If you were about to start a brand new job or move into a new neighborhood, you may well have concerns about these unknown situations and demands. Your children are no different and starting school will cause a lot of questions and concerns to rise to the surface: What will I have to learn in school? Will it be too hard? Will I make friends? Who will I have lunch with? If I need help and my mom and dad aren’t there, who will help me? How will I get home?

These worries are not confined only to first timers either, and can occur in later grades as the demands intensify.

When you detect these kinds of concerns in your child, it’s very important that you become an empathetic and accepting listener.  But often when confronted with our child’s fears, we try and sweep them under the rug by simply giving a reassurance. Or we attempt to help by trivializing the problem: “Oh, you’re worrying over nothing. Everything will work out fine.”

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Your child is terrified of facing a bully at school.  He is being taunted and called names.  He was shoved into a locker as he walked down the hall. There is no question, he needs your help.  However, it isn’t always so easy to see when a situation is bullying and when it’s not.  Too many parents are interfering in run-of-the-mill social problems that are not true cases of bullying.  Aside from pampering through overprotection, this hyper-parenting is making it harder for schools to respond appropriately when they really need to.

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Giving your child choices is a great way to help them feel empowered and independent, which helps them move confidently into handling more responsibility as they grow. Parents who give their child choices signal that they have confidence in them, which helps build their self-esteem.  When you say,” You can decide”, it sends a powerful message of trust. “I trust you to make a thoughtful decision.  I don’t need to be the boss over you, because I know you can think things through, and that you have good judgement.”  By handing age-appropriate decisions over to them, they also get the practice they need in learning about outcomes.  Since choices lead to consequences, it helps them learn what happens if they decide to handle a problem in a particular way.

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“You are smart.” Vs. “I can see you worked really hard on this report.”

“You are pretty.” Vs. “I like the way you fixed your hair today.”

“You are a good boy.” Vs. “You remembered to take out the garbage.”

“You are talented.” Vs. “You certainly seem to enjoy playing your trumpet.”

We know that focusing on the positive is a great way to encourage a child, but there is a subtly important difference between praise and encouragement. Take a close look at the comments above. The statements on the left are praise; positive labels we reward a child with when she has done something special. Picture your child coming home with a perfect math test. “Look how smart you are!” you beam. Naturally, it feels great to hear such a positive evaluation.

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Many parents say:  “I always try to be fair to both my kids but they continually complain that I’m not. Where have I gone wrong?”

The truth is, every parent wants to be fair with their child, whether it’s settling arguments between siblings or making sure that no one is given more attention or goodies than their brother or sister. In fact, most of us put a lot of energy into keeping things as equal as possible. This is why it’s so hard to hear the oft-uttered phrase of a sobbing child, “You’re not fair!” It feels like a stab in the heart.

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Parents, please take a moment to answer the following four questions true or false.

1. You gave your child the latest video game for the holidays and ever since you’ve had virtually no conversation with him, and when you do his eyes glaze over in a haze of boredom.

2. She wants to sit for hours on end alone in front of her computer screen. Homework, chores, eating dinner – anything except the computer game -- is deemed “boring”.

3. He ignores your pleas to go outside and play with his friends, preferring to sit alone trying to reach level 19 in his latest computer game.

4. She sulks and cries when you even suggest taking a break from her screen.

If you’ve answered true to all of the above, the screens in your home have taken over and it’s time to take some action.  Like it or not, technology is definitely here to stay and the challenge of computer games, Wii consoles, Ipad’s, dsx, and smart phones are the new frontiers that we must all learn to navigate.  Unfortunately, new gadgets are being invented far faster than we can cope. 

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The term “constructive criticism” is an oxymoron. Construction builds, criticism knocks down.

“You’re lazy”

“You talk too loudly.”

“You need to work harder at school.”

If you talk like this you’ve probably found that your kids don’t snap to attention and change their behaviour just because you’ve pointed out their shortcomings. Eye rolls, shoulder shrugs and tuning you out are more likely reactions.

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The long leisurely mornings of summer are now over. One of the biggest challenges of starting the school year is getting your children onto a new schedule after they have had months of no schedule at all. For that reason, creating a routine is the most important aspect of getting your children out the door in the morning with the minimal amount of stress – for you and for them. Routines are important because they help children learn what is expected of them. It allows them to be as independent as possible because they know what they are supposed to do. And children always feel more comfortable in predictable circumstances.

There are many things that should be considered when setting up a routine.

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“It’s better to give than to receive.” The truth of this saying can only be appreciated by someone who has felt the happiness of giving; the deep thrill and great satisfaction of being the architect of someone else’s happiness. Giving is the best way to produce the feeling of being needed, of feeling useful, and essential; of finding your place in the world and your connection to others.  When it comes to our children, there is no better way to raise their self-esteem, empathy and connection to others than to help them learn about giving firsthand.

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If you are a good listener, chances are your child will feel cared about and self-confident. That’s because listening shows your child you value what he thinks and feels.  But beyond this, it will also help him become an expert at solving problems in his own life. Good listeners help you figure out what you can do about your problem without lectures or unwanted advice.  They do this by making it safe to be open about problems and explore different solutions. All of this will help you enjoy a closer relationship with your child that will see you through even the roughest patches.  There aren’t many other tools in our parenting tool-box that can boast such powerful results.  Here are a few simple basics to get the communication flowing.

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“Daniel, if you bother your sister one more time, the consequence is going to be that I take away your new video game for the rest of the week!”

What this parent is really talking about is a punishment, not a consequence. Many people use the words interchangeably, but it’s more than semantics; there is a real difference between punishments and consequences. Consequences are the direct result of a choice or action. They are connected to a problem by either a logical thread or as a natural result. Because consequences are directly related to an action or choice, they are educational. They help us learn how to act in the future by showing us the outcome of something we do today. This was driven home to me very forcefully a few years ago. I was backing out of my driveway and there was a car parked across the street. When I heard the sound of crunching metal instantly realized what I had done. Two thousand dollars later I learned to do a much better job of checking behind me before backing up.

Consequences are one of the best tools that parents have, especially if you don’t want to use punishment and rewards. There are two kinds: Natural and Logical.

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If your child could give you a word of advice on how to raise him, it would include the following request:

 “Please Don’t Pamper Me!”

      Pampering is, and always has been, one of the major pitfalls in parenting.  Yet despite its long history, it is a very common problem that is exceptionally hard to avoid, particularly in today’s world. There have been some major social changes that have combined to create the perfect storm for pampering: Overwork  (and the accompanying guilt), a high divorce rate (again, more guilt), exhausted parents, a materialistic culture, compelling high-tech entertainment, anxious parents, and small families.  Combine all these with a trend towards a permissive parenting style that puts a high premium on children’s happiness –and you can easily fall into pampering without even realizing it.

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“True happiness is inseparable from the feeling of giving.”

            - Alfred Adler

Social interest is having a feeling, or empathy, for other people and is at the core of cooperation and compassion. When you have social interest you are able to see with others’ eyes and feel with others’ hearts. It’s about caring about others, not more than ourselves but at least as much. We all have it to one degree or another, even though it doesn’t seem that way sometimes. We must have, or how else could all of us puny little humans manage to cooperate in killing all of those giant Woolly Mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers that roamed the earth when we were evolving?

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Picture this: Instead of arguing and fighting over every problem your family has and every decision you have to make, you and your kids sit down and calmly work out your issues together.

Sounds like a hopeless dream? Absolutely not -- all it takes is a little skill, some power sharing and what has become the staple of the new, democratic approach to parenting: The Family Meeting.

The family meeting is a way to teach your kids how to solve problems, resolve conflicts and compromise with others in order to plan your family’s life. These are all very important life skills that were often ignored in the old autocratic “just-do-what- I-say” parenting style of the past. In fact, the family meeting is the where the rubber meets the road if you want a democratic parenting style that is based on mutual respect and consensus.

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