Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Family Grounding…

A Fresh Look at a Popular Form of Discipline

I was grounded today. We all were, in fact. I blame my nine-year-old, and he blames me, but we had crossed the point of no return, and the only thing that could happen was a grounding for us all. Because I cannot ground a 9-year-old and leave him on his own all day, the entire tribe was forced inside, and activities were limited for the oldest. The term “grounding” is such an interesting one when it is used in reference to the loss of privilege and the isolation from friends and fun. It is only one of literally a dozen definitions of “ground” and “grounding” and it is not even the formal verb definition. “To ground”, as a verb, is most commonly used in reference to keeping a plane from flying, and in the informal use it refers to keeping a person from a place as a punishment. When you are dealing with an active 9-year-old boy, the formal and informal definitions both apply.

The place we couldn’t go today was the house of good friends who we have not seen in almost a year. There are only a handful of things that my son could have done that would have warranted a grounding from their house, but hitting his sister, to the point of bruising, definitely qualifies. I think he truly thought that our activities for the day were too important to be cancelled, but what he learned is that the mental health and connectedness of my children is too important to ignore.

I endured the proclamation that he hates me and that I am a son-of-a-gun (and unbelievably he actually used the word gun instead of the alternative.) I drove around until he was calmed enough to go back into the condo without evoking a call to police, and then the grounding commenced.

One use of the word “grounding” has to do with charged particles in a circuit of electricity, and when they come across a “grounded” object the potential for those charged particles is diminished. That transformation literally happened behind the closed doors of my son’s temporary room, but I presented myself as the grounding rod. I handed my son a pad of paper with an unfinished sentence on the top: “I hate my life because…” and I told him to write as much as he needed to in order to finish the sentence. He brought the sheet out to me when he was done, and I sat down with him, numbering 8 things that he had listed. We started to go through each concern and we dissected those things that he could effect change upon, and those things that he was not allowed to worry about any more. His face softened, the genuine tears rolled, and we discovered a number of anxieties he had, as of yet, been unable to communicate. I couldn’t fix every concern of his, but I helped to diminish a few of those charged particles.

An online free dictionary that I found did not reference the use of the term “well grounded” but I know that I am not alone in my parenting quest to hope for well grounded kids. I want them to be “down to earth”, and I guess I can make the connection to earth while talking about grounding because “earth” is the most popular definition of the noun ground. The soil that I hope to put under the feet of our growing kids needs to be rich and nourishing, and the only way that I know how to provide that is through positive reinforcement and encouragement. After we spent some time removing some of my son’s charged particles, I handed him another piece of paper with a different unfinished sentence at the top: “I like my life because…” He had to finish that sentence too, but this time he had to come up with ten endings. We were back to better after this exercise was done, and the grounding from friends became an exercise in much more than punishment.

When I was “grounded” as a kid, I would lose toys or an opportunity to go play with friends, and that has not changed. I saw little to no redemption in my grounding, and my son may not see the value yet either. However, now that I am the hand that forces the grounding, my perspective about its use as an effective growing tool has changed dramatically. It is a time to slow down, turn off the electronics, quiet the noise of summer playtime and listen to the boiling frustrations of a growing boy. I take very seriously the fact that when my kids do something grievous enough to get grounded, in this case it was a bruising blow to his sister, that they will indeed be forced to grow through the pain that a grounding seemingly causes. For this…I will always hold my ground.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Parenting the Positive Aspects of Sports

Youth sports have been the most influential component of my life since I was five years old. I played youth sports, competed as a college athlete, coached competitive youth teams, and I am the parent of three children who play sports throughout the year. My husband and I are college coaches now, and we both spend a lot of time in sporting arenas recruiting from youth teams. I am a self-described sports fanatic and I have watched a shift in youth sports through the course of time. Arguably the most notable change has been parent involvement and influence on the young athlete.

The shift in sports parents has been remarkable, since I first started my involvement in youth sports nearly 30 years ago. Back in the early 80’s it was not uncommon to find a parent on the sidelines of a sport who had never competed, and who was clueless about the rules. There were contentious situations when a competitive parent would yell at a ref because they didn’t understand, but the pressure on the kids playing was not nearly the insanity it is today. When I played, the passion and the drive for the sport most often came from the players competing, but I am seeing an increasing presence of parents who are definitely the driving force behind the involvement of their children.

I have seen children implode because of pressures put on them by their parents, and it is easy to identify that “crazy parent” on practically any sideline. I know better than to try to influence every parent and every athlete that I may encounter, either with my own children, or along the recruiting trail, but I do think that some of the things that my husband and I do will help our kids to be lifelong athletes, and responsible “teammates” when they are done competing.

We are a sporting family. We often have family games in the basement or at a local park, and those games give us a chance to teach, on a microcosmic level, some of the important life lessons that are so invaluable in youth sports. I truly believe that the more a child sees a parent competing and handling success and failure, the more they too will glean some positive attributes.

There are so many wonderful things about youth sports, hence a lifelong involvement. Some of the positive aspects include: learning self-confidence, learning how to win, learning how to lose, learning that life is not always fair, learning how to work with others, learning how to respect authority (coaches and refs), learning to push yourself to achieve personal goals, learning to be a part of something bigger by encouraging teammates and sacrificing yourself for the good of the whole team. We also believe in loyalty, and making an impact where you are, rather than trying to manage or control an experience by moving our kids from team to team or coach to coach.

The most effective way to encourage a child’s acquisition of those positive traits happens in the car and at home both before and after a game or practice. We have regular discussions with our kids about what a good individual goal might be for a practice or a game. Most often the goals include a consistent and intense work ethic. We make a point to then ask each kid how they did with working hard when the practice or game is done. We point out the times we saw them skate hard, or run their fastest after a ball. They light up when they realize that we encourage the small things. We try hard not to focus on the goals scored or the games won, because confidence comes with achieving those more attainable goals, and success often comes from achieving those smaller goals first.

Let the coaches coach…and the refs ref
Despite the high level at which both my husband and I competed, we defer to other parents and volunteer coaches to teach our kids. They can learn something valuable from every type of coach they encounter, and we feel that it is important to let some of those life lessons simply happen without our influence. We talk regularly about how important it is to listen to the direction of a coach and to make an impact on an individual level by being coachable. The same goes for refs. We encourage our kids to respect the refs, even when their calls are wrong, because that is part of the game, and we hope our kids learn to go forward, changing to a more positive mindset of playing in the next moment. To enhance our perspective about the importance of coaches and refs, we tell our kids to thank coaches regularly, after many practices and games, and to shake the hand of a ref after every game.

We really want our kids to be good sports, and as competitive as they all are, we insist that their focus often shift to the successes of their teammates. As a parent, I often pick out a player on the kids’ teams that I will make an effort to encourage during the game, and I will talk at length with our kids about how their teammates had their own individual successes throughout a practice or game. There is nothing quite like the challenge of competing in a team sport, and in order to do it well, there MUST be an emphasis on the successes of the players around our kids.

The best we can do for our kids is to be an example of a calm and encouraging coach when they see us coaching from the sidelines, and to translate that positive encouragement into our parenting. Both my husband and I value the players we coach as individuals, and when our kids see that, it helps them to have an equal amount of respect for their own teammates and coaches. It is hard, and we come across situations regularly where we have to reevaluate our approach, but the effort is so worthwhile.

It is a challenge to influence every aspect of a child’s involvement in youth sports, and that is why it is increasingly important to educate all the parents, coaches and volunteers who keep the youth sports engine running. Sites like offer invaluable resources to a parent invested in the success of their athlete. The success to which I am referring is simply gaining some of those positive attributes that can be gained by competing, not just getting a scholarship or winning every game. Youth sports are too important to be too singularly focused on that longterm goal of being a professional athlete. Our goal is to raise professional people who have gained many of their strengths competing in youth sports.

Monday, June 29, 2009

How to survive…and even enjoy…a long road trip with kids

Despite an unexpected exploded tire in the fifteenth hour of our recent 16-hour trip, driving cross-country with three children under the age of nine was actually a fun and memorable day. When I told people that I had planned to drive 900 miles by myself with our three kids, the reactions were mixed. “Are you crazy?” and “Don’t you think you should take someone with you?” My answers were simple, “Most definitely” and “I don’t think I need anyone else in the car.” I could only refuse the help offered because our kids are seasoned car travelers, and both they and I know what to expect for those long hours trapped in a small space.

Since 2000, and the arrival of our oldest, the majority of our travel has happened in the car. We regularly travel long distances when we drive, and each of our road trips has been at least 8 hours long. As unique as each trip has been, there have been some activities that have consistently helped the drive go more smoothly, and during our over 30 road trips, we have found a number of things that work for us.

Each year we have accumulated new items for the individualized car bags for each kid. They are bags that sit in our closet waiting for the next road trip, and we go through them before each trip to make sure that the activities that are in them are still appropriate. The car bags are unique to the interests of each kid, and we replenish and sharpen pencils, replace dead batteries and add at least one new item for the trip. This most recent trip the 9 yr-old boy bag included: Harry Potter book, a pad of blank paper, pens, crosswords, Sudoku, cd player (he has had a handheld game in the past, but not this last time). The 6-yr-old girl bag included: paper and pens, coloring books, math pages, flashcards, cd player, Junie B. Jones book, and sticker puzzles: And the 3-yr-old girl bag included: crayons, paper, doll with Velcro clothes, and a Leap pad with books and cartridges

I, too, have a car bag that sits within arm’s length so that I can reach it when there is a lull in the peace. I saved scholastic books through the school year, and I had two books for each kid. There were three packs of gum, a Hannah Montana cd, two new movies, a disposable camera for my oldest, and extra princess sticker books for the girls. I have done the timed release of “surprise bag” gifts, and I’ve also only brought out a surprise when I can tell that the kids need something to spice up the ride. Both methods work well, and they look forward to my reach into that bag.

It is not possible, these days, to imagine a long day in the car without the presence of a DVD player. I personally don’t subscribe to the “DVD player for each rider” scenario, but we do have one dvd player for the car. It is attached to an effective pair of speakers so they can listen together. It might be a bit old-fashioned, but I don’t want our road trips to become these individualized experiences that happen behind the head phones donned by each kid. One DVD player bonds them, forces cooperation and because I have a personal preference for the family time that happens in the car, for the movies, it is an experience better shared. As soon as we pulled out of the drive, I told the kids what times the movies would be showing. I have them spaced at intervals that leave 2-3 hours between showings. They look forward to the set time, and they can be occupied during the wait with the other activities we have in the car. This most recent trip I employed a payment method so that each kid could “buy” his/her ticket to the movie. Every person was expected to “pay” a compliment to every other person in the car in order for the movie to start. My three-year old liked the shirts of her siblings, but young kids get a discount at a regular theatre too.

There have been a number of road trips where my kids just doze off as we’re driving and I can kick out several hours without the distraction of energized kids. Lately, it works best for our kids when they know what time they are going to be expected to close their eyes for a while. It curbs the fights about whether someone gets to stay up while the others are sleeping.

Pick a popsicle stick…Often, the fights my kids feel compelled to win, are the fights about injustice. They fight over who chooses what game, or what movie, or what music to listen to, and the discussions can be the most contentious arguments in our car. Prior to our departure (brave parents can do this on the road) each kid picked out a popsicle flavor that was a unique color, and the stick that remained became the “choosing stick” for that kid. The sticks are in a brown paper bag, and I draw a stick when the kids cannot make decisions on their own. The sticks work well for other occasions, outside the car too.

Singing only… To curb the arguing, encourage the kids to sing everything that they have to say to each other. If you have to sing, it is hard to whine or sound angry, and it can often lead to uncontrollable fits of laughter.

5- minute exercise at rest stop: jumping jacks, short sprints, leg wiggles

Audio books: We listened to Peter Pan on a recent road trip, and the oldest was totally into it, but the younger kids used the listening time to do some things on their own. There are so many wonderful audio books that are appropriate for the entire family, and it kills a lot of time.

Car games: There are a number of games, and travel websites with ideas of how to pass the time with some bonding activities.

Next word begins with…last letter of word given i.e. Kid one says, “banana” kid two has to come up with a word that starts with “a” Advanced version for older kids: geographic locations example “Indiana” and the second person says, “Atlanta”

20 questions…either with or without the question ball.

Car bingo: You can create the items to find depending on what you might pass while on the road: cow, semi-truck, telephone pole, stop sign, the letter “a”, bird, silo, bridge, police car, tow truck, train, and you can make it specific for the places that you know you’ll pass

There are prefab magnetic games you can buy:

Dance breaks: When a good song comes on suggest a 5 minute dance party where everyone has to dance in their seat. As the kids get older they have started to know exactly which songs to which they would like to dance.

GIVE UP ON EXPECTATIONS: As well-planned and organized you think your road trip may be, allow yourself permission to let go when expectations are disappointed. The one thing that can be completely predictable is the fact that there will be surprises along the way. Every trip is different, and the unexpected is what makes a road trip memorable. Don’t get too caught up in being rigid with your kids and enjoy the journey!