Category Archives: Children

Kids Lose When Parents Play Favorites

Favoritism exists throughout the animal kingdom.  Most species nurture the strongest of their offspring, which have the most promise of propagating their genetics into the future.  The wussy and wimpy ones, on the other hand, usually get eaten.  So when it comes to humans, it makes sense biologically that parents play favorites amongst their children.

Parents are drawn to kids who are more pleasant and affectionate, and less aggressive and deviant. For example, let’s say you have twin babies. One screams 24/7 and the other coos sweetly in your arms.  Well guess what? The screaming one is toast.

Parents also tend to feel closer to children of the same gender and personality type, and favor their biological kids over stepchildren.  In addition, parents usually have a soft spot for their first- and lastborn (at some point, the first- and lastborn have their parents all to themselves).  Generally speaking, it’s the firstborns who get all the perks due to the emotional and physical investment that goes into having the first baby.

Favoritism manifests itself in how much time, affection, privilege, or discipline you give one child compared to another.  The problem is that kids who are blatantly disfavored by their parents experience terrible outcomes across the board: more depression, greater aggressiveness, lower self-esteem, and poorer academic performance.  On the opposite side of the coin, children who are favored tend to develop a sense of arrogance and entitlement, which makes them terribly disliked by their siblings and totally unprepared for the real world.

So, how can a parent avoid showing favoritism?

1. When one kid is looking for a leg up, pick up everybody’s leg.

The irony is that every kid wants to feel like they’re different and special in their own way.  Your job is to do that without making them compete with each other.  When one of your kids asks, “Am I the best swimmer in the family?,” respond by saying, “I think you’re the best swimmer, and George is the best baseball player, and Mary is the best painter,” etc.  That way, each of your children has the mentality that he or she is the best, but so are their siblings.  There’s no favoritism shown because everybody’s the best at something.  Try to divvy out your love and affection equally, but continue highlighting each child’s uniqueness.

2. It’s not personal – it’s situational.

  • If you have a new baby at home, explain to your older child, “Your brother is a newborn. He can’t roll over or even scratch his butt – he can’t do anything.  So for a while, it’s going to look like we’re paying more attention to him, but you can scratch your butt and he can’t.”  Your older child will think this is hilarious, and they’ll get the picture (and wait for the day that their brother’s hand reaches behind his back…)
  • If one of your children is physically ill or disabled, inevitably there is going to be unequal treatment.  Make it clear to your other kids that you are not choosing the disabled child over them, but that their sibling’s condition simply requires more attention.  Reassure your other kids that it’s not personal – it’s just situational.

Losing Like a Winner

One of the most horrendous things to happen to kids since the advent of day care is the way the concept of winning is now taught in schools.  Schools today teach children that everybody is entitled to something simply by showing up.  They’re also slowly taking away honors and awards and eliminating Valedictorians because they don’t want anybody’s feelings to get hurt.
 
It’s a cuddly notion to want everyone to feel like a winner, but in my opinion, it has contributed to an entire generation of young people who can’t deal with reality.  In reality, the world is a very competitive place.  We’ve become so worried about kids getting their feelings hurt that we don’t teach them how to recognize or actually deal with their feelings.

Paradoxically, kids also receive the message that winning is everything.  Like the Vince Lombardi quote, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” our society tells kids that winning is the be-all, end-all.  As a result, kids cheat in order to win, and when they lose, they learn to hate or be cruel to the winners. 

Even without our “help,” kids already have particularly powerful emotions about winning.  They don’t want to win – they need to win.  Oftentimes, they are not even content with winning, or they feel a need to engage in expressions of gleeful triumph, such as boasting, bragging, and taunting.  If they lose, they may throw game pieces and insist on a “do-over,” or refuse to play.  For young boys in particular, the desire to win stems from a need to feel a sense of physical or intellectual dominance, which is built into their DNA.

Therefore, it’s crucial that you teach your kids from a very young age how to handle failure.  In life, they’re going to win some and lose some – they need to learn to accept that.  Your job is not just to make your kids happy.  Not allowing them to experience failure only sets them up for an inability to cope with failure in the future.  Moreover, it’s actually the kids who practice losing who learn to be better.  Mastering any skill requires many failures – even if you’re great initially.

When your child loses in a competition or gets a poor grade, you need to use it as a learning experience.  The end goal is to teach them that the joy of competing is having fun, not winning.  Help your child learn good sportsmanship.  The moment he or she starts exhibiting a “poor loser attitude” (e.g. arguing, making excuses, cheating, booing, or criticizing others), call them out on it immediately and let them know that this kind of behavior isn’t allowed.  Explain that they must be considerate of other people’s feelings, and if they are not, they may not participate. 

Teaching kids the proper way to cope with disappointment is extremely important.  Make sure they learn from their mistakes, but also give them support with your words and knowledge.  The quickest way for them to handle defeat gracefully is by feeling that ultimately you’re OK with them.

Teaching Children About Choosing Friends

Every parent frets about their kids having “weird” friends.  At some point, children always seem to gravitate toward some unhealthy, unpleasant, or annoying kid that you don’t like. 

Kids pick their own friends, and who they choose says a lot about their character.  However, they also get drawn into situations where they feel compelled out of fear or threat of isolation to be friends with certain kids.

I remember my son having a bunch of his buddies over once.  When they all left, he came to me and asked, “So, did you like them?”  I told him I particularly liked the ones who could look me square in the eye.  I didn’t say that I disliked anyone in particular.  I just said that I thought the ones who could look me in the eye were more straight, confident, and comfortable kids.  I told him it was just a preference on my end and that he may see other things in them.  Perhaps one of them couldn’t look me in the eye, but they were always there for him when he had a problem.  

If your son or daughter has weird friends, you have to give them little hints like that.  By doing this, you’re not criticizing, condemning, or excommunicating any of their friends.  You’re simply giving feedback.  The minute you start singling out and condemning one kid, your child is going to become best friends with him or her.

Ask your child what they think constitutes a good friend.  Have them to think about what happens at school:

  • Who’s not nice?  Who hurts other kids? 
  • Is anyone bossy?  Does anyone tell your child what and what not to do, or use threats to get them to do things?  Do any of your child’s friends try to make them feel guilty if they don’t get what they want?  
  • Does anyone get jealous or angry if your child spends time with other people?
  • Do any of your child’s friends talk behind their back, laugh at them, or make fun of them?  Do any of them spread rumors about your kid, tell lies, or share stuff they told them in secret?
  • Do any of your child’s friends play rough by hitting, pushing, pinching, kicking, scratching, slapping, or punching? 
  • Do any of your child’s friends ignore them if they haven’t gotten their way?  Do they only pay attention when they want something and ignore your child when he or she has something important to talk about?

Instead of attacking a particular kid, what you should be doing is constantly grooming your child to be thinking about these things and then have them make their own decisions.  Kids choose their own friends, and at some point, parents become secondary to their kid’s friends.  That’s just the way it is.  When you attack your kid’s friends, it’s like pulling the rug out from under them when there’s no floor there.  Instead, you should be more indirect about it and avoid the tug-of-war.  Discuss with them what the qualities and behaviors of an unhealthy friend are.  Keep your voice very low-key, and help them understand that friends do not embarrass each other, put each other down, pressure each other to do bad things, act nicely only when they want something, or reveal information they share in confidence.  Put it back on your child to think about. 

When you see your child in cahoots with a particularly snotty, nasty, or rotten little bugger of a kid, just tell them, “You know, I was a little surprised that when Johnny or Mary said ‘blahbity blah,’ you didn’t stand your ground.  I think standing your ground is a good thing.  Sometimes it may annoy our friends, but there are times when it’s important to stand our ground when we know certain things are right and wrong.  You might think about that for next time.”  So, instead of saying, “That kid’s rotten and I don’t want to see him in the house anymore,” you’re putting it on your child to have strength of conviction.

You can also set limits and boundaries, such as telling your child that he or she can only play with their friend when they are at your house.  In addition, one of the best things you can do is to take the stinger away.  I’ve been suggesting this for years and years and years – especially when kids call saying their friend is being mean.  For example, tell your child that you are going to take them to the zoo and suggest they invite some of their friends, especially the ones you’re having a little trouble with.  While you’re at the zoo, make an alliance with the kids you think are rotten.  You don’t know what’s going on in their homes or what’s making them so difficult, but you can sometimes tame the beasts when you invite them to the beach or ask them to come over for a picnic or a barbecue in the backyard. 

I remember once my parents were concerned about a friend of mine whose nickname was Penny.  I don’t know why they were so concerned about Penny at the time, except that we got into some trouble.  Remember those phony phone calls?  As kids, we’d call up someone, ask them if their refrigerator was running, and then tell them they’d better go catch it.  Or we’d dial a bread company and order a whole bunch of bread to be sent to somebody’s house.  It was pretty terrible – we only thought about the people we were annoying, and we didn’t consider the poor bread company.  I remember my dad sitting me down and saying, “OK let’s talk about what a friend is.  Does a friend have you do things that are bad?”  I responded, “Well, I guess not,” even though at age 9 I thought friends that did bad stuff were pretty fun.  He then went through a list similar to the one I discussed earlier and said, “Now you make up your own mind.” 

Given the power to make up your own mind, you tend to do the right thing.  You don’t believe me?  If you’ve got kids who always squabble over who has the biggest piece of cake, pie, or whatever, next time let one of them cut it and the other one pick the slice he or she wants.  It’s amazing how the pieces all of a sudden come out even.

Regretting the Divorce

Over the many, many years I’ve worked as a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice and on the air, I’ve done a lot of research on divorce, especially when it involves kids.  The scientific literature differs very much from popular literature in what the happiness quotient is after a divorce.  Scientific literature suggests that a good three quarters of people who divorce regret it.  Maybe not immediately, but 10 years later, they do.  “I should never have done it” is the kind of thing usually uttered privately after a divorce.  And after the papers have been signed, the property divided, the child custody settled, and the emotional pain still lingering, it’s usually too late to go back. 

Half of women and a third of men stay angry at their former spouse after a divorce.  They mentally just don’t move on.   They have to deal with a host of things: loneliness, painful memories, having to get new friends, uncomfortable changes, uncertainty about how they are going to pay their bills (people don’t usually go up in economic standing after their family is torn apart).

In my opinion, most marriages careening into divorce can be saved.  By saved, I’m talking about turning a troubled situation into a good one – not just coexisting.  A lot of times I nag people to just stay in a marriage in the hopes that if they just cut down on the rage and realize they have to endure and make the best of it, the tension calms and better things come out of it.  Generally, there are very simple things they can do to make themselves and their spouse happy.  

Of course, if your spouse is abusive, has had affairs, is an addict, suffers from a mental illness, or refuses to get help or follow through with therapy, then although it’s sad, a divorce is probably inevitable and you’re going to be happier to unload all of that pain.  But I think for the most part, especially after hearing from all the people on my program over the years, most divorces (most, not all) happen because someone says, “I’m unhappy and I don’t know what else to do.”  They figure, “OK, I’ll get a divorce and I’ll be happier because my marriage is the source of my unhappiness.”

There are a number of factors which can minimize your chances of getting a divorce.   If I were empress for a day, I would make it so that nobody could get married without premarital counseling.  It creates a much lower divorce rate because people work out their differences in a calm and neutral setting before the problems arise.  They have a trained professional helping them deal with the things most people avoid, which later come up and bite them. 

Additionally, as it turns out, people who actively practice one religion together and pray on a daily basis have a much lower divorce rate.  It doesn’t matter which religion.  These people are more centered.  Also, very religious people are givers.  They are not as concerned with taking.  When you have two people who are givers, the marriage works out really well.  Now, “so-called” religious couples – couples who share the same religion but are not active – do not have a lower divorce rate.   

Another divorce factor is how early you get married.  The reason?  Maturity.  The closer you are to 28 years old before you marry, the more realistic it is that you’ll stay with your spouse.  

We live in a society today where marriage and family are no longer seen as sacred, permanent and unconditional.  This lack of stability hurts the entire country.  The increasing number of second marriages, the resulting stepfamilies, and the even higher divorce rates occurring after the stepfamilies are created all contribute to the problem.  It’s not just the dissolution of the nuclear family that’s so destructive – it’s what happens afterwards.

Anti-Bullying Laws Are Not the Solution

Anti-bullying laws have recently been popping up all over America.  They allow children to report their classmates to the police if they feel they are being bullied.  However, in my opinion, these laws are stupid.  

I have always said that if another kid lays a hand on your child, tell your kid to drop them down and hurt them.  If a kid lays a hand on someone else’s child, tell your kid to drop them down and hurt them.  You have a responsibility to teach your children to stand up for themselves and other people.  Put them in jujitsu classes so they know how to do it without any blood or broken bones. 

Of course these days, bullying is not only limited to the playground.  It happens outside of school on the Internet (in my day, the equivalent was spreading notes and gossiping).  I am well aware of how people can be damaged and hurt on the Internet, but I also grew up with the motto, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  We have totally given that up and told our children that the second their feelings are hurt, it’s all over.  Nobody has a right to not be offended, and no kid has the right to not have hurt feelings.  You need to teach your kids how to stand up for themselves and respond to bullying. 
 
Now, these anti-bullying laws are largely based on anecdotal circumstances.  Sadly, some children and young adults have committed suicide over being harassed.  However, there haven’t been scores of children killing themselves.  There have been unique incidences of suicide, and we’ve always seen those.  Every kid who gets picked on doesn’t kill him or herself.  It has a lot more to do with their mental constitution and family dynamics than the bullying.  These experiences are horrible, but they aren’t the norm, and making laws based on the exceptions is ridiculous. 

I can’t imagine the pain of being a parent whose child has terminated his or her own life.  It’s impossible to understand and appreciate, and I am in no way minimizing it.  All I’m saying is that these are isolated cases of individual people and their inability to cope. 

Do I have a definitive solution to all of this?  Not in our society anymore.  When I was a kid, the school called your parents, they gave you crap, and you were disciplined at school.  These days, if the school calls a parent, they give the school crap.  We’re becoming a disordered, self-defending society.  I may not have a solution, but the solution is definitely not to involve the police because somebody is calling you names.  Whatever happened to kids working out their own stuff? 

Here’s what I would do.  If I had a kid right now who was being bullied on the Internet, I would link it to another page saying, “These are the kids who are using the Internet to hurt other kids.”  I wouldn’t say anything mean or attack back.  I would just list all the things they are doing.  And at the bottom of the page I would also put, “Are these the kinds of kids you have come over and play with your kids?”   That way you bring the problem to light.  Embarrass the bullies and let their parents deal with them.  Smear their reputations with facts.  I think there should be websites that show facts about adults and kids who do bad things.  FACTS!  No exaggerations.  No bad-mouthing. Just facts.   

We live in a country where hurt feelings are the most important thing in the world.   It’s time to toughen up folks.  Have your kids toughen up.  It’s really important to you teach your kids to stand up for themselves and be able to handle life.  

Sexualizing Our Kids

The problem with exposing kids to sex has far more to do with trivialization and objectification than simply encouraging kids to do it.  It has to do with what kids are taught about human connection. 

Feminists are always saying that it doesn’t matter how a woman dresses.  Well, actually it does.  It sends both gals and guys a message.  When a woman dresses provocatively, it basically tells the universe that it is the best she has to offer.  Sure her body may be beautiful, but you have to realize that for guys, the beauty of a woman’s body eclipses her inner beauty (especially with all the movies out there that are geared towards teenage boys and celebrate guys sleeping around).

Women who tend to objectify themselves are more likely to have eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression, and they are more prone to being sexual risk-takers.  If women are going to represent themselves as sex objects, then there will be no equality between males and females. 

I get so many calls from parents concerned about their kids being out of control and acting like they are adults in committed relationships.  Their kids are shacking up because they’re still rebelling and don’t want to follow the rules.  This behavior is dominating our society, and for parents, it’s like being up against Goliath. 

So, what can we do?

Parents have to spend a lot more time being invested and involved with their kids. Stop with the divorces and working 17 jobs.  Realize that if you are going to have kids, you have a huge responsibility ahead of you.  Parents should praise kids’ intellectual, creative, and athletic abilities, but value their effort, hard work, and character over achievements.  Character is far more important than looks or personal accomplishments.  In short, parents really need to recommit to being parents. 

And remember, if you don’t put the time, effort, and caring in to your kids, somebody else will.  Do you want it to be you or their buddies and the media?

Now There’s a Term for Letting Kids Be Kids: ‘Redshirting’

“Redshirting” is a term that describes college athletes who practice in red shirts but do not compete in games to receive an extra year of eligibility.  Recently, the same idea has been applied to young kids entering school.  More states than ever now require kids to turn 5 before they enroll in kindergarten, and more parents are voluntarily delaying their kids’ entry into kindergarten.  In short, a small percentage of kids are being “redshirted.” 

In my opinion, the primary reason for kids being redshirted, especially in private schools, has to do with academic competition amongst schools.  By putting kids in school later, they will be more mature, better able to sit still and do the work, and more likely to perform well.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out. 

In 2009, The New York Times (despite its liberal tendencies) published an article that bolstered redshirting:

“A report out of Cambridge University recommend[s] that kindergarten begin at the age of 6 rather than 5 in Britain.  The Cambridge Primary Review is a sweeping study, requiring 14 authors, 66 research consultants, 28 research surveys, more than 1,000 ‘written submissions’ and 250 focus groups, all leading to the conclusion that British children are currently not allowed to be children.”

If you Google “what age should a kid start kindergarten,” you’re going to see a lot of obfuscating and confusing information.  That’s because it’s a political thing.  The liberal mentality is that kids should be taken out of the home and provided with government education ASAP.  I find that scary.  That is not in the best interest of children.  As the Cambridge study points out, kids simply need to be allowed to be kids.  If you ask really good teachers about this, they will almost always tell you not to put your kids in school too early.  The effects of starting too young begin showing up right around the third grade when kids get knocked off their feet because they’re not really ready.  Boys are especially unprepared because they take longer to mature neurologically and emotionally. 

I think kids should be allowed to be kids, and I believe parents should restructure their families so they’re able to raise their kids.  People should postpone having kids until they can do the right thing by them.  It’s the same principle as buying car: if you can’t really afford the upkeep and monthly fees, don’t go out and buy one.  Don’t put children in an awkward situation simply because you’re not ready to handle it.  It’s not right.  Most people have the biological ability and legal right to have kids, but that doesn’t give them a moral right.  People who aren’t responsible shouldn’t have kids.

One of the main complaints about redshirting comes from parents who don’t want to have to pay for an extra year of child care.  Seriously?!  They’ll put their kids in school at 4 if it will cost them less?  Apparently they don’t care what’s in the best educational interest of children.

Of course, some kids will be ready for school earlier than others, but for the most part, we shouldn’t be forcing them into school at age 4.  Homeschool them, and when they start kindergarten, they’ll be stars.  I’m all for kids not starting kindergarten until the age of 6.  Let them be kids.