Don’t Make Your Kid Be An Example

May 11, 2015  |  parenting  |  No Comments

“You’re older, you need to set an example for the younger kids.” At a preschool I was observing recently, this was the reason given to a child so he would comply with a teacher’s request. This idea of being an example was repeated a number of different times to several older children in a class consisting of three to five year olds. I’ve also heard this from parents on the playground in an attempt to get an older sibling to “behave.”

It may sound like a perfectly valid reason — at least to the teacher or parent. After all, younger kids look up to older children and often try to copy or mimic their behavior. Keep the older ones “in line” and the rest will follow, right? But what message are we really sending when we use this approach in order to gain a child’s compliance?

First of all, “you’re older” is not really reason to do (or not do) something at all. “I don’t want you to throw sand because you’re older.” Does that really make sense? What does being older have to do with it? It makes even less sense when we use this same argument for the many different things we ask of our children. We might as well ask for compliance because the sky is blue, or because “I said so.”

So one reason to avoid this phrase is because it robs the child of being given the real reason for the limit being set. It robs him of understanding the issue and only asks for his compliance. It may work in the short term, but long range is has no value and may even be harmful.

Saying something like, “I don’t want you to throw sand because it could get into somebody’s eyes,” or “it will make a mess,” is a real reason. At least then the child has a chance of understanding the danger of his behavior and being cognizant of it in the future. He may even understand that this applies wherever else there may be sand, or whenever he wants to throw something other than sand. Without that kind of understanding, “no throwing sand” is just a rule to memorize and only applies at that school in that sandbox and when the teacher is around (and paying attention).

We are also giving our kids a heavy load to carry. When we set a limit “because you’re older” or because “you need to set an example,” we are assigning the child the unchosen obligation of leader and example setter. This can lead to resentment. The other people to whom he is supposed to be an example are now a threat to him because they are the reason he cannot do something. Why is it his problem that someone else in his class is younger? The younger children, perhaps once someone to play with or help from time-to-time, are now a threat to the older kids, and to be avoided (or worse).

Also, what happens when an older child is in a new social group where he is now the younger one? Is he relieved of all responsibility for his actions because he is now younger?

What about the younger kids for whom the older ones are supposed to be an example? They get the message that the older kids are held to a higher standard. This may be interpreted by a child in any number of ways: it may be an excuse to goof off, or he may feel guilty because he is the reason some other child is getting in trouble, or he may wonder why less is expected of him and feel less valued. In any case, why can’t a younger child also be an example to the other kids? What, really, does age have to do with it?

It also send the message that apcceptable behavior and morality is determined by what the older kids do (or are allowed to do). It breeds the excuse, “but so-and-so did it!”

If, instead, we give real reasons for the limits we set and the requests we make of our kids, then we foster understanding. In the long term, the child will be more capable of setting his own moral compass — apart from what the older the kids are doing. He will be less influenced by peer pressure. We ought to treat children, not as some collective to be controlled, but as the individuals they are.

What My Dad Taught Me About Racism

June 14, 2014  |  parenting  |  1 Comment

My Dad and Me

Growing up I wasn’t exposed to issues of racism in any significant way, at least so I thought. If my dad ever mentioned the word, I don’t remember. He may have mentioned someone’s race in passing, as a way to identify the person (e.g., “the Chinese lady”), but that’s it.

As a child, I thought little about race. I’m sure it was brought up in school in lessons about the civil war, but that was a long time ago. At home, race was a non-issue. In fact, my first personal exposure to the issue of racism (that I remember in a significant way) occurred during junior high school.

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Movie: Dallas Buyers Club

June 4, 2014  |  movies etc.  |  No Comments

Dallas Buyers ClubAs a man-fights-the-system film, Dallas Buyers Club works wonderfully. Matthew McConauhey’s Oscar winning performance is worthy, as is supporting actor Jared Leto (who also won an Oscar). There is a lot to cheer for, and McConauhey’s performance as Ron Woodroof portraying an unlikable rodeo-riding, gambling, sex addicted homophobe turned hero, is convincing. We don’t actually start to root and care for him until he is in the fight for his life, obstructed by the FDA and other government agencies who want to prevent him from obtaining and distributing drugs that will help him in his fight against AIDS.

When first diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live, Woodroof is in denial and rejects his death sentence. Then, fueled by self-preservation, this loser turned hero does what it takes to live: he does his homework.

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Angry Fish, Happy Fish

June 4, 2014  |  parenting  |  2 comments

Angry FishRecently I overheard an interesting conversation at the fish tank in the children’s play area at our local mall. It was between a mother and daughter (I would guess approximately 2 years old) as follows:

Mother: See the fish?

Daughter: Angry fish.

Mother: No, happy fish.

Daughter: Angry fish.

Mother: Happy fish.

Daughter: Happy fish?

Mother: Happy fish.

Daughter: Happy fish.

The mother, satisfied, escorts her daughter away.

To many, this may seem like an innocuous conversation.

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Movie: Draft Day

May 4, 2014  |  movies etc.  |  No Comments

Draft DayDraft Day, starring Kevin Costner as a draft picker for an NFL football team, is an exciting sports drama that is sure to satisfy football lovers as well as those who know very little about the game (I fall the later category).

What makes the film work is its high stakes and time sensitive negotiations and deal making that transpire throughout the film. Each year in the NFL, teams draft new players and, somehow, some teams get to pick their favorite new players sooner than others (they are mostly players from college football, I gather). I’m sure sports fans know the details. I certainly don’t, but even a neophyte like me could follow along and know what values are at stake.

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