Guest Post: Parents — Reach for the Duct Tape

Hi Readers! Here’s a little list of tips from Vicki Hoefle, author of the brand-new book: Duct Tape Parenting: A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible and Resilient Kids. – L

5 Simple Ways to Let Go and Raise a Resilient Child, by Vicki Hoefle

Hey there Free-Rangers! I want to give a quick kudos to you for encouraging your children to take reasonable risks. It takes courage to foster independence in a world that prefers to hover and hyper-protect. By stepping out of the way and trusting them, you are enabling resiliency, confidence, courage and independence in your kids. Thank you and keep up the radical faith, folks!

If you start to lose a little steam or you begin to hear the chopper blades grind, here are a few things you can do to bring yourself back into the “less is more” parenting mode.

1. Try saying yes. Sometimes, we simply say NO because it’s habit, or it’ll take too long or we’re not sure they can handle it or it will be messy. This is a choice of convenience (for us) over experience (for the kids). Luckily, it’s an easy habit to work on so consider yes before you throw out an automatic no!

2. Ignore the mess. Engaged, thinking, curious kids are messy and they don’t always look perfect, have their stuff together or make the “right choices.” Yep, they might say the wrong thing (and make you blush), forget their homework or wear mismatched clothes. Give yourself permission to stop “tidying up” for them and celebrate independence!

3. Encourage your child to do for himself.  Kids ask for all kinds of help that they really don’t need us for. “Can you get me a drink?” “Can you find my hat?” And so forth. Encouraging kids to do it themselves is vital to them developing self, home and life skills – and it’s a natural confidence booster.  Remember it’s about practice, not perfection, so keep your expectations reasonable.

4. Hang Back vs. Hovering. It’s easy to watch our kids try and succeed but it’s hard to watch when they make mistakes or fail.  If we can hang back, though, we’ll watch our kids solve the problems they create in creative and often surprising ways. Hanging back and observing sends a message that you trust your child to try and yes, to fail is just fine.  This is certainly good for resiliency!

5. Zip the Mouth. Technically, this is easy but mentally, it can be fiercely challenging. (I put duct tape over my bossy mouth!) Some parents talk all day long (without realizing)– correcting, nagging, reminding, chiming in, etc. This “noise” interferes with a child’s decision-making process and puts the thinking on mom or dad’s plate. It’s counter-productive if we want kids to know how to figure things out vs. calling mom or dad for everything, right? Right!

54 Responses

  1. Yes, sometimes I have to tell myself to shut up. Where I’m tempted to say, “don’t __ / if you do __ you could fall,” instead I say “if you fall while doing __ it’s going to hurt.” That raises their awareness without telling them what to do. (Within limits, of course!)

  2. When my oldest was about 2 years old, he was fascinated by the big pieces of ground-moving equipment near our house, where a new development was being built. We’d go and look at them every day and one day he wanted to ride on one of those machines. I told him that I couldn’t say if he could or not, because they weren’t my machines, but he could ask one of the workmen. So when one of them climbed off the machine, I let him go up to one – by himself, but under my supervision – and ask if he could sit in one. The guy thought it was adorable that a little kid asked him that and lifted him into the cabin of one of machines, a bobcat-type thing. It was a great experience for both of them!
    In the same vein, I had at that time a neighbor with kids in about same age range as mine. But whereas she could never sit for 5 seconds because there was always something they wanted or needed or demanded, I would tell my three-year-old who asked for a drink of water: “Go ahead. You know where your cup is.” And he’d pull up a chair to the kitchen counter, open the faucet and get himself some water. Of course, I’d be within arm’s reach, if only to make sure he turned the faucet back off again, but he did do it himself. The neighbor was flabbergasted, but decided right then and there that her 3-year-old could probably do that, too, if she let him.
    As to letting them make messes: I confess that I was never much good at letting messes happen (though they did happen occasionally) because I’m a neat freak. But I think they survived anyway.

  3. Yes, yes, YES! Especially numbers 1 and 2! My husband and I just had a discussion about these and how they pertain to a certain 4 year old boy in our house who has been going through a “rough patch” lately. It’s almost an instinct to say no to the hose, the mud, the dirt, the mess, but why??It hurts no one, the mess can be cleaned, and he is so much more satisfied and happy learning and playing HIS way. Too many nos do not make a happy little boy!

  4. This is lovely. It reminds me of the sign in my kitchen:
    “Good moms have
    sticky floors, dirty ovens,
    and happy kids.”

    Of course it goes for good fathers too but it reminds me that to enjoy life, you have to accept the mess that comes with it.

  5. I think these are great “entry level” tips for parents wanting to become more hands off. These are good reminders for me! I’m also going to send them to my husband.🙂

  6. Reblogged this on Random Dorkness and commented:
    I’ve never re-blogged someone else’s post before, but this is just too good to pass up. Nothing funny about this short list! Just five ways to be a better parent . . . mainly involving something along the lines of BACK OFF and LET YOUR KID BE A KID!! Thank you to Vickie Hoefle, author of the post, and Lenore Skenazy, author and blogger from whose site I’m re-blogging.

  7. I refer to #5 as the “Cone of Verbiage”. If parents that do this, especially in public, could hear what they sounded like, they would shoot themselves in the face. Which is what those of us being forced to listen to their constant streaming of commands/instructions/observations wish we could do to ourselves. I don’t know how the kids stand it.

    My favorite phrase and a 3-4 year old, according to my grandmother was, “I can do it myself”.

  8. “as” a 3-4 year old.

  9. I’m only a few months’ into becoming a free-range mom and don’t even have the actual kid out of my tummy yet, but I’m seriously considering printing this out and saving it to tape to the fridge one day. It’s excellent.

    A few random thoughts: I was a Sesama Street kid. I remember one little short where a bunch of 5-year-olds were talking about all the stuff they could do “because they were 5”–tie shoes, make a sandwhich, etc. I was a terribly cautious kid–despite having rather free-range parents–and I remember being quite empowered by this little video. The sad thing is, I don’t know how well it would go over these days. I mean, I think those kids were using knives to spread peanut butter.

    Nicoline, when you talked about your kid getting a drink of water, it brought up memories of being a toddler and my parents teaching me the safe way to place a chair if one is going to stand upon it. That way, I could reach into the cupboard on my own without them worrying about me toppling down and taking the chair with me–which would probably be worse than me just toppling off the chair. If I’m using a chair to get something, I STILL place the chair as such.

    I also have a co-worker who will probably keep me free-range if nothing else will. She has a sixteen-year-old son at home who is still ridiculously babied…. as well as two adult children and their spouses. The adult children are jobless, hopeless, and helpless. She complains about it, but still continues to support them AND put out all their fires. I’ve heard the most ridiculous calls where they call her in a panic because they don’t know how to do the simplest task. She’s admitted that she has babied them, but that was because when they were growing up she didn’t want anything bad to happen to them or them to feel sad. It’s an awful situation.

  10. My daughter started kindergarten last week. Yesterday, she brought her tote bag into the house from the car without my having to nag her about it. When I complimented her for remembering on her own, she replied, “THAT’S what kindergarteners DO, Moooooooooom. Duh!”

    I’m so glad she’s feeling independent!😉 This list is a great reminder for me to continue encouraging that line of thought. I’ll post it on the fridge, and every time I read it, I’ll think, “Duh!”

  11. I’ve seen the difference first hand between free-range vs. helicopter parenting. My SO has a 5 yr old from a previous marriage. Her mother has a very helicoptering style. From controlling exactly what her food intake is to telling her like all strangers are out to hurt her or, the best one, the the fish in the lake will bite her if she goes in (supposedly this is to make sure she doesn’t go in by herself). She’s a very shy, nervous child who has trouble out in public around people she doesn’t know be they child or adult. It’s definitely been something I’ve taken into consideration with our baby (6 months) and am hoping I can continue to steer clear of the rotar blades.

  12. This is like any good sermon — at first, I thought of other people who needed to hear the message, and then I recognized that I needed to pay attention, too!

  13. On the getting the glass of water…when my first two were little (now 16 and 19) we put a velcro “lock” of some sort on the fridge so they couldn’t get in. When the third was born 7 year after the 2nd, we were different parents. By age 2 we put his sippy cup in the fridge at night and taught him how to open the fridge to get his drink in the morning so he wouldn’t wake us up, LOL.

    My kids have also always carried their own stuff. They have often heard me say “I am not a pack cammel”! while on outings. They have to bring a day pack, or be able to put whatever it is (water bottle, etc.) in their pocket. Even kids just walking can carry a small backpack.

  14. If you think this is good, check out Sandra Dodd and unschooling parenting on the web. She is a true inspiration.

  15. Reblogged this on Making Things Happen and commented:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional) I had to reblog this as I will need to keep track of this list. I am a nervous parent and really have been working on letting go little bits at a time.

  16. Great post! it’s simply a disservice to our kids when we don’t step aside. Especially in my domain–the kitchen– where I ruled and channeled Julia Child, and at times, much to my dismay, Ramsey’s Hell Kitchen. It has been a difficult stretch, but when my teen boys cook, I walk out of the kitchen and don’t say word one or offer any advice. More than once, they’ve surprised me with some tasty treats.
    http://stretchmarks.me

  17. Very good reminder indeed.
    My son is almost 2 and half a year old, and almost every day someone tells me that he is very shifty and independant. People are often surprised because compared to the other kids, he does a lot of things on his own: he can put his own clothes on, he’s got a little stool at home that he carries with him all the time to reach whatever he needs whitout asking for it, he clears his own plate and put the leftovers in the bin and so on. I believe that’s not because he’s a genius, but because I’ve always encouraged him a lot to do things on his own, no matter how messy the house or his clothes or whatever will be… Also, his nanny is doing the same thing with the kids she’s watching, and they’re all older than him so he wants to do as they do. This is the best shool ever. And whenever I do something (because of course, sometimes I don’t have time so I do things myself), he’s very unhappy and shout at me “but I wanted to do it myself!”.

    I only have one kid so far, but being open-minded about all this (shutting my mouth, letting him try, fail, try again, trying not to interfere…) have worked so well that I’m definitely suggesting everyone to give it a try. Just watch them and you’ll be surprised, what they can do. One of my motto (and I keep reminding it to others, his grandparents for instance!) is “leave him alone, if he needs help he’s gonna ask for it” every time they try to “help in advance” (I know they think they’re helping, but really, they’re not).

    Also, one thing that’s not in the list but is a good thing to start letting your kid do things on his own, is to adapt your house a little bit. Put the things he might need where he can reach them easily (or with a stool). Give him tools he can use (my son wants to learn to cut with a knife, but I don’t want him to use the sharp ones, so I bought a pair of special knives for him that will cut but are not too pointy or sharp), and show him where you want him to use it (knives are not allowed outside the kitchen for instance). Hang things lower, like towels or coats, so he can grab them without you. I’ve arranged his room so everything is at the right height for him, he can pick his clothes in the morning (of course the rest of the pile often falls when he pulls a tee-shirt, that’s the messy part!), put his shoes on, and he can also put the dirty laundry in a basket on the floor.
    He loves to clean the house with me, so I bought him his own broom (we used to fight over mine) smaller than mine and I tell him which part he can clean whil I do the rest. He loves it, he loves doing what others do, he loves being part of the community and he’s proud of his work. All of this without even asking for anything, because HE wants it. Everyone should try it, it’s amazing, and it even gets helpful!

  18. Emilie- Your kid sounds great. Of course, seems that he’s had a hand in that. 🙂

    I think an important reason for teaching kids how to take care of their own needs is it helps them have control over their lives. I wasn’t permitted to do laundry until I was well into my teens; this wasn’t, I believe, due to any helicopter tendencies on my parents’ part, but because of our funky, off-grid washing arrangement. Still, I hated having to be dependent on my parents for clean clothes. I was pleased when, during a recent visit with my sister, she said, of her 13-year-old, “Today he fried up his own breakfast and then did his own laundry.” Hey, sometimes, you want clean clothes (or a good fried breakfast), when you want them.

  19. I am fine with most, but have a personal struggle with the last piece of advice. I tell myself to shut up, and let them speak up for themselves. But, it is a constant struggle to force them to either deal with the consequences or speak to their teacher or coach as an advocate. With a child that’s twice exceptional, and was pushed out of public schooling – I am trying to determine the appropriate level of “interference” in his new private school.

  20. Lenore, I think you would very much like a great deal of what Sandra Dodd has to say about kids, kids’ learning, and parenting. Here is Sandra’s website address: http://sandradodd.com/

  21. When my kids were little, they would pack their own carry on bag for the plane. They learned to cooperate; one brought books, the other brought games, and so on. Today at 12 and 14, they pack their own luggage; I have no idea what they bring. And if they forget they do without.

    We were talking about different styles of parenting with them, and my 14 year old daughter said something that floored me: “My friends think you guys are really strict.”

    I was dumbfounded; we let our kids do pretty much what they want, they schedule their own classes in school, have their own credit cards, go out with their friends as they want, and so on.

    Some more conversation led to a reveleation: “Strict” means we hold them accountable and don’t do things for them. You don’t do your homework, you don’t get to go to the swim meet you trained for until you finish. You blow off your responsibilities, you can’t go to the birthday party. We never actually have to do any of these things, since our kids know we would.

    “Strict” also means that if they screw up we help them pick up the pieces but otherwise don’t interfere. You forget your jacket, you better find a friend with an extra or shiver. No you can’t have mine. (Of course when both my daughter and I forgot our jackets, the other two members of the family thought it was only fair not to help either of us. 🙂 )

    As for cleaning up, we made sure they had vinyl floors in their rooms. After that, it’s up to them. We don’t clean up after them at all. Ever. It works; they clean up when they have friends over.

  22. And when the get a little older, you won’t have to deal with “teen brain”
    http://drrobertepstein.com/pdf/Epstein-THE_MYTH_OF_THE_TEEN_BRAIN-Scientific_American_Mind-4-07.pdf

  23. Wonderful! Exactly how I’ve always run my home (5 kids, now adults) and how I run my classroom (1-2 year-olds)…Now if I could get the toddler parents to agree!!!

  24. I have so much to say about this, but first, a resounding, “YES!”

    With two pre-teen boys, I have to say that 3, 4 and 5 are really up for us right now. One of our boys soaks his bed nightly, and the decision to get him involved in his own care, to take responsibility to manage his own condition as he turned 10, seemed like a gift we were giving him, not a punishment. Apparently his mother, with whom he spends half his time, sees our shift to having him strip and make his own bed, do his own laundry and budget for spending on diapers (if he chooses to wear them) as nothing short of neglect. “He can’t help it!” she says to us. “Why should he have to do all that? He’s just a little boy!”

    Well, I can tell you this: he’s going to STAY a little boy for a LONG time if you treat his nightly bedwetting the same way at 10 years old as you did at three years old. The message he gets from his mother and her posse, though, is that we don’t *really* care about him, or we’d be taking care of all *that*.

    Here’s what I say: care has many faces. There’s the kind of care that one adult shows to another when they say, “Here, let me do that for you, Honey.” There’s definitely a time and place for that in the adult-child relationship, too, but if it becomes the immediate response when the smallest amount of resistance comes up in the child to do something he hasn’t done before but is developmentally ready to do and needs to eventually learn how to do, well, that’s how we infantilize kids into delinquency, depression, and addiction.

    There’s the kind of care that an adult shows to a child when they say to a child’s “But I don’t know how! I can’t!” by saying, in sometimes a ridiculously comic cheerleader voice, “Oh, but I know you CAN, Honey! When I see the amazing thought you put into your Nerf Gun ambush on your sister, I just KNOW you can handle planning the timing of a load of laundry! You ROCK! You OWN this freaking laundry load! Now SHOW US how you REALLY roll!” And sometimes it’s just shrugging your shoulders and saying, “Huh, well then I guess you won’t be able to see your friend today if you can’t learn to read this map and find your way on your bike. But that’s your choice. I think you can do it.”

    We pray that sooner than later, this boy’s mother will see him as capable and allow him some space to see himself that way, instead of telling herself that real love means keeping the child comfortable 24/7.
    Right now I wonder how this child sees himself. He doesn’t seem to have even a thimble-full of pride in himself, esteem, or trust. He’s either sucking up to others, or tearing them down. He has no idea what his passions are. He’s an observer, but not from fascination, from fear. He has little motivation to do anything.

    I’m grieving for this boy’s flourishing and growth right now, sorry for the long post, but this really touched a nerve.

  25. Just got done commenting on a thread on another forum, where a woman wanted confirmation that after an 8yo fell and broke his arm at a playground, the only correct action by the caregiver (daycare worker) was to dial 911 and get an ambulance immediately. Seems she and a group of other parents intimidated the caregiver because she wanted to wait 10 minutes for her boss to come and assess the situation. (The caregiver gave in and called 911.) The vast majority of commenters agreed that 10 minutes was too long and 911 must be called instantly. (How did we survive in the days before cell phones, daycares, and anonymous busybodies?)

    It’s no wonder people don’t let kids climb trees any more.

  26. I see so many kids that remind me of robots. It gets worse all the time. When my oldest was small (he’s now 15.5) he played out with kids. Now, I take my youngest to the park (he’s 2) and there is usually nobody there…but if there is, they are like robot children. Their mothers chase them around making sure they don’t fall down, chase them with drink boxes making sure they don’t get thirsty and not know it…and just basically making all decisions for the children. I live in a small town and just moved here one year ago. Don’t speak the language, but even if I find a mom that speaks English, I can’t be friends with women like that. They just make me cringe. Poor robot children!

  27. @ SKL – Oy. We did our first ER visit tonight. Kiddo now has 3 brand-spanking new stitches on the bottom of her foot. I managed to stop the bleeding, bandage the foot and then DRIVE the 25 minutes to the hospital, all without calling 911.

    I wish I could say this was the result of some great free range activity but she was just hanging her clothes in her closet. Come to think of it, considering the complete lack work expected of children today, I guess a 6 year old hanging up her own clean clothes IS free range.

  28. My friends and relatives in the States think that I am a strict parent because my son has a list of chores that he’s supposed to do before getting to use his computer or Play Station. It would be totally unrealistic to say that he does them happily, but at least he does them. But my friends and family think that I shouldn’t be making him do chores because childhood is stressful enough as is.

    Yet the same people who think I’m a strict parent also think that I’m too lenient because I let my son ride his bike or the city bus on his own. Their usual comments are along the lines of, “It’s so different in Europe. I could never let my kids walk/cycle/ride a bus places by themselves here. There are too many bad/weird people here.” These are people who live in nice neighborhoods in the States.

    How do people who never have their kids do chores or go places by themselves (or with a friend) expect them to be able to fend for themselves when they go off to college? While my son grumbles about having to do the laundry, he will know how to operate a washing machine when he leaves home. By taking the bus around town, he has learned how to read a transit schedule and figure out how long it takes to go places on a bus versus a bicycle. He also learned where the different bus lines go and where the stops are. If he ends up moving to a city with a good public transportation system, he will be able to figure it out. He’s not automatically going to get a car when he turns 18 (most Europeans get a driver’s license at 18). I believe that parents who do everything for their children, and must accompany them everywhere, are doing them a grave disservice.

  29. @Cynthia: I love the Teen Brain article! That really resonates with me. We can’t expect our kids to act responsibly when we never give them any responsibility and never hold them accountable for their actions. And then we don’t get responsible adults. (Look at the letters to the editor or the level of discourse in any political forum. It’s like a bunch of preschoolers calling each names, thinking they’re clever by recycling the same old insults.)

    @SKL: As for the broken arm, why do you need an ambulance? Unless it’s a compound fracture that’s bleeding or he’s going into shock or you suspect internal injuries, an ambulance is a waste, an example of conspicuous consumption.

    Not only that, when the mom gets the bill, she will sue the caregiver, since ambulance rides are not covered by insurance, and surely no one can expect her to cover the $5,000 for the ride to the hospital. After all, “IT’S NOT [MY|HER|HIS] FAULT!”

    When my son broke his arm, we drove him to the hospital. He survived just fine.

  30. Yan, re the broken arm, the bystander who posted the story felt the child might have been going into shock, because he was lying still, moaning, and rolling his eyes around. (I guess normally an 8yo with a broken arm is doing something different, but how would I know, since it’s been about 30 years since I saw a kid with a freshly broken arm.)

    The other thing everyone kept harping on was that there was an “audible snap.” Apparently that means this is the worst possible case of broken arm. ??

  31. @Yan,
    Unfortunately in a situation with the daycare worker, he/she would not be allowed to drive the child to the ER. Most places forbid employees from doing this while on company time, as it makes the company responsible for anything that may happen on the way. I do not really agree with this way of thinking but it is common practise these days.

    And DAMN! $5000.00 for the ride. Long live the Canadian Health Care System. As flawed as it may be, a child with a broken arm is not subject to that kind of extortion.

  32. Well, I guess it’s all relative. If I got hurt, and a lot of people started arguing about what to do, I’d be rolling my eyes too. 🙂 That’s not shock, BTW. Shock is when you get lethargic and unresponsive, blood pressure drops, and eventually you die.

    The last broken arm I saw was in the backcountry, with a 9 year old kid. 4 hours till help got there, and another 2 in the litter to get to the parking lot, and another 3 to get to the hospital. Kid survived fine.

    When my kid broke his arm, the school called us to get him. We did, again, no harm done longterm. A bit of pain, that’s all. The sad thing is that once the kid gets to the emergency room after the “immediate” ambulance ride, they will sit there for hours while the hospital triages the critical patients ahead of a simple break.

  33. My kid sister broke her arm 3 times. The first time, she was 4 and I was babysitting. She’d been jumping on the furniture and fell. She cried for an unusually long time, so I called the neighbor, who came over with a sling her daughter had used with her last broken arm. (See, it used to be common once upon a time!) The arm felt better in the sling, so I waited until my parents got home from night classes (no cell phones in those days) and they took it from there. Several hours’ wait and nobody died.

    Her next broken arm occurred when she was about 8 and she’d been wrestling with my brother when my parents were at my apartment (over an hour drive away). She called and tearfully said she believed her arm was broken. My parents said goodbye and drove home to take her to the hospital. This was a bad break – a compression fracture – yet she did not die of shock despite hours of waiting for treatment.

    My brother broke his arm falling on ice when we were starting to walk to school. He was about 10. We siblings left him stranded because we thought he was just being dramatic. He picked himself up, went inside, got the phone book down from a high shelf, and called a friend of my dad, since he did not know how to reach my dad at work. (My dad had the car, my mom went to work on the bus.) Eventually someone came and got him taken care of (hint: it was not an ambulance).

    So maybe I’m a little hardened when it comes to broken arms. Never heard of anyone dying from one yet.

  34. gap.runner, I think it’s interesting that your friends think a few chores will stress out your kids, when in reality, it’s chores on top of a ridiculously long school day. No one seems concerned about that. I really hesitated to send my 6yo to school this year because he needs to take more responsibility at home, but I hate to ask it of him after he’s been sitting for eight hours (now that he’s a big first grader, he only gets one recess-crazy). Having to clean your room and load the dishwasher wouldn’t be killer if kids were living normal lives.

  35. I’ve always struggled with #2. My kids, despite their free-range upbringing and independence have missed out on all the fun, messy things growing up like painting, playdoh and stuff like that. Because the mess is just too much for me to handle.

    I remember letting them go all willy-nilly with the homemade playdoh once. They were probably 8, 7 and 6. They promised and promised they wouldn’t make a mess. Of course there was playdoh (colored with food coloring) EVERYWHERE, covering the table, the chairs, the counters the floors. And I had been there the entire time. I let them make the mess because they were having fun. And when it was over they all walked out of the room and went to watch TV. I demanded they come back and clean the mess they made and they threw the hugest group tantrum I’ve ever seen and absolutely refused. They were told they could either clean it up or spend the rest of the day in their rooms. They chose their rooms and I was stuck cleaning up the mess which took me 90 minutes and I was still finding playdoh stuck to stuff weeks later.

    After that I banned the stuff. Also banned were markers because they wrote on the furniture and refused to clean it up and nail polish (the spilled it on the carpet and didn’t tell anyone and wrote on the walls and furniture with it). We did paints once but it was outside so I could take the house to the patio furniture to clean it all up.

    Now they should be learning to cook and I’ve just not taught them. The oldest (now 12) can cook a few things. The 2nd oldest (almost 11) can make stuff in the microwave or on the Foreman grill but that’s it. The other kids can’t cook but have known how to warm stuff in the microwave since they were little. But when I was 12 I was reading recipes and making brownies and cookies and other stuff. But I also cleaned up my messes when I was done.

    My 12yo refuses to clean up any messes whether she made them or not. If I force her she throws a huge fit and does the bare minimum. At that point I usually get angry and tell her to do it right (she will just wipe a sticky counter down with a dry paper towel and considers that good enough, anything more is me being a control/neat freak). Then she starts crying and saying I don’t love her and can’t accept her for who she is (a messy kid) and that I think she isn’t good enough and nothing she does is ever good enough. Then she goes and cries in her room.

    She’s said these things so often over the years she believes them. To her, asking her to finish cleaning up a mess she made is the same as saying she isn’t good enough and that I hate her. I can’t win.

    I end up just cleaning everything to save me the headache.

    Other kinds of messes, like toys all over or muddy kids from playing outside I don’t care about as long as they pick the toys up when they are done (or by the end of the night) and they leave their muddy clothes outside or in the laundry room. In the tub at least. It doesn’t bother me.

    People are constantly shocked at how neat our house is. There usually aren’t toys strewn all over despite having 5 kids. The dishes are usually done (none in the sink), the kitchen is clean, laundry is done or washing, floors swept (although rarely mopped) and vacuumed. The only real messes are the kids rooms if I haven’t been hounding them to clean up and the bathrooms (because I hate cleaning them). But if you just walk in the front door you probably wouldn’t think 7 people live in the house.

  36. @SKL, I am in absolute shock at the ambulance over a broken arm thing.

    My dad is a doctor and when my sister broke her leg in middle school. This is how my parents handled it:

    My sister was transported from school to my dad’s office, where he had her lay down in a spare exam room for 3 hours until my mom could come. Once my mom arrived, he had sister try again to walk (this is to weed out sprains, bruised bones, tendon strains etc, and avoid unnecessary radiation). When she still couldn’t walk, he could safely assume the bone was broken, and had my mom drive my sister to a friend’s office out of town in the suburb to get an x-ray. The broken bone was confirmed so sister was driven back into town to the hospital where a doctor was waiting to set the bone, apply the cast and take another x-ray to confirm that the bone was set properly. All told it was about 5 hours before she was in a cast. So, yes, even a broken bone can wait. We were only at the hospital for about an hour, half of it waiting for my dad to approve the final x-ray.

    So if someone called an ambulance because they thought my daughter broke a bone, I would give them a huge piece of my mind for giving me the false impression that my daughter might DIE. Then I would ream them all for screwing with my daughter’s treatment, rather than letting me consult her doctor. NO hospital has enough ER doctors to promptly start working on non-life threatening issues. And the rest of the ample staff can’t move without doctor’s orders. And when you do see the ER doctor is he required to run a bunch of tests to cover all the unlikely scenarios just in case. Tests that your own doctor would never be forced to run. That is why for these things you call your own doctor FIRST. Your doctor can gives orders over the phone and the staff can go right to work on your kid as soon as you get there, rather than waiting for hours. And heaven help the 911 ninnies if it turned out to be a sprain or bruised bone rather than a broken bone, because waiting will reveal that fact, and help the kid avoid unnecessary radiation.

    A note on the bill: A call to the doctor can often avoid the ER fee by transforming your case from an ER case, with radiology services, to a simple outpatient visit to radiology. Last time I had an ER visit over a decade ago, the fee “just for walking into the ER” was over $700.

  37. @Jen: some time ago I went to a management seminar. It was pretty useless except for one tidbit: “You get the behavior you recognize.” If all you recognize is that your kids make a mess, then that’s what you get. Recognize the good behaviors and you’ll get more of those. The recognition is not “praise”, it can include negative behaviors. If all I recognize from my kids is that they annoy me after a day at work, then that’s all I will get. I’ve since applied it to work, at home to kids and pets, and it works. Recognize the behavior you want, and ignore the behavior you don’t want.

    If your kids leave a mess, then so be it. I don’t clean up after them; when they want dinner and their place is a total mess covered with crap well I guess they need to do something about it before they eat. Oh yes, my place is clean, I cleaned mine. How about you clean yours before dinner? You don’t want to? OK, that’s fine, you can eat in the mess. Don’t want to wash your plate? OK, that’s fine, you get it back tomorrow with today’s food on it.

    Right now the kids are winning. Change the rules.

  38. One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was first having kids: Easier to mend a broken bone than a broken spirit. As they get older, these 5 points still work. The messes get smellier and the verbiage gets more challenging, but it is wonderful to watch them learn to soar.

  39. I’m on the fence about the ER thing, mainly because of a story about my husband. He was about 7, and climbing a tree in the woods a few miles from his house. His mom (who was a single parent) was at work, and his grandma didn’t expect him home until dark. He fell and broke his ankle so badly that both bones broke through the skin and the entire bottom of his foot was facing upwards. He yelled and yelled, and it was only by chance that a couple of older boys came across him a couple hours later. One ran to get his dad, the other stayed with my husband and did whatever first aid he could do – they were both boy scouts, and applied some of that knowledge to the situation. The dad and other boy returned, and they carried him out of the woods, called his mom, and called an ambulance. In that situation, I wouldn’t be upset that an ambulance was called. (FWIW, the break was bad enough that he was given priority treatment immediately upon arriving at the ER.) I know most breaks aren’t that bad, but that story just really bothers me.

    However, my husband recently suffered a head injury while at work, and his co-workers called an ambulance for him without consulting him first. And, as someone else mentioend, insurance doesn’t cover it. So we’re paying off a large bill (that also includes charges for gas!), and all for something that my husband would have preferred to not have done. (He wanted them to call me, and have me take him to the hospital.) It wasn’t his choice, but it never occurred to us to sue his employer or co-workers for the cost of the ride.

  40. @AW13: If it was at work, and you’re in the US, workmans comp will cover it. You should not have to. If his employer balks, call your state labor bureau and find out what your rights are.

  41. Do ambulances really come at $5,000 a pop? That is HARSH.

    I agree that calling a bus for a straight up broken arm is pretty ridiculous, not to mention a bad waste of resources. I suspect that people are too quick to call 911 in general. A few months back, I witnessed the aftermath of a little boy’s mishap- so far as I could tell, the kid had crashed into something or other and hurt his hand. There was blood, but the little guy was alert and crying and upright. His mom was with him. Ambulance was eventually called, and they proceeded to wait- all the while, the hospital was a five minute ride away. Now, I don’t think it would be easy or pleasant to strap a small, bleeding, shrieking child into his carseat, but I fail to see why the ambulance was necessary. Ambulances aren’t appropriate for every medical situation.

  42. Great article Vicki. Yes, on all accounts. Those aren’t actually anything new, as most of us are aware of. Those are old school ways of raising children. That’s how I and my siblings were raised, cousins, friends. That’s how our parents were raised, and their parents, and so on and so on. It’s this new generation of parents, growing up fearful and insecure, that pass their fears to their children. It’s like they don’t trust themselves as parents, so they in turn don’t trust their kids. Pretty unfair for the kids if you ask me. I don’t think our faith is “radical” either. Ours’ is from tried and tested ways for thousands of years. It’s the helicopter parents that have gone radical. 😉 And not in a good way.

  43. After reading this yesterday, I came home to find my two girls and some neighbor kids playing with sidewalk chalk in our courtyard. My eldest got the bright idea to add some water to this mix and they all ended up making chalky paint, or painty chalk, whichever you prefer. Normally, I would have started in with my “you’re making a huge mess” speech, but this article had stuck in my mind.

    So instead, I watched my littlest one splatter this stuff all over herself and make chalky handprints up and down the sidewalk and even helped her make footprints too. She had a blast, and so did I.

  44. @ olympia… I’m not sure why people call ambulances as much as they do. Sometimes i wonder if people call the ambulance thinking it is a way to skip ahead in the line at the ER. As my comments before indicate, that’s not how it works. I think health insurance companies would do well to offer some health literacy classes. Then give discounts to people who showed they knew when to call 911, when to call the doctor, and when to grab the 1st aid kit and be done with it.

  45. Havva- To be fair, this accident happened at the Y, although not in the “action” area of things- it appeared the kid had run into the front desk. I suspect the Y staff were the ones who thought to call 911; perhaps there were liability concerns? It still seemed over the top to me. The kid’s dad had to be called, because the mom also had an infant on hand, and she had to be taken care of- why couldn’t they have waited for the dad to show up and provide transport to the ED? He didn’t show up much later than the ambulance.

  46. I’m not fond of mess. I have a daughter who seems to get something out of being gross. So I will say I haven’t always been welcoming of that. But most of the time I try to turn it a different way.

    When the kids were 1 and kept dribbling food down their bibs etc., I started making them eat with neither bibs nor shirts. I figured, at least they will develop some awareness of cause and effect. Once they were fairly reasonable about neat eating, they got the shirts back, but the bibs were history.

    If they play with something messy, they have to do it outside. They always know they have to clean up any mess they make. Certain chores (like sweeping) are theirs because they are the main reason the chore is necessary.

    I also remind them in advance that their behavior will have consequences. For example, “I know you like that shirt, so I hope you don’t get any paint on it because it could stain.” It helps.

  47. Now the broken arm thread on that other forum has decided it was inhumane of the caregiver to be on the phone calling her boss to come and help. Apparently that equals “leaving the child alone, in pain, and without attention.” Not sure how calling 911 is supposed to make the child feel more loved than calling the superviser (whom the child knows and who would call his mother).

    And most of the folks there are of the opinion that an 8yo boy in summer “day care” needs the same safety procedures and staff ratio as a three-year-old. After all, daycare means a guarantee of 100% safe and pain-free experience. Right?

  48. And the child MUST be in shock because he’s just lying there (maybe he was told to?) and periodically moaning (broken arms aren’t supposed to hurt?) and getting pale (hearing all those strangers holler 911?) and rolling his eyes around (what, you’re not supposed to look around at all the strangers getting in your face?).

    Maybe this kid WAS in shock, but since when is pain or keeping still a sure sign of shock?

  49. Can you tell I don’t like people to stick their nose in other people’s business, particularly when another present adult is legally responsible to address the problem (and didn’t cause it to begin with)?

  50. @Havva – in NZ the main reason for calling an ambulance, aside from if you’re dying of course, would be to beat the ER queue, as ambulance occupants are dealt with first. Down here in Wellington we are very lucky in that we don’t have to pay for our ambulances (costs are met mostly through fundraising)- though you wouldn’t call them for just anything. Broken arms you’d surely only call for, as someone else said, a compound fracture.

    In the rest of the country you either pay a few dollars a year for something like ambulance insurance, or about $65 a trip. $5000 sounds really steep.

  51. On topic, I find the ‘zipping the mouth’ really, really hard! Maybe I should get the kids to buy me some attractive duct tape for my next birthday…:-)

  52. @Yan: You are right, in most cases. But since this happened due to a previously existing condition and not within the scope of his employment duties, workman’s comp wouldn’t cover it. And since we have horrible insurance (or had – we have better coverage now), it covered very, very little. So we’ll pay off the bill. I was just shocked that in addition to how expensive the ambulance was, we were charged for gas! (No one I know has ever taken an ambulance before.)

  53. hi,
    when I was 13, I selected a college to enter of automation design,
    the nearest being 2500 miles from home.
    I had sent my high school certificate to that college,
    my parents bought me a one way ticket and I went.
    When I came to the college in question its adm told they have no hostel and had sent my certificate back so I went back.

    All my life I was very inventive, solved great problems, saved lives.
    I absolved 3 Univs and when resigned from responsibilities at 62 started training border guards up to the hight 4600 m in the mountains.
    All that conditioned with compressed vertebrae
    when young artillery officer,
    now 45 years ago at military accident abroad.
    What should I have been
    if my very much beloved parents did not trust me?

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