Thursday, February 17, 2011

Your reputation can bless or bite you

Reputation is an extremely powerful thing.  The dictionary defines it as ‘the estimation in which a person is regarded by others’.  A person of good repute (or character) is one who is esteemed, respected and trusted.  A person of ill repute may be known to disregard authority, be dishonest, disrespectful, immoral or unethical.  Either way, every individual has a reputation.

     Developing a good reputation is similar to a credit score.  To have a good score we have to earn it by being diligent in paying our bills on time.  This is a proactive process, requiring careful budgeting and not spending more than we earn.  There are major advantages in having great credit.  If we do not, or cannot, pay our bills in a timely manner our credit gets dinged. This results in a low score, whereupon our spending options become restricted.  It takes time to eradicate a poor score and it takes hard work to re-establish good credit.

     Our reputation comes from learned behavior.  Initially, children are most influenced by those nearest to them.  They do what their parents do more often than what their parents tell them they should do.  They adopt their parents’ attitudes, beliefs and ethics.  As they grow, children continue to be influenced by those they admire, often outside the home or on the media.  This may be a great thing, but sometimes not.  I think most parents become concerned over their child’s behavior when it contravenes the training they have received at home.

     So, how do we cultivate an excellent reputation?  The secret is in establishing strong family values.  Parents need to decide what principles or standards they wish their family to live by.  These values need to be written down and explained so that all family members understand the expectations.  The family home should be a safe environment where the children can learn, make mistakes and be encouraged in all their efforts to demonstrate the values set by the family.  Reputation begins at home.

     Not only do individuals cultivate their reputation at home, but families collectively also develop a reputation.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear that your family is known for its great volunteer spirit, its pursuit of excellence, its kindness to others, or its concern for homeless animals for example?

     It is very important for parents to consider their own reputation.  How do people describe us?  Is it favorable?  Should we make some changes?  If we want our children to develop an excellent reputation, then we must demonstrate the very same thing ourselves.  It is often a good exercise to think about the attributes of people we admire and work towards being like them.  We can even ask them how they ‘do it’ and request their help if necessary.

     So what can one do to restore a tarnished reputation?  It may require asking forgiveness.  It might require asking for help in making wiser decisions or in better managing personal negative traits.  It might require getting a second job to repair financial damage.  It often involves working through the consequences of poor decisions and earning others’ trust.  This doesn’t happen overnight, but when people can see positive change occurring they are much more likely to be receptive to your advice or efforts.

     It is essential to be positive role models to our children and to give them the tools, training and the practice to establish an excellent reputation.  It is never too late to change our attitudes, beliefs and ethics.  It is not a bad thing for your children to observe how you make positive changes in your life to restore your reputation.  We are all on a journey.  Let’s set our children on that road towards an outstanding reputation so that they can influence generations to come.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Incentives really work

It doesn’t take long for the home atmosphere to become negative when we spend so much time correcting our kids.  Negative vibes fueled by rebuke, frustration and tension replace fun and joy.  It is up to us as parents to monitor the home atmosphere to prevent it turning sour.

     Many parents train their children by correcting them when they do ‘wrong’ rather than explaining what their expectations are first.  A simple training plan is the first step to making training a positive rather than a predominantly corrective experience.  These are the steps.  Decide and write down the values or principles you want your family to live by.  Explain your expectations to your children (making sure you only work on a few at a time).  Show them what the expectation will look like (role model it).  Work with them and then let them practice, allowing time for mistakes.  Praise them for getting it right.  Correct them if they get it wrong. Give them responsibility for that skill or activity once they have mastered it.

     Creating an incentive scheme is an excellent method of avoiding constant rebuke and replacing it with the opportunity for praise.  When you think of your own training experiences I am sure you recall responding willingly and with confidence when your efforts were recognized and praised, rather than your mistakes being ridiculed.  Incentive schemes really do work.

     Many years ago my husband, Brian, discussed using incentives with a woman whose daughter had a very negative attitude towards them as parents and was starting to get into trouble at school.  The mother’s response was absolute refusal as she considered incentives were merely a bribe.  As a result her child continued down a negative path until she was made a ward of the State.  The daughter eventually ‘divorced’ her parents, and then her daughter, in turn, also became a ward of the State.  History repeated itself.  If only they had concentrated on the positive aspects of her behavior and given her incentives to make changes, we feel she would be in a very different situation and state of mind now.

     Creating an incentive scheme has many advantages.  It requires that parents first explain what they want their child to achieve.  It requires the child to make choices.  Something good is going to result if they do what is required of them.  A negative choice will yield a corrective result.  The parent is not the ogre here.  The child makes the choice and the parent is merely responding to the child’s decision.  Life is full of choices.  Why not learn to make the right choices by the reward of a positive response from those in authority over you.

     There are many types of incentives.  Money should not be one of them!  Why?  Daily chores are part of family life and responsibility.  Each family member needs to learn to do their part willingly and not because they are paid for it.  This also teaches children the value of performing acts of kindness for no monetary reward.

     Small children tend to respond well to a rewards board with stars.  When they complete a task they get a star.  After so many stars they get to choose their favorite dinner, maybe watch a cool movie, or have extra playtime and so on.  Older children may have a chores list which details the chore and when it is required to be completed.  Their reward might be extra computer time, time out at the movies or more time doing some other favorite activity.  You may want your child to reach for higher grades at school.  In this case, you first need to do some homework.  Research why the grades have been low.  Check with the teacher.  Ask your child.  Check the homework plan.  There could be a combination of reasons, but it is important to rule out any negative outside influences or physical reason for low performance.  It could be that your child is actually working at their highest level already.  If so, be satisfied!

     You should have high expectations of and for your children.  They rise to high levels if they know they are pleasing you.  Help them to make goals and also help and encourage them to achieve greater heights.  A happy child is: one who knows their parents are proud of them, who has learned to make wise choices through positive training experiences, and who has a sense of purpose in life.  Training by way of incentives greatly enhances this outcome.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Addictions can be sneaky

When we think of ‘addictions’ our minds immediately go to the ‘biggies’ like drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, pornography, nicotine, caffeine, sugar or general food abuse.  You might be astonished to know just how many addictions there are. Addictions are subtle in onset and many of us have them without even realizing it.  Ask yourself, “Is there anything that I just can’t live without?  If that thing is denied me, do I become anxious, fidgety, depressed, frustrated, angry, or get headaches?  Will I do anything possible to get or do that thing?”  If you could say yes to any of those questions, then it is likely to be an addiction.  It might be internet games, chat-rooms, texting, social networking, video games, TV soaps, sports, shopping, fitness, competition, collecting, hoarding, cosmetic surgery, sex or work, just to name a few.

            Did you know that talking can become an addiction?  There are people who will not stop talking.  They are usually not interested in what anyone else has to say because they are thinking about what they want to say next.  In fact, they can think and talk at the same time.

            Addictions are rife when we consider all the activities that we think we just can’t function without.  The question is how do addictions affect our families?  When it comes to the most commonly considered addictions like drinking, smoking, gambling, pornography and overeating, we know how they threaten family well-being.  They may lead to domestic violence, child abuse, trouble with the law, depletion of family finances, loss of jobs and health issues.

            Unrecognized addictions may also threaten family life.  Constant communication via texting, phone conversations or Internet chatting can drastically cut down the one-on-one, face-to-face communication between family members and friends.  Already the family table is almost extinct as people eat and watch TV at the same time.  What happened to the very fruitful family communication that starts with, “How was your day today?”

            How have we allowed our kids to text their friends during meal times?  Where is the casual conversation when we are standing in line at the Post Office or at the grocery store?  Does anyone see, let alone care about someone struggling with too many parcels?   No!  Why?  It is because, too often, our noses are pointed towards a hand held device.  Why is it that we have allowed ourselves to believe the lie that ‘we only need to look after number one’ and that ‘other’s stuff is not our business?’

            A person with a talking addiction is often self-absorbed and does not develop good listening skills.  The effect is that other family members will feel that their opinions don’t matter and therefore their contribution is worthless.  While there is nothing wrong with activities like sports, competition, TV soaps, hobbies, video games and fitness, when these activities preoccupy us to the extent that we neglect our family responsibilities, then there is a major problem.

            As parents, our families come first so we need to monitor them carefully.  Each family member needs to contribute to the family as well as having their own interests. This is made easier by creating and maintaining routines where there is time for chores as well as time for fun like hobbies, sports and vacations.  When the routine activities are compromised, then some changes need to be made.  When a family member demonstrates irrational behavior when denied a particular activity, this also needs to be investigated immediately.  We need to protect and encourage face-to-face communication with our kids as well as our spouses.  If a preoccupation becomes habitual, then we need to deal with it by setting boundaries and monitoring the situation.

            By ensuring that you are living a balanced lifestyle, you are training your children not only to better manage their own lives, but also that of their future families.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Time for you

“What? Time for me? That went out the window once I started having kids!”

      Most parents feel they have barely enough time to fulfill the fundamentals, let alone think about having time for themselves. I remember when I had infants at home. If I could get one task done in the day I thought I had really achieved something. I don’t know where the time went, but ‘went’ it did! Our daughter and son-in-law have had their lovely little 9 month-old boy from Korea for 4 days now and they are both already exhausted. His sleeping schedule means he is sleeping from about 6 a.m. till 2 p.m. and the rest is short sleeps. Needless to say between about 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. he is having a lovely time playing while bleary eyes watch and wish he would just go back to sleep. His bio clock is way out of kilter!

      Once children come along, it seems that parent needs shrink to the size of a pea. The more children you have, the less time there is for you. It makes sense, after all, because there are only 24 hours in a day and that doesn’t change. Yet, I can still distinctly recall a particular time when I had my second child. I was sitting on the couch with my son on my knee. My daughter was squeezing as close as she could beside me, when suddenly this thought came into my head. ‘Wait a minute! I have to have time for me, too!’

      We slide so easily into the role of taxi driver, cook, bottle washer, laundry maid, nurse, shopping cart and holder of the purse – in fact the provider of all things. Isn’t that the parents’ role? We believe the myth that truly great parents put all personal wants and needs aside for the sake of their children. I don’t consider this to be healthy thinking. Families need to be balanced.

      Forefront Families believes that a successful family is one that is God-centered, parent directed, family-oriented and outwardly focused. Nowhere in that statement does it imply that kids should rule or come first in everything. We believe that each family member should be given the opportunity to develop their own skills and abilities and ultimately discover their own destiny. We believe the
parents’ role is to be effective role models and to train their children to become productive, educated, caring adults and parents. Our kids learn from what they see us do, not just what we say. If we are leading a balanced life, and creating and achieving goals, they will learn from us. I am not saying that we should do our own thing to the detriment of the rest of the family. What I am saying is that each family member should have their needs met. If individuals are leading a balanced life then the family together is more likely to be balanced.

      So what is a balanced life? It’s one where there is a time for work, for play, for study, for sleep, for devotion to other family members and friends, AND a time for self and spouse. It is vital to make time to nourish and replenish your own relationship on a regular basis. It might mean having someone look after the kids for the weekend so you can go and just have fun together. It is not only beneficial to you, but also good for the kids to be without you for a day or two. We have had weekly date nights for many years and we also go away for a weekend once a month now we have no children in the house. It is important to encourage one another to create or continue hobbies and interests and to go out with the guys or the girls on your own. The rich input and encouragement that others have given me has opened my eyes to opportunities I may never have realized.

      Don’t get stuck in isolation or in a work/home/work/home cycle. Remember your kids are learning from you. Do you want them to lead a similar life to you? If not, then live like you want them to. Do activities on your own, with your spouse and with your children. You do have family responsibilities, but as long as what you do is not upsetting the family balance, then it has got to be good for you now and in the long term. Look after you!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Learn to live

Our Pastor read this quote from Dorothy Law Nolte yesterday at church and it was so insightful I thought I would share it with you.

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

            There is so much truth in the words above that a cursory glance would be doing them a great injustice.  This is a working tool and an excellent framework to teach and model from.  How we act as parents is more than likely how our children will behave.  If you don’t want to replicate yourself as you are now, then perhaps this list will help you make the necessary changes in your home environment from negative to positive.

             It would be a really good idea to print this list off, enlarge it and place it in clear view for the family to learn from.  You can discuss it as a family, choosing just a few at a time or one a week, then after a few months go back and practice the ones that have not been mastered yet.  Not only do you decide what you want to change and why, but also how you will change it.  If you or other family members are critical, explain what that means.  Being negatively critical means that you always see the bad side or poke holes in what someone else does.  That makes those criticized feel worthless and not want to try anymore.  To make them feel good about themselves or about what they are doing, you need to use positive words to encourage them instead – words such as, “I like that!”  “You worked hard and finished it!”  “Well done!”

            As well as choosing a negative statement from the quote by Ms. Nolte choose a positive one as well e.g. kindness.  You could say to the family, “Let’s practice being kind.  Kindness means doing thoughtful things for another person.  If we don’t show others that we are thinking of their needs they feel left out.  We can be kind by offering to help one another or by saying kind words.  This makes us feel loved and cared for.”

            The positive traits on Dorothy Law Nolte’s list are valuable and we do well as parents to teach our children by word and by demonstration how to make a positive difference in the world around us.