Parenting 101

I’ve often been asked how we raised our kids, by those who are up to their armpits in the midst of the power struggle that parenthood can sometimes be. The answer is one long day at a time, but with the help of some very consistent rules. I should clarify that many of these weren’t unbreakable rules as much as they were our family’s unique customs or our preferred methods for handling specific situations. I didn’t remember having a lot of rules for my kids, but my now-adult children have reminded me of several of them over the years. They recognize behaviors in others that they were not allowed to do and say “You never let us do that!”—and I’m pleased to say they mean it as a compliment. My daughter, Jennifer, has often caught herself watching her friends’ or coworkers’ exploits and thinking “If you were my mom’s child…” She has quoted some of our family rules as if they were The Wisdom of the Ages, only to have the hearer ask “Who says?” “Umm… my mom and I!” is her reply as she realizes that, unfortunately, the rest of civilization has yet to catch up to Mom’s Standards for Proper Conduct.

Some of our rules applied to my children, some to us as a family unit, and some were reminders for me as a parent that good kids don’t just happen. Kids obey best when they understand the reason behind a rule, whether they participated in the decision-making process that created that rule or not. Most rules are made to govern the future as well as the present: “Don’t run out into the street” is for right now, but also for every time in the future that a speeding car promises harm. Whatever rules your family makes, be sure to craft them with one eye on the future, and help your kids understand that the future-aspect is there to help them learn how to grow up into responsible adults. After all, “parent” is a verb, and you can’t expect great results from doing nothing. [“Parent” Is a Verb, linked below]

Overwhelmingly, I used the Golden Rule (Treat others as you wish to be treated—Luke 6:31, paraphrased) to teach my kids appropriate behavior and respect for others’ feelings and property. From toddlerhood on, I explained (in language suited to their understanding) what they had done wrong, why it was wrong, how it made the other person feel, and what their response should have been (the preferred behavior). Once they understood the situation from the other side, then they were able to offer a truly sincere apology, if circumstances required it. Beyond that, the detailed explanations helped those little people learn to think things through and anticipate the cause and effect relationship of actions to outcomes. You should not have kicked your ball into the neighbor’s flower bed. Your ball broke several of their pretty flowers, and they had just bought those plants and worked hard to get them all planted today. You can kick your ball over here where there is plenty of open space, but you may not kick it so hard that it lands near those flowers again. Do you understand the difference? If you disobey and kick the ball into the flowers again, you will be punished. Do you understand?

My kids were allowed to repeat certain actions only 3 times and no more. Whether it was running circles around the kitchen table or bouncing a beach ball off the top of my head, they could get away with it three times. Behavior that would have hurt someone or something was stopped immediately, but otherwise let’s just say that they learned to obey the limit.  Auditory learners and making noises go together like air and breathing, but the “Rule of 3” taught them to stop the repetitive noises after 3 times and save the remainder for more appropriate situations, such as when playing outside, or when in their rooms and not disturbing others. [My “Rule of 3,” linked below]

Nearly every “rule” we had was an extension of the respect relationship taught through the Golden Rule. Do you want your little brother barging into your room without knocking? Then be sure that you knock on his door before entering his room. The Rule of 3 was built upon respect for others’ personal space, and respect is in itself a Golden Rule relationship. Respect must be earned—it isn’t granted automatically. If you want it, what are you doing to deserve it? [Respect Must Be Earned, linked below]

Family is spelled T-E-A-M, and we are all on the same side. No one here is your enemy, especially not your siblings. Family is not a competition, and we’re all in this together. [Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M, linked below]

Speaking of teams, Mom should not be the only person working while everyone else is playing, because moms like to play, too. Get the household staff working—fill those machines and get them running, so you can feel good about all the jobs that are getting done. Teach your kids that if we get the chores out of the way first, then we can take a break, guilt-free. Work first, then play. [Using Your Household Staff, linked below]

I taught my kids not to interrupt a conversation (especially between adults), unless there was a true emergency involving large amounts of water, blood, and/or fire. I told them that if they stood quietly next to me while I was involved in a conversation that: 1) I would know they had something to tell me, 2) I would not forget about them being there, and 3) I would listen to them at the next appropriate moment. I also taught them to hold up one finger to help them remember what it was they wanted to say (or 2 fingers to remember 2 things—and it really does work). Yes, it was appropriate to wake Mom and Dad from a Sunday afternoon nap to report that the house next door was on fire. It led to very important life-lessons in how to remain calm in a crisis, how to use a fire extinguisher, and how long it takes from the time someone dials 911 until you can actually hear the fire truck’s siren. Good job! (Yes, that really happened, but no one was hurt, and insurance covered the damages.)

Whining, begging, nagging, and asking again and again will never convince me to change my mind. However, if you can present your case with facts and logic and without whining, then I will listen with an open mind. Notice that this is a two-way contract. My part of the agreement was to listen attentively to the logically reasoned case my kids presented, putting aside my preconceived notions about the topic and honestly considering the points they made. The result was that very often I had to reconsider and go with their proposal, because it truly was a better idea. [If You Can Present Your Case with Facts and Logic and Without Whining, I Will Listen with an Open Mind, linked below]

We discussed “our family’s values” so that each child understood why we do what we do, why we don’t do what someone else may do, and why we hold tightly to our specific beliefs and values. It made an amazing difference in helping our kids make up their own minds when confronted with peer pressure.

As part of understanding our family’s values, my kids were taught to respect the rules and value systems of other children’s parents by not sharing their opinions on whether they thought those rules were correct. When a friend said, “I wish my Mom used your Mom’s rule,” my daughter explained that our family probably also had a few rules that the friend wouldn’t like, so the friend shouldn’t automatically assume that one family was better than another. This also applied to individual privileges, schooling or homeschooling methods, TV or movie choices, church programs, family activities, and just about anything else that could prompt a comparative discussion.

My most controversial rule (as viewed by my peers) was that “authority” figures who had no true authority over my kids (not their parent or police, etc.) and/or who were clearly wrong (meaning they had the facts wrong) did not necessarily need to be listened to or obeyed. This came into play when a bully-parent (one of those aforementioned peers who disagreed with my views, particularly this one) made a faulty assumption about my son, after overhearing a snippet of conversation between my son and another boy at a homeschool group function. That parent attempted to exert her “authority” (just because she was an adult) over the boys because of what she thought she heard, but my son (knowing the full context of the conversation) knew she was in error and tried to explain the misunderstanding. She threatened to tell his mother (me) that he had argued with her, and he dared her to follow through on that, because he knew he wasn’t guilty of doing anything wrong. When she gave me her side of the story, it sounded completely out of character for my son, so I turned to him for his explanation (which made her even angrier to think that I would accept the word of a 13-year-old over her testimony). The outcome was that I didn’t destroy a family relationship because of another adult’s misconception. Adults can be wrong, and kids learn to honor truth by seeing their parents recognize that adults are not always right just because they are adults. A parallel rule to the false-authority issue was that if anyone said to my kids “Don’t tell your parents,” that was our family’s code for “Run immediately to your parents and tell them everything!” That was also played out, with the result that my child identified right away that the person saying it was up to no good. Reporting the conversation to her parents was the equivalent of calling in the cavalry and turning the problem over to someone who could stop it from escalating into a more harmful situation. Crisis averted; family relationships secured.

Our family used “Because I said so” as valid reasoning under very special conditions, usually a minor emergency or some similar circumstance. Spoken quietly and surreptitiously, it was another code phrase that meant “Do what I say now, and I will explain the why later, as soon as I have the chance.” Everyone recognized that hearing the phrase “because I said so” meant something was seriously wrong and immediate, unquestioned obedience was required for the safety and well-being of one or more family members. We were careful not to over-use this or use it frivolously, so that it maintained its emergency-situation-only status. In our family, it was used by both parents and children, depending on the circumstances, which varied from “That kid has been mean to me before, and I really don’t want to run into him right now” to quickly leaving public situations that suddenly became uncomfortable or appeared unsafe. The full explanation that came later always assured us that the hasty exit had been completely justified.

The “family whistle” was a signal we used to find each other in large stores, get someone’s attention, or call to each other in surroundings where shouting might not be noticed. We used a unique melody of 3-4 notes that signaled us to “Come now.” We started using the non-shrill whistle when our kids were nearing middle-school age, and it was a wonderfully subtle way to signal each other in large groups. Most by-standers never even noticed.

As with any set of rules, consistency is crucial. As adults, we need to know that other drivers will obey the rule that a red traffic light means Stop and a green light means Go. Kids need the exact same consistency in knowing that their parents’ rules mean what they say. Without consistency, the rules break down, and before you know it, everyone is going, no one is stopping, and chaos is the result. Set your family rules, be consistent in their execution, and enjoy the freedom that results.

See these articles for more complete explanations:

“Parent” Is a Verb

My “Rule of 3”

Respect Must Be Earned

Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M

Using Your Household Staff

If You Can Present Your Case with Facts and Logic and Without Whining, I Will Listen with an Open Mind

Home Chores Build a Good Work Ethic

It’s an ages-old debate: should kids be required to do regular chores around the house? My short answer is yes. Mom’s time is too valuable to be wasted on menial tasks. That doesn’t mean that Mom can’t or shouldn’t do them, but it does mean that those tasks that don’t require Mom’s unique talents can be done by anyone, not only by Mom. However, kids will need to be taught how to do a task correctly before they can succeed in it themselves.

Doing chores teaches skills, responsibility, and independence. Some day, for some unforeseen reason, Mom won’t be able to perform all of the household chores and pick up after everyone else. Whether that condition is temporary (such as a case of the flu) or more-or-less permanent (a debilitating health condition… or worse), Mom needs everyone’s help in keeping up. Incidentally, all those things Mom does are things the kids will eventually need to do for themselves in life, so they might as well suck it up and start doing them now to lessen the blow of reality. They might even find that ironing a few shirts provides an ideal time to organize their thoughts, besides making them look sharp at the job interview.

There’s a principle in economics called TANSTAAFL (say it as “tan-stay-awful”), an acronym for “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” I applied it to home chores as there are no free rides: everybody can do his share. If you plan to eat this food, you’ll willingly help carry the groceries in from the car and help put them away. As my kids got older, it morphed into “Hey, Mom! I’ll do that job for you, so you can do this job for me,” whenever my kids wanted me to help them with a special project (often making a new costume). They would lay out their proposal and then offer to do something for me (often making dinner), providing me with the necessary free time to bring their idea to fruition. Helping (bartering?) in this way taught them the vital concept of earning: you have to give to get something in return. The job-trading offers showed that they understood the most important part: every player is capable of contributing something to the Family Team.

Starting Young

My kids learned to help put toys away as soon as they were old enough to play with those toys. We stored our toys on open shelves in an assortment of shoeboxes, ice cream buckets, small dishpans, and recycled baby-wipes boxes, each labeled with a simple drawing for what items went inside. I worked side-by-side with my toddlers or preschool-aged kids to help them learn to sort out the toys and get everything put away (nearly) every afternoon before Daddy got home. They could still get something out to play with while I fixed supper, but the worst of the mess had been cleaned up. We made clean-up time into a game by calling out one type of toy and getting all of those put away before focusing on another one, starting with the largest items and working down to the smallest. Then as the kids got older and more adept at sorting and multitasking, they could handle the clean-up tasks themselves, freeing Mom to start cooking or laundry or any other higher-skilled task. By the time my kids were both school age, I had come up with a new clean-up game: I would challenge each of them to run through the house and find ten things that belonged to them and put those away. With a little more growing up, that game became known as 52-Pick-Up and was expanded to include anything that was out of place, if they knew where it belonged, not just their own personal items. They learned to appreciate the look of a tidy home and enjoyed the peacefulness that came with it, so it wasn’t difficult to get them to participate, especially because we played it as a game, and I praised them and thanked them for their diligence. Who doesn’t like being praised and thanked for their efforts? No one here!!

A child who never learns organizational skills grows up to be an adult who still doesn’t know how to organize or clean—I know because I was one. It is because I have struggled as an adult to learn how to organize myself that I began teaching my kids organizational skills as soon as they could pick up an alphabet block and drop it into a box. We played that first as a game to learn coordination, and then we continued to play it later on as a clean-up game.

Later on, I made each child a picture-chart for the bedroom wall to help them learn how to tidy things up in their rooms. A sheet of paper with simple cartoon-drawings showed a bed with wadded-up blankets and an arrow pointing to a neatly made bed, a jumble of clothes on the floor and an arrow pointing to the hamper, a pile of books on the floor and an arrow pointing to books on a shelf. Simple, homemade, but very effective. Teaching them to make the bed first provided a large surface to use for further sorting duties, again working from largest objects to smallest. My younger child felt it was a rite-of-passage, growing-up milestone when he got a picture-chart for his room—he was a big boy now, and he was old enough to learn how to tidy up his own room. He was still far from reading words, but he could read those pictures!

Learning Life-Skills

Yes, it does take longer to do a task with a child than it does to do it yourself. However, the time that is dedicated to teaching the child how to do the task himself will pay off in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. By spending the extra time required to teach my children how to do a task, I was ultimately freeing myself from doing that task in the future. Yes, I can pull a full bag of trash from the kitchen wastebasket, take it to the outdoor garbage can, and replace a new bag within a matter of seconds. Teaching my child to do that chore and walking him through each step could take ten minutes. However, he will get faster with practice, and I can eventually stop supervising and move on to my own tasks for those valuable ten minutes. Even if I only spent thirty seconds emptying the trash myself, that time adds up. If I include emptying every wastebasket in the house and if a larger family means more trash, that can become a serious waste of Mom’s time and talents. More importantly, the children won’t learn to take on the responsibility for that chore.

My kids learned to do many household chores through the years: keeping their rooms tidy; emptying the trash; emptying and filling the dishwasher; sweeping or vacuuming; dusting; cleaning bathrooms; mowing the lawn; carrying and putting away groceries; sorting, washing, drying, folding, hanging, ironing, and putting away laundry; and many other chores that I can’t remember. Some of these jobs were regularly scheduled tasks, and sometimes the kids were just asked to help out with other tasks. Yes, they needed reminders occasionally—we all do. Yes, there were times when they grumbled—we all do. Yes, there were times when Mom still did the job herself—the object here is teaching skills and responsibility, not giving Mom a life of unlimited leisure while someone feeds her grapes and fans her with palm fronds. Yes, there were times when a job wasn’t done perfectly—but that’s not the point—the point is that they learned how to do these chores, and they learned to own tasks as their responsibilities. Family is a team, with all players contributing something to the team; it is a tremendous help if those players can be interchangeable in certain areas. When everyone knows how to do a certain chore, life won’t ever come to a grinding halt while we all wait for the one, single soul who can perform the required task and get us all rolling along smoothly again.

This process of learning how to do chores is important for more reasons than just sharing in household duties as a child. This process is teaching life-long skills in decision-making, organizing, and taking responsibility. No one wants to live with an adult who thinks that if he ignores things long enough, the Trash Fairy will come and make the mess magically disappear. Or the Laundry Fairy, or the Dirty Dishes Fairy. Moms, if you don’t teach your children now how to do chores and how to take responsibility for doing them, who will? Do you believe that allowing your children to be sloths and doing everything for them will somehow transform them into conscientious adults? I’m sorry if this offends you, but if this is currently the case at your house, you are already being offended by children who disrespect you and treat you as their maid. The new guy on the job who leans back in his chair and rests his feet on his desk is an only-slightly-older version of the preteen who played incessant video games amidst empty soda cans, dirty dishes, and smelly socks, while an overworked Mom cleaned up around him. The young adult who expects to draw a paycheck while texting or checking social media on his cellphone is the same kid who never lifted a finger to help Mom or Dad with anything around the house—and worse, was never required to help.

What you teach your toddlers is what your youngsters will do automatically, and what you teach your youngsters is what your teens will do automatically, and what you teach your teens is what your young adult children will do automatically. It begins with sorting toys and putting them away, then progresses through taking out the trash and shuffling loads of laundry, and grows into someone who notices a task that is not being done and takes on the responsibility without waiting to be told that it’s his duty. I have known bosses who swept the floor because the lower-level employees didn’t think it was their duty to sweep. Sometimes it may not your assigned task, but you do have all the talent required. Teach your kids do look for tasks they can do at home, because it will pay benefits in the long run. As employees in that all-important first job, they will receive more positive feedback from taking the initiative to do a task (or asking if it’s okay to do it) than they will from standing around and waiting until someone else tells them to do it.

How to Do the How-To’s…

Start small—don’t expect your inexperienced teen to understand how to do multiple loads of laundry if he’s never had to hang up a single shirt. If your teen doesn’t know how to do laundry, start by showing him how to fold towels and work up from there. Help him master each crucial step before adding in more complications. It’s never fair or just or right to scold someone for doing a task incorrectly, if he’s never been properly taught how to do it.

Show & Tell—demonstrate the task and explain the critical parts. Example: explaining that a clothes hanger is a substitute for shoulders can teach how to hang a shirt straight. Talk about the various steps of the tasks you’re doing and explain the why’s for each step. Kids are more likely to do it your way if they understand the reasons behind why you do it the way you do it. I fold the towels this way so they will fit into this skinny cupboard. Also, specify which steps are required to be done a certain way and which steps can be done as the child wishes—giving him freedom to make it his job, not yours. It’s also helpful to the Family Team concept to listen to others’ suggestions of different methods. Mom is not God, and Mom can learn shortcuts from her spouse or kids. Been there, done that, changed my ways.

Let him try it—and don’t expect perfection or speed. Re-demonstrate any steps that are really crucial. Simple charts can come in handy here, too, such as how much detergent to put in the washer, what settings to use for different loads, and a reminder to clean out the dryer’s lint filter.

Give reminders—without nagging. No one enjoys being nagged. Set a very basic schedule for repeated tasks, such as “Make sure to empty all the wastebaskets and take the trash out by Thursday mornings, because the trash collection truck comes right after lunch on Thursdays.”

Say a sincere thank you—because everyone enjoys being appreciated. Hey, the trash is already emptied—and I didn’t even see you do that! Thank you!!

Keep it simple for success—even very complicated tasks can be learned one step at a time. Allow your child to keep trying until he gets a task done correctly, but do it by encouraging his progress, rather than scolding him for his failures. We worked for mastery in our homeschool lessons, believing that a concept wasn’t fully learned until a score of 100% had been reached. However, the child got to keep trying and keep correcting his work until he had mastered it. The same philosophy was used in learning chores and other tasks: keep trying until you get it right, keep working until you get it done. My daughter now works in a retail clothing store with many high-school-aged co-workers, and she finds their attitudes of “a just-barely-passing grade is good enough” to be completely unsatisfactory. Her work ethic of “keep at it until the job is done right” shows that she takes responsibility and personal pride in how the store looks and in how she serves her customers.

Teach your kids to be industrious by being industrious yourself—laziness breeds laziness. Don’t treat your kids as your servants by always asking them to fetch-and-carry for you, if you are fully capable of getting up and doing the same things yourself.

 

Teaching kids to help at home teaches them how to learn from others, something that will be very valuable in their future jobs. Teaching kids to do their assigned chores in a timely manner teaches them responsibility, again a valuable future skill. Teaching them to look for unassigned tasks they can do teaches them to take initiative, the most valuable skill of all. Being teachable, taking responsibility, and taking initiative combine to form an excellent work ethic, whether your child grows up to become a stay-at-home spouse or a corporate executive, and it starts with learning to pick up toys.

See also (in no particular order):

The Importance of Play in Education
Spoken Destinies & Learned Behaviors
Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M
Sorting Toys Is Algebra
I Give One Grade: 100%—But You Get to Keep Trying Until You Get It
Using Your Household Staff
Biblical Model of Discipleship
Pregnant & Homeschooling (great ideas for delegating, even if you’re not pregnant)
Full-Bodied Education: Mind, Body, & Spirit
We’re Not Raising Children – We’re Raising Adults
Respect Must Be Earned (good look at our attitudes toward each other)
Taming the Laundry Monster

Top 20 Snappy Comebacks for the Socialization Question

NOTE: Extreme sarcasm is present in these comments that have been gleaned from other homeschoolers, actually used ourselves, and/or are being held in reserve, awaiting the right moment. Our sincere thanks and admiration goes out to those intrepid souls whose remarks we have shamelessly borrowed.

So what do you do for socialization???

20. “Nothing. We just sit on the couch all day, staring at the wall.”

19. “I don’t believe in socialization.”

18. “With our large family, I usually say, ‘If you come down to breakfast in this house, you’re socializing!’”

17. “I’ve seen the village, and I don’t want it socializing my children!”

16. “Socialization? That is why I homeschool.”

15. “Socialization is the easy part. I just corner the kids in the bathroom every few days and steal their lunch money.”

14. “Oh, right, because (obviously) spending years with no one but her own family really hurt Laura Ingalls Wilder.”

13. “New studies show that, contrary to popular mythology… the average home-schooled child has no problem ‘socializing’ with other children… as long as he remembers to use smaller words and shorter sentences.” (From the Mallard Fillmore comic strip, 6/14/2005)

12. “The last thing I need is what you call socialization.”

11. “What you consider to be socialization is what Karl Marx endorsed as Communism.”

10. “We want our kids civilized, not socialized.”

9. “I’m not relying on the state to socialize my kids.”

8. “I prefer to have my kids learn to deal mostly with adults. The bullying you learn in middle school is only beneficial for bullying other middle schoolers.”

7. “What swear word do you think my kids don’t already know?”

6. “Are you worried about the quality of the education my children will get at home? Perhaps you should be more concerned about the type of education your children are getting in public school.”

5. “Well, I guess I can teach my kids how to swear, and my wife can make them wait in line for the bathroom.”

4. “You don’t go to school—how do you socialize?”

3. “You mean because we live in a cave, never go to a store, a restaurant, or a doctor’s office, never go to church, never visit friends or family, and basically avoid all contact with other human beings? How is it then that I’m talking to you?”

2. “Do you mean good socialization or bad socialization? Because it works both ways.”

1. “Do you mean, ‘Do I think my children are missing out on something by not being in public school?’ Yes, they are definitely missing out on some very important things. They are missing the explicit, X-rated vocabulary from the playground, bathrooms, school bus, and every other unsupervised moment; the sexual harassment in the lunchroom on hotdog day; and the physical, mental, and emotional abuse from the little extortionist in the next desk who used to beat my child for the correct answers whenever the teacher’s back was turned. My children do miss out on those things by not being in public school, and that is exactly why we are homeschooling!”

These responses can all be summed up by a conversation my son had with his driver’s education teacher, a high school track coach who had worked with both public-schooled and homeschooled students. The coach was concerned that homeschooled students were ahead in some areas and behind in others. Curious, my homeschooled son asked in which areas the homeschoolers were behind. “Socialization,” came the confident reply. Pressing still further, my son prompted the coach to explain exactly what the homeschoolers lacked. “My other students have been here for a long time, and they all know each other. When a homeschool student comes in for the first time, they don’t know anyone here.” My son’s emphatic response was, “When have you ever gone somewhere for the very first time and known anyone there? And how is that a lack of socialization?” He’s going to be a great homeschool Dad some day.

For more insight on the issue of Socialization, see these articles:
Socialization and Why You Don’t Need It (a.k.a. The Socialization Myth, Part 1)
The Socialization Myth, Part 2
The Myth of Age-Mates
The Socialization Code
Bullying

Bullying

Everyone encounters bullies somewhere. Even homeschooled kids can be confronted by a bully in group activities or once they become old enough to enter the work force. “Forewarned is fore-armed,” so we are presenting several strategies for equipping your children to recognize bullying behavior and strengthening them to be able to deal with bullies effectively. The headlines are current proof that when allowed to continue unabated, bullying will escalate to extremely serious, even lethal consequences. Our aim is to help you stop it in its very early stages. Since not all of our readers are able to homeschool, this article also addresses bullying in school situations. Many of the scenarios presented here are also used by adults, whether deliberately or just out of habit. As parents and role-models, we must break the cycle of bullying among our own peers, as an example to our children. Some readers may object to the statements made in this article, and those who do are invited to take a long, hard look at their own behavior, beliefs, and values, because they may unintentionally be using bullying tactics themselves.

Why Bullies Bully

Bullying affects almost everyone in some way at one point or another. Some people willingly and eagerly push others around (whether physically or verbally) in an effort to make themselves feel more powerful or important. Some people become their unfortunate victims, just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Simply put, bullying is a way to manipulate and control other people.

Help your children see that people who pick on others have been picked on by someone else.  Explain that the kids at the park who say mean things are probably being verbally abused by others—very likely by their own family members. When kids have someone in their lives who is routinely insulting to them, they feel the need to pile insults on someone else. They have learned through what has been done to them that it is right and acceptable for them to do this to others. Many families know nothing else: all forms of abuse become generational, simply because no one knows any other way to behave. For someone who comes from an environment where name-calling and ridicule and manipulation are rampant, bullying becomes their interpretation of “appropriate” behavior. Knowing nothing other than this pitiful behavior, they grow up to continue the hurtful legacy with their own children. Breaking the bullying cycle requires adults who are willing to reassess their own value systems and stand up against the patterns of needless hurt, but it can be done successfully.

I know a woman who accepts bullying from her friends because she is dependent on the company and approval of others for entertainment and self-worth. She bullies her friends in return, trying to manipulate them into doing what she wants to do. She’s a grown-up who never learned to cope with bullying in a grown-up manner and therefore dishes it out herself as part of an endless cycle.

Subtler  Methods Used by Bullies

It’s easy to identify the playground bully who shoves other children out of his way and stomps on their toys. The adult bully who loudly curses at the Little League umpire or uses his vehicle as a road-rage weapon is also easy to spot. Recent headlines have provided horrifying examples of bullying taken to such extreme ends that it resulted in murders or suicides. However, most bullying begins with much simpler, less conspicuous methods. Beyond the obvious punching, hitting, and name-calling, there are many more subtle forms of bullying:

  • Putting down others just to make oneself feel good
  • Telling someone they are “useless,” “good at nothing,” “a baby,” “a loser,” or other demeaning labels
  • Making rude comments that only the bully considers to be funny, but everyone else recognizes as just rudeness
  • Not allowing others to voice their opinions (especially dissenting opinions), whether objecting face-to-face, behind the back, or through social media
  • Needing to have the last word
  • Touching someone who doesn’t want to be touched, no matter how lightly
  • Tickling!
  • Reprimanding a student for asking too many questions in class or for answering questions too frequently in class
  • Labeling a child as ADHD or other “disability” where none exists, just as a method of controlling the child’s thoughts and behavior. [I’ve seen teachers label eager-to-learn students as ADHD to make them be quiet, because they (consciously or subconsciously) didn’t like the student’s teach-me-more attitude.]
  • Exhibiting overly dramatic behavior or adding drama to nondramatic situations to gain attention, create or break alliances, and fuel their own desire for power or control
  • Bribing others to be nice (doing whatever it takes to maintain control)—not to be confused with rewarding good behavior [see Is This “Acceptable Behavior”?, linked below]
  • Insisting on being bribed to be civil
  • Being irresponsible as a means of controlling a situation, such as not doing a task that others are depending on
  • Making excuses and/or blaming others for their own irresponsibility, mistakes, and shortcomings; the need to assign blame for whatever goes against their wishes; not accepting the premise that they can be at fault
  • Keeping others waiting, as a means of control
  • Arriving unprepared and making excuses, rather than admitting it; forging ahead anyway, assuming his (or her) “talent” will make up for it
  • Whining, as a means of control
  • Treating every facet of life as a popularity contest
  • Assuming everyone adores and admires him (or her) and getting angry and vengeful when someone doesn’t
  • Not allowing others to learn to lead; won’t delegate or train a replacement; believes no one else could possibly do what he (or she) does as well as he does it
  • As a leader, serving his (or her) own purposes first, before the group’s

The most frequent bullying I had to endure in my own school years was from my teachers: drawing the other students into laughing at one who had fallen asleep or given a wrong answer, rolling his or her eyes at a student who asked a question that the teacher felt had an obvious answer, asking pointed questions of a poorly achieving student to emphasize his lack of preparedness. One of my teachers in high school dubbed one of my classmates “Flycatcher” because she yawned once without covering her mouth, and he called her that for the remainder of the year. I even had an elementary teacher who got angry with a little boy who kept putting his hands in the pockets of his jeans. She stood him at the front of the room, pinned his pockets closed with huge safety pins, and then forced him to stand there while she led the rest of the class in pointing fingers at him and singing a little ditty about putting his hands in his pockets, and not just once—she made us all repeat the song several times and encouraged us to repeat the song any time we noticed him with his hands in his pockets. I found it horribly humiliating, and I wasn’t even the boy being singled out for embarrassment by the teacher. Should I mention the set of monstrous rubber ears she made another student wear who was caught not paying attention? I doubt that any of her students went home to tell their parents about what a bully that woman was, just because she held that much power over them. Even if the parents had learned of her abhorrent methods, they were just as afraid of her as their children were, and no one would dare to cross her. That teacher had no respect for the children she taught, and she proved it through her bullying tactics.

In institutional school situations, teachers, staff members, and bus drivers are now being encouraged to stop bullying when they see it. Schools and communities are enrolling in popular anti-bullying campaigns today. However, those same authorities aren’t likely to judge a few quick remarks or intimidating glances from one student to another as bullying, but instead consider it just as “kids being kids.” After all, if they recognized those methods as bullying, they would have to stop using those methods themselves! A closer look at some of the anti-bullying propaganda reveals that they are attempting to bully the bullies into submission. Is that really supposed to be an improvement?

As a homeschool parent, I witnessed bullying from adults in church situations—and I must admit that much too often in our experience, those adult bullies were closely connected to the public schools as teachers or support staff. They viewed their own behavior as being “instructional” or “disciplinary,” but it is just flat-out bullying when an adult ridicules another person (of any age) for any reason, especially when they encourage others in the room to ridicule and laugh at their victim, too—or they don’t stop those who are bullying through ridicule, name-calling, finger-pointing, or other unacceptable behavior.

Parents are not immune from bullying either, and often exhibit it toward other parents. Consider the moms who put hours and hours into organizing some mom-and-kids events, only to have other families arrive late or not show up at all (despite their promise to attend) or complain about the details of the events. They are showing disrespect for someone else’s work by making sure it doesn’t happen as planned. It’s subtle sabotage, and it’s bullying to maintain control. Yes, there are times when unavoidable delays happen, kids get sick on the way out the door, or numerous other problems might prevent a family from fulfilling their plans. However, one quick phone call can let the others know what has happened, and even if the apology comes a day after the missed event, respect and appreciation are still shown to the organizers. The person who undermines the plans and hard work of others is a bully who wants to control events to keep all the attention focused on himself. Ignoring the effort, commitment, and time expended by others on your behalf is a form of bullying. If you join a group, whether an organized club or an informal play group, you must be willing to set aside time on your calendar to participate. If your time, money, and energy are too important to be wasted on the group, do the other members a huge favor by dropping out and letting them get on with their plans.

This also applies to that one family whose single veto can shut down an event that all the other families in a group want to do. No matter if the group is made up of public school parents, homeschooling families, church members, sports teams, or dance moms, allowing a single voice to overrule the majority for his (or her) own selfish reasons, is openly granting bully privileges to the troublemaker. If one family doesn’t approve of a specific event, they don’t have to come. If they are not available during the scheduled time frame, the group shouldn’t be required to change the entire schedule to suit the bullies. On the other hand, if all members of the group are in agreement and are making a courteous effort to accommodate each other, that’s completely different from one member disrupting everyone else’s plans, just for his personal convenience. Mutual respect compromises; bullies command and control.

Some people are able to break the pattern of bullying and stop the abuse; others carry it on, and the bullies from high school become the bullies in the workplace. Bullying is nothing more than showing disrespect. Most bullies don’t even know they are bullies—they just know that they are only happy when they get everything they want. They don’t have enough consideration for anyone besides themselves to even know they are being disrespectful. Narcissism and bullying go hand in hand.

Ways to Deal with Bullies

Be extra-nice to take the power out of their “punch.”   Proverbs 25:21-22 “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” (NIV) Thinking back to the two main bullies I had in school, Mom pointed out Proverbs 25:21-22 and Matthew 5:44 to me and told me to be super-duper nice to them when they were being mean.  If they said something mean, then I said something complimentary to them. If that didn’t work, then I asked them if they wanted to hear about Jesus or pray with me, and they just started avoiding me. ~Jen

Pray: God can change what we can’t.  Matthew 5:44-45 “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (NIV) God loves the bullies just as much as He loves anyone else, so pray for Him to bless them and make their lives better, taking away their need to hurt others.

Empathize. Consider why the bully acts the way he does, perhaps he is being bullied by a family member or other authority, such as a teacher, coach, or boss. Understanding that, we can be sympathetic to him, although we probably can’t fix his problems. Parents can also help their kids to see that they don’t have that abuse happening elsewhere in their own lives (like the bully does), which is a good thing. It can confirm to the child that the name-calling is only the bully’s opinion and no one else’s.

Expend energy. Whether you’re crocheting an awesome princess costume for your friend’s cat, kicking a soccer ball around the yard as hard as you can, running a few miles, hammering nails into a block of wood, or cleaning out the shed just because it’s fun to break up all the junk and slam-dunk it into the trash can, finding a way to use up all your pent-up aggression will help you to decompress from the stress of the situation. While working at a consignment shop, my daughter would occasionally notice an employee being harassed by a rude customer and assign that co-worker the task of hauling discarded glassware out back to the dumpster. A session of practicing 3-point-shots with cracked plates and chipped vases never failed to redeem that person’s entire day!

Respect yourself. Finding your self-worth from what peers think of you makes you more susceptible to bullying and peer pressure.  If you have learned to find pleasure in your own company through hobbies and personal interests, you won’t be dependent on others to provide you with entertainment, and bullies won’t be able to control you by taking away your sources of pleasure and recreation.  Someone with hobbies, interests, and proficient talents is also less likely to believe another’s put-downs and more likely to have friends who will defend their worth. If your child is being bullied, build up his self-image by reminding him of the things he is good at and the things you as a family value in him. Give him a list of positives in his life, and let him know that you see worth and value and importance in his life. Can he make awesome origami animals? Does she have the recipe memorized for chocolate chip cookies? Has he never yet been stumped by a math problem? Has she picked up complex lesson concepts more quickly than you anticipated? Does he have flawless rhythm or a beautiful singing voice? Can he impress Grandma with his card tricks? Has he studied his hobby extensively and can rattle off dozens of facts about it? Think about all of the skills your child has that you consider ordinary just because you see them every day, and let that child know that not every kid can do these things. These are the skills that make him special and unique and important. Being able to entertain oneself through those hobbies and interests means that even when no one else is available, you can still be in the delightful company of yourself, where every activity is enjoyable.

Respect others. Respect and bullying are polar opposites. Teach your children that everyone has value, everyone is good at something, and everyone is knowledgeable in some area. A person who respects others can learn something from every person and every situation. Teach your children that unkind words are not acceptable. We had a favorite children’s book called Never Tease a Weasel that we quoted often, as a reminder that teasing was a form of bullying and unacceptable behavior: “Never tease a weasel, not even once or twice. The weasel will not like it, and teasing isn’t nice.” The excuse of “I was just teasing” is a definite sign of bullying.

Surround yourself with positive influences. If someone has enough supportive friends and family around them, a bully isn’t going to take them on—they’re too well protected.  In extreme cases, that may require walking away from an unsupportive, negative situation. If that means leaving public school and beginning homeschooling, or finding a better homeschool group, church youth group, club, or whatever—do it. After all, you joined these groups for their positive influences, so if they only offer negativity, then they aren’t the right groups for you. Removing yourself from a bad situation, leaving a group, not replying to a rude comment, or any other method of “walking away” is not defeat—it is actively taking back control over your own life by breaking the cycle the bully needs to continue to maintain his power and control.

Involve yourself in your child’s situation.  My husband used to join our daughter for lunch occasionally at her public school.  She felt protected and encouraged by his presence, and whenever a bully came up she could introduce her dad, and suddenly the bully wouldn’t want to bug her any more. (He also may have promised to hire a big 5th grader to beat the kid up if he didn’t stop behaving badly, but that’s mostly an unsubstantiated rumor.) Years later, when bullied in her workplace, Jen used her established friendships with her managers to let the bully know that she had influence in high places.  She could casually ask her managers “Do you know what’s wrong with Mary? She seems angry anytime I talk to her.” Then they would ask Mary why she was upset, sending the subtle message that they were looking out for Jen, too. By surrounding herself with metaphorical parents and siblings, she let the bully know she had a powerhouse of support.

Be weird. Weirdness scares bullies, who are counting on predictable reactions.  If you are a loose cannon, you are intimidating. Example 1: My daughter works in a retail store where she wears elf costumes to work during the Christmas season. Her curious attire and jovial spirit are welcoming to the innocent shopper and threatening to the co-worker bully who just doesn’t understand how anyone can be that happy all the time. Example 2: My son enjoyed his buddies and loved them like brothers, but one day things had gotten to the point of him always being the victim of their shenanigans. He restored balance quickly by seizing opportunity and turning his face to sneeze directly into the face of the oldest and largest boy, who didn’t mess with him after that. Incidentally, bullies usually don’t have a true sense of humor, since that requires showing appreciation for another’s creativity. A rubber chicken produced at an opportune moment can be a delightfully effective, yet harmless weapon against a bully. Hone your inner Robin Williams; yodel along with your iPod; disclose a secret wacky talent; scream like a velociraptor; or reply to a bully, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English,” spoken in perfect English.  Catch a bully off-guard with something bizarre, and he won’t have a prepared response, and that takes away his power and control.

These coping strategies may not completely convert a bully back into a human being, but they can enable someone to tactfully deal with him and remove his phony authority from the situation at hand. Family-as-a-team provides the wonderful advantage of familial support, giving children more reassurance of their worth and status, the things that help them recognize the lies that bullies spew. A child who knows his own value will not be intimidated by a bully—he will be more apt to scoff sarcastically, “Yeah, right, good one,” and walk away.

Teacher-bullies are an example of a bully that can’t usually be overcome by being nice or funny. They have all the control in their own territory, and as the supreme authority, they are power hungry. This is where parents can step in for their child and try to settle matters, but a true bully teacher still won’t be intimidated. They will hurl all the typical arguments (excuses) of how they know what’s best since they are the “professional,” they have taught this way for years, it’s your wimpy kid who’s the real problem, and so on, ad nauseum. The administration will stand behind their teacher, unless you can produce copious amounts of evidence and witnesses to the contrary. The only way out of that circumstance is to change classrooms, change schools, or homeschool—my preference.

The hurtful things that rude people say to us are like bags of garbage they throw onto our doorstep. We can’t stop them from dumping their garbage there, but we don’t have to drag the garbage into the house, dump it all out, and spread it around on the furniture. Let a bully’s hurtful words remain outside your door—they don’t belong to you. To counteract bullying, you have to break the cycle and disrupt the bully’s plans.  A bully cannot be a bully without a victim. Refuse to cooperate with him, walk away, or do anything necessary to leave him victimless.

See also:

The Socialization Code

Respect Must Be Earned

Becoming a Successful and Proud Quitter

Dropping the Drama

Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M

Siblings as Best Friends

Is This “Acceptable Behavior”?

If You Can Present Your Case with Facts and Logic and Without Whining, I Will Listen with an Open Mind

Teach Your Children the Art of Amusing Themselves

Never Tease a Weasel (children’s book)

Husbands & Wives: Why They Teach Differently

If you and your spouse have shared the teaching responsibilities at your house, you have probably experienced this phenomenon: husbands and wives approach homeschooling from very different perspectives.

Here is a typical scenario: Dad goes off to work each day, earning the paycheck that makes homeschooling possible, and Mom is the primary teaching parent. One day when Dad is not at work, Mom’s normal teaching duties are handled by Dad. Mom may be sick in bed with whatever despicable virus has finally caught her unawares, or perhaps Dad has a vacation day, it’s a holiday break, Mom just needs a Me-Day, or fill-in-the-blank other reason that can take Mom away from the action. An efficiently organized Mom may leave a list of the lessons that she feels should be accomplished for the day, but Dad may also scan through the list and do things his way. The children may even think Mom wouldn’t do it this way, and they may or may not voice their opinions aloud, depending on how the day proceeds. Dad will get important things done, but they may not be the same things that are on Mom’s list, or they may not be completed with the same methods or in the same order or in the same time frame that Mom would do them. Husbands and wives approach homeschooling from very different perspectives.

I remember returning home after a day away from my homeschooling role to find that my husband had supervised some of the lessons but allowed the children to handle others on their own—whereas my normal routine might have been to micro-manage every lesson throughout the day. He had completed several household chores during my time off, but they definitely were not the same ones that I would have done, or they were done in an entirely different manner from my normal routine. I do know that it was always a good thing for me to see his very different approach to things: it usually taught me that I could step back and give up a little more of my control and allow others to handle the responsibilities in their own ways. I frequently found myself stuck in the rut of routine, thinking that this job must be done this way, every time. Witnessing my husband’s approach to the same job was very often a delightful revelation of time-saving, energy-saving shortcuts. My focus had been on managing the whole operation at once, concentrating on the end results, where his focus had been on each task individually, revealing unnecessary steps.

Women multitask. God designed women to be nurturers: able to maintain a comfy and cozy home environment, prepare the meals, tend to the baby’s needs, care for the growing children, and so on—all at the same time. Whether or not today’s woman is a stay-at-home mom-of-many, she has the God-given ability to handle multiple tasks at any given time, capably and efficiently.

Men maintain a singular focus. God designed men to be providers and protectors. As hunters and defenders, men must keep their eyes on the objective. Glancing away could mean death through attack or starvation from losing sight of the target. Even though most modern men do not spend every day literally in search of the next meal or fending off predatory enemies, they still approach their day-to-day business with the singular focus that God has placed within them.

Moms and Dads approach homeschooling differently, by God’s design. Moms can teach several kids at once, each child in a different subject, in multiple rooms, while keeping track of laundry cycles and watching the clock to know when to start dinner. On the other hand, Dad can get Junior unstuck from a tricky math problem in under 5 minutes. Then Dad will take Junior out back and teach him how to throw the football in a perfect spiral.

Mom may vent to Dad about her frustration with that day’s homeschooling, giving him a blow-by-blow account of all she did to try to discourage the twins from kicking each other under the table. Dad will quickly see past the details of the squabble and offer the simple solution of putting them in two separate rooms to do their work tomorrow.

Dad may come up with the idea for a great dad-and-lads camp-out for this weekend. Mom will gather all the necessary comforts of home, packing the cooler with sodas and milk, and send along all of the ingredients for making s’mores by the campfire—including clean marshmallow roasting sticks. Dad may protest at Mom’s insistence that they take along the band-aids and antiseptic wipes, but he will use them when Junior skins his knee after tripping on the hiking trail and sliding down the rocky hillside (but it wasn’t all that far, just a few yards).

Moms and Dads bring different sets of skills and talents to the task. Moms are good at cuddling and kissing boo-boos; Dads are good at rough-housing and playing horsey. Dad’s tools are hammers and saws and power-drills; Mom’s tools are rubber spatulas. Moms do have tools called beaters, but they get used for things like eggs and cream. “Changing the oil” may not sound very exciting, but when Dad does it, he gets sufficiently greasy and dirty to satisfy any child lucky enough to be allowed to help him. Moms often plan their lessons and stick to their plan. Dads often walk away from the books and teach lessons from real life. Moms and Dads both make excellent teachers, but we should never expect them to do the same job in the same way, with the same tools, or with the same flourish and finesse. To expect Mom and Dad to teach the same subjects to the same children in the same way is to expect at least one of them to deny the instincts God has placed within them both and to work counter to everything God has programmed them to do and to be.

Consistency in teaching is a good thing, but taking a break now and then is a good thing, too, and children and parents will be blessed by both. Moms and Dads, please recognize that your way and your spouse’s way are both valid, no matter how dissimilar they may be. One way is not necessarily the only right way, and another method is not necessarily a wrong approach. Sometimes different is just different, and variety is the key to learning.

Holiday Help

December?? Already??? Our gift to you this holiday season is to relieve you of a little more guilt. Since you already have a long to-do list of holiday preparations and a long list of want-to-try-this ideas from our activity suggestions, we will be taking a month off from posting additional Workshop Wednesdays, giving you a chance to catch up. Meanwhile, here are our tried-and-true, never-fail tips for holiday planning, along with links to some of our past articles that can help you enjoy this often stress-filled time of year.

1) Time off before Christmas is more valuable than time off after New Year’s Day. We usually stopped our homeschool lessons about 2 weeks before Christmas, just because we had so many other things we wanted to get done, things that held valuable lessons themselves. Whether cleaning the house, putting up decorations, cooking and baking, or shopping and wrapping gifts, the organizational skills passed along to my children as we worked together were excellent lessons in tackling and accomplishing big jobs. Giving ourselves plenty of time for everything made it all so much more relaxed and enjoyable! We were all more than ready to get back to our normal routine by January 2.

2) If you are running seriously short on time and energy, keep only the most important or most favorite traditions, and skip the others. You can always bring them back another year, and they will be doubly appreciated for their short absence. Take this from the family who scheduled major surgery the week before Christmas… twice: soup can be a very comforting food for Christmas dinner!

3) Spend some time relaxing together as a family during this busy season. You may all collapse on the sofa to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, or Elf on DVD, but you’ll be together, and you’ll be making treasured memories as you quote all your favorite lines in unison.

4) Expect illness to strike and plan ahead for it. If it doesn’t happen, you’ll be rewarded with some delightful bonus days! Make a double batch of something yummy for supper and freeze half to reheat later when you’re too sick or too worn out to cook, and stock up in advance on tissues, juice, and over-the-counter medicines for colds and flu. You may even want to pick up a word-puzzle book, jigsaw puzzle, or other quiet diversion for those sick days, to have it on hand just in case.

See also:
Holidays Are Unit Studies
Holiday Survival Tips for Toxic Family Gatherings
Sick Days, Snow Days, and Other Interruptions
Top 10 Ways to Salvage an Interrupted Day
Reschedule, Refocus, Regroup

We wish you and your families a very blessed Christmas!
— Carolyn Morrison & Jennifer Leonhard

Family Planning (No, Not That Kind)

Planning is vital — but I don’t mean planning every moment of every day, deciding what lessons you will do when or to which organized activities you will deliver your children every day. The most important thing to schedule is your time together as a family. Set aside an evening for a light supper, then watch a family movie together, with plenty of popcorn and apple slices. Plan a family game night and try your hands at Jabberwocky Scrabble (anything goes, but players must pronounce and define each “word” — be prepared for side-splitting laughs) or a similarly fun twist on any other game that’s been gathering too much dust on the shelf. Reserve an entire day for a family outing: take sandwiches, fruit, and a large jug of ice water and head for a park with a lake or nature trails or playground equipment and spend the day disconnecting from everything and everyone else. Block out a weekend on the calendar for a family get-away and then get away from your normal schedule and routine.

Do only what your budget will allow, and trust me when I say that fun doesn’t have to cost anything. We tramped through the woods, stopped to look at the wildflowers, marveled at the tiny fish or tadpoles at the lake’s edge, or dipped our fingers and toes in the chilly water. We watched the clouds for drago-saurs and ele-raffes, skipped rocks on the lakes, and let the ripples on the water mesmerize us until we had forgotten everything else. Take turns playing follow-the-leader around, over, and through all of the swings and slides, take giant steps or silly, head-bobbing, arm-flapping walks round and round the trees, and let yourselves laugh freely and enjoy the company of the people who matter most in this world. Wander through a free museum or turn a lingering trip through an antique store into a spontaneous walk through history.

Why do these things need to be scheduled? Because if you don’t schedule time for your family first, your time will be scheduled for you by other people, other groups, or by other activities, and your family’s time together will be vaporized into the mist of a busy life. Family must come first, and it doesn’t count if you are all attending a group activity but participating as individuals instead of as a family unit. If this is a foreign concept to you, dare to try a brand new activity where you and your spouse and your children interact together for the entire time. It may take a while for this new bond to develop to fullness, but there is a unique and lasting experience ahead of you, and family is well worth cultivating.