Thanks for coming back to listen to more practical parenting wisdom. Today we’re going to talk about situations where a parent “forgetting” provides for powerful and helpful life-long lessons for kids.
In this episode I’m going to go over some real examples from parents who have attended parenting classes that I’ve been facilitating since 2012, Parenting the Love and Logic Way TM. All these parents had just learned new skills, they weren’t aged veterans who’d been doing this a long time. In these examples you can see that just making a few changes in your parenting can have a big impact on your family. Let’s get started with learning to forget.
MISSING SWIM TOWELS AND GOGGLES
The first story is about a mom of 4 young kids who let her two oldest daughters learn what happens when they forget stuff. Here’s what she wrote me:
I told the girls to get ready for swim class. I usually remind them to bring their towels and goggles. I had gotten busy with other things and I did not remind them. They have been going to this class all school year so they know what they need to bring with them. We drove to class and when we arrived discovered they both had forgotten their towels and goggles. I have in the past bought goggles and towels from the swim school when things have been forgotten. But today was different, I told them that since they forgot them there would be no swim class today and we drove home. There were tears and I just sympathized and said “I know” and “that really stinks”. When we got home we discussed how they used my gas and energy to drive them to nowhere. So to pay me back they both chose a chore around the house.
Wow! This is so cool! That mom took the bull by the horns and tried something new. You know what happened the next week when going to swimming lessons? Yep, her daughters remembered both their towels and goggles. Woohoo!
Our next story is similar. A 10-year old boy who loves ice hockey who arrived at the rink and was just getting his gear out of his bag for a practice and noticed that his skates were missing. Yes, his SKATES. Not good. “Dad, Mom, we gotta go back home! My skates are at home!” Dad empathetically and in a low tone of voice said. “Oh nooooo that is so sad… you forgot your skates. Our house is 30 minutes away. We’re not driving there and back for your skates today. What are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know. I can’t practice without my skates! The coach is going to be so mad. Why can’t we go back and get them??!!”
“As we told you, we don’t have the time or the energy to go back home. What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.” He sulks…
“Would you like some suggestions?” they said.
“What? Hmm… ok…”
“Well, some kids might decide to sit on the bench and just watch practice. How would that work for you?”
“That’s no good. Coach won’t like me sitting doing nothing.”
“Well, some kids might take some money and buy a new pair of skates from the skate shop here at the rink. How would that work for you?”
“Hmm… well, I do have some money from my birthday that I could use. I’ll do that!”
So a new pair of skates was purchased using the boy’s own money.
These hockey parents used their new problem solving skills to perfection. They gave empathy first, handed the problem back to their child and then asked if he wanted suggestions. They only gave suggestions AFTER he agree to listen to some from them. They did NOT nag, remind or berate him for the situation that he had created for himself. The NATURAL consequences of his poor decision of not packing his gear more carefully in the first place was the consequence he needed. Some parents might look for extra punishments to pile on but there’s no need. Love and empathy and saying things like “wow, that certainly was a bummer to forget your skates.” Is all you need to help cement the impact of the natural consequence. This is a perfect case of “less is more”.
Another parent attending my class accepted my challenge of letting her kids forget something. It was summer and they were headed to Tahoe on vacation. She was a bit tired of being responsible for applying sunscreen to her 10, 8 and 6 year old kids. She wanted to make sure they were covered, head to toe which is why she did it, sunburns were no fun. Well, she decided this could be a learning opportunity for her kids and it turned out to be for herself as well. First, she communicated her new plan. On the way to Tahoe, she told them putting on sunscreen was now their job, not hers. They were surprised, mom had never given them the option to put it on themselves. Well, much to her surprise, they did it! No complaints even. They just did it! Mom was impressed it was so easy that she didn’t even expect they would do a good job of, they did. They proved to her they were capable! She was actually prepared for a bit of sunburn here and there but there was hardly any. Wow! Her kids were capable and she had been holding them back. What a precious lesson for a parent to learn. What might your child be able to do that you don’t even know since you’re not letting them prove to you and themselves that they CAN do something?
In another instance, I was at church chatting with a family from my small group which is centered around parenting young children. I noticed their 7-year-old son was in shorts and a tee shirt jumping around with his hands deep in the pockets of his light weight shorts. Mom is a pretty skilled parent after being in our group for a few years. She and I just smiled and she said how she lets her son dress himself. I asked him if he was cold and he immediately said, “No, I’m fine.” I loved it! Mom was letting him learn how to dress based on the weather instead of forcing him to wear clothes that she might deem more appropriate. He wasn’t going to freeze, we live in a mild climate, so what a great opportunity for him to learn when he’s so young. He’s learning how he feels based on what his body is telling him, not his parents. By the time he leaves home for college he’ll be all set.
However, this same lesson about weather turned out a little different with a teenage girl whose parents were attending my class. Friday night was a football game at school and when their daughter was getting ready to go it was pretty mild weather, not cold. She decided to head to the game in short shorts and a tank top. She sure was cute!
Well, by halftime they got a call. Guess who it was? Guess who was cold? Could they please bring her a coat? Oh, this was so sad, the parents said. They were in the middle of a movie. They wouldn’t be able to run over and bring a coat. They were loving and gave lots of empathy to her plight of being cold. One thing they did NOT do was lecture her about how she should have brought a coat. No nagging, no reminding is what will seal in life lessons with our kids.
They did this perfectly and they admitted to me that they had a smile on their faces since this whole situation proved to be so predictable. The only thing no longer predictable was them rescuing her. A week later when their daughter left for the next football game, do you know what she was carrying in her hand? Yep, a coat! See, even if you have a teenager it’s possible to make progress if we allow our kids to own their actions and we don’t step in to rescue or lecture them when something goes wrong.
All these stories about kids who forget things reminds me of something I had to deal with myself and I find many parents have the same “skill”. The skill I am talking about is being what I call the “Finder Parent”. I’m sure you can guess what this might be just from the fun title I’ve given it. We are the parents who can find anything, anywhere for our family members.
· When our kid shouts out “Where are my soccer cleats?” We are the people who tell them they are under a pile of dirty laundry in their room and not in the garage shoe bench where they should be. If someone needs a band aid, or scissors, or a certain type of graph paper or a favorite toy? We can point to the item without batting an eye or lifting a finger.
· Being the Finder Parent is a tough job since as The Finder if you don’t find something like the basketball shoes before game then it is YOUR fault that a child is late or can’t play. It’s your fault if the appropriate coat can’t be found or a school form is missing that needs to be turned in. It’s a job with very few rewards and many downsides like getting yelled at or being made to feel guilty that someone wasn’t ready for some event or another on time because YOU couldn’t find something. This totally sucks! Who signed us up for such a thankless task? We did! Yep… every one of us signed ourselves up. Why? We just want things to go well! We want people to be on time and have their stuff and us knowing immediately where things are really helps. Or does it? Hmmm….
· As you can probably tell by now The Finder is really a house helicopter and if that’s you that is one job you need to resign from ASAP! Yep, just resign.
· When you see your kids kick off their shoes in random places and they don’t care that they might not be able to find them later, then you need not care either. When a kid’s water bottle is left in the car and not refilled because they forgot to bring it in, you forget that too. They yell in the morning “Where’s my water bottle?” as they’re getting their things together you just lovingly say “I don’t’ know honey, where did you leave it? I bet if you look you can find it.” “I looked; I can’t find it!” You reply lovingly in an empathetic tone of voice, “That’s so sad, what are you going to do about it?”
· When your kid has to go to soccer or baseball and they pick up their gear bag without looking inside to see if everything is there, make sure you don’t look either. I know, it’s soooo tempting but, just don’t look. Once you get to the field and your kid finally notices they don’t have their shin guards or cup, you just give them love and empathy. “Oh no, that is too bad. I’m so sorry. “ You don’t start lecturing. You just give love and empathy!! That will be really, really hard but just hold to that – love and empathy. “But mom, I can’t play without shin guards!” “I know, that’s so sad.” “Why didn’t you pack my gear?! It’s your fault! Go home and get it right now so I can play!” This will be a hard game for them to sit out but you just say in that loving and empathetic voice you’ve been practicing, “I can see how you might feel that way but in our house your gear is your gear. I love you and I’m sure next time you’ll get everything in your bag.” This whole scenario will work a lot better if you have a family meeting ahead of time to lay out the new Family Rule that your children own their gear and get it ready, not you. I would encourage you to add to a rule for unpacking gear being their job too - sports gear, lunchboxes, and backpacks should all be included in that list.
· It’s hard to watch our kids fail but the more we let them own their “stuff” and the earlier in their lives they know it’s “their stuff” then they learn to not rely on others to take care of it, but to responsible and that’s what we need them to be in the long run. Remember, our goal is to create responsible adults and doing that will involve lessons like all of these.
One last thought I have for all of you is that I want you to know that I’m not asking you to abandon your kids. I certainly want to encourage you to help and coach your kids moving toward the right behaviors. To accomplish this we need to be coaches, giving them hints from the sidelines where we brainstorm with them maybe how to come up with a list of items that go into a sports gear bag or what needs to go into a backpack before leaving for school. We don’t’ step in early and give them a plan; we wait till they ask and we give empathy and love when things aren’t going well instead of lecturing and taking over. It’s hard to watch sometimes but in the long run things will get better and better when we learn to forget.