Every so often, when I’m feeling in an especially mischievous mood (as opposed to my typically mischievous mood), I award a RALPH — Rosemond’s Awfully Ludicrous Parenting Honor — to either a parenting pundit who has given exceedingly bad parenting advice or a parent who has done something exceedingly foolish. In either case, to qualify one must have caught the attention of the media.
My latest RALPH goes to Susan Reimer, a “motherhood” columnist for the Baltimore Sun. Reimer’s July 10, 2010, column is titled “Paying for good behavior is worth every penny.” In it, she advocates paying children for good behavior, chores, good grades, practicing an instrument, attending supplementary classes, going to museums and other educational activities, and doing homework.
She compares this dubious practice to employee incentive programs, saying that if parents want their kids to do the right thing, “there has to be something in it for them besides the greater good.” With a couple of thousand keystrokes, Reimer makes mockery of teaching children to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. That apparently outmoded concept is the basis of all moral and ethical behavior.
I submit that paying children for doing what they should do out of respect for self and others teaches them to be manipulative, and indeed if one reads Reimer’s entire column, it is obvious that her children have become proficient at manipulating her.
I think it is rather insensitive of Reimer to suggest, in economic hard times, that parents should dig down deep into pockets that are less than brimming in order to pay children for doing what she is obviously too lazy to get her kids to do through proper parenting. Thankfully, my RALPHs cost nothing. Therefore, she gets one.
Next we have Susan Stiffleman, an online parenting pundit who calls herself a Licensed family psychotherapist. In her October 25, 2010, column, Ask AdviceMama, Stiffleman advises that a 2.5-year-old who still sleeps in his parents’ bed should be allowed, for the time being, to stay there because another sibling is due imminently. This doesn’t qualify for a RALPH, but it merits response.
Stiffleman writes “The last thing you want is to fuel sibling rivalry by ‘kicking him out’ of his parents’ bed just when the baby arrives, without giving him time to comfortably transition to his own room.” This just isn’t the time, she says, to make this a change this major, one that will require persistence, consistency, and determination.
Yes it is. It’s the perfect time, in fact. Furthermore, making this transition doesn’t require anything more than a little creativity. Simply tell the child that The Doctor (a sort of parenting Santa Claus that I invented a number of years ago) has said that when new babies come, children can no longer sleep in their parents’ bed. Period. The Doctor has spoken.
Referring the issue to a third party whose authority the child already recognizes virtually neutralizes resistance. The child won’t like it, but when it is pointed out that “we must do what The Doctor tells us to do” he will accept it. In fact, I’ve never, ever had parents tell me The Doctor didn’t work in a situation of this sort. If the child cries, simply tell him that The Doctor said he might need to cry a little the first night or two to get used to a new bed. In my experience, the full transition takes about three nights.
In all fairness, there was a time in my career when I would have advised exactly what Stiffleman advised. Then I stopped thinking like a psychologist and began channeling for a woman who raised her children 75 years ago. She won’t tell me her name, so I just call her Grandma.
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Living With Children
By John Rosemond
Through my Web site, a parent recently asked if children who don't want to continue piano lessons should be forced to stay the course regardless. I answered that I don't approve, generally, of forcing children into activities they don't want to be in. Making a child continue in an activity he doesn't enjoy makes it less likely he will ever again express interest in anything for fear of being forced to continue if he discovers he doesn't like it. Where optional activities are concerned, childhood should be a time of fairly free-form experimentation.
Another parent wrote back: "I understand your position on not forcing piano practice and that kids should be free to figure out what hobbies they have. But I'm in the same boat-we bought a piano and we're paying for lessons. You're saying we shouldn't force practice? My parents let me quit music and I regret it to this day."
My response: "If you're saying your parents made a mistake letting you quit music lessons, I disagree. You made the mistake. Your parents allowed you the freedom to do so and I applaud them for it. That is the greatest freedom of all, one that all too many of today's kids are being denied by well-intentioned but short-sighted parents. I will submit that the outcome to you of being forced to take lessons when you didn't want to would not have been good. Today, you wish you'd continued your musical learning. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20.
On the other hand, if a child asks parents to invest in expensive musical equipment (a piano, for example), and has promised in return to take lessons for a specific period of time, then her feet should be held to the fire of the agreement. That's about obligations, however, not music.
Q: I don't require our 4-year-old to take a nap, but I do make her stay in her room for an hour after lunch. The problem is that while she's in there, she dismantles her room. She takes the sheets off the bed, empty out her closet, pulls things out of her drawers, and so on. Today, when I found her sitting in the middle of this clutter, playing, I told her she had to stay in there until suppertime and locked the door. She screamed bloody murder the entire afternoon, frequently begging her older brother to let her out. I thought the neighbors might call the police. Was this overkill? If so, how should I respond when she tears her room apart?
A: I don't think it's overkill for you to tell your daughter that if she tears her room apart during naptime, she has to stay in there until she has put back together again. A 4-year-old is capable of doing that-fairly well, at least, and fairly well is all that I'd require.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his Web site at www.rosemond.com
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