Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Teach Your Children

I have had it with the excuses.

"They're only being kids."

"It's just girl stuff."

And my favorite, the resigned, shoulder-shrugging, "Well, what can you do?"

The answer is that we can raise our kids.

Toddlers take toys from other children. They pitch fits when they don't get their way. I had one with a proclivity for shoe-throwing during fits of pique.

All of that is normal toddler behavior. It's common, and it's expected. But when your child snatches a toy from another kid, you don't say, "He's just being a toddler. What can I do about it?" Instead, you return the toy and explain that one doesn't do that. You teach your child--through example, discussion, and discipline--that it's not acceptable behavior. With enough reinforcement, the child learns to become a member of a civil society instead of the playground terror.

Too often, I see parents abdicating their responsibility with older children. Rather than acknowledge that their child was wrong, they get defensive. Rather than discuss the issue with their child, they get dismissive. Because childhood cruelty is commonplace, they act as if it's acceptable.

It's not.

We must teach our school-age children acceptable behavior in the same way teach our toddlers. Just because they can dress themselves, our work isn't done. At every step of the way, it is a parent's job to teach appropriate behavior and make good and kind humans.

We may not be able to put our kids in time out anymore, but we can lead by example. We can call them out on inappropriate behavior. We can discuss, and we can discipline.

Before we can do any of that, we have to first acknowledge that cruel behavior is not acceptable. Prevalence does not require acquiescence. "Girl drama" may happen, but it doesn't mean it's right. "Kids are so cruel," but we don't want them to be.

They aren't destined to be, unless we fail to teach them otherwise.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Our Own Toy Story

The drama began with a simple and unsurprising statement: "I can't find Leo." It was the morning my son would be spending his first overnight at camp, and he was packing all the last-minute items.

Leo couldn't be packed the night before, because my son sleeps with him. Leo is a very small lion and the first thing my son purchased with his own money when he was five years old. They have slept together ever since, even though Leo is really far too small for an eleven-year-old to cuddle. He may have been just the right size six years ago, but he is only a handful for a big kid.

Because he's so small, Leo often is missing. He gets buried in the blankets, stuck between the bed and the wall, and hidden under clutter after being tossed out of bed. Given his propensity to disappear, Leo may vanish for days at a time without anyone sounding the alarm, so no one was surprised that he was missing. I knew my son could do without, and he did.

We knew Leo would turn up eventually, because he doesn't leave my son's room. After several days, however, there was still no sign of him.

I stripped the bed and washed the sheets. I shook the blankets and looked under the bed. No sign of the little guy.

And then I remembered the trash can.

A couple nights before Leo disappeared, my son had a very runny nose. He'd pulled the small trash can right next to the bed, and the can was overflowing with tissues. What if Leo had fallen out of bed and into the trash can? He might have been buried beneath the tissues. Our housekeeper had come hours after Leo went missing, and the trash had been taken out and away. My heart sank.

I kept hoping for the best and didn't share my fears with my son for days. When I did, he too became convinced it was the only possible explanation for Leo's prolonged disappearance. He was bereft. More upsetting than the idea that Leo was gone forever was that he was sitting somewhere in a giant pile of trash.

It was a sad, sad night.

In a last desperate attempt, I texted our housekeeper to explain the problem. Had she seen Leo? Would she have noticed him when she emptied the trash?

I was sitting at the beach the next morning when a photo of Leo appeared in my text messages.

Leo had been in the trash. He'd gotten emptied into a larger can when the housekeeper spotted him. She wondered if he belonged there, but I guess she didn't think to ask.

Thinking he looked worn but not useless, she saved Leo from the trash--to give to her dog as a chew toy. She took Leo home, washed him, and tossed him to the dog.

The dog had no interest. Leo was saved again. He was clean, intact, and at our housekeeper's house.

I almost wept for joy.

Leo is now home, safe and sound after his big adventure. He's been reunited with one happy boy who now keeps the trash can far from his bed.