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Barack Levin

Author: Barack Levin

Archive for January, 2010

Leave Them Kids Alone !

Posted by Barack Levin on 28th January 2010

I bought a very cool book for my son. It includes templates of paper robots that you can print, cut and create a very 3D cool paper robot. The book has several of these templates from easy ones to some extremely challenging templates. I am terrible with my hands and for the life of me can not cut a straight line, but my boy probably the better genes in the family and he is just great at working with his hands and so I oblige and engage myself in things I hate and incapable of doing for sake of his enjoyment and learning experience. 

After he finished his first robot, he decided to take it to a school and naturally enough the other kids in class wanted to have one too and so I decided to volunteer and become a center helper for a day to build the robot with the kids. As a preparation, I have the teacher to send home with each kid a template and instructions how and where to cut the different part of the robot’s body so they are ready for gluing. My intention was that the this could be a great exercise for the kids to cut along the lines, engage with their parents on how to prepare the different parts and overall get a sense of accomplishments of doing the robots all by themselves. 

When I got to class several days later all the kids had the paper roots cuts and ready and we all enjoyed putting them together.

But that is not what this post is all about. The post is about the comment I got from the parents.. They sent me emails that they did the cutting for their kids. So in essence the parents did the job instead of the kids, something that I simply did not intend them to do at all. I was remembering about this incident, because several days ago we had the 100 first days at school and each was asked to bring 100 of something. My boy got 100 foamy circles and glues them on a board while making different shapes. He did it all by himself, but other kids were working with their parents, or worse than that, the parents actually took on themselves to do the work for the kids.

And I just can not understand it. How do you want your kids to grow up independent if you donot let them do anything? Leave them kids alone! Let them experiment with life.

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Posted in Tips and Advice | 8 Comments »

Chicken Cutlets

Posted by Barack Levin on 27th January 2010

I have discovered recently that my girl is demonstrating a new skill and I have been observing her since I made that discovery. Apparently, she likes to organize things, line them and put them in order. She is very methodical about it (not getting to a point where it is an obsession) and this is how she likes to play now. She puts her dolls in order and than dress them one after the other, she folds the blanket and likes to make her own bed and so I decided to actually encourage this newly found skill to some good use. I have already written a post on the way she helps me arrange my medication and today I want to write about cooking.

One of her other interests is also to her mom cook. She is only 4 years old but has much experience already. Because she is so organized, it is very easy to cook with her because everything is arranged and in order with her and so last night my wife decided to make some breaded chicken cutlets and had my girl helping her. When I say “helping her”, I really mean that my 4 old daughter really did everything. She cracked the egg (yes, she knows already how to do it very well with actually breaking the egg), she mixed the egg, she poured some bread crumbs in the other plate, organized the chicken pieces and one by one dipped them in the egg and the bread crumbs. When finished, she gave it to my wife to cook

Not only is my girl engaged in an activity with my wife, she also learns new skills, experiences new things, exposed to new techniques and above all gets sense of pride from making her own food like an adult does.

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Posted in Tips and Advice | 5 Comments »

Jet Lag

Posted by Barack Levin on 27th January 2010

I was talking to another parent the other day. Her kid is in the same class with my son and they are very good friends. We were chatting about school and life in general. I asked the mom how her son was doing at school and she told me that he was having problems. I have asked what did she mean by that and she stated that due to the end of the year holidays he forgot his routine. She said that for about 2 weeks he played with her grandparents, has no fixed schedule and just goofed around. On the return day to school, he said he did not want to go there and for the first week or so refused to wake up and had problems going to school.

I only nodded to say how sorry I am for her but thought about my own little boy. Just like his friend he also spent the vacation away from home, and when I say away, I really mean away. He flew half around the world to France to be with his grandparents and spent 2.5 weeks with them goofing around in the snow eating some stinky French cheeses. I was very reluctant to tell that mom that not only that my son expressed his interest to go back to school, but that he landed back from France in the US a day before school started, which means, that he fought his jet lag within 24-48 hours and went happily to school.

My point about this is very simple. You have to prepare your kids for a break in their routine and vice versa. A few days before the vacation is over, to start reminding them of their schedule and routine so it would not be such a clear cut for them. It is very hard for them to understand that one day I can do whatever I want and the next I need to go again to school.

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Posted in Tips and Advice | 7 Comments »

Punishment – Yes or No?

Posted by Barack Levin on 26th January 2010

I have gone a long way from my happy days as a bachelor with minimal understanding about kids and their behaviors to married plus 2. My life now is much more fulfilling, exciting and full of surprises. In today’s post I want to talk a little about a punishment system for kids.

Before I had kids I was a big proponent of corporal punishment or in other words – spanking. I was spanked as did my wife. We grew up to be completely normal, and I truly believed that I will go with my kids the same route. When my son was born and I saw his little body, I already started feeling bad about spanking and decided against it. As a result, I was left with the only weapon I knew – punishments. We all know what they are: go to your room, time out, no desert and so forth.

In recent years I have discovered that even punishments are not necessary. There is a better, more affective way to control kids. It is tougher to implement but once you understand the concept, it works like magic. I found out that the best way to control kids is to work on heir psyche and better yet, use enhanced reverse psychology on them. What do I mean by that?

In order to do this, the parent needs to start thinking like his kid. The kid painted on the wall, the parent should not see immediately go ahead and punish him, but think like his kid. Why would I paint on the walls? Why would I beat my little sister? Why do I throw food on the floor? You get the point. By understanding the kid from “the inside”, the parent can use a very sophisticated by simple arsenal to work on the kid’s psyche and affect his thought and decision process.

Here is a great example that I use on my kids when we introduce a new food that they have never tasted. We bring it to the table and show to them what it is. The kids almost instinctually say that they do not want it, but do they really hate it if they never tasted it? How do they even know they do not like it? Their logic says that now the parents will “convince” them that the food is good for them and a power struggle will start and ends of course with the kid’s triumph because a parent can not force feed his kid. So what I do, is use some reverse psychology. As we bring the new food to the table and I see the first signs of resistance, I immediately tell my wife that this food is not for kids but only for adults, and that I forbid the kids to even touch it. My kids have now lost their defenses, instead of taking the usual role of rejecting food; all of a sudden they are not even a allowed to touch it. As it often happens, now they want to exactly the opposite of what I just told them and I prepare for the next stage. I cut a small piece from the new food and leave it on my table. I tell one child to keep an eye on it, so that the other child won’t eat it. Now I have created a competition between the 2 kids who are so eager to try the forbidden fruit. I leave the table for a few minutes to discover “to my surprise” that one of the kids ate the piece I left on my plate. I make a big fuss about it: ”Where is my food? Who took it”. I turn to the kids (their mouths are still full and chewing) and ask them if they know what happened to my food. They do not. I cut another piece, leave on the plate and again leave the table and the cycle continues.

It works every time and it got to a point now that it is just a game for them and they love to “trick” me and get my adult food.

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Posted in Tips and Advice | 1 Comment »

Fast Food

Posted by Barack Levin on 26th January 2010

Today, it was my wife’s turn to take my little girl from day care. She drove down there, picked her up and on arriving to the house told me this story.

On her way to my little girl’s class she met another mom whose little girl is friends with our little girl. The 2 moms were chatting while walking to pick up the girls. As they entered the class, the 2 girls ran towards their moms with hugs and kisses. At that point, my wife heard the other little girl asking her mom for a “Happy Meal”. The mom of course agreed and they left happily. The reason I am writing about this event is very simple.

I have to say that my kids’ feet never cross the threshold of any fast food restaurant, never ate, drank or even played in their indoor or outdoor play area. The one thing I want my kids to know is that if we do go out to eat (and we do), we go to a place which serves healthy food such as: a salad bar, a vegetarian restaurant, a sandwich place and similar. We never take them to any of the fast food restaurants because we do not want them to get hooked up on this junk food (they call junk food for a reason) at such an early age. Later on when they grow and better understand what is considered good and bad nutrition and can make their own decisions, it will be up to them, but right now I lay the basis for their understanding of healthy foods.

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Medications

Posted by Barack Levin on 12th January 2010

Due to my ongoing kidney disease, I need to take an increasing number of medications to keep my condition somewhat stable. Last count came up with 11 different pills I am taking on a daily basis.

I do not mind taking my medications, after all, they keep me alive, but I really hate preparing them for the week. A long time ago I bought a pill dispenser. It has 7 sections and each one contains the pills for that day and so every week I need to prepare all of my medication for the week after. Today, I decided that while I am tired of doing the sorting and preparations, for my kids it would be a great little project.

I called my little girl and asked her to help. She was more than willing to do so. We took out all the bottles from the drawer and placed them on the countertop. I opened the pill dispenser and told my little girl how many pills to put in each compartment. She began sorting them out and did a great job. I only supervised. Within about 15 minutes we were done. She was happy she could help me and I was happy I did not have to do it.

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Reality Check

Posted by Barack Levin on 5th January 2010

As a parent, I meet and interact with many other parents and observe their behavior. I like to see how they interact with their kids so that I might learn something new. My observations bring me to one very sad conclusion regarding parenting and parents these days. I call it: “Living an Alternate Reality”.

Parents get sucked into living their lives according to their kids’ caprices. They are ruled by their kids’ demands and as a result start to live a distorted reality. Here are a few examples. A kid does not like his dinner and the mom jumps into action and serves him his favorite food, a kid does not want to walk in the rain and the dad carries him on his arms, a kid demands to watch TV and his parents let him watch it as much as he wants to, a kid throws a tantrum every time he disagreed with his parents and the parents run to fulfill his wishes. I am sure I can come up with several down more.

Slowly, the parents are sucked into a downward spiral of caving in to their kids’ demands and become their servants. In a very short period of time, the parents start to live in this Alternate Reality in which they simply accept on themselves the behavior of their kids as a given and modify their lives to fit it instead of modifying their kids behavior to fit their reality. Once they start to live in this Alternate Reality they are not even aware of it. They are not aware that their kids behave this way and that they got sucked down into their world. They see it as the new natural course of life. The problem is even greater when an outsider tries to point out that the parents live in that Alternate Reality. The parents are so used to it and they do not even think any more that there is anything wrong with it. According to them, this is how life should be and there is no room for change.

I see it over and over again. It is like the parents are under a spell and can not come out of it. And the sad thing about it is that if they did manage to realize that they are living in this Alternate Reality, they could have easily change it and leave it all behind them, sailing towards a brighter and nicer future along with their kids.

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Conflicting Messages

Posted by Barack Levin on 5th January 2010

I have been struggling recently with a new situation tat aroused recently with my kids. It revolves around conflicting messages that we give our kids. Granted I am not the only parent dealing with such a problem, I had to use my grey matter to analyze this new Catch 22 and decide what to do.

What do I mean by conflicting messages? Here is a great example. I always tell my kids to come to me with any problems that they might have but on the other hand, when they do come to me with a problem, I sometimes tell them to solve their own problems (see my earlier post about this very subject). Another good example is telling lies. I forbid my kids from lying to me but sometimes, I ask them to tell a lie when we visit friends or family. By doing so, I send them conflicting and sometimes confusing messages and basically misguide them.

As I wrote, I thought hard and long about this very subject and got to some very interesting conclusions. The first one was about lying. I decided to explain to my kids that sometimes, they need to lie. There no rules about it but they will find with time when, how and where to do so. But the golden rule about lying is that it can never happen at the house or with their parents. By that I eliminate the chance that they will lie to me and they know that if they will be caught in a lie to me, they will be punished. That was the hard one to deal with.

As for other conflicting messages, I have got to a conclusion that there are levels of acceptable answers to certain situations. Take the example above where I tell them to come to me with any problem and when they do I tell them to solve their own problem. It is really a layered situation here. When they come to me with a problem I know they know how to solve, I should not help them. When they come to me with a problem they should know how to solve, I only need to guide them and when they come to me with a problem they can not solve, I should offer the solution. And so, I decided to simply explain this to them so they get no conflicting messages. Depending on the situation I either tell them that they have already dealt with this problem and know to face it so go ahead and solve your own problem or I help them figure out the solution by themselves and then tell them to solve their own problem or I simply show them the solution if the problem is too difficult for them to solve.

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Slouching on the Sofa

Posted by Barack Levin on 5th January 2010

I went to see some friends I have not seen for many years. The time and certain events drew us a part but we have finally caught up. In the meantime, they have had 3 kids ages 10, 7 and almost 4. I went to their tiny apartment in NY to visit and catch up on old stories.

As I entered the apartment, the 3 kids were slouching on the sofa watching the Disney movie: Underdog. If you read my posts, you already know what I think about watching TV this way. TV is not a babysitter. If the kids watch a movie, they should be drawn to it, captivated by it learn something from it. Moreover, the movie did not seem to be age appropriate for the young girl and indeed within minutes, the mom told that kid, right after a scary scene, that if she continues watching the movie, she will have nightmares. So the mom knows this movie is not age-appropriate for her girl, but still let her watch it.

Once the movie was over, the kids wanted to watch another one. To my relief the mom did not allow them to spend another 90 minutes in front of TV, but on the other hand, did not provide any other alternatives. And so, like all bored kids do, within seconds, they started harassing and bothering each other resulting in crying, fighting and screaming.

I decide to try something out and see if indeed my philosophy about raising kids is true. The older boy was playing with his iTouch so I left him alone. I concentrated on the girl who was 7 years old. I called her over and asked if she knew how to draw a plane. She said she did not and I asked her if she wants me to show her how to draw one. She got excited and said yes. I told her to draw a triangle, attach to it a rectangle, 2 lines and circles for the wheels and one more triangle for the tail wing and voila.. we have a plane. She was very surprised on how easy it was and got herself into coloring and adding more futures to the plane. As her younger sister saw her engaging in this activity she got curious. She came along and asked to draw too. For her I had a another surprise. I told her that we would build a plane together from paper. Within seconds and after some folds, she got a nice paper plane. I showed her how to fly it around and she joined her sister in decorating the paper plane. The older brother who was busy with his games, saw all the commotion and wanted to join in. Since he is 10, I decided to take another approach with him. I pulled up the laptop that was on the table and googled a Paper Plane web site. I got one and showed him that he could follow the instructions on making different paper planes. And he got to work.

Like magic, all 3 kids got working on their projects and excited trying to excel with their final products. I was very happy to see that my methods do work. It is so easy to engage kids in artistic and other activities and pull them away from the TV. Kids love to use their imagination and creativity and show off to their parents with their new acquired skills. All they need is that small push from their parents and off they go. So simple and much better option than a TV but parents still do not get it and prefer to brain wash them with age inappropriate TV shows.

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Shake it Off

Posted by Barack Levin on 5th January 2010

We met with one of my son’s friends. It was my son, his friend, me and the mom. The kids were playing together and having fun when the other kid fell and hurt himself. Nothing serious, but he started crying. He of course looked at his mom crying begging for help. She in turn saw that the injury is minor and told him: “Shake it off!!”. He did not and continued crying.

I was observing this situation and making my mental notes. All in all, I agree with the mom’s approach. Not every minor scratch or bump should result in crying. A kid should know that these types of mishaps are nothing to worry about and indeed “shake it off”. While I am in line with her thought and I am not in line with her approach.

It is not enough to tell a kid to shake it off. He does not live in the adult world and used to our terms. He knows he is hurting and wants attention. He does not care if the pain is minor or major and so simply to tell him to ignore the pain, won’t make it. My approach is different and I implement it with my kids.

A long time ago I told my kids that themselves need to categorize their pain into 2 categories: pain that they can not stand and pain that they can stand. I told them that if they come running to me for any minor ache that they have, eventually I will not know if their pain is serious or not and instead I asked them to run through this exercise. When they get hurt or feel any type of pain, they should take a deep breath, stop the crying, count slowly to 10 and in the meantime check themselves for blood. If they reached 10 and the pain is not that severe and there is no blood, stand up and continue to play, however, if they reached 10 and their pain is unbearable or if the blood does not stop oozing out, then they should come to me (crying or not) for help.

This approach works like magic. I gave them the tools to make their own decisions about their condition and indeed when they fall or hurt themselves that is exactly what they do and guess what? In most cases, they simply stand up, “shake it off” and continue to play without even looking for me for help.

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