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Through the course of my one year experience with my son, I have developed several theories such as the 4N and Power of No to better help me raise my son.
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Barack Levin

Author: Barack Levin

Archive for February, 2011

No Means “No”

Posted by Barack Levin on 28th February 2011

In our house there is one very basic simple rule. When we, the parents, say, No to our kids, it means no. It does not matter if they cry, yell, scream, throw a tantrum, kick, shout or go to their room upset, they already know that we will always stick to our rule.

However, now, that they are grown up, we have introduced one exception to the rule. We know that sometimes we say no to something and we might be wrong and we do want to give our kids the ability to prove our wrong and so we have introduced a kind of a No by pass for them. If we tell them No and they feel that we are mistaken they have the right to convince us otherwise. They have to talk and explain why we are wrong and if we decide that they are actually correct, we will reverse that decision. In case we think that we are still correct, the decision stands.

I write this post because I see many other parents where their authority erodes and one of the major reasons for this erosion is that their kids completely ignore their authority. Here is an example. We went to some friends yesterday for dinner. Their little son, who is about 3.5 years old, hasn’t had his dinner yet but he saw the cookies we brought and took one. As he finished it he took another one. His parents said nothing. When he came for his third, the mom said “2 is enough. Do not take another one”. He looked at her as if she was completely transparent, he extended his hand, while still looking at her, and took the third one. She said “I said No”. He completely ignored her and started chewing on the cookie. “Ok” she said “This is your last one”. Guess what? When he finished that third cookie he grabbed another one. That was his dinner.

When a parent can not enforce the very basic rules in his own house why would a kid listen to him? And then the parents are surprised when their kids are not doing well in school or behave irrationally.

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Bargaining Power

Posted by Barack Levin on 28th February 2011

My son is allowed 20 minutes a day on his DSI. To be very honest, most days he does not even have the time to play the full 20 minutes. There is just so much to do in our house and by the time he gets to his room it is already bed time. Over the weekend, he came up with a new thought that is very typical for this age. He knows some basic math and he told his mom:” I only played 5 minutes yesterday on my DSI so I am aloud to play 35 minutes today”. Indeed, he was right in his calculations. The 15 minutes from yesterday plus the 20 from today, do equal 35. But that did not really help him. My wife told him: “The 20 minutes is per day and not accumulative. You have not used them today. Too bad. Tomorrow you will have the same 20 minutes to play”. My son answered: “But it is not fair. These 20 minutes belong to me”. He was trying to bargain his way our of it. I was proud of him because he used real adult like arguments and not whining or screaming to get his way. His logic was, these 20 minutes belong to me and I can stack them up if I wanted to. But here he had one slight problem with his argument and my wife’s answer was the final blow: “You see dear, in this house, you do not make the rules. We do. These are the rules that we put down for the DSI and they will not be changed”. That was the end of the conversation. My son knows that when he hits that wall he has no reason to continue arguing because it will not change the facts. He was visibly upset of course but I think that it is our responsibility, as parents, to supervise our kids and put boundaries to their behavior.

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Night Sleep

Posted by Barack Levin on 27th February 2011

When my kids were still at day care, they usually went to bed just before 9PM.  Taking into account that they could wake up whenever they felt like and had their afternoon naps, we felt that they got ample sleep time for their age.

As they started school, things have started to change. We started to find out that if they to go to bed as usual, the next day they are cranky and drag their feet throughout the whole day. Naps were out of the question and we felt as if they lost too much sleep and could not function properly. Adding to that was the fact that we are a very active family. After school, the kids always go out for a walk or other physical activity with us outside. We started to push bed time to an earlier hour until we reached the golden time – 7:30P. We found out that when the kids go to bed at that time and wake up at 7AM the next morning, they wake up refreshed and ready for the day. This new bed time had another very appealing side effect. When they go to bed at 7:30PM, we have 2-3 hours all to ourselves and we have the time to relax or chat. For our kids, less than 12 hours asleep a night is disastrous and since our kids are just average kids, I can only imagine that other kids need as much sleep or at least close to as much sleep at this age, which is the reason for this post.

Our friends struggle to put their kids to sleep every night. Apparently, they do not go to bed before 10PM and wake up around 6AM to catch the bus. That gives them 8 hours, at the most, of good sleep. That is not even enough for an adult let alone a kid and we can see the signs. Their kids are always tired and feel like doing nothing, they have problems at school because they find it very hard to concentrate and they are barely involved in any physical activity because their little bodies are too fatigued.

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At the library

Posted by Barack Levin on 26th February 2011

My efforts to raise independent kids are taking many shapes and forms but the bottom line is very simple – if they can perform a task I can, they should do it. Case in hand – the library. My kids love reading books. My little girl can not read yet so we read the books to her but my older son, in first grade, already reads pretty fluently and he reads all alone. Since they do not have TV at home or computer games, they have plenty of time to nurture the love for books. I might be old fashioned, but I think a kid should know how to read books alone before he is allowed to play on the computer, but this is off topic.

As the post started, in my efforts to raise independent kids I challenge them almost every day in order to achieve this goal. The library is a small but a great example how any parent can achieve the same goal. When we go to the library, I distribute the chores – one kid returns the books and the other checks them out. My son already knows how to pick his own books so he goes off to his section and I go with my little girl to hers. When we are done, they take the library card and step up to the check out and return desk to complete the transaction. I deliberately place myself as far as possible from them so that the librarian will not look at me for answers. She has to deal directly with them. I also taught them to approach her and always speak loudly (because no one can really hear their puny voices) and always look her straight in the eye when they do. My little girl was shy a first, but after several visits to the library became and expert and now demands to check out the books.

This is a great exercise in instilling self confidence in kids, taking the shyness out of them and making them feel all “grown up”. This little trick can be done at the library, grocery store, coffee shop and even the airport. It is really all up to the parent to make that decision.

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Flying Solo

Posted by Barack Levin on 21st February 2011

Last year, my wife and I were debating what to do with the kids for the summer break. After all, they were out of school for about 2.5 months and we needed to find ways to entertain them. Everyone we talked to pointed out to the trivial solution – summer camps. In our area there are plenty of such good quality camps but a phone call from my in-laws brought up another alternative. My mother in-law suggested that we send the kids to spend the summer break with them. Since my in-laws live in France, we thought that it would be a great idea. A win-win situation for everyone involved. My in-laws will have the kids for 10 weeks, my kids will brush on their French and spent time with their grandparents and we will have some free quality time for ourselves.

We scathed out the plans and since my little girl was not 5 years old yet, my wife had to drop them in France and fly back to pick them up. Air lines do not allow kids who are under 5 years old to fly alone.

This year, things have changed. This year, both my kids are over 5 years old and this year we plan on sending them alone on an international flight from the US to Paris. I have already started working on the details. The most important one is to prepare the kids for the flight. My kids have been flying since the age of 3 months and are very familiar with airplanes and how to behave on ones. For the last year or so, I have been working with my kids on how to approach and talk to adults. I always tell them that when they do approach an adult they always have to look him or her straight in the eyes and say what they need in a confident loud voice. I also tell them that adults love it when young kids know how to express themselves this way and will always respect them if they approach them on their level. We have been practicing this approach in restaurants, grocery stores, toy stores and other places. My kids have learned to stand their ground and ask for what they need from an adult.

I was talking to my son about this whole ordeal of flying solo and he told me that no one in his class believes him. He said that no one believes he will fly all by himself. I only smiled. It all has to do with bringing up your kids to a certain level of confidence and trust. Once they reach that level, it is smooth sailing all the way.

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Outsourcing Parenthood

Posted by Barack Levin on 20th February 2011

I have thought about this idea for a very long time and still trying to wrap my head around it. In my opinion parenting is a very personal matter. A parent is in charge of raising his child to successful adulthood. It seems to me that it needs to be a personal journey involving the 2 parties: the parent and the child. In my family, I try my hardest to do so and take personal responsibility over my kids.

At the same time, I am remembered at something I experienced during working at GE.  GE was than in a craze of souring out almost every project it had. The rule back then was to outsource at least 70% of the company’s operations to off shore companies (mainly in India). This post is not intended to discuss if it is a good practice or a bad one. This post comes to show that corporate thinking has slowly sipped into parenthood thinking. It seems to me that many parents outsource their parental responsibilities more and more.

Several examples. Nannies are probably the best example. Nannies come to replace the parents and they are in direct charge of educating and bringing up the kids. Restaurants or prepared food is another. No one cooks any more for their kids and instead we feed them processed food. We have also outsourced this parental function. There are plenty more examples.

But it is not only kids’ upbringing that we outsource, we also do so with our bonding, love and attachment to our kids. More and more parents are using professional therapists to help them with their child’s behaviors. Instead of tackling the problem by themselves from the beginning, they outsource this part of their parental responsibility as well. And I am not even mentioning medication for kids to calm them down as outsourcing of parents’ inability to control their kids. If you read any of my other posts, you already know my opinion.

The reason that sparked this post was a news article I read on line. A 4 year old kid broke his teacher’s nose. The details are not important, what is important was the parents’ reaction. They could not understand why the teacher could not use a technique they taught her to hug the kid from behind to calm him down. This is parental outsourcing at its best. The parents are not able to control their child but expect others to do so. The teacher’s role (as the name suggests) is to teach and not to parent. She does not have to deal with behavioral issues. As a matter of fact, if and when she does, it means that other kids in the class suffer from lack of attention or worst yet, lack of teaching.

We as parents are accustomed more and more to rely on the “system” to raise our kids and “fix” them instead of putting in the time and effort to do it ourselves. No wonder that later on in life we find out that we have raised alienating kids who have no connection to us – after all, we never had any real connection to them.

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Is this really smart?

Posted by Barack Levin on 20th February 2011

I was talking to a friend of mince, and naturally the conversation focused on our kids. His son is almost 5 and he proudly told me how his son is very independent, which of course sounds like music to my ears. He continued on by saying that his son is very into cars and that he taught him how to put the key in the ignition and start the car.

Now, I am all for independent educated kids, but there are still some things that a parent need to take into account and one of them is to match his kid’s ability to rationalize things to their age. My kids are very familiar with the car. They open the doors by themselves, the windows when it is too hot and even the radio when they sit next to me when we park the car, but there is a huge difference between these and starting the car.

In my opinion, teaching a kid to start a car is like teaching him to start a fire. There is a very thin line between independent kid and over confident one and that line is crossed when a kid is taught something that is beyond his comprehension and that can harm him.

After all, once a kid is taught how to start a car, he can easily sneak out start it, because it is now a play thing and accidentally do something that will either launch the car or create some kind of danger to himself.

My kids saw me starting our cars hundreds of times and even asked me to do so. My answer was the same: “There are some things I let you do, and some I do not. This is one of those things that only when you grow up, I will let you do. For now it is simply too dangerous for you to try”.

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Fresh Produce vs. processed food

Posted by Barack Levin on 17th February 2011

I was thinking about it the other day as I was walking through our grocery store. Have you ever noticed that the section for fresh produce is the smallest section in the store? Most of all grocery chain stores feature many more processed foods than fresh produce foods. But that is not the case every where. I did stumble across stores where not only the fresh produce section is bigger, it is also the first section when you enter the store and not like other chain stores, at the back of the store.

This might be an indication of the emphasis stores put on their customers interest and I am thinking I will pay more attention to this in the future and visit stores who focus more on fresh produce.

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First Born Symptom

Posted by Barack Levin on 16th February 2011

I am catching myself recently discriminating between my kids. I am finding out that because my son is older by 18 months than my girl, it is easier for me to dump tasks on him rather than on her. He is stronger, has better vocabulary, likes to help and over all very cooperative. My girl, on the other hand is younger, less strong, has a much more limited vocabulary, can not reach places he can and overall lazier than him.

I have suddenly realized that I am experiencing a first born symptoms. As a dad with about a million things to do, it is much easier for me to call him to do something than to call her and start to explain myself. When I realized it, I also decided to stop this behavior immediately. It can cause so many problems. It can alienate the girl, frustrate the body and I am sure that is a long list of other problems it can brew.

I decided to devise a strategy and split the tasks between them. For example, she chooses the fruits they want to eat for snack and he washes them. She feeds the dog but he closes the lid over the food box. Each now has a specific task to deal with according to his abilities. In addition, I decided to put more focus on her and have her contribute more to the house instead of him.

It is still a work in progress, but I can already feel how I am changing. My default is no longer him, it now sways between him and her and I believe it stands at 50% so that none of them feels “over used”.

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Kids and Placebo

Posted by Barack Levin on 16th February 2011

I have very strong feelings about pills. Although, on a daily basis, I take about 30 or so pills to help me survive my kidney disease, I think that normal healthy people and especially kids, should try to avoid all of those meds (and that includes food supplements) at all costs.

I am not preaching here to avoid medication all together or not to provide medical attention to kids, but I do suggest thinking before you throw in the towel and pop one in, again, especially when it comes to kids. From my experience, kids are magnets to diseases but most of these are low grade viruses, low fever incidents and minor aches. Even though, their bodies can easily take care of these problems, we as parents get out the big guns and stuff their throats with off the shelf meds. I believe in another way. A much safer way in my opinion – Placebo. I prefer to use it as the first line of defense in such cases and only if it fails, to resort to meds.

A week ago, my son (6.5) was complaining about a leg ache. I know exactly what he is talking about. I have had those when I was a kid as well. The pain is in the bone and it does not go away. It is not an excoriating pain but it is very consistent and annoying. I was told that it might be due to growth spur, but I still do not know if that is true or not. In any case, my son started complaining. Usually, in cases like that, my wife massages his leg, he gets happy and goes to sleep, which is by the way another great Placebo solution. All he really need is the attention. I do not believe the massage does anything. This time the massage she gave him produced no satisfactory results. He continued to complain. The medical cabinet was the obvious option. A pain killer will probably do the trick, but I decided to use Placebo instead. It was not the first time. Until now every time he was given a Placebo, it worked, so I thought it should work again this time.

I told him I was going to give him a medication. He is old enough to know what it means. Telling him that is the first step to prepare his brain for a pain release. I went to the medicine cabinet and took out one of the pain killers measuring cups. He stayed in his room but heard me go there. That is the second step. Have him anticipate the drug and start using his internal mechanism to reduce the pain. Next, I went down to the kitchen and mixed some Cranberry juice (for the color) and Lemon Juice (to disguise it is only juice) in the plastic measuring cup. I got to his room and told him to drink his medicine. He did. I asked how it was and he said that it tasted sweet. “Good” I said “You should feel better in about 5 minutes” and here comes the last step. Instead of just leaving him there to think about the effects of the medication, I told him: “Do you want to build something with the Legos with me?” He loves to play with Lego and took out a set. We started playing. Within 5 minutes he stopped complaining about his leg. We played for about an hour and half with no complains. I was very satisfied that my plan worked, but it did not work for long. As soon as we were done and he was getting ready to go to bed, the pain returned. This time I understood that another Placebo would not do the trick and gave him a pain killer. After all he is my son and I do not want him to suffer. But, this was the first time that a Placebo did not work fully on him. I am thinking that I should have given it to him just before he went to sleep (like I always do) so that the affect of the Placebo will carry him to sleep. May be next time.

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Kids and Technology

Posted by Barack Levin on 14th February 2011

I hear it all around me – kids need to be exposed to technology from an early age. After all, we are now living in a technological world and they have to triumph the technology o stay behind. In the name of technology we expose our kids to computers, tv and video games from very early ages – sometimes even several months old. And the obvious question is why? So that they are exposed to Facebook at the age of 4? So they can Google at the age of 5 or so that they can tweet at the age of 6?

I say, stop the nonsense (for a lack of a better word to use). Kids need to learn the basics before they are exposed to technology. How about riding a bike? Doing the monkey bars? Climbing a tree? Use their imagination to build something?

I am not at all impressed by YouTube movies showing a 2 year old operating and iPad. I would be more impressed if that same movie showed how this kid build with a Lego set or pushed his stroller on the side walks. These are the real skills he needs to have and not the ability to move a mouth in a virtual world.

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