Editor’s Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month with advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.
For baseball parents, those whose kids either play the game or are fans, October is huge—it’s the month for the Major League Baseball playoffs and World Series. The bright spotlight October shines on baseball’s finest teams and players also “loads the bases” for teaching moments.
I’ll never forget the cloudless Colorado Saturday afternoon 16 years ago that found our 10-year old son at shortstop when a line drive off the bat struck his team’s pitcher square on the face. As the boy crumpled to the ground, writhing in pain and bleeding from his nose and mouth, our son and his teammates all rushed to the mound and surrounded their stricken pitcher. We in the bleachers collectively gasped in horror, and then I and another doctor-parent ran onto the field to stem the bleeding and send someone to call an ambulance (yes, this was during the Jurassic Period before many of us carried cell phones).
As the other young players sifted through the pebbles for our pitcher’s presumed missing teeth, our son backed away from the crowd, shaking. He slowly sat down on the infield dirt, desperately trying not to throw up from the sight of his good friend—and his friend’s blood and teeth—now lying motionless on the ground.
The ambulance was there in minutes and our pitcher was whisked away (he went on to make a full recovery, although he needed a tooth implant). But it’s what happened after the ambulance left that changed our son’s life. As he was hyperventilating, his back to home plate and his head between his legs, the coach patted him on the head and matter-of-factly told him to quickly warm up because he would be the new pitcher. Despite his love of pitching, when the coach broke the news, our son looked like he had been the one hit with the baseball. Somehow, he rallied, got his legs back, and took the hill.
My son is all grown up now, a lawyer, and married. But in the years since replacing his injured friend on the mound, there hasn’t been a hurdle or challenge he’s faced when he didn’t call upon that little league moment to find strength and courage.
Embedded in kids’ passions are priceless parenting moments. We were lucky because our kids loved anything that bounced, and sports have always brought forth metaphors for life. But lessons abide in everything kids undertake with commitment, from art, writing, music and theater, to math, science, technology, and history. Commitment itself is an important message for kids. Parents needn’t wait for dramatic episodes like ours to teach life lessons.
Sticking with my October World Series theme, baseball offers mundane but meaningful teaching moments every inning. A runner leading off from base learns to balance risk and reward. A called third strike teaches the consequences of inaction and missed opportunity. Batting averages prove success in life doesn’t require perfection—after all, the great hitters in baseball, those who hit “300,” still get out 70% of the time. Standing in the “on deck circle” reminds kids to learn from others’ experiences, while the fielder in the “ready position” reaps the rewards of forming good habits. “Calling for” a pop fly ball requires taking responsibility for a task, and then following through. The sacrifice bunt…well that’s obvious, as is “backing up” teammates on throws and ground balls. These will all be on display on the national stage this month.
And then, when you’ve passed enough wisdom on to your kids for one evening, pop some popcorn, cuddle on the sofa with your little ballplayers, and enjoy the best baseball of the season.
How to Pitch Like a Big Leaguer
Dr. Harley A. Rotbartis Professor andVice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, includingNo Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York TimesMotherlodeblog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).
Joe DeProspero has two sons and a wife, and he is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is also writing a parenting humor book. He posts twice monthly and his previous posts can be found here. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook and on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
As parents, we’ve all been there. Wearing an undersized Spiderman mask or princess tiara and throwing on the best character voice we can muster after an 11-hour work day, we silently count the minutes till bedtime when we can finally unwind and enjoy a moment of silence (with a few glasses of something to accentuate the silence). Then, it happens. You’ve reached the point in your day when it’s so quiet, you can hear the hum of the air conditioning unit, a car honking its horn two distant blocks away. And you just breathe. Maybe you flip to your favorite TV show or set your fantasy football lineup (speaking for myself, personally). But after a while, something doesn’t feel quite right. You find yourself instinctively changing the channel to Nick Jr., using words like “poop” and “silly goose.” You come to the frightening conclusion that, like it or not, parenthood has invaded your psyche in every imaginable way. But then you realize something else; you realize that spending time with your kids yields more smiles than the time without them.
Here are some of the most significant reasons I’ve noticed hanging out with my kids is often more rewarding than “adult time.”
Children ask innocent, sometimes insane questions.
While poker with the guys is fun, do any of your friends ever ask you deep, eyebrow-raising questions like, “What does 4:00 mean?” or “What do squirrels do when they’re bored?” Doubtful. A child’s mind is a cornucopia of wonder and curiosity. They want to know things, ALL the things. And they keep us on our toes. I can guarantee you I’ve laughed harder and longer at one of my son’s questions than at any of my friends’ fart jokes.
They make you feel smart, even if you’re not.
I can list a great number of positive outcomes of me hanging out with friends, but “they make me feel smart” is not one of them. My kids, on the other hand, look to me like I’m the gatekeeper of all wisdom. They seek my guidance on everything from the creation of the ocean to the science behind fogged-up windows. While my sons will certainly become aware of my intellectual limitations once their math homework evolves beyond 10 + 4, it’s a hell of a confidence booster to be looked upon as all-knowing, even when we’re making half of it up.
When they eat ice cream and throw balls around, so do you.
Before I had kids, my days of devouring Ben and Jerry’s and playing with balls were at least a decade behind me. Now? Almost every day, there’s an opportunity to partake in one of the two. And really, who doesn’t want those kinds of opportunities? That goes double for bouncy houses. I can’t see one without “accidentally” tumbling into it.
Kids aren’t jaded yet.
There are no bills, no wars, and no stress other than determining which pair of pajamas to wear to bed. Children haven’t yet been exposed to the evils of life, and they see every day as an opportunity to cram in as much fun as possible. You can’t say the same about most employed adults.
It awakens your imagination.
Perhaps the most important benefit of all is that there are truly no limits to your imagination when you’re in the company of a child. Could that Batman action figure be riding your iPhone like a car to get to the kitchen to stop The Joker from stealing Batman’s meatballs (which are played by marbles, by the way)? Sure, why not? It sparks your creativity and forces you to flex mental muscles you never knew you had. Try using personification with your drinking buddies and they’d likely cut off your supply of beer and dial up a psychiatrist.
Does anyone else have a perk of engaging with their children rather than adults that they’d like to share? If so, please add it in the comments section below or tweet me! And please check out more parenting articles I’ve written for the Huffington Post.
If you haven’t seen it, check out my “Parental Guidance” video where I show you what it would look like if I behaved like my son! It’s rather outrageous.
Over the years, my husband and I have occasionally disagreed about discipline. Typically, he’s thought I was too soft, and sometimes he’s been right. Often, though, I think I’m just more empathetic about why one of my girls had a seemingly unnecessary meltdown or made a big fuss about putting her plate in the dishwasher. Of course, being understanding shouldn’t mean that you throw all your rules out the window.
As you’ve certainly heard before, the real meaning of the word discipline is “to teach,” so the goal of our response to our children’s bad behavior should be to help them learn to act differently in the future. The authors don’t think that ignoring tantrums or enforcing time-outs are the best ways to do that. They think these teach your child that you only want to be with him when he’s happy.
There are a lot of fascinating insights in this book, but this analogy to dealing with dogs rang true to me:
If you had to interact with an angry-looking dog, would you approach it with an aggressive body posture and demand that the dog “knock it off an calm down”? That wouldn’t be very smart, nor would it be very effective. The reason is that it would communicate to the dog that you’re a threat, and the dog would have no other option than to react, either by cowering or by fighting. So instead, we’re taught to approach a dog by putting out the back of our hand, crouching down low, and speaking with a soft, reassuring voice. In doing so, our whole body communicates a message: “I’m not a threat.” In response, the dog can relax, calm down, feel safe, and then approach and engage.
If you stay calm when your kid is upset, he is more likely to calm down. The first way to connect with your child is through loving touch: put your hand on his arm, rub his back, or hug him. To make him feel comforted, you can also get down below your child’s eye level. Then you want to validate what he’s feeling (such as “I can see that you’re really upset that we can’t go”) and listen to him rather than lecture him. The goal is to send this message: “I get you. I see what you’re feeling, and I acknowledge it. If I were in your shoes and at your age, I might feel the same way.”
Once you’ve connected emotionally in this way, then you can redirect him to think about more appropriate behavior. The authors write, “Even when we say no to our children’s behavior, we always want to say yes to their emotions, and to the way they experience things.”
I know this book will spark some good conversation in my own home…it’s an eye-opener worth reading.
Last fall, we partnered with researchers at Brown University School of Medicine, Children’s National Medical Center, and New England Center for Pediatric Psychology to help find answers to pressing questions about how media use, family routines, and parenting style affect kids. We encouraged readers to answer a brief survey as part of The Learning Habit Study, and more than 46,000 parents in 4600 American cities participated in the research being published today in the American Journal of Psychology as well as in the book, The Learning Habit, by Dr. Robert Pressman, Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, and Rebecca Jackson.
One of the study’s biggest findings was that kids’ total screen time—especially more than two hours a day—was associated with lower grades, while increased family time—including family dinners, playing board games, and attending religious services—was linked to higher grades. The researchers think that spending time with our kids can help mitigate the negative effects of too much screen time.
The study also found that a parenting style known as empowerment parenting is the most effective way to build habits that benefit kids in school and life. Similar to what’s commonly known as authoritative or positive parenting, empowerment parenting helps children build good habits by establishing rules; empowers children by giving them choices, and encourages children by praising their efforts. In their book, the researchers write about how parents can create opportunities for their kids to develop these eight essential learning habits: media management; homework and reading; time management; goal-setting; effective communication; responsible decision-making; concentrated focus, and self-reliance.
The statistic from the study that I found most interesting: Two-thirds of 5- and 6-year-olds don’t make their own beds—and neither do the same percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds. So if you don’t want to be making your kid’s bed until she leaves for college, get into the habit at a young age by letting her know that it’s her responsibility.
I used to think that babies and toddlers were the hardest to parent, with all the sleep deprivation, bodily fluids and baby proofing that come with that age range. It felt like my children were trying really hard to get themselves killed, and we spent our waking hours standing sentinel and worrying that all that stood between my daughters and certain doom was a flimsy plastic cabinet lock. Those were the days of guacamole in the hair and 3 a.m. wakeup calls, but at least we got nap time to recover and get our groove back.
Now that I’m the mom of a tween and an almost tween, I find myself dreaming of those days. Because while the really physical days of parenting are done—no more bending in half and hunching my back for hours over a struggling-to-walk-toddler—parenting an older kid requires tremendous mental fortitude. And I’m not sure I have the skills necessary to survive the next few years. Here’s where I’m falling short:
Scheduling Prowess I need military-level precision to keep track of all the school projects, teacher meetings and extracurriculars—something a girl once voted most disorganized by a jury of her peers simply can’t muster. I used to be horrified when I read stories of moms using their minivan as a traveling office/dinner table/living room, until my daughters began to fill every day with their various extracurricular passions. And now, my car comes stocked with paper towels, an array of snacks (and used wrappers), and is my regular conference call spot (thank God for Bluetooth!).
Mind Reader My daughter has developed a split personality, as she straddles the precarious line between childhood and adulthood. One minute, she’s begging me to let her watch The Fault in Our Stars—the next, she’s saying that she’s not too old for Sophia the First. And I’m never quite sure whether I’m talking to the grownup or the kiddo, which makes it hard to determine whether any suggestion I make is going to be greeted with a dramatic eye roll and sigh or excited exuberance. It’s hard to find that happy medium, where I’m allowing her to learn and grow, but not learn too much, too fast. So, despite the fact that I hear that every other parent in the fifth grade lets their children Snapchat on cell phones and watch Walking Dead marathons, we’re sticking by our guns.
Peace Maker I simply don’t have the negotiation skills necessary to get my girls to stop the battles and bickering and actually be the loving sisters I know they are, deep, deep (deep) down inside. I’d love to just tell my children to work it out themselves, but that often leads to tears and pain (and not just for me).
Book Smarts I was a straight A student when I was in school, but apparently I killed a lot of brain cells between then and now, or they decided to rewrite the curriculum just to make me look like the village idiot. Either way, there were things in fourth grade math that had me stumped, and I’m frankly a bit nervous about what comes next. I hope my daughters can teach me.
I’ve talked a bit about my struggles with tween parenting with my mom, and she just chuckles. “Wait until they hit the teens,” she says, ominously. “That’s when parenting really gets tough.” I hope I can survive it.
Tell us: Which age was the toughest for you as a parent? Why was that? Keep up with your kiddo through every age and stage through our Parents.com newsletters.