Help Less

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about anxiety in children.  It seems that every third parent I meet or talk to has a child who struggles with anxiety (and I have some of my own).  I wish I (or anyone) knew the cause of this new trend.  If it’s occurring more often now, something must have changed. Is it environmental or biological or is it a change in our parenting? No one knows for sure, but I have an inkling that our helicopter parenting is possibly part of the problem, or, at best it’s not helping the situation.

In her book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, Alison Gopnik compares parenting to these two professions. If we parent like a carpenter, we have a blueprint-type plan, and we expect and envision our children to turn out exactly according to that plan.  We see parenting as a goal-oriented endeavor intended to create a particular kind of child and therefore a particular kind of adult.  In contrast, parenting like a gardener means we create a secure, loving environment and allow children to grow and develop in their own way.  We have a general expectation of how they might turn out, but we know that many factors are out of our control, so the end result might be a surprise. “Children are designed to be messy and unpredictable, playful and imaginative, and to be very different both from their parents and from each other.  The variability and flexibility of childhood lets them innovate, create, and survive in an unpredictable world.” (Goodreads description).

I love this analogy.  It is useful to keep this concept in mind as we try to guide our children. It might keep us from putting too much pressure on them or forcing them into certain activities or characteristics. We are just the gardeners, here to provide a safe and caring place for children try out life. Gopnik also points out that we don’t use our relationship to a person as a verb in any other context.  We don’t “wife” our husbands or “sister” our siblings! Modern culture has made parenting into an avocation or even a career.  This idea makes us feel negligent if we aren’t “doing something” with or for our children.  It’s possible that we “parent” more than we should. It’s not enough for our children just to be, to explore, to try new things, to not have a purpose for a while.  We feel that every activity they do must have a defined objective. Even the packaging of toys reinforces this:  Your child can’t just play with a toy for fun. The toy has to “stimulate brain development” or “encourage social connections.”

We would probably do well to give our kids a little less structure and let them roam free a bit more.  I have been thinking about two other ways to decrease helicopter parenting and reduce the emphasis we put on children to perform in a certain way.

The first is: Don’t correct unless necessary.

We feel it is our duty to teach our children how to do things and how to do them the right way. Under the guise of teaching we constantly correct our children, instructing them exactly how to perform all their tasks.  But this barrage of directives can wear on a child. He might start to think he doesn’t do anything right.  He also starts to believe there is a right way to do everything, and this can lead to anxiety.  It is absolutely untrue that there is a right way to perform every task, and our children would be better off if we gave them this wisdom: there are many ways to get a thing done.  If you can think of a way different than mine, all the better!

There are some tasks that must be done a certain way for safety, but many of the instructions we give our children are arbitrary and unnecessary. If your daughter puts a diaper on the baby and it’s not perfect, just let it go.  If you’re cooking with your son and he’s messy or doesn’t fill the measuring cup just right, just let it go.  Even if your child puts her shoes on the wrong feet, you could leave it be.  In every situation ask yourself, what is it going to hurt if she does it this way? The majority of the time the answer is it won’t hurt anything.  Would you want someone standing over you all the time, telling you you’re not doing it right? Everyone wants to try new things and gain mastery over novel challenges.  Give your child that opportunity without commenting on the correctness of the technique.

In general, try to make your home one where mistakes are accepted, or even applauded (because at least they tried).  Give your children the feeling that they can try new things and won’t be told they’re not doing it right. When you punish a child for trying, they are less likely to try new things. You can see how this could lead to anxiety in new situations. The best way children learn is to try things themselves, and that means they will make mistakes.  Making your own mistakes leads to mastery much faster than having someone stop you before the mistake and explain the correct procedure.

Whenever my children make mistakes (big or small) I try to say, “It’s ok. You are allowed to make mistakes.” We talk about what could have been done to avoid the mistake, but I really want them to know that mistakes are okay.  This is the key message I want to give, even more than learning how to act next time.  Fear of failure is definitely a cause of anxiety. In our family, we like to quote Hannah Montana: “Everybody makes mistakes; Everybody has those days; Everybody knows what, what I’m talkin’ ‘bout; Everybody gets that way.” (The song is “Nobody’s Perfect”; you should definitely play it for your children).

My second piece of advice to reduce the chance of anxious children is: Don’t help unless asked.

This one is related to “don’t correct unless necessary” but slightly different. When I was first going through my major parenting learning curve, I read a book called Smart Love.  The authors talked about how to help your child develop primary happiness, and one way to do that was to encourage mastery of developmentally appropriate tasks.  They gave the following example: if your baby is just to the stage where she can reach for a ball (while on her stomach or sitting up), don’t hand it to her when she reaches for it. Let her struggle and try. She might get frustrated but that might lead her to trying new approaches and eventually succeeding. The act of trying is pleasurable, and if you take that away from her, you are taking away a valuable life experience.

This idea was completely surprising to me.  I would have thought that a good parent would see her baby’s needs and help her.  If she were reaching for the ball, it would be my role to help her get it.  That’s what parents are for, right, to help their children? But it turns out there is the right kind of help and the wrong kind of help.  And unsolicited help is often the wrong kind. When you help a child do something they are attempting, you unwittingly give her the impression that she can’t do it herself.  This is the opposite of the message we want to give! We want to encourage our children that they can do many things themselves and the list is growing every day.  This will help them become independent, emotionally strong adults.

Just as in correcting, there are obviously times to help your child.  If safety is an issue, by all means jump in and rescue.  And when he or she asks you for help, it may be appropriate to help (it also may not be, and that gets a little tricky). But look for ways to not help.  Be on the lookout for things they can do themselves, even if it is taking effort or causing frustration.  Frustration is not a bad thing.  It can lead to more effort, more ideas, or more collaboration with others.  And when they eventually succeed, they will feel that much more confident and accomplished.  We’ve all seen the joy on a child’s face when she announces, “I did it myself!”

We may need to teach children (by modeling and by instruction) how to deal with frustration and make it work for them instead of against them, but please don’t give the impression that the fact of frustration itself is bad or wrong.  That can lead to giving up quickly, lack of self-confidence, and depression or anxiety.

Let children try things their own way, and even if they give up on a task, don’t rush in to help them and teach them the “right” way.  This takes a sort of purposeful neglect. You might need to leave the room or the situation if you can’t stop yourself from correcting! Just let them be, let them try things on their own. Mastering various tasks gives children great confidence.

Parenting is complicated. It’s hard to know when to correct or help and when to let children try things on their own.  Each parent’s line for intervening might be different.  However, we would be wise to consider holding back a little more.  Let children do things their way and let them keep trying even if they are not succeeding.  Parenting in this way takes patience and sometimes might look like avoidance, but the more children can do on their own, the more confidence and emotional strength they will have.

Adulting

Disclaimer: This article is not exactly about parenting. I will understand if you are not interested and want to skip this post!

We recently moved to a new city and my husband started a new job.  Previously he worked at the same place for 14 years, and we did not realize how many “adult” tasks would be involved in this move. It has been quite overwhelming, like a part-time job for me for the last four months.  I started to feel so burdened and stressed out by these tasks, which I do not enjoy very much, that I decided I needed a reframe.  I told myself that I was taking a class, Moving 101. Taking this class requires a lot of time, but I tell myself I chose to take the class because I wanted to learn more about all these varied grown-up situations. This class has been very hands-on! It required a lot of research and real-world experiences such as filling out forms, making difficult decisions, calling mortgage brokers, insurance agents and the like, initiating relationships, and sometimes breaking off those relationships later.

This class has been frustrating at times (and I’ve wondered why I signed up for it!) but I’ve learned so much. I am so much more knowledgeable and well-rounded. I decided to write about all that I have learned because it helps me appreciate the knowledge that I’ve gained and realize there’s a reason it’s been so hard.  Writing and sharing this article also helps me feel like my work can benefit others, and that makes it more worth it. This is my “term paper” for Moving 101.

In this class I have researched, learned about, and talked to professionals about the following topics, and I’d like to share my hard-earned knowledge with you. What follows is a short explanation about many aspects of adulting.  It is not intended to be comprehensive but more of a jumping off point.  When you have to call a professional about a certain topic (say, health insurance), it’s nice to know a few things about the topic and know what questions to ask.  Hopefully something here will be helpful as you “adult” throughout your life.

GETTING A REALTOR

Finding a realtor is simple with a google search. Browse the websites and find companies or individuals that appeal to you. Contact a few and see which get back to you.  I think it’s a good sign if they get back to you right away; this means they are available and responsive.

Before you can talk to a realtor about what’s important to you in a house, you have to do some introspection to figure that out.  Do you want to be close to work? in a family-oriented neighborhood? do you want lots of kids running around for your kids to be friends with? Do you like new developments or older neighborhoods? A fixer-upper house with charm or something newer? Once you know what you want you can talk with your realtor about those preferences and the area you’re moving to.  It’s best to find a realtor who lives in or knows your desired area as closely as possible.

BUILDING A HOUSE

I could do a whole post about building a house, but I just want to add a few notes. Most builders won’t carry the construction loan, you have to get that on your own.  Sometimes if a whole subdivision is being built the builder will let you put a certain amount down instead of having a construction loan, but that is not common.  When you find a lot you want to build on, make an offer on it and contact a bank to get a loan for that and the cost of building the house.  You have to have the house plans drawn up before getting approved for the loan, so the bank knows what they’re lending money for.

When you create the house plans with the builder, it’s good to specify whether this is a “cost-plus” or “contract” type of agreement.  In a cost-plus situation, the builder gets a percentage of whatever you spend, whether the costs go up or down.  You get an allowance for cabinets, flooring, etc., and if you go over the allowance you pay the extra plus the builder’s percentage.  This makes sense because you chose something more expensive.  But it gets trickier when certain aspects of building go over budget, like excavation or framing, things that you didn’t choose.  Those type of expenses can go up if the subcontractor has raised their prices or there is more work than they expected.  It’s good to discuss these situations with your builder in advance so you know who will be responsible for those costs.

As your house is being built you will be making decisions regarding counters, cabinets, flooring, etc.  You don’t want your decision making to hold up the building process, so be sure to look into these things and make timely decisions.  Our builder had an in-house designer that helped us choose colors and styles, which was very nice.  If your builder doesn’t have that it can be a little more overwhelming.

It’s not uncommon for builders to be behind schedule, and it’s not always their fault.  Weather and subcontractor delays can be frustrating, but if you’ve told yourself they will happen (prepare yourself mentally!) then you can stay calm.

A few mistakes we made and lessons we learned: on the bid from the flooring company, be sure each line item includes labor.  On ours, the carpet and wood included labor, but not the tile.  I thought I was within budget for the total flooring until months later when I found out that all tile labor costs would be on top of that bid!

It’s hard to think of every detail, and inevitably your house is going to have some shortcomings when you move in.  It’s common to notice the problems and imperfections more than the good, so give yourself some time to get used to the new house. Your enjoyment and appreciation of it will grow over time.  I think this is true of any new house.

Two items we overlooked and would have mentioned earlier if we could do it again are exterior lights and solid doors.  We assumed there would be lights under the eaves of the roofing, like so many homes of our size that we’d seen.  But it was never specified and when we moved in we realized they were missing.  There are some exterior lights, but not as many as we would have preferred.  Also, our designer talked us into hollow doors to save a little money, but we really wish we’d done solid core doors because they feel sturdier and nicer.  Other than that, we were very happy with how our house turned out!

CALL THOSE WORKERS BACK

Here’s another thing I learned from building a house that applies in many areas: don’t hesitate to have workers come back.  When we first moved in our air conditioning was coming out harder in some areas of the house than others and continued blowing below the set temperature.  I called the HVAC people and they came back to take a look.  The worker said that many things were set up wrong.  He spent about 2 hours fixing it and got everything straightened out.  Plus, he gave me a tutorial on the iPad-like tablet where we control the thermostat.  What if I hadn’t had him come back?!

After a few weeks of living in the house our wifi was giving us problems.  It was spotty and sometimes not existent.  We called Xfinity and they sent a worker over.  The same thing happened: he found multiple problems and spent a good while getting everything in order.  The wifi worked much better after that.

The tile in our shower had streaks of grout in various places.  It wasn’t totally noticeable because the grout was the same color as the tile, but as I was showering I would count the places that needed to be cleaned off (there were a lot).  Finally, we got our builder to send in a tile worker and he was able to get it all cleaned and perfect, like you would expect it should have been done the first time.

Lastly, we had a sprinkler system installed and it ran for a few weeks to water the sod.  When the weather turned cold and it came time turn them off, Bryan couldn’t quite remember how the landscape guy had explained to do that.  He tried a few things and ended up calling the guy.  It turned out that there was this very large tool needed to turn off the sprinklers beneath the ground.  The guy had forgotten to leave that tool and show Bryan how it worked!  Moral of the story: always call and ask or have the workers come back!

HEALTH INSURANCE

When you go to the doctor, you hand them your health insurance card and they copy down the information and bill your insurance.  You don’t really know what any of the costs are going to be until you get an “explanation of benefits,” either in paper or electronic form.  This form explains the different charges and what is covered by insurance and what is your responsibility.  Later (sometimes a month or more later) you will get the actual bill for your portion of the costs.  It seems like a lot of paperwork, but there is a reason for each document.

Here are some health insurance terms:

Premium: the amount you or your employer pays every month to continue your insurance.  Many professional jobs pay this premium as one of their benefits.

Deductible: the amount you pay out of pocket before the insurance pays for anything.  This amount can be very high, around $5,000 in many cases.  This means that every doctor visit or lab test will be paid by you until you reach that $5,000.  There are individual deductible limits and family limits as well.

Health Savings Account (HSA): an account where you can put pre-tax dollars to pay for any health care costs.  This money rolls over year to year, so it’s never lost.  It’s a great way to save on taxes and have money set aside for health costs.  You have to talk to you benefits administrator to set it up.

Copay: after your deductible is met, you still have to pay a portion of your office visit or hospital stay costs.  The amount is usually around $25 for an office visit and 20% of your costs for a hospital stay.

Out of pocket maximum: this is just what it sounds like, there is a maximum amount that you have to pay and once that is met the insurance company pays for everything else.  This is in addition to your deductible.  This would apply in situations of very serious accidents or disease with extended hospital stays.  If you have to pay 20% of all those costs it could bankrupt you.  So there is a maximum amount.

Knowing these terms gives you an idea of how health insurance works and what costs to expect.  When you talk to human resources or your benefits administrator, you’ll know what questions to ask and you’ll be able to understand the conversation better.

DENTAL INSURANCE

Most health insurance plans do not cover dental care.  But many professional jobs will include dental insurance as well as health insurance.  Dental insurance works the same as health insurance.

FINDING A DENTIST OR DOCTOR

When you have insurance, you have to go to a doctor or dentist that is approved by your insurance company.  This list is also known as the insurance “panel.” You can search on the insurance company’s website to find doctors and dentists who are on the panel.

FINANCIAL PLANNER

Whether or not to hire a financial planner can be a difficult and personal decision.  Here are some things to think about when making that decision.

If you have a lot of debt and you’re not sure the best way to pay it off or if you have trouble keeping track of your money or budget, it might be worth it to hire a financial planner. However, in my opinion, if you understand the basics of investing (start with pretax options—401k, IRA and HSA—and invest in index funds after that) and you can manage your own money adequately (meaning short term savings, budgeting, etc.), it might not be the best use of time and money to hire a financial planner. If and when you have substantial additional wealth to invest, beyond funding your 401k and IRA accounts, that would be the time to consider professional help to guide you through the options and decisions.

There are many different types of financial planners and different ways they are compensated.  I don’t know everything about the industry, but I can recommend one thing: be sure you know how they are paid. Here are some examples:

If they are paid every time you buy a product like life insurance or annuities, then they will be very enthusiastic about your need to buy those products!

If they are paid every time they move around your investments, then they will move them around more often.

If they are paid a flat fee no matter what happens to your stocks, they might be less motivated for your stocks to do well.

Some brokers and fund managers make money when they meet a quarterly goal.  Their decisions in regard to this goal may or may not be in your best interest.

Of course, you want to find an adviser that you trust and feel comfortable with, but any way they are paid comes with hidden incentives.  These incentives will always be there, but it’s important for you to know what and where they are.

Many financial advisers will take their fee directly out of your money that they manage.  But you should still know how much that is and when they take it out.

To read more about how financial planners are compensated, click here.

There are so many problems with this industry and many laws and regulations have been passed to try to protect consumers. You want to find an adviser that has a fiduciary obligation to you.  This means they are obligated by law to do what is in your favor (not theirs).  Other advisers are monitored by agencies such as FINRA or government entities, but those agencies are not able to control and govern every adviser.

One reason people want an adviser is to find out how much they will have in retirement according to the rate they are saving.  The calculations to estimate this are not too complex, but it’s nice to have someone sit down with you and say, “If you save at this same rate until you retire, and then take out this much a year, here’s how much you’ll have and how long it will last.”

You can find an adviser who will accept a flat fee or hourly rate to have this type of meeting.  Alternatively, if you have your retirement account with an investment firm (such as Fidelity), they have advisers who will meet with you once a year or so for free.  They will go over all your accounts and give you those types of estimates.  They may even give advice on how much and where else to invest in order to boost your savings.

Another place you can get this type of advice is from an accountant. If you hire an accountant to do your annual taxes, you can ask if they will also give advice on retirement savings and tax-advantageous ways to invest beyond retirement.

As you can see, it is a complicated industry.  Hopefully this advice will give you a head start in contemplating your need for a professional financial planner.

LIFE INSURANCE

One of the financial advisors we initially met with turned out to be basically an insurance salesman.  Because of his insistence that we needed whole (or permanent) life insurance, I looked into life insurance options quite a bit.

Whole (or permanent) life insurance

From my reading, the consensus is that whole life insurance is a good option IF you have funded all other retirement and some investment options AND you want to leave money to your children when you die. This is a good option for very wealthy people who need to utilize many more investment vehicles than most of us ever think about. We did not fall in that category.

Term life insurance

Term life insurance is the kind where you pay a fee every month and when you die your beneficiaries get the payout.  The fee increases as you get older and you should probably consider discontinuing it at some point.  As you get closer to retirement you need this life insurance less because your children are grown, and/or your spouse relies on your income less, and/or you have a lot of savings and money in retirement accounts (hopefully!).  So pay the term life insurance premiums monthly and stop when it makes sense to stop.  You may lose all that money you spent on premiums, but that means you lived a long life! It’s like car insurance: you may never use it, but you keep it for the peace of mind.

MORTGAGES

I don’t have any great advice on mortgages because I feel like we did everything the hard way.  We went with a large, established credit union (UCCU) for our construction loan, but the lady we worked with was flaky and unresponsive, so we had to look for other options.  Everyone had a suggestion for a lender, but it’s a pain to start these relationships, discuss your situation and turn over all your financial information.

When you call a mortgage broker they can tell you a little about what the options are, including their current rates, but to get a real quote you have to fill out an application and then upload an extensive number of documents (taxes, paystubs, bank account statements, retirement account statements, explanations for certain expenditures or credit checks, etc.), and often get an appraisal. It’s a lot of work, and we did that for three different banks/firms. We felt like it was very difficult to get accurate and reliable information (i.e., the people we were speaking with were confusing and said different things at different times).

One thing I do know is the process is much easier if you have 20% down.  Anything less than that requires special permission and a lot of, “we’ll see.”  Building a house makes things much more complicated.  We didn’t know if we’d for sure have 20% down because we didn’t know what the final cost of the house was (literally until about a month after we’d moved in!). Also, we had an additional appraisal after the house was built, and the value of the house had gone up, giving us instant equity.  We had no idea how much we’d need to bring to the closing until those two numbers were finalized.

We could move in before doing our final mortgage because our construction loan lasted for 12 months.  It was cheaper to just pay the interest on that construction loan anyway, so we continued with that while we moved in and waited for those numbers to come through.  Then we started talking to two different mortgage companies and finding out what they could offer.  It’s really hard to know if you’re getting a good deal or making the right decision. One difficult choice is between a 30-year fixed loan and an ARM (adjustable rate mortgage). The ARM was a lower interest rate, but it has some risk because after a certain number of years (7 in our case), the rate can be adjusted.  It’s a good idea to refinance before the 7 years is up, maybe getting into a 30-year fixed mortgage at that point, or even a 15-year fixed (which has great interest rates).  When you refinance you have to pay closing costs again, and you take the risk of higher rates. But, for us, the 7-year ARM made sense because it gave us a good rate right now and in 7 years our financial situation will be very different.  Bryan’s practice will be up and running and most of our kids will be out of the house.  So, we can afford the closing costs at that time, and we are hoping that rates stay the same or at least don’t go too crazy!

LUMP SUM PENSION ROLLOVER

Not many companies offer pensions anymore.  Pensions are also known as “defined benefit” retirement plans.  This means that you get a defined amount from the company when you retire, monthly until you die, as part of your benefit package.  The reason these went out of favor is because too many companies went bankrupt or mismanaged their pension funds and so retirees ended up not getting the promised money.

It is more common for companies to offer a “defined contribution” retirement plan, which means that you can contribute to a 401k (or 403b if you work for a nonprofit) which will hold and grow your own money. Your company may also contribute to the account, as part of your benefits.  If the company goes out of business, you still have your money, and if you move, you can take the money with you.

We had a pension at Mayo. When we left we were given the choice to keep it and acquire the money when Bryan retired, or roll it over into an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) and let it grow.  We consulted a few different professional opinions, and everyone agreed: it is more advantageous to roll it over to the IRA and let it grow with the market.  We were overwhelmed by this decision and process at the time, but now I realize it was not that big of a deal.  The decision was clear, and since Bryan already had an IRA account (through Vanguard), we just had to fill out the form with that account number.  We went through two different financial planners in part because we weren’t sure what and how to do this step.  The meetings with the planners were laborious, time consuming and stressful.  We ended up not going with either of them (for reasons outlined above), and just figured out the pension rollover on our own.

DISABILITY INSURANCE

For many professions, disability insurance is not necessary or warranted. It is expensive, and many jobs can still be done with a physical disability.  But most physicians have disability insurance because they make a high salary and any tremor or slight problem with their hands means they cannot do their job.  Here are some terms to get you started when you are considering disability insurance.

When you talk to an insurance agent he will ask questions about your income and your health, and then he will give you some options. You can ask right away that he send you an “illustration.” This is an 8-10-page document that explains all the policy features and optional riders (see below). It’s very helpful to see this illustration to start to get a sense of what is standard in disability policies and what is extra. After reviewing the illustration, you can speak with your agent again, ask him/her to explain the features more in depth, and fine tune which features you want to keep and which you want to discard.

Just for reference, disability insurance can range from $500-1000/month, depending on your age, health, and the chosen features.

Premium: same as in health insurance, the amount you pay per month for the insurance policy.  Often there is a discount if you pay for a whole year at once.

Elimination period: amount of time between the event that caused the disability and when the insurance payments start coming to you.  The shorter the elimination period, the more expensive the premiums for the insurance.

Total monthly benefit: the amount the insurance will pay you per month if you are disabled.

Own true occupation: a type of disability insurance that will pay you if you can’t do your own specialty, even if you could do another job.  Many disability insurances have small print that says if you can do any other job (consulting or teaching biology, for example) or you make money doing something totally different (start a business, write a book), then you won’t get the payments. If you get the “own true occupation” policy then this won’t happen.

Rider: an add-on provision to a basic insurance policy that provides additional benefits (usually at additional costs).

LICENSE PLATES/DRIVERS LICENSE

For some reason, finding out how to switch over our license plates and drivers licenses in Utah was very difficult. The online information was inadequate and it’s confusing to know which department and location to go to.  I finally figured out where to go and what to bring.  Here are some of the things I learned:

To get a license plate in a new state you have to take the title of your car and proof of registration in the old state.  If the car is leased, you also have to have a letter from the leasing company stating that you can register this car in a new state (sometimes this is a power of attorney letter). If the car is to be registered in your and your spouse’s names, you need both of your drivers license numbers. If you have a loan on the car, you might need other documentation, I’m not sure.

To get a new drivers licenses, most states require a test, but it is usually an open book test.  The lines at the DMV are shorter earlier in the day, so that’s when I’d recommend going. You have to take your old license and a piece of mail at your new (local) address.  You might as well bring your social security card, also, because you never know what they’ll need or ask for! And of course, there’s a fee, so bring your wallet.

Some Quick Ideas I Learned Too Late (and One I Didn’t)

There are some helpful parenting ideas that I heard about after my kids were too old to implement them. I wanted to explain them here in a quick post as an aid to other parents.

1.Give each child a certain amount of money to spend on each vacation you go on. The amount could vary, obviously, with the age of your children, the nature of the trip, and your personal finances. I spent way too much time on vacations negotiating with my children in gift shops, trying to convince them they didn’t need whatever trinket or stuffed animal they had encountered and set their heart on. I also agonized over what treats to buy them and when. If I’d given them their own money, I could have saved myself a lot of emotional strain and relationship contention.

I also like this idea because it’s another way (besides weekly allowance) to allow children to learn about money, what it buys and how it feels to spend it, and what the value/worth is of the items to be purchased. When they are asking for a $20 stuffed animal, they don’t have a relative idea of how much that is. But if they were given a certain amount each trip, those prices would start to mean a lot more.  There are many advantages to this trip souvenir strategy; I wish I’d heard of it sooner!

2.The second concept I learned about too late also relates to family travel. When you have many young children, you are obviously packing for all of them when you go on vacation. Instead of packing a suitcase or portion of a suitcase for each child with swimwear, church clothes, coats, etc., think of packing for specific events.  For example, church clothes for all the children should go together.  All their swimwear, all their hiking shoes, all their warm layers, and so on, could be packed together.  Then when you get to that part of the trip you don’t have to look through four suitcases to find that specific apparel item.  They will be all packed in one place.  I got this idea from Saren Loosli’s post about family road trips.  If you want to read the rest of her suggestions, click here.

3.The last suggestion is to have assign a child as a “kitchen helper” on a rotating basis. I did hear of this idea when my kids were young, but I dismissed it as too inconvenient. Chores tend to go slower, not faster, when moms have helpers! But, my girls ended up being somewhat picky eaters and that’s also inconvenient. I can’t say for sure that doing this would have helped their pickiness, but I had an experience that made me think it could have helped.

When my daughter Brooke was about ten years old I had her help me make dinner one night. Her task was to slice mushrooms and put them in a pan to sauté. They were then added to a sauce of some kind. Before this she hated mushrooms, gagging when we strongly encouraged her to eat them. That night she decided to try the sauce and said, “These mushrooms aren’t bad!” And she proceeded to eat the rest of what was on her plate. That occurrence helped me see the power of children helping in the kitchen. When they help prepare the food, they get to see it and interact with it in a different way and they have more of a desire to try something they made themselves.  It’s difficult to continuously have kitchen helpers and keep track of the rotation, but if I could do it again I would make more of an effort to do have kids help on a regular basis.

4.One thing that I did do, and I would highly encourage other parents to do, is work with your children instead of telling them what chores to do and checking on it later. The second approach usually ends with the parent getting angry with the child for not doing the chore or doing it wrong. It takes a long time for children to learn to be independent cleaners (somewhere around age 10) so don’t expect too much of them too soon. Make sure you teach them how to do the chore and explain your expectations. Working alongside your child reduces tension, provides a good example, and can even be a source of bonding. See Go Clean Your Room! for more on this.

 

Farewell. . . for Now

In the next few weeks I will be transitioning this blog into more of a website format.  It will have a static landing page with links to different topics, and a list of all the blog posts.  I always knew this blog was going to be more like a book (that ends) than a magazine (that has continuing editions).  I had a finite number of things I wanted to write, topics I’d been thinking about for years, and I didn’t plan on posting forever. I have come to the end of those ideas.  I may post more in the future if I think of other topics or as my children get older and I have more knowledge about teen years, transitioning to adult children, etc.

Hopefully you will continue to use and refer to this blog even though there are not new posts.  You can use it as a reference for future problems.  When you are struggling, review the posts and try to apply the general principles to that specific problem.  There are always areas for improvement as parents, and reviewing the content can help remind you of skills to work on.  The Basic Principles page has links to the main parenting ideas.  It’s always good to go back to the basics!

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or ideas. Click on the Comment button or email me at betterwayparenting@yahoo.com

If you want another blog with continual posts, check out www.ahaparenting.com/blog.  I have read some of her posts, and her philosophies and advice are right in line with mine.

Thanks for reading!

 

The Science of Teen Rebellion

This post is based on a chapter of the book Nurture Shock.  I summarized some of the other fascinating topics in this book here, but this chapter deserved a post of its own.  I learned so much about teenagers from this chapter and was surprised and comforted by much of the information.  The following are five confusing or stereotypical elements of the teen years that the book addressed.  Read Nurture Shock to find out more about the various studies I reference here.

  1. Maybe I shouldn’t set rules because teens are wired to defy them.

It is helpful to know that objection to parental authority peaks around age 14-15.  All that attitude you’re getting from your teen at this time is normal and temporary!  Many parents get nervous when they hit this period of heightened conflict with their teen.  It is hard to constantly get resistance and ridicule from your children, especially when they were once sweet and obedient.  Some parents think the best way to get through this time is to be more permissive and not set outright rules.  Their goal is to be a loving friend more than an authority figure.  They hope this will avoid tension in the relationship. But these teens tend to get in trouble because even though the parents are accepting and loving no matter what they do, the teens see the lack of expectations as a sign their parents don’t actually care – that their parents don’t really want the job of being in charge.

Successful parents set a few rules over certain key spheres of influence, and explain why the rules are there.  They expect the child to obey the rules, but they are flexible when circumstances come up (See Rules or Relationship?).  Over life’s other spheres, however, they allow and support autonomy, giving teens freedom to make their own decisions.  Studies show that parents who are most consistent in enforcing rules are the same parents who are most warm and have more conversations with kids.  It takes time and a lot of conversations to set and enforce rules. These parents speak and listen to their teens in a mature and respectful way, but still consistently implement limits.  Interestingly, the teens of these types of parents lie the least.

  1. Why do teens take crazy risks?

Teen brains are neurochemically different from adult brains.  They don’t get pleasure out of doing something mildly or moderately rewarding.  They seek thrills and extreme excitement because that’s what lights up their brain reward centers.  That dramatically increased pleasure response dampens their ability to assess risk and foresee consequences of their actions.  In abstract (in a discussion or on paper), teens can evaluate risks just like adults, but in the moment the rational part of the brain gets overridden by the reward center.  Also, teens try to prove they can handle things themselves, that they are grown-up and mature.  This is why they don’t seek out help from adults.  Luckily, as they become adults and their brains mature and develop, they acquire the same risk assessment abilities as anyone else.  Knowing this helps parents remember it’s not only their teen who doesn’t think things through or acts irrationally.  It’s just how teens are!  Parents still need to set limits and communicate with teens about how these actions will affect them, but they don’t need to overreact or get angry at the child for being that way.  Many times parents need to let their teens make decisions themselves and take these risks, to allow the teen to learn and grow from their mistakes.

  1. Why do teens care so much what others think?

Teens are also more highly attuned (again, neurochemically) to the opinions of their peers.  In one research study, the possibility of having their preferences displayed to an imaginary online audience vibrantly lit up the regions of the brain that signal distress and danger.  Yet when asked whether other scary situations were a “good idea” or “bad idea” the teens took longer to answer than adults and weren’t automatically stressed or scared.  Parents need to remember this when their teen is overly anxious about who they will see or what people will think.  It is not helpful for parents to say things like, “Don’t worry about that!” or “You’re being silly!”  It is a legitimate concern for the teen and parents need to empathize and listen respectfully.

  1. Teens don’t care what their parents think.

Lying to and arguing with parents are some of the most typical and most difficult teen behavior.  But, if you flip them on their side you will see that they are actually signs of respect and attempts at obedience.  Studies show that most teens lie to protect their relationship with their parents, not to avoid punishment.  They don’t want their parents disappointed in them.  This implies that they care what their parents think and want their parents to approve of them.  This is not to say parents should condone lying, but simply see it from a different angle.  Realizing that it’s normal and that teens want their approval, parents can discuss the situation with their teens calmly, saying things like, “I’m upset that you didn’t tell me the truth.”  “We need to be truthful with each other to have a respectful relationship.” And, “It’s okay for you to say you don’t want to talk about something, but it’s not okay to lie to me about it.” This last one is especially important.  Teens need a way “out” if they don’t want to talk about something.  Teenagers do not want to tell their parents everything.  That is hard for parents, but remember that it is normal (probably how you were as a teen!).  Parents have to be okay with not talking about it – even letting it go.

  1. Why does my teen argue with me so much?

Another comforting fact from recent studies: Moderate conflict with parents during adolescence is associated with better adjustment than either no-conflict or frequent conflict.  Surprisingly, studies show that in families with less deception from teens there is actually more arguing and complaining!  The way to reframe arguing is to realize that arguing is honesty.  Looked at this way, you can see that teens are fighting with their parents over the rules – not over the authority of the parents to set rules.  This type of arguing is actually a sign of respect. It’s not deceptive, and the underlying premise is a belief that parents have the right to make rules.  If they didn’t believe that, teenagers could say what parents want to hear and still do what they want to do.

Because parents don’t realize this, arguing with their teens causes them great anxiety.  Parents are more likely to hold on to the frustration after a negative interaction than teens.  Teens move on and don’t read as much into the argument, but parents dwell on it in their minds, sulking and catastrophizing (He’s always like this! We’re never going to have a good relationship!).  Reframing the arguing can really help parents stay calm.

Most teens view arguing as productive, not destructive.  They view it as a way to see their parents in a new perspective, a way for them to feel heard, and a way to find some common ground or compromise.  Parents should not say, “I don’t want to hear it!” “This is the way it is.” “Don’t argue with me!” or other such statements. These statements shut the communication down rather than open it up.

I  know this is true for my children.  They really need to tell their side and feel like their experience is validated.  This takes time and sometimes patience, but after I listen to them, they are calmer, and it is easier to find a solution.    Even the tiniest concessions make teens feel satisfied with the resolution.  This is not to say parents are pushovers; they are just respectful – listening and taking into consideration the child’s argument. They are hardly children anymore!  These teenagers will be adults soon and we should treat them like their opinions matter as much as an adult’s (almost) and help them get in the habit of expressing their feelings, using their words to get what they want, and staying calm and kind in a discussion.   We teach them how to do this by explanation and by our example.

 

5 Tips for Parenting in the Electronics Age

Parenting in the age of electronic devices is new and uncharted territory for all of us.  There are many articles and posts with great suggestions and solutions, but I wanted to add my voice to that conversation and share some lessons I’ve learned in the past few years.

When our daughters were 16 and 14 they saved their money and paid for half the cost of their iPad Minis.  It was toward the beginning of teenagers (or anyone) having these types of devices, and I was quite naive as to what could go wrong or what parameters I should set up.  It was very difficult to go back and take away electronic privileges that they had become accustomed to.  If I could do it again, I would set up the following standards and constraints from the very beginning.

  1. Establish dual ownership. Even though the device might be “theirs” you need to make it clear that it is also yours, in the sense that you can take it when you deem necessary, can look at it when you want, can make restrictions on its use, and can monitor the way they use it. This sounds simple, but when our girls got their devices we didn’t have such conversations or expectations. When we realized we needed access to the devices for all the above reasons, they were very resistant and protective.  Setting up this dual ownership doesn’t have to be done in a harsh or demeaning way.  It can be part of the conversation about the benefits and risks of using devices, and the need for continual parental supervision until they are adults.  If this expectation is set up from the beginning, teens might balk at first, but they will get used to it.
  2. Have “break” times. We decided to have an hour a week (our was Sundays 6:00-7:00) where the girls hand over their devices to us.  This gives them a break and gives us time to look through their phone and see what they’ve been up to.  I look through their social media accounts to see who they are following and what kind of content is posted.  I look through their browser (safari) pages and check the history.  You can learn a lot about what your child is interested in or curious about by doing this!  Sometimes I read their texts or notes or reminders.  It feels slightly invasive but there could be something going on that is important for you to know about. At first they weren’t crazy about handing over their devices, but now they are used to it, and we can see the immense benefits.  They engage with the family more and find other ways to entertain themselves.  Sometimes they don’t even ask for them at 7:00 because they are enjoying themselves so much.  If a device is available it is almost always the easiest and most fun thing to do.  A mandatory break is necessary for them to realize the pull the device has on them.  Once we started this break time, we wished we’d done it years ago, and we wished we’d done it more often.  Maybe twice a week would be even better.  It really helps to pull them out of the constantly-checking-updates mode and see the real world for a while.  When my children were young I knew they needed and craved boundaries, but I forgot to apply this same parenting philosophy to my teenagers.
  3. Sequester devices when guests come over. I had an epiphany about this during our family reunion this summer. The girls were excited to see their cousins and aunts and uncles, but couldn’t seem to break away from their devices.  Even when they were interested in the conversation, they had their phones right by them to check their feeds continually.  I realized I should have set up a standard long ago that when visiting with family or family friends, devices are not allowed.  This would get them in the habit of focusing on the people and forgetting about the devices and would be especially useful at holidays and family gatherings.  Again, when the devices are around they are too tempting (even for adults!).  (I wouldn’t necessarily make this rule for when their friends come over – devices are a big part of friendships these days.)
  4. Consider each app they use or buy. Someone pointed out to me that you can take the safari web-browsing app right an Apple device. This would be a great idea for a young child who wants a device but you don’t want to give them access to everything on the internet.  You can set your account up such that you have to approve each app your child purchases.  This way you will know what is on his phone.  Everyone will have their own decisions and reasons for which app is appropriate for their child and which isn’t, but it’s much easier to prohibit an app before download it and acquire 50 friends or followers.
  5. Keep an eye on whom and how many they are following on social media. This one took me really by surprise. I had very strong feelings about the evils of fashion magazines (air brushing, body image distortion, adult content, etc.), especially for daughters, but one day I found out that my daughter was following Vogue on Instagram, seeing and learning some inappropriate things.  I realized that Instagram can be like an endless variety of magazines – and I needed to be aware of which ones my daughter was subscribing to.  There are multiple problems that can result from whom and how many they follow on social media.  The first is obviously the content: you want to know and approve of what your children are seeing and experiencing (Vogue was NOT on the approved content list!).  The second is the frequency some groups post.  For instance, my older daughter is interested in human rights, but some groups she followed post 3-4 times a day, overwhelming her with propaganda and sometimes disturbing images.  A third problem is the total number of posts in their feed.  The more people they follow, the longer it takes them to “keep up” with everyone.  They have to constantly check what’s new and spend a considerable amount of time reading what has been posted since they last checked.  I realized that if I put a limit on how many they can follow, I would be limiting the volume of information coming through their feed (again, easier done from the beginning than asking them to pare down).

If I’d set up these parameters early on we could have avoided some frustrations and problems with my girls’ device use.  Hopefully some parents can learn from my mistakes!

Note: for a more in depth look at handling teens and their electronics use see Electronics. Also, here is an example of a electronics contract between parents and teens (on Saren Eyre Loosli’s blog), which can be used as an actual contract or to facilitate a conversation and help you remember all the important points you want to cover!

Allowance

I’ve had two friends recently suggest I do a post on allowance and chores.  One even gave me a list of questions she hoped I would answer, so I decided to do this post in a Q&A format.

Do you give your children allowance?

Yes, we give allowance because it enables them to learn money management.  By practicing with their own money, children can try out concepts – saving for a rainy day, prioritizing goals, and delaying gratification – that might otherwise seem abstract or irrelevant.  Allowances give kids room to make mistakes in a low-risk environment.  They are able to learn early on the pitfalls of impulse buying and the value of saving.

When do you start and how much do you pay?

We start giving allowance when our children enter kindergarten.  A child’s understanding of the concept and value of money does not fully emerge until 6 years old or older.  Before then you will find him or her leaving the money around, not taking care of or caring much about it (beyond an initial excitement).

We pay $1/grade/week.  For kindergarten and first grade they get $1/week, in second grade $2/week, and so on.  This amount has worked well for our children, and it’s an easy way to remember when they get a “raise” in allowance.

money pic

 

 

How often do you pay?

We decided to give out allowance on a weekly basis, although biweekly or monthly can work also.  The important thing is getting in a consistent pattern so you remember to do it.  It takes some effort to have the correct change around each week; you need many one dollar bills!

Do you force your child to save or give to charity?

This is a tricky question because if the point of giving allowance is to let children learn money management, shouldn’t they be permitted to spend it however they want?  The answer is yes, and no.  We don’t force our children to save any of their money.  Their allowance is not that much to start with, and I don’t think any amount they could save would make much difference in long term pursuits (college, etc.).  Some of our girls have chosen to save up for some big-ticket item, which has taught them about delaying gratification and the benefits of saving.  But if they choose to spend it all right away, I’m okay with that.

We do, however, strongly encourage them to donate money.  In our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormons), we are taught to donate 10% of our money as tithing.  Ten percent can be tricky, though, when you’re paying $2 a week!  I didn’t like the idea of giving allowance in coins, so I came up with a better way.  I keep track of the weeks and have my girls pay their whole allowance as tithing every tenth week.  It’s the same concept, one-tenth of your increase, but more convenient!  Sometimes the girls have resisted and said they don’t want to, or it’s their money, but I just say, “This is what Hoelzers do!” and give them the pen to fill out the tithing slip.  I remind them that the other 9 weeks they got to keep their whole allowance, and that this one week their money can go to help others.

Some families have their children divide up their allowance into spending, saving, and charity jars.  This is a great idea if you have the small change on hand and the patience to keep up with this system.  It was too much for me to keep track of, and I felt good about letting them spend the money, after they had paid tithing.  Somewhere in middle school my girls started making more money from babysitting, keeping track of their own income, and paying tithing on it on their own.

Do you monitor what they spend their allowance on?

This question goes along with the previous one, both relating to children’s freedom to choose what to do with their allowance.  Again, we give allowance because it is an educational tool, to help them learn lessons about what and how they spend money, so we don’t monitor very closely.  But I do think there can be some general oversight, such as, “You can spend your allowance however you like, as long as it doesn’t cause a problem.”   Buying something you’re opposed to, like fireworks or a pellet gun, would fall under that clause.

In general you should let children spend their money on what they want, even if you don’t think it’s a good use of money or worthwhile.  I’ve had times where my child has bought something of low quality that I knew would break, but I didn’t say anything.  When we got home and it broke, I didn’t say, “I knew that would happen;” I was sympathetic and kind and told the child I was sorry that happened.  The child learned the lesson from the consequences far more powerfully than my predicting the consequences.

When my oldest two daughters were in middle school we decided to sell much of their accumulated American Girl dolls and clothes.  The sale was a success, and they both earned hundreds of dollars.  One child asked if she could open a savings account (and the money is still in that account to this day).  The other got on amazon.com (with which she was already intimately familiar) and spent almost all of it!  Both approaches were acceptable to me, and both girls learned lessons from the experience.

Do you allow your children to borrow against or get advances on their allowance?

I’m against this, more because of the inconvenience than any strong philosophical stance.  It’s too hard to remember who borrowed what or how much they still get on Saturday.  I also think it’s a bad habit to get into.  The Hoelzer Family Bank doesn’t give advances.  I want my children to learn to delay their gratification and not spend their money before they have it.  A related problem is when they want to buy something at the store, but their money is at home.  I mostly allow this.  I will buy the item and have them pay me back when they get home.  It’s one more thing to remember, but it’s a little more immediate.

What are your children responsible for paying for themselves?

Between the ages of 6 and 12 their allowance is pretty much just fun money.  I pay for their movies or activities, and they don’t really go places that cost money with friends.  They could use their allowance for toys or trinkets, food or candy, or save up for something bigger.  Around middle school, children’s expenses increase.  This is the time they want to do stuff with friends and want more clothes and accessories (at least girls do!).  At that point we started having them pay for some of their own fun activities, but not all.  We didn’t have an exact plan, but if I knew they had some money (if they were “cashy,” as I call it), then I would tell them to pay.  

When my girls were in eighth grade I started having them pay for their dance clothes and shoes.  There is a large price difference in leotards, and if I am buying, they really like the more expensive ones!  Having them pay for their own leotards taught them a lot about the value of a dollar and how to look for sales and discount websites.

One fun thing about children having their own money is watching them use it to buy for others.  For Christmas and birthdays we encourage our children to buy presents for others family members.  It has been really cute to see their generosity and excitement over finding a present to give to mom or dad or sister.  At Christmas we take them shopping to buy for others.  We supplement the younger ones’ allowance so they can buy for everyone and sometimes a friend or two.  But the older ones (10 years old and up) budget and decide what to get each person and pay for it all themselves.  They are very thoughtful in gift giving, especially for my husband and me.  Around November if they are talking about things they want to buy with their allowance I remind them that the holidays are coming and they should be saving.  They have really come to enjoy this opportunity to give.

Do you link allowance directly with chores?

This is the question you’ve all been waiting for.  This is a topic that many people feel strongly about on both sides.  In our family we do NOT link allowance with chores.  Most, if not all, of the parenting and financial experts I have read or heard have recommended separating the two, for the reasons I mention here.

We talk a lot to our children about family responsibilities and family benefits.  We tie that in to family unity by saying, “Being part of the Hoelzer family comes with benefits and responsibilities.  One of your benefits is receiving allowance each week.  One of your responsibilities is doing family chores.”  We use this concept in other ways, also.  If we are going on a vacation, that’s a family benefit.  If there are extra chores to do some weekend, that’s a family responsibility.  We all work together for the good of the family, and we all enjoy certain benefits.  If another family gets something our family doesn’t, we point out that every family has benefits and responsibilities, and that’s not one of ours.

Again, giving children money is an instructive tool that helps them learn and develop necessary skills for adulthood.  It is given simply because they are part of the family.  The main argument for tying chores to money is this: “Children need to learn that if you don’t work, you don’t earn anything.  I don’t get paid if I don’t work, so they shouldn’t either.  That’s how the real world works.”  I completely disagree with the premise of this claim.  Correlating chores and allowance seems to make sense on the surface, but it’s actually quite arbitrary.  That same reasoning could be used to say, “Nobody pays for my vacation, why should my child get a free vacation?” or “I had to pay for this food we eat, why should my child eat for free?”  When extended to these situations you can see that the logic starts to break down.  Adults have to pay for everything they use or consume.  And we have to work for all the money we earn.  But childhood is a special time where things are provided for you so you can grow and learn.

It is essential that a child learns to work during childhood, and that’s where the family responsibilities come in.  Children need to have chores and responsibilities around the house.  They need to experience what being a family member, a team member, is all about. It’s important to teach them that all family members have responsibilities to the group. And that’s nonnegotiable. Though they may gripe about doing the dishes, the need to contribute in a meaningful way is fundamental. Tying that work to allowance doesn’t give the child a better work ethic.  Sometimes it can even cause the opposite – the child can consider whether the chore is worth the money, and possibly decide it’s not.  In that case, he doesn’t learn to work and he doesn’t have any money to spend.

I don’t think there is any child who will grow up thinking that money comes for free forever.  This is just not a legitimate concern.  If you instill a good work ethic in your child he will continue to work hard at whatever his current task is: family chores, school work, college work, or his professional job.  Children are smart enough to realize the difference between a weekly allowance from mom and dad and money they will need to earn as an adult.

Connecting money and chores can give both an added layer of emotional power.  Parents start to emphasize that you have to get the bad stuff over with (the chores) to get to the good stuff.  I prefer to teach both as positive concepts.  We get to work together and produce a clean house, and we also get weekly allowance.

Sometimes parents want to tie chores to allowance because they feel it gives them more leverage.  They have something to hold over the child’s head to motivate him to work.  But, again, it may not be motivation enough, and then you are stuck with undone chores.  The better way to get children to complete their chores is harder and takes more time: talk to them about the importance of all family members pitching in, compliment them when they complete their chores, stay with them to ensure they are done, be firm but kind in insisting the work is done.

chores pic

Do you have any chores tied to money?

We do have a list of “money chores” that the kids can choose to complete if they want to earn extra money.  These would be the more difficult, extra chores such as cleaning windows or vacuuming the car; something that is not part of the child’s usual responsibilities.  They are completely optional, simply there if the child wants to earn money.  We haven’t been great about keeping this list up, but if a child is saving for something special and wants ways to earn extra money, then we will create a new list.

*Look for a future post for more about family chores and responsibilities.

*Some of the information in this post came from babycenter.com.