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posted: 1/31/2013 5:00 AM

Teach kids they have to live with their decisions

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Columnist Ruben Navarrette's commentary on balance in parenting reminded me of an impactful book from my parenting days. It was a "how-to" of balance. My own youth involved lining up in school, boys on one wall, girls on the other, for math practice. Miss an answer and you went to the back of the line with "Wrong!" echoing in your ears.

I hated that memory but I also hated the "everyone's a winner" philosophy of pseudo self-esteem just taking hold when my kids were young. Then I read Mazlish and Faber's, "How to Talk So Kids Listen and Listen So Kids Talk." It was chock full of examples for honest praise laced with ideas for doing something even better. "Good boy/girl" is so vague, and no one is good (or bad) all the time. But a kid could be very good at bouncing a basketball and be even better at making baskets if he/she aimed just so at the square on the backboard. A kid could be told that balls are for bouncing outside and that balls bounced inside go into time out. Balls bounce inside? Time out for the ball, and stick to it -- every time. And if the kids cry, it's easy to then commiserate with them about the difficulties of living with poor decisions.

This approach takes time, effort, love and patience (with yourself and them). Not until my kids were in college did I hear a thank-you for those efforts. An even greater thank-you came when they used similar approaches with their own children.

Ours is such an all-or-nothing, black-or-white culture. Life isn't like that. It's messy and full of shades of gray. Even so, with natural consequences, consistency, patience and love, one can have balance, standards, limits, self-correction and growth while simultaneously building healthy self-esteem.

Barbara Muehlhausen


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