Parents, Children, and Election Day Ideas

Election Badge
Election Badge

It’s almost here! Election Day 2012 is on Tuesday November 6th, and the weeks leading up to it bring a goldmine of opportunities for parents to create stimulating dialogue with their children.Whether it is over the family dinner or during an otherwise monotonous car ride, the following ideas can help parents find out whom or what influences their child’s opinions, how school is or isn’t expanding their child’s knowledge base, and ways to influence a child’s principles or vision.  And who knows?  Parents and kids may bond a little too!

1. Utilize Election Day as an opportunity to ask kids what they know about “government”. Can they name the three branches (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial)? Do they know their two State Senators, or any of the Congressional Representatives? How might they respond if asked to debate the pro or con side of a current issue such as drilling for oil, or dealing with terrorists (otherwise known as big bullies)? These open ended questions can provide a good glimpse about what a child is or isn’t learning in school, and how a parent might applaud or supplement their knowledge base. Younger kids can be taught these concepts in very basic ways while older kids can be challenged with more thought provoking debates.

2. Consider inviting a child to imagine that they were an elected official and ask them what they would do to improve the country. Parents may hear comical answers such as “I’d ban all homework”, or thoughtful answers that give insight into their child’s knowledge and personal beliefs. Most parents enjoy hearing their children’s opinions and ideas. They’ll likely glean what kids are picking up from their sphere of influence, including academics, news stories, social media, peers, or even their peer’s parents.

3. Election Day celebrates our right to make choices. Ask your kids which candidate they would choose. Then ask them to give you two solid reasons for that choice.  Some kids will make their choice based on the preference of a parent or best friend? If this is the case, a parent might dig deep to evoke their child’s opinions and encourage them to be leaders of their own beliefs instead of followers of other’s beliefs. Parents might consider observing for this pattern of behavior in other parts of the child’s life. Whether kids elect a candidate, choose an extracurricular sport, or pick the perfect college, we ultimately want them to know how to research their choices, match them with personal beliefs, and make intelligent, informed decisions.

4. Consider taking your children to the poll with you. I did this with my son when he was 8 years old.  He was thrilled to be included in a grown up activity and this alone increased his attentiveness to election process. I was allowed to take him into the ballot box and even let him punch the holes in the card to choose our candidates. He was over the moon!

5. Elections, as we have observed this year, can get rather ugly with contemptuous ads, gross exaggerations, and insults. Ask your kids what they think about these strategies and the grown up bullies who action them? Do they think that they are justified in order to win? Why or why not? Ask your child what alternatives they would implement to run an ethical and moral campaign? When you hear all the good things they know they should do, pat yourself on the back. That is likely the result of your good parenting!

Please share your ideas on how to maximize teaching opportunities before our upcoming election.

Parenting Touchdowns: A Lesson taken from NFL Commissioner Goodell


An October weekend in 2010 brought three heart stopping games for college and professional football players, teams, and fans.  During a Saturday Army / Rutgers game, Rutgers player Eric LeGrand was paralyzed below the neck after a hard hit in which he ducked his head.  On Sunday in the NFL, the Falcons played the Eagles, and the Steelers took on the Browns.   Four players were seriously injured due to “head first tackles” that are clear violations of the rules.   Now I’m aware that there is some controversy as to how “violent” or “clean” these hits were, but that’s not what this blog is about.  This blog is about parenting and we’ll get to that in a moment. I have been a quiet observer of the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, for the past five years, and I like his leadership.  In 2007, after a year of consequential scandals involving NFL players, he instituted the NFL Personal Conduct Policy.  Players, who crossed the line with weapons, drugs, drunk driving, or using banned substances, were suspended without pay and/or fined up to $100,000.  Players who were held in “higher public regard” than other players on the field were given more severe penalties.  Why?  Because they were role models who were powerful enough to positively or negatively influence millions of viewers including our impressionable children.

Two days after the injurious October weekend, Mr. Goodell and his Commission decided that they had to keep their players as safe as possible.  They also had to help them stay accountable.  If players could not regulate themselves in their pursuit to win, they would have new incentive. 

Any player who initiated a “dangerous and flagrant” hit that violated rules, particularly those including helmets and a “defenseless player” (a receiver in the act of making a catch) would be suspended and possibly fined.  This new rule would punish careless or downright defiant players who took rules for granted. 

What is most significant is that Roger Goodell and his NFL Commission have had the backbone to enforce their rules.  Players know this and take their consequences more seriously. 

Fast forward to the upcoming 2012 season.  Mr. Goodell and the NFL aren’t just taking care of their own players, and they’re not just being punitive.  Proactive and practicing what they preach, the NFL is donating one million dollars a year to Heads Up Football a health and safety resource for parents, coaches and players in youth leagues.

Furthermore, Mr. Goodell, in response to the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal for which he imposed harsh penalties to players and coaches, released a 2012 preseason letter stating that “there was no place for bounties in football.”  He re-emphasized NFL rules and his commitment to enforcing them.  I particularly appreciated this statement: “Our players do not make excuses on the field; we will not make them off the field.”

So what does all this have to do with parenting?  Roger Goodell is like a parent to the NFL players and even coaches.   If he can straighten his backbone to set standards and enforce them, for player welfare, and for the NFL family reputation, why don’t we take his example and do the same for our kids and our families? 

Your kids, like some football players or coaches, will test your rules by breaking them, either unknowingly or intentionally.  Pause for a moment and evaluate how you have handled this type of situation thus far.   Do you need to create and enforce a personal conduct policy for your children in sports and in the game of life?   How would this help to keep your kids and other kids safer and out of trouble? In other words, what's in it for all of you?

Once you create rules, how effectively do you enforce them? Are your approaches punitive, proactive or both?  How well do you model the behaviors you wish that your children would demonstrate?

If there is one thing we know from decades of research, it is that children like to know what they can and can’t do.  It takes some of the guesswork out of life.  In other words, they want limits.  Who better than a parent to set them? 

You are the Commissioner of what happens in your family.

Let us know your thoughts and ways you’ve helped your kids to regulate their personal conduct.

10 Tips to Deal with Back Talk from Kids

Talking BackBack talk from kids rears its ugly head to annoy, challenge, and sometimes even embarrass parents.  It doesn’t just come from teenagers, even tiny tots catch on to “sassing” their parents.  Luckily, parents can remedy this surly syndrome.  Let’s jump right with the following tips.  As always, take what works and toss what doesn’t. You’re the parent and you get to decide! 1.  It is important to note that kids who back talk are normal.  This is part of their natural desire to grow toward independence.  Since they learn by trial and error, they are testing their limits to see what works and what doesn't.

2.  Try not to snap back at your child.  Doing so will justify their behavior and procure more of it.  Instead of getting annoyed with them, try looking at the situation as an opportunity to teach.  (This won’t work all the time, but the more you try, the better you will get at it.)

3.  Rule out hunger or fatigue as catalysts for back talk or any other unpleasant behavior.  Physical discomforts would make anyone cranky and short tempered.  Then, set rules and limits that work best for your family.  Experts advise that kids actually want limits set for them so that they can help themselves self regulate.  Here is what a limit might sound like.  “In this family, we speak with courtesy and a pleasant tone of voice.  Talking back with rude words, tones, or gestures will not be tolerated.”

4.  Teach your child how you would like them to express themselves including a courteous tone of voice, pleasant facial expressions, and civilized body language.  This might seem like common sense, but remember that what your children learn from the media and some of their friends is anything but common sense or common courtesy!  Of course the more you role model high-quality communication the more you’ll be able to teach by example.  Your child’s brain does not just learn by listening to what you say, it learns by observing what you do.

5.  Empathize with your child.  Okay, I know!  The last thing you want to do when you’ve just been sassed is to be empathetic but try for just a moment try to actually feel the frustration that is making your child talk back.  I’m not saying you must agree with them; just try to understand where they are coming from. It is very likely that the back talk was provoked by a strong emotion such as anger, disappointment, or frustration. Once you identify why your child is having a strong emotion resulting in back talk, you both can lay the groundwork for problem solving both.

6.  Use empathy again, but this time as a teaching tool.  Ask your child how he would feel if his closest friends or family addressed him with back-talk.  Of course, this step is best done when your child is calm and not talking back!  It is a step that can allow for bonding between parent and child.  Building empathy takes time but is a key competency of emotional intelligence and it addresses how we communicate with each other.  With your patience and persistence it can work wonders.

7.  Age appropriate consequences should be delivered for the child who continues with back talk.  Remember though that consequences only work for parents who commit to enforce them with consistency.  If you don’t do this, you are teaching your child that your rules are meaningless and that you can be manipulated.  Not good!

8.  If you catch your child regressing a bit but the circumstance isn’t severe enough to be enforced with a firm consequence, consider this simple question as a gentle reminder:  “How do you speak to me?”

9.  Kids are smart and sensitive.  They can pick up on insincerity so please sincerely PRAISE your child when you see that he /she has made improvements.  "I really like the calmness and maturity with which you expressed yourself."  “I’m proud of your efforts.” Watch the pride on your child’s face when positive feedback is rendered.

10. After you praise your kids, please praise yourself.  The steps outlined above require patience and persistence often in very grueling emotional situations.  Parenting is the hardest job on the planet, and you just advanced the success in yours.  BRAVO!

Over to you.  How do you handle back talk with your kids?  Did your parents have tricks that worked on you when you were growing up?  We’d love to hear your thoughts in our comments section.

5 Parenting Ideas For Sustained Summer Sanity

The lazy hazy days of our kids’ summer vacations are nearly upon us.  While summer is meant to be brimming with fun, the words “lazy” and “hazy” plague many parents.  They complain about “lazy” kids who just want to “chill”, and then they worry about the impact of personal sluggishness and absent academics.  Parents feel “hazy” attempting to manage free-for-all schedules, as well as the chaos of getting in and out of suitcases, vacations, camps, and the “I’m bored” melodrama. Well I’m not promising a magic potion for “lazy and “hazy”, but these ideas might just help parents to feel a little more in control.  

 1.       The busiest moms and dads can salvage sanity with the use of lists.   Is creating one a hassle?  Your problem is solved by visiting  This free website has the most comprehensive list of checklists that can assist anyone to contain ideas, needs, and tasks in one organized place.  Use them for anything including teaching your children to pack their own bag for vacation, summer camp, or a sleepover at grandmas.  Not only are you teaching them about organization and personal responsibilities, you are lightening your parental workload at the same time.  Uh-huh, you heard me!  This summer is about your parenting sanity and this post is dedicated to YOU!

2.       Did I just say “lighten your workload?”  You betcha!  Assign daily summer chores to your kids!  A good friend of mine grew up as one of seven children.  Every day during summer break, her parents left a list of chores that each child was responsible for.  From yard work, laundry, vacuuming, or preparing for dinner, these kids all grew up having an appreciation for domesticity, personal responsibility, and family team work.  Oh, and if the kids didn’t do what they were assigned, they learned about accountability and consequences from their parents who vowed to be consistent, yet loving disciplinarians!  Each of these seven kids grew up with no understanding of what it meant to be “lazy” or “unproductive.”  Today all seven are not just self made successes; they are highly productive and respected members in their communities.  Kudos to their parents!

3.       Many parents want their kids to use their noodles during summer break.  No, not the kind you float on in the pool, but the one that grows in between their ears.  The planet’s best research reports that parents who require children to read in the summer actually advance the children’s literacy and academic performance.  Furthermore, instruction to “go read for an hour” is good ammunition for parents to squelch the drones of “I’m bored.”  Age appropriate book lists are available from your child’s school, the public library, bookstores, or a quick internet search.  Helpful tips include allowing your child to select both fiction and nonfiction books that interest them, set goals as to how many they would like to read each week, and add newspapers and magazines for variety.  Most importantly, consider reading some books out loud as a family.  Author Jim Trelease has an entire book devoted to this subject.  It is called The Read Aloud Handbook and it happens to be a New York Times bestseller because of its valuable not to mention delightful content.  (I gift a copy to every expecting mom that I know.)

4.       Do the things that you don’t have the time or patience to do in the school year. Split this one up in to fun things, and not so fun but necessary tasks.  Whether you teach your children how to make a banana split, have a friendly water balloon fight, clean out closets, feed the homeless, cook together, garden together, or just watch fireflies, do it together.  Let the gift of time, and your united spirits create the finest family bonding that you’ve ever experienced.

5.       Okay… so your kids are off for 3 months.  This doesn’t mean you have to tend to their whims or entertain them 24/7/365.  Parents have to take care of themselves in order to take care of their kids.  If you don’t know the importance of this or how to do it, please read about The Parenting Oxygen Mask.

What would you add to this list?  Scroll down to our comments section and share your ideas to grow happy yet productive kids, peaceful parents, family harmony, and the best summer ever!