An Interview with Mac Bledsoe of Parenting with Dignity

We are extremely glad to have him on this interview. He’s none other than Mac Bledsoe. Mac is the President, Founder and author of the parenting curriculum Parenting with Dignity. The Parenting with Dignity curriculum presents effective techniques for raising responsible, independent children. It’s available in the forms of DVDs and books.

Mac and the Parenting with Dignity curriculum has been featured on NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s 20/20 television show, and on numerous national and local radio and television programs.

In this interview, Mac is going to cover a wide spectrum of topics concerning today’s parents.

Enjoy!

1.      How was the idea for Parenting with Dignity series born? What’s the tory behind it?

Mac BledsoeOver time, I found myself disillusioned by the culture in my classroom, and the increasing numbers of students who seemed to be morally and ethically rudderless. I was saddened to watch students making terrible decisions with life-altering or life-ruining consequences. Born out of this frustration I wondered what would happen if my wife and I were to try teaching parents some of the simple techniques we used daily in our classrooms. Could we teach parents how to teach their values, morals, and ethics to their own children? We believed that if parents knew how to instruct their children in effective decision-making and how to set guidelines for making decisions, it could make a difference in our classrooms.

Permission was obtained from school principals and my wife Barbara and I held the first of what was to become a parent education curriculum that is now entitled Parenting with Dignity. Only a small group of parents attended that first class, but within weeks we began to notice a profound effect in our classrooms. Students were attending class more regularly, and someone at home had actually convinced them of the importance of doing homework. Noticeable changes in personal grooming and perceptible changes in the vocabulary of their students convinced us that we were onto something.

Parenting with Dignity evolved into a nine-week course over the years as the program became more comprehensive and fine-tuned to today’s problems. We were teaching PWD at community colleges, hospitals and in PTAs of Northwestern States when our oldest son, Drew, approached us with an idea. Drew, a quarterback in the NFL at this time, explained that he wanted to build a foundation to support and promote their Parenting with Dignity program!

After considerable deliberation, I accepted the challenge and founded the Drew Bledsoe Foundation as a support mechanism to bring Parenting with Dignity to the entire nation. The rest is history. Parenting with Dignity now stands on its’ own and is one of America’s most effective and highly acclaimed parent education curriculums.

For more information about Parenting with Dignity please go to:
http://parentingwithdignity.com/PWD/about_us/mac_bledsoe.htm

2.      Your son, Drew, is an NFL player. As a parent, how did you bring out the best in him and what advice do you have for other parents?

This question is probably best answered by telling you a true story about Drew as he was growing up.

When Drew was in the seventh grade, his football coach told him to pick another position because he had no future as a quarterback. When Drew came home from practice that evening he was just crushed because he had been dreaming of playing quarterback for his whole life.

He said, “Dad, what should I do when people tell me stuff like that?”

Now it is pretty lucky that he did not ask for my evaluation of his possibilities of playing quarterback because I would probably have told him the same thing that his junior high coach told him. But he asked my advice about dealing with others trying to shoot down his dreams!

What I told him was pretty simple. I said, “Drew, you know what I have always told you. Nobody may put an idea in your head without your consent; without your permission! You dream your own dreams, you set your own goals, you select the ideas that you choose to rule your world. Go for it! Attempt anything that you choose. Then if it doesn’t work out… come on home and I will love you anyway!”

That night Drew went down to his room and wrote his goal of playing quarterback on a piece of paper. Over time he modified it by writing in the 3 P’s of goal setting and it took him seven short years to become the number one pick in the NFL Draft.

The best advice or guidance that I gave to both of our sons was that they were in charge of all of the big decisions in their life! That is the basis of our entire Parenting with Dignity Curriculum.

To listen to a video clip of this principle just click on this link:
http://parentingwithdignity.com/PWD/video_series/1-Model_video.htm

3.      If there’s only one thing, what would be the best gift you could give to your children?

This is an easy answer to give because I selected this in my first year of teaching. The one idea that I would give to any child would be this:

“Happiness is an attitude of choice!”

Armed with the idea that they are in charge of their own happiness it would send every child into the world to be happy; in spite of their circumstances and the events which surround them.

The central idea of Parenting with Dignity is that the ideas in children’s heads will rule their world. The idea that I would most like to give to every child would be that the key to happiness lies well within their control.

To listen to a video clip from our curriculum that explains this concept, please click on this link:
http://parentingwithdignity.com/PWD/video_series/2-5rules_video.htm

4.      What do you think are the top three mistakes most parents make when it comes to raising kids?

Without a doubt the biggest mistake that I see parents making is to try to raise their children without any sense pf a plan! Most people parent via “crisis management!” That does not work in the early years and it is a very dangerous practice when their children reach the teen years and start to make decisions about some huge issues like drugs, sex, violence, gangs and other huge issues.

It does no good to wait until a child has a drug habit or is pregnant to act as a parent. Those children need to be given guidance BEFORE they are faced with those decisions.

For some sound help in guiding children in making great decisions please click on this link:
http://parentingwithdignity.com/PWD/video_series/3-4-disp.htm

The next mistake that I witness parents making too often is assuming that their children know that they are loved! Parents must communicate their love to their children daily. Our Parenting with Dignity program teaches parents 5 behaviorally described ways to express their love to their children. To read more about these methods of expressing love to children please visit this link:
http://parentingwithdignity.com/PWD/video_series/5-6-Love_video.htm

Finally, the next most common error that I see parents make in raising children is the attempt to treat all of their children the same. No two children are the same. Even identical twins develop different personalities and have different needs. Parents must recognize the needs of each child. Every child needs a strong basis of values, morals, and ethics but the methods of teaching those life controlling ideas must differ with each child.

To read more about expressing values, morals, and ethics to children please go to this link:
http://parentingwithdignity.com/PWD/video_series/5-6-Love_video.htm

5.      Should you reward your child when he does something good? If so, how to do it right?

Back in 1972, Barbara and I went through our most life-changing experience: the birth of our first son, Drew. Before I get into that earth-shaking experience, let me give you a little background about our family to set the stage. I had been in the army, and we had been living in Virginia for two years. Barbara and I had started dating in the eighth grade; and we are still soul mates, lovers, and best friends. We were married when I went into the army, and the military experience had brought us even closer together, isolated as we were, away from family and friends. It looked like the end of my military service would finally bring stability to our lives, and we had decided to start a family. When I got out, we had been married six years and Barbara was six months pregnant with Drew, our first son. We arrived back in our small hometown of Ellensburg, Washington, pregnant, broke, and unemployed. We did have the ten-foot-wide mobile home we had purchased while in the army, but both of us were trained as teachers, and it was November. Teaching jobs don’t open up in November, so I started searching the want ads and found a position as a remedial reading teacher in the nearby town of Kittitas.

Our next order of business was to visit the doctor and make arrangements for the upcoming birth. One “baby doctor” delivered two-thirds of all the babies in town, so we went to see him for our first prenatal appointment. He was steeped in the medical opinions of the time and he viewed the birth process as an almost “surgical” event. This doctor talked about all kinds of medications and anesthetics and indicated almost immediately that he would not allow me in the delivery room: It was against hospital policy. Now, we weren’t fanatics, but we had attended a childbirth class in Virginia (taught by a couple of nuns! I’m not sure what they felt they knew about childbirth), and it was important to both of us that I be there for the delivery. I don’t think I would have made too big of a stink about it before, but the nuns had convinced us that it was an important day in our lives and in the life of our child. I had been present for the conception, they said, so I should be there for the birth!

Well, we went out our car after the appointment; and you fathers will know what I’m talking about when I say, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” I looked over and Barbara was crying, and I realized that we probably weren’t going back to that doctor. Sitting there in the parking lot, I attempted to console my upset, pregnant wife, and we explored other options.

I suggested looking in Yakima, a neighboring town where there were a couple of hospitals and several medical offices, but the baby was due in the middle of February, and we can get some pretty harsh weather in that part of the country. Since Yakima was 37 miles away, along a winding road through a river canyon we sort of dismissed that idea. I wanted to be present, but I didn’t want to be the only person present!

Finally I suggested that we contact Dr. Jim Cobb to see if he would deliver our baby. Now, Jim Cobb was sage, older gentleman, our family doctor and one of my dad’s best friends. He practiced family medicine in a way that many doctors are going back to today. Almost every time any of us kids was sick (I have an older brother and two younger sisters), we saw Dr. Cobb in our own bedrooms right there on the ranch. He believed that people have minds, hearts, and souls, and that they often will heal faster and better in their own home. As a matter of fact, he was the first man I ever heard say that if you want to stay healthy, stay away from hospitals!

I didn’t even know if Dr. Cobb ever delivered babies, but we agreed that he was the type of man we would like to have attending to such an important occasion. So we asked him. It was probably one of the best decision we ever made! His response was simple: “Oh, kids, I would be proud to do that!”

So at about 10:00 on the night of February 13th, when Barbara began labor, I called Dr. Cobb and he met us at the hospital. Immediately a couple of nurses loaded Barbara on a gurney and wheeled her into the delivery room. I was standing outside with Dr. Cobb and he was beginning to put on the green “pajamas” that doctors wear and I spoke up. “Sir,” I said, “I haven’t gotten an answer from you about whether I get to go in the delivery room with you; so I’m wondering, do I get to go?”

He looked at me for about five seconds as he weighed my request, then he grabbed another set of “pajamas” and threw them to me saying, “Put these on. I’ve always believed it’s easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission! Pull the cap down low and the mask up high, and maybe the nurses won’t even know who you are. Let’s go.”

And now back to that life-changing moment that I began to speak about a moment ago.

With Dr. Cobb’s approval, I was in the delivery room and dressed for action. About two and a half hours later, our son was delivered without any complications. About 30 seconds after Dr. Cobb caught our son, cleaned him off, clipped the umbilical cord, and performed some required tests, he handed this little person to Barbara and me, laying him on her chest. As he did so, he had big tears running down his cheeks. I think that explains why he was such a good doctor: The magic of human life could not pass him by without a piece of his heart going with it!

Now hold onto your hats, folks, because we’re at the critical part of this little introduction to our curriculum.

As Dr. Cobb handed our son to us, he gave us the best piece of parenting advice that I have ever heard, and his advice changed forever our view of our role as parents. “Kids,” he said, “I want you two to remember something: This little fellow is not yours; He never has been and he never will be! He is just on loan to you for 18 years!”

At that moment, we had no idea what Dr. Cobb meant. We certainly didn’t know he had changed our lives with that sentence, but he had. Barbara was so preoccupied that she maintains to this day that he didn’t say a thing!

However, we went back three weeks later to see Dr. Cobb for a check-up, and he rolled his chair over in front of us and placed a hand on each of our knees. (I think he wanted to make sure he made his point!) Then he repeated his statement: “Kids, just remember what I said in the delivery room a couple of weeks ago. This little guy is not yours. He is just on loan to you for 18 years. If you can keep that picture in your head, it will serve you well in raising him.”

We still didn’t understand why Dr. Cobb was so adamant, but what he said next changed our lives forever. “Think of your child’s life like a mortgage. Every day he will make a payment. By age nine; he will be a half owner of his life: By age nine, he had better be making half of his own big decisions!”

Now that was a truly foreign concept to Barbara and me. We had no picture of our child making half of his own big decisions by age nine. Especially not me; the way my dad had raised us seemed to be much more, “My way or the highway!” Looking back with some perspective now, I see that our dad was giving us lots of decisions to make all the time, it just didn’t seem like it as I was living it.

“Mac and Barbara,” said Dr. Cobb, “you both have a pretty clear picture of how much authority you’ll have in the life of your child when he is two years old, don’t you?”

I thought for a minute and replied, “Well, sir, we haven’t thought that far ahead. We’re kind of operating by crisis management. First a feeding, then a dirty diaper, then a nap, then another diaper, then another feeding, and so on, from one crisis to the next.”

Dr. Cobb said, “Okay, I’m going to run through a list for you, and you tell me which things you feel you should be in control of when your son is two years old. Will you decide what time he gets up and what time he goes to bed?”

I replied, “Well, sir, our little guy is already in charge of the ‘getting up’ part. We’re working on the ‘going to bed’ part, but we don’t seem to be in much control of that either, right now. But by the time he’s two, we hope to be able to have an established bedtime, yes.”

He continued through a rather extensive list. “Will you be in charge of who he plays with?”

“Yes, of course, at age two, we’ll pick his friends.”

“Will you establish the boundaries of the play area?”

“Yes, we’ll choose where he plays.”

“Will you pick the books he reads?”

“Certainly,” we replied, not seeing where this was going.

“Will you decide what he wears?”

“Yes.”

“And will you decide what he watches on TV?”

“That’s easy,” we replied. “We don’t have one, so that decides that!”

Now here’s where Dr. Cobb shocked us. “Well, kids, I want you to keep and remember the list of things you feel you should be in charge of when he is two. I want you to look at it often.” Then shaking his finger at us, he said, “Those are the things he should be in control of by the time he turns sixteen!”

“You see, at age sixteen he owns as much of his mortgage as you did when he was two.” Dr Cobb continued. “At age two, he only owns two-eighteenths of his life. You are still the majority owner at sixteen-eighteenths. But every day he makes another payment. By age sixteen, he owns the same majority of his mortgage that you owned when he was two! He ought to decide what time he gets up and what time he goes to bed. He ought to decide what he eats and how big the portions are. He should pick his own friends and choose what he does for recreation, and where. He ought to be picking the movies he watches and the books he reads.” And on Dr. Cobb went, through the list!

Whoa! Now that was really a new idea to us! We had never thought of a child’s life and education in that light before. I can’t claim to know much of anything to be absolutely true, but let me tell you this: Dr. Cobb spoke the absolute truth that day. It remains the most profoundly accurate statement that I have ever heard about raising children.

Whether parents want to believe it or not, their kids will make all of the big decisions in their lives. Not some of, not many of, not most of, but all of the big decisions in their lives! Because when their child makes those big decisions, the parents will not be physically present!

At this point, I would like you parents to conjure up in your head the most realistic picture of your child that you can. Looking at that innocent young person, I want you to know with absolute certainty that that child will have to make a decision about whether to drink alcohol, smoke pot, or do cocaine, PCP, LSD, speed, Meth, or any other drug you want to name. When your child makes that decision, you won’t be there! The person offering the drug will not come over to your house and say, “Hi, Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so. Say, Johnny (or Sally, or whatever your child’s name is), would you like some crack cocaine?” The pusher will make that offer somewhere that you are not around.

And the scary part is, the one who offers drugs to your kids is not going to be some guy in a leather jacket from the bad part of town. The first “pusher” your kid will meet is most likely one of the kids your kid is playing with right now! It will be one of their friends, someone they grew up with.

It was at this point in a parenting class I was teaching in Selah, Washington, that a lady became very angry with me and stood up and announced, “I’ve had enough of this permissive crap. I’m leaving. But before I go, I want to tell you all why I am leaving. You don’t know about me and you don’t know about my family. I’m a reformed crack cocaine addict, and I am going to be there for my kids! I am not letting my kids make that decision!”

I replied, “Interesting concept, young lady. But before you leave, I would just like to ask you a couple of questions. First of all, how old are your kids?”

“Nine and eleven,” she blurted back even more angrily.

“And where are they right now?” I asked.

“Out on the playground with the other kids!”

“Oops, there you go,” I replied.

“What do you mean by that?” she asked, even more angry than before…

“I thought you said you were going to be there for your kids. Tell me about school today. One of your kids must have flunked a grade and the other one must have skipped a grade, or they must have three grades in one classroom here in Selah.”

Now she was really mad! “What are you talking about?” she demanded.

“Well, you said you were going to be there for your kids when they make a decision about drugs. Obviously you must have been with them all day today, right?”

“Of course not,” she replied. “I’m a single mom, I have to work to support my kids.”

“But you said you were going to be there for your kids when they make the decision about drugs. There was a big study on drug users and addicts in America a couple of years ago that found that eighty-four percent of all drug addicts reported that they got their first “fix” of drugs at school, from a friend, and they did not pay for it! There’s an eighty-four percent chance your kids will make that decision at school, so if you’re going to be there for your kids, you had better be with them every minute at school, too! But don’t take my word for this or the facts from some study: You’re the self- proclaimed crack addict. You tell me, where did you get your first fix?”

“Oh, my gosh,” she said as she thought back. “I was standing in front of my locker in middle school.”

“And did you pay for it?”

“No,” she mumbled quietly. “My best friend gave it to me.”

Quietly I said, “See, your kids will make that decision out of sight of you.”

Timidly, she sat down, ready to hear more.

It’s important that I state, at this point, that I am not advocating permissiveness. I’m not saying parents should just let their kids do whatever they want to do. I’m just saying we cannot stick our heads in the sand and think that we can always guide and protect them. We cannot be at our children’s side continuously to make the decisions for them. We must teach them how to make tough decisions for themselves.

Take sex as another example. Your kids will definitely make that decision, too. You could give each of your children a cell phone with your number on speed dial and I guarantee that you will not get a call asking, “Say Dad, ah yeah, I’m parked out behind the high school and I could really use some advice.”

Your kid will make that decision also, and when they do, the only other person present will either be more confused or more enthusiastic than they are.

What about language? The words your kids will use in conversations will be words that they choose. Twenty-nine years as a public schoolteacher taught me that most parents wouldn’t even recognize the language their kids use daily to express themselves to their classmates, and teachers!
Once I asked a mother to stop by my classroom after school. I had written six words on a piece of paper that I handed to her. I said, “These are six words your daughter used to express her displeasure with me for the grade she received on a paper she turned in yesterday.”

After looking the list over, the mother was indignant. “My daughter would never use that one there, the one that begins with ‘F’!”

“Please, let’s not kid each other, ma’am,” I replied. “I’m an English teacher, and she used that word four times in one sentence, as four different parts of speech, and each usage was grammatically correct! Now, please look at my face. I’m smiling and I haven’t come unglued. I’m just attempting to tell you that you had better teach your daughter that, even if she’s mad and feels justified, her life won’t go very well if she continues to express herself to authority figures with those words. If I had been her boss today, I probably would have fired her. If I had applied school rules, I would have suspended her. And if she had used those words to refer to some kids in this school, she might be recovering from a knife or gunshot wound right now!”

Your kids are going to make all of the big decisions in their lives. There’s no getting around it!

So… in answer to your question about giving rewards for children behaving in an approved manner you had better do it with the idea in mind of teaching them how to make good decisions for themselves because you will not be here to offer rewards for the big decisions in their lives. Most of the time, the behavior that warrants your reward, has internal rewards for you to point out. Rather than giving your children rewards I would advise parents to help children to see the intrinsic rewards in behaving appropriately. When a child finishes homework, rather than giving the child a cookie I would advise the parent to ask, “Wow, you are finished! Doesn’t that feel good?”

For more on this topic I would recommend my book Parenting with Dignity at:
http://parentingwithdignity.com/book/index.htm

6.      What’s your stand on spanking and time-out? Any better alternatives?

I have a whole chapter in each of my books outlining the reasons that I do believe that punishment does not work. We have dedicated the last hour of our DVD curriculum to explaining the logical reasons that punishment does not work to change human behavior.

Let me first say that I am not a zealot on campaign to make the world a gentler place by doing away with spanking and grounding of children. My opposition to the use of punishment is simply that I don’t believe it works to change human behavior!

If I thought punishment worked, I would advocate the use of it. But punishment simply does not teach! Granted, punishment can bring some behavior to a halt, but punishment does not teach the desired behavior. If a parent sends a child to his room for hitting his sister, I will grant you that the child is separated from his sibling and the hitting has ceased. But the mistake lies in thinking that future behavior will be changed by that technique.

Here are some of the reasons that I believe that punishment does not work:

1. Punishment removes the focus, of both the “punisher” and “punishee,” from the behavior in question. When a parent resorts to punishment both the parent and the child begin to pay attention to the punishment and its fairness and being sure that it enforced. This allows the child to stop thinking about the decision process that brought about the negative behavior in the first place. Next, the child is not engaged in the process of creating a thought process that will bring about better outcomes next time.

2. Punishment focuses anger on the “punisher.” When we resort to punishment it gives children someone to be mad at. And, when they are mad they do not have to face their own behavior because anger takes over and interrupts responsible thought. “I hate my mom and dad,” is rarely the idea we wish to have in the head of one of our children but it is often there as a result of punishment.

3. Punishment induced behavior “extinguishes” rapidly. In the absence of punishment, the negative behavior returns. “Mom is not around so I’ll see what I can get away with.” Behavior that has been shaped by punishment will disappear soon after the punishment has disappeared simply because the child has not been included in the reasoning and personal profitability in the desired behavior.

4. Punishment traps the “punisher” into maintaining the punishment schedule. “You made the rules, now you must enforce them.” When we use punishment we build a me versus you atmosphere. The goal should be to let the natural negative consequences do the enforcing. Often when you introduce punishment the kid then turns it into a game of seeing how much they can get away with without you catching them.

5. Punishment does not teach accountability. The “punisher” is responsible to see that behavior changes. If you use punishment, by your actions you have accepted responsibility for your child’s behavior. By using punishment you accept the responsibility for your child’s behavior so then he/she will have to learn to be accountable outside of your influence, and the outside world is a tough teacher!

6. Most of all, punishment denies a child the right to experience the real consequence of their actions. The reward for good performance is… good performance. Seldom is it necessary for us to provide the reward, and the same is true for punishment. What we need to do is to point out the negative consequences inherent in their negative behavior, we do not need to create new ones. We can serve as a big help to our children if we help them to foresee some of the potential problems and natural consequences of some of their possible choices, and let them see that the punishment for poor performance is… poor performance!

There are a couple of situations where it is unreasonable to let children run into the natural consequences of poor performance. As we said before, if it is illegal, immoral, or life threatening then we must act as the adult in their world and step in to prevent major injury, incarceration, or violation of society’s rules of decency.

For more on the topic of punishment please go to:
http://parentingwithdignity.com/PWD/video_series/9-punish.htm

7.      What makes a good father or mother?

A good father or mother is one with a solid, proven, and logical plan! A good father or mother will stick to this plan while remaining flexible enough to change if it is not working.

Above all a good father or mother will express their love to their children as a part of their daily routine. They will express this love in a wide variety of ways.

8.      How do you handle picky eaters, and to make it worse, children who don’t even want to try new foods?

Dealing with picky eaters can be effectively dealt with by serving food to children in one-bite portions. Give them a plate with one bite of meat, one bite of fruit, one bite of a leafy vegetable, one bite of a starchy food, etc. Eating a well balanced meal is up to the parents at early ages. Then let the child adjust the amount by asking for more. When the child gets more, they get another bite of each food group.

Let e say that picky eating children have trained their parents well! By setting a full plate of food in front of a child, you have allowed them to satiate hunger by only eating what is the most pleasant to them.

Gradually as the child gets older the choices of food can be left up to the child and monitored by the parent.

Some balking at meal time is natural as growth spurts ebb and flow, colds come and go, naps are missed, life gets too exciting, and so on. It’s natural for children to be occasionally balky at eating, but (and listen carefully here) most eating behavior is learned! That’s right: Eating behavior is learned!

Hunger is instinctual but what a person eats and how they eat is learned. Two thirds of the earth’s population eats with sticks or their hands! Over half the humans on earth consider insects a staple of their diet; not out of hunger exclusively; bugs are considered a delicacy!

So what is the point? The point is that your children will eat in the manner you teach them to eat. I have said it many other places in this book and I will say it again here: Teaching does not necessarily involve intent to teach! A craving for sweets is learned. Granted, once children have some experience with candy bars, they will almost always develop a craving for them. Sweets are pleasant to the human palate. However, a child who never tastes sweets will not develop a craving for them. If you buy and serve sugar-coated cereal to your children, you’ve taught them to want only sugar-coated cereal. So many parents tell me, “All my kids will eat is sugar-coated cereal.” Baloney! They will only eat sugar-coated cereal if that’s what they’re served. If it isn’t available, they’ll eat other breakfast food. No children have ever starved with food on their plates.

Kids can learn to desire a healthy diet! That is a parent’s job.

Boy, did we receive a lesson in the validity of all this by watching our daughter-in-law, Maura, as she and Drew encountered some severe allergy problems with their three sons. After a few years of constant runny noses, battles with eczema, and ear infections, Maura and Drew took the three boys to a doctor specializing in children’s allergies. This doctor identified numerous foods and pets the boys were allergic to, including toddler staples: milk, cheese, soy, wheat, eggs, beet sugar, citrus, peanuts, and the list goes on. So out went sandwiches, cheese, fruit, milk, toast, and most cereals. You get the picture: a dramatic life change for the whole family!

However, I observed that the boys all began to eat more! They have huge appetites at meals because they don’t have the usual child snacks loaded with sugar and carbohydrates. Their snacks are now carrots, rice cakes, raisins, apples, pears, and two of the three boys could have oranges. Breakfast now consists of oatmeal with raisins, wheat-less bread, and some days sausage and bacon. They drink lots of water. They drink some white grape juice halved with water.

The amazing thing is that they now ask for those foods! When they visit they will come to me and say, “Papa, can I have some raisins?” or “Hey, Papa, can I have some juice or water?” “Papa, can I have a banana?”

At meals THEY tell US there are certain things they can’t eat! They can also articulate that some foods make them sick but when they grow up they may be able to eat them again. But they eat plenty and they’re satisfied with meat, fresh vegetables, rice, and some fruits.

Drew and Maura’s kids are no different from other people’s children. They watch TV and are bombarded with advertisements for fast food. They still like to go to McDonalds and they love Happy Meals. When the Happy Meals come, they’re fine with either water or juice with their meal. They don’t complain if they have no cheese on their burger and they’re just fine when their burger has the bun taken off of it. They love the plain burger.

As a parent of a young child, just remember that your children will eat exactly what you teach them to eat. We watched our grandkids being taught to eat a very healthy diet. Now, after about a year and a half of teaching, they crave the diet they have been taught to eat!

Now, do not think for a minute that I’m a health food fanatic trying to shame you into some fad diet or that I am telling you what to feed your children. I am not! Heck, I’m a carnivore who grew up eating beef daily, and so did my sons!

What you feed to your children is up to you. I’m just suggesting that you think about what your ACTIONS are teaching your children. Ask yourself what diet you want your children eating? Then serve that diet to them. They will learn to eat what is served to them. Hunger will still play a part, but the cravings for sweets and the dislike for fresh fruits and vegetables will take care of themselves if you serve only food on the list of the foods you decide upon.

An occasional candy bar or food not on the list will not upset things. Your children will learn to eat the diet you have taught them! Tastes in food will respond because the desired diet is served over and over. Remember that you teach by example… if you eat breaded fast food and a soda with no fruit or salad, guess what? Your children will do as you do, not as you say.

9.      How to talk to children about sex?

“My gosh, our son is three. Is it too early to start talking about sexual issues?”

If they’re old enough to ask, they’re old enough to get the answer. At three kids don’t need the whole course, but they can understand that it is a normal human behavior. The real course you ought to begin very early is Relationship Education!

I have an opinion about sex education that may surprise many parents: I don’t happen to think that sex education is particularly difficult or complicated! The basic function of the human body is pretty simple. The complicated course to teach children is relationship education. That’s a course that should begin when your child is born; and continue for a lifetime.

I don’t believe you need to teach very young children too many details about sexuality, but any details you do teach should be dealt with in a very natural and matter-of-fact way. Sex is not the most pressing issue for very young children. What ought to be on the minds of parents of toddlers is “How does this topic fit in our broader educational plan for our children? How does this fit in the big picture?”

Let me also say that the manner in which you treat your spouse will teach them far more than any words you can ever say. So many men ask me, “How do I teach my children appropriate behavior with the opposite sex?” and I tell them all, “Love their mother!”

10.     When you get disrespect from your toddler (yelling at you, being rude to you, etc.), what’s the best thing you can do?

Stop yelling at your children! Almost every child that yells at his/her parents learned the behavior from their parents.

Yelling at Kids Teaches!

Yelling at kids teaches kids that people do not mean what they say until they yell.
Yelling at kids teaches children to yell back.
Yelling at kids teaches kid to yell at others.
Yelling at kids teaches kids to ignore respectful and dignified requests when people speak to them in other tones of voice.
Yelling at kids teaches kids that they are not worthy of speaking to in civil tones.
Yelling at kids teaches them that a reasonable way to relieve stress is to yell at others.

Kids Learn More from our Actions than from our Words!

The point here is that yelling at kids teaches children lots of stuff, but it rarely, if ever, teaches them anything of much value. I do not think that yelling indelibly scars children unduly, nor does it do them irreparable psychological damage; but it certainly does not help them to learn productive ways of interacting with the world.

I guess that you could say that I am opposed to yelling at kids for the same reason that I am opposed to punishment; it simply does not work in any way that is even close to the way that it is intended. Yelling teaches lots of thing but rarely enhances the lesson in the words that are yelled.

Here is a personal experience: I was sent to my room thousands of times for teasing my sisters. I was told to go in my room and think about how to treat my sisters. I did. I thought about how I was going to get them out behind the barn just as soon as I got out of my room and hold their heads under water in the horse trough for tattling on me. Sending me to my room did not teach me how to get along with my sisters. The desired or intended result was a far cry from the real outcome. My parents intention in sending me to my room was to teach me how to treat my sisters in a much nicer manner but what they got was far different from what they intended. Yelling at kids brings about a very similar kind of outcome.

A child who is yelled at on a regular basis simply learns that he doesn’t have to listen to instructions delivered in a quiet and dignified voice.

Remember this, teaching does NOT require an intent to teach! When we are with kids, we are teaching every minute we are in their presence! Even though we may have no intention to teach, nor any idea about what we want to teach. we are teaching just the same. Kids learn our language at their own pace and other than a little work on some specific vocabulary they learn it quite completely with little intent on our part. Kids rapidly learn the tense of verbs and they often learn it from parents who cannot intellectually define the tenses of the verbs that they taught to their kids! The point is that kids learn many things from us without us intending to teach them.

Kids in France speak French. Kids in Japan speak Japanese. However, take the French girl and raise her in the Japanese home and she would speak Japanese! Raise the Japanese kid in the French home and he will speak French. Raise them in my home and both will speak English. Language acquisition may be genetic. All normal human beings speak; but the specific language that they speak is learned! Kids learn the language that they are exposed to.

Children learn what they are exposed to! Not only do kids learn the spoken language they are exposed to, but they also learn to interpret and use all of the non-verbal ways of communication. They learn what a civil tone of voice means. They learn what words like “please” and “thank you” mean.

Children raised in the presence of adults who rarely say things in a conversational tone and who never enforce anything said in that conversational tone learn that adults rarely mean what they say in a conversational tone! Kids who hear yelling all of the time, begin to feel that yelling is normal conversation. They will react to this language just as naturally as kids in France react to French. If yelled commands are the norm then kids begin to learn that yelled commands are normal so then they react to them in a like manner. Kids can, and do, even learn that yelled commands need not be listened to while civilly expressed commands can be ignored. I witness that dynamic in many homes.

In working with a family for the 20/20 program I found a couple with a son who didn’t seem to obey many commands or requests for action from his parents. I watched a week of tape from their home and discovered an amazing thing. Every time his mother or father said his middle name in a loud and yelling tone of voice, his head turned and he listened to what they said and he usually did it! A shouted, “Joe!” did not get his attention or action. An equally loud, “Joseph!” was just as ineffective. “Young man!” expressed in a conversational tone of voice did little to interrupt his play and did not even get the boy to look up.

But when his parents said “Joseph Alex!” in a loud, yelling kind of voice, he quite often listened and usually complied! Why? Their actions had taught him that when they said his middle name in a shouted voice, his time of ignoring was done! At this point, he knew that they would enforce the following command, so he complied.

Children Learn What Your Actions Teach

Joseph Alex had learned exactly what his mom and dad had unintentionally taught him. Even though they did not intend to teach him to ignore conversational tones of voice; their actions had taught him.

It was pretty simple to restructure effective communication in that family. All that the parents had to do was to duplicate their actions that they had previously used with their son when they shouted his middle name. Only in the restructured situation they had to do it with their first civil and polite request for “Joseph Alex” to perform some desired action.

Say It Civilly and Politely. but Enforce It!

It did not take long before Joseph was willingly obeying dignified and respectful commands. By using a little thought and planning, his parents had taught him a new language! The first step lay in restructuring their own plan of action and in taking control of what they were teaching their son. And man, let me tell you, they all felt much more calm and less stressed.

Dignity!

This brings us to another very important reason why yelling at kids is highly ineffective. Yelling destroys the dignity of both the parent and the child. Kids can learn to respond to calm demeanor just as easily as they can learn to respond to yelling. When parents yell at kids the stress level of everyone in the home goes up, but “yelling-related stress” increases for no one more than the parent. I learned this simple concept while teaching.

One day, while I was teaching at Walla Walla High School, I had had a particularly tough day of being angry and loud with students and was feeling really stressed out by my ineffective interaction with my students. (The kids were probably OK with it. they had learned the “language” of that guy who yells during third period!) My stress level was near the breaking point. In my frustration, I sought out the council of Lola Whitner, a master teacher who taught in the room next to mine. I said to her, “Lola, how do you do it. You are sixty-five years old, you are a perfect lady, you are barely five feet tall, you speak to kids in a respectful conversational, tone and yet the same students that I feel compelled to yell at are so quiet and respectful with you, and you never raise your voice. Help me. I must learn to do what you do!”

Very quietly she replied, “You have quite a temper, Mac. I can hear you through the walls. (She chuckled as she said that.) However, I have one question for you; can you ever control your temper? Can you ever speak quietly and respectfully to your students?”

“Well, yes, sometimes I can control my temper,” I replied. “But often I just blow up.”

“Well, Mac,” she replied very calmly, “If you control your temper some of the time then you can control it. Now that we have established that you are capable of controlling your temper may I point out to you that if you do not control your temper it is a choice! Why don’t you choose to control it all of the time?”

Her simple question changed my life forever! I finally realized that my actions were my choice! I never yelled in anger in a class ever again! I chose to be different and I was! The biggest thing that changed was my feeling of control and power over my life. I once and for all preserved my dignity and the dignity of my students by choosing to not yell; by choosing to speak in a civil, dignified, respectful, and polite manner. They rapidly learned that even though I was not yelling, I still meant what I was saying. My classroom became a respectful, dignified, and relaxed place; just like Lola’s.

I was recently asked what would be my short-term suggestion as a solution for parents who found themselves yelling at their kids, and I have none.

There are NO “Short-Term Solutions” or “Quick-Fixes”!! I do not put much stock in short-term solutions to life-long types of problems. Lola did not propose a short-term solution to my problem and a short-term solution would have been of little value to me. Therefore, I would not suggest a “quick-fix” for anyone else.

The solution to the problem of yelling at kids lies in changing your manner of speaking to children forever. The long-term, life-changing solution does not involve going into a room and shouting, or hitting a punching bag. The solution does not lie in counting to ten or leaving the room. The solution lies in deciding to be different, today, tomorrow, and forever. The solution lies in letting the calm of self-control waft over you. The solution to yelling at your children lies in committing to a plan of action for how you will act before the yell-triggering situation arises; and then following your plan. This plan will bring dignity and peace to a family.

Now, to augment this new found self-control derived by deciding to be calm, dignified, and respectful, and committing to a plan of speaking in a conversational voice, it is necessary to anticipate the situations or circumstances where you are tempted to yell. The situations are always quite predictable. Identify those times and then develop a very specific plan of action for those situations. Actually practice the words that you will say and the manner in which you will say them.

For example, let’s say that one time when you have lost control and yelled in the past was when you would ask your kids to help with setting the table for dinner. At this time they would previously drive you crazy when they would just ignore your requests for help. So you would resort to yelling with little if any change in their behavior. Build a plan for this specific situation.

Rather than standing in the kitchen and yelling, as you have previously done with little results, go to where your kids are and say respectfully, “I need your help. Would you please get up now and come in and set the table? Look at me kids. I am smiling and I am speaking in a polite tone of voice. I even said ‘please’, but I really mean it.”

If they do not immediately start to move to set the table, move squarely in front of them and ask politely in a calm tone, “Excuse me, but what did I just ask you to do?” (You may have to point out to them that you just asked a question that you wish to have answered because they are now in their Ignore-Mom-or-Dad-mode.) Stay right in front of them and wait for their answer. As soon as they can repeat what you have said, say, “OK, so you know what you are to do and I am going to wait right here until you start, so please get started right now.” All of this is said in a respectful and pleasant tone of voice at a conversational volume.

It may even take weeks for this new dignified approach to begin to take hold because the kids have literally had years ignoring your conversational statements and years of hearing you yell at them. It will take time to “learn the new language” that you are speaking!

All too often I find that parents are looking for gimmicks or tricks to use with their kids, when what really works is to make simple and fundamental changes in their own ways of thinking and acting. Usually the people who yell at their kids are the same ones who will become the most upset if their kids were ever to yell back. It is pretty easy to get caught in a trap of holding higher standards for kids’ behavior than we hold for our own behavior.

Now, before we leave this topic of yelling at kids, I would like to throw out some questions for the consideration of anyone who is choosing to yell at a child.

“On what basis have you decided that you are justified in yelling at your kids?”

To follow up that question here are a few more to answer.

“Is it justifiable to yell at kids because you are older?”

“Do you deem it justifiable to yell at your kids because you are bigger?

“Do you view it to be reasonable to yell at your kids because you are the parent and have parental authority?”

“Do you feel justified in yelling at your children because you are older and have more life experience?”

It would seem to me that all of these would constitute reasons for you to NOT yell at your kids. “Is there any viable justification for yelling at a child?”

Yes, I will grant you that it might be justifiable to yell at a kid if he was running toward the street and a truck was coming, or if she was reaching for a boiling pan of water on the stove; but short of an emergency, is there any reasonable justification for yelling at children? If not, then why not adopt the ideas above and take the action to stop it?

In closing let me just say that there are millions of well-adjusted adults who were yelled at as kids. I would simply say that they arrived as well-adjusted adults in spite of the yelling and not because of the yelling.

Do not ever use the old fallacy of, “It was done to me, therefore is justifiable for me to do it to my kids!” as an excuse for your actions. Do what works. Yelling simply does not work very well. Having a plan for dignity and civility works. Use it!

11.     Who has the most impact on you being a good father and why?

Quite obviously my parents were the most influential people in my life growing up. However, it would be unfair to say that they were the total influence. Buck Minor, the cowboy on our ranch while I was growing up was a huge influence, and so was Alden Esping our YMCA Leader, and so were all of my teachers and coaches. The point is that the really good parent realizes and supports the many positive influences in their children. Good parents seek the council and advice of those many wise and learned people who also have contact with their children.

See also…

Interviews with other personalities and authors