Stop Teaching Your Kids to be Mean!

When my daughter was 4 years old, a slightly older girl marched up to her in the local park and loudly proclaimed, “Your parents don’t love you.”

Not long after that, again at the park, a group of older elementary aged girls surrounded my daughter and called her an “ugly toad” and “jerk face.”

When my son was in 2nd grade, he brought a thermos full of chicken rice soup, which he really likes, for his school lunch. A kid across the table looked at it and said, “Your lunch looks like baby food.” After that, he only wanted sandwiches.

And it was just last year, during a Boy Scout camping trip, when my now 16-year-old son and a friend were having an animated discussion about the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird, that another boy walked over to interrupt them with the comment, “You guys sound like a couple of girls talking about a stupid book.”

So, my kids have had their fair share of experiences with mean kids.

Mean kids are everywhere it seems. And it’s not like they’re born that way. No, mean kids are easily made by parents who don’t even realize they’re doing it.

I’m not talking about parents who bully or abuse their children. I’m talking about the everyday comments and actions of moms and dads who forget that their kids are constantly watching, and learning.

Parents, you really need to stop teaching your kids to be mean. And here are three ways you can do that.

1. Stop gossiping.

Gossiping about your friends and neighbors inevitably turns to the dark side. It just can’t be helped. You may start out talking up the news of someone’s good fortune, but it won’t be long before the, “Yes, but have you heard,” comes out, and then all the unpleasant rumors and innuendo gush forth.

And you know your kids are listening. They hear you dishing the dirt and they grow to think it’s okay to talk about people that way.

It’s really not. Gossip hurts. It’s mean and spiteful and never ends well. So stop doing it.

2. Stop nitpicking.

Criticizing, in a positive way, is fine in certain situations. We all need to work on ourselves. But nitpicking is criticizing just for the sake of finding fault with someone.

And that’s mean. It seems like we can’t stand to think that someone has their life properly put together, so we look closer and closer until we find something we think isn’t quite perfect. I guess it makes us feel better about our own inadequacies.

Well, newsflash, nobody’s perfect. Not you, not them, not anyone. If you are feeling down and unsure about some part of yourself, it’s not going to be fixed by finding some small fault with others.

So, stop teaching your kids to solve their problems by bringing down those around them. Instead, teach them to raise themselves up, to become better friends, better siblings, better students.

3. Stop categorizing.

How easy is it to point out all the differences between us? It is that way simply because there aren’t that many to choose from. As human beings, whether you are a nomadic sheep herder from Mongolia or a social media manager from Manhattan, the similarities between us far outnumber the differences.

But, rather than point out how we are all the same, it seems like we automatically look to lump people into categories in order to understand them better. We usually do this instantly without really knowing all that much about the person we’re categorizing.

“Oh, he’s fat,” and “Look at the way she’s dressed, must be poor,” and “That dad must be unemployed if he’s at the park with his kids in the middle of the day.”

These assumptive efforts at labeling and separating people ultimately has a negative effect on the way we view the world around us. Like I said, instead of focusing on our similarities, we now start to see only differences.

Then you find yourself building walls of intolerance and bigotry. And isolating your kids inside there with you.

Stop doing these things. Stop teaching your kids to be mean! Whether you realize it or not, that’s exactly what you’re doing when you gossip, nitpick, and categorize.

You can do better. As a parent, you have to.

Flipped Off By A 4-Year-Old

When my kids were young, hardly a day went by without them saying or doing something awesome I could blog about. These days, as teens, most of their activities are off limits to me as a writer. So, I have to take a trip on the wayback machine to tell stories about them. This tale is originally from early 2006. Definitely one to include in Idaho Dad’s Greatest Hits.

I arrived at my son’s school today about fifteen minutes early to pick him up, so my daughter and I sat in the car and listened to a Wiggles CD. One of her favorite tracks, Where Is Thumbkin?, started playing and I turned in my seat to do the hand gestures with her.

The song starts out with:

Where is thumbkin?
Where is thumbkin?
Here I am.
Here I am.
How are you today, friend?
Very well, I thank you.
Run away.
Run away.

I played along with the song, sticking my thumb up in the air and waving it about like a finger puppet, bowing, and then making it run away behind the head rest. My daughter loved it and started imitating me.

The next part of the song introduces “Pointer”…. Where is Pointer? Where is Pointer? Here I am… etc.

We happily waved our pointer fingers all around in front of us, then made them run away.

You get where this story is going?

Next up is “Tall One”…

So here we are waving our middle fingers around, only mine is hidden between the two front seats while my daughter’s is right next to the window. I looked over at the car next to us and noticed a woman frowning disapprovingly.

I can just imagine what she said to her husband that night: “The world is going to hell. Today I was flipped off by a 4-year-old!”

Christmas Love/Hate

I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas.

I love setting up the Christmas tree, lights, and assorted decorations.

I hate taking them down just because they never seem to fit back in the boxes I took them out of!

I love looking out at the snow.

I hate driving in the snow.

I love giving fun toys and games to my kids.

I hate that nobody ever gives ME fun toys and games anymore.

I love listening to Christmas music.

I hate listening to Christmas music, ’round about midnight of December 25th.

I love the looks on my kids’ faces when they open their presents.

I hate having to figure out where to put all this new stuff they’re getting.

I love the cookies and treats.

I hate that my clothes won’t fit right for weeks after.

I love watching A Christmas Story, Home Alone, and Christmas Vacation with my kids. And, after they go to bed, watching Love, Actually with my wife.

I hate that there are so many horrible Christmas movies out there, like Deck The Halls and Jingle All The Way.

I love egg nog ice cream.

I hate peppermint ice cream.

I love forgetting about the world’s troubles for just a few days.

I hate that the troubles seem to always return in a worse way.

What do you love/hate about Christmas?

Our Culture of Fear

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge — even to ourselves — that we’ve been so credulous.” – Carl Sagan

I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m feeling a little bamboozled lately after reading various reports about the realities of crime and child abduction in this country.

After all, I have long recognized that America’s mass media thrives upon the Culture of Fear that it helped to create. But still, when it comes to the safety of children, I’ve been first in line to sound the alarm and spread the word about caution and awareness.

So now I learn that out of the roughly 800,000 kids that go missing in this country each year, the FBI estimates that only 100 to 200 of them are victims of the most serious type of non-family abductions, news of which fills parents with dread and distrust toward any stranger who looks twice at their children.

Better yet, violent crime in our country is at an all-time low and has been on a steady decline for the past thirty years. But you won’t see that in the headlines. TV and newspapers seem to be only interested in scaring us, rather than informing us of the real level of risk. And why would they want to do that?

Maintaining a certain level of fear and anxiety is good for corporate profits. Because behind every good newspaper, magazine, and TV station is a corporation that has something it wants to sell that will make us feel better about stepping out our front door into that great big scary world.

And the media is only giving the people what they want. Viewers are fascinated with stories of missing, murdered or abused children. It could be that busy parents, who shuttle their kids from one organized activity to another, may actually turn to these horrible news reports to comfort and allay their feelings of guilt over losing control of their own children.

Whatever the explanation, it certainly seems to be a vicious circle of corporate marketers, mass media, and viewers/readers. I don’t believe those first two entities are willing to accurately analyze and report the reality of our world, so it’s up to the audience, especially parents, to refuse to be bamboozled.

The first step is to stop watching TV news, the worst offenders of exaggerating the incidence of child abductions. After that, find news organizations that deal in facts and figures. Become more optimistic and seek out the truth about the world around you. It’s not such a bad place.

The Electric Shave

My first experience with shaving was trimming a few chin hairs with a pair of dull safety scissors. I was 14 or 15, and my cheeks were slow to start growing any kind of facial hair. The scissors sufficed for a few months, but eventually the 5 or 6 stray hairs turned into dozens, and then hundreds. I found my brother’s old electric shaver in a bathroom drawer and started using that to groom myself. 30 years later, I still value the speed and efficiency of an electric shaver.

Now, my son has signaled that he’s ready to join the long line of electricians in his family with a request for a shaver of his own. Luckily, Philips Norelco was willing to set him up with their new Click & Style. It’s an all-in-one shaving and grooming tool and, quite frankly, it’s the best shaver I’ve ever seen.

Norelco Click and Style

The beauty of the Click & Style are the three separate attachments. First, a shaver attachment, with rotary blades. Second, a beard trimmer. And third, a foil style shaver/trimmer. That really covers all the bases for whatever body hair needs to be groomed. All three attachments give you ultimate control and precision for a clean, smooth shave.

My son is finding it much easier to “manscape” with the Click & Style. So easy, in fact, that he can even multi-task while using it. Apparently, this is a thing. People don’t just stand at the mirror and shave anymore. They eat, brush their teeth, read, text, and play video games while grooming themselves. Continue reading

The Awesome Gift Guide For Dads

The season of giving and sharing is upon us. It’s a time of charity, of helping those less fortunate, and of extending a helping hand to our fellow man.

And when you’re done with that, it’s time to go shopping!

Whichever holiday you celebrate, from Christmas to Hanukkah to Kwanzaa to Festivus, my Awesome Gift Guide for Dads might help you find just the right thing for the dads in your life. Many of the items on this list were suggested by my fellow dad bloggers. Continue reading

5 Ways To Communicate With Your Teen

You know the stereotype of the uncommunicative teenager.

The indifferent look, the rolled eyes, earbuds firmly in place, off in their own little world while mom and dad try desperately to find a way in.

It’s not impossible to communicate with your teen. There are five guaranteed methods for getting through to them.

And by guaranteed, I mean they work for me.

Sometimes. Most of the time. Hey, they’re better than nothing. Continue reading

Grocery Store Meltdown

In the middle of my grocery shopping yesterday, I was alarmed by a child’s ear-piercing gurgling scream of terror coming from one aisle over. It worried me enough to rush to investigate, thinking some kid had fallen from a shopping cart or, worse, was being attacked by a pack of rabid badgers (hey, you never know). With phone in hand, ready to dial 911, I ran around the corner into the cereal aisle.

Well, like they say, if you hear hoofbeats, don’t think zebras.

It was what you’d expect. A toddler wanted the box of chocolatey candy-coated sugar puff cereal, and mom was opting for the much healthier Cheerios.

It had been awhile since I’d experienced a grocery store meltdown, so it took me by surprise.

My own children were above such things.

No, they had their meltdowns at Toys R Us, like any respectable toddler should.

The grocery store incident reminded me of one time, however, when my daughter went off script and had a bunch of people worried.

It was ten years ago, when she was three…

We were in Sandpoint, Idaho, poking around the touristy downtown area. We stopped at the Cedar Street Bridge to browse the Coldwater Creek store there. I don’t know about you, but we don’t buy stuff at Coldwater Creek, we only browse… It’s much easier on the checkbook.

Anyway, in the middle of our browsing, our daughter started her little dance and whispered, “Mommy, I have to go…” so off to the nearest bathroom on the upper level of the bridge. My son and I looked at old photos on the wall while we waited. Soon a middle-aged couple and their friend stopped to look at the photos too. Just then, the screaming began.

“No no no! Aiiiieeee! Bwaaaaggghh! Gurgle! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!” Something like that anyway. I didn’t react at all. Why should I? I hear this stuff practically every day. But the couple next to us became very concerned, probably because of a recent child abduction that had brought national attention to our area. The woman didn’t waste much time and announced that she was “going to investigate!”

We waited a few moments, with a small crowd gathering, and me pretending not to know what’s going on. Pretty soon the woman emerged from the bathroom, spread her arms, palms out to calm the masses, and authoritatively stated, “It’s okay! Everything’s alright. She saw a spider web!”

Audible sighs of relief followed, and the crowd dispersed, glad in the knowledge that the screams of terror coming from the public restroom were simply a little girl freaking out over a dusty old spider web.

I’m glad those days are long over.

Try To Be A Man

If you’re a stay-at-home dad, then you’ve seen the disapproving looks and heard the snide comments. At first it bothers you, but after awhile you realize that the animosity usually stems from either ignorance or jealousy.

And where do these looks and comments come from? Oh, just about everywhere. Family, friends, men, women, stay-at-home moms… But the worst are the golf-playing, beer-drinking, Minoxidil-rubbing, weight-pumping working dads. They have their own personal definition of what a man is supposed to be, and it sure as heck doesn’t include vacuuming, changing diapers, and cooking a healthy family meal.

I bring this up because I heard from one of the Neanderthals today, in a forum devoted to news and issues concerning the town in which I live.

He responded to me with this:

Try to be a man (really). Get a job and go to work.

Ten years ago, this comment would’ve made me flustered, because I was still figuring out my role as a stay-at-home dad. But now? Well, I just have a giggle over guys like this. If he really is so clueless to think that a dad who stays at home AND homeschools his kids is something less than a man, then that’s his problem.

I won’t even go into the “go to work” comment. Some days I wish I had an outside job to run to so I could take a break from the incredible amount of work involved in running a household and overseeing the education of my children. A desk piled with papers in a quiet air-conditioned office sounds like a vacation to me.

Actually, a bulldozer on a busy construction site sounds even better. I could definitely burn off some stress with one of those bad boys.

The point is, as a stay-at-home homeschooling dad, I have more to oversee, organize, approve, and accomplish than most dads who clock into a regular 9 to 5 job. I’m on call 24/7 and rarely get a break from my duties.

But that doesn’t make me more or less of a man than anyone else. It just means I’m a busy guy who doesn’t have time to banter with clueless message board trolls.

So, what is a man? Outside of the obvious anatomical explanations, I have no idea.

He is who he is. And he does his best with what he has.

If you have a better explanation, I’d love to hear it.