Growing a grown-up: Part II


When we last touched on the subject of how to raise a grown-up, I mentioned what I considered the Number One rule: limiting TV and other electronic entertainment. Keeping those in the realm of parental control is essential if kids are to develop initiative and intellectual curiosity – and to grow up understanding that entertainment is not a 24-7 entitlement.

The Number Two rule I would suggest is avoiding “7-Eleven syndrome.”

My friend Cindy coined the term when she was going through a divorce, and her husband would pick up their girls for an outing.

Wanting to be the fun parent, Daddy was quick to demonstrate that the girls need never experience even a moment of distress or discomfort on these outings, even for a 10-minute car ride.

Young though they were, the girls figured this inclination out fast -- and milked it for all it was worth.

“Daddy, I’m thirsty!” they would chorus as soon as they knew a convenience store was ahead. And, just as if yanked on a string, he would obediently pull into the 7-Eleven and buy them Slurpees or sodas.

Of course, the girls knew better than to pull this trick on Cindy (fortunately, the custodial parent). Like any parent worth her salt, she treated sweets such as sodas and candy as occasional treats for special occasions.

“Let’s fix water bottles before we head out,” she’d say. Or, “Let’s make some iced tea to go with our lunches.” If the girls begged for drinks on a car ride, they heard only a calm, “We’ll be there shortly, and get water then.”

* * *

Which leads to a Rule Number Two corollary: avoid giving in to whining.

All kids whine at some point, but the kids who whine most are those who have done it successfully.

And by the way, kids will whine a lot less in the first place if parents observe Rule Number One: limiting TV.

Limiting TV has the enormous side benefit of reducing kids’ exposure to commercials for toys, sweet cereals and snacks -- as well as exposure to cartoons and kiddie shows that serve as thinly-disguised advertisements for clothing lines and collectibles.

I well remember conversations with playgroup friends in the 1980s about their nightmarish trips to the grocery store or – heaven forbid – a Toys ‘R Us, where their TV-trained kids howled for THE breakfast cereal or My Little Pony that had danced across their TV screens that morning.

No other toy would do!

My own kids, on the other hand, barely knew what they were seeing in Toys ‘R Us – unless we were on the Lego aisle. And how could they whine for a [insert incessantly-pitched, trendy toy here] if they’d never heard of it?

Besides, even a barely-verbal one-year-old can be taught that whining is unacceptable.

As a toddler, my oldest had a piercingly high voice – so high that her pediatrician joked that Leah was sure to be an opera singer someday.

So the first time a whine came out of Leah’s mouth, it was so painfully shrill that it stopped me in my tracks. I instinctively reached for my ears and held them in protest.

“Ow!” I said. “That whiny voice hurts my ears!”

From then on, that became Leah’s cue. If I responded to a whiny request with, “Ow!” or “I can hear you better in your asking voice,” she struggled to lower her voice to a baritone. The results were so comical that we usually ended up laughing, and she forgot what she was whining for.

* * *

My friend Sharon had another clever trick for nipping whining in the bud. If her son began to wheedle and nag, Sharon would respond, “Uh, oh. Do I hear Mister Fuss?” At the mention of “Mister Fuss,” little Rob would almost instantly clam up. His mom had made it clear from toddlerhood that when Mr. Fuss showed up, things quickly turned sour, and Rob had no hope of enjoying the rest of an outing (or day).

In addition to “Mister Fuss,” one of my favorite parental sayings of all time is the term “grow food.”

I learned this phrase from my friend Trish, who would bring it up whenever her kids were tempted by junk food at an event. “That’s not grow food,” Trish would tell them, a reminder that healthy food would help her kids grow tall and strong, and empty-calorie foods should be reserved for occasional consumption.

In our house, food was divided into “grow food” and “special treats.” Sodas and candy were something consumed at parties, at holiday time or on vacation. Sweet cereals fell into the special-treats category, and were enjoyed only on Saturdays.

My kids accepted the Saturday restrictions without a peep, thanks in no small part to their Swedish cousins.

In Sweden, it’s customary for kids to eat sweets only on Saturdays. Once, while their cousins were visiting the States, my girls watched wide-eyed as Cousin Rikard received a gift of a candy bar – and immediately handed it to his mother.

“He’ll get it back on Saturday,” she explained.

I can think of no better example than “Sweet Saturdays” of a major underpinning of the principles for raising responsible adults and good citizens.

Psychologists call it delayed gratification, and it’s like a muscle. The more kids exercise the muscle when they are young – putting off the instantaneous sugar rush or mindless TV show for more wholesome pursuits in the present – the better they will be able to forgo short-term pleasures for long-term goals when they are adults.

We all know some adults who have trouble denying themselves instant gratification, don’t we? (Hint: look for the ones with maxed-out credit cards, no savings, media addictions and trouble holding jobs.)

And I assume we all agree: no one wants their kids growing up to be those adults.

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Send your suggestions for raising an adult (or comments on how you wish you’d raised children differently) to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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Each month, the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Richmond Chapter conducts support group meetings to provide the community with an opportunity to meet for mutual support and to exchange coping skills. A Rare Dementia Support Group, for caregivers and individuals with other dementias, will meet at 2 p.m. at the VCU Neurological Orthopedic Wellness Center, 11958 W. Broad St. For details, call 967-2580. Full text

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