By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
It was by fate that I decided to publish excerpts today from my recent interview with Carri Ludwig in the print edition of WNY Refresh along with a wire story on the back cover of Refresh by William Hageman, of the Chicago Tribune, about a recent study that shows parents who push their kids too hard in sports tend to get diminished results in return.
The percentage of our children who go on to professional sports careers or play in one of the world’s greatest symphony halls professionally is miniscule, particularly when compared to the moms and dads who push little Sarahs and Seans to strive for those goals at the most tender of ages.
As I read the wire story, I’d already decided to hold back a portion of my interview with Ludwig – a John Rosemond parenting coach who lives in Clarence and is featured today in the Refresh “In the Field” story – for this blog.
It’s the part about what Ludwig, a mother, grandmother and retired social services administrator, calls “overprogrammed kids.”
What’s an overprogrammed kid?
“In one of the workshops I did, one of the moms was just distraught that her child was not behaving well at school,” Ludwig told me. “She said, ‘He comes home every day and he’s so tired.’ And she went on to say he was in gymnastics, a Montessori violin class, he was in a piano class and he was in soccer. All the other parents turned and looked at her and said, ‘Maybe he shouldn’t be doing so much.’ He was 5. He had been taking naps right up until kindergarten and now didn’t have time. This was not a big problem. Just back off.
“Parents are playing the mommy wars a little bit. We’re competing with each other as mommies: ‘If your kid’s doing that then my kid should be doing that.’ But we’re also more frightened with the world around us than I think we ought to be: ‘If my child isn’t engaged in something active every minute of the day, he might get in trouble, or he might fall behind other kids, and I can’t let that happen.’
“That’s an overprogrammed kid. They’re 6 and 7, and they’re in the Girl Scout program and they’re in the soccer camp and they’re in music lessons and every day after school, they’re someplace else. If you have two or three kids in the family, all you’re doing is running from one thing to the next to the next to next. And there’s no family time and there’s no down time. Children need time to be children. ... If you look out your window, do you see children playing outside very often? In this neighborhood (off Harris Hill Road), we do. I see children playing in my cul-de-sac all the time.”
When kids are so busy, Ludwig said, they never take time to learn to think for themselves, devise strategies on their own to get along with their peers and find their own creative entertainment. These are skills that are vital as children become adults.
See Ludwig’s website at ludwigparentcoach.blogspot.com. She and I also talked more about what she does as a parenting coach than I could fit into the print edition. More excerpts are below:
Talk a bit more about what it takes to become a ‘leadership parent.’
For your children, act like you know what you want and take some time to think through if you don’t know right away what you want. If a child says, ‘Can I go out Friday night?' you can say, ‘I’m going to think about that for awhile.’ You don’t need to give them an answer right away. We’re so conditioned to give them an answer right away. You can say, ‘I’m going to decide later tonight’ or ‘I’m going to talk to your dad about that.’
“... If a child has fallen down and broken their arm or cut themselves badly, you don’t step back, you right now grab the car and take them to the hospital, but it’s not that often we have to act like that. But that’s not what we’re conditioned to do in this hurry up, hurry up world. We also care greatly what other people think about us, so if my child misbehaves in the middle of Walmart, I’m horribly embarrassed and people are all looking at me and thinking I’m a bad parent. That forces us to act quickly as opposed to calmly looking at the child and saying, ‘Really?’
I can leave Walmart or deal with it as best I can, then deal with it when I get home. When the child has calmed down, you say, ‘You’re going to bed after supper tonight.’ Kids under 3 you can’t do that with – and I know kids 2 and under are marvelous at tantrums, so you just have to kind of muddle through – but over 3 or so, a child would remember. And I’m pretty sure that if you do that a few times, the misbehavior is going to decrease.
Talk a bit more about the workshops you conduct.
The workshops are fun. Usually maybe three or four weeks in a row we come together for two-hour sessions and we learn about the (John Rosemond leadership parent) principles and I go through some of the really detailed plans that could help if you’ve got real problems in your household. Usually, people go a little into what they’re interested in, so we address 3-year-old temper tantrums and 6-year-old defiance and 13-year-old defiance, whatever is in the room. ... I was speaking to a Williamsville PTA this spring and a woman came up to me and said, ‘I took your workshop on parenting your preschoolers two years ago and I’m still using many of the things I learned, and even though it was for preschoolers, it just flows as the kids get older.
In individual sessions, do you see more moms than dads?
I like to see them as couples. I try to be insistent on it. If people absolutely can’t, or won’t, I’m not going to say no, but we do better with both parents in the room. We’ve done some creative things. A very, very busy dad has come once or twice and mom has come religiously and taken the information home. ... You really have to have both parents interested in this.
Do you work with some single parents? Do they have any particular challenges?
Parenting is parenting from the traditional viewpoint. Sure, all of us have challenges, but we don’t suggest that we parent to a label. So I don’t parent to foster children or to adopted children or to gifted children, or to grieving children or to OCD children or to ADHD children or divorced children. We just parent to the child. Even if you parent to these children, 90 percent of the time, it’s perfectly acceptable to expect proper behavior. ... A misbehaving child is generally an insecure child. By giving into everything a child wants when their 7, how can that child possibly know everything that’s good for her when she’s 7?
Do kids come in with their parents?
No. I’m really a parent coach. I’m talking to parents about their perception of the behavior and how they can respond to it differently.
When should parents come in to see a parent coach?
Anytime they’re really questioning their parenting: ‘This isn’t working.’ ‘This isn’t the way I want to parent.’ ‘Is there a better way?’ Right on up to, ‘I’ve got a major, significant problem that I need someone to help me respond to.’
What would the initial visit be like?
I try to make sure I understand enough, and that the family is not in counseling or needs counseling more than it needs me. We talk about the ages of the children, how they’re doing in school, what kind of extracurricular activities they’re in. Are there any diagnosed learning disabilities or mental health issues? Do they have extra assistance at school? What are the family dynamics? Are the parents working? Are they out of the home a lot? Is there a stay-at-home mom plus working dad? Any health issues? What do the kids like to do? Are they overprogrammed kids, which is often a big issue in today’s world? ... I give them handouts and pamphlets that summarize some of the principles and ask them to think about those. If we’re working on a number of behavior issues, I ask them to select one or two. We only work on one or two at a time, so they don’t get so overwhelmed.
What are the most common concerns parents hope you can help them address?
Defiance is huge with kids as young as 3, followed by disrespect followed by sibling rivalry; at school age, followed by homework and school behavior and school achievement. When it comes to school, parents don’t want to be a bad parent, so when a school teacher calls them, they get off the phone, don’t take three steps backward, and just go and demand: ‘You’re going to do you homework from now on. I’m going to sit and make you do it every night.’ It might get the homework done, but what does it teach the child about managing their own time, persevering, dealing with frustration? Those are the things kids need.
John Rosemond considers himself old-school when it comes to parenting. What does that mean to you?
It means not succumbing to what child psychologists are telling us since the 1960s, 1970s, about parents paying a lot of attention to self-esteem. I’m firmly convinced that children gain a good view of themselves because they learn to achieve things themselves, and then they feel confident about themselves because of what they did, not because of what someone said to them.
What’s the best advice Rosemond has given you, either personally or in one of his columns?
He never gave me personal advice because I wasn’t talking to him while I was raising the kids, but here's one: Andrea (Brown, now 33) was 8. She was getting later and later getting to bed. ‘Oh, I forgot to do my homework.’ I was reminding her (but it wasn’t helping much). I read his column one day and it said, ‘Set an end time for homework and tell your child the end time is such and such, and I don’t care when you do it, but it has to done by such and such.’ And I thought, ‘That is brilliant because you’re not micromanaging – kids try to defy you if you watch everything they do – and you’re not fighting about it.’
(It didn’t take long for the 8 p.m. deadline to pass and Andrea to get hysterical, but her mom wrote a note to the teacher, who asked the child to pay more attention to deadlines; she complied).
Kevin (Blake, now 27) will tell you he didn’t know we had such a rule. That’s because he’s five years younger and I just implemented it from day one. We never had a problem because we just followed the rule...
You don’t follow the child around. You don’t micromanage. You have to let the child fail a little bit, and (many) parents aren’t willing to do that. If it’s one poor grade, and then the child learns to be responsible themselves, in the long run you’ve got a much more independent and a much more resourceful kid.