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Parenting & Family Tools by Ron Huxley, LMFT

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Spending money! The perfect setup for real-world learning and natural consequences!

There are many methods for giving kids an allowance — tied to chores, tied to age, bonuses-for-extra-work, etc. How (or if) one gives an allowance is rooted in one’s family culture, and doesn’t lend itself to pat directives. But, no matter how you decide to give your kids an allowance, I find the key to increasing its power as a teaching tool is to put your kids in charge of how they spend their money.

Putting buying decisions in my kids’ hands has done wonders for their money savvy, consumer awareness, and math skills. Specifically:

  • Addition and subtraction (“How much to I still have to earn to buy x? How much will I have left if I buy y?”)
  • Percentage (“Hey, Mom! Museum members get 10% off in the gift shop!”)
  • Fractions (“Hey, Mom! X is on sale for half price!”)
  • Decimals (dollars and cents)
  • Quality vs. value (“It’s cheap, but it might break the second time I use it.”)
  • Needs vs. wants…or wants vs. other wants (“I want that video game, but maybe I should save my money for an iPad 2.”)
  • Long-term goals (“I want to buy a car when I get my license.”)

A few key details make this strategy work:

Allowance must be big enough to be meaningful.

I got two bucks a week when I was a kid, but it was more of a token payment than anything else. We pay our kids an allowance equal to their age. Half goes to “spending money,” and half goes to “long-term savings” which they get when they move out. They choose what to do with money they receive for jobs or gifts (spend it all or save part of it).

If they ask, I also “cash out” gift cards. That is, if they receive a store-specific gift card but would prefer the cash, I buy it from them, knowing it’s a matter of time till I shop at that store myself.

We choose not to formally tie allowance to chores or work, except for specific jobs such as lawn mowing or washing the car. For us, changing the context from “family responsibility” to “cash for work” decreases teamwork and increases conflict and loophole-finding.

We no longer buy treats and trinkets.

This is essential. No more lollipops in the checkout line. No more cheap toys. The only way kids learn to assess value is to pay for impulse purchases themselves.

This also goes for “upgrades” to purchases we cover. For example, we have a certain budget for school clothing. If our kids want the too-expensive pair of shoes (or whatever), they kick in the extra.

We advise our kids on purchases if they ask, but we don’t judge what they buy.

My kids decide what’s valuable to them. Beyond the most basic guidelines (nothing unsafe or offensive), they can buy whatever they want with their own money. Sometimes they buy candy or crap toys, but rarely…they decided early on it’s a waste of money.

We track allowance and spending electronically.

The roadblock we kept hitting was the actual handling of cash. We never had proper change when it was allowance time (or we’d forget to pay it). Someone would forget their wallet, or forget to put their money in the wallet, etc. We’d buy stuff for the kids, forget to get paid back…you get the picture.

An iPhone app solved the problem: Kiddy Bank. This simple app is little more than a smart ledger, automatically adding allowance each week, with the ability to debit for purchases and credit for earnings and gifts. We’ve created separate spendings- and savings “accounts” for each of the kids, as their allowances and savings rates are different. The app is not connected to an actual bank account, so no money actually moves around.

So there you have it…our allowance strategy. I’d love to hear what’s working for you.

Ron Huxley’s Remembrance: I remember getting $1 every Sunday, as a child, for my allowance. I would walk my brother and sister down to the corner market and we would spend that dollar. I would get three comic books and a chocolate malt. The day the comic books went from twenty-five cents to thirty-five cents was devastating for me. I had to make an important decision. Did I buy one less comic book or skip the malt? I ended up getting one less comic book.

This was math for me as a child. The ideas in this article can help you teach some simple life skills to your child as well. It covers some of the common obstacles and manipulations that might come up.

Social skills will help your child have a great school year!

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

It is always surprising to me how many children actually like school. I don’t know if things are different now from when I was growing up but as a child I thought summer went so quickly and dreaded having to return to the demanding routines of homework. As I watch my grandson and friends children get ready for school, they seem so excited to get back to school. Perhaps it is just the parents excitement?

One of the common denominators it seems for these eager children is the power of social connections. Getting to see friends again or making new ones is a strong drive in all of us. Unfortunately, not all children are good at making friends. They might have the want to but not the know-how for successful social skills.

One way parents can help children improve these skills is by using social scripts. Applicable to all children but commonly employed with autistic spectrum or attention deficit children, social scripts teach basic skills on interacting with peers, help manage anxiety, and addressing interfering behaviors like aggression, fear and obsessions. The underlying principle of social scripts is the cognitive technique of rehearsal or role play. It’s kind of like practicing for a play but the play is life. Like learning any new rote activity, you feel awkward at first and the words seem, well “scripted”, but with practice you become more spontaneous and comfortable.

There are some excellent websites that have detailed instructions for parents of children with developmental challenges:

http://www.polyxo.com/socialstories/

http://www.adders.org/socialstories.htm

http://www.thegraycenter.org/social-stories

Originally created by Carol Gray of The Gray Center, social scripts were designed to be an intervention for developmentally challenged children.  There are several books, DVD’s, and topical scripts that parents can use with their child. The one thing that a published script can’t give is awareness of a child’s social context. I recommend that parents talk to teachers, see their child on the playground, ask a friend for honest feedback and talk with other parents of special needs children to get ideas on how to create a personalized script. Additionally, scripts should focus on reinforcing a child’s strengths and applaud any effort at positive social interactions.

The elements of a good social script include “who” is involved, “what” happens, “when” the event takes place, “why” it happens and “how” it happens. The subject for these elements could be asking to play a game, telling a joke, giving others personal space, waiting ones turn, sharing with others, being more assertive, etc. Older children may need more detail about feelings and motivations than younger children.

Parents of all children can use expressive and dramatic play to rehearse a social script. Set up a target topic, like telling a joke, and then draw it out on paper, use puppets to show interactions, dress up in home-made costumes and act it out or just have a spontaneous conversation in the car on the way to school. I used made up stories about forest animals struggling to get along with other animals when my children were young. I have used toys figures with my clients in family therapy to role play tough social situations. The more creative, the more fun. Give high fives and words of praise to increase motivation. Talk about how it worked afterwards and re-rehearse if necessary.

Helping our children feel and be more competent socially will help them be more successful academically. It will improve self-esteem and help to create leaders in the world.

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

Some children find school an exhilarating challenge, while others are overwhelmed. Parents of young children can help them by being more involved in school. If you have the time or a flexible work schedule, you can participate in the classroom one day a week. This affords you the opportunity to observe your child and to help the teacher, who probably has his or her hands full. You can see what problems your child has adjusting to the school routines and find ways, by modeling the teacher, to help your child. Your presence also gives the younger child a feeling of security to know mom or dad is close by. Unfortunately some parents do not have this flexibility to take off a day and participate in their child’s classroom. You can still stay involved by attending parent/teacher conferences, calling the teacher periodically to see how your child is doing, and keeping informed about overall school events as well as your child’s individual performance.

Parents can also reduce their child’s school daze by helping them learn good study skills and overcome homework malaise. Self-discipline can be a difficult trait to build, but it is crucial to academic success. While IQ is important, a child’s feeling of confidence in herself and her ability to master a subject is also critically important. Make sure your child knows how to study and finds it a positive, rewarding experience. You can do this by using the “Homework Hassles” parenting tool. In addition, you should encourage children’s natural curiosity to learn. Provide opportunities to discover new things. Get excited about your child’s projects, both at home and school. Post school work on the refrigerator door as if they are pieces of famous artwork. And talk regularly with your child about his feelings about school. Is he afraid of another student? Does he think the teacher is nice or mean? What is it like riding the bus, or eating school cafeteria food, or playing at recess? Who are his friends and why does he like them? Even busy parents can find time for these discussions.

Use communication parenting tools to validate a child’s feelings about school without getting caught up in them at the same time. Remember that empathizing with a child (hearing about feelings and acknowledging their validity) is different from sympathizing with a child (feeling what they feel, be it mad, overwhelmed, or dazed). The former allows the parent to help solve problems while the latter get parents caught up emotionally in the problem.

Parents complain too much! It’s true and you know it. We complain about the irresponsibility of our partner, the disrespect of our children, and the way life has let us down when what we need to be doing is taking some action on our life. We opt to talk to others about our problems but we rarely do anything about them. We make others to be our problem but the truth is that people are not our problems, the problem is the problem. We need to partner with other people (like our family members) against the problem and work together as a team to make our relationships something to tell others about. 

Parents complain too much! It’s true and you know it. We complain about the irresponsibility of our partner, the disrespect of our children, and the way life has let us down when what we need to be doing is taking some action on our life. We opt to talk to others about our problems but we rarely do anything about them. We make others to be our problem but the truth is that people are not our problems, the problem is the problem. We need to partner with other people (like our family members) against the problem and work together as a team to make our relationships something to tell others about. 

All parents have experienced the classical power struggle with their child over a toy they want, chore they don’t want, and a long list of things you want them to do. The subject matter doesn’t matter but what does is how you keep your power intact. The word “no” is a powerful tool that most parents misuse. I would suggest using it on a 70/30 split where you say “no” 30 percent of the time. That means you are going to have to find acceptable ways to say “yes” which could be challenging. If you find enough micro-yesses in your day, your child will perceive you more as a loving gift-giver versus the big meany who says “no” all the time. Using this word more judiciously will make it more powerful. 

There are hundreds of micro-interactions that occur with family members everyday. These tiny verbal and nonverbal moments add up to implicit feelings about ourselves and the world around us. As a result we can feel wonderful about ourselves or feel like damaged goods, without ever understanding why. Use these interactions intentionally to build positive working models of the world and confident sense of who we are! 

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

There are hundreds of micro-interactions that occur with family members everyday. These tiny verbal and nonverbal moments add up to implicit feelings about ourselves and the world around us. As a result we can feel wonderful about ourselves or feel like damaged goods, without ever understanding why. Use these interactions intentionally to build positive working models of the world and confident sense of who we are!

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

What discipline could a parent of maltreated foster child ever dish out that would be worse than they already experienced. More discipline is not the way to heal their hearts…
Ron Huxley
Being your child’s emotional tutor and role model is the most powerful thing a parent can ever do.
Ron Huxley