Harmful Message Good Parents Send Their Kids

We are all a product of our raising and we tend to make decisions involving our own children based on how our parents did it, or the complete opposite of how our parents did it. We will also mix in tidbits we’ve picked up from books, movies, blogs, and friends we’ve observed (or even stragers). In short, most of us are just winging it at the parenting thing. It’s rare to meet a parent who has thought long and hard about the messages they’re sending to their children and its even more rare to think about the messages SOCIETY is sending to our children. Often, we just roll with it cause that’s how its always been. Well, I think it’s time to challenge some of the messages we send children without even realizing it.

Here are some of the most common messages even GOOD parents send their kids that are HARMFUL .

You can be anything you want to be.

Whoops! Not true. Unfortunately this is a message sent to our kids via parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and TV, but it’s one of the biggest lies. No, your child cannot be anything they want to be. My stepson wanted to be an astronaut when he was a little boy. He loooooved space! We took him to NASA Space Center, bought the galaxy stars for is room, and read countless books about space to him; however, we were always honest with him when he talked about wanting to be an astronaut. We told him, “I know you’d really like to be an astronaut, but you were born to two tall parents. Doctor think you will be nearly 7 ft tall and rocketships aren’t built for someone your height and weight”. We then would discuss what other space related careers would be available to him and even invited him to be an engineer and try to design ships for tall space travelers. We’re not doing our kids any favors when we let them think they can be ANYTHING they want to be. We can allow them to pretend and use those active imaginations, but also inject reality and forward thinking to avoid setting them up for failure.

I promise.

I have had a rule for working with young children nearly two decades now. I do NOT make promises to kids and I don’t allow them to make promises to me. A promise implies we, as parents, have control when we don’t. When you promise a child, they believe you can do it and nothing can get in your way. Unless you’re the almighty, all powerful, omnipotent being, this is a harmful message to send a child. “I promise I’ll make your play”, or “I promise we’ll go to Doughnut Haven on Sunday” and then you come down with the flu the night of the play or Doughnut Haven is closed for construction. The child then feels lied to. Never make a promise to a child, instead try, “I’ll try my hardest because this is important. I hope nothing gets in our way”, or something similar to remind your child that we are not in control of the universe, nor are they the center of it.

Everyone is created equal.

This is one of the biggest, and in my opinion most detrimental lies we send to children and people. No one was created equal. We were all made to be different and we’re limiting our children’s potential when we tell them we’re all equal, or when we allow everyone a trophy because we all “worked hard”. Let’s be honest, not everyone on the team worked hard. Some never made a single game and sat on their asses during practice watching the grass grow. This kid shouldn’t get a trophy! Some people are weak, dumb, slow, cruel, lazy just like some are strong, gifted, fast, kind, and hardworking. Some people are whole, while others missing limbs or eyes or ears. If  we teach our children that everyone is created equal, we’re not encouraging them to look at people and evaluate them based on character, actions, strengths and weaknesses. I want my child to notice the peer who’s missing their arms and offer to read stories with them or paint a picture for them. I want them to know that if they practice and work hard, they can win at something because it’s possible to be the best. Competition should be encouraged to bring the highest potential out of each child and it can be encouraged in a healthy way.

Happily Ever After

If you read original excerpts of fairy tales from Grimm’s books, most don’t end with “happily ever after”. In fact, this is one of the cornerstones of The Danish Way, a parenting book that encourages authenticity. The Danish, voted happiest people in the world over forty years, don’t teach happily ever after. They teach fear, sadness, frustration, disappointment, nd even death. This authentic view of the world is accredited for much of their happiness. The children are not shielded from life’s realties, but instead are groomed to cope with it and more importantly, to expect it. Parents, we’re not doing our kids any favors when we teach them life is one big happy ending. It’s not! It’s ups and downs, let downs, disappointments, failures, and hurt. But, by allowing our children to experience these things and providing empathy and love, we can allow them opportunities to learn decision making skills, coping skills, problem solving and logical thinking. We’re raising stronger happier people in the end!

Things matter.

This is one of the hardest to recognize you struggle with and the hardest to change! Think of how often we reward, or celebrate, with things. When you go to the doctor’s office, your child a dumdum. After a haircut they’re given a sticker. At the grocery store they’re given “buddy bucks”. Teachers and parents are now using elaborate sticker charts and treasure chests to award children for chores, grades, and behavior, all things that children should be doing because they’re the right thing to do, not because they get a prize. What’s happening is we’re shifting the focus from what feels good (intrinsic motivators) to “what do I get (extrinsic motivators). We’re raising our children to be reward seekers, but we’re also sending the message that joy can be found in “things” rather than within the self.

Even he focus of holidays has shifted towards materialism. Christmas, Valentines, Easter, birthdays and even Halloween for some is celebrated with things, gifts, candies. If we remove the material items from the holiday, we’re left with a focus on family, togetherness, and experiences to enjoy. Imagine Christmas morning after everyone opens A gift, the family makes breakfast together, plays outside, reads a story, and sings songs or has a dance party by the tree. Imagine a birthday celebrated with a silly string fight before school and then telling your child their birth story and all the wonderful things you enjoy learning about them each year. What if we stripped the holidays down and rediscovered the reason for each season? Would we find opportunities for learning and character building?

Our job as parents is not to entertain our children, always keep them happy, or prevent them from learning about the world. This is a very serious undertaking and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. It’s important we take a step back and really think through the messages we send our children and make decisions based on what’s best for them LONG-TERM, and not allow society to influence our parenting choices. Being a good parent in today’s world means being counter-cultural; not being afraid to do things differently.

“If they stare, let them stare. You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out” -Wonder

Stay gold, 

That Girl

Partner vs Spouse

When I lived in Costa Rica, the first place I stayed was an eco village. I loved the sense of community I felt there when we visited and I thought it would be the best place to start as newcomers to the country and culture. I noticed when I met new people they would say, “You’ll have to come to my home some time and meet my partner”. At first I wondered if everyone in the village was gay.

The word choice here is no accident. It’s a cultural difference I love.

First, let’s acknowledge the use of the word “home”. Very few people said, “house” unless they were referring to the structure. For example, when we were touring houses to rent or stay in, people would talk about the walls, the windows, the doors of the house. But, when referring to an event or gathering, it was happening in the “home”. I love this because a house is worthless without people inside it to make it a home. We, as Americans, put too much importance on the house we live in and how its decorated, but really, the focus should be on how you make the people inside it feel.

Second, the fact that people would invite me, a total stranger, and my two wild jungle babies into their home without first learning what I do (assessing my status), and what my hobbies are (assessing common ground) was shocking. In this culture, people were valued for their character, not what they wore, how much money they make, or where they like to hang out. And, it was generally assumed that you were a good person because if you weren’t a good person, they’d know about you. Criminals in Costa Rica are gossiped about and chased out of town. It’s highly disrespected to hurt others and the system works.

Third, the term “partner”. Now, I don’t remember meeting any gay couples, but everyone referred to their spouse as a partner. Some of them were legally married, some common law, and some lived together and shared children together. What all of these couples had in common was their view of this other person as a partner, and they actually were PARTNERS.

Some of my readers may feel they have a partner in their life, regardless of the cultural title assigned that person (friend, boyfriend, lover, husband) and this post may not apply to you, but I also know many friends of mine don’t feel they have a partner in their spouse and after several conversations we agree that part of the problem is the cultural view of the institution of marriage and the defined gender roles commonly associated with husband and wife.

I’m not bitter about marriage, and I have no judgement on anyone who chooses to get married or chooses to stay single. I celebrate and respect love in all forms. I have people in my life that I love and I tell them I love them; however, if I am fortunate enough to fall IN LOVE again, it will be with someone I feel will be my partner.

After much self-reflection I realized when I got married, my spouse seemed to develop a sense of ownership over me almost instantly. This feeling caused a heap of unhealthy habits on his part that led to our eventual demise. I won’t go into details, because it doesn’t deserve much more of my energy, but the expectations of me as a “wife” and  his views of me as a woman prevented him from viewing me as a partner and treating me as such. That’s not how marriage was designed to be, but unfortunately it is that way in many homes.

Here’s how a partner is different. 

  • A partner hears you and validates your feelings and needs
  • A partner laughs with you, not at you
  • A partner assists you with caring for the house AND the home
  • A partner stands up for you & never inflicts harm
  • A partner cares for you when you’re sick & protects your health
  • A partner shares your dreams and visions…even if they think they’re silly
  • A partner cares for children with you; the good, the bad, the ugly are shared
  • A partner challenges you to be better, but accepts you for all that you are
  • A partner supports you living the life you want and enjoys the ride with you.

When I find this person my promise to them will be that I will never hold them back from living the life they want. I will never ask them to “settle down” or compromise their dreams for me. Their journey is their own. I may like to be a part of it and I’d like them to be a part of mine, but I believe, I can love you and you can love me and we can share a life together but there are no rules for what that life looks like. I do not need a title to know I’m loved, nor do I need a lifelong legal commitment. The hope is to find someone I love being with more than anyone else and that they feel the same. Each day we wake up wanting to spend more time together and take each day as it comes enjoying evey beautiful moment.

This time around, I’m not accepting anything less than a partner to love.

The “Rules” of Play

The rules of play are simple. There are no rules for the child. There are, however, rules for the adults. Adults can either hinder, or help, play be what it is intended to be. Play, by definition, is intrinsically motivated, self-directed, and natural. “Play is a child’s natural language and the toys are their words, ” Garry Landreth (The Art of the Relationship, 2001.) Play is not only how children communicate, but it is how that express themselves, process experiences, and make sense of the world around them. 

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These “rules” are what we Play Therapists live by.

Disclaimer: Although these are the rules Play Therapists follow in the playroom with clients, following these rules does not make you a Play Therapist. Sixty-one graduate hours and several thousand clinical hours under direct supervision have taught me to use these guidelines in a very specific way to form a therapeutic relationship with my clients and create an environment for positive change to occur in the child’s perception of self, the world, and circumstances.

That being said, parents can apply these same rules if they’d like to encourage a more active imagination, independent play, and allow more learning to take place naturally through play.

Rule #1: Allow the child to lead.

Play is natural for children. They do not need an adult to intervene and show them how to play by moving objects, making sounds, or deciding what happens next. Child directed play is best. This is why toys with batteries or electricity actually work against play. Imagine being a child playing in what looks like a kitchen and placing something on the stove and the stove responds, “Yummy. I like spaghetti!” But, you weren’t cooking spaghetti. In fact, you were pretending to be a mad scientist concocting a potion to kill aliens from the planet Zonkatron. Or, the adult in the room intervenes and says something idiotic like, “Oh, are you making something special for me?” This not only pulls the child out of the fantasy, anchoring them to reality, but also changes the motivation of the play to serving the interest of the parent and pleasing the parent, not the child.

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Rule #2: Play is not a time for education.

Learning takes place naturally during play. The infant/toddler brain is maze of channels, twists, turns, and roadways, but if not all of the passageways get engaged often, “roadblocks” go up. Parts of the brain actually die off and get pruned away if not activated. Just the same, parts that are engaged often become stronger. Do your best to fight the urge to teach the child colors, numbers, shapes, and sounds. Quizzing the child on what they know is also not appropriate during play. Things like, “What’s the horsey say?”, have no business in play. Learning letters, numbers, and so forth will happen in due time, in the classroom, or while you’re out and about as a family and talking about things you see.

Rule #3: Don’t ask questions you know the answer to.

I see adults break this rule ALL the time. They walk up to a child holding a ball and say something like, “Are you holding a ball?” or, a child slams a car into another car and screams, “Boom! They just crashed!” and the adult says, “Uh oh, did they crash?” Asking questions like this can make the child feel misunderstood (and make the adult look stupid). Remember, play is about expressing one sef so if there’s enough information for a question, there’s enough for a statement. Instead, try, “Whoa, they crashed hard. I heard the boom”. The child feels seen, heard, and understood.

Rule #4: Grant in fantasy what you can’t grant in reality.

This is a big one! Children’s play is not always an indicator of their deepest, darkest secrets, nor is it predictive of future actions. The child who plays “good guy, bad guy” and has the two beating each other up isn’t necessarily going to be aggressive or violent as they grow up. Just the same, the child who plays army and blows up the whole town isn’t necessarily going to make bombs in their garage and blow up their school as a teen either. Children use play to explore different sides of their personalities, try out various behaviors and actions, and sometimes something like blowing up a town in their play makes them feel powerful and strong n a day when they may have felt weak and misunderstood. Children may also use play to give alternate endings to real life experiences, but they don’t need to be reprimanded for pretending they punched Aunt Helga in the face for that smelly kiss. It’s pretend and it’s natural and therapeutic.

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Rule #5: Don’t label things the child hasn’t labeled.

To the adult it’s a stick, but to the child it may be a sword, a hammer, a magic wand, a syringe, a whip, a light saber, lipstick, a cane, Cruella Deville’s cigarette, a plane, or something that’s never even been invented. Don’t assume you know what the child is pretending, or that they even want you to know, by interfering and giving their object a name. If you’re wrong (which you probably will be), you’ll pull them from the fantasy into reality and distract from the process.

Rule #6: Don’t set limits until limits need to be set.

The average two year old hears the word, “No” over seventy-five percent of the day. From their, it just continues with “don’t touch that”, “don’t put that there”, “don’t do that”, “stop that” and on and on. Play should be a time in the child’s day where rules don’t exist until there’s really a problem. A child shouldn’t pick up a doll, walk to the pretend kitchen and hear, “Remember not to dump the food all over the place and be sure you don’t get her wet this time”. I roll my eyes and shake my head at this parent. I just want to scream, “Why not?! Who the eff cares if the plastic doll gets wet?” Play should be freeing, unlimited, cathathartic…so only set limits when there’s danger or the possibility of irreversible damage to something.

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There are many more I won’t get into, but these are my favorite of the basics.

So, as a parent, what can we do? Let them play! Let them lead! Let them decide how objects are used, where they go, how they move, who gets to be what and say what. Let the child explore, imagine, be creative, be destructive, and be expressive. Respect play for what it is, don’t try to change it, and recognize it’s value in your child’s development metally, emotionally, socially, and even physically. Children need play free of adult interaction, intervention, and direction.

Stay gold,

That Girl

Character Development Begins in Infancy

We’ve all observed that parent; the one who appears to think their only purpose as a parent is to keep their child alive. This is the same person who thinks their spouse is a great catch because they don’t cheat on them or beat them and that they have a good job because they haven’t committed suicide by 5:00pm on Friday. I want more out of this gig and I want more for my children. I feel like my duty as a parent is to raise my boys into men of integrity, who live as leaders, and strive to be more like God each day. It’s a heavy undertaking to raise people of character in today’s society, but we, as good people, have an obligation to raise more good people. 

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So, how do we do this and when does it start?

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Yup, character development can start as early as infancy…neonates even. 

  1. First, protect your child’s eyes and ears. 

Studies show that infants repeat what they’ve seen and heard in their minds for up to 24 hours. It becomes part of their implicit memory, meaning it’s not a concious understanding; however, it still becomes a part of them. So, you may not think your newborn is paying attention or can understand what’s happening when you’re watching The Walking Dead during that late night feeding, but that violence and terror is getting engrained in their mind. Is there someone in your family that thinks it’s funny to make fun of your new baby’s big ears or crooked grin? This is being repeated in their mind over and over again. Think on that a while.

I do my best to be sure I’m surrounding my babies with positive talk, positive facial expressions, positive touch, and positive movement. Even at 4:30 am when they want to be up for the day, I greet them with a warm smile and tell them they’re loved.

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2. Watch for character traits and comment on them

Your child’s developing their personality more and more each day and their character and self-esteem are also developing at a rapid rate. They’re not just drooling, poooping, sleepy blobs. They’re observant, purposeful humans, seeking interaction and feedback.

When one of my boys wails loudly and it startles the other I notice he brings his hands together and takes deep breaths. I let him know I notice his strong coping skills and patience with others. Sometimes his bottom lip quivers because he feels his brother’s emotion and I comment on his empathy.

When they started rolling over and one day they could do it easily, but the next day they struggled, I acknowledged the effort and the ambition. “Today seems harder than yesterday, but I notice you’re not giving up. You have a goal and you’re working hard to achieve it”.

If we’re at the store and they start fussing in the checkout, I thank them happily for praticing patience with others and being understanding that I have other things to take care of at the moment, but I tell them they’re loved and I’ll hold them when I’m able.

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3. Read to them & discuss the stories

I skipped right over those lame baby books of shapes and colors and went straight to books with story lines. I read these books to my boys and discuss what’s being learned. I talk to them about Harold being a problem solver with his purple crayon, Jack’s disobedience of his mother when he sold the cow for beans, and we discuss Red Riding Hood’s naivety. This isn’t just to develop comprehension skills and vocabulary (which it does), but stories and fables are a great way to develop strong character.

4. Model for them

A wise parent knows that children learn more from what they see others do than what they are told to do so model for them how to behave. I once had a violent student in my kindergarten classroom and I asked the mother about home life so I could get a better understanding of the child’s needs. She said, “He’s never been exposed to any anger or violence at all. Not since his dad left. His dad used to throw tantrums and break everything around him, but that was all before he was two years old”. Too late! The child may have had some hereditary predisposition to violence; however, much of what he was doing could also have been learned behavior in his implicit memory from observing his dad as an infant. It’s important to be aware of how you interact with others in front of your new baby. Think about your mannerisms, your tone of voice…your actions will become their actions sooner or later.

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Babies are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. It used to be believed that infants couldn’t feel pain, but now that seems ludacris, right? Many people mistakenly think that what we say and do around babies, and to babies, doesn’t have an impact on them because they “don’t remember”, but current research says the opposite. They do remember! Everything becomes a part of them. Take advantage of these early years, this crucial period of development, where our children are sponges, and start gearing them towards a positive mindset and raising people of character.

Stay gold, 

Chelsea Vail

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How I’m Surviving the 4month Sleep Regression


If you haven’t heard of the dreaded four month sleep regression, you either don’t have children, have one too young (just you wait), or you birthed a unicorn child that was able to avoid it. I have not been so lucky so as a public service I’ve decided to let you mamas in on how I’m surviving the regression times two. 

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First of all, I’m not.

I tricked you into reading this post by letting you think I’m surviving it, but I’m really not. Each evening at 7pm I shiver in fear wondering what the next 12 hours might have in store for me. And all night long I cry to myself feeling like a failure as a “baby expert” and sleep guru. But, each morning at 4, 5, or 6am depending on when I finally throw in the towel and get up, I stumble into the kitchen where I fill a vat with coffee and chug it like a frat boy the morning after bid day. There’s tip #1 I guess…coffee. Part of my evening routine is to prepare my coffee and set it to go off in the wee morning hours so it’s ready when I am.

Second, go the eff to sleep when they do. 

I’ve embraced an early bedtime since the twins were born and I couldn’t see straight after 7pm. Some nights I try to party like a rock star and stay up until 8:30 or even 9 to spend time with my husband, but the next morning I have visions of stabbing him in his sleep because I’m so tired and this negates the romance (Tosh.O watching party) of the night before. Yes, my marriage is important to me; however, I prefer to meet him for a midday meal after my gallon of coffee and catch up then. We’ve had plenty of conversations about our time together and he realizes this is a short period in our lives where he’s taking third place. He understands the babies need me 100% right now and he’s supportive. Thank the Lord I didn’t marry a selfish man. So, like I said, go to sleep when they do. Most babies have their longest stretch of sleep up front so if I’m able to get down at 7:00pm, I might get to sleep until 10 or even 11. This may be all you get so cherish it!

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Third, throw everything you know out the window.

If I only had one baby I would feed them only every 3-4 hours overnight and if they woke up in between that time I would quietly soothe them back to sleep in hopes of teaching them it’s not time for food yet. With two babies, this is damn near impossible. I sleep while nursing, I let them sleep in bed with me, I hold them while they sleep from time to time. Last night I even let Cash play with one hand while I used the other to hold the effing pacifier in Cannon’s mouth and I attempted to sleep in plank position across he bed with my legs hanging halfway off the mattress.

Let me walk you through it. We go down at 7:00pm as a team.

10:00pm Cash wakes up, but Cannon is still passed out. I decide to feed Cash since it’s been 3 hours.

11:00pm, Cannon wakes up at 11 for food, which disturbs Cash. Cash won’t go back to sleep without being nursed again so I nurse both.

1:00am, Cash wakes up because technically he had his best feed at 10am and his breast wasn’t full for the 11pm feed so he’s hungry again. Feed him.

2:00, Now Cannon wakes up at because he ate at 11pm. Feed Cannon.

3:30 am Cash wakes up just for kicks. Rock, soothe, pat him down. Now it’s 3:30am and I try to go back to sleep.

4:15 am rolls around and Cash can’t figure out how to transition into his new “adult” sleep cycle. Pat, rock, soothe, but he’s so pissed off he won’t go back to sleep and I’m fearful he’ll wake up Cannon. I’m so tired, angry, and frustrated that I pull him next to me and finally decide to let him nurse while I try to sleep without rolling over and suffocating him at 5am.

5:30am, Cannon is up ready to eat again and I have to wake Cash up in order to get into position to feed Cannon, too. Now both boys are too stimulated (and rested) to go back to sleep so we all get up at 6am and start the day.

6:00am, I yell the F word to myself through a loving mother’s smile and stumble to the kitchen for coffee.

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The point is, there are no rules during this fourth month of hell. Bloggers and sleep trainers will advise not to get into bad habits and hell, I’ve given that advice myself, but this was before I experienced it myself times two! I would much rather just get through this time, try to get as much sleep as I can, whether that means nursing on demand or holding them while we sleep, and then break those bad habits later.

As tough as this mini phase is, I love the baby breath and warm lips on my neck in the mddle of the night. I love Cash’s soft chubby hand smacking my face while he fights sleep. When Cannon wails for food, I know he’s screaming for me and knowing I have what he needs to feel safe, calm, and satisfied is a powerful feeling. So, I guess, that’s how I’m surviving the four month sleep regression. I’m trying to focus on the beautiful parts. I’m looking for joy in every challenging moment and it’s not hard to find.

Stay gold, 

That Girl

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How to Raise a Wuss

We’ve all met that kid. You know, the one who’s scared to try anything new, won’t talk to strangers, and punks out from challenges. You may have even dated the guy in college whose bark was way worse than his bite? Now that you’re a parent raising a son, perhaps you’d like to know how you too can raise your own sissy. Well, you’re in luck. As a Parenting Specialist and family counselor I’ve figured out the magic formula for raising a wuss…guaranteed!

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Step 1: Tell him he’s a wuss

This is probably the most common method I’ve seen used. Many parents mistakenly think that by calling their son a wuss, sissy, or pansy that he’ll grow up to be tough, but the opposite is true. By calling your son names like this, his self-esteem will plummet and he will likely grow up to be just those things. Even better? When he cries or “wusses out”, tell him he’s being a “vagina”, too. This way, not only will he grow up weak,  but he’ll also grow up disrespecting women and believing they’re an inferior gender.

Step 2: Show him how strong you are

Don’t allow your child to figure things out on their own, especially if they struggle with it because they’re not developmentally ready to master it yet. Be sure to show them how easy it is for you. They’ll likely start to admire you, think you are a superhero and believe there’s nothing you can’t do. This will foster more feelings of inferiority, create a lack of initiative, and scare them away from taking on things that might be challenging.

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Step 3: Make fun of people together

This one is a surefire way to raise a wuss. Make fun of people for things like their skin color, hair dos, clothing choices, and the way they walk or talk. This will teach your child that other people are probably making fun of them too, which will undoubtedly crush their confidence and cause them to be inhibited in public. Leave no one untouched! The weaker the person being picked on, the better the results for your own child.

Step 4: Never Follow-through

There’s several ways to pull this one off. You could try threatening things like spankings, grounding, or other punishments without ever having intentions of doing them. You could also make empty promises about things you’ll buy them, things you’ll do, or maybe trips you’ll take. This teaches your child that words don’t have meaning. They’ll grow up thinking they can say things they don’t mean, they can be dishonest if it makes things easier, and they may even become that guy at the bar that says “let’s take it outside” when everyone around him knows a fight will never happen. People love that guy, right?

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I have two sons. This has made me very sensitive to societal issues involving men. What defines a real man has gotten blurry and how we raise boys into men is even blurrier. I’ve observed the empty threats from angry parents, which is confusing for children and damages relationships. I’ve overheard, “But, dad, you said…”, too many times, and I’ve witnessed the belittling of the small child who cries because the dad wants to “toughen him up”. It’s heartbreaking because these things don’t create men, they create weinies. We’re raising generations of little boys to become men with no follow through, men whose words have no meaning, men who struggle with their identities, men who confuse masculinity with masoginism, and who make themselves feel superior by preying on the inferior. It’s up to us to make a change. 

Stay gold, 

That Girl

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