"My parents are hyper," Jason emphasized as he pointed at his dad's foot tapping on my office carpet. "See? They can't sit still. It's always ‘Do this' or ‘Do that' or ‘Come on, get in the car, it's time to go' wherever the heck they want to go. They need to chill!" He paused to see their reaction.
After a silence, his mom said, "Jason's right. I agree. We're always on the go. I thought kids liked activity. We don't want them to be bored."
"I'm at a loss," admitted his dad. "Which do they want? Nice things, sports and activities, or less? I'm working hard to pay for this stuff, and I want to know." He looked at his son, then glanced at his wristwatch.
I spoke up. "Every child needs a mom and a dad who are approachable and available, not at all times, but at some time during the day. He needs a parent who listens to his concerns and shows interest in his ideas. A child needs a parent who will take time and doesn't have to swap information in a hurry. He needs parents who are slow to anger and who seldom overreact. Am I on course, Jason?"
"Yeah. There's so much drama in our house. A lot of overreacting. I do it too."
His mom smiled at his confession. "So what should we do?"
"That's all the time we have for today -- that'll be a hundred dollars," I announced. (Not really, just trying to see if you're paying attention.) Actually, I said, "Let me introduce you to an acronym that will help you experience calm and connection. Jason already used the word chill." I wrote CHILL on my whiteboard. "C stands for Consistent. If we're going to have the kind of secure home that breeds connecting, it needs to be consistent. Inconsistency leads to tension and drama."
"That's us." She let out a deep sigh.
"H is for Halt, which means we will halt our activities in order to connect. It might mean physically stopping whatever we're doing to really tune in to each other. Put the newspaper down, mute the ball game, take off the headphones, whatever. It shows the other persons that they have value and that we respect them."
"There's a lack of respect in our home," said the dad, obviously directing it toward Jason.
"The I is the third quality to CHILL; it reminds us to stay Informed of our child's developmental issues, needs, and desires, and to be informed of his capabilities and circumstances. If we are informed, we'll have reasonable expectations for him."
Jason nodded his head in agreement.
"The first L is Listen. Listen to Jason without interrupting, correcting, or lecturing. The goal isn't to revise his words when he says something wacky. You aren't listening to sharpen his grammar or behavior; you're listening to connect. Remember: listening means connect, not correct."
"We're better at talking than listening," Dad admitted, the edge to his voice having faded.
"And Jason, you can show respect to your parents by listening to them even when you don't agree. That's showing respect."
He bobbed his head.
Dad raised his eyebrows and smiled at Jason.
"And the second L represents Lead by example."
Dad shifted in the couch and rearranged the pillow.
"If we're going to CHILL and not set each other off and overreact, we need to set the pace as parents. Children need calm parents, not stressed-out models of mania. They need to see adults demonstrating behaviors to emulate, including concern for each other, willingness to be humble and ask forgiveness, and acceptance of responsibility without blaming. If you blow it, say, ‘I'm sorry, my bad.' We don't have to be perfect, but we do have to be authentic."
Lead by example
Our culture has successfully imprinted on our brains that "more is better." You need more stuff. You need more experiences. Your children require more enrichment. It's like we live our lives with a calculator that only has the plus sign; we're constantly adding to our lives without subtracting.
After I spoke on this subject in San Diego, a man introduced himself: "We were talking about this at work this week, and about how we're caught up in a culture of ‘a little more.' We decided it's not always good. In fact, we now have a saying, ‘A little more is the enemy of good.'"
"Explain that to me."
"Sometimes, when we're working, we try to do too much. It starts with the compulsion to do a little more, and it can often risk all the work we've done. Sometimes we need to settle for good, and just say, ‘Good enough.'"
"Great point. What was that saying again?"
"A little more is the enemy of good."
"Thanks. An excellent motto. What kind of work are you in?"
"I'm a surgeon."
I became nervous at the mere thought. I wouldn't want a surgeon trying to do too much on me; I want him to do a good job, not a heroic job. I want this guy, the one who'd discovered that a little more is the enemy of good.
I'm not saying we should slack off and do sloppy work. I am saying that more is not always better.
Parent to Parent
1. What is the difference between building a relationship and growing one?
2. Review CHILL. What are some ways to grow these qualities as a parent?
3. How can we know when "enough is enough"?
4. In what ways could a blessing demonstrate to our children that we are putting first things first?
Parent and Child
1. Do you know (or know of) some overscheduled kids? What are their lives like?
2. Parents are to be honored and kids are to be loved; how does this look on an average day
Excerpted from: Connecting With Your Kids by Timothy Smith. Copyright © 2005; ISBN 076420131X. Published by Bethany House Publishers. Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
Timothy Smith is a family coach, speaker, president of Life Skills for American Families, and the author of several books, including Letters to Nicole and The Seven Cries of Today's Teens. He is a research fellow with the George H. Gallup International Institute and a radi commentator. Tim and his wife have two young-adult daughters and live in Southern California.