Book Excerpt: It Takes a Parent

The New Normal

In a 2004 article on WebMD.com, health reporter Dulce Zamora wrote: "When Junior and his mother walk into the doctor's waiting room, there are two seats available: a big chair for grown-ups and a stool for kids. Junior takes the adult seat and starts to throw a tantrum after Mom asks him to move. With resignation, she squats on the little seat." Who sits where isn't the issue. The issue is how much power kids wield over their parents. Such scenes are becoming epidemic. If we were doing a reality television show we might call it Kids Gone Wild! What's really amazing is not that children attempt such power grabs. Of course they do. It's human nature to want power, and the nature of the hearts children are born with has not changed since Adam and Eve. How they're being raised has changed. The parents are too often afraid to address the behavior, and even more so the hearts, of their children.

That's why this book is more about parents than kids.

We could say, Okay, so children today are more badly behaved, more snarly, and more rude. So what? We'll deal with it, we'll ignore it, and we'll get through that phase. After all, most of these kids are not going to grow up to be aberrant, charging into high schools with guns. Living with these kids may be at best unpleasant, at worst miserable—no matter how much we love them—but most will grow up to be some sort of responsible adults. Right?

Well, who knows? But the issue isn't ultimately the behavior, anyway. The behavior reflects what is going on in the child's heart. And it is this heart we must try to reach—and rescue.

On May 22, 2003, the Wall Street Journal ran this story on its front page: "Need Help with a Cranky Kid? Frazzled Parents Call a Coach."

When Amy Griswold's daughter, Ellen, turned three, she began throwing temper tantrums and answering her mother with smart-alecky rejoinders like: "Don't you talk to me that way!"

What else could the Dallas mom do? She called a coach, of course. Writer Barbara Carton went on to explain:

After months of working with a coach in person, by phone and online, Ms. Griswold is a satisfied customer. To curb Ellen's frequent tantrums when leaving the house, the coach suggested offering dress-up items, such as a tiara, which the preschooler would get to wear after they successfully departed the house. "It eliminated the meltdowns," says Ms. Griswold, who spent about $150 on the coach. "It was worth every penny."

And Mrs. Griswold paid a lot of pennies. That advice cost about $100 an hour.

Think about what this little girl has learned: if she's typically nasty enough, she'll get a prize when she doesn't make others and herself miserable. Here's what her mom has learned: to pay off her daughter to buy peace. But what about when the girl demands a car in exchange for not throwing a tantrum? What happens when she comes across someone, someday, who won't buy her off?

Parent coaches are a growing business. According to the WSJ article, the Parent-Coaching Institute of Bellevue, Washington, for instance, opened its doors in 2000; as of summer 2003, it had graduated six coaches and was training twenty-two more.

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