CHAPTER ELEVEN: Duct Tape Works: Stories from Real Kids of Duct Tape Parents – Duct Tape Parenting: A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids

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Duct Tape Works: Stories from Real Kids of Duct Tape Parents

When parents commit to using their mental duct tape to break a micromanaging style of parenting for a more hands-off, relationship-focused approach, children gain the opportunity to discover that mistakes are a part of life and that they have what it takes to recover from them. They learn how to handle frustration, disappointment, rejection, and embarrassment without overreacting, blaming, melting down, or acting out.

These kids don’t look to mom and dad for every answer, but look to their own inner compass for guidance before asking for assistance. They also discover what they like (turkey sandwiches, not PB&J; showers, not baths; dresses, not shorts) because their parents have trusted them with decision making (even the decisions with consequences, like not getting up to the alarm, not washing their laundry, or forgetting their lunch), and they learn to trust themselves.

Parents who trust kids to fail and rebound raise thinking, engaged, independent, cooperative, responsible, resilient, problem-solving children who have the ability to navigate the world around them with ease and wonder. These kids are willing to take risks, try new things, apologize, make amends, and participate fully in the human experience. They care about the relationships they have with family members and are willing to do what is necessary to keep these relationships healthy.

It’s not easy adopting a hands-off approach to parenting with a focus on relationship-building efforts, but it’s worth it. Here are real stories from real families that will inspire you to step back, allow your kids to step in, and appreciate the growth your children can achieve. They will enlighten and show you what is possible.

She Knew, I Listened—Let’s Get Rid of the Diaper

Not long ago our eighteen-month-old started to react badly to having her diaper changed. Typically, I would get frustrated and muscle through it, and we’d both end the experience feeling badly. This time, I see and hear my little one protesting as I’m about to put on her new diaper. I stop and ask, “Okay, what?” I pick her up, put her down. She goes right into the bathroom and points to the potty. I stick her on the potty and guess what? She pees. Go figure! After we finish up in the bathroom, we put on her new diaper, both happy as clams. That experience was too cool.

A hands-off approach to parenting requires that I rethink my assumptions, that I look at my child and see the world from her perspective, and it is then that I see all the possibilities. I don’t need a “strategy,” I just need to tap into what is right before my eyes.

He’s My Little Problem Solver

This morning my three-and-a half-year-old son was pouring milk into his glass on the dishwasher door (shout out to my mother-in-law, who gave me that tip; if the drink/cereal/whatever spills, who cares, you just close it up!). The milk came out fast and filled his glass to the very tippy top. He set the carton down, put his hands on his skinny hips, and said to himself, “Now, how do we solve this problem?” I am thrilled that this little guy already sees himself as a problem solver, both responsible for the problem and capable of solving it.

Thank you for helping us lead this child to a place where he is taking ownership of himself and his actions at such a young age.

Train Them and Trust Them

My daughter is five now and has type 1 diabetes. Before Duct Tape Parenting, I was up in the middle of the night, checking her blood sugar to make sure it was stable. The control I needed to feel over her diabetes sometimes leaked out into the rest of her life and I didn’t like that. Truth is, I don’t like me when I parent in this controlling way. I wanted my daughter to be confident and independent, not shy, insecure, and dependent on me. She absolutely must be confident if she is to manage her diabetes and get the most out of her life.

I had to change the way I parented her and take a more hands-off approach so that she could grow and develop confidence in herself. Here is the latest story in her young life: at Open Gym she was much more creative and adventurous than she has ever been, putting together little routines and showing confidence in her ability and willingness to do them in front of others. I saw a confidence that wasn’t there before. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Contributions Aren’t So Bad

My kids have been enjoying their contributions so much this week. Currently, my six-year-old is experimenting with vacuum cord management, which involves jump roping. My eight-year-old, while washing dishes tonight, said, “I feel like the dishes are my children and I am giving them a soapy bath.” It is so fun to see them contributing and having fun!

Clean Slate

I love how my nine-year-old has taken up the training for his little brother. He is so encouraging, empathetic, and patient. It is an absolute joy. They do a few tasks together this way, allowing for extra time for the two-and-a-half-year-old to practice.

Everyone Enjoys a More Hands-Off Approach to Parenting

This morning I overheard C and E chatting in the kitchen:

C: Why doesn’t mom ever get mad at us?

E: Because she’s doing the parenting class and she’s supposed to ignore your bad behavior and only notice your good behavior.

This program makes sense to kids. They just get it. They don’t always like it, but they totally understand it.

I still get mad, of course, but nowhere near as often as I used to. And when I do get mad, I’m much more grown-up about it now. No more flying off the handle at my kids’ expense. So, compared to what they see out in the world, I’m a virtual Gandhi.

It’s the Little Things

It’s the little things that stand out: My six-year-old saying she always wanted to know how to make oatmeal, and now she can. My four-year-old saying it was the luckiest day in his life when we took a hammer and hung some pictures.

From Slouch to Swagger

When we started to implement a more hands-off approach to parenting in our family, we told our youngest that we had not done our job in letting him learn how to take care of himself, and that we got in the way of him developing some life skills. We told him about Vicki and her wisdom. The plan was going to be that we would let him take over the morning tasks. The first days we would spend seeing what he could do. His reaction was classic—his shoulders slumped, his eyes rolled, and a power sulk was brewing. We reminded him to let us know what tasks he needed help with. Washing grapes was his request.

The next morning, he was slouching around, packing a lunch, making breakfast, and sighing dramatically. At one point he said, “I liked it better when you were my servants.” Bingo! Clearly we were not only enabling him, but disabling him. Yikes.

Then, the next day, he was snapping around with some swagger and even washed the grapes himself. The older kids, who were quite independent and competent, were feeling him getting a little more skilled very quickly and were shocked to see him packed, fed, teeth brushed, and backpack on ten minutes before the bus was due. He was all puffed up. Within several months, he was making egg sandwiches on his own, getting the pan from high up on the shelf, timing the English muffin, and flipping the egg to perfection.

The best news was how this new independence translated to the rest of his life. Some of his attention-seeking behaviors and whining stopped. He was feeling so capable and connected that he started initiating other areas where he could take charge.

This information is life-changing for everyone.

It’s Not Our Routine, but Their Routine

Although the transition to them doing things for themselves was initially difficult, our kids now understand that they are doing things most kids their age don’t know how to do. Even though they might not want to do their “responsibilities” at times, they like the freedom and power that comes from initiating jobs on their own, taking pride in them, and reaping the rewards they’ve earned.

They understand the control they have over their own lives and have the ability to make decisions for themselves that might involve mistakes. Also, they see all the other kids running to mom or dad, day by day, minute by minute, and they like the idea that they don’t need to do that. Their confidence has grown in leaps due to these things.

Honestly, my husband and I marvel at them. It took a while for mistakes to happen, kids forgot lunch, backpacks, snow pants, but after a time, they established their own routines, and now mornings are some of the most peaceful, organized, and enjoyable times in our day. It’s not our routine but their routine, and they have it down to a science.

Kudos from the Teacher

Today I got a call from my child’s teacher and she said, “I know what you guys do at home and the independence that you foster there shows up here in the classroom. The things you guys have your kids do in the morning, like making their own lunch, gives them such self-confidence. I’m not sure what you see at home, but it’s so strong here. I can clearly see the connection between the independence you give them and the confidence here at school.”

Midwinter Car Accident—She Figured It Out (In Flip-Flops, No Less!)

When my daughter was sixteen years old, she purchased her own car, paid for her insurance, scheduled her own tuneups, and changed her tires when required. She was a responsible young adult and a cautious driver.

I got a call on a Wednesday afternoon in the dead of winter from her, telling me she had been in an accident. She was panicked and scared.

“Mom! Mom! I’ve been in an accident!”

“Hannah, are you okay? Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

“No. No, I’m not hurt, Mom. I’m okay. But Mom, I don’t know what to do.”

Of course she did. We talked about what to do in case she was ever in an accident, but she wasn’t thinking. She was scared and she wanted me to make it better. And I was tempted. I was tempted.

“Hannah. I am going to hang up now. You are okay. Now you have to think. You have to figure out what to do. Call me when you figure out what the first step is.”

“MOOOMMMM!”

I hung up the phone. And I paced and I prayed and I knew that she would be fine. I waited.

The phone rang.

“Mom. It’s Hannah.” Calmer now.

“Yes.”

“I have to call Triple AAA. I have to tell them that I was in an accident and I have to tell them where I am.”

“Yes.”

“I found the card with the number on it, but I am not sure where I am.”

“Call me after you call them.”

“Mooomm.”

I hung up the phone. I had more confidence now and I knew she did too. I had to believe in her if she was going to believe in herself.

“Mom. Mom, I called them. I figured out where I was. I called them. They are coming. I have to wait sixty minutes, but I can do that. I have a heater in the car and I have a blanket in the trunk and I have water and I’m fine, Mom. I have flip-flops on but I’m fine. Really.”

“Will you call me when they get there?”

“Yes, Mom. Yes.”

“I love you, Hannah!”

“I love you, Mom. Thank you.”

Later, when I was telling a friend about the incident, she looked at me with shock and probably a bit of disgust.

“How could you not go and help her?”

“Because,” I said, “the next time I might be in Kansas and she will be in Vermont and then I won’t have the luxury of hopping in my car and driving to her rescue. Now, at sixteen, she knows she can rescue herself. That counts for something.”

Bear Hugs at Seventeen

Last night my husband invited our seventeen-year-old son and his best friend to join him at his weekly basketball game for the over-forty group. My son was happy to oblige.

They had a great time together, testosterone surging, a bit of bumping, trash talking each other, and the sweat flying. The time came for my son to take his friend home but some of the guys decided to play one last game. My husband waved goodbye to our son, so as not to embarrass him, and turned back to the over-forty guys waiting for him. Here is where it gets good: over walks our strapping seventeen-year-old son, who grabs his dad, gives him a bear hug and a kiss on the cheek, and says “Love ya, Dad, thanks for the invite. See you at home,” and walks off into the sunset.

As my husband reports it, there was dead silence from the group. And then it came, the looks and comments from other fathers who wished that their sons would have not only the confidence but the genuine love and respect for their dads to be able to walk over and openly demonstrate that love.

How lucky am I? How lucky is the world?

I’m Cool with It If You Are

My daughter is four with blond hair down past her shoulders. Evidently, it was becoming a problem.

“Mom, I would like to get my hair cut short.”

“You would? Are you sure?”

“Yes. Short like my brother’s.”

“Okay, I’ll make an appointment.”

During the haircut appointment, the stylist kept checking with me after trimming a quarter of an inch. I would direct her focus back to the child in the chair, who kept saying, “Nope, shorter.”

Finally her hair was close to her head and over her ears and her grin was from ear to ear.

The next day one of her friends comes over to play and takes one look and exclaims, “Your hair looks dumb.” She says, “No, it does not.” The friend says, “Well, it looks stupid, then.” She replies, “No, no it doesn’t, it is just what I wanted.”

I do not worry, even a little, that this child will be influenced by anyone. She knows who she is, what she wants, and she is confident in her decisions. What more could a mother hope for?

Seven-Year-Old Sensibility

If you had told me that my seven-year-old daughter had the courage and self-confidence to glide with grace through this sticky situation, I wouldn’t have believed you. Then I saw it with my own eyes.

“Mom, why would someone not like me?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Emma is having a party and invited every girl (all seven) in the class, but did not invite me. When I asked her about it, she told me she was not allowed to invite me, because her parents don’t like me.”

“Really?!”

“But it is okay, Mom. I am still going to be her friend, because she is a good person. I was just curious what I could have done that would make her parents not like me.”

The next day.

“Mom, Emma and I decided we are going to have a special lunch at school to celebrate her birthday, so I am going to give her this necklace that I made and we are going to have sandwiches together in the classroom.”

When I grow up, I want to be just like my daughter.

Resilience for the Real World

A year earlier and this exchange would have been quite different. Today however, this child of mine has the kind of resilient nature that most adults long for.

“Mom, when do you think Sascha will call? I am all ready to go to the park and she said we would be leaving around 9:00. It’s almost 9:00.”

“I don’t know, do you want to give her a call and check in?”

“No, she said she would call me, I can wait. I am just so excited to be going.”

About twenty minutes later, as Janae is looking out the window, she says, “Oh, I guess I am not going with Sascha, she just drove by with her mom.”

Janae buried her head in the couch for a few minutes and let out a few whimpers. I went over and sat next to her and put my arm around her back. She snuggled in and after a few minutes, she looked up at me and said, “That just does not make sense. If plans changed, it would be much better to call someone and tell them, rather than just leave them wondering.”

I agreed and told her I was going to make some muffins and invited her to help. She looked at me, smiled, and said, “Yes.”

This is what I call resiliency.

Honesty and Honoring Agreements

My son is my hero.

“Hey mom, Here’s my driver’s permit.”

“Why? What’s up?”

“Well, last night at Gerry’s house, I had a beer.”

“Okay, thank you for honoring our agreement that if you used poor judgment or broke the law, you would lose your Learner’s Permit for ninety days and thank you for being honest with me. When you get home from school, I would like to sit down and talk more about your decision to have a beer with Gerry.”

“Okay, Mom, I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Mittens: Problem Solving Leads to Very Successful Plan B

You just don’t know what’s possible until you step back and watch as the magic unfolds

“Mom, can you come bring me my mittens? I forgot them at home.”

“No, sorry. I can’t today.”

“Whaatttt?? But if I don’t have mittens, I can’t go out for recess.”

“I know. But I trust you will be able to figure this out.”

“But Moooooooom. Please.”

“I love you, bye.”

Later that day, “Mom, mom, mom, guess what?!”

“What?!”

“I solved the problem. I figured it out. I borrowed a mitten from Nate, and then I used Jim’s hat on my other hand and the teacher said that was fine and I got to play outside.”

Every time I am tempted to “save” any one of my kids, I remember the look on my son’s face in that moment and tell myself, “If you jump in now and save him, you will take away the opportunity for him to experience a success and own it.”

Appreciation for Teen Empathy

Every time I am feeling a bit stressed or anxious, my fourteen-year-old daughter takes me by the shoulders and looks me square in the eyes and asks, “What is going on inside of your body right now, other than pure joy and happiness? And what can I do to help you?” And then she proceeds to give me a big kiss and hug. That’s it, exactly what I needed.

Jaw Dropping Conversation on Capability

I overheard this conversation and couldn’t help but think how lucky I am, how lucky we are, to have found this hands-off approach to parenting. Here is my five-year-old daughter chatting with a friend of hers:

“Do you want a drink of water?”

“Yes.”

“The glasses are over there.”

“I can’t get a glass by myself.”

“Yes, yes, you can.”

“No, we can’t. Won’t you get in trouble?”

“No, my mom teaches us how to take care of ourselves, so when we are older and move out, we will know how to live on our own.”

Silence.

“Hmmmm, my mom has no idea what I can do.”

“Oh, I would tell her.”

“I will.”

She Can Manage Both Time and Money, So Purple Hair It Is

To be honest, three years ago my daughter never would have had the courage to ask about purple streaks. Today, we enjoy the kind of relationship most mothers dream of having with their brassy, independent, and stubborn daughters.

“Mom, can I get purple streaks in my hair?”

“Sure, do you have enough money?”

“How much will it cost?”

“I don’t know.”

“Mom, I called the hair place and it will be about $50.”

“Okay, do you have enough money?”

“I will in three weeks.”

“Okay, do you want to make an appointment?”

“Yes, when can you bring me?”

We pick a date and she makes the appointment.

It Makes Sense to Her, After All It Is Her Hair

My daughters, ages five and eight, are in the bathroom for a long time, quiet. This should have been enough of a clue that something was happening.

“Mom, look what I did to sissy’s hair!”

I turn around to see the long, curly, blonde locks removed, and left in their place is scraggly blonde hair, short and in places very close to the scalp.

“Wow!” Bordering on a big scream.

Thankful for the gentle reminder from my husband, “It’s just hair, it will grow back.”

“Yes, Mom, don’t be mad. I asked big sissy to do it. Everyone keeps talking about my hair. I am sick of them talking about my hair. Now, they won’t talk about it anymore.”

Big smile from ear to ear—and, by the way, she is now seven years old and just deciding to grow her hair long again.

Is That You, Roxy?

My husband and I wake up to the rustling sounds of wrappers and drawers. I roll over to hear husband yell, “Roxy, get out of the trash can!” and instead hear our eight-year-old answer “It’s just me, I’m making my lunch!” Husband rolls over. “Holy cow, he’s on top of his game.” We are back to bed until 7:45 A.M.

Teamwork

I hear, “Shoot! I forgot to do my laundry. Would you run the dryer for me if I fall asleep before it’s done?” Five minutes, later, he’s got a full load in his arms, taking it downstairs, getting it going. I’m thinking, It didn’t even occur to him to blame me for the fact he doesn’t have any clean clothes! Nice. And, of course I’ll swap the load for him. GO teamwork.

My Son Doesn’t Have a Bedtime and I’m Cool with That

Why doesn’t my son have a bedtime? Because he wakes me up every morning shouting, “Bye, Mom,” on his way out the door. Off he goes with his backpack, boots, jacket, and everything he needs, his homework and all. I never would have guessed he could do all of that by the time he was ten years old. And so, with his morning routine in check, I say, go ahead, make your own decisions about bedtime, as long as I don’t have to get you up out of bed.

Where Did I Put That Duct Tape?

Upon suggesting that my son clear the counter before spraying it with cleaner, he said, “Sheesh, I wish you weren’t in here and you’d let me just do it how I want.” All right, then. I exit stage left.

Turn Autopilot to Off Mode

I was so used to pouring drinks and managing snacks that I didn’t realize how many times my kids came to me for something as simple as a cup or plate. Once I realized I was autopiloting, I moved all the dishes down low and put the plastic containers, cups, and snacks within reach. Now when they come home from school, I just say, “Hi,” and they say, “Hi,” as they walk in the door and head merrily on their own way to pour cereal, milk, snacks, and so forth. It’s just so much easier.

Holding Small Tasks in High Regard

One day my daughter had a fellow kindergartener over. The little girl kept saying she was hungry. I looked around and noticed that my three kids had poured cereal and nobody noticed she hadn’t. So I said, “Hey, go ahead and pour yourself some cereal! Which kind would you like?” She said, “I don’t know how,” and I froze, thinking, Wow. I said in my most encouraging voice, “Just go for it. Tip the box and pour out the cereal.” She said, “What if I spill?” I said, “Look around. Nobody will care.”

She proceeded to pour her cereal and literally squealed with delight. I couldn’t help but appreciate all the times I’d let my kids do something as simple as pour cereal, even if it made a mess. I wondered how far on her roadmap this little girl was and saw how, even at six years old, she got caught in a lapse of confidence and I could visibly see her discouragement and apprehension, over cereal! This made me commit to holding the small tasks in high regard.

Traditions

To get us back on track with family meetings for 2012, I purchased a new notebook and H decorated it. Already we’re off to a good start. We have our meeting diligently each week and she is the scribe. After she listed our appreciations the first time, she looked up at me and said, “We should keep doing these things, since we know the other person likes it.”

Family Rules

During a winter carnival weekend at the high school, both the sixteen- and the fourteen-year-old chose (on their own, with no force from their parents) to opt out of the events of the carnival and spend the weekend with family members who were visiting from out of town.

Family Meeting Teaches the Value of Money

Practicing family meetings from the time my kids were five and three years old meant that each week they received an allowance to learn how to spend, save, and give away. They both knew that when they were fourteen years old and could work outside the home, they would stop receiving allowance.

Two weeks before his fourteenth birthday, the oldest was out filling out applications and looking for employment. He is happy to report that, while many of his friends think they should get a day off from school on their birthdays, his fourteenth birthday was his first day of work.

Now the youngest child is fourteen and finally found employment that she can balance with her full sports schedule. She quickly discovered that the occasional babysitting job is not supporting her budget for clothing, activities with friends, and saving for a car.

Ten-Year-Old Knows Her Limits

After a weekend of family and friends visiting, late-night bedtimes, and loads of outdoor winter activities, my ten-year-old daughter crashes into bed on Sunday night and asks if she can go in late to school the next day. I trust her and say, “Yes.”

The next morning she is up at 9:20 A.M., still a bit groggy, but explains over cereal that she had math first thing and she is all caught up, but she really has to be there by 10:00 A.M., because there is a reading group and play practice that she just can’t miss.

Moments later she says to me, “Mom, thanks so much for trusting me and letting me sleep in this morning.”

Making Milkshakes with a Seven-Year-Old

I knew we had made progress when I could listen without getting defensive and my daughter had no hesitation in saying what she thought.

Daughter: Do we need ice?

Mom: I’m going to put ice in it.

Slluuuurrrrrrrrp.

Daughter: I don’t think it needed ice, but Mom, it’s good that you put ice in it this time, now you know for the future, that you don’t need to put ice in the milkshake.