Archive for April, 2009

On Being a Parent!

April 21, 2009

I like Anna Quindlen and this article in Newsweek, ‘The Last Word’, April 27, 2009, gives us some important insights into one of the toughest jobs in America – a job for which we get little education – Parenting!  I’ve left out some of it, but you can read it all by going to Quindlen’s work on the net or by picking up the magazine! (Here is where Anna Q. is going to end up:  It can be a great job, motherhood, but it would be nice if everyone could be more honest about how overwhelming the job can be, and more willing to find ways to support and inform the people who are trying to do it.”  I’ll be interested in your response!  Jim


A Teachable Moment

Being a parent is easy and intuitive, correct? Well, no—it’s just customary to pretend that that’s the case.


Several years ago a psychologist named Laurie Miller Brotman spearheaded a study of young children that yielded stunning results. The kids were from poor and troubled families, the preschool-age siblings of older children who were already acquainted with the criminal-justice system. Brotman’s team tested levels of cortisol, a hormone that usually spikes when human beings are under stress. On average, these kids had flattened cortisol in stressful situations; so do many who have been maltreated or have behavior problems.

So far, so bad. But here’s what happened to half the children in this study: their parents were enrolled in a program that helped them learn the kind of child rearing that Dr. Spock made popular. Consistent discipline without corporal punishment. Positive reinforcement for good behavior. Even how to get down on the floor and play.

And their kids’ cortisol levels changed. Or, as the study itself says in science-speak, “family-based intervention affects the stress response in preschoolers at high risk.” By the time those same kids were 11, both boys and girls were less aggressive, and the girls less obese, than the kids in a control group.  (THINK ABOUT THAT – KIDS LESS AGGRESSIVE, GIRLS LESS OBESE)  Having their parents learn the basics of good child rearing had actually shifted the biology of these kids, so that it became similar to that of “normally developing, low-risk children.”


Connect the dots here, and the picture you have is mind-boggling—even in tough neighborhoods, with boys and girls whose background and circumstances would argue for a negative future, a little parent training can go a long, long way.

So why is raising kids the most important job we ignore from a preparation point of view? Oh, there are more parenting classes and books than in the days when tutelage was mainly your mother saying, “You’ll spoil that child if you pick him up every time he cries.” A few high schools give their students a baby doll to carry around and tend, but that seems largely an attempt at libido suppression.

“Parenting is a much more separate, solitary activity than it used to be,” says Harold S. Koplewicz, the director of the NYU Child Study Center, where Brotman also works. It used to take a village to raise a child, but there isn’t a village anymore. Instead of extended family, there’s a playground where everyone pretends everything’s fine, and a computer screen behind which women can say, under cover of mommy blogs, “How come this is so hard for me?”


The prevailing ethos about being a parent is that it’s mostly intuitive and uniformly joyful, even though the news, and our own lives, are full of those who found it so conspicuously otherwise that they made an utter mess of actual human beings. This mythology has two effects. One is that parents who don’t feel happy or competent are made to feel like freaks—and to just keep quiet about the fact. The other is that this makes everyone believe not only that anyone can be a parent, but also that everyone ought to do it, even those who seem by character or inclination to be ill equipped. When I was in college I read a book by Ellen Peck called “The Baby Trap” about the virtues of choosing childlessness. It seemed completely insurrectionary. It still does.

We’ve so bought into the mass delusion, the nutty propaganda, that now the ideal American family is one that’s on steroids, or at least Clomid. If raising children is not really so difficult or demanding, the only way to make it tougher is to amp up the numbers, right? So instead of smart, helpful television shows about how to set limits and manage sibling rivalry, the constant cable fare is about the supersize family, with quads, sextuplets or a kid a year until the house looks like an army barracks.  (AND, TODAY WE GLAMORIZE THE ‘OCTOMOM’!!)

A corollary of Brotman’s research is a program sponsored by the NYU Child Study Center that takes the long, and the sane, view of all this. It’s embedded in the preschool programs of a small group of public schools in New York City, and it’s called ParentCorps. The parents get together with school staff and the ParentCorps counselors and discuss strategies like making star charts for good behavior and ignoring whining and tantrums. They go home to try out what they’ve learned with their kids, some of whom already have difficult behavior issues, and then come back and discuss what worked.


And here’s how it turns out: there are markedly lower rates of aggression among kindergartners whose parents have been in ParentCorps than among a control group of students at similar schools. The kids also score higher on standardized achievement tests. It’s not even necessary to enumerate the ways in which these results could change the future. “We do lots of happy dances around here,” Brotman says.

Many poor parents know that if their children falter and fail, they may wind up in prison, or in lifelong poverty. But it would be a mistake to think that instruction and support are required only among the needy. One of the most useful parts of ParentCorps is the dialogue among the parents about how hard raising kids can be. It’s almost like AA for moms: “Hi, I’m Anna, and I repeatedly ignored demands for juice and then snapped because the whining was driving me insane.” It can be a great job, motherhood, but it would be nice if everyone could be more honest about how overwhelming the job can be, and more willing to find ways to support and inform the people who are trying to do it.

© 2009



On responsibility: With an assist from my son, Paul!

April 10, 2009

 Years and years ago, while I was studying at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, I would take my family to Cheyenne where we could buy groceries at the ‘big box’ rate – a considerable savings for a graduate student.  After searching through the ‘big box’ store, we’d stop at Peterson’s Cafeteria to have lunch.  The food at Peterson’s really was the best, and it was ‘Eat All You Want’!  For a growing family, this was delightful!

    At the beginning of the cafeteria line, the Peterson’s management had posted a large sign which announced: “Take All You Want, But Eat All You Take”!  (My grandmother had a similar message that went like this:  “Waste Not, Want Not!” We could put food on our own plate, but we were obliged then to eat it all!) So that became the lesson which we’d repeat every time we ate at Peterson’s!  Little did I know that this message would be solidly implanted in the minds of my children, but that they, as adults, could transfer that wisdom to other life situations. The message suggests that we all have choices, but with those choices come sets of responsibility.

    I was reminded of all of this when I received, this morning, a note from my son, Paul.  We were pleased to share with him the joy of a cat, who had adopted him in the Denver area, having six kittens!  SIX KITTENS!  Paul was inquiring if we wanted one of them!  And, we chatted back and forth about the carelessness of some people who have animals, don’t properly care for them, sometimes people neglect to have the pets spayed or neutered when they don’t want to have more kittens around, and as we all know, people are sometimes negligent in the care of their children or even themselves and their personal affairs.  Paul had clearly made the point that there are times when people’s carelessness or neglect can cause a mess that later on someone else has to clean up!  And, he likened these people who might have come into Peterson’s Cafeteria, filled their plates over and over again being totally unaware of their responsibility to ‘Eat All You Take’, thus leaving the mess for others to ‘clean up’!  Paul wondered if his analogy was parallel to the reality, and the more I thought about it, the more I believe his thoughts – his message could be delivered to many people. 

    *When you take more merchandise into your home than you can afford so you use your credit cards and incur huge indebtedness, someone might suggest you read the symbolic message: “Take All You Want, But Eat All You Take”!

    *When a home is offered for sale advertising, “Interest Only Financing”, the potential buyers might read the symbolic message: “Take All You Want, But Eat All You Take”!

    *When someone consumes too much alcohol and believes that ‘driving home will cause no problems’, we need to deliver a strong symbolic message: “Take All You Want, But Eat All You Take”!

    *When children give birth to children and often enter into marriage at a tender age, someone might wisely offer the counsel that they may be ‘taking on’ more responsibility than they can be expected to handle when they’re so young and innocent – we might share the wisdom contained in that cafeteria message: “Take All You Want, But Eat All You Take”!

    I’m confident that your mind is going at full speed now, hopefully filled with many other examples of the irresponsible nature of ‘Taking More Than We Can Eat!”  I’d truly enjoy hearing from you!

A DVD now available!

April 2, 2009





The DVD, “Connecting: Heart to Heart!”, is approximately ninety minutes long!  I’ve updated the material I’ve used for over thirty years as I’ve spoken all around the world and added material discussing the three most basic needs of all people:  the need to know I’m loved, the need to know I’m important, and the need to know I’m safe.  The DVD is filled with stories and anecdotes which I hope will help you to apply the points I’ve stressed.

Also, many of you have not had an opportunity to purchase my book, “Build the Fort . . . Today!” and I would be happy to include a signed copy of that book when you order the DVD.  Many of these books now have homes across America and I’ve sold them for $10.00 apiece.  (I have teased people saying that I’d sign the book for a penny more – and some have written checks for $10.01! People are wonderful! I’ll sign yours ‘Free of Charge!’)  This book will assist all who work with children to listen so kids will talk, and to talk so kids will listen.  And, it emphasizes the importance of keeping our promises to our children.

So, here’s the offer:  1) If you’d like a copy of the DVD alone, we’ll send one to you for $10.00 plus about $1.50 for P/H.  If you’d like a copy of the book AND the DVD, we’ll send these two items for $15.00 plus about $2.50 for P/H.

This offer is good until May 15, 2009!  If you’d like to place an order, please send your check or money order with your return address to:  Jim Kern, 100 Winston Place, Spring Branch, TX 78070.

This offer will be valid until May 15, 2009!


Thanks much!

Ethical Behavior!

April 1, 2009

Ethics:  Over the last few months I’ve been watching some television shows which feature an advertisement which has me asking some internal questions and as usual, come to you for some enlightenment!  We’re approaching (too rapidly, methinks!!) that April 15th deadline for having our taxes for 2008 filed and the amount paid or the refund requested.  We will all do our share (it will seem to many like much more than their share!) to assist our government to find its way through this muddled economic mess!  Some will have to borrow money to pay their share!  Some will realize that receiving a refund is only one way to loan money to the government interest free (it’s your money! It was your money in January of 2008 and you haven’t had use of it for many months!!)

Now to the commercials – they sound like this:  “We owed the government $933,456.57, and ‘tax associates worked with the IRS and reduced our payment to $10,900.00 – saved us over $900.000.00 dollars!”  Well, you get the idea – and there are many companies running these ads and the people who have had their tax obligation look like pretty normal people!  One relatively attractive, intelligent looking middle-aged woman even adds, “We just hired the right people to save us money!”

WHAT?  These people ‘owed’ the government thus and so much money, they hired the right people and saved well beyond half of their debt????  What’s wrong with this picture? 

 Am I missing something here?  None of these people say anything about mis-figuring their taxable income!  None of them suggest that they have made a mistake in calculating the tax owed!  None of them seems the least bit embarrassed about hiring someone “ . . . who formerly worked for the IRS and knew what to do. “! 

 Am I the only one who tilts my head to one side with a question in my mind, when these advertisements come onto my screen?  I plan to pay my taxes in accordance with what my friend, Charles, tells me I owe!  I remember my dad proudly announcing to all who would listen:  “Taxes are the price I pay to live in the greatest country in the world!”  My dad would not have hired ‘Tax Associates”!

 What do you think?