How to Keep from Transferring Your Anxiety and Stress to a Child

January 31, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

Uncertainty and anxiety are a necessary part of a child’s exploration of their new world. Parents have stressors from uncertainty too, although they’re far more tangible and perhaps far less necessary. These stressors can trigger the same fight-or-flight anxiety that a kid might feel when imagining a toe chomping monster hiding under their bed. A parent’s monsters are more pernicious: A job loss. A final notice. A disquieting medical test that shows something not-quite-right inside the body of an aging loved one. Slow internet. But the way children see parents cope with their own monstrous fears and anxieties can have a huge impact on how a kid deals deal with their own fears throughout childhood — for better or worse. 

“If you have anxieties and worries, this isn’t bad. This is an excellent way to help your child,” says psychologist Dr. Reid Wilson, co-author of Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous & Independent Children. Wilson says that parents should share with kids how they’ve had fearful experiences in the past, and how they still become afraid when approaching certain activities. It can, he suggests, help kids understand that their fears are normal — and can be overcome.

How a parent reacts in a sketchy situation can influence a child’s perception, too. “Fearful facial expressions and body language reinforce anxiety,” explains Wilson. “Parents can think whatever they want, but they should try to show confidence.”

Showing confidence, however, is not the same as masking fear. Kids are brilliant at picking up on non-verbal signals. They’ll notice reactions to a stressor despite attempts to hide it. How parents follow up on the anxiety they’re experiencing can influence the way kids view that same anxiety in the future and how they will react in similar situations.

Four Ways to Not Transfer Your Anxiety to a Child

  • Don’t mask or hide your fears. Kids will pick up on them anyway. Instead, display confidence when talking about what scares you.
  • Listen to their worries. Help children externalize their fears.
  • Model coping behaviors for your children. Show them that some anxiety is normal and that there are ways of overcoming it.
  • Allow your child to experience fear and worry. Help her develop tools to deal with them.

“If your child is picking up on your anxious behavior, then it’s fine to explain to them what’s going on in general, as long as you are using age-appropriate language,” Wilson explains. “But then you need to explain what you’re doing to get stronger, and how you are being courageous in the face of your difficulties.”

Hiding parental anxieties might seem like an effective way of protecting kids from negative feelings. But this doesn’t do much to allay children’s fears, and it can starve them of the tools they need in later life when they’re faced with frightening situations that are novel and have much higher stakes. Wilson says that the biggest problem for parents is avoidance, which can limit your child’s desire for exploration. “When you start backing away from anxiety-provoking circumstances, then you start giving up territory,” Wilson says. This can lead to a habit of avoiding difficult situations and shying away from new experiences.

Sitting on a child’s bed and listening to their fears is a great way to help with anxiety. Wilson says that it’s best to focus on the process of worry and anxiety in a “big picture” way by helping kids to externalize worry and talk through it, developing their own strategies for managing it. “When your child asks for reassurance, remind him to give himself the reassurance he wants,” Wilson says. You can also have your child talk directly to their fears. “Ask, ‘how might you answer that,’ or say ‘that sounds like worry talking. What can you say back?’”  

If anxieties go unchecked, kids can grow up without the tools needed to confront bigger worries as they go out into the world. The fear of ghosts and closet-dwelling monsters can give way to potentially serious social anxieties. As with many aspects of parenting, the way parents model those coping behaviors will be the key to dispelling childhood fears.

Parental anxieties aren’t harmful to kids, in-and-of themselves. And honestly, many parents turn the lights out in the basement at night and still sprint breathlessly up the stairs with gritted teeth and clenched fists just in case some monster snatches them before they get to the light. And that’s OK too, as long as they’re prepared to sit down and talk to kids about how to control those fears, so they don’t end up controlling their lives.

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Easy Weeknight Meals: Sweet Potato Curry Lentil Soup with Kale Pesto

January 30, 2018 in Family,

Today, she’s sharing one of her family’s go-to meals. With only 5 ingredients, and lots of rich nutrients, it’s a weeknight favorite at their home in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. Even her daughters are huge fans, “our girls usually finish two bowls of this soup and have leftovers in their lunchbox.”

“The curry flavor is incredibly mild, which makes this a great way to introduce curry into your children’s meals.” The flavors and simplicity of the meal make it such a great weeknight option. I was lucky enough to enjoy sample at the end of our shoot!

Ashley spends a lot of time with her daughters in the kitchen. “Somedays cooking with my children can slow me down, but sometimes it’s about the journey and not the destination. It has been wonderful watching them transform from creating more work for me in the kitchen, to being incredibly helpful. ”

(Find the full recipes at the bottom)

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How to Handle Preschooler Potty Talk and When to Just Ignore It

January 30, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

One of the more disconcerting moments of parenthood is when a sweet angel preschooler suddenly falls in love with potty talk. This never happens at an opportune moment, but it always happens. For instance, a kid might be yell I tooted during church or tell a relative they’ll poop on them at the dinner table. The result? The kid  thinks they’re the funniest person on earth and the parent wants to get very small or very angry. But, while the potty talk is rude, it’s only truly rude in the wrong context. The trick for parents is in knowing when to ignore it and when to play the censor.

It’s no accident that kids suddenly become little Richard Pryors when they hit preschool. This is also around the time a kid starts using the toilet. So “poop” suddenly becomes one of the more important words in their lexicon along with pee, butt, toots and other words that center around toilet use.

“They’re trying to figure out, developmentally, where this stuff goes in technical terms,” explains positive psychologist and author of Laugh More, Yell Less: A Guide to Raising Kick-Ass Kids Dr. Robert Zeitlin. “That’s a part of them being flushed down the toilet. There also being held responsible for holding in their pee or poop when they’re asleep or at school.”

And while all of those things make it obvious why the scatological is on their mind pretty much constantly, there’s something else that makes potty talk pretty irresistible: “it’s just funny,” Zeitlin explains. And parents often have a tough time hiding the fact that they, too, think it’s funny — even as they try to make a stern face. But kids aren’t dumb and are super observant. They can spot a turned-up corner the mouth from across a dining room table.

“For us to try to squeeze the funny out of it, is perhaps a hopeless endeavor,” Zeitlin says.

What’s more, the harder parents try to not make it funny. The more parents fail. That’s because children like pushing boundaries. It’s how kids figure out where they fit in the world. And they learn very quickly that talking about what goes on below the belt is a doozy of a boundary. After all, kids already understand that the world no longer wants to deal with their crap, in the most literal sense, and is forcing them use a toilet. But, also, when a single word can make a parent react in such an interesting way, why not lean into the “farts” and “pees” and see where it goes?

This boundary testing is ultimately how preschoolers add to their body of knowledge about what is appropriate in any given context. They’re working on this as they enter preschool, which is trying for teachers but also what adults with weird senses of humor do at dinner parties. Kids soon figure out that there are things that can be done at home that can’t be done a preschool. And there are things that can be done outside in the playground that can’t be done in the classroom. So dealing with the potty talk is mostly about helping them understand when to use it in the appropriate context.

How to Deal With Preschool Potty Talk

  • Understand that children use potty talk because they’re trying to figure out their world.
  • Don’t try to make it not funny. It is obviously funny.
  • Teach context by creating boundaries around where potty talk can happen.
  • Acknowledge a child’s sense of humor and redirect when potty talk is inappropriate.

Of course, the appropriate context will range from family to family. Some might let siblings use potty talk while they play, but place a moratorium on saying poop or pee at the dinner table or in public. Others parents might not want that kind of talk ever in the house. “The challenge is how do you explain the context,” Zeitlin says. “You want to keep it simple and on their level. Focus on how you’re preparing them for horse-play versus dinner table versus school versus grandparents house.”

Zeitlin suggests that if potty talk comes out at the table, the key isn’t to tell them it’s not funny. It is. He suggests, instead, praising the child for their sense of humor, telling them that the dinner table isn’t the place for that kind of humor. Then, maybe direct them to something else that’s silly or funny, appropriate for the context. Along with this, of course, is ignoring the potty talk when there’s no reason to get on their case about it. That’s simply another way parents can help kids figure out the boundaries. No one wants to raise a jokeless human.

“Honestly, a key ingredient to family culture is humor,” Zeitlin says. “Being clear about the boundaries appropriate for your family so your kids know what context is appropriate to be loose, funny, sensitive or listening.”

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Fancy Pants

January 29, 2018 in Family,

So, it’s nearly February and I’m officially dreaming of warmer months. In the meantime I think this colorful trend will cheer up those dull winter days. I’m seeing all styles of pants in every color of the rainbow from bold, bright primary colors to sweet pastels. This one is for all of you power dressers out there! Here are a few favorites…

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Walking in the Steps of an Evangelical Parenting Prophet

January 29, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

The email hit my inbox like a bolt from above. It stood out among all the other press releases and PR come ons. It offered something else entirely: eternal happiness for my children. Reverend Jamar Haynes Lee’s new parenting book How to Guarantee Your CHILDREN Go to Heaven, the email helpfully explained, was not just another parenting book. It was a parenting book featuring divine revelation.

“God led me to write this book to reveal that he is requiring parents to train their children this way for the first time in history,” Haynes Lee was quoted as saying. “With a book like mine, families no longer have to suffer from a lack of this new knowledge.”

I’m not going to lie, this made me chuckle. I read a lot of books about parenting and write about parenting strategies daily. It’s an exhausting gig precisely because there is no higher power to appeal to in the case of disagreement. Best practices change all the time and experts often don’t have enough information to offer truly prescriptive advice. The whole thing would be, I thought, so much easier if God would just tell folks what to do. That would really help cut through the bullshit.

I was also interested because religion can be a hard thing for guys like me to talk about with kids. I’m a somewhat religious Catholic dad, but I’m uncomfortable with ostentatious displays of faith and culturally liberal. I’d never really read a religious parenting book so — thinking that I’d learning something, at minimum, about the evangelical faith — I requested the book, starting pouring through it, and acquiesced to God’s divine parenting plan as communicated to the good reverend.

I knew from the outset that the reverend’s book was probably not penned with me — a bisexual, 70-percentish Catholic bleeding heart — in mind. It was clearly intended for very religious parents who view their children as sinners in the hands of an angry god. This is not a small population and it’s worth saying up front that Reverend Lee is not a pseudo-religious scammer. He seems to be genuinely faithful and his advice is not bad at all. Promoting the book as a sort of modern scripture still strikes me as questionable, but there was some really interesting stuff between the covers.

In fact, the bulk of his parenting advice consisted of motes I’d already received from pediatricians and secular child psychologists. The reverend stressed that parents were the ultimate model for their children who looked to them for an understanding of how to live in the world. He encouraged fathers to show a deep respect and love for their wives. He encouraged parents to give children tons of outdoor exercise. It was all good stuff. He was describing the type of father I hope to be.

Haynes Lee was even surprisingly “woke,” warning parents to look out for children’s bibles that depicted villains as people of color. “This is a systemic problem that we all need to change,” he writes. “We can start by not feeding our children racist and biased images that can even be found in our bibles.”

In truth, Reverend Lee’s book actually seemed to simplify parenting. I was doing most of the stuff he recommended (to one degree or another) and he laid it out well. I was, broadly speaking, reassured as I flipped forward. That said, I did discover that I was failing on a few fronts. For instance, I was not  reading my kids bible verses daily. My kids were getting that goodness exclusively on Sundays and Tuesdays courtesy of the Catholic Churches Parish School of Religion. I also wasn’t praying enough. I had to build on our dinner tradition.

Both of these things weren’t that big a deal. My kids like the Bible; they like reading pretty much anything. And listening to Poppa talk to God isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary for them. So aside from some added intensity, little changed in their life. It was going really well.

The reverend was even reminding me of some excellent non-religious parenting practices, like taking more time to listen to my boys. “If you have enough patience, they will let you in their world,” Haynes Lee writes. That is very true and every parent, myself included, needs that reminder from time to time.

The first snag I hit was in the last of the reverend’s eight principles that make up the acronym C.H.I.L.D.R.E.N. I had committed each child to God and instructed them (which is why they found their Tuesday nights so boring), lived in holiness in front of them (except for the occasional beer), loved my spouse, declared their futures as good Christian people, received parenting resources (essentially my job), and esteemed my children. The only thing left was the big “N”: “Never Let Them Stay Under Ungodly Influence.” This is where stuff got complicated.

Did you know Beyonce harbors a spirit? Apparently, she even admits it, the reverend warns: “When people go to her concerts, they are being entertained by a spirit named Sasha Fierce who tries to tempt them into sexual sin.” He’s not totally wrong about this but he’s also absolutely wrong about this. Sasha Fierce is Beyonce’s invented alter ego, a persona she adopts on stage during her wildly entertaining and totally sexy shows. Sasha is, in short, more of a coping mechanism than a demon. Sasha is also really, really good at dancing and singing. Sasha slays and, well, I respect that in a spirit. I want my kids to respect that as well.

I find it interesting that the Reverend finds so much to worry about in Beyonce’s music for a few reasons. First of all, she strikes me as a pretty good example for young people. She’s a self-made woman. She’s clearly an engaged mother. She and her husband, Jay-Z, are honest about their failings and flailings and create real dialogue on issues around race and even infidelity. The notion that Beyonce is a bad influence strikes me as either misguided or overtly racist. The notion that I could protect my kids from a ubiquitous pop star strikes me as implausible.

But, in a sense, the Reverend’s take on Queen Bey is reassuring. I think it’s ridiculous and misguided, but, at the same time, I don’t think most of his parenting advice is ridiculous or misguided. I think it’s largely reasonable. If I were to focus on the fire and brimstone stuff (“We may need to cast an evil spirit out of our children,” explains the reverend. “If you are not sure if your child has one, pray and let the Holy Spirit reveal it to you”) than it would be easy to make the case that the Reverend and I have totally different perspectives on everything. But we don’t. When it comes to parenting, we basically agree. We just don’t listen to the same music.

This is all to say that the Reverend’s book is instructive. If you’re not evangelic, I wouldn’t recommend it over plenty of other parenting tomes, but I do think it has a unique takeaway: American parents are culturally divided but largely united in their approach to raising children and their desire to raise kind, responsible adults. I think the Reverend’s arguments for religion in public school are ahistorical and unconstitutional. I think his anti-evolution stance is disingenuous. I think his theory that boys who don’t connect with their fathers develop same-sex attraction is laughable. I think his embrace of spanking as a reasonable punishment is foolish. I do not, however, feel bad for his children. It seems like the Reverend is probably a pretty good dad.

Also, I agree that there is something vaguely demonic about Pokemon. I think it’s hard to argue to the contrary.

And, for what it’s worth, I tried the spirit-revelation trick Reverend Lee describes in the book. I laid my hand on my 6-year old son’s head and asked that the holy spirit reveal the demon in my child. I will admit I half expected his eyes to roll back in his head and hear him exclaim in guttural tones, “I am the demon Charizard, and you shall never have your child back! Bwhahaha!” Instead, he just looked at me, giggled, then kept pretending to attack me with his stuffed goldfish. He’s a good kid.

There was a time when evangelical parents took a more Calvinist approach to parenting, eschewing many of the modern niceties and focussing on punishment. Many like still do (as do many people who lack any faith at all). But Haynes Lee calls for tenderness and love. He calls for parents to listen. And it’s clear that he is offering advice in the spirit of raising good kids. I respect that. I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable suggesting that my parenting advice could guarantee passage into heaven, but I do think that smart decision making creates adults that are more comfortable on Earth. To the degree to which the Reverend agrees, he is my brother and we’re on the same team.

Yes, I cringe at his bigotry and believe, frankly, that his view of society is badly antiquated. Still, there’s something deeply comforting knowing that the folks he’s speaking, the ones he actually wrote the book for, are probably going to raise their kids in largely the same way I raise mine. Our politics are a mess and our culture has some major fault lines. But we’re all doing the best we can for our kids — including Beyonce.

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How to Wash, Store, and Sterilize Baby Bottles

January 26, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

Whether washing bottles by hand or by the dishwasher, the fundamentals are the same: clean immediately after use, wash with soap and water, rinse thoroughly, and dry completely. Some of the details may vary according to a family’s specific set up – there’s less to clean if using disposable bottle liners, more to clean if mixing formula or using a breast pump – but every parent who’s fed their baby with a bottle knows the tedium of washing up afterward. It’s not a hard job – in fact, it’s fairly straightforward – but it’s one that is repeated ad nauseam until bottles are phased out.

As any competent doctor or responsible cook knows, washing hands prevents a lot of diseases; parents need to remember that, too. Perhaps even more so since they also change diapers. But washing hands before making up a bottle, washing hands before cleaning a bottle, and washing hands before putting a bottle away are all recommended by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Whether washed by hand or washed in a dishwasher, bottles and other feeding equipment needs to be thoroughly disassembled: caps removed, nipples removed from caps, sealing rings removed, valves removed, etc. Anywhere that milk or formula can get trapped behind or under is a place where pathogens can thrive.

If using a dishwasher, each piece should be thoroughly rinsed under running water before being loaded. Small pieces should be placed in a closed-top basket or mesh laundry bag so they don’t wind up in the dishwasher filter, nestled against a reconstituted raisin. The dishwasher should be on a hot water cycle; that may be enough to kill germs on its own, but most products can safely withstand a dishwasher sanitation cycle as well. Before washing at all, parents should verify that the bottles are dishwasher safe.

“You don’t need to sterilize the bottles over and over again. For the first month or two, yes, but then as time goes on, you don’t need to do it,” explains Elizabeth Murray, M.D., a pediatric emergency physician.  “That said, if the baby develops thrush, you have to make sure that you definitely sterilize the nipples and pacifiers after every use if the baby has thrush until it goes away. Sometimes soap and water aren’t enough to get rid of all the yeast.”

How to Clean, Care For and Sterilize Baby Bottles

  • Bottles should be cleaned immediately after use – leaving milk to curdle in the bottle makes washing harder (and much grosser)
  • Disassemble the bottle and nipple completely.
  • Washing with good soap and hot water is sufficient to kill more germs.
  • Use a dedicated bottle brush and drying mat – and don’t forget to regularly wash and dry them.
  • Rinse thoroughly, leaving no trace of soap behind.
  • Let them air dry thoroughly before storing them.
  • Sterilization can be an occasional procedure but doesn’t need to be done with every washing.

Parents should wash their hands before removing the bottles from the dishwasher. Discoloration of the plastic bottles may indicate baked milk fats from insufficient rinsing, water or soap spots, or heat damage on bottles that should have been washed by hand. Many parents prefer to wash by hand, at least at first.

The hand washing procedure is very similar to dishwashing – hands need to be washed and bottles disassembled and rinsed thoroughly. Hot, soapy water is sufficient to kill most microorganisms.  A dedicated bottle brush is a good idea – it avoids transferring heavier food greases that can accumulate on regular dish brushes, it can be cleaned easily and replaced cheaply if need be. No special dish soaps are necessary, although parents may feel more comfortable with a dye- or fragrance-free options.

The next stage is to thoroughly rinse each part of the bottle and nipple assembly until any trace of soap is gone. Then each item should be placed on a clean towel or a special mat for air drying in an out-of-the-way place. After accidentally knocking a few nipples or o-rings to the floor in a sleep-deprived haze, the benefit of something like a grass drying rack, with its flexible plastic ‘blades’ to keep items in place, becomes more apparent. Any brush or mat used to clean or dry bottles should be washed and dried regularly.

Bottles need to dry completely before being put away. Assembling bottles and putting them away in a cabinet wet can trap moisture and foster microbial growth. Sterilizing bottles should be done before they are dried and before they are put away. As far as sterilizing goes, low tech options are fine. A steam bag is often as good as a fancier, more expensive sterilizer.

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The Lesson Adrian Peterson Couldn’t Teach America

January 26, 2018 in Fatherly, Parenting

On May 18, 2014, Adrian Peterson watched his four-year-old son push a sibling off a video game motorcycle. Reacting swiftly, Peterson took out a switch and hit the boy repeatedly on the legs and butt. Later, in court, he would testify that he hit the child’s genitals by accident. Court doctors would also find the marks of other beatings corroborated by the child, who, in his own interview with the police, said that his father also hit him in the face and stuffed a fistful of leaves in his mouth on that fateful spring day.

By September, Peterson was indicted for reckless and negligent injury to a child. It was a massive national story. A star player was being punished for the abuse of a child. Talking heads rushed onto cable to voice outrage or to defend his actions. It seemed, for a few days at least, as though America was on the verge of a national conversation about corporal punishment. Then, as the press rushed to pile onto wall-to-wall coverage, Peterson pled no contest and accepted a plea deal. Peterson was ordered to pay a $4,000 fine, court costs, and perform 80 hours of community service. Peterson was forced by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to sit out the 2015 season even as his renegotiated contract with the Vikings reportedly earned him $20 million. But he did not issue a mea culpa. When he was reinstated in 2016, he was picked up by the New Orleans Saints.  

Last season, the 31-year-old Peterson had the 25th highest selling jersey in the NFL. Saints jerseys flew off the shelves and then Cardinals jerseys flew off the shelves after he was traded to Arizona, where he has a $3.5 million contract that runs through 2019, when he will become a free agent. 

If America had been ready for the conversation about where disciplinary action ends and abuse begins, it would have been had in those weeks when Peterson was commuting to and from the courthouse. But that didn’t happen. There was no open dialogue on the subject, though one is desperately needed.

Some 196 countries have signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which calls to ban any sort of physical punishment inflicted on kids. The U.S. has not. Some 51 countries have created laws that ban corporal punishment outright. The U.S. has not. In fact, America may be backsliding. Earlier this year, a bill to end corporal punishment in Arkansas failed and a Texas school reintroduced paddling as a punishment option for teachers. It remains perfectly legal in 17 other states to physically punish students despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the effects of this sort of behavior are predictably and overwhelmingly negative.

Which is why the Peterson trial — one of the the most high-profile cases surrounding corporal punishment in American history — felt like the moment child rights advocates needed. And also why what happened remains dispiriting years later.

The judge called the prosecutors “media whores”; Rusty Hardin did what his celebrity defense lawyers do and kept the conversation superficial; and the media kept the coverage superficial. Prosecutor Brett Ligon summed it up best after the trial: “We had an opportunity to move the dialogue on child abuse in a positive direction, and now we are all left with the feeling that this case and those conversations are disappointingly cut short.”  In other words, the trial was not one to make American families proud.

“Why are children special in this circumstance? They’re not an alien species.”

If Adrian Peterson had done what he did to a misbehaving 18-year-old, he would very likely still be behind bars. How can that be true? In most American courtrooms, children have fewer rights than adults. Peterson hit his four-year-old child and so the law was, for the most part, on his side. This legal perversity stems from the fact that the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act does not provide specific definitions of physical abuse, neglect, or emotional abuse.

“Why are children special in this circumstance?” asks says Anne Sheridan, President, National Youth Rights Association. “They’re not an alien species. We’re not even really having the right conversation The baseline we should be starting with is that hitting people is wrong. When hitting your wife was legal, the same argument came up.”

Still, the American legal system gives the benefit of the doubt to parents disciplining their children. Intent is almost invariably assumed to be good even when there is no potential good outcome to derive from harsh disciplinary behavior. The reason for this is fairly clear: The parental bond is so strong that emotional narrative crowds out data. “I know in my heart there’s not many fathers better than me,” Peterson told Sports Illustrated after the trial. “I’m that father that the kids run to. I’m the father they want to wrestle and play with.” Peterson may genuinely believe that, but hitting a kid with a switch then stuffing leave in his mouth is not debatably bad. Data shows this sort of action hurts children, full stop.

And Sheridan is right: Replace the word “father” in the quote with the word “husband.” It sounds ridiculous. The cultural power of “parenthood” clouds the rhetoric of violence because there hasn’t been a discussion of abusive parenting in the same way there has been a discussion of abusive relationships.

Sheridan offers up a social experiment to illustrate the absurdity of Peterson’s focus on his intention. Ask someone, ‘Is hitting people wrong?’ Then ask, ‘What if the person you’re hitting doesn’t really understand what is going on?’ Then ask,  ‘What if you really want the person to listen to you?’ Non-sociopaths will point out that there’s no exception to the no-hitting policy for confusion or communication. “If we had the conversation about corporal punishment this way, it would point out the flaws in these arguments.”

That said, Intent is clearly something our legal system must recognize when it comes to measuring the degrees of an action. For example, there’s murder, there’s manslaughter, and there’s negligent homicide. It should be noted that all of these are illegal, but to varying degrees. There is no equivalent to this in regards to the abuse of children.

“Even when your intent comes from the right place, you can still say the action is not the right action,” says Sheridan. “We have to say that philosophically. You can’t focus 100 percent on the intention.”

Is Adrian Peterson a child abuser? Americans lack the tools to supply a reasoned answer.

It’s a common defense from parents who physically punish their children: “I was hit and I turned out fine.” Often enough, the thinking goes further and“tough love” becomes a point of pride. “We have this whole cultural narrative that corporal punishment is the right thing to do and that you’re negligent if you don’t do it,” says Sheridan.

Social scientists are quick to point out that there are consequences to these actions — kids who are simply spanked are more prone to mental health problems, cognitive difficulties, aggression, and antisocial tendencies. Adrian Peterson was just as quick to argue that the divide between corporal punishment and not is cultural. In that same 2016 interview with Sports Illustrated, he spoke about his own experience.

“Roger Goodell, man, I don’t know. . . . This is when I knew he was blind to the fact of what I was going through. I sat down with him. He asked me, ‘What is a whuppin’? . . . It kind of showed me we were on a totally different level. It’s just the way of life. … in Texas, we know what whuppin’s are. …  you still shouldn’t pass judgment on people when you don’t know.”

Why is a whuppin’ something that is well known to anyone from East Texas, but entirely foreign to somebody raised in Jamestown, New York? This is a question that was teased throughout the Peterson trial but never fully answered. “Maybe we need to rethink it,” Charles Barkley, a native of Alabama, said on CBS sports in 2014 in defense of Peterson. “But I think we have to really be careful trying to teach other parents how to discipline their kids. That’s a very fine line.”

It’s a fine line, to be sure, but it’s not impossibly fine. There are legal means of handling cases involving fights. When, post-bar fight, two adults wind up in front of a judge, there is a legal way get beyond the “who started it” conversation. The focus shifts to physical violence. If you used it, you’re in the wrong — there are certain ways people are not permitted to interfere with each other.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the case of Oakland Raider cornerback Sean Smith (charged with assault and battery for allegedly accosting his sister’s boyfriend), and Adrian Peterson is that there are laws and cultural norms around adults fighting. Because the laws drawing a distinction between discipline and child abuse are ambiguous and norms are hardly universal — they differ across race, region, religion, and even inclination — it’s hard not the punt when it comes time to answer concrete questions.

Is Adrian Peterson a child abuser? Americans lack the tools to supply a reasoned answer.

In order to answer that question, we would need a firmer definition of what a child abuser actually is and getting there will require a national and likely political discourse.

“It’s how we look at it. .. it’s a societal problem. Why do we inflict this punishment that we wouldn’t inflict on adults?”

What will it take to have a national conversation about physically punishing children? Ireland, a country where corporal punishment has long been accepted, offered up one solution in 2015. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs James Reilly helped shepherd legislation that forbade the physical punishment of kids at home, doing away with a legal loophole allowing for “reasonable chastisement” of children. This was a big deal for in a country where, according to one study, nearly half of primary caregiver admitted to smacking their kids on occasion.

The move did not come from a populist uprising — one poll showed that some 52 percent of people were against parents being banned from slapping their children — but it was the right thing to do. “We have not created any new offense, but rather we are removing something that has its roots in a completely different era and societal context,” says Reilly.

The tough thing about the process was, naturally, that it required a degree of inter-generational truth-telling. To do better, parents must acknowledge that their parents were flawed. That’s a psychological hurdle to progress, but —perhaps ironically — surmountable thanks largely to intent.

During Peterson’s trial, then-ESPN talking head and former wide receiver Cris Carter made some of the biggest headlines when he faced his truth and offered this: “My mom did the best job she could do, raising seven kids by herself. But there are thousands of things that I have learned since then that my mom was wrong…. You can’t beat a kid to make them do what you want to do.”

Those who responded to his statement by saying that the government should not punish parents who are trying to do their best are likely right. But punishing behavior regardless of intent is a practical measure and a fairly clean solution — so long as everyone knows precisely what the banned behaviors are. The Peterson case drew so much attention and still feels so unresolved because the narrative never made sense. Peterson was punished but didn’t entirely accept blame. The law called what was clearly a beating “negligence.” The conversation about “whuppin’” ended in a deadlock despite scientific consensus. There was plenty of cognitive dissonance to go around. 

Such complicated problems ultimately require simple solutions. But, unfortunately, complicated conversations are necessary to find those ways forward.

“It’s how we look at it. .. it’s a societal problem,” offers Sheridan. “Why do we inflict this punishment that we wouldn’t inflict on adults?”

Until an effort is made to truly and profoundly answer that question, a real public conversation on the topic of abuse will not have been had in America. And the ugly truth is that — far more than parents — that failure to seize even the most obvious opportunities for that discussion endangers children.

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