Southlake mom becomes expert on child issues

By Mike Lee Star-Telegram Staff Writer

SOUTHLAKE -- Madelyn Swift thought she had it together until Kris started talking.
She was a good communicator, well-organized, happily married. She had finished college and graduate school and had a good career as a school psychologist. Then Kris, her eldest son, grew old enough to communicate. "My skills failed utterly and completely," Swift said. "I went from nice to ugly very quickly." The experience led her to a career as an author and a lecturer on child development issues. Swift said she began examining her life when she saw two drawings Kris made when he was 4. The first shows a mother with a broad smile and red cheeks, set off by an orange sun. Then Kris drew his "other" mom, one with a crooked line for a mouth and a green witch's heart. Swift said she realized that she was bribing her children to do the right thing, instead of teaching them why they needed to do it. When bribery failed, she said, she found herself punishing her kids to hurt them, not to instruct them. The two drawings are in her first book, Discipline ! for Life: Getting it Right with Children, which was published in 1995. Her second book, Getting it Right with Teens, will be published in a few weeks. She sells her books, as well as audiotapes and videotapes, on her Web site. Her sons, Kris and Tim, are college students now. Swift gives hundreds of lectures each year in the United States, Canada, Europe and New Zealand on effective ways to discipline children. The more she speaks to parents, Swift said, the more she realizes that a lot of people are making the same mistakes she made, and that society doesn't put enough emphasis on parenting. "No matter where I am ... I ask which is harder -- your job or raising your kids?" she said. "How much training and mentoring did you get for your job, and how much training did you get before you became a parent?" Swift's directness makes her a hit with parents, said Cynthia McElrath, director of Christian education for First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth. "She says parents shouldn't do anything for children that the children can do for themselves, and parents, when they apply that principle, they see immediate results," McElrath said. Swift said she is simply repeating a few time-tested ideas, such as the golden rule and the idea that we reap what we sow. "I think I'm teaching from grounded truth," she said. With those principles as a basis, Swift said she tries to get parents to rethink their ideas about discipline. It helps if parents think about teaching children, rather than simply imposing consequences, she said. "If a child rides her tricycle in the road and a mother doesn't understand the difference between punishment and discipline, she says, `Fine, you can't watch your video tonight' ... instead of `You can't ride your tricycle,' " Swift said. The goal should be for children to develop self-discipline, she said. That sometimes means letting them learn things for ! themselves, and it almost always means teaching kids to fend for themselves, she said. "In trying to do the right things for our kids, we wind up teaching them some really poor principles," she said. "We pay kids to take the dinner dish that their mother prepared for free and carry it over to the sink." Discipline also can lead parents to rethink their lives. To make bedtime easier, she said, turn off the television and let children get more exercise: "Wear the little suckers out." When children are old enough, it's OK for parents to ask them for help, she said. Perhaps the most important lesson is to slow down, she said. "Every conscientious parent knows you have to put in time. If you don't put it in early, you will put it in later," she said. "Young kids don't fit into our culture. You spend most of your time waiting on them or for them. Maybe that's their purpose, to slow us down and make us look at things through a child's eyes. "! The good news is, once you learn these skills, grown-ups are easy. When you learn your skills on 3-year-olds, the lady at the grocery store is puppy chow," she said. Mike Lee, (817) 685-3858.

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