Allowing kids to face reality and disappointment from their own decisions is difficult, but it ultimately leads to their success as an adult. Listen in to today’s episode to learn more about the meaning of keeping the “tennis ball of life” on your child’s side of the court.


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Doug: Tennis balls. I’m supposed to keep the tennis ball of life on their side of the court. But what if they don’t hit the ball back? What if they hit into the net? What if they flail and fail and now their entire life is ruined? They’ve missed that critical step in life and they’re going to be living on the streets. How do we as a parent keep the tennis ball of life on their side of the court without it destroying our kid’s life? That’s the question we get to ask Dr. Leman.

Doug: Hi, I’m Doug Terpanine.

Andrea: And I’m Andrea.

Doug: And we are wonderfully happy that you are here today with us and that you get to hear this question answered. If this is your first time with us, welcome. And we ought to let you know, this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please go seek a local professional for help.

Doug: Well, Dr. Leman, since you’re the speaker, I am thinking that I want someone to come out to my company and help us figure out how to get along. How would I get ahold of you to have you come out and talk to us at the Lumbermen’s gathering?

Dr. Leman: Well, you know, I do all kinds of different talks. I’m doing a fundraiser, for example, in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I’ve done several of those. I do school districts where I do in-service for entire districts. I try to do them in a compact and fun way. I do church weekends, which I love to do.

Dr. Leman: For those of you in any form of ministry, if you want to grow a church today, the best way to grow a church is to bring in a guy like me, have him speak on a Sunday morning, and then Sunday evening. So do it like a sermon of sorts on a Sunday morning, a marriage thing on Sunday night, a program for stay at home moms who are largely ignored on Monday morning.

Dr. Leman: Sometimes we do a business leadership breakfast early in the morning for business people, based on The Way Of The Shepard, my bestselling book. And then Monday night, do something on parenting. That’s a full weekend.

Dr. Leman: Those are well worth the investment of bringing me into a church. I do many of those all over the country, always enjoy them and churches always experience a reformation, quite frankly, in their church. We get lots of positive feedback of the results of just that weekend. Plus a lot of new people are brought into the church membership just because they recognize that name, heard the topic, liked the people and decided to stay around there.

Dr. Leman: The direct way … I’ll give you a really direct way, and I don’t do this very often, but I’m going to give you my phone number. And you can call (520) 797-3830, three eight three oh. 797-3830, area code five two zero. Debbie will answer the phone and you tell her you want to bring Leman your way and she’ll explain everything to you and how it’s done and she is so good at helping you plan a conference like that. She can really assist you in how to go out and promote.

Dr. Leman: And of course, I do radio and TV. So, if you’re in a town that’s got a radio station, lots of times, a couple of weeks before I’m coming, I’ll get on that local radio and talk about the event, which helps attendance. So it’s real simple. Her name is Debbie and she’ll help you. (520) 797-3830. Almost gave you my zip code.

Doug: I encourage you to have … he’s as fun. He’s actually, every time we hang out with Dr. Leman, it’s amazing. He will delight people, connect with them. It really is quite fabulous. So onto today’s topic. So Dr. Leman, this is a two parter. One, the historic one. What does it mean to keep the tennis ball of life on their side of the court? But then the second part I’m going to ask you is, what if they fail in life and now they don’t get into that college. Or do that wrong step and I’m so worried they’re going to fall behind and once they get in the back of the pack, then they start running with the wrong people. Then they start drinking and doing drugs and then [inaudible]

Dr. Leman: Thanks for the optimistic close on that. [inaudible] I can’t wait for that to happen in my life. Thank you, Terpanine. I don’t know. He’d been drinking something this morning. I don’t know what it is. But here we go. Okay, let’s talk about the tennis ball of life.

Dr. Leman: You know, you’ve heard me say that so many times, it’s just one of my favorite expressions. But let’s talk about tennis balls for just a second. You know, I could have said keep the golf ball on the fairway. I could’ve come up with all different kinds of things, but why would you come up with a tennis ball of life?

Dr. Leman: Well, first of all, tennis balls are fuzzy. They’re soft, they bounce back, they go up and down. They’re yellow. I love yellow. It’s one of the few colors I can see. I’m red, green [inaudible] colorblind. So yellow is one of the … And I realize all tennis balls aren’t yellow, but a lot of them are.

Dr. Leman: I like tennis balls because they’re hit back and forth just like we hit back and forth in families and banter in language. And how about that sound? You know, if you’re watching the pro tennis match on television, when a pro hits that tennis ball it’s that sound. It’s just so clear and yet, it’s a kind of mellow tone to it. Pow.

Dr. Leman: So I like that whole idea of trying to keep things where they belong. We live in a society where it’s always somebody else’s fault. He’s to blame. We say things like, “He makes me angry, she exasperates me.” No, actually you exasperate yourself, you’re in charge of your own anger.

Dr. Leman: And so I sort of like just the whole idea of tennis ball. I think people can identify with keeping it on the proper side. And that’s why I say keeping it on the right side of the court, over the net.

Dr. Leman: And sometimes, when you try to serve that ball over the net, guess what? You hit the net. You’re not successful. And sometimes, when you hit the tennis ball, you’ll whack it way out of bounds or maybe, depending upon where you’re playing, you actually lose the ball. And I like that because that reflects human behavior and relationships and what life’s all about.

Dr. Leman: So don’t own what isn’t yours. And kids are great at getting parents to own the fact that they can’t find their shoes, they can’t find their skirt, they can’t find their game. And like dummies, we jump in and become servants to our children and essentially allow them to put themselves, that is our children, and authority over us.

Dr. Leman: So it’s really important that if you’re going to understand the tennis ball of life and keeping it on the right side of the court, you have to understand the principle of authority. Not authoritarianism, where you’re the dictator and the ruler and tell everybody what to do, but you have to own up for what you’re responsible for, but you have a responsibility to hold your son or your daughter what they’re accountable for.

Dr. Leman: Now, again, as parents, what we tend to do is we swing from one extreme to the other. So you’ve got one parent that’s an authoritarian and you’ve got the other parent who’s reactionary because they don’t like the authoritarian mate and how he or she deals with things. So they go to the opposite direction and they become permissive, which in essence destroys the probability of us keeping the tennis ball of life on the appropriate side of the net because the parents aren’t on one page.

Dr. Leman: So I like tennis balls, they’re yellow, they’re fuzzy, they’re firm, they make noise, they bounce back and forth. Any other questions, Doug?

Doug: So the concept is, I’m not supposed to do for my kids what they should do for themselves. Okay, I get that concept. But, let’s be honest here. I’ll never forget our neighbor when our son was six years old and he said, “Hey, if you don’t get your kid into sports, into baseball, he’s going to fall behind. And then he’ll never be able to connect with kids at school.”

Doug: And I was like, “Ah.” Right? And there’s this incredible pressure that if I don’t help my kid keep doing and being able to do all this stuff, like grades and homework or activities, they’re going to fall far behind. And once they’re at the back of the pack, everybody knows, the kids at the back fail. How do I not pick up the ball and how do I keep the racket in my hand and keep hitting it back to them? How do I convince myself this is the right thing to do?

Dr. Leman: Again, your example is a good one. Somebody says something to you and like a trained puppeteer you go and get your kid signed up for this and signed up for that. No, the smart thing is to look at your kid. What’s your kid’s inclination? What does your kids seem to really like to do? He’s in love with Legos. Well, did you ever send him to a Lego camp or how do you sort of enrich what a child’s bent is?

Dr. Leman: Every child’s bent goes in a little different direction. and I think through using vitamin E, wow, now you’re getting it. Good job. You seem to really enjoy music, don’t you? You begin to help cut a path for the child to be successful. A kid has to feel like I’m a somebody. And this goes back to the ABCs of accepting kids for who they are and making sure that your kids feel like they belong in your family.

Dr. Leman: And the C part, I want you to listen carefully, is competence, not confidence. Competence. In other words, a kid in an early age gets messages from both mom and dad that you’re a capable person. Honey, thank you for helping mommy unload the dishwasher. Now, you’re talking to a three year old, but you’re sending messages, the tennis ball, if you want, to that child’s side of the court. Okay? And you know when you say to a kid, “Thank you for helping mommy,” and you’re smiling and you give him a hug or whatever, you are increasing or decreasing the probability of a kid helping you more. You’re increasing it.

Dr. Leman: So now the child says, “Mommy, do you want me to go down and get the mail?” The kid’s three years old, she can hardly reach the thing. “Sure honey, that’d be a big help.” You know, a kid will look for more ways, and I’ve said this for years, the kids actually want to please us as parents, so let them please. But I think it goes back to the natural inclination that you see in your son or daughter’s life at an early age.

Doug: So how do we deal with these tennis ball of life? I’ll give you a very real Terpanine one which, regretfully, won’t apply to many people, but it’s one that just popped into my brain. So we do 4-H and our kids raise these pigs and then show them at 4-H. we got one that was beautiful, growing and then it just literally … I’ve never seen anything like this before. The pig just stopped eating.

Doug: So Andrea felt so bad because our kids have dumped hundreds of dollars into the pig and Lily, the pig is on its way to dying. But Mrs. Terpanine jumps in and starts buying yogurt and eggs and ice cream and syrup and she’s out there, every day mixing stuff up for the pigs because she feels bad for the kid. So how do we …

Dr. Leman: I can see her doing that. Here’s a little rocky road for you, Miss Piggy, hope you like it.

Doug: But Andrea is so thoughtful and caring, right? And I’m like Mr. Meaney.

Andrea: He’s just going to let the pig die and let the child-

Doug: Suffer.

Andrea: Eat the $300.

Dr. Leman: You know, you two oinkers are way ahead of me on this. I’m really shooting in the dark here. But, why would a little oinker all of a sudden not eat?

Doug: When we talked to the vet, they had no idea. They just said they get this weird …

Andrea: Sometimes a pig just does this.

Doug: Yeah. Nobody can explain it, to be honest. But, how do we help parents out there that are like, “Yeah, I wouldn’t want my kid to lose 300 bucks or 400 bucks. Yeah, you got to jump in to help.” How do you keep the tennis ball of life without letting something die?

Dr. Leman: You know, I think, if I’m not mistaken, I’m going way back in my memory bank, but in one of my books … I knew I liked that story about the pigs. There was a kid who went and bought two pigs and brought them home and, of course, didn’t ever ask mom and dad “Can I buy the two pigs?” And so the two pigs were … I forgot the circumstances, but the parents got rid of the pigs. And the kid suffered the consequence of making a very poor decision and that is to buy pigs and bring them home.

Dr. Leman: Obviously, lived in a farm like situation, but the kid lost … I don’t know how much baby pigs cost, but it was a lot of money for a kid. I remember that. So my admonition for the moms of the world, like the lovely Mrs. Terpanine who has a heart bigger than 10 other moms, is you have to understand that part of winning in life is experiencing the reality of failure.

Dr. Leman: Failure that sometimes you have no control over. And I think it helps build psychological muscles for a child to experience disappointment. And the hurt that the parent has because the kid is so disappointed and down over whatever the circumstance is, you come alongside the child and you share your disappointment and your hurt and your sorrow in the fact that things didn’t work out the way they wanted it to work out.

Dr. Leman: What do you do when your grown daughter comes to you and she says, “Mom and dad. I found out my husband’s unfaithful. I’m filing for divorce.” What do you do then, parent? I’m just telling you, that’s life. There’s life at every level where you don’t get what you want. You don’t succeed. You fail. Or, as the book once said to someone, “Bad things happen to good people,” and so you come alongside. If you’re a person of faith, you pray, you ask for God’s guidance and you move along.

Dr. Leman: A couple of years ago, we had to put our little Cocker Spaniel asleep and I just ruminated on that thought and how sweet that dog was and how much I loved her and the fact that we had to put her asleep. And I still have mixed feelings about that. Intellectually, we did the right thing for Rosie, but boy, it was difficult. And life’s got a lot of difficult moments in it. So we got to help prepare our kids for those stages in life where things don’t go the way we want them to go.

Andrea: So you’re saying that I might hit that tennis ball onto their side of the court and it may not go the way either of us want it to go and they may experience some loss, disappointment and I should just walk with them through that, not try and rescue them out of it.

Dr. Leman: But I love the idea of you pouring granola syrup, honey, ice cream into the pig’s porch.

Andrea: Oh no, no, no.

Dr. Leman: I’ll never forget that as long as I love.

Andrea: This little pig loved the raw egg mixed into the sour cream. That was its favorite.

Dr. Leman: Here comes that woman in blue jeans. I love that woman. Feed me lady, feed me. So did the pig make it?

Andrea: Yes. But it never grew as fast as it should have. Yeah. It didn’t make it to fair.

Doug: It didn’t make it to fair. It didn’t make it, though. It didn’t.

Dr. Leman: Good bacon or bad bacon?

Doug: We’re not going to answer that question.

Dr. Leman: You know, really, the Terpanines could be a weekly series on TV. It’d be entertaining.

Doug: There was a season of our life that it would have been very, very entertaining.

Dr. Leman: Yeah, I’d follow the reruns of Green Acres.

Doug: Ouch. Oh, funny. Okay. So I better do the ebook promotion and then I have another question for you, Dr. Leman.

Dr. Leman: Okay.

Doug: So, one of the changes that I love that we’re doing now is that we’re giving people more time to get the eBooks. So we are, again, you have another week to get Planet Middle School. You have until November 11th of 2019 to get it for only $1.99. I know Dr. Leman last week, you gave us a view of it, but can you give us like a little teaser of why we should get Planet Middle School?

Dr. Leman: The one thing you really don’t want your kid to become in life is a powerful child because their mantra in life is I only count in life, only count in life, when I dominate other people, when I’m always the winner. It’s a terrible mantra to be able to take through life. And powerful children are created in the home by parents who try to play placate kids to make them happy at every turn.

Dr. Leman: I’m quoting myself an unhappy child is a healthy child. There’s times your son or daughter has to be unhappy. Why? Because they deserve to be unhappy because they disobeyed you or talk back to you or rag down their brother or sister or whatever. So it’s a very practical book.

Dr. Leman: My goodness. $1.99. Read it. It’s an eyeopener for most parents because they don’t always read the fact that your kid’s powerful. And I’ve said many times, a lot of powerful children appear to be very sensitive and quiet, almost mouse-like and the fact is, they make you tippy toe around them. They’re very powerful people.

Dr. Leman: So read that book and get on Facebook and tell your friends about it. Or Instagram and Twitter and tell people about that good read. Our nation needs that book quite frankly.

Doug: You have until November 11th of 2019 wherever you get your eBooks for $1.99. And now a no nonsense parenting moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.

Doug: As you can imagine, I get all kinds of questions from people. I answered a question yesterday from West Africa. I get them from every foreign country and, of course, the funny thing is because so many of my books are in foreign languages, they write me emails in their foreign language and think that I can understand the Czech language or whatever they might be writing in. But so many times I get emails, letters, calls from people who are concerned about their kid doing well in school.

Doug: And many times I’ll find out as I delve into this kid’s life that the child does not do well in life and school, is not getting good grades, but guess what? He’s a voracious reader. Wow. Whenever I say that, I find a direct, clear way of saying, “Hey parent, you need to stop worrying about your kids’ education because if your son or daughter is a veracious reader, they’re going to get an education and they’re going to do well in school.”

Doug: Chances are if they’re not getting good grades, for example, there’s other issues going on that are creating that situation. Some of them might be behavioral, but some of them might be also situational in terms of the classroom, the teacher, the subject, et cetera. But I want to go back to reading.

Doug: You know, from the time a kid is young, read to them, get them cloth books, get them fun, bright-colored books. If they’re musical, all the better. Any kind of entertainment that’s associated with the reading should really be encouraged.

Doug: And teaching kids to read should be a very natural thing. They can pick out letters. I remember one of the funniest things that happened in private practice was a mother reported that her little guy who was ardent fan of Sesame Street came running in. He was toilet trained. He was over two and a half years of age.

Doug: And he comes in and says, “Mommy, mommy, I pooped a C, I pooped a C.” I still laugh thinking about that little kid, running into mommy and saying, “Mommy, I pooped a C.” But you know, Sesame Street and other programs teach kids the value of reading and letters. And if reading can come naturally, and if you just keep the printed word around kids in a fun way, many of them are going to catch on and they’re going to read early.

Doug: Now, you want to just be as helpful as you can. You want to visit libraries on a regular basis. You want to read to that child as much as possible. And more importantly, let that child start reading to you. And, by the way, if that child starts reading to you, don’t be so quick to correct everything. Okay?

Doug: Many times, when kids are trying to read, we interrupt way too much, let them figure it out, let them sound it out. But the point of this little spot today is to encourage your kid to read because that is the building block for all of education moving forward.

Doug: So Dr. Leman, if I do everything for my kid, so I do more than I should for my kid and my kid turns 18 and he leaves the home, what harm … Or what have I done to my kid that I will regret down the road? Because of that.

Dr. Leman: Well, you set your kid up to have no confidence in the decisions that they make for themselves. You create a needy person who will be easily molded by the peer group. Now, there’s a scary thought. They leave the protective nature of your home. You send them off to work, the military, off to college, whatever it might be. And those strangers are now going to have an extreme, extreme effect upon your kid because your kid hasn’t been able to make choices. They weren’t held accountable for things they did. You snowplowed the road of life for him. You did made too many decisions for them and now, when it comes to decision time, they’re going to vacillate like a rat on an electric grid.

Dr. Leman: They’re not going to know what to do. Turn left or turn right. You’ve weakened your child. In fact, you’ve ruined your child from many a vantage point, quite frankly. And that’s why it’s important that people read books like Making Children Mind and Have A New Kid By Friday and Planet Middle School and Have A New Teenager By Friday.

Dr. Leman: Those are all practical books that give you the building blocks. So your kid, when they leave the home, leaves confident that whatever comes their way, they’re going to be able to deal with. Will they always deal with them in the right proper way? No. Because failure is a part of life. But, generally speaking, they’re going to be on top of their game and they’re going to profit from it. And they will someday say, “Thanks mom and dad for the great job you did in rearing me the way you did.”

Doug: You know, that’s so true. You know, we’ve launched two kids now, they’re doing the gap year thing before the college thing. And just recently, one of them called and said, “Thank you for teaching me how to interact with other people and how to resolve conflict. That I have learned within myself how to deal with hard things.” And they were just saying how many people around them are struggling now that they’re having to be confronted with real issues and real problems. And a lot of it is because we changed our parenting to let them fail.

Dr. Leman: Yeah, that’s sweet, that is sweet.

Doug: But I was just saying, you’re right that when they leave the home, they have way more psychological muscles as you tell us to be able to do it. So parents, you’re not, when you snowplow the roads of life, as Dr Leman says you’re not helping. Well, it was great to be with you guys today. So glad that you are here with us and we hope that we are adding to that parenting toolbox so that you have the confidence that you can just love those kids and that you’re doing the right thing so you can relax.

Doug: And really just see the fruits of doing it the right way. It’s just incredible. So we look forward to be with you the next time.

Andrea: Go hit some tennis balls. Have a good week.

Doug: Take care. Bye bye.

Andrea: Bye bye.