Sunday, April 29, 2007

Where does the time go?

This week went quickly for me. It was full. They usually are. In addition to my work, I connected with family and friends. I did a little reading and writing, I took some walks and enjoyed spring blooming all around. But, time seems to just evaporate. Where does it go? There are 24 hours in a day. That's 1440 minutes. Half of those minutes are for sleep and some of the basics of every day, and then there is our work, away from home or not, maybe another 500 minutes. That leaves only about 200 minutes. Yes, there is so much to do each day, but how often do we find time to cherish some of those minutes.

Stop and notice. Watch children. Observe them in play or conversation. Cherish the moments. Spend time together, side by side in a shared activity. These times are gone in the blink of an eye, even when some of the challenging moments seem to drag on way too slowly. Usually the very ordinary things we experience each day are among the most memorable and sweet. So even during all of the "have tos" of each day, we can appreciate each other.

Respect is rare

Sad to say, but true. Over the years and stretching back for many generations, adults have said something like, “The children today just don’t respect their elders.” Sometimes this statement means, “The kids today just don’t obey adults.” Many children today are raised to question and to challenge. They are not given firm, loving limits. Their “disrespectful” behavior can also be developmental. It is very natural for adolescents who will soon be stepping out on their own to push their elders away. They want to claim their own ideas. They want to speak to what is most important to them.

I would like to also suggest that we are partly to blame for this lack of respect. How often do we really show our respect to children? Do we show our acceptance of them, even when their behavior feels inappropriate? Do we include children in our conversations about our concerns and our joys? Do we listen to them, really listen, when they have something to say? Do we model respect of others - family members, neighbors, our fellow drivers on the road, shoppers in the market, with people from different cultures, from other nations?

Respectful relationships are nurturing. We feel accepted just as we are, and we feel free to speak our mind and know that our disagreement will not sever the relationship. Respect means paying attention and listening. With respect, we show our appreciation and gratitude for our relationships.

Children need our good examples. If kids today don’t respect their elders, that says something about us. And this is where we have the power to change. Let’s see if we can create a surge of kindness, cooperation and respect, starting here and now. Then, true respect will no longer be rare.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Born Spirited

Each of us is born with spirit and heart. The essence of who we are and who we are meant to be is within. Many experiences and relationships further shape us.

What does it mean to be spirited? Children have will-power. They have a strong will and drive to learn and grow. They have their own ideas about things, even as infants. They let us know when they don’t like something. And they screech with joy when they are pleased.

Children have a great curiosity. When they are preschoolers, a favorite word is “Why?” They want to know. They want to understand how things work. Learning about new things can be fun. Invention and creativity rise out of this curiosity. We need to offer opportunities and school experiences that continue to encourage each child's excitement for learning.

Children also care deeply. When they are very young, they interpret the world around them from their unique perspective. And, before we know it, empathy grows. Even young children bring us their favorite lovey if we are feeling sick or tired. This is the beginning of caring about the feelings of others. School aged children can be very passionate about an issue. They want to save an animal that has been hurt, or create a neighborhood cleanup project.

Our spirited nature is really what connects us all. How would you describe spirit? What can we do to accept and nurture the spirit within each child? Or our own spirit?

You are valuable!

You are so valuable! How often do you remember this? We often get caught up in doing for others and responding to all of those things that keep calling out to us. How often do we really acknowledge that we are important. We deserve love and care, too.

Like everyone else, I can get stressed out. I can honestly say that each time I reacted to my kids’ behaviors with yelling and impatience, that wasn’t about them. It was about me. This was an impulsive response fed by my own frustrations. My kids didn’t deserve that. Yes, sometimes their behavior was out of control, too. But what did I teach in that moment? My own behavior was saying it’s okay to yell, and it’s not.

The best “time out” is the one we take ourselves. This doesn’t have to take long. It can just be a moment to take a deep breath. Hey, take one now. Breathe in and feel your body slow down. Feel a different energy flow over you.

Kids depend upon us. They need us to understand them. They are not out to get us. In fact, they absolutely prefer positive energy coming their way from us. And to understand them, we need to take care of the little one in us, too. Yelling at ourselves doesn’t help us either.

Breathe! Take care of you. The kids in our lives are counting on us. Their healthy development is enriched by our loving presence.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Time to lighten up

Oh there are so many serious things in this life. So much we could worry about. But, what is really important?

Time for a break from those big things we really have no control over anyway. Time to find the pleasure in the present.

My kids are grown, so most of the parenting I experience nowadays is through people watching. I love it when I see people enjoying kids. They are in the library and letting their curious child lead them to the perfect book. Or they are in the store getting groceries and they include their kiddo, getting help making choices along the way. Or they are walking in the neighborhood, seeing things from their child's perspective. I remember enjoying many outings like this, too.

Time goes quickly. It gets away from us and everything can become a blur. Or we can cherish these moments.

What helps you lighten up and notice?

Rudeness is never acceptable

In the news we hear about actor, Alec Baldwin, calling his 11 year old daughter a "rude little pig." Well, who is the rude one in this scenario? I don't know the full context of this event, and I don't need to. I do know that words hurt or words heal. Words can shut down communication and respectful conversation can even resolve very difficult rifts between people.

Children are looking to us all the time. Our example is what guides them. Yes, adults get angry and upset and say and do things that are very regrettable. And when that happens, an apology is the next right thing to do. But, even better yet to learn from our mistakes and avoid hurtful words next time. Name calling hurts. Rudeness is never appropriate. There is always a better way, a more respectful way to speak our minds.

I would not want to be a public figure whose life is always open for everyone to see. But, we can all learn from these kinds of stories. The recent events in VA can also be partly explained by hurtful words and teasing which led to hopeless isolation.

Let's all use these very public events to remind us to do what we can right now to prevent the hurt that scars people for life.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Dealing with advice and following our heart

I asked the parents in the class, “What are you hoping to get from this workshop?” One of the parents said, “I just want to get some information and ideas so I can figure out what’s best for my child and for me.” Well, this is what parenting is all about. Deciding what’s best and doing it. But we often have lots of advice to wade through along the way.

We all want the best for our children. We also know that what works for one child is not guaranteed to work for everyone. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed with all of the advice on - breast feeding, weaning, responding to baby’s cries, holding the baby, sleep concerns, when to go back to work, toileting issues, schooling, and discipline. The list goes on. There are so many well-meaning people who have something to say about everything! How do we respond to them? How do we figure out what is best for our family?

We can acknowledge their support and concern. “Thank you for your interest. We are still gathering information. Then we will decide what will work best for us.” Or “I know you really care about us. We appreciate your concern. We have thought about this and decided that what we are doing is working very well for us.”

Ultimately, we each must decide. No one knows better what’s right for you and your family. There is no such thing as the right way or the perfect solution. Children each have unique needs. So do we all. Once we have gathered information by attending classes, or reading books, or talking to supportive people, we can figure out what’s right.

And we can be guaranteed to get lots of practice. As soon as we think we have figured something out, children grow and needs change. When we follow our heart, with our understanding of this child as our guide, we can figure out what is best.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

When do we step in to help?

Two kids are hassling over something, a toy, the T.V. remote, whose turn it is to sit in the front seat. Some adults are pretty convinced that we need to back off and let kids work it out.

This is not always the best response. First, we need to watch them. Are they talking it out? Are their interactions mostly open and cooperative? If so, yes, we can continue to watch and hopefully they will figure it out without us. Sometimes just our presence nearby helps them gauge their own behavior and reminds them to do what's best.

But, if their words are getting mean, we need to step in. The old saying, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me" is far from true. In fact, hurtful words often leave very deep emotional scars. So when their words are escalating to yelling, we need to step in and help them continue their negotiations without name calling.

And as we continue to observe them, if we feel one of them may be getting close to physically retaliating, we must step in. It is not okay for children to think that they can resolve conflicts with physical force. Hitting is not helpful.

Children can experience abuse from adults or from other children. School aged children become especially quick to tease each other. This kind of harassment can be very hurtful to children and have long-lasting effects. Children want to know that we are here to protect them and to help them resolve their conflicts reasonably and fairly.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Where were we?

Whenever something shocking like the recent campus killings occurs, I want to ask, "Where were we?"

Though we didn't know this young man, there's a good chance we have known someone like him - hurting, helpless, isolated. Our society seems to discourage connections. We are less likely to know our neighbors. We are more likely to spend time indoors in front of computers and televisions. We are more likely to think things are someone else's problem. We have adopted our own versions of fierce independence and have a hard time asking for help. We are also afraid of people who are different from us and tend to wall ourselves off from them.

How does this relate to our topic - talking about kids? Well, every child is our responsibility. I heard about a man who moved his family from a comfortable suburban community to the inner city. He wanted his children to have a chance to break down social and cultural barriers and see that we are all really far more similar than different. Then, his son was killed in a senseless driveby shooting. When asked if he had regrets, he said he did not regret moving his family. But he did wish he had done more to become a part of their new community and spent more time with the neighbor kids.

We need to be approachable adults to the children in our lives - our own kids, neighbor kids, relatives. Children need adults in their lives who they can turn to share their pleasures and their pain. They need adults who will listen. They need adults who will love them - no matter what. They need acceptance.

I'm not saying that I could have done anything to help this young man in Virginia. But I do believe we can be involved with children today in positive ways which just may be able to prevent future catastrophes. It's such a shame to see any life wasted. We all have a responsibility to build more understanding communities.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

First things first - Self care

We can all make our lists. We check them twice and then some. We put everything in some kind of priority order. But how often do we put our own needs and care on or near the top?

When we have young children, their needs often cry out for immediate attention. Yes, that diaper needs to be changed. Children are active and have a higher metabolism than ours, so they require healthy meals and snacks regularly, and certainly more often than we do. They get frustrated and don't know how to communicate well, so our assistance can help them resolve their difficulties.

When we have kids in our lives, we are always "on call," on duty 24-7.

So, if we don't also schedule our own self care each day, it doesn't happen. I've seen a t-shirt that says something like, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." We can laugh that off, but it is very true. We adults definitely set the climate in our relationships. We don't need anyone to tell us what to do. Each of us already knows what we need. We know what helps us stay healthy. We know what helps us relax. We know what foods are best for us. The really tough part is making our own self care a priority. Self care isn't selfish. It's a must!

So, what do you do everyday to make taking care of yourself "first things first?" How do you put yourself high on your daily list?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"How many times do I have to tell you?"

Sometimes we are exhausted at the end of day from all the redirecting and reminders we have given.

But, learning happens in stages. Curiosity and frustration often create the motivation to try, risk, study, practice, listen, and learn. Finally one day, children demonstrate knowledge of an idea, a rule or a behavior. It has become automatic. At this point, they know and they can do it without thinking.

When your two year old climbs on the back of the couch for the tenth time today, pull out your patience. She doesn’t really understand yet about the possible consequences or danger potential to both herself and the couch. Children don’t have the impulse control, especially in times of curiosity or excitement. She is not thinking to the future; she is enjoying NOW. Just remind her again that climbing on the couch is not safe. Distract her by offering a few other acceptable choices.

Don’t threaten: “If you do that one more time...” Because then, you’re setting her up for failure and yourself up for some punishment you really don’t want to impose. Immediately follow through and redirect her behavior. When she behaves appropriately, let her know. “You’re having fun and playing safely on the slide!”

So, “How many times do I have to tell you...?”

at least 100 times and one more...

Friday, April 13, 2007

It matters

So often we consider the big problems in the world today, and ask ourselves, “Does what I do or say really matter?” Global climate change, pollution and toxic environments, our shrinking natural resources of water, clean air, and energy sources, childhood obesity, violence in our streets, the impact of media on our children, poverty’s influence. The list can go on and on. So many challenges today seem impossible to resolve.

In spite of our frustrations, what we say and do still matters. There are things we can do. And children can be some of our biggest supporters. School aged kids can be passionate about injustice. We certainly hear siblings saying, “Hey, it’s not fair that he gets to do that and I don’t!” These same kids can also be tireless advocates for a neighborhood cleanup or efforts to recycle.

There are many small steps that can become bigger efforts. We can work with children to -
~ respond to each other with respect
~ recycle all cans, glass, and paper
~ pass on gently-worn clothes and toys
~ clean up the local stream
~ turn the T.V. off and play outside
~ write letters to officials
~ eat healthy meals together

This list can go on and on, too. Ask kids what can be done to fix some of the problems and be pleasantly surprised by their creative ideas and their willingness to help.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Children need a compass

How would we get to our destination without a road map? How could we even read the road map if we didn’t have a sense of direction? We need to know where we’re going and how to get there.

Children need a compass. A compass tells us where to turn. A compass tells us what’s right. For children, the compass tells them the limits. A compass establishes right and wrong. Without a compass, children flounder and fall. They take wrong turns.

Children want to do the right thing. They are naturally curious and energetic. When they are young, their impulses can take them down wrong turns as they follow their curiosity. Children need supportive adults in their lives who lovingly guide them and show them the way.

A compass is consistent. North is North. We need to be consistent, too. Although the rules usually flex as children grow and become more competent, one thing can always remain constant. Our love is always the basis of our guiding direction.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

In need of distraction

We can imagine any number of activities or behaviors that get children in trouble with us. They are getting into something that is not theirs. They are tempting the fates and doing something potentially dangerous. They are avoiding our attempt to remind them of the rules and doing the unacceptable anyway. It feels like they are ignoring us.

An effective discipline response that gets too little credit is distraction. Children are very focused on whatever activity or behavior they are doing in the present moment. They are not doing this to get in trouble with us. Children are curious explorers. For example, young children see us using our phones all the time. They don’t understand why it is off limits to them. We need to explain simply and then distract their interest by giving a substitute toy or suggesting an activity which will redirect his attention.

Our active redirection is more likely to successfully stop the inappropriate behavior. It is not enough to just say “No!” It certainly doesn’t help to say “No!!” again, and louder. It is better to offer the child something else, something that is acceptable.
“That’s dangerous. Come over here and do this instead.”
“We can’t do that right now. We can do this.”

Children need a little help from us to learn what we expect. They are in need of some distraction to refocus their curiosity toward safe, acceptable activities.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Wisdom from a mystery book

Sometimes when I am feeling overwhelmed by life's responsibilities, I enjoy losing myself in a good mystery. I like mysteries that have recurring "detectives" because I like to follow their lives and watch them evolve. One such author is Jon Katz whose fictional private detective is a stay at home dad who left the finance world to focus on family. As he solves the latest crime, he also weaves in some wisdom about parenting. In his book, The Family Stalker, he offers this insight about parenting:

"I've come to see the experience of being a parent as so extraordinary and absorbing and emotional that you can't comprehend what it's like before you have a kid and can't quite recall the details afterward... When your kid comes into the world, you are up at bat in probably the most profound way you ever are. Not that having children is the only meaningful experience in life - I know that's not so - it's just that for most people child rearing is the time when your successes and your mistakes so clearly and visibly affect, enhance, damage, or even destroy a helpless person's life. It's your turn to put your instincts, values, and experiences on the line. With little real training or preparation, you suddenly have all these choices to make about school, bedtime, TV, religion, toys, chores, allowances. How many water guns to buy, how much reading to require, how much civil conversation to insist upon, how much to trust them alone, how much punishment (if any) when rules are broken. When they can cross the street by themselves, go to sleep-away camp, pierce their ears, or stay up for Saturday Night Live."

"The list goes on forever. And you don't know for years, maybe decades, how it's really going to turn out.... To me it is this process, this endless dialogue - a complicated tapestry of decisions, regulations, sensitivities and ethics, conversation and negotiation - that is at the core of parenting and determines what kind of people our children become."

Yes, we don't know for a long time what the effect of our choices for them will have on who our children ultimately become. But, we do the best we can, every day. And sometimes we even learn something along the way.

I hope you have some time to relax today with a good book, or take a walk, or whatever suits you. We all need a break from the many challenges and worries of everyday. And sometimes as we take it easy, we become especially open to new insights.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The ties that bind

An enduring emotional bond often develops between parent and child. This loving bond will help children create and sustain healthy relationships throughout their lives. Attachment can begin before a child is born, and grows as children learn to trust us to meet their needs. When we respond to an infant’s cries by offering food or comfort, she learns that she can trust her own body’s signals and her ability to communicate her needs. Through this reciprocal give and take, children learn they can count on us and on their own experiences to guide them socially and emotionally.

Our busy lives can make it challenging to make the time for connecting, but our children grow as a result of our efforts. Our strong bonds to our children are not something that is achieved and then guaranteed indefinitely. We must regularly work to maintain close ties to each other. We build and maintain strong attachments by:
~ holding babies when we feed them and keeping them close by;
~ talking with children as we go about our daily activities;
~ singing and reading with them;
~ answering their many questions;
~ being there for them when they are excited, pleased, frightened, or frustrated;
~ giving our uninterrupted, focused attention some time during the day.

This connection is short circuited when our increasingly independent children naturally push us away. As they become more capable, we will be needed less. They reach out to others. They try new things. And they push us away. The image that comes to mind is the “Push-Me / Pull - You” from the Dr. Doolittle stories. This llama like creature has four legs and two heads. One head with a long neck and two legs are pulling in one direction. And rather than a tail, they have another long neck and head pulling their other two legs in the other direction. You can imagine the fight this creature must get into with itself. This is how we feel sometimes when children demand our help and attention one moment and scream for us to “leave me alone” the next.

It can be difficult to strike a balance between meeting a child’s needs with love and support, while also giving space for independence. We find ourselves asking - when do I offer support and when do I let go with love and encourage independence?
~ We let go when they take their first steps.
~ We let go when we walk them into kindergarten and say goodbye.
~ We let go when she is angry at a friend and we can’t do anything to fix it.
~ We let go when he can’t find something in his messy room.
~ We let go when the math homework isn’t turned in on time.
~ We let go on the first date.

Our relationships are about creating a balance between holding on and letting go. Children need both. They need to know they can count on us to be there for them, and to lovingly let go with each new stage of development. With regular renewal, our emotional ties connect us for a lifetime.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Sometimes we need a "do-over"

We are not proud of ourselves when we blurt out a harsh over-reaction. There are powerful pressures to do more. We juggle all of our children’s activities - school, lessons, sports, playdates, and more. And we struggle to find time for our needs - family life, work, health, fitness, and fun. How do we fit this all into a day? We don’t. We make choices, and some things don’t get done. We feel overwhelmed and exhausted and unable to cope. When we feel this way, we are more likely to react impatiently with our loved ones. It’s often not about what they just said or did, but that we have no reserves left to respond calmly.

Kids are forgiving. When we acknowledge our mistakes and apologize, children often willingly give us another chance. The courage to apologize is a strength. “I’m sorry” says my relationship with you is more important to me than anything else. I remember an interaction with one of my sons. After yelling about something, I apologized. My sweet, young son said something like, “That’s okay, mom. I love you no matter what. Everyone makes mistakes.” Hmmm.... where had he heard that before?

Kids usually forgive pretty easily. But we don’t, especially when it comes to forgiving ourselves. Sometimes I think I will always have leftover guilt about some of the things I said and did when my kids were little. I apologized. They forgave. Though I am usually able to let go and move on, when I am stressed or upset, “coulda, woulda, shoulda” guilty messages still play in my head.

Thankfully, kids welcome our apologies. We can have a "do-over." The very next moment can be a new start. We have another opportunity to say or do the “right” thing. We can take a breath and slow down. What is really important right now? We can change our mind and make a different choice. We can make time for fun and relaxation. As we strive to live a more balanced life, we are better able to respond to our family members, our friends, and to ourselves with patience and love.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Learning to step back

I couldn’t get to sleep last night. I kept running a potential conversation with my son in my head. He’s an adult, but I will always be a mom. When I get into this kind of emotional place where I am worried about something, it can be torturous. I do this to myself. Somehow I seem to think that if I just said the “right” thing, everything would be resolved. That wasn’t true when he was 12, and it isn’t true now either.

I finally did get to sleep and woke up this morning on the other side of those feelings. I still have my concerns, but he can figure this out. I don’t want to say or do anything that would alienate him from me. I am grateful to have “slept on it,” giving me a chance to think and to realize my powerlessness. And my arrogance. Where do I get the idea that I know what’s best for him? He has been making his own choices for many years now, and he is the one who has to walk in his life.

I believe this stepping back starts early on. We step back when our toddler is climbing a little higher than we think is safe, standing nearby to catch her if she slips. We step back when our preschooler is squabbling with a playmate, trusting that they can work it out together. We step back when we let our child learn from consequences. He left his homework sitting on the table at home, even after we gave a reminder about getting it into the back pack. There are many examples. We can say things many times, but often the lesson comes when they are immersed in the experience and feeling the consequences.

As much as we would like to prevent children from having to go through the hurt, the disappointments, or the difficulties that we went through ourselves at one time, experience is often the best teacher. I’m not saying we should throw our hands up and give up. Children still need lots of guidance and support, whether they are toddlers, teens, or young adults. But, one of the hardest lessons for us adults is to learn to step back. We want to fix it and make it all better, but beyond kissing the “owwie” on the knee after she has fallen down, sometimes the fall is what is needed to figure out how to avoid this next time.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Construction Zone - Proceed with Patience

I just drove by the nearby middle school, and read this week’s slogan that was on their message board - "The road to success is always under construction." Yes, we are always under construction. We never run out of things to learn or new choices to make which can take us down an unexpected path. And if this is true for us, it is certainly true for children. We are all a "work in progress,"adults and children alike.

But, how easy this is to forget. We get restless and edgy, and though we may not always say it, we often think to ourselves, "how many times do I have to remind him about this before he finally gets it?" Or we are upset with ourselves when we seem to forget our own lessons, and do the same thing over again, even though it didn't work the last time either! Learning is rarely immediate. It takes many tries and much practice before we finally get it.

With this in mind, children deserve our patience. They don't always want or need us to step in and help them when they are learning something new. Our well-intentioned assistance can backfire and give the message that we don't trust them to be learn how to complete this on their own. Instead, we can say, "I know you can figure this out. I'm here to help you if you need me."

We all need to cultivate patience. Consider, what is really most important right now? We want the best for children, and sometimes the best we can do is to slow down, step back, watch and wait.