Sunday, May 27, 2007

Infants are amazing

A study has hit the airwaves. "Infants have 'amazing capacities' that adults lack." I am so pleased that this kind of research confirms the awesome nature of children. They are programmed to connect with their caregivers. The sooner we realize this, the better. Too many people still believe that infants are "blank slates" that we must write on. How can anyone who holds a baby believe this? Infants come out eager to connect.

They are doing their part. They are open and receptive. Now, we need to do ours. When we talk to them, they are refining the details of language which are already intricately stamped in their brain cells. They are socially memorizing our faces and expressions. The tone of our voice speaks volumes. The way we carry them, close to the skin or in a plastic seat, these things matter.

We need to trust the significance of our connection to them, so they can learn to trust us. We need to talk with them. We need to hold them. They need us to comfort them. Care for their basic needs. We cannot spoil infants with this kind of love and care. In fact, their potential is limited when we don't do these things.

How can we get the word out about this? If we could, it would change the world. If everyone knew how amazing these new beings are, how could they neglect them? Maybe if all children were raised with this kind of love and care, they would become very loving, caring people. And what a world that would be, full of human kindness. I know, it's not this simple, but let's give care and kindness a chance.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Making the Grade

It’s finals time. I have been reading many papers and getting down to the most challenging part of my teaching, assessing grades. Long ago I developed a contract system that encourages students to take more responsibility for their grades. Of course, in the end, I am the one who determines if they completed all of the work for their desired grade.

What do grades really tell us, anyway? Certainly, many students would like to get A’s. But being an A-student is a big responsibility. B-students are above average, but some feel let down with this grade. Even though C-students are technically average, many feel they have failed if they receive a C.

Some students work really hard to get their grades, whether they are A’s or C’s. For others, school and learning are fun. They don’t see their efforts as work. Teachers are not all alike in their standards or grading policies. Some classes are very difficult, while others are not. So, grades don’t give the full measure of a person.

Making the grade is about so much more. Is this a person who has passion for a subject? Is this someone who is determined to do well in whatever they try? Does this person have a balanced life that allows for work and play, learning and enjoyment? Where does the push for good grades come from? An internal drive within the child? Or from adults who give kids the impression that they are not “good enough” without good grades?

Children deserve to feel accepted and appreciated for who they are, not who we want them to be. Thankfully, we need variety and creativity in this world. Let’s do our best to lend our support and let kids know that we believe in them.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

An infant's gaze

Newborns look intently into our eyes. In fact, their brains are pre-programmed to be especially attracted to the human face. Their best focus is probably an arm’s length, their arm, about 6-8 inches. So, if we hold them very close and look into their innocent eyes, we might be able to see the whole universe.

I feel awed and mystified by this gaze, every time I hold a baby. I know this is not something that is felt by everyone. But, if I could do one magic thing in this world, it would be to cast a spell on all those who don’t. When they looked into an infant’s eyes, they would realize there is depth and creativity waiting to unfold there. Then they might better understand how precious and how fragile life is, and just maybe, they’d be sure to make choices that mattered for the present and the future of these little ones.

All children would be guaranteed healthy food to help their bodies and their brains grow. They’d have clean air and water. They would have opportunities for learning. We would not send any of our children to war, because we would be able to work out our differences with our fellows. We would protect children from the violence in their streets and on their video screens. We would answer their questions, as best we could.

Life is not easy. There are challenging times as children grow - teething, potty training, tantrums, going off to school, many frustrations, the angst of the teen years, pushing us away as they strive for independence. But if we remembered their infant gaze, maybe we would consider their uniqueness as we guided their lives.

And when an adult says or does something disagreeable or difficult that challenges our world view, maybe we would also remember that each person was once an infant with hidden potential. We all start out small and innocent, then life happens to us along the way. Through it all, we end up right here. I just suspect that “right here” might be a very different place if we adults always made choices that considered what would be best for this child, and the next child, and on into the future.

Maybe my hopes are unrealistic. I certainly have had many times when I got too wrapped up in the immediacy of the moment and lost sight of the possibilities. Still do. But, remembering that infant gaze some of the time would make a difference.

Everyone starts out as an infant with a deep, penetrating, infinite gaze, with potential, looking out on the world with hope, trusting that caring adults will reach out and hold an outstretched hand.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Simple but not easy

There are some simple basics to raising children. But these are rarely easy.

Children need us to pay attention to their basic needs for health, sleep, exercise, play, learning. Feeding them regularly, having routines which include a balance of healthy activities, spending time together as a family. These very realistic activities are complicated by many other demands in our lives.

Children have their own personalities and preferences. They resist some of the things that we say are "good for them." They might want to play all day, and we know that there are other things which must be done. They resist sleep, even when their behavior is telling us they are exhausted and need a rest. The video era and the hours spent in front of a screen have significantly reduced overall fitness for many of today's children. Our own work and life schedules can make it very challenging to find time to do it all.

As I struggle with my own balancing act, it helps when I regularly ask some questions. What are the most important things for me to do today? What activities bring me the most joy and satisfaction? What can I do today to create positive moments with the people I care about? What can I do to take care of family responsibilities willingly and cheerfully? How can I make time for self care? How can I adjust my priorities and use my time wisely?

When I go through my days more consciously, my hours feel fuller. And I am less stressed. The balancing act is not easy, but it is often doable.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Labels Hurt

I teach child development at the local community college. Tonight we were having a great discussion in my discipline and guidance class about all of things we adults can do to help build a child’s self esteem. There were many terrific ideas that summarized all the concepts we had discussed during the entire semester. One student reminded us that it was very important to avoid labels.

Yes! We looked at many examples of labeling. Avoiding labels means to stop calling children “bad” or “good” or “an angel” or “a brat.” I believe all children have potential. They are making choices all the time. They can choose to be kind and helpful. Or they can choose to tease another child or knock down a block structure. Our job is to help them learn that they have the power for “good” or not. They can learn to make responsible and respectful choices.

No matter what the label, even the positive ones, they are all judgments. And judgments feel uncomfortable. It is more helpful for children when we offer specific comments that reflect their behavior, not their character. “Thank you for cleaning up together.” or “You used a lot of red in that picture. Can you describe it for me?”

When I was in my first few years of college, I was a teacher’s aide in a kindergarten classroom. Something happened one day that has stuck with me all of these many years, because even as a young adult, I knew it was very wrong. One of the boys was painting at the easel. There were all the usual colors available, but he chose to exclusively paint with black. And he was really into it. He covered the whole paper. The teacher came up and tore his paper off the easel and threw it away. She told him it was awful. All of the colors were there and he needed to use them! She labeled his work as awful.... and he felt awful, too. He had every right to use black. I will never know what effect that one experience might have had on his self esteem. Maybe he got over it pretty quickly, because kids can be quite resilient, in spite of us. But, it stuck with me. And I felt very badly for him.

Sometimes it feels very difficult to see the positive or the possibility in people or in world events when negativity or hurt is crying out to us. There are people who make very hurtful decisions that affect hundreds, thousands. But when I have some kind of negative judgment that rumbles around in my head, I am hurt further by my own thoughts. We all need to be careful about labels, and reach deeper to understand.

Talking with - not at

True confessions - Once a mother, always a mother. Yes, but does this mean I will always talk to my children like children. I certainly hope not. I have been noticing lately, the times that I occasionally talk to my sons like a mom. I don't want to do that. They are adults and my friends. They are doing just fine living their lives and figuring out what's next. And most of the time, I'm really pleased with my adult relationships with them.

But sometimes... I need a reminder. What kinds of words are we using to communicate with our children? Using baby talk doesn't help young children learn correct speech. Children understand our words and the intention in our voice way before they can speak well themselves. Children learn language through human interactions, with give and take. Not from one sided TV. They learn language within the context of our relationships. So, from early on, they benefit from lots of communication. We can talk with them about what we are doing, where we are going. Ask questions. And wait patiently for their response. As they get older, we can adjust our communication to their increasing capacity for understanding. Then, before we know it, they are capable communicators, who are also talking differently with their peers.

School aged children and teens deserve to be given credit for what they know and who they are. Our communication can reflect this.
"I know this is hard for you. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help."
"Will you please get a load of wash started?"
"Thank you for helping with dinner?"
"What are your thoughts about ____?"

When we are frustrated about our child's behavior or a struggle he or she is in the middle of, one of the surest ways to help is to make sure that we are communicating with sensitivity. Our words matter. What we say and how we say it makes a difference. Are we creating stronger connections? Or are our words pushing them away?

The best way to help children is to work on ourselves. So, I have been noticing lately, catching myself in the "mom" mode that my kids and I have outgrown, understandably. I'll keep you posted as I continue to reflect on my communication, especially with family members, young and old.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

It is good to remember the many women who have gone before us. Who cradled children in their arms. Fed and clothed them. Told bedtime stories. Many who have all been part of the web of life on this blue planet.

These nurturing experiences of mothering are not universal. Some of us have found love and support in our homes. Some have found it in the homes of others, or with teachers at school, or friends or community members. Some of us have had to do our best to mother ourselves.

Whatever our own childhood experiences, we now have the opportunity to provide love and care needed by each child in our lives. We can also work to maintain a world that will continue to help children grow and thrive on into the future.

I stood with 60 people today in a local park. During our 5 minutes of silence, we encircled a tree and held vigil to our own dreams for the future and for the children. It was powerful to know that we are not alone (for more information about this event, go to

Thank you to all of the mothers, Then and now and on into the future. May we continue to provide support to all mothers and fathers so they can continue the loving work of raising children.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Share your thoughts on parenting

Someone is looking for parents who are interested in sharing their thoughts about parenting. This came to me in a comment... but I am copying it here so that it may be more easily considered.

To all interested moms out there:

I would like to invite you to participate in a research study of parenting views and practices. Dr. Kim White-Mills and Dr. Catherine Dobris of IUPUI (both are moms) are interested in understanding what sources parents find useful in their parenting practices, how parents use different parenting information, and what views parents across the county hold regarding parenting issues.

To access this survey, go to

Comment came in on May 11, 2007 12:18 PM

Friday, May 11, 2007

No more isolation

What do I do when I am feeling frustrated and overwhelmed? I often hunker down and spend solo time. This can be very helpful. We all need a little time to ourselves to figure things out. But, I also know that I can get into trouble, too, when that alone time becomes isolation. I feel like no one would understand. No one will be able to help me with this issue. My feelings are talking to me in these moments, taking control of my thinking. Experience has told me again and again that talking about the issue with someone helps. In fact, I rarely want or need advice. When a loving witness listens to my concerns, the answer usually begins to emerge as I talk.

Our children need a chance to talk, too. We are so quick to come back with possible solutions. We want to fix it, kiss it and make it all better. Instead of jumping in with suggestions, maybe we can ask a question. "That sounds really frustrating and hard. What would really help you right now?" or "What would help you to be able to figure out how to deal with this?"

Over and over (because I am so stubborn and so easily forget) I am reminded that we are not meant to struggle through this life alone. We are meant to work together. Love and support send the isolation packing. Now with the bright light of understanding that comes when someone listens, we often realize that the solution was there all along. Let's see if we can model this, and teach our kids now, so they will be better prepared for the challenges they will surely face in the future.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The power of intention

I'm really looking forward to this Sunday when people gather at 1pm all over the world. At least 70 nations will be participating in over 500 communities (see The Hallmark Mother's Day will take on a very different meaning for me.

Let's see how many of us can stand. Our silent presence will speak volumes about what we value. Next steps? We will need to figure out what we must do to take this further. We must vote. Our vote, our voice does matter. We must talk to others. We can create a new world where all the children will have their basic needs met... a world the earth is cherish, and we all can thrive.

Just had to write. Do you have ideas of what can be done to improve the lives of the children in your care?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Lost and Found

I found my favorite earring today. It was lost for 24 hours. I had a tiny remnant of a dream that night where I was fooling with it, and sure enough, it was down in the bedding. Even though I checked there yesterday and didn’t find it, today I did.

The earring is a sterling silver feather, given to me a few years back by Al. It represents birds and birding, which I enjoy. And it also symbolizes the image of flying, soaring above it all. Going where our heart leads us. I guess we care about the things we care about. I looked all over yesterday, feeling pretty sure it was someplace in the house. When I couldn’t find it, I grieved its loss and let it go, putting on my next favorite earrings. Acknowledging loss and letting go is rarely this easy.

My children are certainly my favorite beings in all the world. There are many things they have said and done over the years that are stamped on my memory. And there have been losses along the way, too. As they have grown, I have watched their childhoods fall behind. Many more losses ahead... and much left to be found.

Monday, May 7, 2007


Finding childhood memories buried deep in the long ago... like searching for a needle in a haystack. I remember only very scattered memories of my youngest days. Then bigger pieces of the middle childhood years, and more from the teens.

I remember feeling loved and cared for. I remember the smell and feel of clean sheets that had been hung outside on the clothesline. I remember meal times, and sometimes sitting for a long time as I resisted eating those peas. I remember holidays with family cousins. I remember Grandma and her weird fox stole, with the glass eyes staring at me. I remember Sunday drives in the country in our Ford station wagon and camping trips during the summer. I remember slumber parties with cousins. And sneaking out at night at a friend’s house.

These are just a few of the glimpses I can see looking back into my long ago past. Writing this now opens the flood gate as they tumble out. I wonder what memories my own children have. And what memories are we making today?

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Standing for Children

About 10 years ago now, Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund organized a “Stand for Children” event in Washington, DC. I joined thousands who made the trek there and stood with them in the great reflection pool area at the base of the Lincoln Monument. We heard many speakers who resonated with the same message. We can make a difference. We already have within our reach the will and the resources. All children need us to do whatever we can so that no child will be left behind. You can read her powerful speech at

Now a new effort is afoot. Sharon Mehdi, the author of The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering, wrote a wonderful little story about the simple power of taking a stand. You can go to the website below to see for yourself. But the main idea is that a grandmother stood quietly for children. And soon others asked what she was doing and joined in, standing with her. Their stand became a significant message. Some who have read that story are taking it beyond the pages of a book. This Mother’s Day at 1pm throughout the world women and men will be stopping for a few minutes to quietly stand for the children and grandchildren of the world, those who are here now and for the next seven generations.

I encourage you to do the same, too, wherever you are. And if people ask what you are doing you can say, “I am standing for our children and their future.”

We are standing for the world's children and grandchildren,
and for the seven generations beyond them.

We dream of a world where all of our children have
safe drinking water, clean air to breathe, and enough food to eat.

A world where they have access to a basic education
to develop their minds and health care to nurture their growing bodies.

A world where they have a warm, safe and loving place to call home.
A world where they don't live in fear of violence -
in their home, in their neighborhood, in their school or in their world.

This is the world of which we dream.

This is the cause for which we stand.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Step by Step

Nothing really happens overnight. We actually experience life transforming changes after taking many steps, one at a time.

Sometimes we refuse to try something new because we believe it will take too long to figure it out. We don’t have the patience or the time. We want it now, or we won’t try at all. This perfectionist belief gets us - nowhere.

And it is especially sad when this attitude gets passed on to children. They can also become stuck in familiar habits and afraid to try new things. I remember once when my son was in the 4th grade and was sure that his teacher had put him in the wrong math group. He couldn’t do what they were working on. He was frustrated, but he allowed me to work with him. After some practice together, he got it. The next day he told me he had talked with his teacher and admitted that the math group would work for him after all

In reality, we are all learning every day. Each day we can become one step closer to reaching our potential. But, we don’t see important life lessons or understand their value unless we are open and willing to try.

When a baby is learning to walk, there are many stops and starts. If the baby were to just sit down, the world of possibilities would stop, too. But, trying again, finally the child feels the balance and is able to take off! The world opens up.

We need to remember that learning happens slowly... for children and for us. Day by day, they learn something new. Step by step. What can we do to muster the patience to wait, watch, and assist - when needed?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Don't take it personally

“I hate you!”
“I’m never going to be your friend again!”
Or your teen screams, “You never understand!”

In these intense moments of anger and frustration, children lash out. We sometimes get offended and our feelings are hurt. We have taken this personally. In this state, we react with behaviors that further ignite the battle. We may feel like issuing a comeback with a biting reaction like, “Don’t you talk to me that way!!” Our effective communication goes out the door.

A calm, understanding response is so much more likely to help our relationships. Acknowledge the feelings behind the words and let go of any thought that children really mean it. We all sometimes exaggerate during times of intense emotion.

A simple response can restore good feelings -
“I know you are really disappointed right now. I just want you to know that I am here when you are ready to talk about this.”

It is reassuring to children to know that adults can handle strong feelings without retaliating. We don’t have to take it personally. When children are able to express these deep feelings, this often means that they are comfortable enough to be honest with us. They trust that we will be right here, unconditionally accepting them no matter what emotions rise to the surface.