Monthly Archives: October 2011

A good kind of agenda

Nine-year-old and seven-year-old brothers who live in London ran recently for class representatives to their school council.  Each had to make a speech informing their classmates of what they proposed to do as representatives.

One of the reasons the nine-year-old gave to his classmates to encourage them to vote for him was that he would try to make changes in the school dinners, (as they refer to school lunch in England) which he felt needed improvement.  He asked for suggestions and told the students anyone who wanted to contact him and share their ideas could find him“on the playground”.

I enjoyed this story not only because these two young fellows are my great-nephews, but because I love it when children have the opportunity to share some control – some say in their life.

I encourage families I talk with to think seriously about offering this opportunity to their children at home through family meetings.  Some families hold meetings weekly to review plans for the upcoming week or discuss issues that have developed  from sibling disagreements to defining screen time or homework schedules.

The trick in making family meetings work, however, is that they are about cooperative problem solving, respectful give and take, and rotation of family members leading the meetings.  What it’s not about are the parents lecturing to the kids about what’s gone wrong and how they better listen up and fix it.

Part of the family meeting should be a time to share a fun activity, make plans for family events, play a game, enjoy a special treat, share each other’s news.

When children, even from a young age (the younger the ages, the briefer the meetings) are exposed to listening to others’ views while having the chance to be listened to, respectfully, we are providing them with strong skills to succeed and communicate.

How empowering for an eight-year-old to come up with a suggestion that the whole family agrees to try – or what a moment for the youngest in the family to have the whole family’s attention while he speaks – and they listen.

When siblings are complaining and fussing about each other – just tell them “I hear you.  Put it on the agenda for the family meeting.”  When that particular subject comes up at the family meeting, everyone gets their turn to have their say until an idea is agreed upon to try.

Just stop and think of the many issues that have come up, turned into a power struggle or rift between siblings that might have been addressed at a family meeting. 

I think when children have access to this sense of belonging, connection, and contribution that comes from participating in a family meeting, all members will develop a heightened awareness, ownership, responsibility and trust toward the “workings” of the family.

I met a parent this weekend, while having a bite in a restaurant, who I have known and worked with professionally and who is a strong advocate for family meetings and family mission statements.  She had her whole family with her and I got to meet them all.  I could tell there was something special about these two young boys – their polite, quiet confidence, the direct look in their eyes as they spoke. You could tell they were used to being listened to, included, respected.

Why not try it in your family? Starting meetings when children are at a young age, by the time kids are in middle and high school, they will have learned to appreciate the value of speaking for themselves, listening to others concerns and respecting the differences.

Wow!

Give me a call at The Parenting Place, 608-784-8125, if you’d like more information or some gentle support to get Family Meetings going (and growing) at your house.

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Let the sun shine in

I’ve heard from several parents recently, “I’m so nervous – we have our parent/teacher conference tomorrow.” 

 It’s not unusual for parents to experience both feelings of anticipation as well as anxiety about  these conferences. “I know my child can be disruptive … talks too much …moves too fast …never sits still … is too quiet” or perhaps ” I know how bright and interesting my child is”  only to hear he/she doesn’t like to join in with “the program”.

Unfortunately, most parents can’t help but believe they are being reviewed as well as their child, so they may leave a conference feeling elated, deflated or lukewarm.

Teachers try very hard to offer a “fair and balanced” overview of a child’s performance.  It is not unusual, however, for parents to focus more on the weakness that was shared versus the positives. We need to look at these conferences as the working opportunities they are meant to be.  Share the way you see your child, his/her strengths and interests as well as listen with open appreciative minds to the teacher’s observations and understanding of your child.

Having been on both sides of the situation, a parent attending conferences and a teacher holding conferences, I remember choosing my words extremely carefully, recognizing the lasting effect they might have on parents hearing them spoken about their child. 

  Most parents will not even hear particularly unsettling news shared.  It may be more the lack of  superlatives defining their child that can be disappointing.  At home we get to see our own children in a very comfortable, personal, unique way that often gets missed in a classroom setting.  That’s why sharing is so important.

One of my favorite hand-outs I’ve given to parents over the years is a line drawing of the sun with its many rays shining from it.  I encourage parents to write their child’s name on the sun and in every ray, write something special, positive, delightful about their child.

These gems should be the focus and the belief about  this child that parents hold strong. That’s also what your child will believe about himself.  Work on any weakness or concern that you might have about him/her in a low-key, back-door approach.  The results will be way  more positive  when we meet our children’s challenges coming from a place of strength versus harping on their weaknesses. 

Trust me.

Remember to call The Parenting Place with any questions you may have about a child’s behavior.  We can help you recognize the positives and help to strengthen the weaknesses.

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Take the opportunity

Walking in the neighborhood after dinner recently, I passed a house where four children were running around in the yard.  They ranged in age, it seemed, from six years to two years.

At first the shrieks and laughter sounded heartening to me until I realized the nature of the game.  It was for the three oldest to escape the youngest, leaving him “in the dust”.

A car was parked in the driveway and the three would run around the house with the little one trying valiantly to catch up.  They would reach the car, then open the back door and all jump in, slamming it shut.  As the little one toddled up to be let in, they would escape through the other door, slamming it (a miracle no hands were shattered) and run off again to the growing sadness and frustration of the youngest.

My first thought was where are the adults?  Safety wise, this racing in and out of the car, slamming the doors was an accident waiting to happen.  But as I continued on my walk, slowly down the street, repeatedly stopping to turn, observe and listen, I was struck by the thought this is how bullying begins.

The power and thrill that these children were experiencing over the little one was huge.  Empathy or awareness of his feelings was nil.

Of course, these were young children, reveling in a heady sense of playfulness without intentionally meaning harm or recognizing how their actions affected another.  But it’s these kinds of situations that present opportunities that we can use, as parents, to expand our children’s consciousness.

In this particular situation, the most important thing for a parent to do would have been to stop the children going in and out of the car, slamming the doors, as a safety measure.  Then perhaps ignore the lecture that might be on the tip of any parent’s tongue and hang out with them instead, coming up with another choice of fun game that included all the children. 

This is modeling by participation.

 Taking the opportunity to talk with our children, however, from an early age about how our actions affect others is significant.  Actually, thinking out loud together about why they think a situation or game might be wrong or unkind or unsafe, and listening to them, actively listening, the more children will feel part of the process and grow in their moral confidence and conviction.

 How can we promote these conversations at home? 

 Noticing and naming emotions is important so children recognize how they and others are feeling.

Reading aloud to children, not just when they’re four but when they’re eight  and ten and twelve offers such a rich opportunity when the focus is not personal, to understand the ways  characters are interacting, feeling, treating each other.  Asking questions – how do you think – what would you do if – what would happen if … 

Presenting social scenarios for children to engage in with you and contemplate can be a way to share time while waiting or driving.  Play acting with puppets or stuffed animals poses situations that the children will come up with that will both delight and show them how actions affect others.

  Children learn to care and be caring by example.

I heard the story once, which may be ficticious, that the coats worn by Chinese children years ago buttoned up the back so as to require each child to turn to another for help in getting dressed.

Interesting concept even if not true.  Working together – helping each other.

As parents our children are watching us and the way we respond to them and to other life situations.  The more we can refrain from lecturing and asking questions where we expect them to parrot back the answer we are looking for, and instead encourage them to exercise their own thinking powers,  the stronger our children’s development will be. 

 By creating this culture of awareness,caring and questioning, our children will learn understanding , compassion and acceptance from the inside out.

Take the opportunity.

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Oh baby

I saw a mom with a newborn baby in the stroller and a two-year-old with arms upheld, screaming to be picked up.  I could see they were heading  to the open door of a van parked nearby, and I overheard mom, repeating several times, “You’re a big boy now.  You need to walk.” 

  In the end, this mom did concede and picked him up to avoid any further melt-downs (whose I’m not sure). 

 My heart went out to both of them.

Bringing a new baby into the family is an adjustment for everyone.  Regardless of all the preparation and anticipation on everyone’s part – the reality is that things are not the same.  And change takes time and can often be stressful.

Young children have radar and they sense their parents’ fatigue as well as less focused attention from them.  Experts cite that children react more to this change in their parents behavior and attention toward them than they do to the actual baby being there.  It’s noted that the amount of conversation between parent and older child drops as does the amount of actual eye-to-eye contact.

It’s not unusual for parents to see aggressive, swatty behavior in their previously gentle little one or to notice their precocious preschooler resorting to baby talk, helplessness and clinginess.

In a child’s mind “everyone’s busy.  They don’t notice me when I’m telling them to look. I have to wait till the baby eats, wait while the baby’s changed, wait till the baby naps and then, all of a sudden, we need to hurry up, hurry up, we have to go.”

Patience – take a breather.  Recognize this time of change in the structure of your family and let things settle.  By accepting less independent behavior at this time from your child, you will more likely see an increase in independence sooner.  Offering to carry your older child before they start to whine and beg or readily helping them with their jacket will very likely satisfy the need to whine and beg. 

Include your child in the day-to-day care of the baby.  Be partners together. Have them help you problem solve.   “Oh, baby’s crying.  What do you think he wants? 

“Which outfit should we put on the baby today – this pink one or the yellow one with the balloons on it?” 

 “Here’s your drink.  Come and sit near me while I feed the baby and we can look at your book together.”

”  Oh baby, you’ll have to wait a second until I get your brother something to drink.”

Put aside the mental list of things to work on with your older child and just let him or her be – who she or he is, right now, in these circumstances, without any new extra responsibilities and agenda  to master.  This is a time for all of you to refuel, bask in the relaxed circle of your newly extended family, without too many new connotations of what that should be.

  Allow it to evolve and it will become the true gift it was intended to be.

If you are experiencing growing pains in your family and want some more suggestions to help things along, give me a call at The Parenting Place, 784-8125.

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Emotional seesaw

Should a 7-year-old be able to hurt my feelings” a parent asked me recently.  This mom was questioning the reactions that her young daughter brought out in her and was not feeling very pleased or satisfied with the situation.

I ‘ve had many parents over the years question this turn in their relationship with their child.  A dad concerned that his young son of three only wants his mom to comfort him at night – a little girl of two who seems to like her childcare provider better than her parents – at least when they arrive to take her home.  Then there are comments from parents whose children never want to be home – always want to be at a friend’s or grandma’s because, as they say, home is boring. There’s the ongoing situation from divorced parents whose feelings are hurt when their child hurls those searing words, “I want to go live with my daddy all the time”, and the five-year-old who, in anger shouts out an “I hate you. I wish you weren’t my mommy”.

All of these instances and so many, many more can certainly dent the emotional armor we develop when raising our children.  But the key to dealing with some of these expected situations is to be prepared and to refrain from personalizing the child’s behavior.

Children blurt out what they think, feel, want at the moment without the fine art of examining first what this might mean to another.  Kids’ empathy skills are not well-developed for some time.  We may be fooled into thinking they are higher than they actually are when we sometimes see them demonstrating sincere empathy while hearing a story or watching a movie or toward a person or an animal in trouble.  The stakes are higher, however, when their empathy is called into question on a very personal level that necessitates a change in their own behavior.

Instead of personalizing a child’s behavior, why is she trying to hurt me, try to think first – what does she need from me right now?  What is happening here?

Kids watch their parents constantly – it’s their full-time job and they notice alot.   Sometimes they want to get back at us for telling them to do something they don’t want to do – sometimes they’re feeling left out, need a dose of one-on-one attention, feel slighted from a too-quick, abrupt order to stop what they might be doing and do what their parent wants.

 What makes us  respond to this kind of child behavior with such a sinking, diminished spirit?  And do our children, excellent observers that they are, sense something in our response that reinforces this behavior and gives them a sense of control over the situation and us.

As parents, we should try our best not to show our children that we’ve taken their behavior so personally.  Keep  hurt comments from them, write them in a journal or share with a best friend when children are out of hearing range.

Examine what triggers your child’s behavior and your response.  Sometimes our reactions can reflect unresolved feelings and insecurities from our own childhood.

In most relationships in which we give so much of ourselves, whether it’s partners, children, parents, even pets, it’s natural to want to always feel as cherished and significant  as this special loved one is to you.

But we need to trust in the bond that is between us – and the enormous amount of emotion that teeters on both sides.  Be prepared for it to occasionally have a seesaw effect – not always perfectly even or balanced – but always full of harmony, delight and comfort when it is.

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