Monthly Archives: July 2012

Growing into bravery

I admit it – I’m afraid of bats – at least when they are residing in my house.  “They’re only in the walls” I’m told –  until they’re not.  Until I’m sitting at my computer one night and a bat swoops over my head.  I know – it only seems like they are going to bombard your head – until …who knows, their “radar” fails.

So, I do what anyone might do under the circumstances.  I hit the floor – scream “Bat in the house” to my husband and crawl to the safety of our bedroom, closing the door behind me.

Many fears in our children are as easy to recognize as my own fear of bats.  Our children might be fearful of dogs, thunderstorms, snakes,  the dark, monsters in the closet, swallowing pills, the emergency siren that goes off the first Monday morning of every month.  Often these fears seem completely irrational to adults,  but in order to help our children cope and grow, they do need to be acknowledged and respected as real.

Because these types of fears might appear “unreasonable” to us as parents, this may lead us into telling our children “don’t be silly” instead of showing understanding and acknowledgement for a child’s genuine feelings.

As parents, though, we want our children to be brave and that is why we might try so hard to insist they pet the dog even as they are cowering behind us.  It would be more helpful to say to a child, “it will not hurt you but I can see you are not ready to touch it.”  They will know, then, that we understand how they feel and our understanding alone will add to their eventual courage.   If we carry our screaming child into the swimming pool thinking that we’re just sure he will love it once he gets in, we are not showing respect for her feelings.

Penelope Leach, one of my personal favorite child development experts,  psychologist and author of Your Baby and Child From Birth to Age Five tells parents to  “sort out in your mind the very real difference between being brave and being fearless.  Being brave means doing or facing something frightening.  You may ask your child to be brave about an injection or a thunderstorm.  If you demand bravery, the least you can do is to acknowledge that he is afraid, show that you understand the feelings and make it clear that you recognize and appreciate the effort your child is making to control them.  You will not help your child to behave bravely if you refuse to allow expressions of fear.  You will not help your child to behave bravely next time if you deny that there was anything to be brave about in the first place.”

So when you are faced with a reluctant child, afraid of whatever, out of respect for her (and taking stock perhaps of your own nagging insecurities) allow her time to assimilate, to take baby steps and find the “brave” inside her.

As for me, I think I could, if faced with a bat in my house and home alone, rise to the occasion to be “brave” and figure out a solution on my own.

But it is sure nice to have the support and acknowledgement from others that my fear is understood and even shared.
(By the way, I do love what bats do for us – eating all those pesky insects – just not in my house, please!)

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a legacy

Once again I want to say to parents and all those who care for children, recognize the value of your caring and your worth and give yourself a pat on the back.  So often I observe parents leaving a program, the playground, the swimming pool, the grocery store and I sense frustration and even despair.  I hear from other parents who feel completely worn out after a challenging morning, a long day, even an ordinary day and question their ability to be effective parents.

I overheard a mom talking recently to a group of other moms.  “I think I’m a really good mom – except when I’m not!”

And one guess as to what she might be focusing on the most?  Hopefully not the times when things weren’t perfect.

No matter how well we plan or prepare for situations, no matter how often we are “really good”, we will have those moments and mornings and days when we question ourselves, feel discouraged and at a loss to know what to do next.

I recall an essay I read a long time ago in a parenting magazine – a mom retelling her challenging day to her spouse and exclaiming that in addition to being totally wiped out and frustrated, she had absolutely accomplished not one thing important that whole entire day.

It was then that her young 5-year-old daughter (remember big ears- always in tune?) piped up.  “But Mommy, yes you did!  You found the other shoe for my Barbie under my bed, you got the knot out of my tennis shoes after I’d gone in the puddle and the laces were all wet, and you made pancakes in the shape of butterflies for lunch!”

Remember?

On Sunday, I stopped at an estate sale.  I love these sales partly because so many of them are in the homes of senior adults and the ages and stages of their family life is so apparent.  Now these same pieces are being examined and dispersed for others to integrate into their own lives.

I was particularly moved on Sunday by a framed poem I saw that was definitely written by an adult son to his mom.  I was sad to see it there for sale because it was so personal and so meaningful.  But in it he remembered all the things his mom had done for the family – the cookies, the stories, the Halloween costumes, the bike rides, the holiday festivities, the “huts” she made for them, the nursing she gave them when they were sick, the surprises, the delicious food she fixed and on and on.  All of these memories were small things that together created a huge, loving and meaningful legacy this adult son was able to recall and cherish.

So try at the end of the day, to take the time to reflect on the positive moments of your day as a parent and accept the opportunity, the connection and the joy that is there – if we look, acknowledge and appreciate its worth – your worth.

This more than anything will help you with the moments that “are not”.

If you are having an off day, please remember to give The Parenting Place’s warm line a call – 784-8125.  A parent educator is there to listen, support and guide.

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Independence Day – everyday

Hey – you say – the 4th of July is over, yet in your home it seems your children are trying to create their own Independence Day every day – often even erupting in a fireworks display!

Well, actually that’s what raising children is all about – a fine line between supervision and allowing increasing increments of independence to develop.  From the first time they let go of your fingers and toddle off across the room to the day they leave for college and beyond, we are helping our children move toward independence.

Okay, parents tell me.  They get this independence idea but in the meantime, how do we get them to do what we want them to do – what we need them to do?

Most of the confrontations with our children do happen when we need them to do something, stop doing something, do something else instead, begin something different.  It is usually our parental agenda we are “imposing” on them when we know, not surprisingly, our children prefer following their own.

One of my favorite cartoons that I’ve cut out and saved is of a mom, with an armload of clean folded laundry creeping into her young son’s bedroom where he’s playing on the floor.  She whispers to him “SShh – put these away in the drawer but try not to wake up the socks”.  In the next frame, a smile crosses the boy’s face as he plays into the game and is quietly opening the drawer. The last frame leaves Mom saying, “He’s always so cooperative if only I remember how to ask him”.

You see the playfulness employed here by this cartoon mom.  It works.  I’ve seen it so many times.  I’ve done it so many times.  Imagination, playfulness and spontaneity are the tools that offer a win/win situation for parents and children alike.

I know many parents have told me they don’t want to have to be cajoling their child to do what is expected of them.  They just want them to “snap to” and follow directions immediately.  Well – think about it – even as adults, we respond more willingly and cheerfully when we are asked to do something in a respectful and positive way.  Few of us appreciate being ordered to do a task whether at home or at work.

Giving limited choices helps empower a child in making small decisions.  Asking a child when it’s time to leave, “Do you remember where we parked our car?  Can you help me find it?”  puts a new dimension to getting out the door at the grocery store.   Sometimes after a visit to The Parenting Place playroom, a child is reluctant to leave.  Asking him, “would you turn off the lights for me?” is almost a sure winner in having the child run to the lights and then out the door.

Distraction is very valuable.  A race to the car, being timed to see how quickly shoes can get on, a funny song on the way to the dentist, all these things make life with a young child easier and more fun.  Giving a heads up to how much longer a child has before he has to end something is always wise. Giving a child real work to do like shucking corn or pulling carrots from the garden will often surprise you how eager the response.

Then,  of course, there are those times when expedience is the only way and things just need to happen and happen fast. That’s understandable, but if we find ourselves dealing with most situations like that and having more intense reactions as a result, checking our own schedules and the time we are allowing might be necessary.

It basically comes down to thinking ahead.  What’s coming next?  With some more intense children, it is literally how do we get from point A to point B harmoniously.  And then use your distraction, humor, playfulness, and sometimes a genuine dose of urgency.  When not overused, a child will rise to the occasion when you really do need to scurry.  And even scurrying can be fun.

All of this becomes intuitive once we begin the habit of tuning in to our children’s needs  as well as our own and blending the two.  It’s about the connection between both.

Your child and you will both grow together in independence and cooperation as the years go by.  Just keep in mind to remember, “how to ask “.

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being a part of..

I spoke with someone this past week about a 5-year-old whose grandpa is near death.  It sounds like the parents did everything correct in explaining the situation to this little girl in simple accurate terms.  They were also planning to record her singing songs to play for Grandpa to hear, even in his unconscious state.  But was there something else they should do or say?

One thing that’s important to remember is that with a young child, it may be more than once that the “explanation of what happened” will need to be given.  It’s not that children aren’t listening or paying attention, but the permanence of death is difficult for them to comprehend.  So they might accept the information quite maturely initially, and a day later ask, “When is Grandpa coming home?”  Being patient and letting them hear the story repeated is what they need.

Showing emotion in front of children allows them to know it’s natural and okay to feel sad.  Repeating vivid details and concerns, however, in their presence should be carefully avoided.  Sharing stories and laughter about the loved one helps children know that it’s okay to be happy also when we think about and remember, in this case, Grandpa.

Children will work their feelings of grief and sadness out in their play world.  If you pay close attention to them, as days go by, you will get a sense of how a child might be working through his/her emotion in play.  It is through play that children process new information and experiences and express their feelings.  It is very common for death to become a common theme throughout the play of a child who has suffered a loss. This is a helpful and healthy way for children to heal even though to adults it may sometimes appear almost insensitive.  It will end when the child has satisfied his/her need to explore these feelings.

Children will still need physical activity during this time yet to the adults this may seem hard to provide.  Physical activity is a way for children to release energy and stressful feelings that otherwise might build up and come out in inappropriate behavior.  Perhaps finding a friend or teenager to provide this type of activity would provide some needed space for all involved.

Including a child in some manner when a loved one is dying or has died is necessary.  Artwork, music, planting flowers, writing a story, reading a poem, collecting things will make a child’s grief be helped through planning and contribution.

Prepare for some changes in  children’s  behavior.  Experiencing loss creates a sense of insecurity when someone they love leaves them.  Depending on the circumstances of a death, they can become anxious that others that they love will also leave them or something will happen to themselves.  Often children will become clingy, whiny, trouble going to bed at night, regressing in activities that they were able to do independently.  This will be temporary and best to try and accept the behavior and be there for them as part of the process they are going through.

A friend I met in college shared that her dad died when she was 8-years-old.  She and her younger sister had been at their grandma’s house when it happened.  Her mom, wanting to protect them from experiencing the grief and sadness, left them at their grandma’s house until everything was over.  They returned home without experiencing or being a part of any of the shared healing and expressions of grief that they so needed to feel.  At 19 years old,  she was still trying to assimilate her feelings about what happened.

As parents it is only natural to want to shield our children from sadness and loss as much as possible, and we all hope that our children can avoid facing loss at a young age.  But life is unpredictable.  So we need to remember our children are resilient and will respond in their childlike  way and emerge strong and whole through this time with the help of loving, nurturing adults in their life.

Blessings to this 5-year-old little girl as she grieves the loss of her special grandpa.

If your child is experiencing or has experienced loss and you are concerned and would like to talk about ways to help, give me a call at The Parenting Place, (608) 784-8125 .

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What state do you live in?

Amy McCready in her book, If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids To Listen Without Nagging, Reminding, or Yelling, describes  three ego states of personality, the mind-set behind our communication and our interactions with those around us.

The three mind-sets she refers to are:  Parent Ego State,  Adult Ego State, and Child Ego State.  In parenting children, it is useful to recognize these different ego states in helping us understand and interpret our interactions with our children and how they readily affect behavior – ours and theirs.

As parents, we often find ourselves spending much time in the Parent Ego state.  We are concerned with making sure our children are safe, healthy and well-behaved.  In order to stay on top of things,  we might feel we need to remain  in our Parent Ego state where  the communication mode is one of ordering, directing and correcting. But  most of us do not respond well personally to continual hovering and direction and our children are the same.  So they often react negatively and power struggles ensue.

The most rational of the ego states is the second, the Adult Ego state.  This is the one we often are in when we are at work and with other adults, friends, new acquaintances. It displays a conscious effort to be respectful, polite, considerate and calm.   Even children will operate in this state when they are away from us in preschool, organized programs or having a play date, and we are often surprised to hear the adult in charge remark how wonderfully mature and cooperative our child is.

And then there is the Child Ego state.  Here we experience fun, laughter and the pure joy of playing and being in the moment.  Except when it’s the other side of this mindset –   the side we may all have experienced – the temper tantrums, the melt-downs and the explosion of emotions – both theirs and ours.  Children spend the majority of their time in this child ego state – hopefully mostly the brighter, positive side.

It’s a delicate balance juggling these three different mind sets as we go through the day.  But what is essential to understand?

Amy McCready recommends parents spend no more than 30% of their time in the Parent state.  So how does that happen?

Be very aware of the words coming out of your mouths.  Do you really have to order, remind, correct, direct as much as you do?  Can you think first “how would I say this request to a co-worker, a neighbor, a friend, a spouse?”  What tone of voice do I use?  Am I demanding and critical or am I able to speak calmly and effectively and invite cooperation?  Can I spend more time in this Adult state even when I am busy parenting my children?

And can I definitely spend more time in the Child state -(the happy side) – being present, being playful, being imaginative,  open and positive – connecting?

Try making a simple tally list where you can easily keep track of your comments and interactions over the course of a few days.  You’ll quickly be able to recognize your major mode of communication. This awareness will help you recognize where you need to spend more time.

And in doing so you may begin to see a change in your child’s behavior and response as well as your own.  There’s nothing like a parenting check-in and  tune-up to help put the zest back in our everyday routine.

And this new state of mind – it feels so good!

If you would like to have more input on determining how you can improve interactions with your child, give me a call at The Parenting Place, 784-8125 and we can sit down and find some ways.

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