Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

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“No Fair!”

No Fair

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that phrase in my house, I’d be able to buy my kids that Xbox they’ve been begging for. OK, maybe I am exaggerating a little but I’m telling the truth when I say that the expression is a regular occurrence in our house.

I know I’m not alone in this as I have heard other parents express these same frustrations but also, I once was a child and I remember claiming that my life was “so unfair.” I had good reason to make such claims, at least to me anyway. My cousin got the Barbie car for her birthday that I had wanted…no fair! My older sister was allowed to stay up 20 minutes later than me… no fair!

Children are very egocentric, meaning they do not have the ability to see a situation from another person’s point of view. That is a skill they are still developing. When they do not receive the same treatment as another they have a difficult time understanding the reasons why—and so that popular childhood phrase lives on. The expression is especially frequent among children with siblings. A friend of mine told me that her boys would place their cups of juice side by side to ensure they were poured evenly. If mom’s hand lingered over one child’s cup for a second longer allowing for an ounce more juice to fill his cup then the other child would get upset and say it was unfair. Like most things in parenthood these experiences are funny, but they are also frustrating, so what can we do to help kids understand that life is not always fair?

Well I can tell you what my grandpa would do: he would shut down my sister and my grievances with a simple “life’s not fair.” While his strategy worked for the moment (meaning I understood he meant that our behavior was unacceptable and that it needed to stop) it didn’t work long term (I didn’t understand what his words meant and I didn’t know what to do next time).

So when my children claim their lives are so unjust I tell them what fairness means to me.

I tell them that to me fairness doesn’t mean everyone is getting the same thing. I tell them mom isn’t perfect and can’t make everything the same but I do try my best to make sure everyone feels happy, safe, and loved.

When they argue that a younger sibling gets more leniencies on the rules, I say to the older child, “The 3-year-old is still learning, you were 3-years-old once, and your rules were not as firm as they are now.”

When they cry because a sibling’s cookie is larger than their own I acknowledge their complaint. I say, “Her cookie does look a little bigger,” and then I ask, “What is different and special about your cookie?” Honestly, most of the time the cookie, snack, juice, whatever they are comparing looks exactly the same, so I just say, “It looks the same to me and it looks delicious—eat up!”

When I can tell that they are feeling strongly that they are not getting enough attention from me or a caregiver, I listen. Then I make sure to talk to the caregiver or to plan some one on one time with that child.


Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

steps forward

It’s been a few weeks since Schmee started kindergarten and in that time I have seen a lot of behavior changes from him that I wasn’t expecting. As it turns out, we are all trying to deal with new environments, schedules and routines in different ways.

Schmee is what I call “slow-to-warm.” When he is put in a situation that he is unfamiliar with, his tendency is to stay back and observe. My wife calls him “cerebral” which is probably an apt description. He prefers to keep a low profile and soak in his surroundings, and any attention given to him during this time sparks some “strange” (by others definition) behaviors like glaring with his eyes wide and sometimes even roaring like a dinosaur. These behaviors are his coping mechanisms and I know that it’s important for him to take the time to figure out how he feels. I know this is a selfish expectation, but I feel as though I am responsible for his behavior and should somehow control or influence how he reacts to situations. It also feels embarrassing to be the one with the “strange” kid. I am sure other parents don’t notice as much as I feel like they do, but that is the story in my head. The other kids at school seem to really like Schmee. When we arrive at the gates of the playground for drop off they run outside the fence to greet him. I think they really like him and want him to join in their play. And he will. On his terms.

Sweet Pea has also displayed changes in her behavior, which have manifested in a completely different way than Schmee’s coping mechanisms. She appears to know that Schmee no longer attends the same school because every morning she walks in the direction of his old preschool room and looks confused about why we aren’t going that way anymore. She has also begun to be very clingy to her mother. At the same time, she only recently started in her toddler room and is already showing signs of successful toilet training (YAY!), so that is a positive change!

What’s driving us (mom and dad) crazy is that now we have two children going through intense changes. We tried as best as we could to prepare our children for these changes, and yet we are still facing all types of behaviors that we either have not seen in a long time or have never, ever seen. These behavior changes are difficult to understand as parents, partly because we’ve been through some of them before and thought they were dealt with. It’s like a forever loop of constant battles and frustration. But having been through these challenges before, we are prepared to meet them, and better prepared for new challenges that will pop up in the future. I only hope we make it through sooner rather than later.

Varying Views of Our “Men in Blue”

As a young child I was taught that police officers were to be respected and trusted—and in my neighborhood they earned that trust and respect. My early experiences taught me that police officers could be counted on to help during a crisis, keep the peace and make sure everyone followed the rules. I also learned that the police carried authority which meant I was to demonstrate respect and always follow their directions. And with that respect there was a sense of “fearing police.”

My fear of police officers was never about being mistreated or hurt—my fear was about what my parents would do to me if I ever got “in trouble.” What I know now is that while I was being taught to respect and honor police, other children were being taught to fear the police. Unlike my neighborhood, in other neighborhoods police officers were not trusted or respected. And the fear of police included knowledge that officers could and did cause physical—and deadly—harm.

Over the past year the conduct of police has been under fire. We have been bombarded with news coverage of citizens being killed by police, police being slain by citizens and yet others attempting “death by police.” The incidences have led to increased debates as we try to “make sense” of the unnecessary deaths of both citizens and police. And as we try to discern the impact of these incidences on our beliefs and views, are we paying attention to how these recent incidences are impacting our children?

As parents we are responsible for helping our children learn how to live in the world. Police are a part of this world and our perceptions and beliefs do influence how our children view the “men and women in blue.” As much as my beliefs and perceptions of police officers have changed since my childhood, I must admit my early experiences and what my parents taught me about the police has had a lasting impact. And I am assuming your beliefs and perceptions will too.

For me, I am less trusting of “police” as a group than I was as a child. I believe there are good police officers and not so good police officers and that everyone is not treated the same. I no longer assume police are “in the right” and believe there are times police act quickly and with force that is not warranted. Yet I also believe that police provide a much needed service and value the risk they take everyday on the job. I believe police officers hold a position of authority and we should listen and comply with their requests. As a result of these beliefs, I encourage children to show respect to police officers and appreciate their role in our community. I also try to foster awareness by sharing with children that experiences with police vary greatly which impacts how others perceive or respond to officers.

I am very aware that these are my views and beliefs, and accept that other parents will have different beliefs or views of the police than I do. And I do not oppose those varying views. The recent incidences involving police should provoke a reassessment of our beliefs—especially among parents. Regardless of differing experiences and values, I am confident all parents want children to be safe and not caught in the cross-fire. What is important is that we recognize the impact of recent events on our children. And that we clarify our own views and intentionally teach our children how to interact with the “men and women in blue.”

Messy Play

As parents we have enough to clean up, but messy play is an important type of play!

As parents we have enough to clean up, but messy play is an important type of play!

When my son was 4-years-old there was one thing he cherished more than anything in this world—getting messy! Seeing the joy on his face when he created “mud cakes” from the dirt, leaves and water in the backyard inspired me to build a messy kitchen outside. I made the outdoor kitchen by using recyclable materials from around the house. Old milk crates became kitchen cabinets. A large plastic bin served multiple purposes in my son’s kitchen. Sometimes it was a kitchen counter, other times a table, and many times a stove and oven. We had fun sorting through the recycle bin for looking for materials for the kitchen. We found empty milk jugs, spice containers and squeezy juice bottles. I collected unwanted kitchen utensils, plastic bowels and dishes from family and friends. Then we had even more fun filling up the containers with water, water with food coloring, bubbles, and several different types of leaves, pine cones, flowers, sticks and of course—dirt!

My little guy adored his messy kitchen. He spent hours outside creating pies, cakes and soups. It wasn’t always about food, sometimes the messy kitchen was used to make mud mountains for his cars to race down or leaf habitats for his animals to hide in. Sure my outdoor patio looked like a junk yard and my son was covered head to toe in dirt. But that mess scattered over the yard was evidence of my child’s amazing imagination and when I wiped away some of the dirt that covered him head to toe I always found a huge smile on his face.

Messy play is important play for so many reasons. It engages all of the senses. It builds language skills as children discuss and ask questions about what they are making and what materials they are using. Through this they learn new words such as smooth, sticky, cloudy and stretchy.

Math and science skills are involved in several ways—measuring, observing, making predictions, patterns, counting, sorting and problem solving. Fine motor skills are exercised. Social/emotional development is enhanced. There is no right way to make mud soup. Messy play materials are open-ended, allowing the child to build confidence in their choices.

If you aren’t a fan of messy play, I understand. As parents we have enough to clean up, so why would we willingly create more? Setting boundaries will help save your sanity while your child is elbow deep in dirt. If your child’s messy play is set up outside make sure he or she knows that they need to be cleaned off before coming in the house. If you can’t get outside, the bathtub is a great place to let your little ones’ imagination soar with shaving cream, washable paint, play dough, popsicles, etc. Another helpful hint is to set a time limit. I only let my children have messy kitchen for a month or two in the summer. When I’ve reached my breaking point, I put it away until next year.

If you are still having doubts, well you will just have to trust me on this and give it a try. After all, childhood doesn’t last long. I say, let them make mud cakes!

Paying It Forward

Do you intentionally seek opportunities to be a role model and safety net to the next generation in your family?

Do you intentionally seek opportunities to be a role model and safety net to the next generation in your family?

The cell phone beeped at 2:30 a.m. and without looking at the screen I knew the content of the message—my Aunt Syl had passed away. She was admitted to Hospice and even though we knew the time was near, her actual passing left me feeling incredibly sad. For the next hour I lay in bed thinking about times spent as a family and realizing I would never again see her smile, hear her voice or share a story or a laugh. And not only was I sad about the loss of my aunt, I was also missing her two sisters that had passed away years before.

My father had three older sisters and I was very fortunate to have these incredible women as my aunts. Three women who, though different in some ways, were alike in the ways that mattered most. They were a part of my safety net—the circle of woman in my life who influenced who I am today.

As a child I do not think I realized the tremendous gift I had in these strong, generous and playful women. My Aunt Syl—playfully known as Aunt Silly—was always good for a laugh. Her smile brightened up a room and her laugh (with a snort) was just contagious. Aunt Ruthie called each of us sweetheart—her gift was taking the time to know what was happening in each of our lives. She supported what was best in us and loved us for who we were. Aunt Ginny was practical and down to earth. She was never afraid to speak her mind or “tell the truth.” And if you were lucky enough to be loved by her—you knew she had your back.

My three aunts were incredible role models who showed me how to be loving and self-assured. They lived life on their terms and to the fullest. Their example and support helped me create the confidence I needed to step into my life. And for that I will always be grateful.

As I give thanks for my aunts it seems to me that the best way I can honor them is to “pay it forward.” To intentionally seek opportunities to be a role model and safety net to the next generation. And maybe you can do the same?

Our children are exposed to an array of “influencers” and they are bombarded by constant noise from computers, ipods, ipads and cell phones. So it seems to me that it is imperative that we make sure our actions are seen and our voices are heard. We need to elevate our involvement with our children so that they see us as their safety net. We can not assume that our children are paying attention and “picking up” on our words and actions. We need to go out of our way to show them what is important.

I was definitely one of the lucky ones. And I can draw from what I received in order to be “a net” for others—to pay it forward to the next generation. What will you chose to pay forward?

Make the Choice NOT to Choose for Your Child

Why we need to encourage children to choose their own path, and even make their own mistakes!

We need to encourage children to choose their own path, and even make their own mistakes!

As a mom, I haven’t always made good choices parenting my children. I’ve sometimes been somewhat of a helicopter mom, dictating to my children rather than allowing them to make their own choices. Since I was the adult, I knew what was best for them.

However, I was doing more harm than good. Over the past couple of months, I was challenged to examine whether my way was still working for my children. My boys were teenagers and no longer young children. The way I handled things was no longer working for them. It was time to tweak my parenting methods.

This past year my son Jared, a freshman, attended a local university. This was not his top choice. His plan was to get the heck out of Cincinnati, and that’s just what he sought for his sophomore year, a transfer to a new school. Despite my pleas to stay, citing all of the benefits for remaining there (incredible co-op programs and greater chances of acquiring a job right out of college, giving him a leg up on the competition of fellow graduates from other universities), he was determined to attend Ohio State University (OSU), several hours away. My initial reaction was to rebut his reasons for transferring and to convince him that he was making a bad decision. I even threatened to withhold his tuition if he chose to attend OSU.

My ah-ha moment occurred when I experienced flashbacks of my dad telling me what was best for me and discouraging me from pursuing my dreams. What I heard when my dad told me these things was that I shouldn’t trust myself because he didn’t think I made good choices. I didn’t attend the right college, didn’t choose the right major or pursue a lucrative career path.

I always remembered feeling angry with him and rebelling because how dare he tell me what to do. I knew what was best for me and it was my life, not his. I needed to make my own choices and learn from my mistakes.

After my conversation with Jared, I had to take a hard look in the mirror to see who was reflected back—my father or myself. It occurred to me that I was doing the same thing to my son that my father did to me. I didn’t want to squelch his dreams. Jared showed me he could make good decisions when he took the initiative to research OSU’s mechanical engineering program and studied hard by achieving a 3.0 GPA his freshman year.

Now that I am a parent, I understand that my dad was trying to guide me from avoiding life’s pitfalls. What I needed from him was encouragement to make my own mistakes and to learn from them. Growing up is all about failing and learning from experiences while receiving guidance from parents. I don’t want my boys to grow into adulthood dealing with the same issues as me. I have to allow my boys to make choices even if I disagree with them.

And while I’m not sure how Jared’s decision will impact his future, what I do know is that he will be happier and freer knowing that he made this decision on his own.

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Will My Child Succeed in School?

Lots of worries might run through a parent's head in the weeks before their child begins school!

Lots of worries might run through a parent’s head in the weeks before their child begins school!

Well, the time has come to see my little boy off to kindergarten. This is a time of confusing emotions, unknown expectations, and feelings of loss of control—but I’m not talking about how my son feels!

It is tough as a parent to overcome all of the worries that come with sending my kid off to school. Did we make the right choice in the school? Did I stand outside in sub-zero temperatures for days on end for a just cause? Will Schmee fit in? What’s his teacher like? Is this school as good as they say? Will we be able to get there on time for first bell? DO they even have first bell anymore? Ack!?!

I mean, elementary school can have long-lasting effects on a child’s psyche. His success not only as a productive citizen but also as an individual are riding on this. The hurdles and challenges he will face academically are one thing but the emotional roller coaster ride of fitting in and finding his place in the crowd is a totally different game altogether. Will he succeed in finding himself? Will he be able to define who he is and find his niche?

Now that I’ve taken time to slow down and think for a moment, I realize that he has already set the foundation on which to build his success. He has already begun to define who he is (and he is, in my humble opinion, the smartest 5-year-old I’ve ever met—and I’ve known a few hundred at least. No bias of course.). I believe that the fact that he has been in a quality preschool program has had many benefits. The love and attention he has received in the program has certainly helped him to reach his full potential and I am positive that he will continue to grow and be successful because of the support he was provided.

Obviously, even the most perfect environment will not mitigate the strong emotions and physical barriers that are sure to come as he grows older but I have a firm belief that because of his early care and education he is ready to continue to learn and that he will be successful in life.

Now for my own emotional roller coaster ride—I might need some therapy!


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