The Spirit of a Child

This week I had a great coaching experience with several leaders from the community. The session focused on each leader gaining clarity on her work in the world – the purpose that each one of them is called to fulfill through her work and interactions both at home and within the community. What I witnessed during this event was an excitement from each leader as she gained this perspective. For each of the leaders it seemed that this activity re-awakened an earlier belief that over the years had been lost. Each leader reconnected to the part of herself that had been buried under roles, rules and expectations. The distraction of needing to do things right or meet the needs of others had become the priority.

Focus on what brings you joy.

Young children are far less worried about doing things right or meeting the needs of others. They tend to approach the world in ways that meet their immediate needs and are not concerned about how others judge them. They are fearless when expressing their full range of feelings. Young children tend to take on challenges with zeal and wonder; they are accepting of differences and make sure to find time to be happy.

As adults we often reconnect with the child we once were by spending time with young children. By playing with children we become playful. When we interact with children we do not worry about what they will think of us. We know the child will enjoy the time spent together. We become captivated by their willingness to explore the world and find ourselves wanting to do the same. It is at these times when we find ourselves lamenting, “Oh, to be young again!”

And so why not be? The interaction I had with the leaders this week clearly demonstrated that it is easy to lose focus of what it truly important. The business of doing it right becomes the priority. In the meantime allowing time to play or enjoy the moment is cast aside. And it seems to me that as parents it is critical that we support the spirit of the child, meaning that we appreciate the spirit of the child that exists in each of us while also valuing our child’s own spirit. My guess is, if we do this, we will focus our energy on what brings us joy. And, we will pay more attention to who are children are versus focusing all of our energy on what they do.

Raising Children with Different Needs

Raising children isn’t easy. Raising two children who are typically developing and one with multiple disabilities presents many complex issues: dealing with the demanding needs of one child, spending individual time with the other children and being together as a family.

It isn't easy to raise children, let alone raising children with different needs.

My boys came into a world with an older sister whose own world revolved around  therapies and medical appointments. Since I was a stay at home mom back then, they came everywhere with me. These experiences typically weren’t fun for them. They would see Gabrielle having fun playing with bubbles, shaving cream and balls, yet  they could not understand why they couldn’t  participate. Not much fun for a preschooler and infant.

As a young mom of three small children, I felt overwhelmed. When Jared or Jansen would ask me to play, often I was in the middle of dealing with Gabrielle’s seizures. I would respond with, “You need to wait, once the seizure has stopped then we can play.”  When I would  come to them later, they would say never mind. Their lives were put on pause often. That wasn’t fair to them but I didn’t know what else to do.

I was torn because while most of my focus was on Gabrielle, I knew my young sons needed me just as much as their sister did. When they began to act out for my attention, I knew I had to do something. It was a wake up call to figure this out to make sure their needs were met, too. They needed me and their dad. It was important for us to find ways to spend extra time with the boys. I wanted them to know they were  important, too.

My husband and I decided to have “dates” with each son separately. We would put a sticker on the calendar on the day we were going to spend time together.  Jansen would always ask me, “Is this my special day mommy?” His question made me realize how important our time together alone was to him. Not only did he treasure this time, but I did as well.

I know it hasn’t been easy for my boys to grow up with a sibling with a disability, however, their experiences have helped shape them into the wonderful human beings they are now: caring, responsible, compassionate young men.

Kids’ Birthday Parties: Oh, no or Oh, yeah?

Recently my daughter has been invited to a seemingly unending stream of birthday parties. While she could not be more excited, I have to be honest: I usually dread taking her to them. I know she has fun, but it just seems that there are better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon than going to the Jump Zone with 20 of your closest friends. But after this last party, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Too many birthday party invites? How to find the unexpected joy in kids' birthday parties.

This past weekend I had my eyes opened to the beautiful social experience that is a child’s birthday party. I took time to truly observe my daughter and it was an amazing. I learned some things I already knew: she is fiercely independent; she wants to lead, not follow. She isn’t afraid to be the only one doing something. If others follow, that’s great, but, if not, she won’t be stopped. I also learned some things I didn’t know: she is a good friend. One of the parties was a rolling skating party and it made me so proud when she tried to teach some of the others how to skate. She was patient and kind as she tried to help. She also truly enjoyed watching her friends open their presents. She wasn’t jealous; she was excited for them.

But before you begin to think that all was rosy, I also observed some behaviors that need some work… again, some were familiar, others eye-opening. First and foremost, when my daughter is tired, she’s crabby! I’m going to file this observation away for future use, particularly, the tween years. Secondly, while she is fiercely independent, she needs to learn that there are times when, as a friend, you should join the group and play along. She only wants to do what she wants to do. Not always a good recipe for making and keeping friends.

These might seem like trivial observations but I don’t believe they are. As a parent, you really are a child’s first and best teacher. The more you know and understand about your child, the better equipped you are to help nurture and guide them as they grow and mature.

So the next time you take your child to a birthday party, instead of dreading the experience like I did, immerse yourself in your child’s world and see what you can learn from and about them. I am so glad I took the time to truly observe my daughter in action.

Trust Comes First

I am often approached by parents looking for advice on disciplining their children. I don’t think I have ever met a parent who didn’t struggle with this task. Parents clearly get that their role is to ensure children know right from wrong. They are responsible for teaching their children how to behave, and to demonstrate for their children that there are clear consequences when they act poorly or make the wrong choice.  Though they are clear about their role and the desired outcome, most parents struggle on how to get there.

When it comes to disciplining your children, trust comes first.

My first piece of advice is that the relationship between a parent and child needs to be built first. Parents often make the mistake of trying to manage their child’s behaviors, yet have not established a trusting relationship with their child. It is critical that the child identify the parent as the person they can count on. Parents who are responsive to the needs of their children are more likely to have children who will respond to them. Children who feel attached to their parent are more likely to want to please the parent.

Attachment begins with infants. Picking up your baby when she cries, cooing back to her while you hold her and holding her while you feed her are three ways to start the bond with your young child. As your child grows this attachment is further nurtured by your emotional responses. Listening to your child, reassuring him when he is frustrated and continuing to soothe and hold your child are ways to nurture that attachment.

My second piece of advice is to “do what you say.” Doing what you say is not limited to discipline. Children need to know that you will follow through. Do not make promises you can’t keep. If you make a commitment to play a game or watch a TV show then it is imperative that you do that. Children who know their parent will “do as they say” are less likely to test limits set by their parent. But this sense of respect is earned. I have heard many parents say that children just need to respect authority, but know that they will respect you as a parent when you have demonstrated behaviors that can be trusted and respected.

Discipline will be more successful once you have established a bond with your child and your child is able to trust your actions. Consequences tend to be more effective when they are clearly connected to the behavior you are addressing. For example, if a child breaks something, then taking toys away may make sense. A child who refuses to get ready for school in the morning has to go to bed earlier and a child who tells a lie needs to learn that lying limits your ability to trust.

Lastly, just know that your style of discipline and the type of discipline children respond to is based upon you and your child. There will be some trial and error, but you will truly see that discipline is easier when a trusting relationship comes first.

Monopoly vs. Minecraft

As I’ve shared in previous posts, both of my children have struggled with math. Now that they’ve thankfully turned a corner, I felt we could add Monopoly to the repertoire of board games we play. Though they love most of the classics where basic counting skills will suffice, they’ve shied away from this one because of the numbers sense it requires. But now that they’re self-efficacy and confidence are up, it seemed like an opportune time to teach them to play. Not only that, but because I was on bed rest for a long medical leave, my husband gave in to their request for Minecraft since I couldn’t do as much with them. Teaching them to play Monopoly was also an attempt to lure them away from Xbox.

I wish I could say the first night was a success, but it ended in Levi having a melt down. We started off well, but then rolling low numbers, getting sent to jail, and having to pay rent to Liv, among other things, put him on edge. Then Liv gloated over acquiring a property he wanted to purchase and that pushed him right over. After vain attempts to talk to him about not just playing the game to win but to enjoy the process and interaction, he got sent to his room. He was barely up the stairs before Liv asked, “Can I have all of his money?” It wasn’t either of their best moments.

Nevertheless, last weekend I thought we’d give it another shot. I had laryngitis and paused at the thought of getting into a lengthy game but figured they wouldn’t last too long given our last attempt. Besides, though I knew they could go non-stop on Minecraft if left to their own devices, I doubted a board game could engage them for nearly as long.

Was I in for a pleasant surprise! Levi had been devastated by our aborted game and made up for lost time when given a second chance. I was amazed at he and his sister’s grasp of the game. They really got it! But more than that, they stuck with it. With my headache and sore throat I was ready to call it quits by 10:00. But that wasn’t to be. My Monopoly Moguls kept me at it until midnight! With no drama and gracious winning and losing all around. At one point Liv said, “Best night ever!” and Levi elaborated with, “The best part is The Three Musketeers just spending time together.”

For a while I was a single mom of these special children and we spent many precious times together. That’s when we bonded as a trio. A strand of three that’s unbreakable. None of those times included electronics. But we’re a part of a blended family now and technology is another way we interact. In fact, the students have become the masters and are trying to teach me how to play Xbox. But the night of our Monopoly Marathon was like old times. The Three Musketeers, Monopoly and no Minecraft.

And so another knot was added to the chord.

It’s Not Easy Being a Big Brother

We knew that having a second child would be crazy hard work, but my wife and I also knew that the responsibility and enjoyment of guiding our children through this world would enrich our lives. We were also hoping that Schmee Wee, with all of his awesomeness, great charm and wisdom would be able to embrace being a big brother.

And he is awesome. He shovels snow like no other. He seeks information and asks really tough questions. He hugs and kisses Sweat Pea and let’s Mom and Dad know when she needs “nu-nu’s” and heralds a diaper change with, “Maybe it’s a poopy diaper, ewww!” He very much appears to embrace being the older sibling.

But that’s not all that’s changed recently. We’re also hearing a lot of whining and experiencing spontaneous and rambunctious behavior that seems to come from nowhere. He can be defiant, stubborn and even resistant to do things he wants to do.

So, what’s going on? Have we done something wrong? Is there something amiss with our parenting style/skills? We still build with Lego, set up elaborate train tracks, cut a hundred snowflakes from paper. We make play dough and then create a fanciful city together (streetcar included). Yet it’s not enough. It seems that every time we solve a problem he can create a new problem out of thin air.

The fact is, nothing is wrong. We are still the same people doing the same things. The difference is now we have to spread our attention a little more. We, the parents, have to work harder to create time and space for everyone. Schmee’s recent behavior changes are all within the bounds of reacting to an addition to the family. He knows he is not the center of attention but for the past three years that is exactly what he has been and he is trying desperately to hold onto it while finding meaning in his new reality. It’s got to be hard, really hard, to go to sleep one day King of the World and wake up the next day having to share that world with another, smaller, needier sibling.

Whatever we’re going through now, I’m sure his awesomeness will overcome this momentary drought and prevail with new and brighter insight into his world.

Writing Thank You Notes: A Chore No More

Writing thank you notes has in the past felt like a chore to me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the nice gesture of receiving a gift, but I’ve always struggled over what to say  and how to say it. Many years I would procrastinate and then forget to do it. Weeks would go by and when I remembered to write them I would feel guilty that it took so long to write and send in the mail.  Often,  I figured too much time had gone by so I  ended up not writing them which made me feel worse.  Each year was a hit and miss as to whether thank you notes from my children were written to grandparents, aunts and uncles. Because I didn’t like writing thank you notes, I not only made it a chore for me but for my children, as well.

The typical scenario between my children and I would go like this:  I would resort to nagging them despite their moaning and whining about having to do it and begrudgingly, my kids would end up doing the task. Now, what was I teaching my children? I knew I wasn’t instilling good manners and I felt guilty. The cycle of putting it off and whining about it continued until I was sick and tired of feeling bad for not only me but my children, too. I decided to turn things around. I vowed to change my attitude and demonstrate to my children that thank you notes are essential and fun to write.

I embraced the process by making it a fun family activity. I filled a basket with of different cards, stickers, stamps and colored pens. My husband and I  promoted creativity by challenging our children to think about different ways they can express their gratitude besides just writing a note? One of our children answered that they could send a picture themselves with their brand new gloves on their hands.

Now,  instead of delaying the thank you notes, my children write them the day after receiving a gift. We have adopted this as our family practice. I have found it helps when the whole family writes thank you notes together. It is much easier now that my kids can write their own cards. When they were younger and unable to write, I would write on the card as they would dictate to me in their own words about the gift they received and why they liked it. I involved  them in the process by encouraging them to draw on the card.  As they grew older, they would write in blank cards, and later, to writing the cards themselves.

This process has helped my children understand that the thank you note isn’t  about the gift but more about the individual who cared enough about them to send them something special – like when my son Jared received a guitar from his grandmother, who knew how much he liked music . All my children discovered how much a person appreciates the gesture of a thank you note when their grandmother expressed to them how much she liked receiving it in the mail. They realized she felt appreciated for her acts of kindness, and it kept motivating them to write thank you notes.

Instead of the chore it once was, writing thank you notes is something my family and I now enjoy doing together.  It has taught us to appreciate and express gratitude towards each other, too.