How We Talk With Children Matters

I recently began noticing how much and how frequently Sweet Pea was pointing to objects and seeking more information about them. It is fascinating to me how in tune infants are with their surroundings; no one has to teach them how to be inquisitive or how to be curious. They just are.

Someday the simple pointing and investigative grunt will become a game of 20 questions (though it feel likes one thousand), obsessing over the same things and always why, why, why? I remember there were times when Schmee’s constant barrage of questions drove me crazy. I had to remind myself how important it was to remain calm and try my best to respond in appropriate ways. Sometimes, when I was plumb out of appropriate responses, I would turn the question around for him to answer such as, “Well, why do you think dogs have tails?”

I indulged him because I understood that the outcomes of such repetitive opportunities would result in someone who would continue to seek answers and uncover marvels. Those opportunities, those questions answered, lead to a child that engages with their environment. And when they receive positive interactions, children’s language will develop further, allowing them to be better able to communicate their needs and become more confident about their place in the world.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a great article on ways families can support language development in their infants and toddlers. It’s a good reminder – or an introduction to – the reasoning behind a lot of what infants do and how I can support my children. They may be natural detectives but they need positive interactions to help make their knowledge concrete. They need positive interactions to learn how to communicate need and how to engage with others in a social context. They need positive interactions to attach themselves to people important in their lives.

And they need positive interactions to thrive. I can’t think of a better way to set them on the right path than to talk with them about what is interesting to them.

No Friend Like a Sibling

The walls of my two boys’ bedroom are decorated with signs that read, There’s no buddy like a brother, and, Brothers are better than superheroes. The same sorts of messages adorn the walls of the playroom where my daughter and my two boys play: Siblings, a little piece of childhood that can never be lost.

My children are all close in age: Avery is 9, Rilee is 6, and Reece is 5. This means they’re destined to become lifelong best friends… right? Isn’t that the dream of all parents with multiple children?

Siblings are bound to be best friends... right?

For me it is one of my greatest hopes as a parent. I daydream about the three of them as grownups: the boys loading up their families into minivans and heading over to Avery’s house for a Saturday barbecue, Avery calling up Reece to ask him to babysit her children or her five dogs, Rilee texting a joke to his brother and allowing the two of them to take a break from their busy work weeks to share a laugh.

Yep, I can see it all very clearly. If only I can keep them from fighting long enough to lead them toward a path of lifelong friendship. At this stage in their lives, it seems like they argue about everything from the moment they wake up in the morning to the moment they go to sleep at night.

I know sibling rivalry is normal. I have a sister only 19 months older than me. We shared a room, toys, friends, cars and we did our fair share of arguing. I’m sure there were moments when our mother wondered if we would grow up and never speak to each other again. I remember my grandma always telling us, “You girls are so lucky to have each other.” It was only later in life that I realized what she meant. Siblings are an amazing gift to each other but they can often drive their parents nuts with the constant bickering.

So, what can parents do to save their sanity when siblings argue? I’ve read a lot of parent blogs and articles on sibling rivalry, and they all offer similar advice: hide in the bathroom until the kids figure it out.

While I am joking, this suggestion does have some truth to it. Many parents agree that letting your children work together to solve their disagreement is best. There is no need to intervene when you hear those first all-too-familiar sounds of children shouting, “Give it back!” and “Don’t touch me!” Instead wait, listen and if they come to you, encourage them to think of ways to solve the problem on their own. Ask them, what could you have done differently? What can you do now?

At our house we make “sorry cards” because sometimes it’s easier to put thoughts into writing, especially when we are upset. If your little one is having a hard time explaining what went wrong and expressing their feelings, you can try making a sorry card. I think they are great because even young children can make them. If they can’t write words have them draw a picture.

Another favorite in our house to combat the sibling drama is alone time. Everybody go to your room! Sometimes taking a break from each other is exactly what they need, and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly they are eager to return to playing together. In a matter of minutes they can go from doors slamming and “Never talk to me again!” to doors opening and “Mom can alone time be over? I miss my brother.”

For now I won’t worry about the fact that that my daughter makes her own sibling-inspired signs to decorate her bedroom walls: Rilee and Reece not allowed, and, I’m a lone wolf. I won’t worry because every weekend night she sneaks into the boys’ room to sleep with them, and the boys happily welcome their sister. This sibling sleepover has become a little tradition of theirs and gives hope to my daydreams … even if in the morning I awake to someone complaining about someone else’s sweaty feet touching them.

The Power of “No, Thank You” Bites

“Take a ‘no, thank you’ bite,” I sometimes to tell my children in an attempt to get them to try new things. Unlike me, they don’t gravitate towards fruits and vegetables, while I’ve seldom met one of either I didn’t like. My 9-year-old Levi does a little better than his 11-year-old sister with most of the fruits and veggies, but he’s had an aversion to poultry and some meats ever since he found me elbow deep stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey a few years ago. Liv on the other hand used to sit in her high chair as a baby and work yogurt around in her mouth until she could spit the strawberries out on the tray. Liv is still quick to say she doesn’t like something, especially if she’s already been persuaded to try it.

This was the case last weekend when I told her I was making goetta, turkey bacon, and toast for breakfast. Liv loves the last two but was quick to let me know she wanted no part of the first.

“I’ve already tried it and I don’t like it,” she protested when I suggested she should try it again. Rather than forcing the issue, I proceeded to turn on the burner, get out a skillet, and start slicing the goetta to form patties. Soon, Liv – who is fascinated by the oven and shows an interest in cooking – was by my side asking if she could help. I had her was her hands and then showed her how to shape the goetta before gently placing  it into the pan. As she did this and good smells filled the kitchen, Liv murmured, “Maybe I’ll try the goetta again.” Not wanting to show too much enthusiasm, I simply smiled in response.

After Liv made a few pieces of bacon and goetta for her Littlest Pet Shops, I had her butter toast (we need a whole loaf for our brood) and set the table. Then we called all the guys to come eat. My husband blessed the food and as he gave thanks for those who had prepared it, I snuck a peek at Liv, who was grinning like the cat that got at the cream. I continued to watch her as she took her first bite of goetta and knew the “no, thank you bite” days were over. At least as far as that particular food is concerned.

“See Liv, you do like goetta.”

“I like this goetta. I guess my taste buds changed,” was her reply, followed by, “Mommy, can I try that hot sauce on it?”

Children’s  tastes, be it for a food, a sport, or an instrument, do change. We parents have to hang on to this hope as we have our children try new things.

November is Epilepsy Awareness Month

You’re a happy, active 4-year-old child. One minute, you’re playing ball outside. The next minute you wake up on the ground, feeling exhausted, scared and not knowing what just happened. You look up and see frightened adults and children hovering over you, not knowing what to do.

After this happens to you, people are scared. Some other children don’t want to be your friend anymore. Things like this can and do happen to children with epilepsy, and it’s extremely disheartening.

But we can do something about it.

Educate yourself! November is Epilepsy Awareness Month.

November is Epilepsy Awareness Month. One in 26 people will develop epilepsy in their lifetime. Approximately 300,000 children under 14 have epilepsy. There is no cure, and one-third of people with epilepsy live with uncontrolled seizures because medication and surgery do not work for them. Even though epilepsy is common, many do not recognize a seizure when they see one, or know how what to do. Individuals with epilepsy face challenges with medicine management, side effects, stigma, isolation and discrimination.

My daughter, Gabrielle, has been living with epilepsy for 18 years. I’ve written before about her diagnosis and our experiences as a family. She is one of those individuals for whom medication and surgery are not an option, and due to her condition, she has faced discrimination and isolation with friendships, school and church. Fear and lack of knowledge from others has prevented Gabrielle from participating in activities with her peers. Gabrielle was not invited to her classmate’s homes or birthday parties, nor was she allowed to go on school field trips without a parent present.

While witnessing a seizure can be scary, people can equip themselves to help those living with the condition. We can educate ourselves about seizure recognition and first aid, and reach out to those who have epilepsy. Promote awareness this month, especially, by wearing a purple ribbon. Purple is the official color for epilepsy awareness.

Living with epilepsy is challenging enough, but barriers can be broken with education and understanding.

We Stopped Making Casseroles

In my work for 4C I am afforded opportunities to work with family serving agencies across Ohio. Most of this work focuses on helping these organizations identify strategies they can use to better support the wellness of families. What has struck me about this work is how frequently I have heard that many families lack a reliable support network: no friends or family that they can count on for support.

We can all agree that parenting can be overwhelming and for parents going at it alone, these feelings are only exacerbated. While there are a variety of reasons parents might feel isolated, it seems to me that there are two major factors. The first is that many parents do not create opportunities to build social networks of support. And the second factor is that we stopped making casseroles!

Parents need to intentionally seek opportunities to make friends. Having friends in your corner can have an incredible impact on your resilience and quality of life. As parents this kind of support can also have an incredible impact on your capacity to be a good parent. A reliable social network means that you have other people to share your parenting challenges and successes with. In addition, this can result in you gaining access to other parents to support your parenting. These parents can offer you ideas on parenting, share child care and connect you to good resources – like schools, doctors and community activities.

You may have to seek opportunities in the community to meet other “like” parents – parents with similar interests and values as you. You may also need to be a bit more forward than you might otherwise be. Next time you’re at the park, put down your cell phone and introduce yourself to others!

It’s not as easy as it sounds, and it’s even harder for parents working multiple jobs, raising children on their own or living in unsafe or extremely rural neighborhoods. For these parents, making connections can seem almost impossible. For these parents we need to make more casseroles!

When I was a kid, my mom frequently made casseroles for other families. Whether it was a new family in the neighborhood or a family experiencing a hard time, my mom’s common practice was to make and give a casserole. These casseroles were a way for her to start a new relationship or show support to an existing one. And for me these casseroles are a symbol of something we are lacking in many of our communities today.

I think we somehow have lost the common practice of reaching out to others – especially others we don’t know. This saddens me. Our fast-paced way of living has created fewer connections with others. And quite frankly as parents we could all use some more support. So if you are fortunate enough to have support networks you can rely on – that is awesome. If not, what can you do to create one? Is there someone in your life who could benefit from a casserole?

Best Friends Forever

Finding a best friend is a childhood rite of passage.Finding a best friend is a rite of passage for most children, and my daughter is no exception.

I met my first best friend, Debbie Miller, when I was in kindergarten and we were inseparable until third grade when I changed schools. While we aren’t still in touch, her friendship left an indelible mark on me. I have the same hope for my daughter. But, last year we were new to the area and her school and while she made friends, she never really made a best friend connection. My daughter is not shy but she struggled to find that one friend with whom she connected. I was hoping that when she started back to school this year that she would find that person.

There were several girls in her class that she knew from the previous school year, but as girls tend to do, they had already paired off with one another. I noticed Maddy seemed to have her feelings hurt when she would see friends walking into school holding hands, excluding her. And so, to my delight, she has finally found her very own best friend. Well, if I am being honest, her BFF found her!

Maddy and Angelina were in cheerleading together this summer and then ended up with the same teacher when school started. I didn’t notice them playing together much during cheerleading, but once school started, there was a shift. I started hearing a lot of stories about Angelina and at cheerleading Angelina became determined to stand next to Maddy. Maddy seemed oblivious at first, but in time they became to rely upon each other.

After talking to Angelina’s mom I found out that she was an only child, just like my Maddy. They just seemed to be a natural fit for one another. This past weekend, they had their very first play date together and I honestly don’t know which one of them was more excited. In the short two hours they played together, there was laughing, crying and then more laughing. Observing their play date was like watching the child’s version of the movie Beaches. I loved it!

I am so happy for each of them that they have found a friend that makes them feel a part of something and gives them a sense of belonging. Maddy’s BFF from first grade may not end up being a life-long friend but for now, these two are being the best friends they know how to be to one another.

First Grade Blues

My experiences in elementary school were wonderful, and I think this in no small part due to the great teachers I was lucky to have. Most vividly, I remember with affection my third grade teacher, Mrs. Rykosky.  She created a fun, safe learning environment and instilled in me a life-long love of reading. I remember being mesmerized each day as she would read to us from books such as Charlotte’s Web and James and the Giant Peach.

But, almost as important, I knew she loved being with our class each day. I can remember building clubhouses in our classroom and performing shows for her and the rest of the class. She was genuinely kind to every student and showed an interest in each child and who they were. I loved going to school every day because I loved being with Mrs. Rykosky.

And so when my daughter started kindergarten last year, I naturally assumed she would have the same experience as me. And she did. She had a wonderful teacher who really seemed to “get” who my daughter was and what she needed to be able to learn. When Maddy started first grade this year, I just assumed that would be the case again. But I was wrong.

Some of her struggles I know are based on the transition from half-day kindergarten to full-day first grade. But not all of them. My daughter is a child who has never really experienced discipline problems in child care or school. She is active but for the most part compliant. Now she is receiving “color sticks” for inappropriate behavior once or twice a week and she is devastated. Her behavior hasn’t changed, but expectations have. She is struggling to figure out how she can do better or what she is doing wrong. She broke my heart the other night when she told me, “I don’t think my teacher likes me.”

It would be nice if every teacher your child had was a Mrs. Rykosky, but that just isn’t reality. The best we can do as parents is to listen to and support our children, and be an advocate for them if necessary.

So, what do you do when your child and your child’s teacher don’t seem to connect? For starters, I keep reassuring Maddy that her teacher does like her, that she is just different from her teacher last year. Her new teacher isn’t good or bad, just different. Secondly, I reached out to her teacher to let her know that I had concerns and wanted to talk with her. Lastly, I talked with Maddy about things she could do to avoid conflict. Right or wrong, fair or unfair, sometimes you just have to change your behavior to meet the needs or expectations of another person. That’s just part of growing up. It is still a work in progress, but it is progress.