Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care


The Lost Child

When you look around in a crowded public place and don’t immediately see your child, the panic starts to build. It’s slow at first. Maybe they’re hiding behind something or went into the bathroom. You scan the crowd. If you’ve got someone with you, you urge them to check the bathrooms while you keep searching. They were just there.

The panic gets stronger. You feel dizzy. Your child isn’t in the bathroom. They aren’t hiding nearby. Your heart starts pounding. The crowd is a blur. You run to the bathroom and crawl on the floor, checking the stalls. You yell your child’s name over and over, louder and louder, though you can barely hear it over the buzzing in your ears. They’re gone. Your child is lost.

For me, this was a scene played out two years ago at King’s Island and it was the scariest day of my life.

We were wrapping up a long, fun day riding roller coasters by making a stop at the bathroom before heading home. My mom, dad, sister, niece, nephew, daughter, youngest son and I stopped at the bathroom. My 6 year old son, Rilee, did not. He kept walking. It only took a second for him to get swept up in the crowd and who knows how long to notice the people he was walking next to were not his family.

A security guard found us because obviously I stood out in the crowd, running around and yelling in full blown panic mode. I showed her a picture of Rilee on my phone. She wrote down his description and called it out to the other security guards on her radio.

It was physically impossible for me to stand still. I had to find him. I walked and looked. It was getting dark when I finally saw him. He was walking with a security guard. He had been gone for twenty excruciating minutes.

After a lot of crying and hugging I asked Rilee and the security guard a bunch of questions.

Apparently my son had walked pretty far before he noticed he wasn’t with his family. Then he went into a food area at which point an adult asked him if he was lost and took him to an employee who then found a security guard. I have always told my children that if they can’t find me to ask a “worker” for help, meaning someone who works at the place where we are, someone behind the counter or in a uniform. I like to think my son went into the food area to ask for help but I’ll never know for sure. I was shocked at how so nonchalant Rilee was about the situation. He wasn’t scared at all. I don’t think he realized how serious it was.

But it is serious. To help your child know what to do if you become separated, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) recommends the following before you head out to a crowded place.

 AGES 3 TO 4

Tell your child that if he doesn’t see you he should sit right down on the ground and that you’ll come get him. Stress that he should never leave the area to go look for you, but he can call out “Mommy” or “Daddy,” which will let people know he’s lost.

AGES 5 TO 6

She should stay in one spot and keep an eye out for a “safe adult” — a woman with a child; a clerk in a uniform or behind a checkout counter; or a security guard or policeman. Your child should tell this adult that she’s lost, and give her full name.

AGES 7 AND UP

He should memorize the phone number of a close friend or relative so that he can ask a “safe adult” to call her for help.

For a long time after the incident at King’s Island, the “what if’s” invaded my thoughts. Now, I often make an effort to talk to my children about safety, though I hope I never have to live through another day like that again.


Save the Hard Hits for the Field

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge NFL fan. My excitement grows as August sets in – I love the strategy, athleticism and camaraderie of this sport. And like any fan, I get that the hard hits are a part of the game. But the recent exposure of “hard hits” off the field have led me to question the sport and players I have always supported.

Over the past few weeks, the aggressive actions of several National Football League players have been the center of much attention and debate. The latest NFL player to hit the news is the Minnesota Viking’s Adrian Peterson. The indictment alleged that Adrian “recklessly or by criminal negligence cause[d] bodily injury” to his 4-year-old son. Peterson’s attorney has said his client used “a switch to spank his son” and was simply doling out discipline much like “he experienced as a child growing up in East Texas.”

In a statement, Adrian Peterson reported that, “My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong and that’s what I tried to do that day. I accept the fact that people feel very strongly about this issue and what they think about my conduct. Regardless of what others think, however, I love my son very much and I will continue to try to become a better father and person.”

This incident has incited many opposing points of few. At the center of the debate seems to be whether “spanking” is an appropriate form of discipline and whether or not parents have the right to make this decision. This type of debate frustrates me as I think it is clouding the facts. Adrian Peterson is not being accused of doling out physical discipline, he is being charged with causing physical harm to his 4-year-old son. And I believe there is a significant difference!

I do not believe there is only one right way to parent. Parenting is very personal and every parent must decide what is best for their child – which includes the best way to discipline. I also get that for some parents spanking is a viable form of discipline. I know many families that have used spanking for generations and believe that it is right for them. I do not question these beliefs or these rights. I do question how anyone can support the use of a switch, which caused injury to a 4-year-old child.

Adrian Peterson has attempted to rationalize his behaviors by contending that he only did to his son what he endured as a child. And that furthermore he was just trying to teach his child right from wrong. My reaction to this is, seriously? You want us all to believe you didn’t know a better way to teach your 4-year-old child right from wrong. And, most importantly, you didn’t realize you were hurting your son. Again, seriously?

Regardless of how Adrian was raised, he has been exposed to many different experiences and ways of thinking. His position as an NFL player also affords him access to an immense amount of resources. So, at what point should we expect that Adrian would know better than to cause harm to his child?

I hope that the current plight Adrian Peterson and his family are facing causes other parents to take stock of their choices and actions. I also hope Adrian achieves his desire of becoming a better father. But, let’s not cloud the issue. The debate is not about the parental choice to spank, but how we as a culture continue to accept excuses for acts of aggression and violence. And to the NFL players I am pleading – please keep the hard hits on the field.


Kindergarten in the Information Age

My daughter recently started kindergarten and needless to say it has been a crazy and wonderful.  As a parent, it is so exciting to witness her enthusiasm and joy at all the new things she is able to experience and learn about. The first school assembly, the first field trip, the first school book fair; every day it seems there is a first and each one is better than the one before!

Hard conversations won't wait until you're ready. Be prepared to talk with your children when THEY'RE ready.

But it’s been a little overwhelming and scary, as well. This is also the first time she has been exposed to things that I’m not sure I am ready for: things like “Drug Free Me” week and a puppet show about child abuse awareness and prevention. I don’t remember learning about either of these topics until well past kindergarten, but sadly, in this new age, Maddy was learning about them within the first nine weeks of school. Neither of these events were a bad thing, but as a parent, I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been to discuss either topic with her. She came home with lots of questions and some facts that she was looking for me to confirm. My husband and I looked at each other as if to say, “You’re taking this one, right?” Neither of us wanted to take the leap and have “that conversation.”

But we did and while it was sometimes awkward and uncomfortable (for us, not her!), it was necessary and healthy for us a family to discuss such important topics openly and honestly. It reminded me that whether or not I am ready or able to discuss these topics, my daughter would be exposed to them and she would want to talk about them. I need to intentionally think about how I will thoughtfully discuss these and other topics with her. I also need to intentionally think about and decide what topics are not appropriate for my daughter. There may topics I feel she isn’t ready for and decide to not allow her to participate in an event or discussion. As a parent the key is to be tuned in, with eyes, ears and hearts ready to listen to the cues your child is giving you.

But, I am relaxing for now. As I recall, the topics only get scarier!


1 Comment

To spank or not to spank?

When I became pregnant with my first child, my son Joe I started to think about how I would parent. I knew there were some disciplining styles that were used by my mom that I vowed to never use with my own son. Of course, “yelling” and “spanking” were at the top of my list to never use in my home. My mom yelled frequently. When I was young I could not decide if she was always angry or if she just spoke loudly. My mom did not spank me very often. However, when I was spanked I can remember very clearly how it made me feel and it was not good.

It's normal to fall back on the discipline methods that our parents used, but taking a more mindful approach is better for everyone.

As a result, I tried very hard not to use yelling or spanking as a form of discipline when my son misbehaved. I must confess on a very stressful day my son had misbehaved and I decided to spank him. At the time he was almost seven years old. It was his first spanking and his last.

Immediately after spanking my son I felt really bad about my choice. The next morning Joe and I were getting ready for work and school. He approached me with a calm yet confident tone of voice and said, “Momma, do you know that when you spanked me it only made me want to act worse and it did not make me want to act good.” I was speechless! I was shocked that my son had enough courage to tell me about his feelings. My attempt to use spanking in order to discipline my son for misbehaving failed tremendously.

Once I regained my composure I asked my son, “What should mommy do when you misbehave since spanking does not work?” He looked at me and said, “You know, momma, I like it better when you talk to me.” I explained to Joe why I decided to spank him instead of talking. However, right at that moment I made a promise to my son that I would never spank him again. Joe and I created a mutually agreed upon list of consequences that I could use if talking did not work when he misbehaved. He really felt that playing outside was really important and thought that I should take away his outside time if talking failed to help him behave appropriately.

Today Joe is almost ten years old. He is not a mischievous child but at times his behavior needs redirection. I have had major success with redirecting Joe’s behavior by utilizing the list of mutually agreed consequences we created about three years ago.

Parenting is not an easy job. On the job training is the only way to gain experience needed to make better parenting decisions. Before you defer to parenting styles that were used during your own childhood, I highly recommend that you take time to think about what worked and what didn’t work. Even though I knew early on that I did not want to spank my own children, I used the discipline method out of frustration. Take time to think before you act, utilize everything you know about your children, and include the actual child in making choices on how you parent. Keep in mind that your choice will have a tremendous impact on choices they make as a child and an adult.


Pause for a Child

Pause for a Child is the Ohio Children’s Trust Fund’s call to action for the month of April.  April is Child Abuse Awareness month and by pausing for a child, the trust fund is encouraging us to intentionally take the time to ensure the wellness of children by responding to our kids and doing our part to strengthen all families.

Child abuse and neglect is an issue that for many of us seems to be more about other people. I would say that many of us believe that being abusive or neglectful to children is something we don’t have to worry about.  We may utter statements like, “I would never hurt my child,” or “I would never leave my child with a person I didn’t know.” We may make judgments about parents who abuse or mistreat their children: “You have to get a license to drive, but anybody in this country can be a parent!” And we may become outraged when we hear about children being abused, abandoned or killed. Yet when we hear the term child abuse and neglect we turn away, or avoid the topic because we feel it does not pertain to us.

Last week I received a call from a mother who was seeking help. She stated that she was struggling with her 12-year old son who was not only acting up at home but getting in trouble at school.  She clearly felt overwhelmed as she reported that she had never had this kind of problem with him before and really wasn’t sure what to do.  She mentioned that she spanked him for the first time because she was simply at a loss. As we talked, one of the things I admired about her was that she was not looking for a “quick fix” for her son but really wanted to find a way to be a good parent and deal with this current challenge. She was reaching out for help and for ideas.

Reaching out and asking for help is a big step. Many parents who abuse or neglect their children fail to take this step, either because they don’t see the problem for what it is or because they don’t know who to call. Stories and mug shots on the news of parents, guardians or “boyfriends” who abuse or neglect children are far too common. Certainly someone in the lives of these children had to see something, some indication that the children were at risk? Obviously parents are the first line of defense; they are the ones who need to protect their children.  Is anyone else to blame? If we turn away and do nothing, are we to blame?

I do not believe that we can stop everything bad from happening. I do, however, believe that we can help prevent more than we do. The Ohio Children’s Trust Fund wants us to PAUSE, pay attention and do what we can to help strengthen our families. The mother who called me the other day paused and took the time to seek help and I paused from my work to listen and offer what I could – and maybe this will make a difference for that child and that parent.

– Carolyn


Education is the Answer

After reading an article in the Middletown Journal about the cost of keeping track of sex offenders, and a local child care administrator who kept descriptions of nearby offenders in her program, a friend of mine asked, “Why would the administrator put herself out there on the front page of the paper?” To me, the answer is obvious: to protect children!

I think it’s wonderful and absolutely courageous that the child care program administrator keeps a record of neighborhood sex offenders for her staff, and I hope she shares the list with parents, as well. As the state attorney general counsel stated in the article, sex offenders are likely to offend again, and especially in their own neighborhood! After all, statistics show that most offenders are someone the child knows, loves, or trusts.

As a parent, I certainly want to know where the sex offenders in my neighborhood live, and I do take precautions. I check the county sheriff’s list, though it’s important to keep in mind that the sex offenders listed there are only the ones that are registered! What’s a parent or child care provider to do to continue to be vigilant and educated on preventing child sexual abuse?

The national Darkness to Light campaign asserts that assault against children is an adult problem. Their trainings help to empower parents and child care providers, and are offered nationwide for as little as $10. Darkness to Light projects that every adult that attends a training will help protect ten children in the years to come! What’s that compared to the physical, emotional and literal costs of child sexual assault on our children and communities?

Assault against children is a crime based on secrecy. People like the child care program administrator mentioned in the Middletown Journal article are not afraid to stand up for our children, and we shouldn’t be, either!

– Debbie


2 Comments

The Power of a Helping Hand

You’ve probably heard the saying that “a kind word or a helping hand can go a long way.” For any of us who have ever been in need, we can testify that this saying is true. Krista Ramsey, a Cincinnati Enquirer columnist, recently wrote an article in response to the death of a local child due to abuse and neglect. Ms. Ramsey writes that “we can do more than mourn,” and challenges readers to their part to fight or eliminate child abuse. She contends that most abuse or neglect occurs during times of stress, when parents’ desperate attempts to meet the needs of their family fall short. Ms. Ramsey encourages us to reach out to an isolated parent, provide a kind word to a parent who is overwhelmed or share our own experiences with a parent who seeking some guidance. And I must say I agree with her.

Parent Cafés hosted in Cincinnati’s western communities provide parents with an opportunity to come together and share their worries, ideas and accomplishments. At these events I have witnessed the transformation of many parents. Parents who have felt alone, overwhelmed and devalued leave these events feeling connected, reassured and valued. And what is offered at these events is not a parenting curriculum; it is not tips of what to do or what not to do as a parent. Instead it is parents reaching out to each other. Parents sharing what has worked for them, what they need and what community resources they have found helpful. Each time I attend a Parent Café, I am astounded by parents who are caring, insightful and resourceful. Parents who are willing to give to one another and are also willing to reflect on what they will do differently in order to be the kind of parent they want to be.

I am sharing my experience with you not as a means to market Parent Cafés (although I do think they are fabulous!) but to demonstrate the power that a kind word or helping hand. Over the past few weeks, we have been flooded with images and descriptions of child abuse following the local death of 2-year-old Demarcus Jackson and the national attention on the sex abuse scandal at Penn State. Everyone has questions: How could an adult ever treat a child that way? How did others, aware of what was happening, not come forward? Why do these things continue to happen?

As with so many other tragedies, what is often the hardest to accept is the feeling of powerlessness that occurs in the aftermath. The feeling of hopelessness, that we as a society have not been able to eliminate these tragedies from occurring to our children. But Ms. Ramsey has it right: we do more than mourn. We are entering our holiday season, a perfect time to not only be thankful for what we have but to pay our gratitude forward. I can reach out to my neighbor who is lonely, I can offer a kind word to an overwhelmed parent in the grocery store and I can share my blessings with others. Maybe I cannot impact all of society but I can affect my piece of it, and I know for a fact that a kind word or a helping hand can go a long way. How about you?

– Carolyn

Photograph courtesy of sparky_vision.