Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care


Homework Can Be Stressful for Parents, Too!

homeworkHave you heard about the no homework letter one teacher sent home at the beginning of the school year? The letter was first shared on Facebook by Samantha Gallagher, whose daughter is in Mrs. Young’s class, and it quickly went viral. The response to this letter has been overwhelmingly positive. Parents everywhere have shared comments agreeing that student success is less reliant on nightly homework and more dependent on children spending their evenings playing, eating dinner and reading as a family and going to bed early.

As a mom of school-age children this letter really hit home for me. My children are now in sixth, third and second grades.

I often find myself resenting homework. My children are at school roughly 7.5 hours a day. My husband and I are at work between 7-9 hours a day. At the end of the day I want our family to have the freedom to decompress from the day’s events, relax, and enjoy time talking, watching TV together or going for a walk. The National Education Association recommends the “10 minute rule,” 10 minutes per grade level per night. That translates into 10 minutes of homework in the first grade, 20 minutes in the second grade, all the way up to 120 minutes for senior year of high school. According to CNN Health, a recent study published in The American Journal of Family Therapy found students in the early elementary school years are getting significantly more homework than is recommended.

My sixth grader spends 1.5 to 2 hours on homework almost every night. My second grader’s homework includes 20 minutes of reading, 10 minutes of math facts practice, and completing one sheet in his homework packet. That is about 30-40 minutes of homework a night.

I’m not saying that my children should never have homework. I believe that homework can help students develop and strengthen responsibility and time management skills. It also helps parents to see what their student is learning. I am saying that homework can be good or it can be bad depending on the volume and the quality of the assignment.

What can parents do to lessen the stress that homework can create on the family?

I have found that having regular communication with your child’s teacher is helpful for school success. Most of the time they don’t realize until you talk to them that the amount of homework is overwhelming and causing continued family stress. Work together to come up with a plan that will work best for your child and family while respecting the teacher’s needs. Most of the time my children’s teachers’ homework expectations were the right fit. So far this year we are struggling, but I am hopeful that with the teacher’s help we will find the right balance.

What do you think of the no homework letter? Do you feel your child has too much homework? Too little? Just the right amount? What are some things you have tried to lessen the stress homework can create?


Another shooting in another school—and this time it’s close to home.

worriedWatching the news coverage of the shooting at Madison Junior Senior High School I am struck by the re-occurrence of similar themes and images—parents racing to the school to find and hug their children, students and teachers in disbelief that a shooting has happened and a child pulled the trigger. And I can’t help but wonder why this continues to happen? What has caused some of our children to take such violent and irreversible actions? Do they not understand the possible consequences of their behavior? Do they not care?

I am a firm believer that children’s actions are feelings to be understood. Meaning in order to understand a child’s behavior it is helpful to look at the feelings that triggered the action. A child who strikes out at another child may be feeling sad, frustrated or rejected. By helping the child express and cope with these feelings, the actions of aggression will lessen. I also believe that children use behaviors that work for them. So that if a temper tantrum results in a child getting a piece of candy, the child will continue to use temper tantrums to get more candy.

These beliefs have always helped me better understand children’s actions—yet I have to admit I have a hard time wrapping my head around the feelings that lead to a child shooting another child. And an even harder time comprehending how such an act of violence can be perceived as a solution. And isn’t this what we all do—we seek to understand how and why these tragic events occur? We believe, if we understand the cause, we can prevent these tragedies from occurring in the future. Yet we seldom get an answer that makes sense which results in us looking for who or what to blame.

In my previous work as a family therapist, I came to understand that the painful depression experienced by individuals who commit suicide is unimaginable to those who have never experienced that intense emotional pain. And maybe I need to look at these school shootings in the same way—to assume that the emotional pain being experienced by a child who pulls the trigger is beyond what I or anyone else can comprehend.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking to excuse any act of violence. I’m simply acknowledging that these incidents may never make sense and I have to believe the child that pulls the trigger is experiencing emotional turmoil that is beyond what I can imagine. However, just because these incidents don’t make sense, we cannot ignore that school shootings are on the rise. We have to continue to seek reasonable solutions. We have to pay attention to any possible warning signs. And we have to figure out how to keep guns out of our children’s hands. I fear that ideas to put more guns in schools or the judicial system treating these children as adults are short-sighted reactions. I believe we have to move beyond the blame and recognize this as a social issue that requires a unified and thoughtful response.    

My thoughts go out to the families in Butler County that have been impacted by this most recent shooting. May those of us who have not experienced this type of tragedy never have to experience it in the future.


Perfection

perfectionWhen is perfect not a good thing? How do you help a young child know that “perfect” is sometimes just too much? How do you handle the emotions that are attached to wanting to do, write, draw, speak or be perfect?

We’ve noticed since an early age how Schmee sometimes has to have things a certain way. Usually it revolves around creating something or doing something that he has seen before. He’s always been one to slowly enter an environment and sit back and observe before trying it out for himself. He likes some things a certain way like doors to a building (they should be closed) but other things like clothes can go wherever. There never seems to be a rhyme or reason except if he thinks he can do it and can’t or it doesn’t happen exactly as the video on YouTube showed—then he becomes upset.

As parents, we want nothing but the best for our children, and we are confused and worried, as well as concerned. Confused because a moment ago everything was great. Worried because his frustrations can be very combative and take a long time to work through—often cycling through several emotions within just a couple of minutes. All this appears scary and leaves an unsettled feeling within our gut.

I asked a friend what their thoughts were about this, alluding that I hope it wasn’t signs of having obsessive-compulsive behavior. (I think I was hoping I could at the very least label it and then be able to “do” something about it.) Her kind advice was to be there for him. We are committed to supporting him and modeling positive actions and reactions—as well as showing him that we care and that we want to help him understand his emotions.


You Want to Wear WHAT?

It could be 15 degrees outside and my younger son, Jansen, is wearing shorts and a hoodie. Covered from head to toe and still shivering, I ask him if he’s cold. His reply?

“No.”

My older son, Jared, did the same thing when he was younger. I struggled every year with it, wondering, would he get sick? Would school staff judge my parenting abilities? I even got pressure from my mother-in-law. She would insist both boys wear long pants and a coat, but I had to step back and ask myself if this was even a battle worth fighting?

Every winter, I asked the same questions, trying to get them to wear pants, long sleeves and coats, but both boys would reply that they were more comfortable in shorts and that their friends were doing it, too. Instead of fighting with the boys every morning, I decided it was more important to keep some semblance of peace in my home. There were more important things to stay on top of my children for: being polite, being kind to others, doing their homework and getting good grades.

Despite the cough he’s had for a while and his classmates asking  if he is cold when his legs are purple upon arriving at school, he persists, and I can’t worry about it anymore. He’ll outgrow it. If Jansen wants to wear shorts during the cold winter months, that is his choice. He will eventually learn, just like his older brother did, that there are logical consequences.


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.


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.


1 Comment

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!