Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Handling Feelings

feelingsFeelings. Everyone has them, and handles them differently. Our two-year-old is learning how to navigate the many feelings he has, and we are learning how to guide him. He shows happiness for his favorite toys, activities, and meals by saying things like “Yay! That’s my favorite!” with an excited look on his face. Conversely, it doesn’t take much to upset him—brother takes a toy away, he has to wear a helmet to ride his trike, he can’t play in the dishwasher, etc. This is typical of a two-year-old and also challenging to parents and siblings as far as helping manage the expressive rollercoaster the family goes on with each emotional display.

Through my time here at 4C for Children, I’ve learned a lot about how to be a responsive caregiver. Through responding with empathy and understanding rather than judgment and dismissal, I can help him learn to identify the root cause of his feelings and handle them appropriately. Having phrases such as “Oh, I see tears in your eyes and hear you crying—it looks like you’re feeling upset. I get upset when (insert situation) too” at the ready along with a hug has helped. The situation tends to diffuse faster, and he has started to use feeling words in play.

Putting this knowledge into practice isn’t always an easy task. It takes a fair amount of energy and patience to respond calmly several times in a short time span. I don’t know many parents who have a surplus of energy and patience—I know I certainly don’t! This is why it is even more important to take time for ourselves as parents. We cannot give our best to our children when we don’t get what we need. I try to get as much rest as I can and have found some deep breathing strategies to help me keep myself in a better state to put my knowledge into practice. One of the best ways to support children’s emotional development is to first support our own.

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?


Were you kind today?

Despite my better judgment, I recently took my daughter to an unnamed fast food  restaurant to play (I know, I know!) This particular day there were several other children playing. The children ranged in age from toddlers to school-age; some parents were engaged in their child’s play, some were not. In particular, there was a young mother there with a toddler and an infant. Right away I could tell she was holding on by a thread! She was attentive to her children but I could tell she was stressed out and tired. I guessed she was a stay at home mom and had had a long day.

The importance of modeling kindness for children.

Her toddler began playing with another child in the play area that was slightly older. The two playmates took off up the play tower and before the long the inevitable scream and then crying began. The older child rushed backed down the tower crying and yelling, “He hit me. He hit me.” Upon hearing her child cry, the mother of the slightly older child rushed to his side. By this time the toddler had made his way back down the tower and was crying as well. It was like a showdown at the O.K. Corral: the toddler and his mom in one corner and the victim and his mother in the other corner.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, I was merely a spectator. The mother of the toddler began to apologize but before she could complete her mea culpa, the other mother grabbed her child and left the play area, rudely ignoring the other mother’s attempt at an apology. The young mother looked at me and said with tears in her eyes, “It’s been a really long day.”  She gathered her two young children and left. My heart broke for her. I didn’t know her but I knew that on any given day, I was her.

When I pick up my daughter from school each day I ask her, “Were you kind today?” As parents, too often we forget to be kind to each other.  The mother whose child was hit certainly had a right to be upset that her child was hit.  But she also had an opportunity to model kindness for her child and to a young, struggling mother. Just as our children are on a journey, as parents, we are also on a journey. Some of us feel confident and in command of our role, while others are uncertain and in need of support.  The next time you see a parent struggling, instead of judging them or simply being glad it isn’t you, try being kind. No one has parenting all figured out and if they look like they do – it’s a mirage!

Still Learning to Parent (Keep Calm and Carry On)

While standing at the stove I hear my children screaming from upstairs: “You shut up!” “No, you shut up.”  Before I knew it, it seemed like I was having an out-of-body experience, watching myself in disbelief as I hear the words spewing from my own mouth: ‘Both of you just shut up!’ Nothing like being the parent and adding fuel to the fire! Angry, I try to gather my senses and breathe deeply, but I knew what I had just did was not the best resolution or even appropriate for that matter.  I admit, although I am a parent, I am human–and still learning. Managing conflict between my children is not my ideal thing to do after a long day at work.  After the screaming had ceased and I was able to think calmly again, I tried to patch up the poor behavior I had modeled. I knew that I had some work to do to get my “I’m the parent” credibility back.

The first step necessary for me to get back on track was to apologize. I believe it’s good for our children to see that even as parents we make mistakes, but we also take responsibility for them.  Not only was I doing the right thing for me to feel better, I was modeling an expectation for my children.  It’s important that we don’t blame our acting poorly on our children, which would defeat the purpose of the apology.

This may be a good time to engage your child’s problem solving abilities; ask them to offer tips on how everyone involved in the situation can react differently the next time conflict ensues. Not only does this empower them, it is encourages them to think, and even empathize with how our reactions may make others feel.

Give them some reassurance.  Explain that your anger got the best of you and you will try hard not to give in to that monster the next time you are upset. Let your children know that even though you got angry because of something they did, you still love them.  Ask for a hug.  Make sure they see the separation of the person and the behavior.

Go one step further and ask for their forgiveness. Yes, it’s difficult to eat humble pie, but these are some actions that just may lead your child to have compassion and a tender heart for other people. So, when we do fuel the fire, make sure we are feeding the right one.

As an addendum, I had a nice surprise the other day. Each of my girls called me individually one afternoon reporting another battle of sibling rivalry! I simply told both of them “work it out” and heard nothing more. When I got home, I asked one of them if they had worked out their squabbling. I had to smile as she said, ‘Yeah, we both apologized and gave each other a hug’.  This parenting thing, I think it’s working!

— Debbie

Photo courtesy of Sindorella

Stay on the Sidewalk – Play in the World

This morning I decided to start my day with a walking meditation. I’ve learned that if I take time to clear my mind, I am better able to set my intention for the day and ensure that I use my energy to attend to “my work in the world. As I walked this morning, my mind was in a flurry of activity. So, to “turn it off,” I decided to set my pace (and silence my racing thoughts) to the music on my iPod. This worked well! And as I bee-bopped down the street (to what I recall as a Simon and Garfunkel tune) I found myself barely missing a speeding car by inches as I stepped into the street, unaware of my surroundings. This made me think–if I’m going to turn off my mind, – I better stay on the sidewalk!

I can recall my parents directing me to “stay on the sidewalk” and “look both ways” when I crossed the street. The obvious was to keep me safe.  As I think about it, they gave me many other directions designed to protect me from harm and help me navigate the world. As parents and caregivers of children, it is our role to set these guidelines and boundaries for our children. But I do wonder, are there situations when expectations are too confining for our children?

When they are young, children genuinely share and express their inner and truest selves. Whether they are playful, curious or full of wonder – young children are freely themselves. As they grow, some of their traits are dampened or extinguished as children learn about what is acceptable or appropriate. The desire to be accepted by others may override the free expression of earlier child-like traits. In some cases these child-like traits can be adapted to new situations. For example, playfulness may be displayed through a sense of humor or curiosity may be displayed through a desire to try new things. The real harm comes when earlier traits are completely extinguished by children conforming to the expectations and desires of others.

The unique traits of children are what lead them to greatness. As parents, I believe it is our job to pay attention and support these traits. So as I remind children to “stay on the sidewalk,” I also encourage them to play in the world by bringing their truest and best selves to life.

– Carolyn Brinkmann

Photo courtesy of Nir Nussbaum

Juggling Family and Work: To Work Part-time vs Full-time?

Two weeks ago, I was offered a full-time position at 4C as a Parent Counselor /Strengthening Families Coordinator. What was I thinking when I interviewed for the position?  I had not worked full time in 16 years! I took an eight-year sabbatical with the birth of my third child, while continuing to dabble in consulting work with 4C. Although, I enjoyed staying home with my children and being the “happy homemaker,” I needed something more. As a wife and mother, I seldom received accolades for a job well done.  I was amongst the many moms who were at the mercy of their family and taken for granted.

Four years ago, I returned to the work force part-time. For several years I had put my career on the back burner so I could be available to my growing children. When I was offered the full-time job, I excitedly accepted. A day later, when I took my mother-in-law to the salon for a pedicure, it became very clear to me that her health was rapidly declining due to terminal cancer. My heart sank as I knew I wouldn’t be able to accept the fulltime position with a clear conscious. Guilt set in; she had always been there to offer me support and help with my children whenever I needed her. She was always there. Was I letting her down by deciding to work full-time?

I then began to think of my teen-age children. Who would provide a watchful eye over them as well as guidance? Who would provide transportation to extracurricular activities?  Would I continue to be an active spectator at my boys sporting events? Was I being selfish wanting something more for me?

And there was my daughter Gabrielle who has special medical needs.  Who would I find to pick her up from school? Who would want the responsibility of caring for her medical needs? What if I received a phone call from school asking me to pick my daughter up right away? All moms know this experience: I was juggling many balls in the air and I couldn’t afford to let one of them drop. Panic set in. What have I done by accepting this full-time position? I have so many other responsibilities, how can I possibly take on another and not let anyone down—either my family or my colleagues at 4C?

I agonized over my decision and doubted my judgment.  Was this the right time for me to take this opportunity? Should I wait? Or was I just afraid?  I then began to challenge those questions.  Will there ever be a good time? Will I let circumstances get in the way of my life or will I embrace my circumstances and work this opportunity into my current life? My life will always be challenging and there will never be a good time to seize opportunities. All these thoughts went racing through my head for days resulting in sleepless nights.

I developed a list of pros and cons and talked with other moms who went from part-time to full-time work outside the home. I realized I also needed to convey my concerns to my future supervisors. They assured me of future opportunities if this wasn’t the right time for me or my family. They expressed an honest and frank assessment of my reluctance. They were patient as I was given time to consider my options.

Before arriving at my final decision, my husband and I had several discussions as to the impact my  working full-time would have on the family. We then proceeded with a family meeting. I explained to my children that I had a wonderful opportunity, but it would mean that I may not be able to do everything I did in the past–such as go to every game, etc. They were surprisingly supportive.

Then I found help with Gabrielle. Everything seemed to be falling into place. So I decided to seize the opportunity and go for it.

I started full-time this week. My family and I have survived. This morning, as I walked out my door, I could breathe a sigh of relief. Everyone’s needs have been met: my husband has a happy wife, my daughter and mother-in-law have care, and my boys are learning to be self-sufficient. As for me, I have more confidence and a renewed sense of purpose and self-worth. I am reminded that I will always be working myself out of one job description into another.

— Diann

Photo courtesy of Wondermonkey2k

4C Drives the Distance for Parents

Vote for 4C for Children TODAY in the Toyota 100 Cars for Good Program!

“To improve the quality, effectiveness and accessibility of early childhood education and care in the region so every child has a positive experience and a foundation for success in school and life.”

That’s 4C for Children’s mission statement. Before I joined 4C, I was a center director and was most familiar with the agency as one that trained early childhood professionals, so I knew they fulfilled their mission in that sense. What I didn’t know was how far 4C drives to carry it out regarding parents and families. Literally.

One of the reasons I joined 4C as a Family and Community Services Specialist almost a year and a half ago was that I wanted to reach parents on a broader scale than I had as a director. As the child care resource and referral agency for our region, our service areas covered 33 counties throughout Southwest Ohio, Miami Valley and Northern Kentucky. It’s so exciting to play a part in the important work 4C does to serve parents in all three of our regions, including providing referrals to parents seeking child care, educating parents on what to look for in a quality child care setting and presenting parent workshops on child development, kindergarten readiness and other parenting issues. Whenever I write a blog, present a workshop or help a parent, whenever I educate, equip or empower them, I get something for myself that I can apply to my own parenting.

But little worth having comes without a price. Though it’s a privilege to do this work, I know first-hand the amount of driving, mileage and wear and tear on a car that goes into serving parents across all three of our regions. And that’s why I’m asking you, not just as a professional, but as a parent who has benefited from the invaluable work 4C does, to vote TODAY for 4C for Children in Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good Program. Winning the car would enable 4C to reach more parents and go even further distances to serve them. That’s a win-win. For 4C. And for parents.