Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Trying New Things

toddler-playingWhen my 8-year-old daughter was only 9 months I was in a tough spot. I was faced with what I thought that day was a huge decision. I was asked to move her from the safe, soft, sweet, simple infant room into the loud, scary, falling onto, biting, drooling, messy toddler room. Technically it was my decision as I was lucky enough to have my kids in great care. Ms. Wendy told me, “Natalie is bored in the infant room and will do great in the toddler room getting to explore more. Think about if you don’t give her this chance to grow and experience this as she’s ready.”

Her comment reminded me of when my daughter was born and we brought her home from the hospital. My husband laid her on her brand new play mat under her hanging toys and I just giggled. “What?” he said and I explained, “Honey, she can’t even see those toys let alone reach for them yet.” He followed with, “How do you know? How do you know that exact moment when she will see them or reach for them? Why wouldn’t you put her here just in case today is the day?” That’s when my genius husband put his wife with all of the Early Childhood Education “expertise” to shame!

Ms. Wendy could see in my eyes I was still worried about my tiny, petite, little sweet angel going into a room with toddlers who were all at least 3 months older than her! She then said something to me that sticks with me to this day: “This is such a small decision compared to the lifetime of difficult ones you will have to make. For example, I am having the ‘Birds and Bees’ talk with my daughter tonight!” We both laughed and agreed! She promised to keep Natalie safe and help her transition comfortably. And she did! Natalie absolutely LOVED getting to go outside every day and play. To this day my still petite 8-year-old jumps at the chance to try something new and doesn’t seem to look at things as if she is too small to try—she will try anything!

Family Rituals

We don’t have too much ritual in our life anymore. And these life symbols which people rely on to keep their feeling of well being, that life is not too bad after all, are required more and more. – John Hench

I arrived home late Tuesday evening, exhausted, and asked my husband if he would put our daughter, Gabrielle, to bed. I heard him pull the covers over her and kiss her goodnight. But within ten minutes, she was calling for me. Her voice got louder and louder as she called for “mom.”  Reluctantly, I left my warm quilts to go see what it was she wanted. As I put her to bed again, she reminded me to pray, kneeling at her bed and motioning the sign of the cross. She wanted me to say our prayers together. I said, “God Bless,” and Gabrielle continued with Rory (a former pet), mom, dad and her brothers.

After her prayers, Gabrielle was asleep within a few minutes. I started thinking about the impact a change in routine can have, like the one I’d tried to do that night. Rituals, like saying our prayers together each night, are important for a child, no matter their age.

Photograph courtesy of Bill S.

Photograph courtesy of Bill S.

I established routines with my children at an early age and didn’t think of their significance until they communicated their concern by questioning me. For example, I always make a big deal with their birthdays: making signs and placing them all over the house so they see them when they get up in the morning. When my son Jared turned 15, however, I didn’t make him any as I thought he was too old and would think they were for little kids. To my surprise, when he got up, he asked about his signs! Boy, did I feel bad. So for his next birthday, I made sure there were signs!

Prior to running errands, I always kiss my kids goodbye and tell them where I’m going and that I love them.  Well, once when I forgot I received a phone call from my son Jansen asking where I was. I explained to him I was at the grocery store and I asked if he needed something while I was out. He said no. He said he didn’t know where I was and just wanted to know. I now make a point to tell him as well as text him where I am and when I’ll be home.

A lot of importance is placed on establishing routines with very young children, but Gabrielle, Jared and Jansen have made me aware that rituals matter to them, too, even as teenagers. They have taught me to never underestimate the significance of rituals. Even though I didn’t think my children cared, I realized that rituals create a comfort in knowing they have a strong foundation and a sense of security. Routines and rituals let them know they can rely on their family.

– Diann

The Power of Praise

Do we undermine a child's success when we praise too much (and without good reason)?

I believe that recognizing children for their good choices or positive behaviors helps them know when they “get it right.” I also believe this lets them know when I am proud of them and what it is that I appreciate. I think that knowing when someone is proud of you is positive. We all like to be recognized when we perform well – especially when that recognition comes from someone who matters. And we all know that the person who matters most to a child is his or her parent!

I do worry sometimes, though, that we are raising our children in a culture that “over-praises.” It seems to me that somewhere along the way, the practice of praise became associated with children developing a positive self-esteem. Low self-esteem has been blamed as a root for many childhood issues. So to combat this and ensure our children had a positive self image, we began to praise children even when their performance was mediocre. In many circumstances all children who participated in events were recognized. We stopped identifying the “winners” in an attempt to make all children feel good about themselves. If you ran the race you got a prize and it didn’t matter who crossed the finish line first – or does it?

I think who crossed the line first does matter. And I think that we have become so fearful of children feeling like failures that we are failing them. The reality is that I do not expect my children to excel in every area of their life. I expect that there are times they will succeed and times they will fall short. When they experience success I want to recognize that with praise. When they fail or fall short I want to help them deal with the disappointment. When they have really tried but failed I will praise them for their perseverance – but I am not going to turn the failure into a win. I believe that over-praising can actually deplete a child’s self-esteem – while a child overcoming a challenge promotes their self-esteem.

I believe in the power of praise. I believe it can be influential, especially when the praise for the children is coming from his or her parent. We need to praise our children and affirm that we notice their successes – no matter how small. But like anything else, it loses its spark when over-used.

– Carolyn


Supporting Who Children Really Are

As parents we often come face-to-face with differences within our own children. Why is this child so sensitive? Why does that child become so easily frustrated? When it comes to our children’s personalities and temperament, researchers have told us that 50 percent is innate–meaning our children are born with 50 percent of these traits, and the remaining 50 are learned from their environment. My experiences are right in line with the research.

My two nephews are very close in age and were raised in the same environment. Though they have learned similar ways to express feelings or problem solve, they have distinctly different temperaments. Nate, the oldest, was easy as a child. He slept anywhere, ate whatever you gave him and was happiest when he was around others. His brother Luke, however, had colic as a baby. He needed routines when it came to bed time, tolerated only certain foods and though social, he was also easily amused playing by himself. As they have grown, I have noticed that these traits still show up. Nate is the class clown. Luke is well organized and while he enjoys his friends, he’s more of a leader.

As parents, the differences in our children obviously impact our parenting. How we teach, respond or discipline children must change to meet the needs of the child. How can we not only respond differently to children based upon their traits, but also support their individuality?

A friend of mine was recently talking about her child being “too sensitive.” As we talked, it became clear to me that she was afraid her child would be easily hurt by others. She was trying to identify ways to “toughen” her up and balance out her sensitivity. I encouraged her to think instead about the positive aspect of her child’s sensitivity: her daughter’s empathy and ability to understand others’ feelings. Was this something she wanted to change? By the end of the conversation the focus had changed from her wanting to change her daughter to thinking about ways she could support her and see her sensitivity as a strength versus something that needed to be fixed.

As parents it is certainly our job to teach our children the skills they need to navigate the world–and some things need to be “fixed” or changed. However, I think who our children are at their core, the traits that define who they are – those we need to nurture.

– Carolyn

Photo courtesy of Shem Bisluk.

Helping Children Cope With Loss

While waiting patiently for an hour with my mother-in-law to begin her second round of chemotherapy, I had a lot of time to reflect on how we talk about loss with our children. It’s important to me to share these experiences with my children so they can see how I handle it. I’m hopeful that they won’t be as scared of hospitals, funerals and death as many of the adults that I know.

When my father passed last Christmas, part of me was in denial. For two years I had known that he had congestive heart failure, but he didn’t look any different; he was still my dad! My daughter, now 19, was also attached to him like glue. Gabrielle, too, had a chronic condition as well as developmental delays. She instinctively knew he was sick and would not leave his side. They would sit together on the couch, he sleeping while she read books.

We had six months to prepare for his loss.  I picked out books for Gabrielle to read, including The Two of Them by Aliki, The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Busgalia and When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers. We read them daily. Gabrielle responded the best to The Two of Them, as it described a warm, loving relationship between a young girl and her grandfather. In the book when the girl becomes a young lady, her grandpa grows old and sick and she cares for him with the same amount of love he had always shown her as a child. We both liked that part.

It was important to me that all three of my children were there for him, just like I was, and their dad, too. What tools or experiences did I want to give my children in regards to the death of a beloved relative? How could I teach my children to grieve, to be part of the experience of helping their sick grandparent? Part of their learning was in observing me. And part of it was in how I accepted them and their feelings.

I want my children to have a healthy view of death. As hard as it was for me to see my dad die, the experience itself was healing, therapeutic and spiritual, and it was one I was glad to share with my whole family. I was able to help care for and provide comfort and love to a man who had done the same for me my whole life. Even though I was grieving, I still had to be a mom. I still had to meet my children’s needs, and learn to accept that they might grieve differently than me. I had to be patient.

To help prepare my sons, who were 14 and 10 at the time, I encouraged them to talk, draw or write about their feelings or about the special times they shared with my dad. After he died, we shared our favorite memories of him. We also made a collage of pictures of our favorite moments with grandpa and hung it in the hallway of our home. Through activities like these, I hope that my children will learn to honor their feelings, including their sadness. But I also want them to rejoice and be glad that a loved one is in a much better place. I want them to celebrate their grandparents.

Although I am cautiously optimistic about the outcome of my mother-in-law’s treatment, I know my family will need to be prepared for whatever may come.  Just showing up daily and being present with grandma has been important for all of us, and I can trust that this is something we will go through together, supporting each other.

– Diann

Photo courtesy of Wes Browning.


“No” is a Love Word

When my father-in-law was a guidance counselor, he kept the phrase I’ve used as a title for this blog as a reminder on his desk. Working with kids all day, and going home to eight of his own, I can see how that was probably necessary just to stay sane.

“No” is a love word. I like to think about the power of that sentence. So often we talk about being positive with our children and how telling our children “no” might hinder their self-esteem. But sometimes, a parent just needs to say “no.”

“No” can be said in a loving way, even though it’s hard for some of us to say it! We want our children to have the best, have the things we didn’t have or just enjoy our company. I love the lesson one of my friends preaches, that children need us to “be their parent, not their friend.” Sometimes the hardest part of being a parent is when we have to deny our children a request only to meet with obnoxious behaviors. No parent likes the tears, the tantrums and the whining, but sometimes, there’s no way around them. I have learned the hard way that giving in only causes more work for me in the long haul.

I can remember being a new mom of a preemie after having an emergency c-section. I was sore, tired and zombie-like, not wanting to do anything after each and every two hour feeding. But I also had a toddler and a 6-year-old. I know they got away with murder. Sure, go ahead, tear the house up, I’m too tired to do anything about it. Those sanitary pads aren’t stickers, but they peel off the wall just fine.

Boundaries are a gift we can give to our children. We say “no” for their safety: Kids don’t realize the dangers of sticking a shiny fork into the wall socket, and that’s why parents must set and enforce the rules. We say “no” to ensure their health: Kids need more than gummy bears and chicken nuggets at every meal, and a good night of rest.

Don’t feel guilty about saying “no.” We need to express our love to our children, that our decisions are often for their own good. Hopefully one day, when my kids have kids, they’ll thank me.

But I won’t hold my breath.

– Debbie

Photo by II_browneyes_II.

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I Don’t Know How She Does It

In the new film, I Don’t Know How She Does It, Sarah Jessica Parker plays the part of a working mother and wife who is trying to further her career in the field of finance while also making her family a priority. Throughout the movie there are funny scenes that I think most mothers can relate to: Sarah’s character is often disheveled with  spots on her clothing from her kids, she lies in bed at night unable to sleep because of the lists she is making in her head and she judges herself when she misses out on events in her children’s lives like her son’s first hair cut.

Though I found these parts of the movie enjoyable and on target with the issues many mothers face, I was taken aback by the stereotypical references that were being played out between the characters. And by the sneers and side comments I was hearing in the theater, I would say that others were having similar reactions to these stereotypes.

In the film, the mother-in law was very judgmental and often referred to how mothers did things in her day. The main character’s male co-workers judged working mothers for missing out on being a parent, but did not see their role as a father the same way. And all of the mothers, those who worked and those who didn’t, judged each other for how they were raising their children. As I listened to the audience, I realized that what was happening on the screen was coming to life in the theatre. Viewers were making comments that judged the characters for their “type” of parenting or criticized the choices or expectations characters were placing on each other. The people making these comments, just like the characters in the movie, seemed to think it was natural to share their opinions on parenting. Because isn’t that something we all do?

It is my opinion that parenting is very personal. We all have thoughts about how children “should” be raised. And as most values go, there are differing aspects that can be considered both right and wrong. My response to this is that we become aware of the values and beliefs we have about parenting, and that we use this awareness in two ways.

First, that we intentionally adhere to our beliefs and values when caring for the children in our own lives, and that we use these values in making choices about the messages and expectations we give to our children. Second, that we realize that just as we have values, other parents have values too.  And that maybe we should not hold other parents accountable to our own values. After all, there is not just one right way to parent.

In the movie, Sarah’s character received support from her husband, a friend and a business partner. These three characters knew that she wasn’t perfect and yet they were the one’s speaking the phrase that gave the film its title, “I don’t know how she does it.” It seems to me that if we supported each other in our parenting efforts that we could all do it a lot easier.

– Carolyn