Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

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Trust Comes First

I am often approached by parents looking for advice on disciplining their children. I don’t think I have ever met a parent who didn’t struggle with this task. Parents clearly get that their role is to ensure children know right from wrong. They are responsible for teaching their children how to behave, and to demonstrate for their children that there are clear consequences when they act poorly or make the wrong choice.  Though they are clear about their role and the desired outcome, most parents struggle on how to get there.

When it comes to disciplining your children, trust comes first.

My first piece of advice is that the relationship between a parent and child needs to be built first. Parents often make the mistake of trying to manage their child’s behaviors, yet have not established a trusting relationship with their child. It is critical that the child identify the parent as the person they can count on. Parents who are responsive to the needs of their children are more likely to have children who will respond to them. Children who feel attached to their parent are more likely to want to please the parent.

Attachment begins with infants. Picking up your baby when she cries, cooing back to her while you hold her and holding her while you feed her are three ways to start the bond with your young child. As your child grows this attachment is further nurtured by your emotional responses. Listening to your child, reassuring him when he is frustrated and continuing to soothe and hold your child are ways to nurture that attachment.

My second piece of advice is to “do what you say.” Doing what you say is not limited to discipline. Children need to know that you will follow through. Do not make promises you can’t keep. If you make a commitment to play a game or watch a TV show then it is imperative that you do that. Children who know their parent will “do as they say” are less likely to test limits set by their parent. But this sense of respect is earned. I have heard many parents say that children just need to respect authority, but know that they will respect you as a parent when you have demonstrated behaviors that can be trusted and respected.

Discipline will be more successful once you have established a bond with your child and your child is able to trust your actions. Consequences tend to be more effective when they are clearly connected to the behavior you are addressing. For example, if a child breaks something, then taking toys away may make sense. A child who refuses to get ready for school in the morning has to go to bed earlier and a child who tells a lie needs to learn that lying limits your ability to trust.

Lastly, just know that your style of discipline and the type of discipline children respond to is based upon you and your child. There will be some trial and error, but you will truly see that discipline is easier when a trusting relationship comes first.

Writing Thank You Notes: A Chore No More

Writing thank you notes has in the past felt like a chore to me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the nice gesture of receiving a gift, but I’ve always struggled over what to say  and how to say it. Many years I would procrastinate and then forget to do it. Weeks would go by and when I remembered to write them I would feel guilty that it took so long to write and send in the mail.  Often,  I figured too much time had gone by so I  ended up not writing them which made me feel worse.  Each year was a hit and miss as to whether thank you notes from my children were written to grandparents, aunts and uncles. Because I didn’t like writing thank you notes, I not only made it a chore for me but for my children, as well.

The typical scenario between my children and I would go like this:  I would resort to nagging them despite their moaning and whining about having to do it and begrudgingly, my kids would end up doing the task. Now, what was I teaching my children? I knew I wasn’t instilling good manners and I felt guilty. The cycle of putting it off and whining about it continued until I was sick and tired of feeling bad for not only me but my children, too. I decided to turn things around. I vowed to change my attitude and demonstrate to my children that thank you notes are essential and fun to write.

I embraced the process by making it a fun family activity. I filled a basket with of different cards, stickers, stamps and colored pens. My husband and I  promoted creativity by challenging our children to think about different ways they can express their gratitude besides just writing a note? One of our children answered that they could send a picture themselves with their brand new gloves on their hands.

Now,  instead of delaying the thank you notes, my children write them the day after receiving a gift. We have adopted this as our family practice. I have found it helps when the whole family writes thank you notes together. It is much easier now that my kids can write their own cards. When they were younger and unable to write, I would write on the card as they would dictate to me in their own words about the gift they received and why they liked it. I involved  them in the process by encouraging them to draw on the card.  As they grew older, they would write in blank cards, and later, to writing the cards themselves.

This process has helped my children understand that the thank you note isn’t  about the gift but more about the individual who cared enough about them to send them something special – like when my son Jared received a guitar from his grandmother, who knew how much he liked music . All my children discovered how much a person appreciates the gesture of a thank you note when their grandmother expressed to them how much she liked receiving it in the mail. They realized she felt appreciated for her acts of kindness, and it kept motivating them to write thank you notes.

Instead of the chore it once was, writing thank you notes is something my family and I now enjoy doing together.  It has taught us to appreciate and express gratitude towards each other, too.

You Are Not Alone

During one of my holiday jaunts to the grocery store, I witnessed a young mother attempting to deal with a raging child. The little girl, who appeared to be about 3, threw a temper tantrum as her mother continued to deny her demands to purchase a toy. As I traveled up and down several aisles, I caught glimpses of the drama. The child really worked hard to get her way. She flung herself on the floor, she swung her arms at her mother and screeched, “But I want it!” Her mother tried reasoning with her, encouraging her to stop and failed at attempts to get her back into the grocery cart. Eventually the drama concluded as the young mother picked up her flailing child and exited the store.

As I turned down the next aisle, several women began to comment on the drama we had just witnessed. One woman stated, “Oh, I remember those days.” Another commented. “I felt so bad for her,” and a third lamented that “toys are not needed in a grocery store.” And what pleased me about these comments was the bystander support this young mother was receiving. Not one person who spoke cast a stone or spoke negatively. Instead, these parents responded empathetically to the mother’s attempt to manage her child’s incredible outburst.

And though this mother was given a lot of support, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that she was not there to receive it. I am sure the young mother left the store feeling embarrassed and extremely frustrated, as many of us do when faced with our children’s challenging behaviors. We wonder what we have done wrong, or feel completely inept as our attempts to control the situation fail. And the reality is we have all been there. We have all been faced with parenting challenges. And not a one of us is a perfect parent.

I wonder, what would have happened if any of us had offered our support to this mother? And what prevents us from stepping in to help? For me I think I hesitated because I believed she could handle it. That she would make the decisions and take action based upon what she believed to be best for her child. I mean, who am I to offer support to a stranger? And yet I felt sad that this young mother was unaware of the support others had for her.

And maybe when faced in the future with a similar situation, I will choose to offer my help. Because one thing we can all attest to is that support from others who have been through what we’re experiencing is extremely valuable. It is helpful to know we are not alone and that all parents face similar challenges. There’s safety and comfort in numbers!

Following Your Children’s Lead

Parenting is one of the most informative on the job training experiences that I have ever had in my life. Each day that I parent I learn something new about my children’s personalities, likes and dislikes. I have a tendency to plan parties or activities that I think are fun and sometimes I forget to consider my children’s interest while planning.

Think you know what's fun for your kids? Think again!

In order to reward my son for academic achievement I placed three incentive choices inside of a hat. I told my son that he could pick one item from the hat each time he had a good report card. His choices were going to Dave & Buster’s, shopping at the mall or going to the movies. Once my son picked all of the incentive items from the hat I was pressured to come up with more ideas.

So one day when I picked him up after school I said, “Okay, Joe, you name the place and we will go.” I started rambling off ideas that I thought would be fun, most of them related to my own personal interests and not necessarily his interests. He said, “Mom, can’t we just go to the pet store?” Because animals aren’t exactly my favorite thing I was very hesitant to go along with his choice, but go along with it I did.

And we had an amazing time. My son selected three puppies to play with, held a bird and escorted me up and down each aisle explaining tons of details about each item in store. We spent almost two hours in there! During the time with my son I learned so much from him and gained meaningful insight about the things that make him happy.

After our wonderful trip to the pet store I realized that the choices inside the reward hat were some of my favorite things, not his. I am so glad I decided to follow his lead that day. In the future when I plan activities for my children I will be sure to put their interest firsts. I thought if I did not spend any money we could not have a good time, boy was I wrong. When I followed his lead I learned so much (and saved some money, too).


Slow Down and Smell the Poinsettias

The holiday season can be downright stressful. There never seems to be enough time or money to do all the things you want to do for and with your family. So often as parents we place undue pressure on ourselves to create the perfect holiday experience for our children and families. The perfect presents, the perfect decorations, the perfect dinner… it can all be perfectly maddening.

Don't get caught up pursuing perfection this holiday season!

Last week in pursuit of this perfection, I worked for hours looking for and hanging decorations.  I literally spent an entire day doing nothing but. Several times during the day my daughter asked me if I would play with her, and each time I said, “Not now, I’m busy. When I’m finished.”

When I finally sat down to relax and enjoy the fruits of my labor, my daughter sat down next to me and asked if I would play with her. I immediately told her I was too tired.  Then I saw the disappointment on her face.  She’d been waiting all day to spend time with me and I had let her down.

It was an “A-ha” moment for me.  It’s definitely a work in progress, but I am trying to do my best to slow down and be intentional about how I spend my time this holiday season. When I start to feel overwhelmed I have decided to just BREATHE

B:  I will do my best to BE in the moment and not worry.
R:  I will REMEMBER to be grateful for my family.
E:  I will EXTEND kindness to everyone I encounter.
A:  I will ACCEPT help from others.
T:  I will take a TIME-OUT when I become overwhelmed.
H:  I will extend a hand of HELP to someone who is need.
E:  I will EXHALE – it’s going to be ok!

Here’s hoping you are able to do the same!

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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

So often we address our youngsters with warnings about their behaviors: Watch what you are doing. Use your manners. Play nice. It is our responsibility to make sure they learn how to navigate themselves in the world. We have learned from our own experiences that others make judgments based upon the actions they observe, so we want our children to be careful and learn from a young age that actions speak louder than words.

And though we tend to heap this advice on our children, I often wonder if we really get it. We are so busy using the words to get the messages across to our children that we often forget that it is our actions that really make the difference.

Parents often give children advice that they don't follow themselves! Remember that how you act is going to teach your child more than what you say.

This past weekend I watched as an entire row of football fans became enthralled with a 5-year old boy who was “learning the ropes.” The boy, who was clearly a Bengals football fan, was with his father. During the first offensive series he was in awe of the fans around him who cheered and gleefully exchanged “high-fives” as the Bengals moved the ball down field. When the Bengals’ defense took the field the noise around him grew as fans stood up, loudly chanted and banged their seats. At first he looked shocked, his eyes grew wider but than a smile grew across his face when again the “high-fives” were exchanged amongst the fans. Now his hand flew up in the air as he reached for a “high-five” from, me, the strange woman behind him who only seconds before was bounding on her seat and yelling at the top of her lungs.

As the game continued he grew more and more confident in his actions. He mimicked the gestures during the fight song; he reached all around for high-fives and banged on his seat when the defense took the field. Women and men behind him, next to him and in front of him smiled as he “took on” the actions of a Bengals fan. And it was simply our actions that made this impact. No one talked to him and explained why you make noise when the defense is on the field. No one corrected him or reminded him to chant defense. He simply watched, made some observations and mimicked what was going on around him.

And we know this happens all the time. We know our children are watching and yet we often act poorly. We think teaching is about words when we can teach our children so much more through our behaviors. Children learn how to express feelings, deal with frustration, solve problems and socialize with others by watching our actions. It is what we do and how we do it that makes the difference.

This past weekend a group of adults had a great time teaching a new fan the ropes. I sure hope his father was happy with what his son learned at the game!

Dad lost his job, now what?

When my husband came home last month to tell me he would be unemployed within 30 days, I went into panic mode. I had so many questions. How long would it take for my husband to find another job?  How would we survive while he was unemployed? How would we afford our mortgage, utilities, food and property taxes, let alone extracurricular activities for our kids, SAT/ACT  and college application fees? How would we tell our children? I passed a lot of sleepless nights thinking it all through.

How to help your children understand when a parent loses their job.

When we delivered the news to the kids, we explained the need to tighten up the reigns and determine and prioritize our needs. Jared, my older son asked, “Are we going to be homeless?” I assured him that we wouldn’t, we’d just be on a tight budget;  instead of going out to eat, we would eat at home,  buy generic brands when  grocery shopping and refrain from extra activities for a little while.

Their responses as we’ve tightened up have been pretty typical. They complained that the chips in their packed lunches aren’t Doritos. Jared’s football team has been eating out for their pre-game dinners.  Jared had been using the money he made cutting lawns this summer to go with his buddies.  When his funds were depleted, he came to me. I told him it wasn’t in the budget. I was expecting a negative reaction, but to my surprise, he didn’t put up a fight. When my younger son, Jansen, had to miss a Boy Scout trip to Red River Gorge, his scout leader contacted me. After I explained our situation, he told me about available scholarships and that no scout will ever be turned away from an event. I was relieved as I know attending campouts are where badge requirements are met.

Living on a tight budget isn’t always comfortable but it is teaching our family to be resilient, to ask for help and to access resources. As a family we are learning to problem solve together and create a game of where we can cut corners.  I hope this experience helps my children know what’s truly important: that it’s family, love and security that bring them joy and happiness, not material things.