Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Am I Really Listening?


I’ve been reflecting on my previous blog post about wondering if my children are listening to me, and it got me thinking: am I listening to them?

There was a stump in the road
And it became clear
Everyone’s approaching
With lots of fear
How did this happen?
Is everyone okay?
Who will be able
To lift it out of the way?
Cars need to drive through
Are they going to see?
What if someone misses
And hits the piece of tree?
Is the driver aware
Of what he left behind?
Will he be back?
Looking to find?
Assumptions have been made
From what I don’t know
It quickly turns into
Quite a show!
What I learned
About what I didn’t see
Is it’s sometimes important
Not to make-up a story
It made me think hard
And giggle a bit
How many times do I do this
And don’t even realize it
Making assumptions
About what I see
Is this okay
For every story?
It made me reflect
about my beautiful children
And how I owe them
all their explanations
I need to listen
and hear what they say
I need to push my assumptions
out of the way
Allow them to be heard
Explain in their own words
The crucial situations
That actually occurred!
Not the things
I’ve made up in my head
Who knew with this stump
My own understanding would spread?

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Are They Listening?

are-they-listeningI often ask myself, “Are my kids are truly listening and processing when I speak to them?” No, seriously…I’m not trying to be funny! When I speak from the heart and feel like I am saying things that could help them grow, develop and make well thought out decisions, are they really listening? This age span that I have with my four children has me on my toes on a regular basis. I want to make sure when they have questions about the things that are going on in the world right now that I take the time to answer them and that they hear every word! Or, when my three-year-old points out a woman in a wheelchair or my eight-year-old giggles at her own gross burps in public, I need them to listen to me when I respond.

I know they aren’t listening when the very next time we are in the same situation the same things continue to happen. We sit in the car and have in depth conversations about why it’s not polite to stare at the woman in the wheelchair, and yet the very next time we are in public, my daughter’s first reaction to a man with no arm is to loudly ask, “What happened to his arm mommy?” In the car before we even enter a restaurant we go over the basic rules: use your manners, stay in your seat, and keep your voices down. But then my daughter burps so loud that the people at the table next to us can definitely hear. I explain for hours about freedom of speech to my son and how it’s an amazing right to have your own beliefs in our great country, but then he comes home from school talking about how stupid so-and-so is because they keep talking about how they want so-and-so to win the election!

I need to have my children’s full attention so these very critical moments grow into understanding and they can then make their own educated decisions. I need them to keep asking if they don’t understand. And for my part, even if I’ve answered them over and over, I need to stay patient and answer again if that’s what they need.

I have had a session with a school psychologist and during our discussion she enlightened me that children’s brains before and during puberty are like hills and valleys. You can’t be absolutely sure at any point in time if they are on the top of the hill (in the clouds and enjoying the view) or the bottom of the valley (trying hard and focusing on the climb).

I have been in the middle of a well thought out, prepared speech that makes so many great points, and they’ve looked up at me and said, “What?” as if they had not been listening to a single word. That’s when they are on top of that hill! But that moment when you actually stimulate conversations, questions and even examples they are at the bottom of that valley working hard to get up! They get it!

Bottom line, I have to keep teaching them. I have to laugh now and say this is why Dora the Explorer is so popular! She repeats and repeats a lot of things several times over. My kids roll their eyes and get irritated when I repeat myself on a regular basis, but if they only knew my gratitude when those eyes roll and I know then that they’ve heard what I said…finally.


When You Talk, Children Listen

Photo courtesy of Alec Couros.

Photo courtesy of Alec Couros.

A few weeks ago, a call from the school counselor stopped me in my tracks. The counselor was concerned because my children had arrived at school upset. They’d tearfully told their teachers and then the counselor that their “mom is having surgery and probably won’t make it off the table.” Shock and utter confusion were my first reaction until the explanation dawned on me: The wife of someone at my husband’s job – whose first name sounds like mine – is seriously ill and was scheduled for a surgery with a slim chance of survival. My guess was that my husband had mentioned her on the phone that morning and my children overheard. Talk about a game of Telephone gone wrong!

After assuring the counselor that I was whole and healthy and comforting my children, I made a quick call to my husband to check if my guess was right. Sure enough, it was exactly what I thought. Though I hope my husband would never discuss something like that knowing the children were within earshot, I still asked him to be more mindful of the fact that children are often listening when we adults aren’t aware.

Talking with Liv, who actually heard my husband’s statement and then relayed the message to her younger brother, I explained how adults need to watch what we say around children. Though she tends to be a bit of a drama queen, her reaction to her stepdad’s statement was totally understandable. And I told her as much. My husband didn’t frighten the children intentionally, but he frightened them nonetheless.

Cell phones and Blue Tooth ear pieces allow for conversations at our convenience. But they shouldn’t allow for them at the expense of our children. Perhaps it is necessary to weigh the impact our conversations may have on little listeners and have them behind closed doors. It’s a valuable lesson my family learned the hard way.


Start a Conversation By Putting Down the Phone

I often wonder what new contraption will be available to my kids five years from now. As it is, I can barely finish texting one reply to my child and I get three new messages!

And it’s not just my kids. I recently witnessed two very young children, maybe only 4 years old, playing with iPhones as they waited for their meals with their family at a restaurant. That seems way too young to me, not to mention my wondering what happened to family talk at the dinner table?

Meaningful human contact is necessary for children’s social and emotional development. Our babies enter the world craving social contact. You can observe this in the way their eyes follow you, the sounds they make and their social smile. When they become toddlers they imitate us as we (hopefully) model appropriate behaviors and emotions. If they don’t get that, how will they ever learn to self-regulate and have any emotional competence? I have seen many a teenager in today’s generation that does not know how to hold a conversation. How will they ever be able to hold down a job?

Dr. Bruce Perry of Early Childhood Today calls self-regulation the “second core strength.” He attests that attentive, caring adults respond to a child’s needs, and their responses provide stimulation that helps the brain develop the capacity to create and maintain healthy emotional relationships.

It’s obvious that phones and computers are a part of life now and that’s not going to change. But how can parents ensure that our kids are getting the nurturing they need in this world of technology? Instead of monitoring the computer, we are going to have to monitor ourselves! It doesn’t mean mom and dad can’t indulge in gadgets, but it does mean we have to be mindful.  Our children are emulating us and we need to practice what we preach. Let your kids see you turn off the computer and read a book. Instead of texting, talk to each other. Make time for family table talk. Endeavor to really communicate with your children and the next time you want to start a conversation, put down the phone.

– Debbie

Photo courtesy of horizontal.integration.

Lonely Parents

Guest blogger Carolyn Brinkman knows parents need support, and many of them aren’t getting it!

More and more, I have met parents who say that they have few friends in their life… and more and more I hear parents talk about feeling lonely or alone.   Today I talked to a preschool teacher who reported that several parents have confided in her that they truly have no one they call a friend.  And I can’t help but wonder…  is this something new or have parents been feeling this way all along?

I honestly don’t remember my mom ever saying that she was lonely – although as she was home with 5 children, maybe she didn’t have the time to say it!   I remember many talks she had with family members and neighborhood friends, I remember her church friends and I definitely remember that during emergencies, the neighbors, my mom’s friends or my grandparents were there in a pinch to take care of us kids.  With my generation, it seems that friends have changed.   We have more work friends than neighborhood friends, church friends remain intact and family supports are non-wavering.  But this is my experience, is everyone as fortunate as I?  And what about younger parents, do they have friends to lean on for support, especially parenting support?

As I think about our neighborhoods, our lifestyle and our society, I can honestly say that lonely parents don’t surprise me.  They dishearten me, but they don’t surprise me.  From what I am hearing and seeing, it is clear that many parents are in need of friendship.  And yet, we are more closed off from others around us.  We get busy, we try to keep up with our schedule and our daily expectations.  Communications are fast- paced and often non-personal.  I have a longtime friend whose brother is very ill and I sent her a text message today, and though I am sure she appreciated the message I did not really get to convey all my feelings and thoughts for her.  It was a five word message!

And so I am struck, not only with what our values and culture may be doing to the concept of friendship, but also struck with the choices and decisions I make.  Who do I want to be in my relationships and who do I want to reach out to?  I am fortunate,  I do have friends and family who support me, so what I chose to do to honor those relationships is critical.  The ways in which I communicate, the time I take to ensure that not only are those friends there for me but I am there for them is important.  I need to be as intentional in these actions as I am in exercising each day or watching my favorite television show.  Also, am I aware of others in my life who are lonely or isolated?  If so, I can take steps to reach out more, to be more inclusive, to open up my circle of friends to others.

There are lonely parents out there, parents trying to care for their families with little support.  Maybe we can figure out a way to ensure those supports are in place for more parents, maybe it is worth a little bit of our time.

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Why do some children bite?

Children bite for a variety of reasons.  When young children lack skills and strategies to communicate their feelings and needs effectively, this becomes a way of expressing frustration.

Young children are telling us what is happening to them as they grow. Infants may be telling us that their mouths hurt from teething.  Toddlers may be telling us that they need to be in a space that encourages them to move around, explore, and learn abut their environment.  Preschoolers may be telling us that they have seen or experienced biting and want to try it out.

Biting can also occur as a result of environmental conditions. Crowded, noisy, bright, or overstimulating environments may confuse or overexcite young children. Child/adult ratios that do not allow for close supervision can be unsafe and stressful. Learning materials, activities, and adult expectations that do not match children’s abilities, learning style or temperament may frustrate young children. Changes in the environment or routines that are not sensitive to young children’s needs can be upsetting. Schedules that do not match children’s needs may cause anxiety or boredom.

What is a child trying to tell us through biting?
Biting behavior can provide clues to how children are feeling and what they need from their environment to be successful  Powerful emotions are difficult for young children to manage and express.  These emotions may include:  anger, frustration, excitement, fear and anxiety.

When educators and parents understand what children are trying to tell them, they increase the chances of preventing and appropriately responding to biting behavior. Provide teething toys to relieve pains.  Provide opportunities to move and explore independently, and to make choices.  Allow a child to eat when hungry, sleep when tired, sit on your lap, or have enough time to finish an activity.  Acknowledge children’s frustration and give them the words to express their feelings.  Model the appropriate words to ask for something.  Provide consistent, nurturing relationships with responsive adults.  Recognize when children are unable to manage a situation on their own and intervene in a calm and caring manner.

Remember to create environments that match children’s individual developmental needs and interests.  Keep routines simple and consistent.  Limit the number of transitions for children and remember to give children an alone space and time for rest and relaxation.  Biting is usually a phase and shall pass in due time!


Posted by karen on Monday, January 04, 2010 10:24 PM

Parent-Teacher Conferences

One of the hardest things teachers have to do is sit down with a parent and deliver bad news. One of the hardest things parents have to do is hear it.  Whether your child seems to be having trouble learning, is thought to have a serious speech delay, has out-of-control behavior, or needs to be referred to a specialist for testing–the news is hard to take.

After you get home and have time to think, you may begin to question what you’ve been told. Teachers understand that the business of growing up is uneven for most children.  They tend to appreciate each child’s individual pace and know it takes a long time to grow and learn.  Teachers are teachers, not medical doctors, speech therapists or psychologists.  They can not and should not diagnose.  Working with children gives them insights, and they are usually accurate.  But even if a teacher’s insight proves to be wrong, understand that the teacher had an obligation to point out a concern to a parent.

The end result can be positive.  If a teacher suggests something is wrong, check it out.  Seek professional guidance and take the steps to correct a potential problem for your child.  Keep in mind, that no matter what you find out, one thing won’t change.  Your child is still the same child you loved before you heard the news–and always will be.

Posted by karen on Friday, October 30, 2009 10:29 AM