Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care


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What Did You Do to Show Kindness Today?

friends-kindness

This is the daily question we ask our kindergartener. Along with, “What was your favorite part of school today?” and, “Tell me about what you did in gym class,” we also want to communicate that being kind to others is just as important. We want to make sure we’re doing what we can to help him develop both academically and socially. What good to the world is it to be smart if you don’t share that gift with others?

Kindness can be quite a broad topic for a five-year-old, so we focus in on specific behaviors such as helping a friend up if they fall down, noticing if someone is feeling sad and asking them if they’re okay, smiling and saying “Hi” to people passing by, etc. These target behaviors are meant to help him develop skills in becoming more aware of those around him and treating others how he would like to be treated. We also like to point out when we see these things in others by calling attention to a peer who shares their toy with us or thanking someone who holds the door open for us.

In the early childhood sphere, we often talk about how teachers will see more of whatever they give attention to. As parents, we try to do the same. Very often, we miss the mark—this parenting thing is difficult! Information overload in parenting is a real thing, and it is impossible to do everything we’re told we should do. As parents, we have had to try our best to cut out all of the noise and get down to the basics of what type of people we hope our sons will grow to be. Kindness is one trait we hope they possess. We take this journey day by day, one example at a time, calling attention to the kindness we eagerly anticipate seeing more of.


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.


What’s (on) your sign? Supporting children’s self-esteem

When my 5-year-old daughter Maddy is upset with me, along with the expected tears and pouting, she frequently announces to me that I am “hurting her heart.” You might think I’m a terrible mother, but when I hear this response from her I have to admit that I laugh a little bit. Not because I am insensitive, but because it feels to me like she’s overreacting. Or is she?

Photo courtesy of Jonas Seaman.

Photo courtesy of Jonas Seaman.

As an elementary education student in college, I remember a lecture from a professor who talked about thinking of your students walking into your classroom each day with an invisible sign with their name on it that represents their self-esteem. He asked if during the school day were we helping our students keep their sign intact or unknowingly helping to rip their sign apart, piece by piece. In fact, he said some students might enter our classrooms with their sign already ripped and torn. Were we helping to piece their sign back together through our interactions with them, or were we continuing the work that somebody else had started?

As parents we all have wish lists for our children: to be kind, smart, polite, etc. But I believe the most important wish we can have for our children is that they learn to love and value themselves. I imagine Maddy’s sign: probably pink and purple all over with lots of glitter and definitely a unicorn or two added. She is usually a very self-confident young girl but I wonder, would the edges of her sign be frayed and torn from something I have said or done? Instead of simply laughing to myself when she tells me I am hurting her heart, maybe I should listen. Even if it doesn’t change the way I discipline, I should be helping her to put her sign back together, not take it apart.


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Do You Speak Your Child’s Love Language?

Have you ever tried to learn a second language? I took French in college but since I don’t readily practice it, I barely remember any of what I learned other than a few phrases like “je ne sais pas” or “je t’aime!” Speaking a second language reminds me of talking to my kids at times. We’re talking to each other but sometimes the meaning is lost in translation.

One of my favorite books, The Five Love Languages of Children by Dr Gary Chapman, explains that we all have ways that we show others we love them without speaking, a special way we express and interpret love, called “love languages.”  I’ve used this book to help me understand the different love languages my children speak. In fact, I have little notes all over the pages for quick reference when I feel the need to really pipe down and “reach” one of my children.  Dr Chapman names the five  love languages as: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.

For example, my husband loves a clean house and pays more attention to me when I am washing dishes or mopping a floor. That tells me his love language is most likely acts of service. When I am doing anything to ease his burden of responsibility he feels loved and that I care about his feelings. My youngest child is a mix of quality time and physical touch. She likes to be within my physical presence most of the time and was my biggest cuddler. She is the one who loves to have me sit in her bed and read to her, watch movies together or go on special shopping sprees. My other daughter most definitely craves words of affirmation. Saying something to her without carefully choosing the right words or the right tone can set her off and shatter her confidence.  In her mind, words are not easily forgotten whether good or bad. Just knowing that each of my children “speaks” differently has helped me in my parenting practices and even staved off power struggles.

By making an effort to learn your child’s love language and taking the time to “speak it,” not only are you letting them know you love them, but you are also building a stronger relationship.  What if you could say or do just the right thing to make your child feel loved?  Wouldn’t you give it a try?

– Debbie

Photo courtsey of Kevin.


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Everyone Needs a Best Friend

Nurturing and cultivating friendships is a vital part of growing up, but for some children, making friends may not come easily.

When we moved into a new neighborhood, my daughter Gabrielle definitely struggled. When we saw a group of children her age playing we immediately went over to introduce ourselves but the kids ran away. Gabrielle ran after them but when she couldn’t catch up she burst into tears. It broke my heart to see her hurting! But there wasn’t anything I could do. I didn’t know how to make the neighborhood children like her and want to be her friend.

But it turns out she didn’t need me to make anyone be her friend. Last summer Bailey came into my daughter’s life. Because of Gabrielle’s special needs, I needed someone to be with her during the week while I was at work, and Bailey gladly accepted the position. A week later, I received a text message from Bailey:  

“I do not think of Gabrielle as a ‘job.’ She has become a good friend and I am glad I am spending my summer with her.” 

I was overwhelmed! My daughter had made a friend who appreciates her for who she is, not what she can or cannot do.

Bailey exposes Gabrielle to the teenage experiences that I can’t: trying on dresses at the mall, laying out at the pool, playing guitar and piano together, rocking out to country music, painting fingernails and braiding each other’s hair. Bailey even took Gabrielle to a festival on her day off, and the two of them had a blast dancing to music and riding rides. Hearing the two girls giggle has been music to my ears!

When Bailey left for college last August, she promised Gabrielle she would stay in touch and true to her word, Bailey continued to be a part of Gabrielle’s life through phone calls and Skype. When she came home for the holidays, Bailey introduced Gabrielle to her college friends and they all whisked Gabrielle away for lunch or ice cream.

According to Bailey,

“Gabrielle may be different in many ways; she may need my help to walk and care for her when she has a seizure, but most of all she needs my friendship and I need hers. Gabrielle isn’t just a job; she is like family to me now. I don’t care for her because it’s what I’m paid to do. I care for her because I love her. She has helped me more than she will ever know. She has taught me selflessness, patience and most of all, unconditional love.”

Everyone needs a best friend. Or should I say a Bailey?

– Diann


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There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Bad’ Emotion!

This past weekend while helping a close friend deal with a family conflict, I became acutely aware of the differences between families when it comes to expressing feelings and resolving conflicts. My friend’s family, for example, avoids any direct conflict. They tend to keep feelings and attitudes hidden from each other. Their responses are so much different than the way my family has always done things, and made me realize how grateful I am for the openness in my own family.

When I was a child, we were encouraged to express our feelings, share our thoughts and explore different ways of resolving conflicts. Most feelings, like happiness, love and sadness, could be expressed through words and actions. We were permitted to cry, expected to give hugs and free to “jump” for joy. Feelings of anger were different. When angry we could use words to express our feelings but actions out of anger were not accepted. We were allowed to share our opinions, even if the source of the anger was our parents. But slamming doors, stomping our feet or rolling our eyes was not okay. We were taught to share our feelings of anger and work towards a solution. A solution entailed the intention to “work through it” to resolve the conflict.

The opportunities I had to lean into conflict and openly share my feelings with those I trusted had a tremendous impact. And perhaps that is the most significant part. By being able to practice these skills with people I trusted, I was able to develop my own conflict resolution style and feel confident in my abilities to do so. I realize that how I was taught to resolve conflicts may not be what others are comfortable doing. However, I am convinced that developing these skills is critical and that families play a large role in this process.

As parents, we often parent our children the way we were parented, and I believe in the philosophy that there is no one right way to parent. However, I also believe that sometimes parents automatically parent without stopping to be intentional. I think my family norms developed as a part of a process. As we grew as a family and had new experiences, my parents were intentional about their expectations, aligning them with their values and what worked for us as a family. When making decisions about how to do things like resolve conflicts or deal with storms of angry tears, as parents we need to be clear on the capabilities we want to give to our kids. We need to intentionally determine and consistently follow expectations for addressing feelings and conflicts. Children who learn to express their feelings and “work through it” retain these skills as adults! And isn’t that ultimately what we want?

– Carolyn

Photo courtesy of Eric Havir.


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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.