Sometimes raising kids is like riding the electric walkways you find at the airport.
You kind of lean over a bit, relax a bit as it takes you where you want to go. Then you spy that little thruway thing, and brace yourself for a brief trip in no-man’s land schlepping all of your stuff.
It doesn't really matter how old your kids are. It doesn't matter if you’re a single parent, a grandmother raising her grandchildren, or a two-parent family. It doesn't even really matter if your kid (or kids) is an angel or a devil on training wheels. A problem comes up, you agonize, philosophize, poll the various parties about what to do.
Then you embark on a lengthy or not-so-lengthy “solution” to the problem. Things settle down a bit. You pat yourself on the back, enjoy the peace and quiet for a bit, and then BOOM! Kid #2 starts acting up.
I think they've got some sort of lottery system going.
In the beginning you don’t realize it. You come home from the hospital full of smiles, high hopes, and a bunch of unrealistic expectations. But after a while they start to grow up, and that sweet little spinach-covered regurgitation machine turns into this THING.
The first time they look at you and start singing to a different tune, it's really cute. Maybe you even take a picture. After a while, it's not so cute anymore, and then you realize that it's not as cute as you thought. By the time you realize that this is it, they're going to keep doing this for their whole bleeping life, it's too late. You can't go back to the hospital and insist that this can't possibly be your child, and that somehow they must have switched babies.
Seasoned parents disagree on which is worse: dealing with the same problem over and over again (what is this, the Twilight Zone? I thought we dealt with this already) or enjoying the thrill of a brand new problem each time.
And know that the solution that worked today isn't guaranteed to work tomorrow.
But there is one thing that I can guarantee you, and it's this: IT’S NOT GOING TO END ANYTIME SOON. And the reason is this: your child is not a finished product. And he or she won’t be a finished product until they come to you with their own children.
Maybe not even then.
It could drive a person to start longing for the good old days of orphan trains and Oliver Twist orphanages…unless you realize that kids are really like unpolished diamonds, and you are the diamond polisher.
Keep up the work, and someday you’ll look at your child and say-hey, I didn't do such a bad job after all.
It's not easy dealing with an anxious child. The whining, the tendency to overgeneralize and aggrandize every little incident, can push many parents to the edge. You may feel irritated and frustrated when despite all of your efforts at explanation, your child continues to be fearful.
However with help and these 5 suggestions, you can help your child overcome her anxiety.
1. Acknowledge her fears as real. When faced with a fearful child, it is tempting to try and soothe her by explaining away her fears. A 4 year old who is afraid of dogs might be given all sorts of explanations why the neighbor's dog won't hurt her. A 6 year old who is afraid of burglars might be given all sorts of logical demonstrations as to why his home is safe from burglars.
A better way of handling the situation is to acknowledge the feelings and thoughts behind the fear. For example, you might try putting an arm around the 4 year old, and say, "I see you're really scared by that dog? Are you worried he's going to hurt you?"
Most parents avoid this method, because they've seen their child become even more upset. It is true that when responded to like this, a child will become temporarily more hysterical. However this is only a temporary reaction.
This hysteria is part fear, but also part relief that you really do understand how they feel. If you stick with it, reassuring them that you understand these are scary feelings to have, and offering physical comfort, they will calm down fairly quickly after that initial hysteria.
2. Teach your child how to recognize and express his feelings of anxiety and fear. Children often don't know how to handle the strong feelings they experience. They may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of their feelings, and so they may rely on you, the parent, to help them.
When you see your child entering the "danger zone" of fear, you can help him be more aware of his body language, tying it in later to a particular feeling. For example, if you see your 5 year old starts clinging to you, you can stop, bend down next to him, and say, "I'm looking at you now, and I see a boy whose muscles are really tight! (Squeeze his arm muscles to show him what you mean).
I also see how your eyes are wide, and you're breathing faster than you usually do. All of these things tell me you are feeling scared about something."
3. Teach her ways to cope with her anxiety. The real problem with your fearful child is not that he is fearful; but how he handles his fears. Everyone has fears at one time or another, whether we talk about or not. However, as adults, we have acquired various ways of coping with our fear.
Some people may go for a walk, others start housecleaning, while others head to the fridge. Your child also has a coping mechanism, albeit an ineffective one. You need to replace your child's ineffective coping mechanism by teaching her what to do when she feels anxious.
Sit down with your child, and explain that sometimes people feel scared or worried about things. Give an example of a recent worry that you or someone else the child knows had. Then explain that we don't have to be stuck with our fear; we can do something to help us feel better. Then brainstorm together with them, and write up all the suggestions.
If your child is under 9, you could even take a picture of her carrying out each of the suggestions; in the midst of an anxiety attack a picture will get through to her panicked mind more easily. When your child starts becoming fearful, carry out the previous steps, and then bring your child to the chart you have made together.
You may have to gently prod her to engage in one of the activities, and it is okay to say to her that if she does X, then you will read a special story together before bedtime, for example.
4. Put limits on his behavior. You and your child may find it easier to let old habits lie; after all, changing your child's ineffective ways of handling his fears takes time, effort, and energy. However, in order to help your child, you will need to be consistent about what you require of him.
If you only occasionally help your child learn to recognize his body language, or every so often casually remind him about his list of coping mechanisms, you will make very little progress. Initially it will require a commitment on your part to invest the time and energy you will need to get the job done. No, your child will not always respond well to your understanding reassurances. She may resist listening to her MP4, as you discussed.
But if you keep at it, little by little your child will replace those ineffective behaviors with new, effective ones - and you will find yourself one day with a child who handles her fears with aplomb.
There is a lot of talk about teaching children to solve problems on their own. Whole curriculums have been erected by educators determined to train children to “independent thinking” with a host of group games, written exercises, and mind games.
If you walk into any bookstore or browse online you’ll be inundated by workbooks, computer games, and five-minute brain teasers that practically guarantee your child will be at least as competent as Wittengenstein, if not more.
I’m not against any of this, mind you. I’ll be fair, and allow any good man to go ahead and make his buck; after all, this is a capitalist society, is it not? But one thing all of the slick covers and eager beaver salesmen forget to tell you is that the trophy of problem solving is intimately connected with independence.
I don’t want you to confuse independence with the kind of cocky speech so common to child stars and sitcoms, the kind where the child has an answer (usually not a nice one) for everything the parent says.
When I was a kid my parents called that backtalk, and any kid who did that could expect to hear, “Did I ask your opinion?” followed by a swat on the bottom. (let’s not get started on the spank/no spanking debate- one swat on the behind didn’t kill me or any of my siblings-or their friends for that matter-but to each his own).
Independence also doesn’t refer to this generation’s tendency to let children decide what’s best for them, even though their parents may be uncomfortable or downright against those choices.
If you think letting your teenager hang around the mall until late at night, or hang out with friends for long periods of time at your house unsupervised is independence, then this article can’t help you. You’ll have to look elsewhere for the panacea to your problems.
If, however, you can understand that true independence means making some difficult choices that may not be so popular, then you are already well on your way to helping your child survive on their own.
If you also understand that true independence can only occur when you have given your child the structure, the values, the conscience to do what is right so they will be able to exercise their independence in a way that will be helpful to others, then you are most certainly ahead of the crowd.
I have one more surprise for you: The real definition of independence is more than being able to solve problems on your own. The fact is that not all problems can be solved on your own; heck, a good number of problems either can’t be solved or will never be solved in one person’s lifetime.
The best working definition of independence must include the ability to seek out others to help you solve a problem, if necessary, as well as having the coping skills to deal with a problem that has no best solution.
Let’s take for example, the problem of a class bully. Little Timmy, smart as a whip but small for his age, finds himself at the receiving end of Midge and friends, a group of older boys who swagger around the school grounds in search of fresh meat. Until now Timmy has managed to escape their notice; perhaps Team Midge was busy with other prey, or perhaps he simply fell under the radar.
At any rate, now Timmy is the light of their life, and finds himself in a bit of a sticky situation (to put it mildly) about two or three times a day. What should Timmy do? The problem of bullies is one that has existed since Cain and Abel, and Timmy is not about to wave a magic wand and solve all of Midge’s deep-seated feelings of inferiority.
Timmy has several choices, none of which are all that great. He can turn to the powers that be and beg for 24/7 police protection. That might work, at least a little while, but then he risks the wrath of Midge and company, and will possibly be looked upon as a snitch by his friends. He could try the ol’ lunch money trick, but Timmy is not rich, and he has hopes of some day eating more than twice a day.
The truth is that this situation really has no good answer. Any solution that Timmy hits upon is likely to work for only a little while.
The real question then becomes: who can Timmy approach to help him handle this situation? Can he approach Midge’s sworn enemy? Can he look towards an older, stronger neighbor to help? Can he get together a group of other kids Midge has picked on in the past, and maybe wage a secret war?
And how will he handle the effects of being picked on? The lost school books, missed lunches, not to mention concerned parents, will have an influence as well. Timmy must know how to juggle all of the various balls in the air, or face the unpleasant consequences.
All in all, it’s a situation with no easy answers. Timmy’s parents might want to rush in and solve the problem for him, but in reality it’s a problem that is all his own. It is Timmy who must walk the plank each and every day, never knowing how hungry the sharks are that day.
It is Timmy who will have to muster up the courage to try and solve the problem. Timmy’s parents can cheer him on, they can kiss the boo-boos and serve him ice-cream, but ultimately it is Timmy who must face the music. And the sooner they both realize that, the better.
Rahna Reiko Rizzuto says that she never wanted to be a full-time mother.
She came to this discovery after leaving her family behind to pursue a six month fellowship in Japan. When her children came to visit, she says she realized that she had never really wanted to be a mother at all. She adds that she was "afraid of being swallowed up" by motherhood.
And so after ending her 20 year long marriage, she gave full-time custody of her 5 and 3 year old to her husband.
Another mother, Talyaa Liera, says leaving her children behind wasn't an easy decision to make. After attachment parenting, breastfeeding through toddlerhood, and the family bed, she says that, "I realized that by being so nurturing, I was in some ways keeping my children from growing to their potential." So after months of preparation, she left her then 13, 9, and 5 year old and set out on her own.
Both mothers explain that they felt overwhelmed my motherhood; swallowed up by its' responsibilities to the point where they felt there situation was harmful to their children and themselves. Neither mother, however, was ever abusive to her children, either physically or emotionally.
So the question remains: is it okay for a mother to leave her children? Somehow leaving your children behind is considered more acceptable for fathers, or at least understood. But I think that most people who look at these mothers would see their choices as purely selfish.
It's easy for me to feel sympathetic for a mother who feels she must give up her children to keep them safe. But giving up your children in order to find yourself? Or them? Was there no middle ground?
I also wonder if the second mother, Talyaa Liera, didn't overdo things with her committment to her children. It sounds a lot like she felt the way she raised her children was the only way. Perhaps she really did believe that she was raising her children in the best way possible for them. But it doesn't sound like she stopped to consider that her needs come first.
Many parents nowadays feel they have to do everything for their children, regardless of whether it is right for them or for their families. They feel pressured by friends, extended family, society in general.
But it's critical that parents remember that you come first. Remember the safety instructions on the airplane? You mask up first not because you're selfish, but because that's the only way you can help your child.
Parenting from the inside-out is the same way. You do what is best for your children, not based on what society thinks is best for your children, but based on the values you and your partner have chosen after careful consideration.
And like giving yourself a mask before your child, it's your responsibility to make sure you take care of yourself too. Because parenting is not at all about losing yourself; it's about using the challenges, joy, and frustration that parenting brings to make you a better individual.
Raising said child takes up a substantial amount of your time. Between the speech therapy and the play therapy, the sensory diet and the occupational therapy, it's amazing you and your best beloved even know what the other looks like.
Now let's imagine that even though you always keep one eye out on the horizon for the one thing that could finally be It - someone, somewhere, somehow, still finds it their duty to tell you how you should be running your child's life.
And not just one someone - a whole truckload of someones.
Wherever you go, whether it's the teenage bagger at the grocery store, a "concerned" mom at the local playground, a friend, neighbor, brother, sister, uncle, or goodness knows who else, everyone seems to want to tell you exactly what to do.
Actually, there are a lot of things you have to do. Bathing is one thing. Wiping after you go to the bathroom is another. And there are definitely things you have to do if you want have a particular outcome. Like, it's a good idea to pay your electric bill on time if you like seeing when it's dark outside.
You can't do everything. You can't even do half of everything.
You know it's a recipe for failure, but can't seem to stop yourself.
She was like an 18 month old in the body of a 4 year old.
When my daughter came to us, we knew we had our work cut out for us. As foster parents with years of experience in handling kids with special needs, we had already planned out a complete program for her.
Because our daughter came to us with a background of severe neglect, and was so severely delayed, there were people who doubted whether or not she could ever be “normal.” But while in the beginning it was a lot like raising an 18 month old in the body of a 4 year old, we always knew that she was not only smart, but sweet, loving, and determined to succeed.
So when we took her to be evaluated by a psychologist after she’d been with us for 6 months, I looked forward to the results. I was certain they would show at least some of the hard work that had been done with her. After all, here was a child who saw a child with a toy that was just like hers and was convinced it was hers. She had no concept of the child having stolen it – that was beyond her – she only knew that somehow her toy had mysteriously appeared in some other child’s hands.
The tests placed her as "severely retarded."
As I sat and watched her “perform,” I was bewildered and embarrassed to find that she did dismally on the tests. Even more infuriating was the psychologist’s unwillingness to hear what I knew my daughter was capable of. As an educational specialist who also gives didactic evaluations, I am careful to ask parents if the performance of their child compares to the child they know. It’s certainly not unusual for children (or anyone for that matter), to perform poorly in a test situation. Regardless of what I said or did, her IQ tests placed her as severely retarded. The psychologist told me it was progress: last time she was so low functioning he couldn't even test her.
As I left the office, I tried to make some sense of the conflicting information. What I realized was this: I had spent 6 months working on skills, not concepts. When I sat down to evaluate her, it was immediately obvious to me that I couldn’t start teaching her to draw a circle if she didn’t even have a concept of a drawing.
I focused first on helping her learn the skills she needed in order to be ready to learn. That’s because in learning, good skills are critical to a child’s success. However, possessing good learning skills doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll know a lot.
Just like a fork, a spoon, and a knife are necessary if you want to eat in a civilized fashion, but are not food in and of themselves, learning skills are tools that allow you to acquire knowledge efficiently and effectively.
Another important point: the WISC for children, which she’d taken, isn’t a great test for telling you how your child learns, and what her specific areas of strengths and weaknesses are. In comparison to Dr. Mel Levine’s evaluational tests, it’s a lot like comparing a flophouse piano to a Steinbeck baby grand.
Can you tell I hate IQ tests with a passion?
I find them limiting, demeaning, and inaccurate. I’ve met so many parents who lost all hope and faith in their child after seeing the results of a test that was never designed to measure intelligence anyway. Aside from that, I personally know so many children who tested below average, only to be retested later (after receiving the proper intervention), and received a score of average, bright, or even genius level.
I refused to let an IQ test determine my - and my daughter's - reality.
So I returned home, determined to do what I knew was right for my daughter. I continued to focus on skills, generally introducing concepts in the context of learning a new skill. We played games to teach her number sense, and to improve her vocabulary. We worked on improving her ability to express herself, while at the same time building her vocabulary. She learned about where animals live, what people need to survive, and what makes a family – but skills were always first, concepts second.
And you know what?
A year and a half after she first walked in our door, she has just turned 6. She knows all of her colors, shapes, numbers, and letter sounds. She wants to know why things are like they are, and how they came to be that way. She is particularly gifted in math, and is already adding numbers in the hundreds. She is also a popular girl in her class, and will hopefully go up to first grade next year.
We call her our “little miracle.”
Update: Since so many of you asked, here's what's happening now. My daughter is now ten years old, and in fifth grade. She is an A student, although she works hard for it! There are still issues that we are dealing with...life is a process, and she (and I) are still growing.
Parenting middle school children is kind of like a close encounter with an alien species: suddenly the child who was calm, collected, and fairly responsive to parental intervention is an expert on imitating The Blob at one moment, and a raging tiger the next.
Of course, as parents we know to expect this, but somehow I think most of us get caught out in the rain on this one. Wishful thinking? Perhaps.
It’s not that we don’t want our children to grow up to be happy, successful adults who can handle pretty much whatever the world throws at them – it’s more like we’re hoping we can skip the vegetables and cut right to the dessert.
For those of you who insist on eating your green beans before the chocolate mousse pie, here are some tips that will help you understand why that hulking stranger in your child’s bedroom sometimes acts like they do:
1) Sleep deprivation
Teenagers are fantastic at the great denial: the insistence that they are not tired, and have too much to do anyway to possibly even consider sleeping.
The fact is, however, that your teenager is growing at a rapid rate. Both boys and girls can add an extra 8-9 cm a year to their height. Toss in added muscle mass, bone density, and the general increase in hormones and you’ve got one heck of a stone soup.
All of that growing means that teenagers need a lot of sleep- at least 9.5 hours a night. Since studies show that the average teen gets only about 7.4 hours of sleep a night, you can probably guess the result: a cranky, grumpy teen who acts a lot like they did when they were three and needed a good nap before they were human again.
If you do the math, you can easily see that a teen who gets up at 6:00 am for school would need to be in bed by 9:00 pm in order to get the right amount of sleep. Unfortunately, studies show that many teens aren’t able to fall asleep that early, because their brains aren’t ready for bed.
You can help your teen get the sleep they need by encouraging a regular bedtime (the body can’t easily make up missed sleep), encouraging your teen to participate in some form of exercise during the day, and eliminating caffeine.
As a parent of a teenager you may have noticed the rapid disappearance of foodstuffs in your house, and so hunger would usually not be on your shortlist of why teens can get out of control.
Unfortunately for your food budget, growing teens really do need a lot of extra energy. Plus, it’s quite common for teens to fill up on junk or fast food, depriving their bodies of the protein they need for long-lasting energy.
You can help your teen by providing low-fat, high-energy protein snacks, such as peanut butter, beef jerky, cottage cheese and fruit, tuna, protein bars, and believe it or not - oatmeal.
3)Time with you
It may seem hard to imagine, but your teenager really does want to spend time with you. Most teens do want a relationship with their parents; they’re a lot like toddlers, who want to be independent while reserving the right to monopolize your attention.
If you take a look at your teen’s day and see that most of your interactions were on the order of “are you ever going to take out the garbage” or “turn down that music-not all of us want to go deaf,” then you might want to consider taking some time off to spend some quality time with your teen.
Sometimes teens are wary about spending time with their parents because they imagine it’s merely a cover for “the big talk.” So you don’t have to plan a night out on the town, if that will raise your teen’s hackles. Instead, make an extra effort to be fully “there” when your teen comes home, or sits down with you at the table.
It’s easy to be so focused on socializing online that we forget the people in front of us.
Instead, put away the ipod, the Blackberry. Shut off the TV, and send your PC to sleep. Try something novel and old-fashioned instead: Talk to your children. You might be surprised at what they have to say.
Are you struggling with a toddler or preschooler who refuses to go to sleep?
Getting children to go to sleep is one of the most talked about issues that concern parents, second only to getting your child to behave. I've had parents in near hysterics, trying to deal with a child who throws huge tantrums when asked to go to sleep.
While I certainly wouldn't suggest you go as far as the cop in this video did (or the mother who called him), lack of sleep has been proven to cause temporary insanity.
At any rate, there are several things you can do to help your 3-5 year old go to sleep without too much trouble:
1)Do stick to a schedule. It's tempting during summer break to ease up on bedtime routines and allow your child to go to sleep late. If done occasionally it doesn't present a problem. However consistently allowing your child to dodge regular bedtimes creates confusion.
Persistent children will challenge bedtime, since it's their nature to push the envelope. Other children may feel insecure when routines aren't followed, and react with disruptive and unruly behavior.
If you decide to allow your children to stay up late occasionally, schedule it first. You can decide to let your kids go to sleep late once a week, and choose a specific day.
2. Do follow a consistent bedtime routine. This is an obvious one, and many parents feel that they've got this base covered. The key to this, however, is giving over the responsibility of carrying out the bedtime routine to your child.
Even if your child is as young as three years old, they're capable of following a chart with pictures, putting a sticker on a picture when the action is completed.
The magic of this lies in the fact that many children view bedtime as something imposed from the outside, causing them to rebel simply because "Mommy told me to." Putting your child in charge as much as possible reduces this natural resistance.
3. Don't use incentives or prizes for going to sleep longer than 30 days.
Incentives and rewards are a great way of providing the extra push a child needs in order to attempt a difficult task. The best way to use incentives is in helping your child to stick to a habit.
Since acquiring a habit takes about 30 days, this is the maximum amount of time you should use prizes or incentives for a particular behavior.
4. Do allow your child a crutch, if they need it.
As long as the crutch isn't damaging to your child's health, go ahead and let your child sleep with all 25 cars in his car collection. It won't hurt him, and if he manages to go to sleep despite the space limitations, why not?
Most children discard such unusual sleeping arrangements when they get old enough to be embarrassed about it (usually by the age of 9 or so).
5. Consider using natural sleep aids or remedies.
There are numerous safe natural alternatives that will help your child settle down. Passiflora, for example, is safe for small children. It can be made into a soothing tea, and can help calm an overtired toddler or a too-full-of-energy preschooler. Lavender in a pillowcase has also been shown to promote sleep.
note:This is not medical advice, nor should it be taken as such. Use common sense, and ask your doctor before you give anything to your child.
6. Don't forget to try and make up for lost sleep yourself.
Living with a child who refuses to go to sleep can affect your work, health, and your marriage. While you may not be able to make up all of the sleep time you've lost, do try and "power nap" for 15 minutes or so sometime during the day.
Are we teaching our children to see failure as a learning opportunity, or as a source of embarrassment?
I was speaking yesterday to a close friend of mine, who homeschools her children. Her eldest, who is 15, is now a freshman in college, and has just finished her final exams. My friend, whose blog you can visit at Single Mother (check), explained that her daughter received top scores in all but one class, where she unexpectedly scored a 57.
I groaned sympathetically, remarking that her daughter must have died of embarrassment. “Well, actually,” she replied, “she wasn’t embarrassed at all. “Because my daughter was homeschooled, she never learned to be embarrassed.”
She added that teachers and parents train kids to feel shame when they fail: we write failing grades in big red letters with remarks like, “you can do better than this.” Or when a child comes home with a poor grade, our first reaction is not, “What do you think you can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?” but, “How in the world did you get this grade?!”
Her daughter, on the other hand, never experienced this. So she was even able to go up to her friends and reveal her low grade. Surprisingly enough, none of her friends’ reactions were especially negative either. Most simply responded, “I’m surprised at you!” and wished her better luck next time.
This conversation got me thinking. How much energy do we expend feeling embarrassed of our mistakes? Even more importantly, how many times do we sabotage our chances of success because we are so afraid of failure? Intellectually we know that failure isn’t that much of a big deal; after all, we’ve had a lot of experience at it, so you would think after a while we would finally learn to accept it and move on. Somehow, though, we don’t.
Instead we wallow in our failure, and lo and behold, others, influenced by our negative attitude, reinforce our sense of shame with negative remarks and discouraging behavior. It’s as if we invite all of that negative energy by the lousy attitude we have about ourselves.
How different would things be if, instead of putting ourselves down, we confidently replied to others, “I’ll do better next time.” I suspect the response would be generally encouraging as well.
If we want to help our children see failure as an opportunity instead of a life sentence, we need to start with ourselves. When we mess up -whether it’s big time or just the little league- our children need to hear us saying,” Wow, I didn’t expect that. What should I do to make sure that doesn’t happen again?” Even if we slip and start condemning ourselves, it makes a world of difference if our children hear us saying, “I shouldn’t be beating myself up about this. I need to think about what I can do to make sure I do better next time.”
Little by little, we’ll begin to break the failure cycle. Maybe one day our children will even remind us not to be so hard on ourselves.