Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Casting Your Children In Positive Roles

Parents of multiple children learn very quickly that baby number two does everything differently than baby number one.  It doesn't take a nuclear engineering degree to figure that out.  Basically, after you have been a parent for a while and find yourself getting comfortable with the role, you introduce a new child to the mix and are humbled once again with the feeling that you might have learned something the first time around but your parenting approaches are now being tested by a new individual, with a new disposition and frankly everything seems confusing and different.

That is the way of the world.  Siblings are created by the same parents, and join the existing household, but nobody told you they would be soooooo different.  Well really they did tell you but you really didn't believe it until now.  You know you are not at all like your sister or brother, you like them but you are not like them.  Well, your children are no different than you.  They are not like their siblings.  In fact, they usually are direct opposites.  So what is a parent to do?

Well, first of all recognize that this is not a bad thing.  Just different.  If you first child is a cooperative, pleasing child, your second child will probably be headstrong, stubborn and a little outrageous.  But the key for parents, is to recognize what is actually going on here.  Siblings are born to compete with each other for your attention.  They want to stand out.  They want to matter.  They want you to recognize them.  And they will strive for that attention all of the time.  The key is to be able to give all of your children the positive attention they deserve.  And to actively avoid casting them in negative roles.  NONE of this Good kid/Bad kid stuff.  Don't cast any of your children in the role of the proverbial "black sheep".  Kids are smart and they will live up or down to your expectations of them.

A helpful exercise is to sit down and write out a list of 5-10 qualities in each of your children that you admire.  These positive traits should be what you concentrate on with each one.  Let them know that you think they are wonderful and special in their own skin.  By doing this, you will cut down on the competition within your family and decrease the sibling rivalry.  And above all, if you currently think of one of your children as the "problem" or "challenging" child--retrain yourself and (your partner) to overcome that thought pattern and look at each child as a wonderfully talented and unique individual.  This advice can literally transform your household.  You have no idea how powerful your perceptions of your own children are and how much these perceptions shape their self identities.  So commit this minute to only casting each of your children in a positive light.  The long term benefits of this simple advice will be huge!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Kayaking Strategies for Parents

I recently returned from a wonderful vacation in Door County, Wisconsin.  One morning, a group of us booked a kayaking tour through a local operator.  The tour was in Lake Michigan and we were to visit caves that are accessible only by water.  When we arrived, the water was quite rough, and as I stared at the white caps and waves pounding the shore, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  After a brief lesson on kayak paddling, we paired up and headed out into the unsettling surf.  My daughter and I have really never kayaked before, and our maiden voyage was quite enlightening.  As I wrestled with my understanding of this activity, I discovered that it truly is the perfect metaphor for parenting.

Kayaks only head in the "right" direction when both persons are paddling with a common goal.  One cannot paddle alone in a kayak and expect to get much of anywhere.  And if your kayaking partner is paddling opposite you, the likelihood that you end up in a disaster is very high.  Also, in order to navigate through rough waters, a kayaker must keep stay loose and keep one's head still, because if you move your head around too quickly, the balance of the kayak is thrown off.  And finally, a sense of humor can really come in handy, when either rower is experiencing frustration.

Parents can learn so much from thinking about parenting as a kayaking adventure.  Parents are much more successful when they "paddle with common goal".  Parents need to be on the same page when it comes to discipline issues, chores, expectations, and life in general.  This kind of commonality helps children to understand their world and helps them to grow in confidence.  Parents who constantly paddle against one another are in truth, harming their own children, by causing stress, anxiety and misunderstanding.  Parents will undoubtedly face challenges, but if you relax, stay calm and keep your head about you, these challenges can be faced without capsizing the family boat. And having a sense of humor is truly what it takes to calm the waters.

We had a wonderful time in our bright yellow kayak, although we were unable to visit the caves, as the conditions were too hazardous.  We ended up taking a break on a gorgeous, sandy beach instead.  This adventure created wonderful memories of conquering rough waters and enjoying the ride.  A great metaphor for life in general!

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Censorship is a Good Thing!

I am afraid that many times parents forget that children are not little adults.  Children are born in to this world unstained, unblemished, untainted, pure, naive, and full of awe and wonder.  Children are the anecdote to our often dark and disturbing modern world.  Gaze at the sweet face of a baby or small child delighting in a game of peek a boo, or sleeping peacefully in a parent's arms and one cannot help being moved at the sight.

So where am I going with this mini-sermon on the beauty of children?  Well, dim the lights and roll the camera. It's movie time.  Last weekend, my husband and I went to see "Bourne Legacy".  It is a movie that is rated "PG-13".  Although to me, it felt like an "R" rating was warranted because of the violence.  We went to a 9:00pm showing.  And, as you probably already suspect, there were more than a few kids in the audience.  In light of the recent shootings in our country, and as the mother of  a teenage son.  I have to wonder, WHAT ARE THESE PARENTS THINKING?????????  Don't people understand that movies like this are made for adults?  The movie is filled with suspense and action and a lot of violent acts.  One scene depicts a man systematically shooting all of his coworkers.  A scene like this is completely lacking in empathy or social responsibility.  As adults, we can process that this is all fantasy.  We already have our moral compass and self identity in place.

Children's brains are not fully matured until their mid 20's.  We have learned a lot about brain development in the last few years.  If a child's brain is still forming, does it strike you as a wise decision to expose them to content that is dark, violent and disturbing?  What movies did James Holmes see as a child?  I am not saying that violent movies create violent people because I know violence has existed in movies for a long time.  But I am advocating that we, as parents, try to protect our children from such dark and disturbing themes until they are old enough to handle them.  I don't think the 6 or 7 year olds belong at the "Bourne" movie, or playing extremely violent video games, or having unlimited access to the internet.

Childhood is fleeting.  It only lasts a very short amount of time relative to an average lifespan.  You are doing your child a disservice to cut this special time in life short by allowing exposure to adult themed entertainment.  STAY STRONG, parents! Set media limits that are in the best interest of your children and their development.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

School Bells Are About To Ring...Are You Ready?

With the school year about to begin, the former U.S. Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan was interviewed by the Associated Press.  In his comments he made the following statement:
"I always say parents are their children's first teachers, and I think, by definition, their most important teachers,"
So how are parents supposed to get the school year off to a good start as their children’s primary teachers?  The following ideas might help:
1.      Set a schedule for mealtimes and bedtimes and stick to it.  Especially during the transition time from summer to school year.  Children benefit greatly from routines and knowing what to expect.
2.     Discuss expectations:  Have a conversation about school work and homework.  Let your children know that you expect them to do their best, and that they might not always love all of their teachers or assignments, but you expect them to always persevere.  And that you will be available to help and support them.
3.     Build excitement for school by allowing them to participate in the choices of school supplies, backpacks, or other school related items.
4.     Edit your comments around them.  Children who hear their parents complaining about the teacher they were assigned or students in their class will no doubt be complaining back to you about the very same things.  Don’t share all of your feelings about the school experience with your children, and as the saying goes “little pictures have big ears”.
5.     Celebrate achievement.  Let your children know how proud you are of them when they get up on time, get dressed and eat breakfast without delay, don’t fight with sibs in the morning, etc.  A bit of praise on those banner days will cause them to repeat the good behavior and is much more effective than screaming at them on the days that everything goes awry.
By being mindful of the important role parents play in our children’s lives, we can lovingly support them in their new school year and help them enjoy the wonderful year to come.