44 posts categorized "Behavior"

Delayed Gratification equals Success: do you believe it?

September 29, 2014

My line of work brings me into contact with lots of schools, many of them charter schools or alternative schools.  One site visit last week brought me to a charter school in a low-income neighborhood, where the administrator stated a few times that the staff believes in the studies of delayed gratification where they result in better adult outcomes: more success in school, career and life.  

I had never heard of the "marshmallow experiment" wherein researchers presented children with a marshmallow, stating that - if they waited - they could have two marshmallows instead.  That was in 1972.  After following those same marshmallow kids, the ones that delayed their marshmallow desires to wait for the two marshmallow treat were the ones that got better grades.  AND: they dealt with stress better and they were less likely to be obese and on and on.

Having never heard of this study and having never really noticed my kids' abilities to delay gratification, I suddenly started to notice.  My teenager wolfed down some brownies the other day immediately when she got home from saying "Oh my god, I am so hungry."  My five-year old boy spied a new Matchbox car at the store, and when I said: "your birthday is in just a week; let's put this on your wish list!",  he burst into a tantrum unable to fathom waiting.

Does this mean they will be less likely to succeed when they grow up?  Should I be training them to withhold pleasure and delay gratification?


"He has trouble with transitions"

May 06, 2014

When I rang the doorbell at my son's friend's house, I immediately heard his screeching from the other side of the door.  The 2-hour playdate was culminating in fits of "I don't want to go!" and "Can't I just borrow this toy?", clutching at a light saber.  Apologetically, I said to the friend's mom: "He has trouble with transitions."

Again it happens when this same friend came to our house for a playdate.  The mom rang our doorbell, and my boy's response was identical: "No, I want him to stay forever!" and "I want to go home with him."

I apologized through the squirming and I talked through the screaming: "Thank you for coming over!"  The other mom understood.  And, most other parents do.  My child is not the only one who has "trouble with transitions".  Mostly, it's leaving friends' homes or having to watch a friend leave.  Often times, to ease the transition, there is some compromise bribe: "We have to leave now, but you can have extra lights-on time in bed tonight" or "He has to leave now, but you can have a little treat."  Transitions like leaving school are never very bad, although drop-offs tend to be clingy and sensitive.

Does your child have "trouble with transitions" and what does that mean for you?  What are the ways you deal with the transitions?  I don't feel wonderful about offering the "compromises" but maybe you have other great ideas for me?

The Intangible Reward: A Novelty

February 11, 2014

Yesterday morning, I received a call from the math teacher: "This is Mrs. Williams calling about your daughter."  I wasn't certain what would come next.  She went on to explain that the students participated in an intense math competition all last week, with team groups solving multi-step problems.  Our daughter's team won.  The prize: calls to the teammates' parents to recognize their efforts, accomplishments, and abilities in collaboration.

A sweet gesture.

I have been recently immersed with promoting carpooling, walking, taking transit to school.  To do so, our school has employed heavy incentive tactics.  Smoothies for kids that walk to school.  Coffee for parents who carpool (i.e., drop off 2 or more students in the school lot).  Pencils, stickers, iTunes gift cards, small toys, tokens for the arcade: the whole lot.

In our object-heavy lives, it is a breath of fresh air to receive that intangible reward.  So: Thank you, Mrs. Williams, for that reminder and for the recognition.

My son: always the bad guy

February 08, 2014

Granted, I'm a little biased.  I like to think that my boy isn't always the culprit, the instigator, the initiator, the bad guy.  I know he's no angel, but I don't think he's always the bad guy, like his friend's mom likes to make out.

My boy's BFF is a like-aged boy.  They have similar interests (cars, planes, trains).  Sometimes they like to play "fight" or "karate".  They punch in the air near each other, play fighting.  They wrestle to the ground.  Sometimes, someone gets hurt.

My boy's BFF is sensitive, and my boy errs on the less sensitive side.  Any scratch can cause tears for a sensitive child.  When there is conflict, my boy's BFF is quick to raise the issue: "why did you push me?"  My boy, now hyper-sensitive about being accused, will often run from the scene, guilty-like behavior.

Once home, I will ask: "What happened today?  Why did you push?"  My boy will say: "Because he hit me first."

The scenario has played out several occassions in the same way: My boy, wrongfully accused, runs from the scene.  His BFF, potentially the instigator, cries out and points a finger.

I'm not one to intervene, but - at some point - I would like to set the story straight with the BFF's mama, who believes her son is always the victim.

When we fight: Kids say the darndest things

February 04, 2014

This morning, my boy woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  He didn't want breakfast, he didn't want to get dressed, he didn't want to go to school.  He was sour, through and through.  He was wearing on his dad's patience with every "no" and refusal.  Negativity rose further to physical manifestations.  Our boy threw a dish rag at his dad.  And, to climax: "I don't want you to be my dad anymore!"

I wanted to give our boy & his dad some time to cool off.  I said to our boy, "That isn't loving or kind," which is sometimes my auto-response to negative comments or behavior.  

Kids say the darndest things, even things like "I hate you, Mama".  Many times, these statements are made in the heat of a moment; they are things they might not really mean.

Before long, and before we were heading to school, our boy went to his dad to apologize.  "I'm sorry, Dad".  And, his dad to him, "I'm sorry, too.  I was just frustrated."

No doubt these moments happen in your household, too.  How do you diffuse the situation and close the loop?  How do you make amends?

How to be a Proper Play-Date Host

August 02, 2013

My preschooler, now in summer session with limited daycare, is fully on the play-date circuit.  With new friends circling through the house and with him going to different friends' homes, I am noticing trends.  Little folks get possessive and territorial, it is hard to share!  This is normal, I realize, but I often run out of ways to mediate.  When we host, I let the boy know that he needs to put things away if he absolutely cannot share.  Everything else is fair game.

At his friend's house the other day, there was a squabble over a particularly shiny race car.  The host boy ran to his parent for assistance.  His parent said: "You're the host.  Let your friend play with it."  It wasn't the answer the boy was hoping to hear.

I've never used the comment: "Be a good host" with the connotation that he should let the other friend have the toy/turn.  Perhaps I'm not a good host.  What are the elements for our youngest folks, the preschool set, to be the "proper play date host"?

I have a dream, that someday, boys won't call their brother 'stupid'

January 24, 2013

My five-year-old is so much like me, sometimes I blink and wonder if we're not one and the same. He really loved the lessons on Martin Luther King, Jr.; he had an amazingly deep and broad grasp of them. ("He was against the bad laws," he said. "And he broke them to show how bad they were.") Bravo, kid!

I was trying to get his older brother to finish his homework, tonight, all about how we're living Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream. My oldest was frustrated because I'd told them all we had to help Truman do his homework before anyone could play on the screens (employing the much-maligned-by-me football coach strategy). When Truman said he couldn't think of anything to write, his older brother called him stupid! I was pretty mad.

"Everett," I said, "you're being really unkind."

Fast as a wink and outraged, Monroe shot, "you're not living Dr. King's dream!"

And Everett and I both burst out laughing, and finally, I was able to return to making subscription lists for the magazine.

How have your kids reacted to the school's annual MLK, Jr. history lesson? I love this time of year because it seems we're all studying the same thing; but I never know if the context gets lost, or not.

Now, it's the French parents who are better, says one woman

February 06, 2012

I've had it up to here (the writer draws a line with her finger somewhere above her hairline) with the Wall Street Journal headlines proclaiming the superiority of one parenting style followed by an entire culture. You'd think the editorial team was on the payroll of a publishing house (the writer begs forgiveness for her snark). They're certainly not nuanced or creative when they come to writing headlines.

Continue reading "Now, it's the French parents who are better, says one woman" »

I have zero tolerance for zero tolerance

January 30, 2012

This weekend, I had yet another experience with a family member in which my son's behavior was absolutely not tolerated... leading to the swift ending of our time together (yes, for the rest of my kids and me as well). I held back tears, just barely, in the moment while I got everyone ready to go as fast as humanly possible, feeling very much kicked out. OK: we were kicked out. There's no two ways about it. I kept wanting to cry for hours later, and would remember why only belatedly. This sticks with me.

I won't get into the details, but especially after passionately reading this article about how zero-tolerance policies have helped lead to our exploitative, cruel, racist and classist prison system -- and  after having suffered much painful familial isolation from a variety of in-laws and my own flesh and blood -- I have zero tolerance for zero tolerance policies. Even if behavior is intolerable, the people who deliver the behavior should be tolerated. Especially if we say we love them. (And why do people feel the need to say "I love you" while they're telling you they don't want be around you? Is that love? Isn't unconditional love... unconditional???)

I know many impartial observers might see this from a different light. But if a child -- or even an adult -- has a short outburst of socially unacceptable behavior following a period of sweetness, kindness and helpfulness, I feel that forgiveness and not "I will NOT allow that in my HOUSE get out now!" is in order. Honestly, I've seen a lot more patience to adult bad behavior than I have to my own child's; and this hurts deep, long and lasting. It's led me, at least, to evaluate my own responses to others' behavior, and to see the context and the intentions and the reasons first and put my foot down second (or never).

Is there anything you're zero tolerance about? Or have zero tolerance policies put your family and friends into black, hurting places? Do you think there is any place for zero tolerance in a loving social group?

About arguments (this time, we're doing good!)

January 17, 2012

I know my oldest has years to go before he hits the teen years, but I've felt for a while now that his behavioral struggles give me a window into who he will be as a teen -- he's got all the talking-back chops and punky authority questioning that any self-respecting teen boy would. Lucky me: I get to practice conversing with a teenager years before my time!

Sometimes I agonize over this (mostly when someone else is overhearing me and Everett in a tense debate over privileges and responsibilities, speckled tightly with the occasional bit of bad language). But thanks to some new research from the University of Virginia, I could just go ahead and embrace it. These debates with me now and in his teens will help him resist peer pressure among his friends and stand up to problems on the job. In other words, our arguments are lessons. According to NPR:

"[In the] study, 157 13-year-olds were videotaped describing their biggest disagreement with their parents. The most common arguments were over grades, chores, money and friends. The tape was then played for both parent and teen...

"[The researcher, Joseph P.] Allen interviewed the teens again at ages 15 and 16. "The teens who learned to be calm and confident and persuasive with their parents acted the same way when they were with their peers," he says. They were able to confidently disagree, saying 'no' when offered alcohol or drugs. In fact, they were 40 percent more likely to say 'no' than kids who didn't argue with their parents.

"For other kids, it was an entirely different story. "They would back down right away," says Allen, saying they felt it pointless to argue with their parents. This kind of passivity was taken directly into peer groups, where these teens were more likely to acquiesce when offered drugs or alcohol."

How you argue is important. If you "reward" children who develop a persuasive argument, bargaining thoughtfully instead of using begging, whining, threats or insults, you will teach them how to not just get along with other teens (and to stay clear of dangerous problems like drugs and binge drinking), but how to successfully manage relationships as an adult -- even and eventually, marriage.

I was, for once, proud of my parenting skills -- something I tell the boys every (sometimes many times a) day is to use their problem solving abilities to come up with a solution that doesn't involve physical aggression or anger. Now, this doesn't work very well between the boys many days, but I often see the persuasive kid show up for a really great and -- often -- even courteous! -- debate with me or another adult. And that's something to be proud of.

Impulse Control and the lack thereof

December 15, 2011

I was so angry when told, before my youngest's third birthday, that he'd be probably diagnosed with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder when he turned five (and those were "allowable" diagnoses). And here I am with a four-and-a-half-year-old, diagnosing him myself with some major attention problems.

Lots of the people who know him don't see it; his Multnomah County early intervention specialist only sees the sweet compliant Monroe (45 minutes a week) and always seems surprised when I tell her about his escapades. Even some other adults who see him in the community don't see it; he's active, yes, but what four-year-old isn't?

That's when I have to start telling stories. Like the time, a few weeks ago, when we went to the beach with my dad on a spectacularly stormy day. We just wanted to go feel the crazy wind and see the amazing waves and run around a little in the weather, and we drove from my dad's house to Oswald West, where the Short Sands creek comes into the ocean. We ran around for a while, and Everett and I were experimenting with overspeed running: watching the gusts of wind come at us, then turning around and sprinting and letting the wind push us fast fast fast. We'd gone over all the dangers of the place with the younger boys -- the waves that could pull you under, the slippery rocks, the stream, which shouldn't be messed with.

I turned around when my dad shouted, "Monroe!" He was in the center of the stream, right before it hit the sand and widened -- where it was deep enough to come up to his chest. Dad had seen him just charge right into the center of it, just run right into the stream, and get pushed under by the current. He had to wade in to get him out, and there we were, a soaking wet kid and a grandpa with his shoes all squelchy, with the wind ripping around us and the rain and the less-than-40 degrees temperature. I scooped Monroe up. "I shouldn't have done that, right?" he said to me.

Continue reading "Impulse Control and the lack thereof" »

When family values collide

November 23, 2011

We spent several days this week with my parents, who I love dearly and who are terrifically loving and patient with my boys. Except for this one thing: Oh My God. My parents consider this "swearing." They are non-negotiable on this point. And my children have been raised in a house where "oh my god" is a far more acceptable phrase than, say, bleep bleep bleep mother bleeper. You get the picture.

My younger two are pretty good at accepting the will of the authority figure. At grandma & grandpa's, they follow the rules most of the time and -- if they were the sort of kids to slip now and again in an exclamation -- it would probably be something else (mama says "sh!t" sometimes. she always apologizes).

Not so my oldest. His faults tend toward the repetitive and the profane. When he's upset, he says "oh my God" and worse. (Note: he has also decided that he doesn't believe in God, which doesn't help his compliance any.) The more horrified the adults around him seem to be, the more he's likely to slip up. His obedience works in inverse proportion to the number and intensity of reminders and explanations.

My mother lost her patience entirely a few times, and there were several consequences meted out. I -- well, we'll say I didn't have the relaxing family togetherness time I'd hoped -- at least, until after the kids fell asleep each night. However I might prefer "OMG" to other things, my parents don't agree, and consider all his exclamations as equally unwanted.

Grateful as I am for a child who speaks his mind to power (he'll lead rebellions one day, I'm sure of it), it's not easy when such seemingly small differences in nuclear family values collide. As you (perhaps) prepare to spend some time with extended family this weekend, are there any particular conflicts between your kids, your partner, or even yourself, and your family members? I had to laugh, a little, when I heard on NPR someone saying that they wouldn't talk about weather patterns any more after a rather heated exchange at dinner with a large family (if we can't talk about the weather -- oh dear!). Is there any way you prepare for these inevitable differences of opinion? Are your families able to talk about it, or is it best to avoid certain toxic combos?

Children Allowed, but not welcome

August 11, 2011

Recently, I had to use a Groupon (or one of those types of offers) for a facial.  I booked 6 weeks in advance, or even more.  I was excited.  I hadn't had a treat like this in a long, long time.  The morning of the facial, my sitter for the day cancelled, and I was home with my 7-year old daughter all day.  Rather than forfeit or reschedule, I decided to bring her along.  I told her our plan for the day, which included chores, lunch, the facial, some errands, and free swim.  She was excited.  She packed her bag for the day, which included a book and some water and a small snack for her to have during the 60-minute facial.  I know my girl.  She would be cooperative.

I suppose I didn't give it too much thought.  I suppose I could have.  It was a one-person operation, I figured.  We would disturb only ourselves.  I have actually had to bring a child with me before to a bodywork appointment and it was fine.  I was extremely put off by the response I received when the aesthetician opened the door.

She took one look at me, then looked long and hard at my daughter.  The look on her face was baffled, confused, and irritated.  She said, "OH", with a tone that I heard to mean "What the heck is *this*?" and "I don't do kids here."  I explained, "My sitter backed out at the last minute and this is all I could do."  She said, "OH." a few more times, with the same tone, exaggerated and really annoyed.  I tried to put the tone aside and so I could enjoy the 60 minutes I had been looking forward to for weeks.

My daughter was silent for those 60  minutes.  I forgot she was there.  She was reading and having some water and playing pretend games in her head.

Even if it was not explicit that kids were not allowed, it felt like the business operator's response indicated kids shouldn't be there.  I've been into some stores before that literally seem to flinch when I walk in with my kid(s).  Sometimes, I'm made to feel like the kids are a disease.  When it comes to airline travel, kids are an annoyance to other travelers and there is the constant proposal that there be kid-free sections of the plane.  Restaurants and supermarkets (like a Whole Foods location in Missouri) are following the kid-free movement, outright banning children or implementing the ban during specific hours.  (Ever take the kids to Happy Hour?  Always!)

Are there places you wouldn't bring your children, even if kids are technically allowed?  Are there circumstances under which you would support the kid-free movement?  Do you think the kids should be allowed to come along wherever you are entitled to go?

The Trouble with Boys: Have our schools progressed?

November 10, 2010

Conferences are right around the corner and I'm waiting anxiously; hopeful that this is the first year where we hear more good than bad.  Being a mama to an energetic and emotionally-charged 7 year old boy in grade school has at times been very challenging, if not all-consuming. We've heard it from all sides - teachers, family, and friends - wondering if the level of intensity of his emotional outbursts was appropriate for someone his age.  I cannot tell you how often we've heard, "At (insert age) he still shouldn't be (insert behavior)."  Being the mama to not one but three boys, as much as I've tried not to, I found and do find myself falling into the pitfalls of our society expectations of how boys should behave, leaving little tolerance for the natural high activity level of boys. 

Kindergarten was rough. The traditional school setting definitely was not a good fit for him; and I wonder if it's good for most boys. Even with a change of schools and different teaching approach, 1st grade was still rocky. He had a difficult time in certain classes and with certain teachers.  He was a child that was on the verge of being labeled as special needs. Despite his issues, we really liked his teacher and her willingness to work with him and all the children on creating a cohesive classroom environment.  In hindsight, I wonder if his teacher being gone for a good chunk of school due to illness really disrupted the dynamics of the class.

This year, in 2nd grade with the same teacher and clear expectations, he seems to be hitting his stride.  He's doing much better and the emotional outbursts have been minimal. I cannot say that we've made any huge changes in his life like therapy or medication, but what I think has happened is that it has taken him a bit longer to mature emotionally.  Are you the parent of a boy? What has your school experience been like? Do you feel schools are really progressing to work with boys?

'Get calm, first': How to deal with teens, and the rest of 'em, too

August 16, 2010

The story on NPR this morning about the biology of teenage misbehavior led with something like an excuse for the kids -- it's the hormone's fault, and not just that even -- but the scenario laid out as an introduction felt very familiar. Sure, it was about hair spray and a new couch, nothing I'll probably have to deal with exactly (no girls here, for one). How should the mom deal with what was, it seemed, an escalation of conclusions jumped-to? "Get calm, first," said psychologist Laura Kastner. I'd missed it while listening to her piece, but that's the title of her book: Getting to Calm: Cool-headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens.

Is an eight-year-old a tween? How about a three-year-old? Because these are the strategies I use (and often kick myself for having forgotten to use) with my kids. Kastner says the arguments between parents and older children often resolve to "emotional flooding"; in other words, rational thought is frozen while we go black-and-white. I'm good. You're bad. In the example argument, both mother and daughter are explaining why they hold the position they do; daughter describing her rationale for hairspray on the couch, mom wondering why she didn't remember the "simple" instructions; both seeing their own position as inherently well-intentioned and, well, correct. When we attribute the best of intentions to our own actions, we're often, subconsciously, attributing the worst to those who act in conflict. Emotional flood ensues.

What to do? Remember: when we ask "what were they thinking?", answer with "nothing."

Continue reading "'Get calm, first': How to deal with teens, and the rest of 'em, too" »

The physicality of angst: Children and phantom ailments

August 09, 2010

Over a period of a few weeks this May, Everett kept insisting his legs were full of pain alternating between dull and shooting. It had started a day or two after the time on the playground in which he'd gotten into a conflict with some older kids. As far as I can figure out, he was the victim, and a righteous one, too; he'd been protecting another, littler child, and ended up with a nasty scrape and bruise on his knee. I expressed what I thought was appropriate solicitation and pride; for once, he seemed to have handled a really unfair situation without retaliating with fury.

But now, it was weeks later, and he'd run up and down stairs and then protest in screaming pain when I tried to get him to ride his bike, or walk somewhere with me. Even riding on the back of my bike, he said, was too much. Finally I made an appointment for the next afternoon at the doctor's office, worried that there was some real ailment -- a bone marrow problem, maybe? -- I wasn't giving its due.

The day of the appointment, he couldn't get going to school; if he was to stay home, I told him, he'd have to ride his own bike on a series of errands I'd planned. By appointment time, we were on mile #11 and he was fine. As I've gone through a lot with Everett, who's now eight, and his outsized reactions to the sort of things many children would find only mildly upsetting, I only added it to my mental portrait of his challenges and let it be.

Then, this weekend, we got a question from a mama we know. Her younger son struggled with a potentially fatal illness when he was a toddler, and recently gave his family another confidence-shaking scare, until test results came back, indicating that he was indeed fine. The whole family had talked about their fears together, but it was very stressful. Now, she's worried about her older child.

My nine-year-old son has recently started seriously overreacting when he gets hurt. I have taken him to the ER twice recently thinking if he's screaming so badly perhaps he does have broken fingers or dislocated shoulder (two separate incidents). Nothing is ever diagnosed. He's always fine and the trauma is completely over two hours later. These type of incidents have been increasing lately.

I am wondering if his overreacting might be a result from the stress at home over the last few weeks. I am also wondering if he's trying desperately to get more attention from me even though this summer we have been spending most days together and I am available, physically, emotionally. I am here for him.

My question for other mamas is, is this something I should seek professional advice for; should I look into a few sessions with a child therapist? Or, will he just grow out of this? Could it just be a phase?

Stranger danger at the park: Sort of

May 14, 2010

Yesterday after we picked up Truman from preschool, we decided to enjoy the gloriousness of the day at nearby Kenilworth Park. We weren't the only ones: a group from Grout had biked to school and was enjoying a picnic snack at the western playground; numerous young adults were kicking back in the sun in the "bowl" of grass and staging their own impromptu picnics; a few men had taken advantage of the bowling balls ever-present in their friend's trunk and were playing a raucous game of bowling-ball croquet (with a modified sledge hammer as mallet).

The older boys ran ahead to the upper, eastern playground with the intention of giving Truman a (very short-lived) bike-riding lesson, and I followed behind, seeing from the corner of my eye a giddily happy couple disengage from what looked like an inappropriate-for-public embrace. I averted my eyes in discomfort and walked up to Everett, who was waiting for me. "Those people were just having sex," he said matter-of-factly. "They were?" I asked. "Yep. People have sex there all the time," he replied. (A few minutes later, I saw a condom wrapper a few feet away, confirming Everett's assessment of the situation. At least it was safe sex!)

The couple walked by the playground about then, probably not picking up on the context behind the murderous glance I shot at them (they smiled blissfully back), and it occurred to me that kids look at people in the way adults don't. I feel discomfort at some man's near-nakedness as he reads in the sun; I see excessive PDA; I look away. Not so my little ones.

All I had to say to Everett was, "that's not ok." I couldn't think of another response. But then I watched as Truman approached each and every arrangement of strange adults and teenagers, variously begging for snacks from a couple with eye-popping nose piercings; joining in the bowling ball game (the guys let him have his very own ball and roll it through the wickets while they played); going up to the near-naked reading guy and chat with him for a minute; taking a turn at a ball-throwing toy for a little dog, for whom Truman's misfires were entirely too stimulating; and finally, accosting a teenager practicing his tuba. The tuba player turned out to be extraordinarily patient, telling him about the parts of the instrument, showing him how the tubes and bell worked, and even letting him have a turn blowing into it.

My lesson from this was twofold: first, Truman's complete lack of social boundaries means I have to keep very vigilant (and indeed, during all this I was doing my best to be a careful observer without impinging on his child-joy of social discovery); second, I have to look at people the way my children do. See them, see what they're doing, steer clear or confront if necessary.

But: what is there to be done about strangers who choose to have sex in the public-that-includes-your-kids? I thought about this afterward and couldn't come up with a sensibly effective response. Confronting them after the fact would have been, well, pretty confrontative and angry, not something I wanted my kids to have any more exposure to than they already do; calling the police would have broken something in me (not to mention required a very public retelling for Everett, the "witness"); appealing to them quietly and privately would have meant leaving the children, which was at that point an impossibility. Perhaps there's no solution but to ask your child to please, please, never do that himself.

Different repsonses to mama vs. papa

January 04, 2010

We recently received this query from our Facebook mail which we rarely check.  This urbanPapa writes:
A nut we have been trying to crack for weeks at our house is how to reestablish some equilibrium in the way our son responds to mom and dad. It has been very frustrating for mom to be ignored (selectively) or at least not taken as seriously. Asking that things not be done/touched, staying down for naps . . . often create long drawn out dramas. When I say exactly the same thing or channel my grandpa and count to 3, he responds, which in itself is pretty frustrating for mom. I should have prefaced everything by saying we are fortunate to have a very even-tempered and thoughtful kid . . . as two-year-olds go we have nothing to complain about.

That said, I suspect something profound is at work here. When I am home alone with him on weekday mornings (mom has already left for work), he comes in and will climb into bed and nap beside me quietly (I sometimes remind him that it is still quiet time). On the weekends when mom is in bed too, this becomes impossible as he is constantly talking and squirming about. I think there's some payoff in the push-pull of these interactions with mom that reinforces the behavior . . . I just don't get what is so different between the two of us other than my deep voice.

bedtime routines for the unfailingly energetic

December 08, 2009

We have a typical bedtime routine: after dinner, I let the boys play together for a while (winter: inside; summer: outside) and then, after a few regular warnings, I issue snacks, order potty trips, and start in on the books. Truman and Monroe get four books, together; if Everett's still awake by that time, he gets his own book. An hour from start to finish.

That's with melatonin, a gentle sleep aid recommended by my pediatrician. Without the melatonin, which Everett sometimes resists (he's worried it makes nighttime accidents more likely) and Monroe sometimes is unaffected by, it's a couple of hours with Everett (seven and a half) and Monroe (two and a half) literally bouncing off the walls, floors, bunkbed, tackling each other, playing cannonball with the stuffed animals, jumping rope, hanging upside down from the top bunk, throwing paper airplanes at me and giving me "two for flinching!" Meanwhile, Truman (four and a half) variously cries, giggles, joins in, or falls asleep in understandable self-defense. Splitting them up for bedtime doesn't work; all the rooms available for sleeping are too close together and none of them have properly securable doors.

Ideally, I won't have to give Everett and Monroe melatonin until they're 18 and bedtimes are no longer my responsibility; I'll somehow teach them to develop calming methods of their own. All my considerable efforts to do so thus far have been in vain, and I've tried yoga, early evening exercise, baths (much objection, anyway, to frequent bathing), bedtime milk, completely foregoing sugar, sleepy time tea (which helped, once, at 11 p.m.), breathing exercises, poetry, prayer. Once they're wound up, my efforts often end up being completely ignored, anyway, CANNONBALL! 

Ideas? Has anyone developed a surefire way to calm a couple of children who, by every indication, are developmentally delayed in self-calming? I'd love to hear any thoughts.

Three year-old talk-back: Phase or Friends?

October 19, 2009

When our little ones pick up a new trait, sometimes it's hard to know whether it's a phase, his/her personality, or the influence of peers.  An urbanMama recently emailed:

I really need some advice.  My 3 1/2 year old daughter recently started a new preschool and she's suddenly exposed to a lot of new kids, many of them older.  Since she started, she has been incessantly talking back.  I don't know what else to call it.  If I ask her to put her shoes away, it's "No!  You put YOUR shoes away!", she screams, tries to order us around, and has even tried calling us names like "stupid".  I realize she is trying things on for size, and we've had many conversations with her about why this is not a respectful way to talk to us (we don't talk that way to her, it is rude, it hurts feelings, etc).  She seems to like her school, so I don't know if this is a normal 3 year old development or if we've got a real tyrant on our hands.  I'm embarrased to say I don't know how to deal with it and it is so frustrating to be bossed around by my child.  Does anyone have any advice on how to handle this kind of behavior?

Is the 'Where the Wild Things Are' movie a good thing?

October 01, 2009

In many ways I'm the exact sort of person who would most love the movie adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic book of disobedient boys and their fantasy lives. I adore Where the Wild Things Are, and often demand to read it to my own wild boys when they'd rather read Thomas or the Berenstain Bears. As the parent of a boy (or two. or three) who could most definitely be classified as rambunctious and rebellious -- the movie synopsis adds "misunderstood," which probably fits too -- and seeks to both celebrate and ease these character traits, I love the wild-boy-as-hero concept. In point of fact, I started a Max-inspired wolf suit for Monroe last year for Halloween (it was never finished, and I'm currently undecided as to whether I'll try to finish it for this year; it certainly still suits his personality).

And yet, the trailer troubles me. Yes: it seems to be a luminous work of director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers. The art is gorgeous, though very different from the book. But the boy is clearly quite a bit older than the way I envision Max (I see him as a five- or six-year-old; certainly no older than eight) and, of course, a 48-page picture book isn't enough material for a whole film. So there are additions, context, timeline juggling. Max is given the family troubles necessary for a boy who could tell his mom "I'll eat you up" (a single mom who's started dating, it seems, and difficulty at school), and a far more complex relationship with the monsters. Evidently, he's developed into a king, not simply given the crown because he stares into all their yellow eyes without blinking once.

It's rated PG; I'd hoped for "G"; probably due to the adult relationships depicted (I'm guessing here as I haven't yet found a more detailed synopsis of the movie's script). Spike Jonze has said the movie's plot came to him when he was despairing over the breakup of his own marriage. I worry that the pure, musical story of a boy escaping into a dark-but-empowering fantasy to deal with his anger will be saddled with context that doesn't work for every child. Instead of honoring the way Max relates to my own children -- Everett's certainly said many things much like "I'll eat you up," and Monroe has done them wordlessly -- I'll be obsessing over how different Max's mother is from me. In other words: this is all about Jonze's world view, and I need it to be far more malleable. This is a book I really honor, and I fear it will become too fraught with a specific and, while relatable, rigid family story.

My boys have seen the trailer and are eager to see the movie; I'd promised in a moment of rashness I'd take them to the theater (something we've never done). Now I wonder if I'd rather leave my knowledge of the movie to my usual: read reviews, watch it 10 years later when it comes out on network TV. What do you think? Will you see the movie? Will you bring your kids to see it? Are you, like me, terrified of having a movie ruin the book? Or do you think the new soul of Jonze's Wild Things is worth whatever the book loses?

Aggressive Play - Where to draw the line and how to enforce it

September 28, 2009

I had asked him to go put the toy away, if he didn't want his little brother playing with it.  He disappeared up the stairs...  The next second, it seemed, he was back at the base of the stairs, shooting his playmate in the face point blank, with a lego "missile launcher".  At first, I could hardly believe my eyes and then I started with the questions.  How could you do that?  What were you thinking?  Look how hurt he is!  Did you apologize?  And it hits me... we just had this conversation 10 minutes prior to that.  And about 20 minutes before that too.  To me, the rules are very clear:  It's never OK to hurt somebody.  But why does this rule seem so "flexible" in his mind?

Needless to say, instead of the soft line approach with "shooting" toys, it's going to become a hard one.  Honestly I have no idea where that lego set came from or why it had guns in it, but somehow my boy has a honing device onto such toys and can find them anywhere (even when they don't exist!). 


But beyond that, it's apparent that I'm not "Getting through".  I feel like partially, because I'm a different gender, I just don't "get" the aggressive play.  Why do we need to be SO loud, go SO fast, and hit SO hard ALL of the time?  I just don't understand it.  Add to that the fact that people are getting hurt and it seems to make perfect sense:  Quiet down, slow down, don't hit.  How many times do I have to repeat myself, exactly?  In excess of a thousand times, is that right?  What's the range of normal, here, and should I be concerned that we are outside of it?

Now that younger brother is starting to catch on to this "aggressive" play, it seems like the occurrences have increased exponentially.  So I wonder, how do you "make sense" of this?  Is there one magical book?  Some redirection that actually WORKS?  Some behavior modification regime that will get through?  I'm at my wit's end and I want to know where to go from here.... help?

Temper, temper: Defusing the worst of the twos

August 11, 2009

It is a hard-fought title, but Monroe wins. At age two, he's clearly risen above the bar previously set quite high by his now-seven-year-old brother, Everett. Oh, I have seen bad temper tantrums. But never quite like this.

Twenty minutes ago, his dad and big brother drove off in great-great-uncle's car to help the in-laws move. He wanted to go with them, and the answer was a non-negotiable "no." In a few seconds he went from the happiest smiliest toddler in the back seat of a car (where he'd hopefully climbed to hang out with his most beloved big brother) to a screaming, kicking, destructive ball of mad. Before I could grab him, he tore up a couple of handfuls of clover (thankfully, easier to pull than the pumpkin and watermelon vines a few inches away). He screamed. He stomped on the strawberry plants. He looked at me. "NO, NO, NOOOOOO!" was all he could say.

I have a strategy now, which is mostly to talk calmly with him (not that he can hear anything I say over his screams) and, as gently as possible, hold his arms against his body so he can't hit me (he's hurt me plenty of times) or grab anything to throw in anger. It's hard to hold a screaming child for that long, and it's also hard to watch the stares of passers-by, so I brought him inside after five minutes. Distracting him doesn't work. Sometimes, I can get him to nurse away the mads: not this time. I brought him in and he wiggled away from me, to scream and kick for the next 15 minutes on the floor between the couch and the wall. I tried a favorite toy. I tried to offer him a pillow. No dice.

I went to my computer to wait it out, when the friend who helps with our yard came in. "I can't work with all this screaming!" he said. "Can I try?" "Good luck," I said resignedly. I'd tried everything I could imagine.

Monroe calmed down almost immediately, tearfully going outside to walk around the block with Matt. I guess it was just me to whom he was responding with such frantic anger. But... I won't always have another adult to intervene. Prevention is great, but today (and many times, I'm sure, in the future) I had no idea the temptation of a car would intersect with his big-brother-and-calming-influence leaving. When you're faced with unavoidable tantrum-stimulating situations, how do you disconnect the child from his anger? How do you cope? How do you get other children to stay out of the fray? (Truman always picks these times to decide he's "frustrated" with Monroe's proximity to the wall, or something.) And long-term strategies would be nice, too: how do you teach a two-year-old barely verbal child to calm himself when his anger carries him away?

Ross W. Greene and the 'Explosive Child'

February 26, 2009

A few years ago, when I was first understanding my son, Everett, and his behavioral difficulties, I read Ross W. Greene's The Explosive Child. Now that he's at the Pioneer School, a special school geared toward children who have major trouble adapting in the general education environment, and many of the members of the schools' staff have been through Greene's workshops. His approach for dealing with challenging kids, called "collaborative problem solving," is now taught in workshops and MESD-sponsored book groups around the city.

I was surprised, then, when I told several of Everett's teachers that I had just ordered Greene's newest book, Lost in School, a follow-up to his previous books that lays out a framework for how parents and schools can work together to help challenging kids succeed. They hadn't yet heard of it. (What, do you people not have GoodReads?) I've read a few chapters of Lost in School, now, and I already recommend both books to anyone who has a child with behavioral challenges, whether they're like Everett's or more strictly diagnosed (the autism spectrum and ADHD are also maladaptive disorders and can be approached with Greene's philosophies). When adding the new book to my GoodReads shelf, I decided to review the The Explosive Child; I've copied the review after the jump.

Continue reading "Ross W. Greene and the 'Explosive Child'" »

Bullying: When it happens at school

January 13, 2009

Recent conversations with some of the other parents revolve around instances of bullying at our school - on the playground, in the classroom, and beyond.  The bullying seems to be recurring, and cycles of exclusion continue to hurt other children's feelings.

In the classrooms, teachers lead talks with the students to help differentiate "bullying" from poor behavior, say, from having a bad day.  Bullying of intentional intimidating is different from when a child may unintentionally hurt the feelings of another, maybe when he is insensitive as he rushes past (or pushes) a child to make his way out of the classroom.

I have an awful story of when I was a bully to a schoolmate.  My mother made me invite her to my slumber party in the fifth grade, even if I wasn't too chummy with her.  The whole evening, I ridculed her for her size (she was overweight).  Later that evening, her presence irritated me so much that I asked her to leave my party, and it was the middle of the night!  I walked her to the door, pushed her out, and locked the door with her outside.  To this day, I am remorseful for my behavior.  It was inexcusable.  I have other stories of being bullied (including being physically injured) and being the bully, but this experience was a pretty poignant memory.

Bullying is real.  Has your child encountered a bully at his or her school?  Has your child exhibited characteristics of being a bully?  Do you have books or resources to recommend to learn more about and about how to handle bullying?  If you talk about, what is part of that conversation?

I say "$h*t", you say "Sugar"

December 08, 2008

I was doing nothing but law-abiding the other day when the car behind me pulled up next to me.  The woman driving rolled down the window and said, "Don't be such a bitch," referring to how I could have nudged up and over so she could sneak past me and make a right turn on red.  I looked into the back seat, where her toddler was sitting, watching, and listening.  I thought about how much we may or may not use "swear" words in front of the kids.

"Bitch" isn't the worst of the swear words.  It's really not.  Growing up, my parents let me know that words like "stupid" and "dumb" were inappropriate.  So, to this day, I don't really use those words.  I'll probably use the word "bitch" more that I'd use "stupid" or "dumb".  I did let a "shit" slip this morning with the kids right behind me.  As for the other big cuss words, I really don't like to use the "f-" word in the kids' presence.

I was recently talking to another urbanMama who says she talks like a sailor.  Using bad words in front of the kids isn't the worst thing we could expose our kids to.  What about in your household?  Do you make the concerted effort to make the language rated-G?  Do you use your normal everyday adult language, even if the kids are within earshot?

Biting: when it happens at daycare

November 20, 2008

The only time we've talked about biting here is when big sis was biting little bro.  We know, though, that biting happens a lot with these little folks, and one urbanPapa is wondering how to handle his toddler's biting experiences at daycare:

Our 15 month old son goes to a great day care.  We agree with most of their approach and philosophy, love the energy there and have a number of friends who feel the same.  Our son has been bitten continually for the last few weeks. Theories have been forwarded about the kids needing better/earlier naps etc, but no actual solution has thus far been found. Of course we've been told that this is a "phase" and there is the real possibility that our little guy could be on the other side of the equation at some point . . . I would not be surprised if we are.

That said, I wonder how daycares can curb this kind of thing with the "never say no" methodology of teaching kids. The gentle re-direction and positive alternative-giving approach I see on the ground in the classroom don't seem all that effective to me. If anything the problem seems to be getting worse, as it is now more than one kid getting in on it. Can a culture of this kind of thing set in?  What kind of expectations (if any) are set with the parent of the kids doing the continual biting?

We are alternately pissed and then worried we are overreacting. Our pediatrician told us this morning that kid bites can cause infection more easily than a dog's . . . which did not help. :)

Biting: when big sis bites little bro

June 27, 2008

Many of children go through a biting phase at some point.  An urbanMama emails her situation and asks whether anyone else has experiences to share:

My 3yo daughter just started biting her 15mo brother. (They are almost the same size so she used to just push him away but now there's only 4" and 4lbs separating the 2 of them.) It usually happens because she gets frustrated because he's in her face and instead of using her words, she chomps down hard. In the last 3 days, shes bitten him at least 4 times hard enough to leave teeth marks that I can still see 3 days later. How do I get her to stop?  She's never bitten anyone before and nothing has changed recently in our daily lives.

Kids and the world, can't we all just get along?

April 28, 2008

For some reason I've been reading a lot of people's opinions lately about when, and where, it's "appropriate" to take your children; and how many people, even parents themselves, often wish children weren't around. Earlier this week at a knitting event, Larissa had a particularly ugly run-in with a woman who evidently was in the "children should be neither seen nor heard" camp, and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (who was speaking during the whole brouhaha) weighed in on her blog.

While it was long and, in the Yarn Harlot's particular style, a bit self-effacing and entirely funny, it was also just about the most honest and lovely and graceful statement about how adults and children should interact in public (no matter where or when they are) that I've read in some time. It made me feel a little bit better about the other night, when my two older boys, a little wired from being tired and hungry, crawled back and forth under our table at a neighborhood Mexican restaurant (La Bamba on Powell, where the servers are always lovely and indulgent). They disrupted no one but me and the older couple sitting next to us couldn't have been more generous about it. "We had young children once!" they said gaily.

Continue reading "Kids and the world, can't we all just get along?" »

How to help a child deal with anger

March 14, 2008

Anger is a normal emotion, but the key is learning how to manage the feeling.  For our youngsters, it can be a hard lesson to learn.  Lesley is seeking your suggestions and perspective:

What do you do with your young child's frustration and anger?  I need creative ideas for appropriate expression of anger for my 3 1/2 year old son.  I let him know it's ok to be mad but not ok to throw things, hit, call names.  I always give him suggestions for things to do instead but he never takes to it.  So where can a little boy put that anger and frustration?  He talks really well so verbal expression is no problem, but I feel like a physical outlet might be good for him, if possible?

What worked?  What didn't?  What are some phrases we can use to redirect or suggest alternatives?

Is this only the beginning?

February 12, 2008

Seven years ago, when my first daughter was a baby, I spent moments of each day wondering: "Am I doing it all wrong?"  Now that our girl is seven-and-a-half approaching thirteen (it seems), I am still wondering the same thing: "Am I doing it all wrong?"

Yesterday was the Monday of all Mondays.  I tell ya.  It was a completely ridiculous workday for me when I felt like I did. not. have. enough. seconds. in the day to finish every report, call, analysis, whatever before fetching the girls.  Then, when I picked up my girl and her girlfriend from school, it was nothing. but. rant and whine. rant and whine. about. every. single. thing.  "Why didn't you pack me peanut butter sandwich for lunch?" ("Because you packed your own lunch this morning.")  "I'm so thirsty! Why isn't there any milk?" ("Because you drank it all this morning and brought the rest for your lunch.")  "I'm bored.  Why can't we go biking?" ("Because your friend doesn't want to, why don't you ask her to go biking?")  "Why don't we ever get to do what I want?" ("Well what do you want to do?")

She says, "Mama, I want to bake cupcakes."  So, I put away what I was doing, and we start sifting flour and mixing up confectioner's sugar for icing.  The beaters haven't even stopped beating before I hear it (the whining) start, "I never get to do it first" or "Why don't you ever let me lick the bowl" or "This is so boring".  I swear to the heavens, I was just not getting anything right.  At all.  And, what was painful was that it was all my fault.

As I recount this story, I realize that it makes it sound like my 7.5 year old is nothing but I royal brat.  But, I swear she isn't.  She is mellow and sweet and respectful.  Really she is.  Usually.  But, sometimes, something just sets her off and everything is all wrong.  Not only is it all wrong, but it is also always all my fault, in those instances.

All of this to say: is this some pre-pre-pubescent condition?  Have other mamas and papas gone through this with their 7-10 year old girls or boys?  This almost-irrational, uncharacteristic, passionate, uncontrollable emotion?  Is this just the beginning?  Or is it me?

When Mama ain't happy...

February 06, 2008

I don't think anyone here will disagree with me when I say that parenting is an incredible joy.  We love these little people so much and they do so many things that make us proud.  But there is another side to that coin.  A neighbor of mine once shared this wisdom about parenting:  "They will make you feel all of your emotions stronger than you ever knew you could."  Among those emotions?  Anger.

It's a very visceral emotion, and it arises without much warning or forethought.  And it's really, really difficult for me to process these emotions, especially in confrontation with my child.  Things can go many ways but the end is never very pretty.  And neither one of us feels good about it.  I know this is difficult to talk about, but I also know I am not alone.  Another mother wrote to us:

I feel like I am in kind of a dark place in terms of parenting. I have caught myself in behaviors where I am yelling, really yelling, at my child. This might include throwing things (coats/cereal bowls etc) this might be spurned on by me asking my child to clear the cereal bowl or to brush his teeth. And when it doesn't happen my hot point is right there. Although I have not hit my child I can imagine how parents do it. I don't think I would hit my child. But I am not ok with where I am finding myself in terms of my temper and lack of patience.

I have several stress points in my life that are not negotiable; I am raising my son alone and don't have lots of support. My son has recently been on/off medication that amps him up- and in turn really stresses me out with his behavior. So I need to find some solutions within those constraints. To me this is not a conversation about being single. I am looking to other moms who also find themselves short-fused, short-tempered, and parenting in a way that that they are not happy with.

What do you do- how do you manage the anger & stress and get to a better place with your kids?

I think that, for me, it was very important for me to step back and realize that I had these feelings and frustrations, not only with the situation but with myself.  I wasn't happy with my own behavior... so I had to ask how I could change it.

Now, I'm not a single mother, but I am currently the single caregiver to my two kids (with much support from two grannies until daddy comes home).  I can't imagine how much more difficult it would be without their support.  Add to that some behavioral issues my 4.5 year old is having at school, and life is not getting any easier day to day.  After some looking around and reading up, I have turned to the Love and Logic approach.  Today is day 5 and I'm trying not to let myself relax back into my old ways (and this morning - it was really, really tough!).  But reading the philosophies helped me realize that there was a power struggle going on, and that my son needed to have control over SOME things in his life, or he'd be constantly trying to control everything.  That cycle had to stop.  That's where Love and Logic came in for us.

Have any of you Mamas or Papas had some wild success breaking the power struggle?  I, for one, felt very freed, and much happier with my child when we weren't angry at each other all the time.  How is a mama to get past the anger and become a happy Mama again.  What other techniques have worked besides just a parenting philosophy?  Sleep, diet, exercise?  I'd love to hear what other parents are doing to manage stress and anger.

..."If you don't, I won't be your friend"....

January 21, 2008

I am generally from the mama-standpoint that the kids will work it all out, no matter what the issue.  But, when I hear my oldest child, a second grader, come home to tell me that she had to share her lunch with some other children because they were saying "if you don't share some, I won't be you friend"....  I feel like I showing up at their lunchroom the next day to tell those kids: "bug off!  Don't eat her lunch!"

When we have playdates here at our house, and I hear through the baby monitor friends tell our girl(which still stationed in the kids room and - let me tell you - we hear the darndest bedtime chatter!): "you'd better let me be the mommy/borrow this shirt/use the sparkly pen/borrow this book or else I won't be your friend"..., and I have admit, I get a bit riled up and feel like I want to quickly jump to her defense.

I wonder to myself, "how many times does this happen?"  We know our girl is not the most assertive gal; she's really quite shy.

My husband and I, when we pick up snipets of these experiences, talk about using our words ("I'm not comfortable sharing my lunch"), about how our friends will always be our friends even if we choose to do not what they say, about how we can engage an adult if we have tried using our words.  She's run into the "I won't be your friend" threat many times already and has admitted to us that she's given in, even if she hasn't wanted to.

I would love your thoughts: what words of encouragement would you offer your child?  what tips or advice would you give?  when, if ever, would you get involved and have words with the other child?  when, if ever, may you bring it up with the other child's parent?

She Doesn't Play with her Toys...Oy!

December 24, 2007

The art of playing.  Is there a trick for kid's to self entertain?  Monica has a question she'd like to ask of the mamas out there.  She writes:

On the eve of Christmas eve, with a bunch of toys under the tree...  I am reminded of something that troubles me about my kids.  4 yo girl and 2 yo boy most of the time don't actually play with their toys!  It's crazy.  I try to very carefully purchase toys that will inspire them to play creatively and have fun.  Ella's bday is in early December and she received a bunch of fun toys... Equestrian Barbie ( I know... I know.. blond, perky, not able to walk with her proportions, etc., But, she had been talking about having to have it for several weeks) among some other fun things.  Her play method is not to creatively play, but to bang the toys on other toys, make screeching animal noises and so on.  Having her sit quietly playing with Barbie and her horsie is not happening.  And, yes, we do art a lot and play dough.. all for limited amounts of time.  It seems that we get one thing out and in a flash we need to play with or bang on something else.

Continue reading "She Doesn't Play with her Toys...Oy!" »

Parenting philosophies: Is *anyone* right?

December 03, 2007

Broadway_medical_clinic_me I've been thinking, studying, and discussing a lot lately about one very important topic: parenting. Not just parenting in general, but how to parent, and how to parent right. But even more troubling than the realization that I haven't been parenting entirely perfectly is the growing conviction that no one knows what they're doing. And I'm not judging you guys, the parents: no, I'm judging the experts, the parenting authors, the pediatricians, the teachers.

Everett's temporarily in a special education program and we're finding that the teachers, "coaches," and other great staff are -- despite their commendable patience and amazing energy -- frequently guilty of inconsistence. Are they right when they ignore bad behavior, or right when they provide consequences? I was all ready to embrace Love & Logic without question when I discovered some of the more punitive examples proffered by its creators. I love my children's pediatrician unreservedly, but occasionally her behavioral advice seems half-cooked. Another mama was raving about Alfie Kohn's speech, but admitted she had trouble putting much of his advice into practice after she got home.

While it's somewhat comforting to conclude that no one knows what they're doing, it's also terrifying -- how can I get it right if I can't even decide what right, is? I wonder -- has anyone come across a philosophy you embrace whole-heartedly? And why is this parenting gig so darned hard?

Seeking good books on child development

November 07, 2007

Mamas, do you have a go-to book on child development?  Capella writes:

The last coupla times I've been at the library I've tried to find some good books on child development.  It's been 15 years since I read Erikson's books while in college & I know there's been a lot of theorizing since then on what's going on in those developing brains. Through the library catalog & their reference desk I always end up at the parenting section.  I'm not looking for a general pamphlet level "what to expect from your 2-year old" kind of book.  I'm looking for something that will give me some theory, some insight, some opinions, something to think about while I'm spending my days doing childcare.

Does anyone have any good suggestions--titles, authors?

How learn how to lose gracefully?

October 28, 2007

I'll be the first to admit, I like to win.  But, many-a-time, I'm a loser.  While many activities for our children are much less competitive than activities from our generation (very generally speaking),  we still value lessons learned from winning and losing.  Consider this:

I'm looking for some advice from other parents or relevant books I can read to help deal with some win/lose competition issues my sensitive 4-year-old son is having.  I know he's at an age that starts getting into kids' games where winning and losing is part of the game, so hopefully this is just a stage he's going through.  He takes games very seriously, gets very excited when things do go his way and work out the way he wants, and if they don't, he bursts into tears and is inconsolable for a while.  This is happening in the kids soccer class my son is taking now, which he loves, looks forward to each week, but typically he comes crying to me on the sidelines at least once every session.  Maybe they'll be playing a game of freeze tag and he's not able to tag someone when he's one of the "taggers", and he'll come crying to me all upset that he wasn't successful. Conversely, in a previous class he was able to tag a kid and freeze him and he talked about it excitedly for the rest of the day.  Another game they play is where the kids all try to catch the coach, who's kicking a soccer ball around and trying to escape the kids.  If my son isn't the one kid who catches the coach, he comes crying to me.  The coaches are great and downplay the concept of "winning" and "losing" and emphasize that they're all a team, and if one kid
succeeds they all do, they're all trying their best, etc.  So I don't fault the class or the coaches at
all, in fact they're great and always try to help my son get over his sadness quickly and move on. He really enjoys the majority of the class and says he doesn't want to stop going, and I don't think pulling him out of the class is going to help him.  I'd just like to help him develop some solutions to dealing with his feelings and emotions.

Continue reading "How learn how to lose gracefully?" »

I got the slap down

October 15, 2007

It's just past 9pm on Monday night, and I am just about ready to share my maniac Monday morning story with you.  Please tell me that my household is not the only crazy household at the 7 o'clock hour on a Monday morning.  Lunches, hair, socks, breakfast, milk, shoes - it's all a mess.  A big huge complete mess.  Some mornings, I feel terribly.  I raise my voice and I yell.  I know I shouldn't.  But, I can't really help it.  I don't think.

This Monday morning was not unlike all the other crazy Monday mornings before them.  Missing socks, slow-moving sleepy children, tangled hair, and weather-inappropriate clothing.  I just about had it.  My youngest [almost 4-year old] girl looked at me, opened her big eyes as wide as they could go, and screamed.  Just flat out screamed.  I mimicked the face she made me, and I screamed back at her.  I know.  It was big of me.  Then, she slapped me.  On the face.

Grrrr.....  it took a lot of all my maternal love and instincts to hold my hands back from slapping her back.  Really.  It did.  I wanted to cry, but not really.  I wasn't sad; I was mad.  "Pissed" is a better way to phrase it.

After she went to school with her daddy, my morning felt sour, tainted by our morning's fiasco.  When my little girl came home after school, she ran to me immediately and apologized, "I'm sorry for hitting you this morning."  I hugged her so tight, and I apologized too, "I'm sorry for screaming at you and making you angry."  We spent part of our dinner conversation talking about "appropriate use of body and language", a discussion that was prompted and led by our little girl.

Have you had altercations like this in your household?  What are ways to deal with it, in the immediate term but also in the longer term?  And, most importantly, are Monday mornings just as crazy in your household?

Bike Commuting with a reluctant child

October 09, 2007

It's wonderful to live in a city where biking and walking to school isn't just a one day affairSafe Routes for Schools is an ongoing, year-round program to offer support to parents and kids who bike and walk to school.  And, urbanMamas are teaming with the BTA right now to come up with even more ways we support our grassroots efforts to take alternative modes of transportation, as families, every day to school and work.

Even with these programs in play, we may not always have the children who want to come along for the ride.  Our family bikes to school probably 70% of the time (so far this year), and the bus or car days are real treats.  Some mornings, they beg to drive to school.  Janice is encountering similar resistance:

My husband bike commutes and I’m trying to bike more and drive less, but my eight-year-old is reluctant. And if you’ve ever biked with a reluctant kid, you understand the true meaning of “passive-aggressive”! Who knew pedals could ever turn that slowly?

Anyway, we already have a system where he earns a reward for every 10 cheerful rides, but now that’s not enough. I’m looking for tips on motivation and equipment (any knitting patterns for child-sized lobster-claw mittens out there?...and I'd also love to chat with other uMamas about safety, routes, and benefits.)

I have to go pick him up from school now (with the car, since he was “too tired” to bike this morning), but I’m really looking forward to some help from this great bike-friendly community!

Suggestions for motivation?  Getting the kids out on the bike lanes, especially when it's cold and sort of damp?  What's your best rainy-day outfit?  Best "I-don't-wanna" treat?

Acting out after sibling's birth: I miss the old sweet child!

September 27, 2007

I think every mama of more than one child has had some angst over the resulting complex relationships; and it's the rare eldest kid who doesn't act out at least a little in the weeks and months following the transition from "only child" to "sibling." Mama G is having some family growing pains of her own:

I am a mama to a four year old girl and a new baby girl (born Sept. 2nd). Since baby #2 has arrived, things have been pretty crazy. My 4 y/o is totally in love with her and wants to do everything to help with her, "new baby sister" but she is giving me and sometimes her father a really hard time. She has begun to talk back, cover her ears when I talk to her, yell at me, refuse to nap, refuse to eat, refuse to do most of anything I ask of her.  Yesterday she actually raised her hand to hit me while I was helping her to take a nap. 

I've tried spending special alone time with her, I've tried talking to her about her behavior, I've even tried taking away privileges and I feel like nothing is working. This behavior is totally atypical of her. I know it will pass (or at least that is what I keep telling myself) but I feel like I need to do more to help her through this period. Does anyone out there have any specific parenting books they have read and would recommend? Are there any parenting classes in Portland that you have attended and found worthwhile (we are in the NW but can also travel if it's worth the effort). Has anyone else been through a similar experience?  Help! I miss my daughter and know she is hurting... would love some urbanMama advice. Thanks!

What has helped you through these tough parenting straits? We've talked a bit about preparing for a new sibling, but it would be great to hear more advice.

Under pressure: How many extracurriculars do you have?

September 26, 2007

Everett_ballet_shoes In August, we signed Everett up for two after-school activities: ballet, which he'd been doing for several months, and Do Jump, which I knew he'd love. So the first week of school he went to ballet on Saturday morning and acrobatics on Tuesday afternoon. The following weekend, we went to his grandma's house and read a new-to-us Berenstain Bears book called Too Much Pressure. Brother and Sister discover they're doing too many activities, and at the end they agree to only do two each. Brother picks computer club and soccer.

Simultaneously, we began having trouble with Everett's behavior, and called in some heavy -- and expensive -- hitters to help us figure out how to fix it. Ballet went out the window immediately, at least for the next few months: the balance of the year's substantial tuition just couldn't fit in the budget along with therapy. Then yesterday, we had a blow-up in Do Jump and I began to question the intelligence of doing that (we've already paid through November). I told Everett I was thinking about cutting it out of his schedule.

"That's ok," he said. "I want to do computer club!"

*Sigh* That wasn't exactly my point (but at least his reading comprehension is good!). Now I'm wondering, how many activities are right for children once they start preschool or kindergarten? Especially when you're having trouble acclimating? Is "zero" the right number for a five-year-old? What works for you -- and if your children are older, when did the time seem right?

Preschool: Addressing the Negative Report Card

September 24, 2007

Nine months after starting preschool and two parent-teacher conferences later, we received the following report:  Carter’s having trantrums, he’s really disruptive, he refuses to participate in circle or help clean up.  It was hard for me to take.  I sat in disbelief.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Carter is by no means an angel, but it did not quite align with our experiences outside of school.   We were full of hope that his preschool which came with much praise and accolades from other parents was the right fit.  We talked about discipline and strategies we used at home as well as schedules, factors that could induce such be behavior.  We discussed consistency at school and at home to improve his behavior.  I didn't walk away feeling like we came to a good understanding on both sides of strategies that we could both use to improve the situation. But we decided to keep him with his current teacher since my husband and I felt that Carter will have difficult relationships with others as a part of growing up and will have to learn to work through them. 

We continued to solicit feedback from his teachers and the reports varied by the day; some better than others.  By summer, it appeared perhaps that the worst of the behavioral issues seemed to smooth itself out until I received the dreaded email:

“… feeling a little concerned about some of Carters behaviour that has been persisting all year and are very aware that he will be moving on to a new class soon…A couple of examples are when we are all sitting down to snack/lunch Carter chooses to wander around the room and refuses to come to the table with everyone else.   Also requirements during 'Circle time' of sitting on the mat and at least trying to learn the games.  He will lie down on the floor or initiate play with other children. Clean up times he refuses to help and continues to play his game until, with the teachers gentle insistance it results in a loud screaming tantrum.

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When friends go bad, and other troubles of childhood

September 12, 2007

Everett came home from school yesterday wanting to quit kindergarten. In his folder, next to the little "SUPER!" sticker from Monday, was a note: "Everett had a really rough day today." The teacher wanted to talk with us about it, later. It seemed likely that she'd never dealt with a child as difficult as him.

It was almost 9 p.m. (after official bedtime) before I got Everett to explain to me exactly what had happened. The little boy who'd declared himself Everett's "buddy" on Monday had decided to bestow that honor on a different little boy. He'd gone on to change his mind several times that day. Everett, never great at dealing with emotional blows, had ended up in a full-on freak-out by the end of lunchtime, screaming and kicking and asking for everyone to leave him alone (exactly the thing he needed, I explained to his teacher today at drop-off: alone time to calm down).

This morning I scanned the room with narrowed eyes looking for the child who was torturing my baby. I found him, and saw immediately that he was a beautiful boy, tall, confident, and possessed with just the sort of power that will allow him to continue his emotional warfare well into adulthood. (I quake at the thought of girlfriends played against one another in college. Yes, I am that dramatic.) The "great idea" I'd given Everett the night before -- how 'bout all three of you be buddies together? -- was never communicated, despite Everett's hard work to get it across. ("I need to tell the two of you something!" he said three times, poking them gently in their chests to get their attention. "No!" C. kept saying happily while I ground my teeth in anger.)

I've done the obvious stuff: explaining to Everett that really good friends won't take away their friendship, and that he should try to spend time with other kids who obviously wanted to be his friend; reminding him about all the great friends who will always be his friend; telling him we love him. I can see that will be hard to negotiate in the face of C.'s charm. Geez, the Queen Bee stuff is starting already and he's only five (so much for that "boys are easier than girls" theory). Does anyone have any ideas? Or can you distract the teacher at recess so I can take C. behind the dumpsters and rough him up a bit? (Kidding! Kidding! Sort of...)

Dangerous Behavior: What's a Mama to Do?

September 05, 2007

From hot fires to sharp objects to running out onto the street, it's a tricky to teach the little ones about the hazards and dangers of life.  Julia has quite a dilemma with her son's fascination with tying himself up.  Julia needs your advice on how to handle her delicate situation.  She writes:

I am having a HUGE problem with my 3 1/2 year old son. He has taken to tying everything up. He will take the laces out of his shoes and tie them around pretty much everything he can find. Recently he has decided to tie himself up and claim that "someone has tied me up" it started out quite cute because he really knew how to work the lower lip (Oscar anyone???). Until recently it has been very innocent. At least 3 or 4 times he has tied something around his neck. I tried being calm and explaining that this is very dangerous and we don't put things around our necks (fortunately my husband doesn't wear a tie for work, that would be too confusing...) until today. I was at a fellow urban mama's house and was inside the house for a brief moment to get my purse, looked outside to check on the kids and he was on a plastic bin in front of a tree with the rope used to climb the tree around his neck. My heart is still racing as I type this. I lost it as I am sure most of you mamas would. I go t more detailed about what could happen, i.e. killing himself, but being only 3 1/2 years old I know he didn't get it. Has anyone out there gone through anything similar? If you have, any advice? I have tried taking laces and the like away, but he seems to find things I wouldn't have even thought of. I keep thinking of all the horrible things that could have happened, and am very grateful he is sweetly sleeping away upstairs. Please help!