Monday, August 31, 2009

I'm Losing It!

Here we are, camp and daycare has ended weeks ago, my favorite annual back to school Staples commercial plays "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year", while I desperately wait for school to reopen.  Others of you have sent your little cuties on their way and while they are happy with their new teachers or excited to see or meet friends, they come home tired, touchy and moody.  And who do they take it out on? You, you, you!  Which leads me to a question that was asked of me a year or two ago by my friend, a fellow educator, parent and neighbor.

Q: "Do you ever really lose it with your kids?"  

A: I laugh rather sheepishly, thinking that they heard me yesterday from across the street screaming at my kids to stop fighting, from my apartment?  I could have said, "not really, I try to stay calm around them, I don't want to give them any complexes, y'know."  Like the one young, pretty, trendy mom I overheard in the park speaking to one of her friends on the same topic (I refrained from barfing.  Was she for real?).  To my friend's question, I decided to tell the truth.  "Of course I do!  I think we all do!"  

I had some practice "losing it" before my own kids came along.
I think back to when I was a teacher and I lost it, I mean absolutely lost it with my 6th grade class. I felt so bad afterwards and so did my students.  The next day, I could see they were really afraid of me and not responding in the same way as they did before my blow out, my tantrum.  I feared that I permanently changed the tone of my class and I had such guilt.  I confessed to a close colleague and true Master Teacher about what had happened and the effect this had on my students.  I asked her,  "what I should do?"   She told me to simply explain to my students that "I was angry and frustrated. I lost my temper and I'm sorry.  I will do my best not to let it happen again."  That was it.  I did just that.  My class accepted my apology and we were all ready to move on. 

I now try to practice the same technique with my children.  While these types of incidents do happen with my own children on a more frequent basis than I am proud to admit, I feel that a simple appropriate apology that is genuine and pure can send a powerful message to your kids. For one, children will recognize that we are all capable of making mistakes, we are all capable of apologizing, we are all capable of forgiving and finally, that being honest about your mistakes at any age helps us move on.

Another important mantra that I tell myself is that "tomorrow is another day to be the parent I want to be."  While I'd love the magic of repeating the mantra to work alone I know that is does not.  After a bad day or even a good day I have to do some self assessing.  When I lose it, I must ask myself  "How could I have handled that better?", "What could I say the next time that happens?" Creating and thinking about strategies to deal with our kids behaviors and our tempers can stop it from happening again.  And sometimes losing it, is really about me needing a break, a break from the kids and accepting that there is nothing wrong with that.  Being honest about taking time away from your kids and taking care of yourself is being a good parent and can save you all from losing it. 

 As well as assessing when things go wrong, I have to self praise when I handle something right.  Like when I don't yell out my son's name when I catch him doing something wrong in public, but quietly ask him to come over to me and tell him firmly but calmly that I want him to "stop punching his sister".  Or that I found a calm solution to my daughter not wanting to get off the swing on the playground that she has been in too long and there is a line forming of angry nannies that think we are rude.  Praising yourself can give a much needed faith in your parenting especially when you feel you suck.  A good way to keep track of all the good stuff that you do is to write it down in a journal,if you have the time.

Doing the right thing is hard. 
You can't always do it right.  The idea of a super parent or a super teacher is a lofty goal and many times you end up losing it more if you're trying to achieve the title.  All parents struggle at one time or another and I don't care how many books they have written, or how many degrees they have if they call themselves an "expert" or even if they answer parents questions on a blog.  Professionals like myself have the theory, know the psychology and in some cases have the capacity to come up with some interesting strategies and solutions to issues, but make no mistake, we struggle too. The hope of our work is to suggest strategies so we can lose it a bit less and do a bit more so we can feel good for both our sakes and the sakes of our children.

***If you find hard to control your temper on a constant basis or feel you are reaching a point that you feel violent with your kids seek professional help from your child's pediatrician or call a 24 hour crisis help line like, The New York Foundling Hospital.

Monday, August 24, 2009

If it weren't for the last minute...

...nothing would ever get done!  I was called a "procrastinator" when I was child.  I waited until the last minute to do things that I didn't like.  As a child it was school work (and I work in education now, go figure!).  Today it is household tasks such as laundry.  I once bumped into a college roommate with my boyfriend (now husband).  After I introduced them the first thing she asked was "I bet she still doesn't do her laundry, right?"  Well, knowing is half the battle for us procrastinators, and I am trying to be better.  One thing I know for sure, I'm not the only one out there who procrastinates and slacks off a bit.  Take heart, there is hope.  

Our question of the week from Jean:

"We have two more weeks before school begins and my daughter, who is going into the second grade has not cracked a book, looked at a math problem or even done a crossword puzzle!  I'm afraid she will be behind and I think she will give me a hard time if I try to crack down now.  What should I do?"

Don't Despair
You can begin by rereading my opening paragraph above.  My point: Even a slacker can find her way!  Seriously, while I believe in importance of keeping up with school work over the summer and building it into routine, it can be complicated.  Don't despair, children can bounce back once the school year has begun provided they have good study habits and there are no other circumstances that prevent them from progressing on their grade level.  However, you can use the remaining 2 weeks of summer vacation as an opportunity to mentally prepare your child for the arrival of the school year and at least have her get into the academic groove.

Make the Most of the Time You Have Left

Two weeks before school begins is a great time to put routines in place.  Start to set up appropriate bedtimes and wake up times, reading time, work page/academic activity time.  Try to make a simple schedule or at least try to do certain academic activities at the same general time each day.  Be cognizant of subjects that cause anxiety or stress and time them when your child is the most rested and open.  Discuss with your child that school is coming soon and it is a good time to prepare our bodies and minds for the new school year.

Choose Your Instruments Wisely

Workbooks have come a long way.  Some children love them and others hate them but there is enough out there to find one they enjoy.  I have a few on my aStore.  I like the Kumon series but there are many to choose from at many local bookstores.  Let your child choose, they may be more willing to their work.  Don't dismiss the important skills that come out of doing activity books such as Mad Libs, crossword puzzles, Sudoku (all can be found on my aStore) or even from some computer programs.

The Power of Choice

Children at many different stages need to feel empowered and feel like they have control (especially during this transitional time between the end of summer and the start of school).  Let your child choose what they want to read even if it is beneath their reading level or it's not the finest piece of literature.  As an educator, I bite my lip a great deal when I see my children choose lesser quality literature.  Your child's ownership over their learning is one of the most important skills you can have them achieve.  Don't argue or put down their choices.   If you just can't help yourself when you are looking in a bookstore or a library, find a book that you loved as a child and say to your kid  "I loved this book when I was a kid...I made pop-pop read it with me all the time."  You might have a chance at them seeing it as a possible option.

Math Exchange

The subject of math is truly where studies have shown children fall behind over the summer. Start playing store, monopoly, set up an allowance and create math problems around it.  For example, "If I give you $2.50 a week how much will you have in 4 weeks? 9 weeks? a year?". Create charts and graphs tallying how many boxes of cereal, pasta or vegetables you have in your kitchen.  Ask questions like "which type of food do we have the most of?", "which types of food do we have the least of?"  If you still have your child's old math book from last year choose pages from workbooks that have not been done or have your child explain to you how they came up with the answers from problems previously done.

In the end, be firm about doing a little everyday if possible, two or three times a week for sure. Think about allowing children to read or do their academic activities in the backyard, in the park or at a coffee shop.  After all, it is summer and in this day and age, work will travel.

Monday, August 17, 2009

This and That

We are coming down to the wire and the school new year is near, if it has not already started in your area!  I will be hosting my kid's "School New Year's Eve Party" in the spirit of Cookie magazine's,  National School New Year's Eve event and contest!

I am proud to announce that my facebook fan page continues to pick up fans and someone is close to winning a book of their choice from my aStore!  The contest ends Wednesday so keep getting your friends to become fans.

Our questions this week will be answered by me through two different websites.  I am thrilled and honored to be quoted in two new online articles. One refers to me as an expert educator regarding how to solve "The Summer Homework Battle" and the other recalls my days as feeling like a clueless parent to my first child during his first year.  

It just goes to show we all have are strengths and mine certainly begin with children after the age of two!

Both articles are wonderfully written. Check them out:

Stay cool and keep those questions coming!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Speaking with your Kids about Your Chronic Illness

This week's question is near and dear to my heart.  Two people who are very close to me but don't know each other, coincidentally asked me the same question.  They suffer from two different chronic, neurological diseases.  I not only know both ladies personally but I,  like them, suffer from a chronic neurological disease.  I suffer from Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  MS is a neurological disease that can be severely debilitating.  Symptoms vary from individual to individual and can range from fatigue, vertigo and balance issues, tingling in the extremities, mild to moderate blindness, cognitive dysfunctions and can lead to paralysis among other serious symptoms. 

My cousin,  recently diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), is a much lesser known neurological disease but equally debilitating.  My cousin describes RSD in this way: "I feel as if I am in a hot suit that is burning through to my bones and at the same time there are sharp pains in my legs.  My toes, heels and back of my foot are tingling, numb and swollen.  The same feeling is in my arms and hands.  It is hard for me to make a fist without pain.  The more pain I feel, the more tired I get.  I forget everything.  The other day, while in a hardware store, I could not remember the color of my kitchen."

All three of us, are mothers of young children.  All of us are ambulatory and all of us are described as "but you look so good".  While it seems rewarding that we are walking around and functioning, depending on the day we can find it even difficult to move.  Diseases like MS and RSD have symptoms that can be invisible.  To an outsider we look good, even healthy, though we can be in excrutiating pain and discomfort.  This can make it difficult to explain to children and adults that we do suffer and sometimes just can't do our normal tasks or be exactly the same before we were diagnosed. 

This week's question:
"How do we tell our kids we have a chronic illness (especially if we don't look it), what do we say and when do we say it?"

Be Honest
According to "Someone You Know Has MS, A Book for Families",  from the MS Society: "children are far less fragile than you think, and are more able to accept painful realities than we generally assume.  Parents often try to protect their children by hiding painful issues, but open and honest communication among family members is valuable and important." 

Get Resources
Paula Sussman, a counselor at the MS Society suggests making use of great tools such as videos, CDs and pamphlets.  The MS society developed a newsletter, "Keep S'myelin" for children who have parents who have MS.  The tools may not work for the age of your child or for the way your disease has affected you, but they are important resources to give you the language that is necessary to make our children aware that you are not well.  Call your local chapter of your society, agency or support network and ask them how you can talk to your child about your illness.  If they don't have anything in place this may be a great opportunity for you to help develop tools with other parents!

Choose an Opportune Time to Disclose
Depending on the age of your child and how much your symptoms are affecting you and your child, think about when do they really need to know.  Young children may only need to understand that  "Sometimes mommy does not feel well.  When I don't feel well I need to..."  As children get older you can reveal more specifics about how the disease affects you.  

According to a Chronic Illness Coach, Tom Robinson, " parents can choose a moment when they experience a noticeable symptom, such as a tremor, dropping something, not being able to go somewhere because of fatigue, etc. parents can say, 'Susie, I wasn't sure if you could understand before, but you've grown up a lot so I want to tell you why I sometimes drop things (or whatever the symptom is).'  Parents can explain the illness in a way the child can understand it. 

Read Your Kids Reactions
Give only what your children can handle.  Children process information in their own way and in their own time.  After disclosing you have a chronic illness children may not want to talk anymore, change the subject, ask lots of questions, cry or say "okay" in an unassuming tone,  Let them be in control.  Allow children to react in the way they need to. If they ask questions go further using appropriate language.   Some children will revisit conversations days, weeks or months later when they are ready to discuss.  Allow them to process when and how they need.

Reaffirm to your children that when you "don't feel well you are not angry".
Explain to your kids even mom and dads can be grumpy or cranky, especially when they are tired or not feeling well.  It might help to have a plan for the days that you are having trouble. Create a box that is full of simple games, puzzles and cards that your child can do on their own. Keep these activities reserved for those times that you need your extra rest.

Get Your Child Involved
Every year, since my son was born, he and my other children participate in the MS Walk.  The day has a celebratory feel.  We have a team full of family and friends, I reunite with people who I usually only see at the Walk, there is music, food and tons of freebies!  My son looks forward to the event and has even put a picture of the walk on a timeline poster of his life, for a school project.  By the time he was six, he was told that MS is a disease and he was walking to help individuals who have it.  Now that he is seven, I am gearing up once we begin preparation for this year's walk to tell him that I have the disease.  

Anticipate questions:
When I disclose this to my son, I imagine he will ask questions, such as  "Will you die?" or if I "will end up in a wheelchair or use a cane?"  I have been giving this a lot of thought.  I am practicing an answer that goes some thing like this:  MS will not end my life any sooner than it is supposed to end naturally (he fully understands already that everything dies).  As for the wheelchair and the cane, my answer:  "I don't know.  What I do know is that I am doing everything that I can to take care of myself and try to keep myself healthy.  I listen to my doctors and do what I am supposed to do."

You Are Not Alone:
Talk with other individuals who have chronic illness about how to approach your children. Request resources from your various agencies, join a network, create a parents support group, participate in webinars, join phone conferences and enlist help from counselors, therapists and  coaches like Tom Robinson.

I would love to hear how you disclose your chronic illness to your kids!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Giving a Boost!

Here we are in August; hot and muggy in New York City.  I see it as a free steam bath in the city.  I know a lot of people hate the humidity but sometimes your outlook can change an entire experience.  My skin is looking pretty good!

Lots going on here.  Arts Ed Consultant and Ask the Educator have been quoted twice in the past two weeks with a few other shouts coming in the next few weeks and months.  The Staten Island Advance article gives some how tos, to get your sons and daughters bonding in the city.
 Read them here:

As well, we have updated the site with links to facebook and twitter. We are having a fan drive on Facebook.  The individual who brings the most fans on my fb page can choose any book from my aStore for free!  So bring those fans in!

We are also featuring some new favorite books on my new aStore.  Make sure you check them out!  

On to the question this week!  "With the upcoming school year, how can I help my child improve his confidence?"

As a parent of a child who needed some confidence boosting, I have had some experience with this and I'm still putting many of the ideas found below into practice.  Children who lack confidence can have trouble making eye contact, withdraw from social activities,  lack a command of language, have an inability to gain control of a situation or can exhibit less self control, can be a target of bullying or can become a bully and in some cases can develop anxiety disorders or behavioral problems.

Having a child that lacks confidence can be very hard on parents.  Children who have confidence problems often feel the "messenger is as important as the message".  In other words, your child's story can be: "Mom and Dad, you know nothing but my teacher, friends, coach, etc. are always right, even if you tell me the same exact thing!"  While this is a normal reaction for many children at different stages, children with confidence problems tend to become resentful and often reject help from their parents.

Below are a few tips that take different approaches.  There is no one fix.  Try and see what works for your kid.  Note, that something that does not work at one point might be the right solution when your child is ready.  So be gentle about your approach and feel out your child's reaction at different periods.

Make goals with your kids 
What do they wish for in the new school year?  Have children make lists, create a journal or draw a picture.  How do they think they can make this happen? You can make a step by step plan and set up a way to keep track of success like charts, graphs or by journaling.  Model this with your kids.  Make a list of goals for yourself!

Role play and model appropriate language 
Young children like when their parents get down on the floor and play with Barbie's or with action figures.  Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate (with two figures that you are playing with) how to deal with disagreements, making an introduction and telling others what you want. Children will enjoy the interaction and you can really give some skills to deal with bullies and being left out.  Older children might deal well with mock situations (with or without action figures) that you both play along with.

Watch what you do  
Your kids watch how you deal with people and with tense situations.  What do you do when someone is rude to you?  Or when someone cuts in front of you on line?  Or when there is a misunderstanding? When you handle a situation well, in front of your kids this can be a teachable moment and should be pointed out and discussed. "Did you notice my tone of voice?" or "How I told them that they were mistaken and used appropriate language?"  Or discuss how you found the humor in what could have been a difficult situation.

Give your child opportunities to be successful and make meaningful connections 
Find appropriate activities that fit your child's personality. Seek out talented coaches, tutors and individuals that can be your child's mentor.  If your child has trouble with social activities consider non competitive programs like martial art, yoga, gymnastics or a musical instrument.  If you can afford it, sign your child up for a few sessions with a private teacher.  This can acquaint your child with an activity and provide them with the special attention your child might need.  You can't be everything to your child but you can help to surround them with people who will help them be successful.

Is the problem much bigger?  Many Sensory Integration Disorders can be connected with confidence issues.  Sensory gyms and the field of Occupational Therapy can be very instrumental in helping your child.   It is hard to admit that your child might need therapy but it can make the difference.  If you feel your child might need more help, consider getting them evaluated by the state if they are 3 or younger.  If your child is 4 or older, discuss with your child's pediatrician and check your local hospitals and listings for other types of  therapy centers.

Finally, be patient.  Building confidence is a lifelong skill.  It is something that we all struggle with at one time or another and the hope is we develop the right coping mechanisms so we don't lose it when the chips are down (and they will be at some time).  Keep encouraging and trying new ways so that we may all find our way to shine, even as parents!