Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's Not Even New Year's Eve and I'm Exhausted

I admit it, I am totally fried from vacation this week. Alone with the three kids all week and one child with a substantially high fever, has been enough to make me eat lots of chocolate I don't need (but saves me from pulling out the liquor) and I have yelled at my kids more than they deserve. I'm tired and I need a break. And don't think for a second that I have not told myself "2010 is another opportunity for me to become the parent I want to be!"

So my message this week is going to be short and sweet.

I started this blog because I care deeply about the institution of education. I feel that teachers are gifted artists that build the future and have a great deal of power in moving our society to its next level of great thinkers in all areas. While I feel teachers are the professionals and should be given much greater respect, I also feel parents need to know, be connected and in tune with educational philosophy and child development technique and practice. I hope that I have helped to get parents thinking about their role as educators for their children and that through my shared experiences on this blog, both negative and positive that I have lead you into understanding that much like a great classroom teacher, it is not knowledge or perfection that makes you a great parent, but aiming to be better, trying new approaches, laughing at yourself, being honest with your children within reason, forgiving yourself and recognizing that a fair portion of your child's development is out of your control.

I wish you all a very happy, healthy New Year!

Please continue to email me with your questions in 2010.

Sara Lise

Monday, December 14, 2009

Doing the Best We Can

Sorry I missed last week. Have a wonderful holiday!

"We are among the first generation of self-conscious parents. Before us, people had kids. We parent."

The above quote was taken from a new book written about a father's journey through his son's drug addiction. When I read the quote it made me think of how there are services for every reason a parent could imagine. Even the reason I have this blog is because in this period of parenting there are enough interested parties to read about solutions to parenting from an educator. While the quote might be seen as inflammatory to my parents and parents of other generations, the job of parenting has evolved into a huge industry. I remember my mother-in-law once said walking into "Buy Buy Baby", I remember when I had a choice between two strollers, red or blue."

It seems now in addition to all the stuff we can buy, a barometer produced by individuals and media of all sorts, measures how we are doing and can leave many of us feeling guilty. We are more thoughtful about what we do and say with our children and it seems every few months there is a new group, product or expert to tell us how to do it better. So do we worry too much? I thinks so. This does not mean that I don't think parents should use opportunities to grow and try to learn about the many quality options there are out there but keeping it all in perspective is important. The fact is kids are going to go through the stages they need to go through. While we have gotten better at understanding these stages, have gotten better at solutions to deal with problems and pressures, we still have a certain matter of waiting on the sidelines while we watch our kids figure it out.

Here is a Top Ten list of concerns that I hear from parents and they will probably happen in your home too, no matter what you do (and some helpful advice for when you get there!):

1. Your child will be potty trained. The pacifier will have to go. Any other milestone will be reached at some point. Whomever (you or your child), insists longer and more creatively on a certain issue, will win.

2. Someone has to be the youngest. Having a child with a late birthday does not mean your child will be a late bloomer. A child's developmental faculties do not develop all at the same time. Watch your child's maturity and don't make "being young" an excuse. Check out this NY Times, article Here

3. No one has a crystal ball when it comes to finding programs for your children. Research your day cares, your schools, your camps. There is no guarantee that it will work out. People who run schools can leave and there can always be a teacher that your kid does not jive with. No place is perfect and your child's needs can and will change. when it does not work out this is a great opportunity to teach coping skills!

4. Your children will get hurt by other children, by teachers and even by you. Teach your children various approaches to deal with when someone hurts them. Teach children to expect apologies, to walk away from toxic relationships and to say "you hurt me" or " you need to leave me alone." On the converse don't think for a second your little angel is always, well, an angel. Any child has the capacity to be mean.

5. "It's always something". There is always an unforseen situation that was not planned for, an important choice that was not expected or a tough obstacle. Be thoughtful, creative and do the best you can. Be honest with your children when you are not sure what to do but assure they are loved and will be safe think aloud about how figuring out solutions.

6. Self esteem will waiver. You can tell your child they are "beautiful", "smart", say: " good job" or use the more pc ways to encourage rather than praise your child. There will always come a point when what you think or say will not be enough. Children will increasingly look for acceptance from their peers and it will outweigh your opinion. Give your kids opportunities to work with quality mentors and get involved with a variety of friends that uplift.

7. They will really dislike you at some point. When I was a sixth grade teacher, I would check my students journal entries. I was in shock at how many of my students were angry with their parents and felt that they "did not understand". Open School night became much more like therapy sessions for the parents. Try to be understanding, pick and choose your battles, stay firm on values, keep discussions going and seek help from school counselors or a family therapist if you feel things are getting too big to handle alone.

8. What you want for your child will differ then what they want for themselves. We all have a dream or an interest we want our children to explore. Sometimes children take the bait and other times they show no interest. Children become more adamant about doing it their own way (The terrible two's and three's revisited and when their older they have a vocab to back them up!) Kids sometimes need to choose their path even if we know that the end result might be painful. Discuss the importance of a learning experience and that we must keep trying even when things don't work out the way we planned.

9. Your children will sound like you particularly when showing their anger. It will be the same statement, same pitch and with the same intensity. And you'll think " oh, my gosh, that's how I sound?"

10. They will need you more then they will say. Be there for them even when they push you away. Remind them that you are around to listen. Give them options to talk, write you letters, draw pictures or send you emails.

And remember....All stages, good or bad, end!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stress: The Ghost of Holidays Past, Present and Future...

Sorry I'm a little late with the post this week. I 'm swamped with a major project and to be honest, I'm stressed. Not to mention the fact that the holidays start this week! Friday is Channukah and while the presents are ready, I have not had time to pick up wrapping paper. It's bad for the environment anyway, right?

I know that I am not alone here in my complaint about stress. This is crazy time and everyone is talking about it. The rush of it all and the financial pressures, the onset of the cold (switching all our jackets to deal with the weather changes has added a different level of anxiety to the morning routine) and just the plain idea that yet another year is behind us. And guess what? If you're stressed guess who else is? Yup. I have seen more kids crying on the way to school, having blown out tantrums in the playground and the nastiest language coming out of my own little cuties. In fact, three different parents have come up to me in the last week to discuss how they see changes in their children and are just shaking their heads in disbelief.

So our question this week, "Why are our kids so stressed and what can we do about it?"

The Holiday Season:

As I stated earlier, I'm stressed. It's work, it's getting ready for the holiday season, it's going to extra family parties and functions (even during the week), it's all the gratuities I have to give , it's getting presents wrapped and making sure I get the holiday cards out and the fact that I'm sleep deprived because of all these extra tasks, you bet I'm a pleasure to be around. And these are just my issues. My son has a holiday concert that he keeps talking about how "nervous" he is. My daughter is wiped out from all the extra events and is having a very bad time adjusting to the idea that she has to wear glasses and my toddler has eczema all over his face from the cold. Pressure is all around and it does not discriminate by age.

How to Deal: Behaviors, including how to deal with stress are often learned from parents. While I try to talk about staying calm and taking deep breaths in front of my children. All parents can crack in front of their children, this morning I think I earned an Oscar! And when we do fall apart and lose it, the best we can do is apologize when we have cooled down and reassure our children that things will be okay. Explaining to children that even adults can have trouble expressing anger appropriately can bring your relationship to a new level and even open the gateways to help your children to open up to you.

Presents!, Presents!, Presents!
Whether your kids are waiting for Santa, or Channukah Harry or mom and dad to hand over the goods, the bottom line, this is the season of "this is what I want and what will I get?" If you don't celebrate or don't practice gift giving, don't dismiss the fact that your kid can pick up on all the frenzy. Yes, there are a few children that might have regulated themselves and understand that they don't need much or anything and it is the spirit of the holiday that is important. For most kids, it is in their nature to want and to have and the other spiritual lessons have yet to be learned. Children are children and they don't stay that way forever. A parent, I know constantly worries about her kids being spoiled. It takes a lot more than just the holidays to spoil a child. Spoiled children are made that way through years with little or no limits and parents who are afraid to parent.

How to deal: If you feel you the endless presents and the "what else did I get?" syndrome, is something you want to address have a discussion with your child about not being able to have everything. Parents can pick an appropriate number of gifts a child can have and children can make a list to pick and choose what items are most important to them. Beginning a ritual through volunteering, purchasing a new toy for a child though a program like toys for tots or even sending a card to a soldier.

Life is Hum Drum
My son was complaining about his homework incessantly around November. He had never been so difficult when it came to doing his homework and I was pretty concerned. I formed a theory around his behavior and a friend of mine kind of wrapped the theory up into a simple statement, "the honeymoon period is over!" School is in full swing! The new school backpacks are dirty, the pencils are down to the nub and children are expected to know what to do and be accountable. Educators often call this processing time. Children are putting into practice everything they have learned thus far in the new school year and absorbing the information can be overwhelming. In some cases, children can feel overloaded and to be honest, so are the teachers. It would be nice if our children could just talk about the stress they are feeling with us but kids often show us their fears and sadness in other less desireable ways.

How to deal: The best we can do is try to be understanding and continue to leave room for discussion and problem solving.

They Don't Tell You Everything:
Ask any teacher around this time of the year and they will tell you "the kids are crazy!" Think of the anxiety your child might be displaying in your home and then imagine a classroom full of children with the same type of behavior. They might not display their distress in the classroom but dollars to doughnuts the kids are letting it out on each other during recess. I can easily spot a new nasty comment that probably was said to my children at school by another child. It usually is quickly used on one of the siblings in my home soon after.

How to deal: Kids take little emotional pelts from other individuals when they are away from us. It hurts them and us, if we find out about it but we must teach our kids to cope. Helping your child with appropriate comebacks and letting them know that they don't have to listen or be around others who put them down.

There will always be stress and there will always be holidays. And many times they come as a pair. Be honest about it, talk about and try to model the best ways you can handle stress, together.

Chinese Proverb: "Give a child fish, they eat for the day, teach the child to learn to fish, they eat for life."

May you recieve the gift of coping strategies this holiday season!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Can we talk, too?

I had some interesting responses from readers on my last post, "Can We Talk" so I decided to do a follow up this week. Please, I love your emails but don't be afraid to respond on the blog directly.

First, please make a special point to join me at apple seeds this Saturday, December 5th from 10:00AM-12:30PM. I will be answering questions on any topic regarding development or education. As well, it is a great place to get to know. Apple seeds not only has an award winning play space and classes but even if you do not live close by, they do a super job on birthday parties, haircuts and more! So please come, ask away and pass along to friends!

So my last post "Can We Talk?" discussed the importance of talking with your child no matter how young they might be. One of our readers posted a response, which stated that it is important not to expect an "okay" or even a response from children after a conversation. That we have to go on "faith" that they get what we are talking about. This was a very insightful comment and there is a logical reason why many times there is no response. Children (and many adults I know) need time to process new information. When we bring up something that children may not be able to wrap their head around or something they are not ready to hear they often say at the end or before we finish, "okay, can I go play with my toys now?", as one of my readers wrote me. While it may seem like your child might be brushing you off they might actually be saying "okay, I hear you but I can't handle all of this right now, let me play on it!"

How many times have you had the experience when something that may have seemed insignificant to you is suddenly brought up by your child months later? Just because you have experienced, processed and "filed" the memory, your child may be still discovering what the experience meant and how they were connected to it. Many educational programs (called spiral curriculum) are developed based on this premise whereby information is revisited over time in bits and pieces because of the "processing" that needs to take place in order for children to be ready to understand the information. Taking into account a child's age and maturity level some conversations need not be longer than 1 minute and only need to happen once, whereas some conversations need to or can go deeper, may need different approaches and need to be had many times over a period of time.

I have to say as both an educator and as a parent I see the value in conversing and connecting regularly with your kids. It takes practice and time and it is important to understand your child's cues when they have had enough. Conversations can backfire if you go on too long, push for a "fake" response (like an "okay") or over talk your point. If you miss your cue children will either tell you they have had enough i.e "can I go play with my toys now" or mentally shut down and begin to glaze over (fellow teachers you know that look!).

Here is a great example of a time when I trusted myself to have a tough conversation with my son and how my 7 year old let me know it was time to end it. It's a bit deep but drives the point home.

Recently, we lost a dear family friend to a tragic death. My husband and I were going to the funeral. The untimeliness of the death along with the quick funeral arrangements left little time for me to process as to whether or not I was going to tell my children. The morning of the funeral my son quickly sensed something was wrong with me and my husband. We were very tense and probably doing a poor job at hiding it. "Daddy is not going to work? Where are you and Daddy going" My seven year old asked. I was not prepared to go into it. I was still trying to understand what went on myself. I kept thinking to myself " Do I tell him now?" " Will he begin to ask if me and my husband are going to die soon, since our friend had a son close to his age?" "Will he begin to cry so hard that he won't handle school for the day and I will have to miss the funeral?" "If I send him to school with all this suspicion will I freak him out?" In the end, I told him what he needed to know. Our friend died and I went into very simple detail, enough to satisfy him. " What happens at a funeral?" he asked. I explained. "So he will be in the ground?", he asked. "Yes", I said. Along with a short talk about our religious beliefs (he goes to a weekly religious school class) I said finally, "What will you remember about him ?" My son came out with some super memories. Just as I was finishing my statements about how important those memories were, he quickly said in a very matter of fact but cheerful voice, "okay, mom, I am sad enough we don't need to talk about it anymore."

Children have a great capacity for understanding and building knowledge around new information if told in simple, honest language and for some with just a bit of time to process and to revisit.

So, keep talking!