Don't let the cuteness fool you. Just moments after this picture was taken, a full-blown tantrum unfolded right there in the Fine Arts Museum's lobby. It was the perfect place for a tantrum: expensive art to break, high ceilings to echo the screaming, lots of people to watch.
I guess the real question is, "Who would take a toddler to such a place?" My answer:
The mother who loves art, who includes her children in every day life, who believes somewhere deep down that conflict is okay. The seasoned mother of four who has lost her mind!
The truth is, I don't believe all places are meant for children, but the opening day of a new wing at the museum was okay. Besides, tantrums can happen anywhere. So, what's a parent to do? Here's what I'm learning (with more practice than I care to admit):
1. Get face to face. Sometimes, all it takes is for me to get down to her level on my knees and be close. Talking close to her face and resisting the urge to raise my voice can draw her in, if we are at the start of the tantrum. My body language sends the message that I'm open to listen.
2. Validate and ask questions. Even though Lyra can't totally communicate (hence the tantrum), the validation and the questions can give her a chance to nod her head to help me know how to help her.
"I know you are sad, angry, frustrated, etc. I would like to help you...Can I get you _______?"
3. Know the point of no return. When we're past the point of helping or sorting through the tantrum and are just crying, flailing, yelling, it's time to leave. Removing your child from the space helps everyone. A change of scenery might diffuse the reaction and is respectful to others around you. Of course there are the moments when you can't leave. Why do these things always happen in the check out line? In these moments, I pick one reassuring phrase and repeat it.
"I know you are upset, I will help you as soon as I can. It's okay. It will be okay."
When we finally get out of the store, she's fine and I feel like I've just been to war, but sometimes, it is about just getting through.
4. Remind them that hands are for hugging. I often have tor remind my kids what there hands, feet and mouth are for in the moment of misuse: "I can't let you hit me, and besides your hands are for playing, hugging, building, etc... Or, "These are the things you can hit- pillow, ball, etc. " It sounds silly, but it works in the long run. It gives an appropriate outlet for the frustration and reminds the child of her other capabilities. It's a good segue to offering to fill a need, too: "My hands can hug, too, do you need a hug?" Kindness melts me when I want to tantrum; it often works on the kids, too.
5. Be honest with yourself. Sometimes, I just need to bail. I need to call in reinforcements, and I'm not afraid to tell my kids. "I love you, but I'm really tired from our hard day (even though she doesn't remember the 253 tantrums). Papa is going to help you, and I'm going to take a break."
What do you do about tantrums? Give us your best tips in the comments.
It was Wednesday again, the homework day that Jack dreads each week. I have to be honest, I do not look forward to it either. It's the day when he must write five sentences using his spelling words. Reading has come very slowly to Jack so forming words is like his worst nightmare.
"It's so hard! I'm so, so frustrated!" he says with his palm on his forehead. We sound out each word slowly, he writes until we get to the third sentence. I suggested a break but he just wanted to be done. There were computer games to be played and outdoor sword battles waiting for him.
"I think I know what you need." I said.
"You do?" he replied somewhat intrigued.
"I think you probably need some spelling candy. It may or may not work, but it's worth a shot. Whaddya think?" I waited to see if my very alternative idea would work.
"Yes! Whatever it is mom, I'll try it. I mean, candy sounds good anyway." he said.
I went into the kitchen to dig through my junk basket. My house is way too small to be provided the luxury of a whole junk drawer, so basket it is. At the bottom I found a very tacky diamond shaped plastic box I got months ago in a gift bag I received from an awards event I attended. It was from a local jeweler hoping I'd come pick out some lovely ring or anklet I'm sure.
I remember thinking how nice the bath salts would be but when I opened the tiny box to smell them, I quickly realized much to my disappointment, it was rock candy. It seemed though the entire repurposing made total sense for this moment.
I handed him three little tiny candy crystals for his last three sentences. He held them like he had just discovered the holy grail and promptly returned to his work.
"Mom, I think this spelling candy is really working. " he said.
"Oh, I'm glad. I thought it might but I was a little worried it wouldn't. I'm just happy you are feeling better about the whole thing."
In just a few more minutes he was finished.
He still asks me every now and then for the spelling candy when he feels a little stuck. Jack carefully rations the candies out as I told him he probably won't even need them by the end of the year. I sometimes wonder if this is a terrible idea on multiple levels but he has seemed to find the balance of not relying on it too much yet finding a tiny bit of power in the jewelry store swag.
I remember the kindergarten days I made power pancakes for Josiah when he was struggling to find his own. What do you think of this alternative parenting idea? Is it misleading or just creative?
What do you do when your kids get stuck? Tell us your ideas and thoughts in the comments.
I have a confession. I really, really don't like school and I'm afraid even against my best efforts, I am passing this on to my children. I have always loved to learn, but school settings weren't exactly my first choice. Here's the kicker, I am a former teacher.
After a half hour of crying and trying to sort out what our current school troubles are I finally asked Josiah, "Do you like to learn buddy?"
"No! I hate it, I hate it so much!" he replied. I know this isn't exactly true as he is constantly asking me to show him how to do things, but I winced as the words left his mouth. Should he push through or do we have a real issue here?
Once again I found myself trying to reframe things for him so he can continue for the next 6-8 weeks when it happens again. I go over in my mind what the factors might be:
Third grade is a notorious year for things getting more serious and kids starting to struggle.
Our public school is lovely; it's one of the best in the city, still in a city very much struggling with their education system.
His teacher is nice but hard, I get the impression she is just doing her best to prepare them for the state testing.
As parents, we aren't super focused on grades, achievements and the like, not really our style.
I don't really blame the system as I understood what I signed up for. I know the teachers and administrators hands are tied to a certain structure and the standards of learning. I also see their effort to bring some creative and alternative learning into the classroom, but what happens when it just isn't enough? What do you do when your kid is losing his love for learning? I know every kid dislikes school at some point but what do you do when it seems like it is coming up more frequently?
Private education? This is when I become incredibly aware that I have four children. While the option isn't completely out, it is an incredible reach.
Homeschool? It always sounds great in theory to me, but if I'm totally honest, I just don't want the total responsibility for his education. My homeschool friends tell me it is complete crisis of imagination on my part and there are all kinds of ways to get support. I'm realizing the root of my resistance might be deeper as it would also alter my life dramatically (insert selfish feelings here). It is still an option.
Extracurricular activities? Supplemental learning has seemed to help alleviate the drudgery of the everyday. Extra art classes, tree climbing courses, even long park days help. It might be just the dead of winter blues?
So super people, what do you say? Have you ever had this type of education dilemma? Do you have a kid that dislikes school and is struggling to stay engaged? What do you do? Give your advice in the comments.
My kids both are dealing with a lot more homework this year. As a result, I'm seeing a gradual slide away from the years where they just came home and finished fast to knock it out so they could get on with playing. One kid will start and then leave the table. The other feigns that it's finished when it's never left the backpack. A few tearful conversations about homework and I'm reminded that it's time to get back to the basics.
Here are the things that always take me out of the homework hassle and back to homework heaven:
Hold a family meeting. Over heaping bowls of ice cream, ask your kids to tell you what works when they are trying to get their homework done. Take notes as they explain how they work best. If problems arise in the discussion--such as difficult relationships with teachers or trouble in a subject matter--make plans immediately to talk to whoever is involved. Make sure your kids know you are more than willing to help them get the help they need to do well. If your kids feel like they're working more than playing, take that seriously as well. Make plans to reduce after school activiites, so your kids can play hard and blow off steam.
Make a homework plan. Decide together about what time homework will be done and where in the house. You can give your kids lots of freedom in making this plan without sacrificing your own sense of what will work for your family. I decided I didn't care where my kids decided to do their homework as long as we could all agree that we'd tackle homework before going out to play. Every family will decide that one differently, but my kids quickly agreed that in our case, that made sense. Be honest about what kind of atmosphere you need to feel positive about homework. For example, I know complaining and whining really wears me out when the kids are doing homework, so as part of our plan we included quiet and cooperation. We also talk about making requests for help versus freaking out as part of our family homework strategy.
Get prepared. Make it a point to make sure your child has everything she needs to do her work without unnecessary delays. Go on a special outing to buy all the supplies you need to do schoolwork at home. Let her choose glittery pencils, adorable erasers and anything else she might need to complete her assignments. Put your supplies some place permanent in your designated homework area and reserve the use of these things for homework only. Our junk drawer recently got a homework supply makeover from Madeleine and Carter's dad, and it's helping a lot.
Avoid shame. Every parent knows when they're getting the homework runaround. These moments are real tests for me as a parent. I want to let them have it, declare their universal laziness and call it like I see it. I've learned that everything gets worse though if I attribute what's happening to who they are as people instead of what they're doing as students. No one likes to feel blamed or judged, and everyone knows deep down if they're behavior is off. Better to stick with the facts and leave the character analysis for when your kids are old enough to decide who they are for themselves.
Welcome your kids to the homework table. Sitting down and actually starting to do homework is so much easier if there's a snack and good conversation waiting. We start our homework hour with something yummy to eat and catching up on the news of the day. This helps everyone transition. Another way we stay on track is by inviting friends to do homework with us. My kids enjoy welcoming their friends to our table and our guests enjoy having some company while they do their work. I've found that the drama around difficult subjects dissipates when the children can work in pairs to tackle the harder aspects of a particular assignment.
Keep going until good homework habits become part of your daily routine. I've learned that it takes time to learn how to be a good student, and that my children really needed my presence in these early years while they learned to do their work more independently. I'm discovering that now that work is getting harder, they need my presence even more. Since I'm a full-time working mom now, this is tricky, but it still needs to happen. Amend your plan as needed (your kids will love all those ice cream laden family meetings!) but stick with it.
Celebrate! Before long your kids will be doing their homework all by themselves--without all the nagging, poking and prodding. Celebrate each tiny baby step of progress. Throw spontaneous dance parties in the kitchen to show your delight! Let your kids know how much you love to see them do well in school and how much you needed to know they could learn to be responsible for their work. Thank them for their progress and encourage them to keep going. Even the smallest bit of cooperation and initiative needs noticing.
Wishing your kids could be more confident and self-sufficient in 2010? Confidence is something I hope I'm building into my kids everyday. Here are some things I know that work, along with some ways I know that my kids need to grow in this area in 2010.
Celebrate tiny accomplishments. Make it a point to notice when your kids are making an effort to tackle a new task like pouring a drink or (as in happening in the next room as I type!) learning how to use a can opener. These little risks add up to big confidence when your child can claim mastery. Madeleine is ready for some more grown-up tasks in the house and I know my acknowledgement of that will improve her sense of self.
Let your kids grow in their own time. Nothing hurts confidence more than being pushed to do something you aren't quite ready to tackle just yet. It's okay to follow your kid's cues when making decisions about what's next on the learning agenda--don't let anyone else's timetable sway you. I know for me, I tend to push my kids harder than they're capable of going. This year in some arenas, at least, I know I need to step back.
Trust your own intuition. If you're full of self-doubt, your kids will be too. Practice trusting your intuition and following it wisely. Your example can make a powerful difference--even if you can only trust yourself a little bit at a time. The point is to model for your kids that confidence in your own point of view. I worked on this hard in 2009 and I still have a long way to go.
Sample new foods. Fear is a major factor that keeps all of us back from new experiences. The restaurant table is a perfect place to learn the art of taking risks, trying new things and finding out it won't hurt you to find out what works for you and what doesn't. Carter needs the nudge of confidence in the food department and this year, he's going to get it!
Let your kids cook with you more. My kids are old enough now to make simple snacks, but I haven't been willing to teach them how to do it. I think by allowing them more space (and instruction) in the kitchen we'll build confidence in both directions--my ability to trust them and their ability to trust themselves. Which brings me to this next point.
Trust them. Nothing communicates confidence more than trust. I'll be looking for ways to demonstrate my trust--can you bring in the mail, please? I'm waiting for an important bill--and act on it. When we monitor our own fear and let our children be as capable as they really are, deep confidence will follow.
What one focus would you pick for your kids this year? Is confidence the thing or something else? Do you have tips on how to help confidence grow? I'd like to hear it all in the comments below.
He was nervous about it a few weeks ago but I didn't think too much about it.
"Mom, we are moving seats, and I have to sit by this girl, I'm a little worried. She can be kinda mean."
I went into a kindness opportunity speech, I was hopeful because Josiah is really good at making almost any friendship/ relationship work. I should have known it could be hard if he was concerned. We didn't talk about it much after that until yesterday.
I was waiting in the car pool line when the door flung open and both boys climbed in, Jack was chatty but Josiah seemed a little quiet. We got home and he sat down next to me on the couch. I knew something was wrong.
"Mom, I'm kind of having a hard time." he said.
He went on to explain how the girl was being unkind, making fun of his drawings, telling how everything was wrong with him, part by part, day by day. He looked defeated and was starting to take these lies into his heart.
"I tried to tell her I don't care....but..." he burst into tears.
"But you do care right?" I said. He nodded his head through his tears.
"Everyone cares Josiah, trust me." I replied as he released long sobs in my arms.
"Do you think there is something wrong with you?" I asked, he shook his head but cried a little harder.
There are times when you just can't protect your child and someone else's pain will hurt them. I wanted to cry myself, but I didn't and we just sat for a moment together.
I told him I thought maybe he was dealing with a bully and suggested we find out some more information so we could make a plan to help him. So we spent some time researching and found out why this might be happening to him and what we could do.
Bullying is either about power or passing on some form of mistreatment. We wondered together if that might be the cause for this girl being unkind. We talked about how sometimes when you hear negative messages repeatedly you can start to believe them.
It was time for truth to do her magic I told him, because truth is the only thing that can set you free. If he was starting to question himself, maybe his bully can't remember the truth at all.
We came up with a strategy to deal with all the problems we could come up with.
1. Try to ignore any mean or unkind words, completely. No response at all.
2. We sent an e-mail to the teacher explaining what had been going on.
3. I wrote tiny cards of truths/affirmations about him to keep in his backpack at school so he could read them if things got hard.
4. Made a plan to check-in in 2 days to see if our strategy was working.
"Do you think this will work?" I asked.
"Yeah, I feel better mom." he said.
I gathered my parenting strength and sent him off to school the next day. I realized this is probably just the beginning of various big kid problems but I think we can find our way.
Have your kids ever dealt with a bully? What did you do?