Put a Bib on It


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Positive Risk Taking

PositiveRiskI want to raise children willing to take risks. The kind of risks I’m referring to are willingness to try or do things, even if they seem scary or overwhelming. I want my children to be confident in their abilities, even when faced with difficult circumstances or situations. I want my children to be willing to speak their minds and stand up for what they believe in. I want my children to know that I am completely supportive of them and are behind them (whether physically or philosophically, or both) in everything they do.

However, risk is something that can be difficult to teach. I have thought often about this, and have come up with a few things I do that I believe will help build confidence in my children.

Validate feelings. Whenever my children seem hesitant about experiencing something new, I always try to put what they are feeling into words for them. At library story time recently, they had a puppet show.  Afterwards, the librarians brought out the puppets for the children to meet. For whatever reason, Bryce (3) was hesitant to go up to meet and touch them. He clung to my leg, looking at me with eyes that made it clear he was nervous about approaching them. Rather than marking his fears as irrational and dragging him to the puppets, I reassured him and validated his feelings by saying, “I understand you feel nervous about going up to the puppets, we can go when you are ready.” We waited, watched all the other children go up to the puppets, all while talking about what the children that were visiting the puppets were experiencing. We talked about how the puppets were nice to everyone they met and how the children smiled as they said hello. As the line was dwindling down, he said he was ready.

Encourage and support, but don’t force.   Encouraging positive risk can start at a young age. In a world where safety seems to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, positive risk doesn’t mean “unsafe”. When we go to the park, I let Drew (10 months) climb up the stairs of the climbers and slide down the short slides. I never lift him (or Bryce) up onto something. If they want to be there, they will persist, acquire new skills, and grow confidence in their abilities. Their look of accomplishment is worth the wait!!

Avoid reasoning and bribing. Telling a child they are going to like it or that it is fun likely is not getting to the heart of the problem. Bribing children will likely not lead to overcoming the fear either. Providing reassurance that you are there to support them when they are ready to take whatever challenge they may be facing will help them to overcome their fear in order to take a risk.  In my house, we try to never bribe or reason when it comes to food.  We lead by example and talk through when one of our children are squeamish to try something.  We discuss how everyone is eating it and each of us talk about how it tastes. We never force any of our children to eat anything, yet all three children will always eat anything put in front of them.  In Florida, we all even tried alligator without having to persuade anyone!

Foster independence and exploration. Children are naturally curious.  At a park recently, Bryce saw a boy go up a climbing wall that was bigger than he had ever been on. I observed him watch the boy in amazement and awe as he scaled it to the top. I then watched him slowly approach the climber. I could see and sense his hesitation, but he continued to approach it. He looked back at me for support; even though I was a little nervous for him, I smiled and nodded in encouragement. Then he started up the wall. It took him awhile to navigate the wall, but he made it to the top. I could see the pride in his face as he turned around and smiled at me.

Acknowledge Success. Take time to acknowledge when children overcome fear and take a risk. Retell what occurred to help solidify in the children’s mind what occurred. After Bryce climbed the wall, I said, “You were nervous to climb that wall, but you did it and it was fun!” In the face of future challenges, your child will remember that he felt that way then, but it ended up okay.


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Why

life-is-precious

…we are reminded that life is so valuable and precious, and we have faith that it will work out.

One of the happiest days of my life was finding out that my wife was pregnant with our son. It comes to no surprise that when my wife was acting strange I was suspicious that we might be expecting again. My wife almost couldn’t contain herself and did her best to capture my reaction on video like many other people. I was speechless and wanted to share our excitement with some close friends. It was such a joy. Parenting has taught me so much and I was about to learn another lesson.

Sorrowfully, it wasn’t the lesson that I had expected. After only one week my wife began not feeling well and knew something was wrong. We lost this precious joy a few days later and were stunned. There were no words, only emotions. We wondered what we had done to have this happen. We started asking, why? Questions of how and why float through my head. I’ve not quite felt the same since. My wife has taken this very hard and time is the only thing that has brought me to the point of being able to write about it. There are few words that can console a soul from hurting.

My wife and I have leaned on our faith as we question and try to understand why something like this would happen. Through this we are reminded that life is so valuable and precious, and we have faith that it will work out. I can’t imagine all the things that my wife has had to endure, and all I can do is love and support her and give her space to feel what she needs to feel.

I remember thinking that being a parent is the most important and difficult thing that I could ever do in my life. Life continues to teach us and we learn through every experience.  I think about what I can learn from going through this. Time helps, but only a little. I keep revisiting in my mind what I could have done differently or done to help. I struggle with the answers, but I know that we will get through this together as a family.


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Swim Lessons

SwimLessons-editYou know your child is getting older when he begs you not to go to swim lessons (or some other organized sport/lesson/activity). This experience was yet another first for us and another time when we didn’t know what the right answer was.

Ev has been going to swim lessons every week since February. Often he tells us he doesn’t want to go or seems anxious about it when we are en route. However, once we are there he seems content and when asked he says he likes going. We really like where he gets his swim lessons because the groups are really small (more times than once he was the only child for the lesson and no more than 4) and children move through the levels based on skills, not age. Also, the teachers all seem to work really well with young children. Plus, almost every lesson is a family event. Both Craig and I make it a priority to go so we value the time together.

Lately it seems much more frequent that he loses focus or doesn’t seem to listen to the teacher—which is frustrating. It’s frustrating because when he is paying attention and actually trying, he does really well. And furthermore, learning to swim is serious business and we want him to take it seriously.

Last week, the day of swim lessons fell on a day we took Ev to a Red’s baseball game and to play at a park. On that morning Ev woke up very early (by coincidence, not excitement). We had a really fun day. We had some time between leaving downtown and going to swim lessons so we decided to go home to rest, which we all needed. Ev was laying in his bed and when I told him it was time to start getting ready for swim lessons, he fell out. He began crying, saying he was too tired and really didn’t want to go. He genuinely didn’t want to go, I could tell, but my husband and I were still conflicted. On one hand, the lessons are expensive so not going potentially wastes money—money we don’t have to waste (not that anyone has money to waste but you get the point). Also, I was worried about setting a precedent. When you commit to something, you should do it, even when you are tired, and I didn’t want Ev to get in a habit of bailing or being lazy. Lastly, Ev’s gotten some momentum with his skills and I didn’t want to lose that. He is right on the verge of swimming, arms moving, legs kicking, swimming. I worried that missing a week would cause him to regress or something. On the other hand, he was tired. And I was tired. I knew if I made him go, it would be battle from start to finish (with no winner at the end). Also, so far swim lessons have been a positive experience for him for the most part and I didn’t want this to ruin it for him.

I told him to take some deep breaths and that I would talk with his dad about it and be back in a few minutes. I talked about all the above with my husband and in the end decided not to go. I called to let them know we weren’t going to make it and was able to reschedule (two nights in a row next time) therefore we didn’t lose money. We also decided to take a break from lessons for a bit. He has 3 more before we break. I went back to Ev’s room to let him know that he was off the hook. His relief was obvious as he smiled big and thanked me. I told him he would have lessons two evenings in the row to make up for it but he was okay with it. I am sure as Ev gets older, we will have similar conversations. And there will be a time when we make sure Ev goes to a lesson or other commitment that he’s made. But for now, he is still only five and what looked a little like laziness was actually exhaustion, which is very different and I’m glad we recognized that and didn’t force him to go.


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A Tough Day for Mom

tough-day-for-momToday is a tough day for me.  They just wheeled my baby to the operating room.  Literally, I am sitting in a room with tears rolling down my face, looking at the spot where my two-year-old once sat coloring and racing cars around his bed with me.  He was so brave and didn’t even shed a tear. In fact, he sat on his ‘race car’ bed as they wheeled him down the hall enjoying  watching Mickey Mouse with the staff member responsible for befriending the child and making the transition away from parents and into surgery as calm and pleasant as possible for the child.  By the time he left, he was actually looking forward to seeing the “play room with lots of blue stuff”— aka the operating room!  I, on the other hand have had a constant stream of tears (I did put on my brave face until he was out of sight).  Fortunately for us, it’s just a fairly simple outpatient procedure that he has to be sedated for—I am certain there are families here for far scarier reasons and procedures.

My heart feels like it has escaped from my chest as I sit here typing this. My son’s safety and well-being are in the hands of another and I lack control in a situation I so badly want to have control over.  I want to be able to be there through the whole surgery, but I can’t. I want to be able to fix it without the procedure, but I can’t. I want to suffer the pain of recovery for him, but I can’t. I can’t be the mom I want to be able to be right now, and that’s tough.

The nurses have assured me that he did great the whole way to the ‘play room’ and only cried when they went to put the mask on him to put him to sleep. Now I must sit and wait for a grueling (at least) 2 hours before they will return him to the room I am waiting for him in. At that point, his procedure will be complete and he will be awake. I know he is in great hands, but I just can’t help but feel helpless in a time when I feel like my son might need me the most—or maybe when I need him most.


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Marble Jar

behavior2Ever have a moment when you basically get called out by your child? I have. At a recent visit at the psychologist, when asked if he has any chores at home, Ev said, “No. My mom does everything for me.

Hello, truth bomb. At first I got defensive. Like, “Hold up, buddy, that’s not true. I don’t do everything for you.” I was feeling defensive and guilty because it is a little bit true. Ok, a lot bit true. I often do things for Ev that he could do for himself and moreover, that he should do for himself. One example is getting him dressed. I know he is fully capable—but in the essence of saving time and irritation, I often just did it for him. He can be a very stubborn, strong-willed child and sometimes I don’t want the fight or the struggle. As I talked with my husband and what I knew, deep down in my heart, was that I was not doing Ev any favors. Building independence and responsibility are an important part of his development.

We are trying something new. Remember when I talked before about the things I said I’d never do as a parent and now do without hesitation? One of those things I swore I’d never do was use “behavior modification strategies.” That’s a fancy way of a saying rewarding desired behavior, for example, a sticker on a chart every time your child uses the potty. Well, we are trying one. We got an old pickle jar and some marbles. Ev gets marbles for very specific objectives during specific time frames. So, from wake-up until going to school, Ev can get a marble for:

  • Getting dressed on his own;
  • Brushing his teeth after only being asked once,
  • Not saying any bad words during that time (Ev’s current favorite is butt crack);
  • Not being asked more than once to do anything during that time frame and
  • Eating healthy for breakfast (which is usually aclementine or yogurt).

There are also specific objectives for after school.

Each marble represents 2.5 minutes of iPad time during the weekend. (Remember the no iPad rule on week nights!) My husband and I talked about rules for ourselves as well. First of all,we want him to be successful, so we started with sections of time versus all day. Before we walk out of the door to school, Ev already has some marbles which I think starts the day with in good spirits. When you are feeling good, you do good. Secondly, we vowed that marbles cannot be taken away. Once they are earned, they are earned—regardless of how frustrated we may get.

The first week went really well. Ev was excited to collect marbles. He picked them out each time. He was excited to see the jar fill up. We did encounter one problem. Once the weekend came, Memorial Day weekend, Ev spent the entire time outside. He hardly used his iPad. He had a great weekend, playing on a water slide and using real bricks to build a pretend house. But when Monday rolled around, we emptied the jar which was kind of difficult to explain. I was worried Ev would feel like it was all for naught. But we’ve started week two and he seems just as engaged. We are hopeful this will be a good way for Ev to start feeling good about doing things on his own. I want to eventually add tasks, such as chores (i.e. feeding the dogs, helping to clear table after dinner). And it also helps me not do so much for him.


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First Birthday

first-birthdayWe just celebrated the traditional big milestone in a child’s life, the first birthday. Like many first-time parents, I felt there was a lot of stress to make this a special day, but at the same time, I don’t remember my first birthday or many birthdays growing up. My birthday always landed near a special weekend and was a busy time for our family. I don’t want this for my son—birthdays are a day of celebrating getting older and thanking and celebrating his mother as well. It doesn’t have to be a national holiday, but it does need to be special.

For this birthday, we knew it would be more of an event for the parents. We decided on setting some traditions to move forward. Since my wife is from China and our son was born in the year of the lamb, we had some toy lambs as part of our theme and hope to continue this tradition as he grows older. We decorated the house with balloons and flags making the house look like a rainbow. We also decided to have some sort of game to play each year. This year we played a fun game about occupations with items scattered on the floor that symbolized occupations/interests. First, he picked up a little football, and then he made his way through several other items until finally he was drawn to a little green New Testament bible. So maybe one day he will be a missionary, minister, writer, or librarian. We sang happy birthday and had fun with his cake, and even though he was a little sick he eventually made a huge mess for us.  He certainly gained a lot of energy after eating the cake. We finished with opening presents, and while he was most interested in the paper and bags, he really liked his lamb book from grandma.

Sadly the party had to come to an end, but our little boy did seem to have a lot of fun with everyone that day. We took lots of pictures and will have plenty of memories for this first birthday. As a worn out dad from setting things up and cleaning up afterwards, I reflected on the amount of time we are able to get together like this with our friends. I am hopeful that in the future we will have company more frequently, especially now that we have some practice after this gathering!


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Five Ways I Knew My Son Needed Help

play-outside-inflatableOver the past several months Ev has exhibited some less than desirable behaviors. I am sure (because some said so out loud) that family members and other observers judged the situation, determining he just needed a good spanking or other ways to teach children “respect.” If I am being completely honest I also questioned (as we all do) whether it was my parenting that was causing some of the issues. But my gut was telling me there was something more there. Terms like ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder were bouncing around my head and I was worried.

After consulting with Ev’s preschool teacher, my husband and I decided to call our pediatrician who referred us to Children’s for an evaluation. We filled out several assessments, his teacher filled out an assessment, and a psychologist met with us and Ev separately. As a result, we found out that Ev struggles with anxiety.

Here are the top five ways I knew my son didn’t need a spanking, but needed help.

  1. Transitions are hard. Very hard. But here’s the thing—for Ev it wasn’t just about needing warning. He had trouble transitioning into something he likes I’m talking going to get ice cream or heading out for a play date. I learned the hard way that warnings actually made it worse. It was like I kept reminding him the end was coming. What I’m learning is he really needs help seeing what is next, what he has to look forward to. For example, when preparing to leave for school, I might say “How many times do you think you’ll laugh today?”
  1. Ev got very frustrated when his work didn’t look like he wanted it to look. When building with Legos and pieces fell off, he would lose his temper, throw pieces and yell things like “why do my Legos hate me?!” If this happened at school, unfortunately nearby children suffered the wrath. If the children weren’t building or doing what was in Ev’s brain to be “right,” he didn’t handle it well. I’m not trying to justify his behavior but it was more than being a bully…Ev is a perfectionist.
  1. Ev would get very worried and dwell about things. The children had a tornado drill at school and also learned what a tornado was and now Ev is very scared of tornados. If the skies darken or it rains even a little, he needs reassurance that it’s going to be okay. We talk about tornados often, going through protocol if one were to strike. Ev also likes to watch the news during storms or the Weather Channel App on my phone so he can keep an eye on the radar. These worries can steel his attention. At times when he was not focused on what was being presented i.e. morning meeting at school, he was actually focusing on his worries instead.
  1. Ev gets very angry, very fast and at times, it seems at the drop of a dime. One minute he seems perfectly content and happy and the next he is angry. When asking Ev a simple question, “What do you want to do today,” e would respond by yelling and/or calling names. That was a mystery to us and one of our biggest concerns. The psychologist we met with it put it very well: it comes down to “fight or flight.” If we meet a bear in the woods, our brain tells us to either fight or fight—we either fight the bear off or we run. That is a good thing because otherwise we would likely perish. However, Ev feels the same thing all throughout a typical day. It’s good to feel that way when meeting danger in the woods; it’s not good when picking out what shoes to wear. Furthermore, when Ev is feeling those intense feelings, he can’t determine between anxiety and anger all the time so sometimes it comes out as anger, when in fact it’s anxiety.
  1. Ev needed help acclimating to his classroom every. single. morning. The issue wasn’t friends—he has friends and makes them easily. Merely joining the room, joining in on play or starting something was hard for Ev. So every morning, I stayed with Ev, helped him choose an activity until he was feeling strong enough for me to leave.

It’s so hard when you’re feeling exhausted and inadequate as a parent and your child is obviously struggling. Add to it melt-downs in public and you have shame and guilt. We’ve all been there on some level. The good news is my husband and I are the experts on our child. And while we appreciate the love and support (and even unsolicited advice sometimes), it really comes down to relying on our own knowledge (and what our guts are telling us) to determine how best to support Ev.

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