Cooling Off

How do you keep cool on hot summer days? Do you have memories of swimming, using a Slip n’ Slide or running through the sprinkler?

I was on a business trip after a long day and was looking forward to changing clothes and going for a walk. It had been a long day, it was hot, I’d been in a small, hot car for too long and was ready to de-stress. It was late enough that the intensity of the day’s heat was gone and it was starting, ever so slightly, to cool down. I was on the 5th floor of a six-floor hotel. When I got into the elevator I joined a Dad with his two sons, about the same age as my own kids. As kids will do, they were talking about how excited they were for the pool, and how annoyed they were that my arrival (really the elevator having to stop) really bummed them out–they had a pool to get to. “How come the pool isn’t on the roof?” one of the boys asked. We all kind of looked at each other like we were thinking the same thing….that’s actually a pretty good idea, kid. Before you knew it, we were headed down, but were stopped again on the 2nd floor. This time, a young woman joined us with her cellphone next to her ear. As soon as the doors closed, one of the boys looked at his father and said, “How come people on the second floor don’t take the stairs?” I couldn’t help but smile. My boys would totally have said the same thing. The woman took it in stride, took the phone away from her ear and said, “Well, my goodness, I’m so sorry.” And the dad attempted to apologize for this son’s remark. The doors opened again, and the kids bounded out towards the pool, leaving us, their comments and their cares behind.

I couldn’t stop smiling. I no longer felt the heat of the day, or the stress that I had felt only a few floors earlier. I relished in the simplicity of kids, their honesty and forwardness. I thought about my own kids, and how similar they were to these boys. They reminded me that sometimes you can get annoyed or delayed (much like the boys were in the elevator), but getting to where you want to go can help you leave your cares behind. I decided I would follow suit, and leave behind my cares once I stepped out of the hotel, it made for a much more pleasant walk–I was calm, and I was cool.

When has your child’s honesty gotten you to rethink a hot situation?

Bad Dreams

My oldest is nine. He is starting to want to branch out and watch TV programs on channels other than Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network. He understand that the ratings on a TV show are a good guide to help him understand if my husband and I will be okay with him watching it’s content. He asked me to sit with him while he watched a show about the history or legends of strange places. I wasn’t keen on him watching the show, as I felt it could be confusing and potentially give him nightmares, but knew that I couldn’t shield him from such show forever. I sat down with him and proceeded to watch the show.

Part of the episode included a gangster getting killed by other gangsters who were trying to free him. The show did a good job of showing minimal carnage, but you got the idea of what happened: there were Tommy guns, and spatters of blood with people lying on the ground. I told my son we needed to find something else to watch. Later that night after my son had gone to bed, he got up and told me he couldn’t sleep. I knew this would happen, I thought, ugh! I told him to sit down and talk to me about what was keeping him awake. “I can’t get the image out of my head. I keep thinking someone is going to come out of nowhere and shoot me,” he shared. My first attempt to make him feel better was based on facts: gangsters are something we mainly see on TV, not in real life. I proceeded to detail when gangsters were at their height and why gangsters were dangerous. He thought about this for a minute and said, “Thanks, but that doesn’t really help.” Okay, what else can I try? I thought about the technique I use when I get scary images in my head, I try to turn them into something less threatening or scary. I try to turn them into something silly or ridiculous. It’s hard to be afraid when the image makes you smile or laugh. I shared my idea with my son, “what if we could make what’s scary you into something funny?” He smiled at the thought. I said, “What if instead of bullets coming out of the gun, tickets, like you win at the Family Fun Center, came out of the gun; and it made a ding-ding-ding sound instead of a bang-bang-bang sound?” I had him now, he was grinning from ear to ear. “Or what if, instead of pulling a gun out of his coat, he pulled out a butterfly?” my son added with a laugh. “I love it! That’s really good,” I said. I could tell my son was feeling better and had a strategy that was helping him.

It turned out the TV show provided an opportunity to connect with my son and allowed me to give him a tool he could use; it felt good.

How have you helped your child work through a nightmare? What unexpected places provided an opportunity for you to teach, or connect with, your child?

What a Jerk!

I have to admit. I am probably not always my ideal self when I am driving a car. While I had grand plans for quelling my need to verbalize my disdain for disrespectful drivers while my kids were in the car with me, I have failed.

After picking the kids up one afternoon and heading to the house, I pulled onto a street that only had enough room to let one car pass at a time. I saw someone was coming the other direction and decided to wait for them to clear the street so I could go. It was going well, until a driver behind me, who didn’t understand why I was waiting decided to take matters into their own hands. He drove around me, and quickly understood why I hadn’t moved forward. He quickly pulled over to the side, and thankfully avoided causing an accident. My blood pressure on the other hand shot up. How dare he? I thought. I felt disrespected by the other drive and really didn’t like it. “What a jerk!” I said aloud. I continued to refer to this poor man as a jerk all the way down the street. It was almost like I couldn’t help myself.

As we neared the end of the street and I probably used the word ‘jerk’ a dozen times. I finally started to cool off. I could feel the tension in my body lessen. I took a deep breath. The driver turned left and we turned right. That definitely helped. It finally occured to me that both of my boys had been listening to me. “I shouldn’t have called that man a jerk, that was wrong of me,” I said. I proceeded to try to explain why I had gotten so upset, but my sons weren’t buying it. “Mom, jerk is a bad word. You shouldn’t say it,” my older son said. “Yea,” my younger son chimed in. It was one of those moments, where I had to agree with my sons. As much as the other driver may have “offended” me, it wasn’t on purpose, and I’m sure I’ve done the same thing unknowingly to other drivers myself. I certainly wouldn’t want them to be upset with me, or to carry that anger around with them. “You’re right,” I said to my boys, “you’re right.” We were quiet most of the way home.

Later that day, I took my older son down to soccer practice. I had to go through a busy intersection and saw two drivers having a similar experience to what I had had before. To me, it was clear one driver was causing the angst, but clearly wasn’t taking responsibility for it. I’m not sure if it was empathy or what that prompted me to once again say, “Wow, that guy is being a jerk!” He wasn’t being a jerk to me, but the other driver. I quickly realized I had said, “jerk” again and owned it. “I said ‘jerk’ again. I’ve got to quit saying that word.” My son agreed, “Yea, Mom, maybe we should put tape over your mouth.” He said it so innocently and matter-of-factly I couldn’t disagree with him. Instead of getting upset, it made me laugh. “You’re right, ” I said, “maybe we should.” My son taught me a lesson that day: that as much as we’d like to think we’re teaching our kids, they are teaching us too. I’m reminded that I need to try to be a more patient driver and better model what that looks like for my boys.

What have you learned from your child?

The Great Pumpkin

Many of us have watched the “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” Halloween special before. It’s been an annual tradition in our family through the years. The show took on a new meaning for me this year.

My youngest son had returned from a trip to a local pumpkin patch with some classmates and had just sit down to watch some Halloween cartoons when I arrived to pick him up. He was not happy with my timing. This has happened before in the past, when I seem to show up at the wrong time (meaning I’ve shown up when he is in the middle of an activity he is enjoying, or getting ready to start one). I typically allow him a few minutes to finish the activity or do the new activity ever-so-briefly, and assumed my strategy would work with my son on this particular day. It didn’t. Instead my son had a meltdown of volcanic proportions. He became very vocal (loud) in front of the room of kids saying, “I want to watch the movie. I will NOT go, you cannot make me go.” His other classmates saw what was going on, and tried to console him, reminding him there would be other opportunities to watch the film, but he wasn’t hearing any of it. “NO, NO, NO!” was his reaction. He stood up and ran away from me. I was a little taken aback and was quickly reassessing how to best handle the situation. I was in a room full of people (adults and kids) and my son had taken the spotlight away from the movie and had become the show. My inner critic was creeping in (if you were a better parent, this wouldn’t have happened…why aren’t you able to calm your son down?). I asked my son to step into the director’s office (where they normally send kids to calm down) and had to take a few deep breaths. I was partly mortified at his behavior, disappointed in myself for not being able to address the situation without it getting to the point that it had, and frustrated that any of this had occurred. After a stressful week of work, it was the last thing I needed.

It was one of those moments where I really had to pause. My emotions were high. I wanted to handle this in a positive way (though there didn’t seem to be anything positive going on in the present). I had to really think, how do I help my son through this situation? After a few moments it dawned on me. This wasn’t about watching the movie (he could watch it anytime), but not having control over the situation and not liking that–and that, I could understand.

I was able to get my son out to the car (though I did have to carry him), and eventually calm him down. I’m not sure he really understood why he got so upset, but we both knew we didn’t want it to happen again. My son and I made a deal, when we are upset or disappointed about something it’s okay to have the feeling, but we have to talk about it in a way that helps you get what you want or need. He’s young, he’s learning. I’m learning too.

I have a greater appreciation for It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, as a result. It’s a story about wanting something to happen (you want to see the Great Pumpkin) and the disappointment that comes when it doesn’t happen as you’d hoped. I’ll remember my son’s disappointment and how he (and I) will grow from it.

What holiday show has taken on new meaning for you and your family as you raised your child?

Brave

Were you brave as a child? If you were, what helped you be brave or kept you brave?

I was like many and easily scared as a child. It didn’t take much. I recall having nightmares after watching Scooby Doo–darn those adults in those monster costumes trying to scare those meddling kids! I was also scared of roller coasters–just the idea of them made my stomach do flips, or roller skating on anything other than a flat surface–my younger sister used to roller skate down our steep driveway without any fear, I was in awe. I wasn’t big into taking risks and sought out safety.

My youngest son has had a heightened sense of fear in the last six months. Things he didn’t seem bothered by before, now are concerning for him. He is very vocal about his concern and his desire not to attempt the following: roller coasters or anything fast, being within hearing range of thunder and lightning, and swimming. Since I too shared the fear of roller coasters as a I child, I understand where my son is coming from. Fear of thunder and lightning I understand too. We don’t get it much here in the northwest, so when it does happen, particularly when the storm is intense or close, it can be scary for anyone. Swimming is a bit more puzzling. He’s been in lessons for a while. He is just learning to swim on his own and hasn’t shown any sign of not liking class. When we took him to class, his anxiety surfaced and he shared what was bothering him. “I don’t want to go into the deep end.” “Why would you go into the deep end?” I asked. “You and your teacher will decide where you go in the pool. Just tell him you don’t want to go in the deep end.” He seemed to think about this for a second, but the fear was still there. “But what if I have to jump in, and I can’t touch the bottom?” I tried reassuring him again. “The teacher is here to help you swim and keep you safe. They won’t ask you to do anything they don’t think you’re ready for.” He was still nervous as he entered the pool, but quickly realized the teacher didn’t have any plans to take him to the deep end, and was soon enjoying the class.

This reminded me of an incident over the summer. We were at a community splash park, where they have water spraying, and tipping buckets. Our son was eager to go to the park, but wouldn’t come out from under the shelter to enjoy himself when he saw dark clouds in the distance and heard the low rumble of distant thunder. It was sunny where we were, the rain clouds were far away, and my husband and I (and all the other parents there) were keeping an eye on them. My older son took off for the splash park and was having a blast. My younger son looked at me after a few minutes of watching his brother and the others kids playing and said, “Mom, I’m going to face my fear.” He got up, and ran into the splash park. He was giggling within seconds, and having a great time with the other kids. My husband and I looked at each other–wow, did he just say that? we thought. There was a pride in both of us. That he was willing to recognize his own fear and want to overcome it was inspiring.

Our son is still vocal about this fear, but we’re now able to talk to him in terms he understands. Do you want to conquer your fear? we ask. We remind him how good it can feel to be brave and do something he might not think he’s capable of, but we do. It reminds me as an adult, we too have fears that we each face–taking risks, standing up for ourselves, working through stressful situations, illness, and the list goes on. It’s a scary world out there sometimes, but we have an opportunity to do something about it. When faced with a scary situation how do you conquer your fear? What helps you to be brave?

Meltdown

Do you struggle to get your child to eat the dinner you’ve prepared? My husband and I do. It got so bad recently, that our youngest had a meltdown at the table crying, “I’m so hungry, but I don’t want to eat anything.” Anything meaning the food we’d prepared. The meltdown continued and he eventually went to his room for the evening.

I have to admit fault, in that I’ve been a short-order cook for too long. When my children were younger it was fairly common for them not to eat much of anything. Growing concerned that they needed more nutrition than they were getting, I let the short-order cook in me emerge and live on.

I realized I needed to evaluate why I was cooking this way for my children and what I needed to do to change it. I grew up in a “clean-your-plate” household where dessert were scarce. As a result I’ve experienced fallout as an adult having to relearn how to eat (it sounds silly, but is quite a complex and emotional process), trusting my body to tell me when I am hungry and full, and knowing that I can have whatever I want (sweet or not sweet) whenever I want. No food is off the table or taboo. As I became more aware of my own eating struggles, I realized I was trying to overcompensate for them with my children, and instead of having the effect I wanted (e.g. allowing them to eat freely, and eating what they want) I was setting them up to potentially have weight or body issues too.

A book was recommended that really helped change this for me, “Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School,” by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen. I found this book to be very insightful with actionable items to put a new plan in place for feeding my family. Part of the book talks about being authoritative (vs. authoritarian). It encourages parents to be in charge of what you serve your child, but you allow them to determine how much or little they want to eat. It makes sense and feels right to implement this methodology, however, my husband and I knew making this transition with our kids wouldn’t necessarily be easy. We expected there to be some rebellion, and were hoping to avoid any meltdowns.

Of course, the first week there was strong rebellion and it subsided, until our youngest had his meltdown. After going to his room and having a good cry and articulating his anger, I joined him to talk. I shared that while I didn’t like the way he was handling the situation, I certainly appreciated that he was disappointed that we weren’t serving food he preferred, however, Mom and Dad’s job is to teach him things and keep him safe, and part of teaching him things includes exposing him to different foods and providing a nutritious meal. He claimed, “I’m starving,” and I explained that if he was truly hungry he would find something to eat at the table. He asked for some broccoli which had been on the table, but we had already finished it by the time he decided he wanted it. He got upset when he heard this, but was able to calm himself down and asked, “Can I have some carrots instead?” There weren’t carrots on the table, but the fact that he was asking for a vegetable or fruit made it a reasonable request for us. He ate the carrots, and the rest of the evening went on without much fanfare.

I know there are likely more meltdowns in our future around food, but I’m hoping that as my husband and I continue to serve a family meal that we all eat, this will lessen.

How do you deal with meltdowns at the dinner table? Or how have you avoided them?

Cool It Now

How do you keep your cool?

Growing up in the southeast, I dreaded the heat that accompanied the summer months. I was grateful for the rain that would cool things off in the afternoon (this was a daily occurrence where I lived), but never cared for the muggy weather, where you leave your air conditioned residence only to be sweating up a storm by the time you reach your car that is only a few feet away. In the past, air conditioning and pools helped me keep my cool. Where I am now, it’s mostly fans and finding shade wherever I can.

The heat reminds me of those times when we feel hot, not because of the weather outside, but when you are feeling angry or frustrated. When you feel this way and it’s hot outside, yikes! It can feeling hot to a whole new level.

My son was recently playing with a friend. A comment was made that was interpreted as an insult. Being young, instead of stopping what they were doing and to talk about what was said, things escalated. My son’s friend pushed my son, and my son pushed him back. Quickly the teachers intervened and helped the kids work through the issue, reiterating physical force is not the way to solve a problem.

I talked to my son afterwards. He was embarrassed about the incident, and mad at himself that he reacted the way that he did. I told him it was normal to have feelings and needing to get them out. That he (with my husband and my help, along with the teachers) would need to work on strategies for how else he could handle the situation differently going forward, in a way he’d feel good about. I asked for his input. He suggested that instead of pushing, he would use his words. While admirable, I realize that while this sometimes works it doesn’t always. I suggested he also give himself the opportunity to cool off (or find some cover, shade if you will, to cool down from the heat he was feeling). What about if you took a deep breath to calm yourself down, or you just walked away? He appeared to have an ‘aha’ moment. He had more options than just using his words. I encouraged him to continue to think about other responses he could put into practice in the future. In the end, I reminded him that learning is part of growing up, and my husband and my job is to help him with that.

How do you help your child cool off when their temper is high? How do you cool off when you are angry or frustrated?

How Rude!

It’s no fun encountering someone who is rude, right? It can really throw off your day, and put you in a bad mood. No fun.

My husband and I have recently been experiencing rudeness at the hands of our oldest child. We’ve been working on manners for quite some time, and while there has been good progress there is still room for improvement. Our oldest is eight, and in a place where he is working through growing independence and experiencing emotions more intensely. It makes for a challenging environment.

After pointing out the rude behavior we were seeing to our son, and doling out consequences that did not appear to be deterring his behavior, my husband and I decided we had to come up with a new strategy. My husband suggested that our son might still not grasp what being rude really meant and that we should talk with him to make it clear. We sat down with our son to have the discussion. It started off with our son telling and showing us how much he didn’t want to have the conversation (e.g. he got upset, outwardly showed his disdain with a grunt, scrunched up face and balled up fists, and then tried to walk away). We sat our son down and began.

We talked to him about his behavior and how it was unacceptable, and asked if he understood what being rude meant, and what actions constituted being rude. Listening to his answers really helped. “Being rude is when you’re not nice to someone?” he said guessing. “It’s more than just not being nice,” my husband shared. We began a dialogue that lasted more than 20 minutes. We talked about what being rude meant (not acknowledging others when they are speaking to you, and exhibiting behaviors that imply your needs are more important than the other person’s). We asked him again to give his definition. He struggled to come up with an explanation that was simple and clear for him, so my husband and I invoked a role-playing session to show how he could better identify rudeness. Since we often associate respect as being the opposite of rude, we thought we should help clarify some nuances there as well. We shared that being respectful doesn’t mean you have to agree with someone or do what they ask you to do, it’s how you handle yourself in these situations.

He seemed to be grasping what we were talking about, and started to get down on himself for not recognizing how his behavior had come across and impacted others.  We stopped him before he got too far along in that line of thinking, and reminded him that our job is to teach him, and what he is going through is part of growing up. We told him that he was a really neat kid, and that it was important for us to talk to him about his behavior, because when he is rude, it takes away from how neat he is. We continued that if he wasn’t aware that he was being rude, and nothing changed, there might be people who miss out on understanding how much he has to offer, and that would have been a shame. He really seemed to understand what we were saying now.

My husband and I moved on from talking about being rude, and asked him how his day had gone. Our son started to tell us when my husband interrupted him to ask him for more details. My son called his father out on what he did, “Dad, you’re being rude! You just interrupted me.” My husband and I looked at each other with a mutual understanding — we got through to our son…he does understand what being rude means, yes! It felt like we’d really gotten through to him and helped our son learned. It felt great. I didn’t know rudeness could lead to such a place.

How do you help your child work through difficult behavior? When did you know you were getting through to your child?

The Envelope Please…

There is something seductive about the Oscar ceremony. You watch an award show for people clearly gifted in their talent, looking their finest, with great attention to detail, including the envelopes that hold the names of the winners. The seduction part is how easy it is to believe that personal success and accomplishment comes only from winning an award. That your ability to be successful is determined by others (those deciding who win the awards) and not you.

As an adult this isn’t lost on me. I bought into the notion that success was measured by others early in my career and continued to believe it until I had children of my own. Who doesn’t want to win an award for their work? Who doesn’t want to be recognized or acknowledged for their skills?

As a parent I don’t want my children to buy into this idea that success is determined by anyone but them. A statue, trophy or plaque is lovely to receive and feels good, but it doesn’t define who you are as a person. It doesn’t define if your work or life is a success.

My boys are at the age where they are exposed to competition at school and in the play yard. My oldest loves keeping score. When he loses he gets upset. He gets angry with frustration when he tries his hardest and the end score doesn’t reflect his efforts. “I did so good,” he says with a mixture of surprise, and disappointment, “how come my score isn’t better?” His face scrunches up and he balls up his fists. He makes a errrr sound in frustration. My husband and I talk to our so about the progress that he made when he played and while he may not have won, how he is getting more skilled and improving every time he tries. “Everything you want to be good at takes practice,” we tell him, “and lots of it.” You can see his mind working. It’s a good opportunity for us to teach him about what success really is.

“Do you have to win to be successful?” I ask my son. He looks up at me with questioning eyes, like he wants to say yes, but realizes I wouldn’t ask this question if it were the answer. I continue, “success is when you learn something about yourself and grow. You might receive a statue, trophy or medal along the way, but those items don’t determine who you are. You do.” He seems to understand what I’m saying, but you can still see he’d prefer to just win trophies, or get the highest score. Just like I did as a kid.

What is success for you? What is success for your child? How do you help them determine the value they bring?

Are You Ready for Some Football?

While the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos are preparing for the Super Bowl, my family is preparing for the game in our own way. No, we’re not preparing for a party, we’re preparing ourselves emotionally.

My oldest son is really excited for the game, and we’re trying to prepare ourselves for how to handle things should the game not go the way he hopes. I was the same way when I was his age: so hopeful my team would win the game, and inconsolable when my team was behind (and eventually lost).  The emotions would be so intense, the only way I knew to ease the pain was to leave the room, or turn the TV off.

We’re trying to show our son a different way to experience sports. Losing isn’t fun, and it can be painful to experience and hard to watch when you feel a connection with the team you’re rooting for. I suggested to my husband that we might have to turn the game off if it started going the wrong way, and my husband stopped me. “It will be a good opportunity for us to explain that what he’s feeling, although difficult, is something he needs to learn how to experience.”

He was right. Experiencing pain is difficult, and the game could present an opportunity for us to help our son start to learn how to work through the emotional pain of disappoint. I can’t say I’m thrilled at the prospect of this, only because this is an area I need to get more experience in myself.  We’re taught to avoid pain, particularly emotional pain by any means necessary.

Teaching children how to work through negative emotions isn’t easy. No one ever taught me as a child how to work through emotional pain and get to the other side. It’s taken much effort and personal reflection to understand this, and determine I want my child to have tools I only learned as an adult.

I have to admit, I’m not good at watching games where my team is losing, but I have an incentive to do it now: to show my child how to work through the pain that can come with disappointment. I might get a ‘hail mary’ on Sunday, with my son’s team winning and get to delay this discussion until we watch the next big game, but I’m not going to risk it. Just like the Seahawks and the Broncos are ready, I need to be ready to.

Are you ready for some football? I am.