Change the Label

How were you labeled as a child? Smart? Sweet? Athletic? Witty? Creative? Different? Etc.?

We’ve all experienced others putting labels on us at some point in our life. A positive label is easy to accept as truth. A negative one can be confusing, embarrassing, and make you sad or mad. I’ve yet to meet someone who is happy to be labeled a ‘bad’ person or kids who’s excited to be seen a ‘problem’ or ‘troublemaker.’ Labels can shape who people become and the choices they make, particularly when they don’t feel like they can overcome the label put upon them.

My oldest is experiencing being associated with a negative label first hand. He has struggled with emotional regulation. He can be as sweet as can be, empathetic and compassionate, but if he feels something is unfair or unjust (against him or someone he cares about) his anger rises, quickly. He loves playing football on the playground with some newer friends. These friends, who come from more challenging backgrounds than my son, exhibit behavioral issues (largely in the form of lack of respect to teachers regardless of the consequences) and have gotten themselves labeled the troublemakers. My son is experiencing guilt by association as a result. From my son’s perspective there is nothing wrong with these kids. He likes them and enjoys spending time with them. A teacher, who knows my son and his emotional strengths and weaknesses, has recently being coming down hard on my son for what he believes are trivial things — sliding down a banister at school and having to miss some of recess (my son claims he only slide down the banister two steps; and acknowledges that other kids who slide down the bannister also had to sit out); and asking to go to the bathroom only to go half-way down the hall and turn back around (never using the restroom). This seemed to make the teacher particularly mad. I was unable to understand from my son why, but believe it may be that some of his other friends have done the same thing and the teacher had had it.

My son was very frustrated and shared with me why the teacher was wrong and he was right. While I empathized with my son’s feelings of being wrongly targeted, I had to remind him that he had a role to play. “You shouldn’t be sliding down the banister even if it’s one step. Your teacher’s job is just like mine. Teach you things and keep you safe. If you slide down the banister and they don’t say anything or give you a consequence then other kids may think they can do it and get away with it too. What if a younger kid tries it and gets hurt?” I asked. My son tried to defend himself, “but I was barely on the railing.” “My point,” I continued, “is if you don’t want to sit out during recess, stay away from the banister. Period. There is no upside to sliding down even one part of it.” I went on, “You have to pick your battles and this one isn’t worth it.” He thought about what I said. We sat for a minute or so quietly. Then I added, “I want to go back and talk about labels. I don’t like them. People, particularly young people, can accept the labels they are given and let them define who they are or become. You are not a bad kid or a troublemaker. Do you do things that are wrong sometimes? Sure, but that’s part of growing up. I don’t know that your friends are either, but I do think you all are frustrating your teacher with your behavior. You don’t want to be labeled as troublemaker, because if you are, people will pay closer attention to what you are doing and will be looking for you to ’cause trouble.’ Someone who isn’t considered a troublemaker will be able to do the same thing and they won’t get in trouble, but you will. You don’t want that?” I paused, “You are going to be going to middle school in the fall and are going to have the opportunity to start over — a clean slate. You can get to decide how you come across to others. You can change the label.” He thought for a moment, as if he was thinking, and quietly said, “Okay. Thanks.”

I’m not sure if I got through, but am hopeful he’ll take what I said to heart. I don’t like labels. They generalize people too easily and can divert us from really getting to know someone, their story, and what redeeming qualities they have (because most of us do have some).

Has your child been labeled? How are you helping your child navigate labels?

Pokémon Go(ing for a Walk)

You’ve heard of the Pokémon Go craze, right? The game allows people to hunt for Pokémon in real life using their smart devices.

I learned about the craze early on. Not because I’m a super fan (though my oldest likes the card game and cartoons), or I’m generally in the know on these kinds of things, but because I happened to be in a store the Saturday following it’s launch and the person I was working with shared the news. “Have you seen people walking around outside that can’t look up from their phones? They’re playing Pokémon Go. It’s everywhere,” he shared. How true it was, people inside and outside the store literally couldn’t take their eyes off their phones.

After learning of this game, my son really wanted me to download it. I had my reservations (particularly since you have to turn on your phone’s camera and location-based services to play the game), and I wasn’t sure I wanted my son to play another video game where he was ultra-focused on the screen and not on his surroundings. Then the news stories started coming out — people using Pokémon Go to rob people (frightening), people walking off cliffs and driving their car into trees. There were lots of reasons to say “no” to my son, yet, I could see the appeal of the game for him. How cool would it be for a game you like to come to life? Pokémon Go is the closest I’ve ever seen. My husband and I discussed and decided our son could play Pokémon Go if he could follow certain rules. 1) Pokémon Go can only be done with one of us accompanying him and only for a limited amount of time each day, 2) He would have to look up from the phone when crossing the street, if he can’t, he’ll lose privileges for a day (and if he does this repetitively he’ll lose them for good), and 3) Pokémon Go will not dictate where we go. Our son agreed to our terms, and he began to play.

What I wasn’t expecting was all the walking. In order to catch Pokémon you have to find them out in the real world, which means you’ve got to move. It’s become a ritual for us each night to go for a walk around the neighborhood to find Pokémon. It actually is fun for all of us. We get to walk and enjoy the nicer weather, see new parts of the neighborhood (or local park) that we haven’t been to in a while, point out things going on around us, catch up on how our days were, and catch Pokémon. My husband and I have talked in the past about walking more after dinner but didn’t have anything that really motivated us to get out of the house. Pokémon Go is motivating the kids, which is motivating us. I never would have thought this game could bring us together the way it has, but am grateful for this very unexpected benefit.

What games (board, card, video, etc.) connect you and your family? How are you enjoying time together this summer?

 

Spring Forward

Do you ever wish you could stop time, or at least, slow it down?

Daylight Savings starts today, and it reminds me how quickly time is moving forward. It seems like the year just started and we’re already almost a quarter of the way done. My kids complain about how slow time goes. I can remember when I felt like that. Time dragged on as a kid. I thought the school year lasted forever.

A friend recently shared a photograph of a group of us, from a trip we’d all taken ten years ago. My oldest was a baby in the picture. When I looked at the picture I had two thoughts: 1) I can’t believe how fast time is gone, and 2) wow, look how young I look.   There’s a lot that goes into ten years of time, and while to my son it may feel like time is going slow, to me it feels like it’s going faster and faster. I wish there were a way I could slow it down. If I spring forward another ten years, he’ll be off on his own. Gulp. I’m not sure I’m ready to think about that just yet.

How do you experience time? How does your child?

 

Where the Wild Things Are

How did you pass the time when you were sent to your room as a child?

Oh, how I hated being bored as a kid. What I hated more was being sent to my room and being bored. You were trapped without having access to most of things you love (TV, music, etc.). When I was sent to my room as a child, I would move between lying on my bed seething at my parents and how I thought they’d wronged me, and then figure out what I could do to kill the time — read a book, write something down, play with some of my toys, etc.

I recently took my kids to a local production of Where the Wild Things Are, a story about a boy, Max, who gets in trouble for misbehaving and the wonderful journey his imagination takes him on. In the production we watched, Max was sent to his room without supper. This is where his adventure began. As I watched the show I thought, Wow, I wish I had this kind ability to create a new world when I was his age. It never even occurred to me to dream up a new world to escape those times I was ‘captive’ in my own room. It felt like I’d missed an opportunity (using my creativity, spending my time in a more enjoyable fashion, etc.) by not following in the main character’s footsteps. I was both inspired by the character and disappointed in myself. It made me think about how my children spend their time when they’ve been sent to their room. I’ve got to believe some of their time is spent lying on their bed seething at how I, or their father, have done them wrong, but then what comes next?

On the way home, we talked about the play, and how creative Max was. We talked about using our imagination to create new worlds, and how fun it can be dreaming up something on your own. I don’t know if my children were inspired by what they saw, and if they’ll follow in Max’s footsteps when they are bored or have been sent to their room, but I hope they will. Sometimes our imagination and the idea of what’s possible or ideal can be exactly what you need to get you through a hard time.

What does your child do when they are bored? How do they fill the time?

 

 

A Change in the Weather

What is your favorite time of year, and what makes it so?

In our house, Fall is right up there.  We made a list of our favorite things (kinda of like Oprah’s Favorite Things list, but made up of things you just can’t buy). 🙂

There are the normal things we look forward to every year:

  • Apple cider
  • The return of college football and going to Red Mill (Red Mill is a burger place that is open all year round. For whatever reason the return of college football reminds us it’s time to go back to Red Mill)
  • The leaves changing color, and
  • Going to the pumpkin patch (we’ll do that here in a few weeks)

And there are those things that are temporary, having to do more with my children’s ages and interests than anything else:

  • Watching my oldest son practicing soccer past sunset with his team
  • Spending more time with other moms during practice — we’ve found the kids don’t seem to miss us if we slip away for a hot beverage or quick meal and get back by the time it’s over
  • Watching and cheering my son and his teammates on at the game (it’s nerve racking for me)
  • Spending time on the playground with my younger son while older brother plays in a game (I’m much calmer here)
  • Decorating a gingerbread Haunted House (again, we’ll do that here in a few weeks…and as much as I’d like to think this will be a long-term tradition, I fear it will only last as long as the boys are interested in doing it).

Time continues to pass. The boys are getting older. We reached a new milestone this season. Our membership expired at the zoo. We’ve had a membership there since the kids were babies. They no longer seem interested in seeing the animals. Other parents warned us this was coming, but it feels a little like a change in the weather…nothing ever really stays the same, and that’s okay. The constant traditions of Fall I look forward to, they will always be there. The ones that are yet-to-be excite me. What activities or temporary traditions will the new seasons bring for my family? We’ll just have to wait and see.

What are your favorite Fall traditions?

Let’s Go Camping

When you think of summer what comes to mind? Playing on a Slip ‘n Slide, spending lots of time in the pool, going swimming in a lake, fishing, making homemade ice cream or something else?

My boys and I have never camped in the summer, but that’s going to change this year. We’ve camped before (see blogs on our camping trips in the past) but also in cooler months. I can remember camping as a kid and it was almost always in the summer months. Memories of bugs, relentless heat, and sweat come to mind. It’s probably why I’ve avoided it up to this point. Instead of doing traditional camping (and by that, I mean getting in the car and driving to a camping site) we’re going to camp in our own backyard. I realize this isn’t a unique idea, but it’s a first for us. Not having to drive anywhere and still being able to use all of your camping gear is appealing. And if the bugs bite, we’ve got a quick escape (either come inside or I can run to the store and pick up some bug spray). I know, I know…what fun is it, if you don’t have all the hardships that can come with a good old fashioned camping trip? Lots, I’d say. My boys are really excited about the backyard campout, and can’t wait to figure out how to convert of backyard so it is more ‘camp-like’ (I can’t wait to see what they come up with).

I’m reminded of my own upbringing and how the simple things: watching (and sometimes catching) lightning bugs, running through the sprinkler, going to a BBQ and just relaxing with people I loved holds a special place in my heart. These things were fun, relaxing, and created a moment that forced me to pause to appreciate how good it felt to be right where I was, without a care in the world.

When have you experienced those moments? How are you and your family enjoying the summer?

 

Modern Day Lemonade Stand

Did you have a lemonade stand growing up? Has your child? What memories do you have of making money when you were growing up?

A friend recently shared that their children had a lemonade stand and served cookies to neighbors who were heading out to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. They had had mild success in years past, and were rethinking what they might sell. It has been hotter than normal temps, and they were inspired. In addition to the lemonade and cookies they decided to make and sell water balloons. The water balloons ended up being a big money maker for them (when I heard about this I had two reactions: 1) what a great idea, how fun!, and 2) yikes! I hope no one got an unexpected water balloon thrown at them). It was fun to hear about how entrepreneurial the kids had gotten, and how excited they were by their financial success.

My son recently found yet another Lego set he ‘has to’ have. It’s clearly a discontinued model, because so far we’ve only found it on eBay and Amazon and the price has been upwards of $450 (I know, for a Lego set???).  Anyhow, my husband and I are working to teach our kids the value of a dollar and the reward of hard work. Our son knows he can only get the set if he has the money, and based on his allowance, he’d have enough money for the set in a couple of years (and only if he never spent a dime of his allowance and saved birthday and Christmas money), and clearly wants to do whatever he can to accelerate the timeline. He’s too young to mow lawns or get a job, and a lemonade stand (even with water balloons) isn’t practical in the part of town we live in, so it’s been a bit of a struggle to come up with ways he can earn some extra cash. My husband though had a great idea. We have a fruit tree that, based on the weather, can produce a significant number of small plums. So many, in fact, that some years if we don’t stay on top of picking them up the plums daily our yard can easily turn into an ooey-gooey (not to mention rotten fruit-smelling, bug-attracting) mess (yuck!). My husband made my son an offer, “We’ll pay you one cent for each plum you pick up.” My son jumped at the idea. He grabbed his shoes and headed out the door.

The tree is providing quite a yield this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if my son makes upwards of $10-20 (yes, there are that many plums) when all is said and done. I told my son one night after he picked up the plums, “I guess it’s true what they say–money does (or can) grow on trees.” We couldn’t help but laugh. My son won’t make enough money from picking up the plums to buy the Lego set, but he is learning what it takes to earn money–you have to work hard, and often for a long time, to get to what you want. He’s learning this lesson one plum at a time.

How are you teaching your child about money (earning, saving, donating or spending it)? What creative alternatives to a lemonade stand have your and your child come up with to make money?

I’ll be taking some vacation time and will return in August.

Our Town?

Have you experienced a moment where your child made you rethink or appreciate life a little more after seeing it through their eyes?

My husband and I went to pick my son up from a lesson. He finished his lesson early and had free time prior to our arrival, and had decided to build a town with multi-colored triangular blocks. Some buildings were tall and round. Others were short and flat. One stood out. It was encased in a plastic holder that lifted it off the ground a few inches. I asked my son to explain all the things in his town. He pointed to the tall and round buildings. “This is a movie theater and this is a grocery store.” He moved over to the short and flat buildings. “This is where the poor people live.” And then he moved to the building that was on the plastic base off the ground. “This is where the rich people live.” I asked him what made the rich people live off the ground vs. the poor people. He replied, “The rich people have a force field around them to keep the poor people out.” He paused, probably because my mouth had dropped open in disbelief at his sage observation. “You know, so people can’t get their stuff. They really don’t like people to get their stuff.” I asked, “And where do we live?” He pointed back over to the poor section. “We’re over here. This is the poor to medium section. We live in the medium section house.” “Okay,” I said, “Where do you want to live?” He said, without hesitation, “Over here.” He pointed to the same poor-medium section but one house over. “I would be close to the movie theater and grocery store, and, I’d be close to you.” It made me smile, but also made me think. How would I have answered the same questions when I was his age? Did I have the same awareness of the ‘have’s’ and the ‘have-not’s’ back then? Where did he get this insight from? He seemed wise beyond his years.

The conversation made my husband and I realize that once again our children are noticing things–even things we think they shouldn’t until they are much older. We were reminded that when we’re fortunate enough to have our kids share their insights with us, it’s an opportunity for us to teach them (explain our take on the situation, or how others might think); and get their ideas for what can be done to make things better. I always learn when my children share their ideas–either about them (how they think, what’s important to them, etc.) or from them (sometimes their simple yet smart ideas come are way better than anything I (or I dare say most adults) could come up with). I see things in a new, fresh way.

What have you learned from, or about, your child from their observations?

Anger Management

Have you experienced your child having an angry outburst? How did you handle it?

Our son had an angry outburst during a Pokemon game at his after school care program. He was playing with one of his classmates who was beating him soundly continuing to use the same card to do “damage” (a Pokemon term that refers to an ability to weaken/damage another character). My son didn’t like it. Another classmate who was observing the game decide to goad my son. “You’re gonna lose. You’re gonna lose.” Well, my son lost it. He took his opponents’s card and attempted to destroy it, and slapped his classmate who was goading him on. It all happened very fast. He reached his boiling point and lashed out. Caregivers descended to attend to each child and my son was lead to the office to cool down and later apologize.  When he got home, my husband and I talked with him about what happened. It was clear he understood he did something he shouldn’t have, and there would be consequences (we made him write apology notes to both boys). What he was struggling with was figuring out how he could better control his anger to avoid situations like this in the future.

My husband and I worked with our son, both on the letters (prompting him to think through what he’d done, how the other boys might feel and what he would like to hear/know from a classmate if they did something similar to him), and how we needed to continue to work with him on developing his thinking brain. His feeling brain currently had way too much power and control over his actions that were leading to the situation he was presently in.

We went back to school the next morning and I spoke to his teachers about what my husband and I had asked him to do (e.g. write the letters to the boys). I shared he was struggling with the task, and might need some help or guidance. If my son was angry at his classmates he played Pokemon with, he was doubly angry with my husband and I. After talking to his teachers, I went to my son. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I hate you!” In that moment, I knew that he meant it to his core. And I can relate to the feeling, I felt it myself many times with my own parents–you don’t like the consequence you are getting, you don’t think it’s fair or just, and you don’t like or appreciate the lesson you are being taught. I told him, “Your feeling brain is in control and your thinking brain is taking a time-out in a chair off to the side observing what’s going on. We have to work together to build up your thinking brain, so you can make choices that help you get what you want without hurting others, and we can avoid these situations in the future.” I continued, “My job as a parent is to teach you things and keep you safe. This is part of me teaching you. It’s hard. No parent wants to hear that their kid hates them, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay if it helps you learn and grow.” My son didn’t say anything. I knew it was time for me to go. He needed to think about what I had said, and I needed to think about how he was feeling and what he was going through. It wasn’t an easy time for either of us.

The teacher later reached out and said my son cooled off after a while and gotten back to his old self. When I picked him up in the afternoon, he was happier than I’d seen him in days. I didn’t broach the subject right away, but gave us some time to enjoy being happy together. After a while, I asked, “you were pretty unhappy with me this morning, how are you doing now?” He looked at me and replied, “Okay.” Our eyes met and I could tell he no longer was carrying that I-hate-you inside him towards me. I hugged him and commented that growing up can be tough sometimes, and left it at that. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening enjoying each other’s company.

Raising kids is challenging. It can be painful when you see your child struggle or lash out at you in anger of frustration. But that’s part of being a parent. Every time my son learns something new, so do I.

How do you handle your own anger? How do you help your child handle their’s?

I’ll be off next week for Memorial Day weekend fun with the family and will return following. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.

Parenting is a Team Sport

Have you ever felt like parenting is a competition?

It’s a topic I often cover when speaking to parenting groups–being a parent can feel like many things including a rite of passage to see how we (as parents) can out do each other, or how our kids can. It starts when our child is very young — whose sleeping better through the night, eating better, rolling over first, standing up, walking, etc. We are proud of our child hitting a developmental milestone, and want to believe their success is largely due to our parenting skills, but in reality it is more a mixture of our child’s innate capabilities and disposition, which may or may not have been influenced by us.

While we may feel like competition is only between other parents, a topic that isn’t often spoken of is competition between the parents themselves. Competition between parents can be just as common, and is not limited to couples who are divorced. Competition between a couple can be more subtle in how it shows up: a child feels they can confide in one parent more than they can another and the parent who is left out feels sadness the child doesn’t have (or maybe want) to have the same relationship with them, or competition can arise when one parent connects/relates easily with their child, while the other struggles. There are many different ways the feeling of competition can arise, but parenting is not a competition; it’s about doing what’s right for our child, not us. This can be hard to keep front and center when we have our competitive juices flowing.

My husband took our oldest to his flag football game over the weekend. My younger son and I were going to meet them there closer to game time and were just about to head out the door when my husband called and said, “Don’t go anywhere, we’re coming home.” When they got home I asked what happened. I found out that our son was getting frustrated with what the coach was asking him to do. He was struggling to do the practice drill and was showing his frustration. Instead of being respectful to the coach and listening to what the coach was saying, he was getting more and more angry, and talking back. My husband told my son to calm down and be respectful, or we’re going home. My son jumped at the chance and said, “Fine, let’s go home.” I could tell by the look in my husband’s eyes when he told me that he hadn’t thought his threat would turn out the way it did. He had thought our son would calm down, and listen to the coach, because he wanted to play in the game. But he was stuck, like many of us when we may threats and are kids call us on it (anyone have to leave the restaurant or theatre — places you wanted to go, and then your child starts misbehaving or act up, and you threaten you’ll leave if they don’t calm down and they say basically indicate they never wanted to be there in the first place? Ugh!). I said, “Oh no, you are going to the game. That’s not fair to your team, but you’re not playing. You have to earn the right to play and you lost that right in the way you acted.  You are going to go there and support them — you are going to be their #1 cheerleader today, and you’re going to apologize to the coach for your behavior.” My son looked at me like he couldn’t believe this hadn’t happened earlier, and said, “Okay.” We got in the car and went to the field. He didn’t play, he did cheer and he apologized to the coach — not once, but twice. My hope was that he would understand you can never walk away when things get tough, you can’t let your actions let down a larger group (your team), and there are consequences, sometimes uncomfortable ones like apologizing to a coach, when you behave a certain way.

Later that night my husband and I were talking about what happened. Without discussing it, we easily could have been filed this incident in the competition file, where one parent did the “right” thing and the other did the “wrong” thing (one is a better parent than the other — see how easy situations can have that competitive feel?)…but that’s not the way we viewed it. Instead, one of us experienced, with the best intentions, a misstep and the other helped them recover. We are a team, and need each other’s help. Parenting is a team sport, not an individual one. We have certainly had scenarios where my husband helped bail me out of a misfired threat. We learn each time we experience this together, and allow ourselves the chance to discuss, reflect, and think about how we would handle the situation differently in the future. We get better together.

Have you ever felt like you were competing with another parent or your spouse? How do you parent as a team, versus as an individual?

Go Team!