Madden

Is your child enthralled with video games?

My oldest son is a huge fan, though we’ve never owned a gaming system. It was a conscious choice by my husband and I. We didn’t want to get caught up in having to have the latest and greatest, spending lots of money on games and accessories, turning our living room into a game room, and most importantly losing our son’s attention. We want to spend time with him while he’s growing up, not him and his video controller.

Of course, we have tablets and my son has found that gaming systems aren’t the only medium that allows you to play games. He quickly found Madden (NFL) was available as an app and begged me to download it. We agreed he could with screen limits (though I know he’s exceeded the limit many, many times). When I’ve realized this and told him to turn the game off, it is met with much resistance. “I need to finish this game!” “Just a minute.” And the list goes on. I’m the ‘bad guy’ interrupting his fun, or so he thinks. After me nagging him multiple times and then walking over and taking the tablet out of his hands he shared his anger. “Why can’t I have an XBOX? Everyone else does!” I took a breath and reminded him that we had no plans of buy a gaming system. He’d already shown us he struggled with screen time just on the tablet. He didn’t like that. I’m sure he thought my husband and I were being unfair and/or mean.

My son went away to overnight camp for a week and was not allowed to bring any electronics. We didn’t know how he’d fair. He had books to read but this would be the longest time he’d been away from electronics. Before he left on his trip, he asked if I’d update his Madden app on the tablet while he was away. “It’s very important,” he said. He even put a reminder on the calendar.

When my son returned I shared with him that I’d had trouble updating the app, but found a work around. He was grateful and started to play the game. After about 30 minutes, he gave me the tablet and said, “You know, Mom, I don’t need this. I’m glad you never got me a XBOX. If you did, I would just be on it all the time and would miss out on doing so much. Like all the stuff I got to do while I was at camp. Sorry I gave you such a hard time about it.” My younger son was standing nearby and overheard the whole conversation. His expression was priceless. He too couldn’t believe what his older brother was saying.

My son is back on his tablet, but not as much as he previously was. I know what a draw Madden can be, and know how much my son enjoys playing it, but am glad he’s seeing the pitfalls of spending all of your free time playing games and how, if you’re not careful, they can take you away from participating in life.

How do you handle your child’s screen time or gaming habits? How are you helping them be present and experience life?

I’ll be off for Labor Day weekend and back in September.

Mom in the Mirror

Has your child ever done anything that reminds you of you?

My oldest son is entering puberty and his mood swings are becoming slightly more pronounced. He is a sweet and caring kid, but it doesn’t take much to set him off. He will lash out moving from being fine to not fine relatively quickly. Moments that are most likely to trigger this — someone cheating in a game (playground or soccer field), someone embarrassing him (this one’s tricky, because you’re never sure what’s going to embarrass him), or him not knowing how to do something right the first time (it doesn’t matter if he’s had instruction on what to do or not, he has this expectation he’s supposed to know everything and be good at everything).

Thankfully, we’ve had some amazing and caring adults (teachers, coaches, professionals) who have provided us with resources (their time, talent, books, etc.) to help him, but it’s still difficult to see your child struggle.

On a recent morning, I had a time table to get my son where he needed to be, and myself to work. My son, while aware we needed to get to various places, didn’t understand my urgency. He wanted to play a game for a few minutes longer and I couldn’t wait, I needed him to stop playing the game so I could get where I needed to go. I told him as much and he proceeded to express his dissatisfaction with me and how I was negatively impacting him and his day. It was an explosive burst of energy directed straight at me. I was not in the mood to receive it. I promptly shut the conversation down, shared my dislike for his tone of voice and took away his gaming privileges. Immediately following I realized I had to calm myself down.  I was going to have my own explosive outburst if I didn’t.

We rode in silence until we got to our destination. When we got out of the car, I didn’t want the silence to continue, so I said, “Hey, buddy, you know that I love you. I just don’t like how you talked to me back there. That wasn’t okay. I understand you are upset you couldn’t finish your game, but you can’t use that tone, or say those kinds of things to me.” He started to defend himself and his actions, I could have defended my position, but I’m his parent and I wasn’t interested in letting the direction of the conversation continue. “You had something you wanted to do. Mom has something she needs to do. I have to get to work. I couldn’t wait for you to finish your game.” He wasn’t happy but didn’t seem quite as angry as he was earlier. We parted ways, but I couldn’t help thinking about what happened. What was my role in all this? How could I help my son and I avoid this in the future?

It occurred to me that my son and I had something in common. As much as I’d like to think I’m a good communicator, my son reminded me that I’ve still got room to grow. And my son does too. Our situation happened because were weren’t communicating — our wants or our needs proactively. Because I’m the adult (and his parent) I could easily believe my needs always trump his — and while in many cases they do, that’s not always the case. My son should be able to voice his needs and wants. It’s not my job to cave to him, or give him what he wants, but to listen to him, allow him to be heard, and then make a decision. It would be easy to say my son has the issue, but this one goes both ways, and as the adult and parent, it’s my job to model behaviors I want to see from him. My hope is my son will continue to get me to revisit my interactions with him. Am I doing right be him as his parent? What can I work on to be better, and what can I help him getting better at?

My son forced me to look in the mirror, has your child forced you? If so, how did you handle it?

Better Than Gold

Have you ever struggled to do something you thought should be easy?

My youngest son has been struggling to learn to ride his bike. He got his bike last year, but we realized soon after getting it, that it was too big for him, and he’d have to grow into it. We were excited to teach him this year. We took him out and followed the same steps we’d done with his older brother. We removed the pedals, and had him work on coasting and balancing first. Then we put the pedals back on in hopes he could balance and get his feet up on the bike. He learned to coast, and even get his feet up on the pedals momentarily,  but without pedaling, the bike would tilt to one side and he would put his foot down. We kept trying to explain to him that the bike wouldn’t fall over if he started pedaling, but he didn’t believe us. He got frustrated and very upset. We even reminded him that he’d get a reward once he finally learned to ride his bike. That just seemed to make his disappointment in himself for not being able to do it worse. We abandoned bike riding that day and decided we’d try again the following, but the results were the same. He could coast, and get his feet up on the pedals, but would ultimately put a foot down without getting the bike going.  He then let out a cry of frustration, disappointment and anger. “I’ll never learn to ride my bike!” he exclaimed and broke down in tears.

My husband and I were at a loss as to what to do; did we need to get him into a biking class, get him private instruction, or get him a different bike?  I thought about how I learned. I didn’t appreciate how quickly I picked it up as a kid. I learned within an hour of my father and sister teaching me. I hadn’t struggled for long, and here was my son struggling for days on end. He desperately wanted to be successful, and was getting down on himself. We could tell that we had to figure out how to help him, or risk having him decide that there are some things in life he just can’t do (and that was *not* acceptable to my husband or I).

After two weeks of daily practice without success, I had an idea. What if one of us held the back wheel steady and gave him a push so he could pedal and get the feel of the bike in motion?  We got our son up on the bike and he could push for a rotation or two, but when the bike leaned, he would put his foot down. He was frustrated, but we could tell he understood now what we’d been trying to explain. He tried again and again. Sometimes going a couple of rotations, sometimes not making it even one. We encouraged him not to give up, that he was very close. He got up on the bike again, holding the back wheel steady, he started to turn the pedals. One rotation, two rotations, three, four, five, and the bike kept going. He rode across the lot away from us. He got to a place where the pavement started to go back up and stopped himself. He turned back and shouted, “I did it!” It was a mixture of relief and pride. He continued his joy for the next minute saying so all could hear (and I’m guessing folks from a few blocks around could), “I did it! I didn’t think that I could but I did. I really did it!” By the time I caught up to him, he was happily shouting and crying. It made me cry. I knew how hard he had been trying, and how frustrated he had been. It was one of those moments where I felt I’d had some success as a parent. Those moments don’t come often, but when they do, they feel better than gold.

I think my son felt his achievement was better than gold too.

How have you helped your child succeed?  How have you helped them when they struggled?

I will be taking some time off to enjoy the rest of summer break and will be back in September.

Secrets

Secrets can be heavy, and are something a child learns to keep.

When I was six, I was playing restaurant with a friend. We were seated at the play table and decided we need to create a menu to make the game more fun. My friend asked, “what should we put on the menu?” I was feeling gutsy, so instead of saying what I normally would have said–pizza, fries, pie–I decided to try out a new word I’d heard a neighborhood teen say–a word that sounded bad, but I wasn’t sure. I decided my friend would be a safe place to try it out. I said, “why don’t we put f***ing cake on the menu.” My friend’s face went pale. I giggled nervously, thinking I was somehow cool for having the nerve to try it out. My friend said, “you just said a bad word. I’m going to go tell your mom.” Oh no, I thought…I hadn’t thought about my mom finding out as a possibility. I panicked and begged my friend not to tell. They did tell, and I got into big trouble. My punishment was soap in the mouth — needless to say I didn’t say another bad word out loud for a long time, but I picked up another habit…learning how to keep a secret. Instead of asking my parents or a trusted adult what something I didn’t understand, or was confused by, meant I kept it to myself, trying to figure out the meaning on my own, or relying on my peers or older kids in the neighborhood. It was a recipe for a lot of misinformation and even more confusion about how the world worked.

As an adult, I learned keeping secrets can become an overwhelming burden; weighing you down lot a ton of bricks. It can hinder your ability to enjoy your life controlling your thoughts and actions. Speaking your truth–whether it’s ignorance about how something works, or something you did, or something you didn’t do but should have, etc.–can set you free, or certainly start to lift you from the weight of the burden.

My son recently asked if he could talk to me in private. He asks me to do this occasionally, and I always reassure him that I will listen to what he has to say, and he doesn’t need to worry about being embarrassed or ashamed about whatever he wants to talk to me about. He shared that he had seen a picture that made him feel excited, nervous and sick. Despite having the computer in an open space in our home, with parental control filters on, he came across a picture that was too grown up for him to see (the pic was of a woman scantily clad in a provocative pose–it was an ad next to a YouTube video (the YouTube video was appropriate for kids, the ad clearly was not)). My heart dropped a bit when he told me this, partly because I recognized he was losing some of his innocence, and partly because I was hopeful we wouldn’t cross this bridge with him until he was much older. The upside of learning this information was that my son had the courage to tell me, and trusted me to help him deal with it.

While I would love to take away screen time forever and protect my son from being exposed to inappropriate matter, it isn’t realistic, and wouldn’t solve the problem. Instead, my husband and I needed to come up with a plan to help our son. I sat down and talked with him about what he saw (my husband had a separate conversation with him as well), and we came up with a plan for what to do when you come across inappropriate pictures. Like many parental firsts, I felt like we were treading new ground. I’d never had a conversation like this with my parents, and can only hope we’re handling this in a way that will truly help him.

After sharing his secret, my son’s demeanor changed: where he had been moody and short tempered, he became happy and couldn’t get the smile off his face. We were out the next day enjoying ourselves, and he came over to me and said, “Mom, I don’t have any more secrets!” I could see the shear joy on his face at this realization. I asked him how not having any secrets felt. He thought for a moment and said, “Pretty good.” Pretty good indeed, I thought.

Keeping a secret is hard. Helping your child navigate growing up is hard. Having open conversations that don’t allow secrets to live is freeing, and it feels great.

How are you helping your child navigate challenging issues?

12th Man – Junior Edition

Last week’s Super Bowl was devastating for Seattle Seahawks fans. To watch your team almost win the game and instead throw an interception, with no time left on the clock, was hard to accept. The 12th Man had to go through stages of grief: denial (no! no! no! That did not just happen!), anger (why didn’t they rush? why???), and finally acceptance (it is what it is…there is nothing we can do about it, so we need to figure out how to move on). Easier said than done, right?

We watched the game with my oldest son and were in disbelief as the fate of the Seahawks changed. He was upset (we all were). He outwardly showed it, and my husband and I inwardly reflected on how best to address the situation — had I been alone, my reaction may have more closely followed my son’s. When we had time to collect our thoughts, we worked to console our son–while we may have thought we were trying to console him, we were really trying to help him (and us) make sense of what just occurred. “Sometimes these things don’t happen like you hope they will. We have to remember both teams wanted to win as badly as the other. I’m sure there was a good reason they called that play.” While our words were rational, it was hard to find comfort in them. We all were hurting.

I’m guessing, like most 12s around the country, many of us didn’t sleep well on Sunday night. Getting up on Monday, only to be reminded of what happened the night before, was hard. I was concerned about how my son would do at school. I figured most of the students would struggle with what happened in the game, and I was right, but not for long.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the 12th Man is a strong community. One of my son’s teachers (part of the 12s) had the kids talk about the game and how they felt about it at the beginning of the school day. The class joined the rest of the school in a weekly assembly later that morning and talked about the game. My son shared what he learned during this gathering. “Mom, it’s really simple. They tried a play and it didn’t work. That happens sometimes,” he said. “It’s only a game. It’s not anything worth getting upset about. It’s not like it really matters.” Wow, sage advice, I thought. Teaching your child about life, is a big part of the parenting experience. My son was reminding me that while I like to think I’m his teacher, I’m also the student too. My son was teaching me now.

My son’s acceptance of what happened, helped me accept it too. Seeing Russell Wilson, Seattle’s QB, and Pete Carroll, Seattle’s Head Coach, talk about the play, why they did it, and how they were dealing with it helped too. It was another example of the 12s helping each other get through something.

Seattle should have won the football game, but may have won a bigger game in the long run–how to get through life, during good times and bad, together.

How have you handled unexpected disappointment? What support helped you get through it?

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?

Family Fun?

It is important to my husband and I that we teach our children how to manage their money. They are recently taken on more chores and are given a modest weekly allowance, which we encourage them to save, share or spend. So far, their desire to save has been modest, share has been virtually non-existent and spend has been high. My husband and I are big on saving and sharing, so it’s a bit frustrating that our kids don’t share our same financial mindset presently. I had to reflect on my own childhood. I too had chores and earned a modest weekly allowance. I was encouraged to save or share, nor was I encouraged to spend. I remember really not wanting to part with my money (e.g. give it away), and honestly can’t remember ever spending my money until I was in high school and things like clothes became more important to me (and required money I earned to get).

My boys have recently found a new place they love to go. It is geared towards families and offers putt-putt golf, cars you can race, rides you can go on, and games you can play. We enjoy talking the kids here to play putt-putt and spend some quality time together. What my kids currently like best is playing the games.

I can understand the draw, you play a game you win tickets which you can trade in for prizes. The downside, it costs money to get tokens to play the games, the games don’t normally produce a high volume of tickets, and the prizes, well, aren’t so great (or the great ones require a tremendous amount of tickets). You quickly realize that it is easy to pay $20 for tokens and only earn enough tickets to get $5-10 worth of merchandise in return. “Isn’t this gambling?” my husband asked. Boy, he makes a good point, I thought. Playing these games is equivalent to taking a chance with your money — you will almost never win out (e.g. hit enough jackpot payouts to earn enough tickets to get those big prizes).  We decided that instead of offering to just buy the tokens, our kids needed to chip in as well (hoping this would deter them). It hasn’t worked yet. They are willing to give up their hard earned money to play these games. Ugh!

My husband has been recently doing some construction projects in our backyard. He asked our boys to help him with his projects. They asked if they could earn extra money from helping out. We said, “No.” We expect our boys to help out around the house because we’re a family and we all have a part in keeping our house up and in order. Instead, my husband offered to participate in a water gun fight with them, after they finished helping him. They quickly agreed.

I know our sons will want to go to places that have games they can play (with prizes to win), and we’ll go occasionally, and continue to work on teaching financial responsibility to our boys. We’ll also be looking to load the calendar with opportunities for more water gun fights.

How are you teaching your child fiscal responsibility? How do you have fun as a family?

Soaking Wet

When was the last time you got into a water gun (or water balloon) fight? For me, it had been several decades, that was, until this week.

Each year, my husband and I encourage our boys to complete a math software-based program that includes upward of 200 assignments. The work that is not assigned by the school, but encouraged as an aid to help the student practice and hone their math skills. We think it benefits our children, so we have them work on it throughout the year. When they are done, we celebrate by letting them get something they want (within reason) to celebrate their accomplishment. This year, my oldest wanted a water gun.

When I was growing up, a water gun was small and made of see-through plastic. The water gun my son selected was large and had multiple water spray mechanisms. Water guns have come a long way since I was a kid.

Once my son had the water gun in his hands at home, he couldn’t wait to fill it with water and take it out the backyard to see what it could do. The minute my husband got home, my son determined a water gun fight needed to ensue. My husband had a different idea, he suggested the boys help him with some projects outside, and when they were done, they could have a water gun fight. The boys eagerly agreed.

It couldn’t help but smile watching my boys help their father out in the backyard, and it brought me great joy to see the water gun fight that commenced following. My oldest was relentless in getting his father soaking wet, and my husband wasn’t about to let his son get him wet without returning the favor. My youngest occasionally got into the battle, but was happy just to observe, like me. When the fight was over, everyone came back into the house. There was panting, and laughing about what had just happened. They were soaking wet, and I loved it.

I’m guessing we’ll have several more water gun fights in upcoming years, and think about how long it will be before my boys re-engage in a water gun fight once they are grown. I hope it isn’t as long as it was for me. I clearly missed out on having fun with water.

As an adult, what games have you reconnected with from your childhood? What activities do you do as a family that bring you the most joy?

 

Read This!

I was fortunate enough to see a family member participate in a city-wide reading competition. I had never heard of a reading competition before. I thought perhaps it had to do speed reading, but learned it had nothing to do with that at all. Instead, the competition was based on 4th and 5th graders who were given a list of 10 books to read. They then participated in competitions where they were asked a series of questions (some multiple choice, true/false or short answer) that tested the kids knowledge and comprehension of the books.

It was one of the best competitions I’ve ever seen. There were several things I really liked about it. First, the books the kids had to read were all educational: they taught the kids about the world, appreciation for different cultures and experiences. Second, the teams had to work closely together to come up with their answers. It was similar to watching a team sport where everyone needs each other to be successful. Third, the supporters: parents, classmates and family members (such as myself), were rooting for all of the kids — it was impossible not to. These kids had learned so much and were so eager to work as a team. Yes, you may have wanted your child (or family member) team to come out on top, but it was clear that all of these kids had and were accomplishing something great regardless who the “winner” was. When the winner was named, it was a non-event. It seemed like the best part (the actual competition) was over, and this was an after-thought. I’ve never experienced anything like it, but certainly hope to again.

In an age where competition is king, it gives me hope that there are competitions like this one. The kids learned, they had fun and even got to showcase their talents on a big (public) stage with people rooting them on.

What competitions has your child participated in that seemed different from the rest? What brings the best out in your child?

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?