Can your children find Mental Wellness in a pandemic?

You have likely noticed that day to day life has become much more difficult in the past year. Adults are struggling with loss of jobs, loss of income, and loss of career stability. Children have witnessed all of this loss for their parents and on top of that, have suffered isolation, frustration, and a lack of understanding as to why life has completely changed. Working in a child care and preschool program for the past year has illuminated the mental health crisis we are facing with our children. Negative behaviors are on the rise along with complete emotional breakdowns over seemingly minor issues. Of course, children’s issues may seem minor to us and be overlooked when adults are facing the challenges of living in a pandemic. Is there anything we can do to help our children maintain their mental health through this crisis? The good news is we can help them, and in the process, help ourselves too.

If you have taken the time to do a Google search or better yet, a Pinterest search of nurturing children’s mental health, you’ve realized this is a very hot topic! You may also have noticed that there are many ideas that parents can implement fairly easily. I will share a few ideas that I have found to help my family.

  1. Increase outside time but not through organized sports. Help your children develop a relationship with nature. Start a collection of rocks, sticks, or photos of what you and your child enjoy about nature. In my house, I used to joke that all of our clothes were “stone-washed” even when it wasn’t the style due to my boys rock collections! At age 28 and 24, they still hunt for Minnesota agates and polish them. It’s been a great connection to nature. Find places of solitude and quiet. Absorb the peace of the world at it’s basic operation. Lay on the ground, feel the warmth of sunshine, look at the clouds, dance in the rain, talk about what you love about where you live. Breathe. Listen. Clear your mind of other distractions.
  • 2. Look for things to be grateful for. I started a gratitude journal several years ago when I was struggling with my own contentment. I found that I spent a great deal of time with my attention and focus on the parts of my life didn’t satisfy me. I needed to change my perspective as my attitude was affecting everyone around me. Put simply- I was no fun to be around! Fortunately, I found and purchased a pre-made gratitude journal that was cute and came with stickers that made me smile. I worked to find one small thing to write down each night before I went to sleep that I was thankful for. Many days, this was a hard task for me. I had lost my sense of wonder for the small beautiful parts of life. This daily practice of looking for the good in my life gained traction over time, and I have reconnected with the beauty of a sunrise, the comfort of a warm house, and even enjoyed a good hair day! There are many studies showing statistics on how gratefulness will improve your mental health, but I like a personal story more…. hope you do too! You can help your child develop an attitude of gratitude by staring a journal with writing, drawings, photographs, or stickers to recognize what makes them feel happiness. If they are anything like me, paging through the journal will pull them out of a funk every once in awhile. My final piece of advice would be to journal with your child because modeling good mental health habits is one of the most important lessons you will teach your child.
  • 3. Breathe. O.K. I realized we do this 8-16 times per minute without even thinking about it. It’s natural and life sustaining. It’s not a conscience act or choice. I am suggesting that you to put breathing into your conscious acts. Find a way to count that helps you focus on your breathing. For me, I use a “square breathing” technique where I breathe in for a count of four, hold my breath for the same count, breathe out to a count of four and hold that for a count of four. This has helped me through some very challenging emotions in the past few years. I also love to do this at bedtime after writing in my gratitude journal. This will help me make the transition to sleep. It can do the same for you and your child. You have probably noticed when children become upset or highly emotional (the famous public breakdown), their breathing becomes very erratic. I used to watch my cousin hold her breath until she passed out when she became overwhelmed. Watching was scary! How would those moments play out if we taught our very young children the concept of deep breathing for relaxation? Equally as important as the breathing is helping kids identify when they are getting “worked up” and direct them to breathing techniques. It’s a life long skill that will benefit them (and you) immensely.
  • 4. Talk about feelings. It’s O.K. to not be O.K. The question of how to deal with feelings is irrelevant if children are never taken through the process of identifying what they are feeling. Talk about the feeling of characters on television. Speculate about feelings of characters in books. Have them look at faces in pictures and try to figure out how people are feeling. Developing empathy for others allows us to develop empathy for ourselves as well. Once we recognize what we are feeling, we have a better chance to use one of the tactics from above to turn negative feelings into positive ones. I admit this task of talking about emotions and feelings is by far the scariest of those I have offered up as ways to work on mental health. We parents don’t always have the answers when it comes to the mental health of our children, and it’s hard to not have the ability to help our children when it’s needed. This is why we need to know that asking for help is important. If our children are sick physically, we don’t hesitate to call the doctor or nurse or run to urgent care to make them well. I know this from vast experiences of doing this exact thing! Why should we treat mental health any differently? Together we have an opportunity to raise the generation that breaks the stigma of mental health issues. We can do this! I have sent both of my boys to talk with someone when I realized I could no longer “fix” their challenges. They both benefitted from their time working with a mental health professional, and appreciated the fact that I steered them in that direction with no hesitation or judgment. Don’t force your children to struggle with issues that a professional can improve. Teach them the lesson of asking for help when it’s needed.

If you followed through with the challenge to Google or Pinterest mental health ideas for children, you have found there are hundreds of fun ways to help your children develop resilience and improve mental health even in times of crisis. I have touched on only a few that I have personally used. The point to this article is not to find the “right” way to help your children, but to find YOUR way to work on mental wellness with your children. Let’s give our children the gift of being intentional about the health and well being of both their bodies and MINDS!

Let’s FACE it. Parenting is hard.

I have been reading a lot of Brene’ Brown lately. Her message to me in my acceptance of myself has been eye opening, but what she has written about being a parent has been life changing. The book Daring Greatly has an entire chapter about parenting that I believe everyone should read- parent or not!

In chapter seven, Brene’ writes about the best parenting advice she ever received. It was from Toni Morrison, “Let your face speak what’s in your heart. When they walk in the room my face says I’m glad to see them. It’s just as small as that, you see?” (223).

Wait! What?!

Immediately I thought back to all of the times my kids walked into a room while I checked out what they were wearing…. was it clean, did it match, was it appropriate for the situation? I thought about how I looked at my kid’s hair, face, tennis shoes, EVERYTHING!! As moms, we have a tendency to look at our kids with a filter that judges them as other people might judge them. WHY DO WE DO THAT? Do we believe we are being judged by other parents all of the time? I think moms think this is how they love children. We are showing them how much we care by wanting them to “put their best foot forward”. We need to ask ourselves, are we judging other parents by how their children look? Maybe we should stop doing that! We are all in the parenting game together. Let’s support each other.

What have I taught my kids by having the face of judgment when I see them? Have I taught them that they don’t measure up to my standards or the standards of others? Am I expecting them to be perfect? According to Brene’, perfectionism is teaching kids to value what other people think over what they think. Personally, that is not a lesson I willingly choose for my children. I want them to know they matter. What they think matters.

What can I do? In my heart, I feel extreme joy when I see my children whether it be after a long separation or simply overnight. My heart smiles…… my face can show what my heart feels and bypass the judgment my brain is conditioned to place upon my kids. They deserve to see the happiness they bring to my life. I can work to not only tell them I love them, but I can let them see that love on my face every time they enter a room. I can only imagine the love they will feel for me in return. As in all parenting lessons, it won’t be easy, but it will be worth the effort.

Patience Little One.

Patience and fortitude conquer all things.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

With the start of a new calendar year, we in the pre-K world begin to get many questions about transition to Kindergarten. Parents realize we are nearly half way through the school year and they begin to wonder (worry) whether their children are ready to make the leap to Kindergarten .

We do our best to reassure parents that there is a great deal of growth that will happen with four year old children between January and September. We encourage them to remember that 9 months of time is 1/4 of the time their student has been alive and a lot can happen in that amount of time!

Many parents worry about their children having the academic knowledge to go into K. Let’s face it, kindergarten is no longer the crayon wielding, cooperative, stay away from eating the paste experience it was 30 years ago. Many kids will leave kindergarten knowing how to read many words. They will know numbers, letters, letter sounds, and sounds of letter combinations along with an incredible list of site words they must master. Sure- this seems pretty scary. How can parents be sure their own children will be able to handle all of the learning expected of them in kindergarten?

Sit down. Quiet your surroundings. Focus only on what you are reading. I am about to give you the magic secret to readying your children for kindergarten. Teach them patience.

Say what? I know you think I am 100% off my rocker , lost my mind, whacko right now. I promise. Patience is key. Can your children listen to directions without interrupting? Are your children able to wait for you to finish speaking AND actually listen to what you are saying? This question makes me think of the times I have participated in Kindergarten Round up at our school…. so many teachers will have a classroom rule, “Ask 3 before you ask me.” I may be wrong about the number, but the idea is clear. Are your children able to problem solve? If they don’t see their mittens where they think the mittens should be, will they look around, ask a friend for help, or do they yell at the top of their lungs, “Where are my mittens?” When given a direction from a teacher, will your child follow it or say no?

When you are parenting your four year old, imagine a room full of 20 or more children of the same age acting the way your child is acting right now. Would you be able to control them? Would you be able to teach them a concept? Make your goal with your children to get them to behave in a manner that allows teaching them to be possible. You are your children’s first teacher and the lessons you teach them about their conduct at school will be some of the the most important lessons you will teach them.

That’s it! Seriously- I am not kidding! When you think about all of the concepts and skills children need to know upon exiting Kindergarten, isn’t it nice to think you only need to worry about teaching them to sit, listen, and be teachable?

One thing I know for sure…… you can handle that!

Are Youth Sports still sport?

Sport= “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” I wonder how many kids still think of sports as entertainment? Physical activity? Fun? If you haven’t asked your child in a while if they are enjoying participating in sports, it’s time to ask.

Research screams the numbers to us each day. Kids are dropping like flies out of youth sports. Why? Years ago, the point of a sport was for kids to have a sense of team and belonging. They learned about the sport in which they were participating, made some friends, and hopefully had an opportunity for some physical activity. I don’t think anyone would describe youth sports today like that.

Faithful readers of this blog know that my kids are in their 20’s, so I can speak with a lot of experience under my belt when it comes to children in sports. I raised two boys who were a part of many sports teams, from baseball, to soccer, cross country, football, and hockey. I live in Hermantown Minnesota, and high school hockey fans will have lots of opinion about hockey in Hermantown. Those who live in Hermantown will likely love the team. Those around the state may have different opinions. Both of my boys played youth hockey from age 4 to age 15 in Hermantown. One was cut trying out for the high school team in tenth grade. The other still plays today at college where he plays on a hockey scholarship. I have seen both sides of the story of hockey. I can tell you the secret to success of high school sports. YEP- the magic that allows Hermantown to produce successful teams and multiple college scholarship winners. The magic is in the numbers.

The bigger the number of kids that a youth program can get to register, the more successful the high school program. But getting kids to register isn’t the only magic. They need to stick around. You see, if each grade has 15-20 kids consistently playing a sport throughout their primary grades, the 5-7 kids that make the high school team will be highly skilled. This will happen automatically. No one needs to go to camps, play year round, or be on traveling teams. The law of numbers will prevail. Give children equal opportunity throughout their younger years, and you will have a great high school program. Simple huh?

So- why isn’t this happening? The formula seems easy enough right? Well…… parents get involved. You know the ones who “know” their child is a savant at age 10 and needs to play at a higher level than the other kids playing at age 10. Thus- speciality teams and traveling teams. People will leave their community teams to play on a team where they believe the opportunity is better suited to the talent their child has. The reality is unless you plan on moving away, your child will need to come back and play with the kids you’ve chosen to leave behind once they reach the high school level. Hmmmm. I wonder how that will go.

What makes more sense for the health of a quality high school program? Keeping high talent kids to lift up and teach kids who need to work harder on their skills or having those naturally talented kids walk away from those kids? A team is only as good as it’s weakest player. Why not put the focus on making the hard-working, gritty kids who may not be naturally gifted at a sport better instead of hoping they leave? Worse yet, making their experience in youth sports so challenging, they choose to quit. What is the lesson in that for them or the naturally gifted athlete?

I have witnessed lots of interesting events over the course of 20 + years in sports. I have enjoyed many, but not all. When my youngest son played hockey, he quickly showed himself to be one of the more naturally talented players early on. Many of his friends parents would pay their kids for the number of goals they would get in a game. Sometimes I would see kids get paid (yes- money!) for their efforts on the ice. Sadly, I also saw kids in tears when parents told them they didn’t work hard enough or score enough goals to get their monetary reward that day. My husband and I challenged our son in a completely different way. We asked him if he could get an assist for every single person on his team. This made him a selfless player. It also gave him a different way of looking at the game. He developed vision of the ice and opportunities for scoring that many other kids never did as they were too busy shooting at the net every time they touched the puck. He also had an incredible sense of pride when he helped players score their very first goal. I was proud of his effort.

As the years progressed, I watched the kids who were pressured and many times paid for their efforts drop from the rosters. They were no longer having fun. Shouldn’t playing on a team be fun? Even professional athletes will reference the fun they have in a hard fought competition. Why would we take the fun out of sports for our kids?

My advice for parents- stop thinking of sports as a way to pay for college. Let’s face it, if you took all of the money you spent on registration and camps over the years and invested it, your kid would likely go to college and have a down payment for their first house. Sports are not vocation. Sports are fun. Sports are a way to meet friends. Sports give kids a sense of belonging. Sports teach compromise, hard work and cooperation. Sports teach a love of physical activity and fitness. That’s enough!

I will end with one of my favorite youth sports memories to put into perspective the view children have on sports. A team mate of my son was playing in a mini mite (littlest kids) hockey tournament in a local arena on Saturday in January. Coaches had lined up the teams so similarly abled kids would play against each other. One child on my husbands’ team went out for his shift and spent the entire time skating around with a player form the other team. The buzzer went off (signalling a line change) and that player came to the bench saying, “I made a new friend!” The next shift change, this same player went back out searching for his friend and they spent two full minutes skating around together chatting away. This time when the boy came to the bench, he exclaimed, “I LOVE that kid!” My husband smiled. What a great day for that player, and he never even scored a goal.

Where do they learn to act like that?

One of the beautiful parts of childhood is the fact that kids don’t have conditioned reactions to differences in people. How many videos have you watched on social media where children of different races, cultures, and abilities are playing together without conflict? I tack those up with my favorites like the animal videos of the mouse and cat becoming friends.

You have likely witnessed over the course of your life that children will ask pointed questions about differences between people. “Why is that person short, tall, fat, skinny, etc?” Kids will learn from the words of an answer ALMOST as much as they will learn from the tone, facial features, and body language. Children are always watching. They don’t always listen.

What tone and body language are you passing on to the children in your life? Do you avoid eye contact with a person in a wheel chair? Do you move to the other side of the street when you see a man of a different race on the sidewalk? Does your tone change when you talk about people with lots of tattoos? Sometimes these subliminal actions come out without us being aware. What would happen if you concentrated on the way you interacted with everyone?

I was fortunate to attend a training a few years ago that opened my eyes to the micro- aggressions many people face each day. From that moment forward, I have studied interaction between people. I witnessed at a volleyball try out in Duluth, a coach ask the only person of color in the room where she was from. The coach had not asked any other player (there were over 50 in the gym) where they were from. Why ask this girl? She answered the question with confusion and embarrassment. She was from Duluth- born and raised. Is it an automatic response to think that someone different from you must be from another place? Another country? Not your country? Hmmmm. Something to think about.

I wish adults could follow the lead of children rather than the other way around. Adults could learn the joy in meeting new people without the reservations of wondering if the person is enough like us to be accepted into our lives. I have seen four year old kids say, “Look- we are twins!” referring to a child of a different race or color. Kids don’t necessarily mean we look exactly alike….. they see sameness, being twins, in the fact that they like the same activities, laugh at the same silly stuff, and enjoy similar toys. Simple.

Challenge yourself to follow the lead of children when encountering people you may judge without conscious thought. See someone who may be a boy or girl? What do your kids do? Ask & then say ,”OK.” No judgment. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. Watch a child interact with an older person. They may ask, “Why is your skin all wrinkly?” They take an answer at face value and touch the older person’s hand to learn what older skin feels like. No judgment.

I imagine a world where we could let kids lead adults in how we treat people. I see an end to bullying, marginalizing people, and aggression toward all who are in some way,”different”. I believe we could create a more beautiful and peaceful world. We could use a lot more peace and acceptance in our world. Although changing the world seems overwhelming, change happens one person at a time. Be the change.

Taking Responsibility- You are the sum of your choices.

Sometimes life is ironic. Today is one of those days. Writing this blog has been a long time goal, but like many goals, I didn’t realize how much work it would entail. Writing is fairly easy for me, but coming up with ideas about what to write….that’s a whole different ball game! I now keep a running list as ideas come to me (they usually do when I am in public watching parents with their kids). I take that list and put the title in my drafts with a picture or quote that will help remind me where I was planning to go with the topic. So….. this topic has been sitting in my drafts for about 5 weeks. The funny thing- I am writing about how choices affect your life on the day our president is facing Impeachment. Huh. I guess we get to see how choices affect people around us every day!

Challenges, decisions, choices….. how did we get here and how can we use this in our parenting? The fact is our lives are a summation of our choices. Some may want to argue this point, saying we didn’t choose to have some of the issues we have, but along the way, we made a choice that put the issue in our path. The true question is- can we teach this concept to our children? Of course we can! It’s called taking responsibility.

When children are very small, it is our job to keep them safe and protected. Some of us forget that as our kids grow up, they need learn to face the consequences of those choices. I believe these parents are termed “helicopter” parents. You will find them buzzing around their children’s life at every age providing them with excuses and blaming anyone else for any poor choices their kids make. This is a mistake.

People need to face up to their mistakes. Children included. Haven’t you heard, “Experience is the best teacher”? We remember the mistakes we made more often and more deeply that the perfect decision made at the exact correct moment. Why is that? We have a bigger lesson to learn from mistakes. Don’t be afraid to allow your children to goof up once in awhile.

I remember having this discussion with my husband years ago as our first born was a stereotypical first born -people pleaser who always wanted to do everything “right”. He had reached the ripe age of 14 or 15 and I said to my husband, “We really need him to make a big mistake while he is still at home and we can help him learn that he will recover from it.” My husband looked at me with a bit of horror in his eyes and then realized what I was saying was true! Our son did screw up pretty big not too long after this discussion. Someone at school told him you could buy an app for your phone & if you deleted it the same day, you wouldn’t have to pay for the app. HAHAHAHA! $500 cell phone bill in one month!

It was a great learning opportunity. He had to look his dad and me in the eye and tell us he had downloaded all of those apps. He took responsibility. First and foremost- my son learned he could mess up and we still loved him. Next, he learned the responsibility of paying off a bill. He worked extra chores around the house for 3 or 4 months to pay that off. He learned the feeling of pride and accomplishment. We congratulated him for following through. He learned tenacity.

Taking responsibility for your actions, tenacity, persistence, control over your choices…. These are some skills many adults are challenged by. My son took a big step toward learning all of those lessons in this one big mistake.

The next time you are faced with your child stuck in a bit of hot water, don’t be afraid to let them stew. You are allowing them to grow up. You are allowing them the opportunity to realize their choices make their consequences. Both good and bad. Remember, we could use more people in the world who have learned that lesson.

Maybe Someday….. what are you waiting for?

As parents, I am sure we have all done it…. put off that fun thing the kids want to do in order to finish chores, clean the house, pay bills, ect. I would like you to begin thinking about your time differently. Time with your children is limited. Paying bills is important. How can you find balance?

One of my favorite memories with my children is a beautiful spring day after a long winter (we live in northern Minnesota after all). My husband came home from work early, we picked up the kids at the end of the school day, and headed straight for a local park. (Jay Cooke). We hiked, watched the snow melt rushing through the rivers, and gave our kids their first opportunity at taking nature photos. We even had them take a photo of me and my husband. We don’t have too many of those! We looked for spring flowers and animals. Truly- we simply enjoyed getting outside. We didn’t eat dinner until 8:00 that night. My kids laughed on the way home as they realized we hadn’t had dinner yet.

The reason I share this story…. this experience cost us very little. Entrance to the park and a little gas money. For several hours, our focus was on nature and each other. No distractions. No screens. We actually took photos with a REAL camera and not a phone! We created connections. I still have a photo of my youngest son and I on that day. He scrapbooked a page, titling it “The Best Mom”. Every time I look at that photo, I realize we should have done a lot more of this over the course of my kids lives at home.

Why is this a favorite memory? Maybe because it was a rare moment where I actually chose to walk away from tasks at home and make my family a priority. I know I intended to have days like this more often than I actually did.

Time slips away. If your child asks you to lay in the grass looking at clouds. Do it! If your little one asks to play soccer, baseball, or basketball in the yard- Do it! Have a squirt gun or water balloon fight. Pick wildflowers. Look for agates. Slow down. Savor your time.

One day, like me, you might be driving along, pass a nature trail and think, “I always wanted to take my kids there.” Your kids may be in their 20’s like mine are and it’s possible they won’t have time to walk that trail with you anymore. Maybe they don’t live in the area. Maybe they have their own family and are doing their best to create memories with them. Maybe walking the trail has become physically impossible for you. Maybe you will feel regret like I did. Perhaps, you will even write about it in a blog.

I feel confident that all parents have heard, “Enjoy your kids while you can.” So many of us will listen but not really let the message sink in. We have time right? We are trying so hard to be the best parents we are capable of being. Certainly, we will have time for all of the experiences we’d like to have with our children.

The reality is no one sits on their death bed and wishes they had spent less time with their kids. Put down the dishes. They will still be there later. Sit down, play a board game (even the boring ones). Take a walk. Collect leaves. Polish rocks. Laugh when those rocks go through your washing machine. One day, you will miss washing those pants covered in mud. Someday, you will want reams of wonderful memories and stories to share with your kids.

The best part of prioritizing your kids is that you will have taught your children the importance of parenting and the value of time. I can’t think of many lessons more important.

Enjoy your time- you are lucky.

Do you ever get frustrated with the people who say,”Enjoy your child while they are young. Time goes by so fast.” You smile and accept the advice hoping that the advice is being given with sincerity. When you walk away and your precious little one states they hate you because they got a red sucker at the bank instead of a purple one, you may wonder why time can’t slip by just a little bit faster?

I find my self using this quote on young parents all of the time. I am sure they refer to me as the crazy old lady. When kids are stubborn, I will remind parents that those same skills will find them much success in later years. We want persistence in our adults right? When little ones refuse to go to bed, I laugh and say. Just wait until they are tennagers asking you to pick them up from a movie letting out at midnight?!” I seriously had to set an alarm to pick my kids up from school dances. Who stays up that late on a Friday anyway? My favorite is when parents are struggling with potty training and every older adult in the room states that they had no trouble with potty training. In fact, their children were totally trained by 18 months. Yeah right!

I believe younger parents must leave conversations like those & wonder what is wrong with them? Why is parenting so difficult for them? The reality is, parenting is difficult for everyone. Some of those challenges fade in our memories, so in hindsight, parenting seems a bit easier.

It’s true that our time with our children is limited. Maybe we have 940 Saturdays with them. Those are the days we have to show them what is important in life. Sometimes, parents don’t get that much time.

In the past few years, I have watched a friend help her child battle cancer twice and end up victorious. That is a worthy of celebration. On the flip side, I have seen a neighbor bury her 11 year old son. I watched a community grieve the loss of a 15 year old. I witnessed a coworker go to the funeral of a 3 month old baby. We don’t always get all the time we plan for.

These examples are heartbreaking, tragic, and seemingly pointless. Obviously, nothing good comes from losing a child. From the perspective of the family, I am confident this is true. Pain changes over time as the initial wound scabs, but the family is forever changed. How about the rest of us?

Could we look at these examples and find a little more compassion for our child when they are having a melt down over us buying the wrong cereal? Can we refrain from judgment when our teen is crying over a break up that we know is truly better than maintaining the relationship? Just hold him and let him know you love him. Will we choose to have a bit more patience for our kids when they are learning to get dressed and not jump in to zip that jacket? Maybe. Perhaps this is the only thing we CAN do when facing the tragic loss of a child. It could be our duty for the gift of still having our children with us.

What can we do for those we know that are grieving the loss of a child? Unfortunately, I have had much more experience in this arena than I would choose. I have learned from parents that they still want people to talk about their kids. Tell stories. Especially the good ones. Remember his laugh when we played soccer with him? I loved that. I bet you did too. She was such a great artist. Did you know I still have that picture she drew for me. Would you like to see it?

This will be painful sometimes. Emotions are impossible to predict or control. Overall, parents want to know that you remember too. It helps to know others have some of the pain and that others miss their child. Honor the life of kids no matter how short.

At home, hug your children even if they don’t always like it. Hold them accountable. Teach them responsibility. Celebrate them. One day, they will understand. You were showing them your love for as long as you could.

Fostering Independence- It’s not easy!

I have read multiple times the main goal of parenting is to make our children able to live without us. It is also the hardest part of parenthood. We know if we do our job correctly, our children will one day leave the nest.

Fostering independence in your children is a lot like math….. one skill leads to another. Think about how young we begin these lessons with our babies! The first lesson is often having children learn how to put themselves to sleep. The very first step of independence!

We follow up by helping our kids learn to get dressed independently, use the bathroom on their own, feed themselves, and so much more! It can be a wild ride helping your child learn a skill that you could do for them in 1/4 of the time it takes them to complete on their own. Helloooooooo- how about cleaning their rooms? I know I could have finished that task 12 times by the time my kids got through the task once. Of course, I don’t rediscover toys that I forgot I had along the way. As parents, it is our job to step back to allow our kids to learn and yes, sometimes fail.

There are so many lessons to learn from failing a task. We teach responsibility to our children for the failure. Don’t blame someone else when you are unable to do something. Buckle down, try again and again until the skill is mastered. Don’t practice until you are good, practice until you can’t fail. Take responsibility for mistakes. By doing this, we take control of the situation and place the fixing in our own hands. If we blame someone or something else for our failures, then we no longer have control of fixing and mastering that issue. Don’t take away the ability from your child to overcome something that has been difficult for them! These are the skills that will serve them well in the future!

There will be times when we need to step back in to help out our children. We never want the frustration level of our children to overwhelm our kids. Every child will have a different level of tolerance for difficult tasks. Some kids love tackling a challenge, others will need to be coached through unbuttoning clothes, or getting those shoe on the “right” feet. Consistency is key. Don’t jump in to help because you are running short on time. Plan ahead to allow for your child to have the opportunity to take the tasks they are willing to try. YEP! Sometimes this takes a lot of time! But, not quite as much time as following your child into a sports locker room to help them get dressed at age 10 because you couldn’t find time when they were younger. I know you can do it!!

What do you do if your child is struggling in a particular area? As always, answers to this issue vary. Is the task they are struggling with related to the health and well-being? Perhaps they are choosing to eat unhealthy foods. Maybe they don’t want to go to bed at a time to give them adequate sleep. It could be that they are having trouble using the bathroom when they need. What do you do then? The health of your child comes first. Ask for help from your pediatrician if you are able. Attend Early Childhood Family Education classes and talk with the parent educator. Ask parent friends for suggestions.

Remember- any tasks relating to the health of your child are not negotiable. Children need to go to bed. Bed time is only chosen by children on special occasions. Kids need to eat foods that are good for them. They must drink water- lots of it! They need to use the bathroom. These items are a must because you care about your child’s health.

When you child needs some decision making power- let them pick out their shirt, socks, or pajamas. You will have many opportunities to have your children flex their decision making skills. Decisions regarding the health of their bodies is not one of those areas.

Independence! It’s the goal of parenting. Sitting on the other side of the fence, with children who are entering adulthood, I can tell you that sometimes it’s painful knowing my kids don’t need me the same way they did when they were little. I have never experienced a more satisfying feeling than seeing them handle difficulties in their lives. The marathon was worth it. It will be for you as well.

Love Lessons in Early Childhood

The people who love you don’t treat you badly. Love doesn’t hurt.

~Oprah Winfrey

The lessons we learn about relationships and how they work (or sometimes don’t work) begin very early on in life. Research says that children feel secure when they see their parents hugging, holding hands, or being generally supportive of each other. The first love lessons children will learn will be the ones they learn from watching how their parents treat each other.

As kids grow a bit older, they branch out with relationships. They make first friends and develop favorite playmates. In the preschool setting, we often get to hear who kids will be marrying when they get older. Often, they choose a classmate they enjoy being around and they plan the wedding for two or three weeks down the road when they are “really” old. As staff, we may smile or even laugh a bit at kids develop their first love interest at school. In reality, there are many lessons to be learned from these first relationships.

How many times have you heard a little girl complain that a little boy is “mean” to her and he may pull her hair, or take away toys that she is playing with? How many of those times did the adult listening to the little girl say, “He must like you!” Stop for a moment to consider the message sent to that little girl. To be loved is to be picked on, physically hurt, or made to feel bad. I bet that isn’t exactly what the adult meant to teach the little girl. For some reason, this lesson has been passed on from generation to generation. Maybe our generation can be the one who puts an end to this lesson.

How about we say, “He is looking for attention in ways that aren’t nice. You can use your words to tell him that.” Teach her to protect herself from being treated inappropriately. She can say directly to the little boy, “That hurts me (my feelings) and I don’t like it. Please stop.” If this reaction is not helping her end the behavior, teach her to engage an adult to help her. With this lesson, we can tell our children that love shouldn’t hurt. People who care about us want us to be happy and feel good. We also taught her to stand up for herself, and to ask for help when she needs it. All of these skills are vital over the course of a lifetime.

The secondary benefit of this lesson for our daughters is teaching young boys they can grow up to be good men. My boys have been swimming in the dating sea for several years, and they find that many women aren’t interested in long term relationships because they are “too nice”. Seriously? Maybe if we can put a stop to girls thinking boys being mean to them is a sign of love, we can put a stop to women being attracted to men who treat them badly. We owe our children nothing less than believing love is a part of life that makes everything better. Think of the societal problems we could eliminate with this message to our kids!