July 31, 2007

Values are like Viruses

I once read that values are like viruses because they’re caught in the environment within which they reside. That statement had a powerful impact on me as a parent and brought to my attention that you have to begin teaching your child values from the time they are very small.

Children learn from what they hear and observe so the best way to teach values is to set a good example. Albert Schweitzer, French philosopher and physician, suggests that adults teach children in three important ways: “The first is by example. The second is by example. The third is by example.” If your child grows up observing you being dishonest with yourself and others, this is what your child will imitate.

Tell a story about how you learned a lesson when you were young that will help your child better understand the difference between right and wrong. Kids will listen. Explain your reasons for what you say and how you act. This will demonstrate how you use your values to make decisions.

Have a discussion with your children. Ask them how they would spend $100.00 or what one thing they could do to help someone less fortunate. Share your responses with them. Lead by example during the ordinary interactions of everyday life. The values you share will stay with your children and they will make them their own.

July 30, 2007

Modeling Stress Management

The word stress brings to mind negative feelings of being overwhelmed and overloaded.

Too much stress can cause exhaustion and impede our judgment. However, it’s important to recognize that stress can be good. Stress provides a rush of adrenalin that gets us through life’s challenges. Stress itself is not the problem. The way the body responds to stress is the problem.

When we react to stress we’re making a choice. We respond without considering every possible way of handling the situation. By preparing for stress and considering your options, you model for your children appropriate stress management.

There is no single right way to cope with stress. Some people seek out more information about their problem such as during a medical crisis; others avoid it. Some people need to take action, like exercising; others seek comfort. Still others need to be distracted or ignore the situation. No two people respond to stress in the same way so remember to respect your child if she isn’t affected by a stressor in the same way you are. Her reaction reflects her limited life experiences.

One of my own ways of responding to stress is through deep breathing. It’s recommend by author and physician, Dr. Andrew Weil.

Relaxing Breath

“4-7-8 Breath”

1. Slowly breathe in through your nose to the count of 4.

2. Hold the breath for a count of 7.

3. Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. When you exhale make a soft “whoosh” sound by holding the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth.

4. Repeat three more times.

I have found this to be very useful and it’s something I always have with me. I use it whenever something upsetting happens – before I react. I also find it useful to help me fall asleep.

One mother practiced this deep breathing and whenever she started to snap at her children her young daughter would say, “Mom, remember to breath!”

Children learn how to cope with stress from watching adults handle their problems. Are you satisfied with the way you respond to stress? What stress management skills would you like your child to learn from you?

July 29, 2007

You Want Fries With That?

I love this quote from comedian Robin Williams: "Everyone has these two visions when they hold their child for the first time. The first is your child as an adult saying 'I want to thank the Nobel Committee for this award.' The other is 'You want fries with that?'"

I was a teacher for twelve years. During a parent teacher conference a father shared with me that his son would be attending graduate school. His son was four years old.

It’s natural to envision what our children will become. We may see our son as a professional athlete. We may want our daughter to go to law school. Contemplate these two questions: Are you persuading your children to become what you want them to be? Can you be supportive and encourage them to become what they are destined to be?

July 28, 2007

Love You Forever

One of my favorite children’s books is Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. It’s the story of how a little boy goes through the stages of childhood and becomes a man.

It started as a song:

"I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
as long as I'm living
my baby you'll be."

Munsch wrote the song as a tribute to his two stillborn children. One day it occurred to him to make a children’s story out of the song. The book was selling very well but not solely as a children’s book. It was being bought by parents for grandparents and by grandparents for parents. The message speaks to both children and adults of how love passes from one generation to the next.

One of my friends read this book at her mother’s memorial service. It was her way of saying goodbye and bringing closure to her mother’s death. I encourage you to get a copy of this book. You’ll read it over and over again.

July 27, 2007

Thirty Second Burst of Attention

As I mentioned yesterday, children love attention and will do anything to get it. When my children were young they would try to get my attention while I was on the phone. I'd be attempting a conversation with my friend Brenda while my son was tugging on my pants leg trying to show me a rock or trying to talk me into letting him have a cookie. How frustrating for both me and my son. I wonder if Brenda could sense she also wasn't getting my undivided attention?

Last week I attended a two day play therapy conference which featured Garry Landreth. He is known for his writing and work in promoting play therapy. He suggested that when a child is needing your attention you stop what you're doing and give him a "Thirty Second Burst of Attention."

When I was on the phone with Brenda and my son approached me I could have said, "Excuse me for thirty seconds, Brenda." I then put down the phone, get down on my son's level, look him in the eye and say, "I have thirty seconds to listen. What do you need to tell me?" As he would share with me his enthusiasm over the rock he found, I would nod my head to communicate that I am listening and that I care about what he is saying. At the end of thirty seconds I would say, "John, thanks for sharing that with me. Now I'm going to finish my conversation with Brenda."

John's need for attention would have been satisfied in thirty seconds. Thirty seconds! Not a hardship at all on my time.

I wonder if those thirty second bursts of attention work on husbands?

July 26, 2007

Catch Your Child Doing Something Right

How quickly do you respond when you notice your child is doing something wrong? I wonder if you can remember the last time you called attention to your child when she was doing something right. Children love attention and they will do anything to get it. If the only way to get your attention is to do something wrong, it's not hard to figure out which behavior she'll do repeatedly.

Instead of making a big deal over your child's wrong behaviors, try to catch your child doing something right. Call your child by name when you see her doing something right. You might say, "Kelsey, I saw you help your brother put on his jacket. That's great!" After she gets over the initial shock of hearing her name followed by something positive rather than negative, she'll smile proudly, stand a little taller and make an effort to get caught doing something right in the future.

Stay away from generic praise such as, "You were good today." Find specific incidents which define good behavior. "Thank you for remembering to pick up your toys," and "You took turns with your sister," describe the behaviors you want from your child.

Praise and attention are powerful motivators. Catch your child doing something right this week and comment on it. Your child will love the attention and you will have added something new to your bag of parenting tricks.

July 25, 2007

Rituals Give Hope, Add Dimension To Family Life

If you're a parent, I suspect you can remember saying, "If we can just get the baby out of diapers,
things will be so much easier." Perhaps you were a stay-at-home mom who uttered to herself more
than once, "I cannot wait until the kids are in school all day."

Fast-forward 15 years. Your baby turns 16 and he has a driver's license. You wish he were still driving
his Cozy Coupe around the cul-de-sac. Fast-forward another five years. Your daughter turns 21 and
she stays out all night partying with friends. You get misty-eyed remembering when she used to toddle
around the house and take afternoon naps.

You ask yourself where the years went. What you wouldn't give to sit in your grandmother's rocking
chair and sing your son to sleep one more time. You rummage through a stack of old VHS videotapes in
search of the one with the footage of your daughter getting on the school bus for her first day of

Parenting is a journey full of momentous occasions. Some of them are happy, some are sad and some
are bittersweet. Moments don't have to end. As a parent, you can keep these moments alive by
establishing family rituals.

For my son's first birthday, I bought a personalized audio cassette of a space creature singing Happy
Birthday greetings to him from the moon. Every year on his birthday -- he's now had 18 of them -- that
audio cassette awakens him. He grumbles about how juvenile it is, but there's a smile on his face that
tells me he would be disappointed if one year I didn't play that birthday greeting for him at the crack of
dawn. I really need to have that cassette transferred to CD to extend its life if I want to be able to
continue to play it for many more years.

I always insisted my children eat dinner before they would go trick-or-treating on Halloween. I suppose
the maternal side of me was convinced that dinner would cancel out the sugary treats they would be
enjoying later that evening. The year my children were 2 and 4, I made Sloppy Joes and served them
with barbecued potato chips and dill pickle spears. It was an easy dinner to prepare, and one they
could eat quickly before heading out the door. I've made that same meal every Halloween. My daughter
calls from college each Oct. 31 and says she wishes she were home for that traditional meal. I hope my
future grandchildren will enjoy eating Sloppy Joes.

Each year on the first day of school, I would position my children on the front porch. With their new
lunch box in one hand and their new backpack in the other, I would snap a photo that would go into
the family photo album. The day I overheard my two teenagers flipping through photo album, talking
and laughing about those first-day-of-school photos, I paused, smiled and told myself that this moment
is what parenting is all about.

Rituals can be serious. They can be funny. Rituals build memories that last forever. In times of stress or
sadness, they can provide hope. Rituals give us something to look forward to. By incorporating rituals
into your family life you will be adding another dimension to your parenting journey. Now sit back and
enjoy the ride.