Choices in 2020 (and I am not talking the election)

Children & Choices

Choices. It’s an oft heard word in the realm of child hood development. Give you child choices. And it’s true, you should. You child has so little control or power over anything that happens in their lives that allowing them to have or make choices from time to time can be a powerful boost to their self-esteem and sense of worth. They are told when to play, when to stop playing, when to bathe, when to eat, when to go to bed, when it’s time run an errand, when it’s time to go to school when it’s time to leave school and the list goes on and on and on and on. In most scenarios, they need to be told what, how and when to do something because you are the grown up and they have no self regulation. So much pressure to constantly do what other, larger people tell them to do can create a volatile situation in their emotional system. But what if you could take some of that vim and vinegar out of their system by simply allowing them choices each day?

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You’re Doing it Wrong

I can hear many of you now, “But I give them choices and they never decided and it always backfires…” Guess what? You’re doing choices wrong. I used to do it wrong too. When I first started working with children I didn’t understand the power of choice and I made mistakes, a lot of them. Now I have the wisdom of a lot of years in the classroom, a lot of books read, a lot of continuing education courses take and a lot of experience with small children. You may be thinking, “There’s a right and wrong way to give choices?” Yup. There is. If you have read this far and are thinking, “Children should do what they’re told because I am the grown up. End of Story.” then this post is may not be for you, although I encourage you to read it anyway.

Realistic Choices

The number one thing you need to know about giving a child a choice is that it needs to be realistic. Sounds simple, no? Yet giving children unrealistic choices is one of the biggest parenting faux pas done daily. If you tell your child to put their coat on or they are not going to school today then you have just screwed yourself. Are you truly willing to keep them home for the day because they refused to put a coat on? My absolute favorite is when parents threaten that Santa wont come if their child doesn’t listen. Really? Are you really going to follow through with no presents on Christmas morning? I consider myself a tough cookie mom and even I won’t go that far. Parents, you cannot present an option to your child that you are not 100% willing to follow through on because the second you don’t follow through, they have your number. If you threaten to turn the car around if they continue bickering in the back seat then you better turn that car around should another argument begin. If you say you are leaving the store is they keep whining about the cookies you won’t by, then you better be prepared to leave a cart full of groceries and walk out. Each time you don’t follow through with a “threat” your child logs that in their brain. If you repeatedly do it, they know you are full of bluff and have no reason to believe you, which does nothing but spell trouble for you.

Limit Options

Providing a child with too many choices is overwhelming. As much as possible limit their options to two and no more than three choices. Asking a 4 year old what they want for snack is akin to opening Pandora’s box. Instead say, for snack today you can have a yogurt with fruit, or crackers and cheese which would you like? Once the choices have been given that’s it, no negotiating. If they whine and plead and throw a tantrum, let them, Once again if you give in they will smell blood and know they can pull that same trick over and over and over. A a few tantrums in the beginning is much better than a life time of stress because you taught your child they can walk all over you.

Just to clarify, this is not the same as using food for reward/punishments’ which should NEVER be done, this is saying these are your options, if you are hungry and want a snack then you will choose one. Same goes for choosing anything else, clothing, toy to take to grandmas, or a book to read at bedtime. If a matter is time conscious, such as getting dressed in the morning then set a timer and let your child know that they have until the timer goes off to make their decision, otherwise you will be the one choosing.

Pick Your Battles

Simple advice but true. Not everything needs to be done an exact way. Let go of some of your need for control. If he wants to wear red plaid shorts and a lime green shirt to school, let him. Who really cares? Plus you are giving your child the opportunity to express himself creatively. If she wants to play the trumpet instead of the flute then support her and buy yourself some earplugs for the first year or two! Some nights let them pick their own dinner, some days let them watch the extra TV show. By allowing them these small bits of choice and power their need to exert full control will relax. A child’s reaction to feeling no control is a tantrum. Think about how you feel when your boss dumps task after task on your plate with little to no input from you… it feels pretty lousy doesn’t it?

By no means should tantrums be accepted as OK behavior, but they ARE normal. Do not get mad at them for having one. Stay as calm as possible and ignore them. It will stop. I promise. Through a tantrum a child is trying to gain your attention. At this point they don’t care if it is negative or positive. DO NOT FEED THE ATTENTION MONSTER. When it is over you can talk to them about their strong emotions and brainstorm together better ways to handle it. If they are being destructive or harmful then say in a firm tone that even though they are mad “hitting, throwing, kicking etc.” is not acceptable.

To sum it all up, this is what parents need to remeber:

  1. Make Choices Realistic
  2. Be Prepared to Follow Through
  3. Limit Options to 2 or 3
  4. Pick Your Battles
  5. Tantrums Happen, Don’t feed the monster

Kid, You Don’t Always Get a Trophy

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Moms and Dads, I need your help. Please, PLEASE, stop acting like your child just won the World Series while they stood in the left-field picking their nose as their team lost the game. On the same note, don’t tell them they should get a prize for trying. All this bombastic praise is raising a generation (or two or three) of entitled, impatient, aren’t I the most fabulous children that don’t know the first thing about surviving in the real world. Now before you stop reading, thinking I am the meanest mom in the world, allow me to say this. I love praising my children when it is merited. They do not get a parade for picking their shoes off the floor, they do not get a plaque to hang on the wall for completing their homework, and they do not deserve a trophy for losing. They don’t.

How can our children learn to process disappointment, anger, sadness, and all those scary and ugly feelings if we don’t let them? It sucks, I know, I have watched my son cry because the camp he was looking forward to all summer was canceled. I have seen him stomp his feet in anger and frustration because he couldn’t quite get the new skateboarding trick. I had to explain to him that he wasn’t cast in the first play he auditioned for and really wanted to do. Instead of blaming someone or something else, telling him he was the greatest skateboarder ever or really deserved the part in the play over the other boy, I told him the truth. Crazy right?

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I explained camp was canceled due to coronavirus that it was out of our control, and it is really disappointing, but some things we can’t change. I acknowledged his frustration with the skateboard and told him that the only way to get better was to practice and keep working hard, and I also acknowledged his effort. That’s different than blind, blanketed praise. I didn’t tell him he deserved something or was owed something, I said to him that I could see how hard he was trying and if he kept at it; eventually, he would get there. And when it came to the rejection from the play, as a performer, I had been there more times than anyone can count, and I said it sucks, it hurts, but it’s the way it goes. You wait for the next opportunity, and you try, and you try, and you try. As the saying goes, you fail 100% of the time you don’t try.

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What you DO want to praise and encourage is their effort, hard work, determination, and insight. The key is to be specific. Tell them WHAT they did that caught your attention. Then, help them problem-solve to get to the next step. “You did a lot of research on your planet project, I saw you reading all those books from the library. Since you didn’t get the grade you were expecting, what do you think you could have done differently?” In one fell swoop, you validated their effort and work and opened the door to help them do better next time.

As parents, we want our children to have the sun the moon, and yes, throw the stars in too. We don’t want them to feel disappointment or shame or anger; how else will they learn? If we take every upset away and make them think they should always win despite lack of effort, natural talent, or unforeseen circumstances, how will they grow? If we hand them everything instead of teaching them the value of hard work, how will that benefit them? The best thing we can do as parents is to embrace the difficult times that come their way and use them as teachable moments. I know it’s not easy, but they will thank you later.

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ADHD and My Child: the battle with healthcare

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My youngest son is the equivalent to the Tasmanian Devil at times, and I don’t mean the actual animal that lives in the bush, I mean that little cartoon guy that just spun everywhere and caused destruction in his path. It has been a challenge dealing with his lack of control at times, but there is only so much control he has. At the age of 5 he was diagnosed with ADHD, and it’s severe. As an early childhood educator I knew something was off developmentally a few years earlier but ADHD and ADD are not typically diagnosed until school age. All we knew was that he was struggling, a lot, in preschool due to his inability to keep his hands to himself, his lack of self control, outbursts both positive and negative, and the Tasmanian devil that seems to have inhabited his body.

After conducting research on my end, talking to his teacher and other professionals in the field, we came to the conclusion that he should be evaluated for ADHD. Luckily for us, his pediatrician also turned out to be the leading expert on ADHD in the area. That gave us extra peace of mind as we went through this process. After meeting with the doctor privately and conducting evaluations with our son we decided we would try medication. Deciding to use medication was not a snap decision. We had heard horror stories about children turned into zombies and the last thing we wanted was for him to lose was his spark. When he is not in tailspin mode destroying all in site he is an intelligent, funny and entertaining kid.

He wanted his hair to look like Sonic the Hedgehog this summer!

My son loves Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi. He was so obsessed with the Broadway Musical Newsies that the age of 3 he was the main character, Jack Kelly for Halloween. He’s creative and silly but he also has no impulse control, yells his favorite phrase “Booty-Butt” without warning at the top of his lungs, and used to greet people by hitting them in the crotch. Not forcefully, but enough to hurt, particularly if you were a man. We knew he couldn’t continue on this path and be successful. This wasn’t just your typical case of a child gone wild. I am a career expert in Early Childhood, his father has an undergraduate degree in Psychology. We knew what we should be doing to help him and nothing seemed to work.

The first medication we tried him on cost a whopping $60 a month after insurance. $60 a month for something my child needed to function. We saw results but he was still struggling. Especially as the evening wore on and the medication wore off. He became next to impossible to corral into anything productive. He started therapy with a psychologist and we were hoping to see major results. Unfortunately they seemed slow to come. On the upside he was getting much better reports from school and I was more confident about him starting kindergarten in the fall. At home he still wreaked havoc, knocked things over, ran around and caused general frustration for everyone.

Yes we tried discipline, time outs, meaningful chats, loss of privileges, positive re-direction. If it was in an expert handbook, we tried it. Nothing seemed to work for him. The only plan that has seemed to work is ignoring the negative behavior and over the top praise the positive choices. I have been reading the book Transforming the Difficult Child by Howard Glasser and his advice seems to be the first and only thing outside of medication that has had a positive effect on my son. And I love that feels built up by praise. I want to cheer him on and praise him and give him confidence, but there are only so many times I can hear “Booty-Butt” screamed at the top of his lungs while he claps his hands loudly. These aren’t discipline issue, these are impulse control issues. His brain is simply wired differently.

Amidst Cornoavirus shut-downs, he turned 6. We went in for his physical and I asked if there was something new we could try. After talking to me and performing the evaluation the doctor offered a new option. He said it was taken twice a day, was more potent and should have a more lasting effect. I was ecstatic. I went to get the prescription filled and they wanted $365. I’m sorry, for one month? On insurance?! That was simply not sustainable but my child potentially needed this to thrive. After frantic searching I found a manufacturer’s coupon that cut it down to $185 a month. The upside, it seems to be working wonders for him. I am seeing a more calm and engaged child. I am better able to hold conversations with him, and I see him able to focus for longer periods. In addition, it is not suppressing his appetite the way the first one was. These are all wins. The downside is I have to pay almost $200 a month for a medication, for a mainstream mental health disorder in order to help my child succeed and function they way a typical 6 year old should.

What does this say to you about America’s health care policies? Put simply, they are garbage. My son’s father is a doctor, he works for a major corporation, he should have top notch insurance, yet this is what he is offered. A plan that doesn’t even cover medications aimed at treating a common mental health disorder. It angers me and disgusts me. We are fortunate that while it’s not easy, we can afford to pay this amount each month to help our child, but what about all the people who can’t? Without insurance this same medication was over $600! As a mom and an educator I am calling out the U.S. Healthcare system and pharmaceutical companies. How dare you make billions each year and rake us over the coals for our basic needs. How do you expect America’s children to thrive and meet their potential when many don’t have access to their medication needs? It is an absolute travesty that in what is supposed to be the country of Freedom and Liberty the average American child does not have access nor can afford basic health care costs.

Art with Young Children

Arts and Crafts. That phrase probably revives memories of elementary school classrooms or summer camp. Being asked to wind yarn around Popsicle sticks glued together, or to paint a picture of the outdoors. More often than not cookie-cutter crafts and art projects would be produced, taken home to smiles from mom and dad and then eventually thrown away. Unless you are my mom, who apparently has boxes full of old items ready to be gifted back to my hands and out of her house. Why did we and do we continue to engage children in arts and crafts? The purpose surely cannot be so that can mass produce animal masks and dream catchers.

Early in my career as an educator I began thorough research into this topic and came across the phrase, “Process, not Product.” Put simply, this means your child’s process of creating the piece of art, or the craft is more meaningful and educational than the finished product. Isn’t that interesting? I thought it was. As a trained actor and musician the purpose of the finished product was to create something recognizable and enjoyable for the audience. What would “42nd Street” be without flashy costumes and tap shoes? Or what about a Mozart symphony where all the violins were flat. But then I thought about this further. Each performance of a piece, even with the same group of performers is never exactly the same. When a theatrical production is done by different directors, actors and producers it becomes it’s own entity, different from all that came before and will come after.

Then it made sense. As an actor learning my lines or my notes were only a part of the piece. Each show I have been in has taught me new words to add to my lexicon, a new technique or behinds the scene trick. With each show, I have learned something new through the process of creating the production.

So What’s the Process?

Open-ended art is a process of creating which allows free-range while creating. You create with what is available to you and possibly with no clear destination in mind. Open-ended art supplies are now common in a preschool or kindergarten classroom, including paper, markers, crayons, scissors, glue, stickers, stamps, paint, sequins etc. Children are free to create throughout the day. This type of art center can be easily made at home. Open-ended art allows children to use their imagination to explore and create without it having to be something. Young children who engage in art often don’t know what they are creating and will usually not decide if ever until they are completed.

What Are They Learning?

  • Problem Solving
  • Creative Expression
  • Critical Thinking
  • Mathematical and Spatial Reasoning
  • Science Skills

At Home

Our house is a well-spring of supplies and yours is too! Recyclables are some of the best items you can use and kids adore them! All of those empty cereal and snack boxes, catalogs you toss away, junk mail all can be used in open-ended art. If you are like me and believe an Amazon Delivery Away Keeps the Urge to Raid Target Away, save the boxes and let them use those! My youngest son has created rather elaborate forts of late out of boxes with just scissors and markers and my older son created airplanes and boats with empty 2-liter bottles, egg cartons, and cardboard. Consider collecting buttons, fabric scraps, string, twine, Popsicle sticks. If you can save it, they will use it.

Language Please!


At times our child’s art leaves us thinking… what is that?! Instead of asking your child, “What is that?” replace it with, “Can you tell me about what you made?” When we ask a child what their art is we immediately imply we can’t recognize it, aka, it’s not good. When you ask them about it you provide the opportunity for an open ended answer. Often when young children are engaged in art they don’t even know what they are making, so asking them what it is puts them on the spot, which is an uncomfortable position for children and adults alike! Follow up with further open-ended questions which will promote language skills and critical thinking. Some suggestions are

  • Can you tell me more about this blue line you drew?
  • I see you drew triangles, can you count them?
  • Why did you choose to use red and purple?
  • How does your drawing make you feel?

Accept the Mess


This can be the hardest part, but it should become our mantra to ensure our kids feel the freedom to create. This doesn’t mean we allow them to trash the kitchen with paint and glitter, but messes that occur as part of the natural process when making art are OK. Help your child build a sense of independence and responsibility by teaching them in clean up process. Breathe easy, go mediate in the next room is mess bothers you and allow the mess to happen, but make sure clean up is a group effort!

So grab the glue sticks and glitter because it’s time to get messy!

What Teaching Early Childhood Taught Me

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I spent fourteen years as a classroom educator before recently switching to writing full time. I was very green when I began in this field, and I had never intended to become an educator. Instead, I had studied Music and Theater and dreamt of being on Broadway. Yet there I was at the age of 26, embarking on a new career in which I only had passive, marginal, and informal training and experience.

Since I spent 14 years teaching, I will share 14 lessons I learned during my time “behind the desk.”

You are going to make mistakes, lots of them.

It’s OK. It’s part of the human experience is messing up. We all do it. Whether we forget a friend’s birthday, sent the email to the wrong person, or become distracted and cause a fender bender. Mistakes come in all sizes and shapes, and you are 100% going to make them as a teacher. Probably daily. Probably several times a day. There are so many times when I forgot the book I needed for a lesson, assumed I had the supplies I needed for a project in my closet, or said something more harshly than I should have. When working as an educator and with young children, we need to set the example and own our mistakes so they can learn that it happens and it is entirely OK.

You Can’t Win Them All

You will create some of the most fantastic lesson plans and activities that this earth has ever been graced with. You are also going to have ideas that flop so severely they should be featured on Rotten Tomatoes. These failed activities will leave you standing in a haze of confusion and smoke as you try to figure out how this fantastic idea fell short. Use this as a time for reflection. Once the dust settles, take your time to go through why it failed methodically. Was it beyond your student’s abilities? Did it not hold their interest? Did you purchase the wrong ingredients or supplies? Did you lack in your presentation? Self-reflection is a powerful tool when teaching.

There Will be Children You Can’t Reach

As much as you will want to help every child that passes through your classroom, there will be some you won’t be able to help. The obstacle may be your lack of knowledge in a particular area. The parents don’t want to see the issue you may be seeing, or the child may have personal or developmental problems beyond your professional scope. Again, I recommend this as a time to self reflect. Then, go out and learn more. Take a continuing education class, attend a webinar, or read up on related situations. Maybe next time a similar child passes your way, you will be more equipped. You still may not be able to help them, but there is truth in the saying Knowledge is Power.

Never Stop Learning

This tip goes along with what I mentioned above. Take continuing ed classes (beyond what is required), read articles, subscribe to educational newsletters or journals. When you encounter a situation, child, or topic you aren’t familiar with, take it upon yourself to learn more. Learn from those more experienced than you and from those who come from a different walk of life. Talk to those who have been through similar situations before. Fellow teachers can be one of your best resources. The more you can learn, the better teacher you will be.

Don’t Pigeon Hole Yourself

Just because you went to school and studied Elementary Education, or American Literature, or Earth and Space Science, it doesn’t mean those are the only things you can teach. I earned two degrees, one in English/Theater and one in Music. I wound up with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and a TEFL certification. I was able to use the skills I learned as an actor and musician and translate them to teaching. You may have a degree in science but have spent years writing books and literature reviews as a hobby. Use what you have. There are certifications galore out there that can boost your resume without costing a ton of money.

You Will Not be Liked by Everyone

It’s ugly, but it’s true. You will have co-workers that, despite your best intentions, find you annoying, or eccentric, or boring, or too loud, or strange, etc. It’s just the way life is. You will also have parents that don’t like you, They will think you’re not doing enough for their child, or they won’t care for your personality, or they may not enjoy hearing that their child is struggling in your class because of course their child is perfect.. Develop a thick skin, read up on how to deal with conflict and challenging personalities, and buckle down. And again, I say, self-reflect. There will be reason beyond you that people don’t like you, you cannot change that, but you change change how you deal with that.

Some Parents Will Love You!

To some parents, you will be the greatest thing that has ever happened to their child, and this time, believe it because it’s true. You will find the most amazing connections with some of the families that pass through your walls. Embrace those, enjoy the love and respect that comes with that relationship. Those are the experiences you will draw on when things are rough when you feel challenged, and when you think you don’t want to do this anymore.

You Will Not Like Every Child

You just won’t. Children are people, and never has there been a person who has liked everyone they’ve met. It’s OK. I struggled with this at first. I thought, how can I not like a little kid? The answer was because they were annoying to me. Again I say, it’s OK. You are not required to like every child who walks into your classroom, you ARE required to treat them all with the same level of respect and care.

You Will Never Feel So Loved

Young children have a never-ending supply of love, and they are happy to bestow that love heavily on those who care for them. Hugs from kids can be one of the highest parts of the day, especially when you are feeling off. They will make you all kinds of gifts and cards that are guaranteed to make you smile!

Engage in Self Care

Do not deprive yourself. Teaching can be a demanding job, so do not allow it to take over your life. Engage in whatever forms of self-care are most meaningful to you. I always enjoyed walks with music on my breaks, power naps, and on really rough days an extra caramel drizzle caramel Frappucino from Starbucks. Carve out time for yourself every day to unwind and do something you find relaxing.

Maintain A Sense of Humor

I have had children throw up on me, pee on me, and bite me. I have cleaned up poop of the floor and poop off of children. I have stood by while children have thrown epic tantrums smiling at as parents dropped off their children, quoting Olaf, “This is fine.” Children will say the most astounding things, and you will have to keep a straight face because they are deadly serious. They will say funny things that will have you laughing until tears are coming out of your eyes. The good, the bad, and the ugly come with teaching young children. The ability to laugh at yourself and the situations you find yourself will come in handy.

You, Will Be Underpaid, Over-stressed and ALWAYS have to Pee

You will never make enough money teaching Early Childhood. It is a sad truth that needs systematic changes in this country, but this is not a job you do for the money. If you are lucky enough to work this job and not have to work a second or third job, consider yourself lucky. The more educated you are, the more you will make, but the difference is marginal. There is little to no room for career advancement in this field. It is a high-stress job and, as a result, has a lot of turnover. People do not appreciate early childhood educators in this country. You will often be referred to as “daycare’ or “baby sitter.”

You Will be Mary Poppins, The Punisher, Mom, Physician, Psychiatrist, and Best Friend

You will play every role in your students’ lives, usually all in one day. That rash that popped up? You will have to determine if it might be an allergic reaction or possibly viral or just a skin irritation. You will have to dish out consequences and pull magical tea sets out of your bag. You will sit and listen to their disagreements and problems and dispense out wisdom help. You will be their confidant and the one they run to when they need a hug or have something exciting to share.

You Can and You Will

Even on the days, you think to yourself, I cannot listen to that child scream all day again. I cannot spend another day in the cycle of potty-training and diapering. I cannot have so-and-so’s parents complain again about something they don’t like. I cannot struggle through circle time with this group that doesn’t seem interested, no matter what. I cannot, I cannot, I cannot…. you will. And when and if the time comes, as it did for me, you have to make the bittersweet decision to move in another direction with your career. You will look back on your time as an educator and be grateful for all that you learned.

Kids & Yoga; put together and mix well


Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that was developed over 5,000 years ago by the Idus-Sarasvati civilization. Post-Classical Yoga, which was established sometime after 200 BC, was the beginning of what we in the west call yoga. As describe by Yoga Basics, “Yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment.”.

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The Modern Period and popularization of yoga in the west happened during the 1800s and 1900s when gurus started visiting western countries and attracting followers. Today, many of us in the west use yoga as a form of exercise and wellness. We participate in stretches and poses to relax and strengthen muscles also creates flexibility and develops balance and core strength. While yoga has been primarily thought of as an adult activity, I am here to educate on how beneficial it can be for children!

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Yoga provides the same benefits for children that it does for adults. A child who participates in yoga develops gross motor skills, core muscles, and balance. Yoga is an excellent tool to help children calm down and self-regulate. Most importantly, yoga is physical activity, which in today’s world of iPads, electronic devices, and sitting at a desk during school, is especially critical.

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My hands-down favorite for children’s Yoga is Cosmic Kids. These yoga journeys are not only physical movement, but they provide mindfulness and are presented through a story, which means they promote literacy as well! Triple score! I have used these repeatedly in my preschool classroom, and my two children, ages 9 and 6, love them as well. They have a story for just about every character and storyline you could think of. Have fun with your children, and jump in alongside them. Children are the epitome of Monkey See Monkey Do, they want to be just like the important adults in their lives. The bonus is you get a workout too! Not to mention, it is a fun way to bond. Some of them include bursts of running, jumping, and other cardio making it a whole body workout! Making fitness and wellness, a family affair has benefits for everyone.

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Statistic time! When children learn the importance of health and wellness at a young age, they are much more likely to continue those habits into adulthood. According to the CDC, 18.5% of children between the ages of 2-19 suffer from pediatric or childhood obesity. Those are staggering numbers. With the technology available at every turn, it can be difficult to entice children away from those devices. Therefore, I say make the devices part of the routine. Use sites like Cosmic Kids, GoNoodle, and artists such as Jack Hartman and The Learning Station to engage your children in an activity, movement, and song. Many of these videos are available free on YouTube!

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Get up and get moving! Teach your child the healthy benefits of yoga and exercise, and have fun at the same time!

Children Will Listen

The year 2020 has been one of turmoil, unrest, and confusion. Parents are dealing with how to explain to their children the scary and unexplainable things they may have been experiencing. Whenever I think about teaching my children about a delicate matter, I am reminded of lyrics from one of my favorite musicals, Into The Woods, as sung by Barbra Streisand on her album, Back to Broadway. You can listen here.

How do you say to your child in the night

Nothing is all black, but then nothing is all white?

How do you say it will all be alright

When you know that it mightn’t be true?

What do you do?

We have all felt this moment, whether as a parent, grandparent, teacher, aunt, uncle, or babysitter. The unequivocal sense of, “What do I say?”

I have always been a firm believer in telling children the truth, even if it is difficult. That does not mean I tell them every intricate detail or things beyond their understanding, but I do always try to boil it down to their level so they can understand.

There is a picture of me facing the Lincoln Memorial right after I had participated in the Women’s March in January of 2017. My friend snapped it as I was standing there, looking at the Memorial, which has always been my favorite. My son often asks me why I have that photo. He has been asking since he was nearly 6, and he first saw it 3 1/2 years ago. My explanation has gotten more in-depth as time passed; it runs along the lines of this. “Mommy went to a march, a march is where a group of people who all believe in the same thing get together and walk. There were things mommy didn’t agree with happening in the country, so I participated to show I wanted things to change.”

My children have already experienced two of the “Big Issues”, parents may face; divorce of their parents, and the death of a pet. At no point did we exclude them from asking questions or explaining things to them. I was fortunate that my divorce was remarkably civil, and we remain friends. I was able to honestly and simply tell my children that Daddy and I decided we would be better as friends, and it’s true. They never saw any fights or disagreements (not that we had many). They saw a united front, and that is one of the most important things you can do.

This year alone, as if corona virus, schools closing, activities being canceled, and vacations hanging on by a thread were not enough to discuss with our kids, riots are happening throughout the country. I am not going to discuss the politics behind the riots, that not what this blog is about, but I bring them up as a current and frightening example of a situation children may have questions about. My partner and I have made a point of not discussing them when the youngest two are around or awake. But should they happen to see or hear something, I have had to think about what I would say? My children know racism is wrong, I have listened to my son make a comment about things he has heard in movies or on YouTube, proclaiming what the person said was racist, and he was right. Explaining riots is an entirely different and complex issue..  I can’t hand you a script and tell you what to say, but I can break down the guidelines you should use when talking to your child about a difficult situation. You will have to guide the conversation to reveal your morals and feelings, something which only you can do.

  1. Present a united front. No matter what you and your partner, spouse, ex-spouse, a grandmother who lives with you, etc. believe personally, you need to come to a consensus of what and how you will say things should a question arise.

2. Consider your child’s age, temperament, and ability to understand. You know your child best. There is nothing wrong with using concepts or words they do not know; you can expand their knowledge this way, but don’t delve too far beyond, or they may become more confused.

3. Take your current mind frame into account. If you are stressed, angry, sad, they will sense that, even if they are not exactly sure what they are sensing. Children are amazingly intuitive. It’s ok to say to your child, I want to answer your question, but I need about 5 minutes, then collect yourself.

4. Talk to your child about your feelings concerning an issue, ask how they are feeling, and then validate their feelings. If they have seen a frightening photo, focus on the people’s emotions rather than what is happening. Ask them to describe what they think people are feeling.

5. Remind your children they are safe. That you are there, and they can talk to you about anything. When my children come to me and say, “Mom, can I ask you something?” or “Mom, can I tell you something?” my answer is “Always.” Children need to know they can come to you for ANYTHING. If you instill that when they are young, by the time they reach the teens, they are much more likely to come to you when things like sex, drugs, and questionable activities arise.

6. There are children’s books on pretty much every sensitive topic out there, including death, divorce, racism, moving, class structure, bullying, diversity, etc. If you can’t find the words, books, and social stories can be a great resource.

There is no easy way to talk to our kids about some of the world’s events right now. Still, it is our job to do everything in our power to prepare, educate, support, and explain so that when the time comes, we can release them out into this maddening world and watch them fly.

Guide them but step away

Children will glisten

Tamper with what is true

And children will turn

If just to be free

Careful before you say

“listen to me.”

Children will listen…

Finding the Fun

My week of trying to be more positive and engaged with my children seems to have paid off! They spent a lot more time off the electronics and involved in other things, and I was much more zen. While nothing is perfect and schoolwork was still a significant pain in my ass, they and we found ways to have more of that old fashioned family fun. That translates to a better atmosphere for everyone.

To start the week off, and it was a muggy and rainy start to the week, we went on a neighborhood scavenger hunt between rainstorms. These hunts are something we have done quite a few times, and the boys always love finding my clues as quickly as possible. Truth be told, there are only so many times we can look for an American flag or a house with a blue door, but they seem to love it all the same.

The next day brought about the adventures of Piggy-anda Jones. Yes, that is an officially licensed Indiana Jones hat Piggy is wearing. He is re-enacting the coal mining car scene from the Temple of Doom. I had nothing to do with this creation but was delighted beyond belief. My dad had always loved Indiana Jones and had dressed up as him more than once for Halloween. I loved their creativity on this one!

On the third day came the pranks, and this one got me good. They know I am terrified of spiders, and I did not even know they had this toy! I laughed so hard with them over this, and it felt good! They enjoy watching YouTube videos on pranks and are always trying to figure out how to get the one up on each other, often employing my help. They only time I fall out of favor is when I refuse to let them do pranks in the house that require dumping water all over each other… total wicked witch.

On the fourth day, it was apparently Christmas. They decorated our upstairs TV/Sitting area and arranged a food spread on some TV trays. Then they sat and watch The Grinch. The party ended with a dance party, which I made sure to participate in!

Friday was a pretty chill day, and no one is complaining about that. They spent some time with me while I worked out and wrote, but mostly everyone just kind of did their own thing, and there is a lovely type of joy and peace that goes with that.

We are back to Monday now, and I have already engaged in some games of Sorry and mostly stress free school work. Will the trend continue? I don’t know, but I sure hope so. Quarantine restrictions may be beginning to lift, but my older son has already had 2 of his camps canceled he was looking forward to this summer. Life is still very much in an altered state and that unpredictability can be difficult on kids and adults alike.. I am glad I found a way to recharge and refocus last week and create some of that normalcy that has been lagging. I feel more regulated and calm… that is at least until the next time my sanity slips.

Your Kid Won’t Starve: The Chicken Nugget Battle

Photo Credit Patrick Fore

                Your kid will not starve themselves, I promise.  Parents concerned about their child’s eating habits is probably the number one concern I have heard in my 14 years of teaching early childhood.  Parents surveyed once their children are older reflect that worrying about what their child ate was among the top three things on which they wish they focused less. 

Photo Credit Louis Hansel
Photo Credit Toa Heftiba

                As adults, we have this lovely ability to eat emotionally.  Got a new job?  Let’s celebrate with tacos and margaritas until we’re so stuffed we can’t even move.  Your boyfriend broke up with you?  You have the right to gorge yourself on chocolate cake and ice cream.  Have your children stressed you to the point of no return?  Time to break out the Girl Scout cookies and wine.  It’s what we do.  Happy, Sad, Stressed we reward or comfort ourselves with food.  Children do not have that emotional attachment to food yet; therefore, we don’t need to worry about them over or under eating.  They eat when they are hungry.  That’s it. 

Photo Credit Sanjay Kumar

               

Now, don’t get me wrong, children can most definitely learn poor eating habits, and when we, as adults, use food as a constant reward or punishment, we are sowing the seeds of emotional eating. Food should be food.  Food can be fun and engaging, but it is food, something our body needs to survive.  If your child is presented with multiple options consistently, they will be more likely to try new things.  When we, as parents, worry that Billy doesn’t like anything other than chicken nuggets and fruit snacks, and hence only feed him that, we are depriving him of the opportunity to grow emotionally and physically.   I have seen it so often; a child brings the same lunch every day because mom or dad believes their child will go hungry unless they send the same five things known to be approved by their 4-year-old.  Guess what?  They won’t.  If your child refuses to eat the food given to them, yes, they may be a little hungry.   But they will remember what it feels like, that maybe they were a little grumpy or tired and after a few times of that feeling they will eat.  They will not starve.  They are not biologically nor evolutionary designed to allows themselves to.

Photo Credit Paul Hanoaka

                Here is where the fun science stuff comes in!  Metaphorically raise your hand if you have a picky eater at home… right, most of us have or do.  I have one now, and I know the struggle.  Now, what if I told you there is an evolutionary-based reason for this, would you feel better?  Young children, specifically between the ages of 3-6, are designed to be picky eaters, so they don’t poison themselves.  Back in the early human days of hunting and gathering, young children were often left unattended.  They would wander and play with other kids, and to make sure the human race didn’t kill itself off, evolution made young children extremely wary of unknown foods.  Hence, the creation of the modern-day picky eater.

                No one likes to see their child upset, but when we regularly give in to the whining and demands and make them mac and cheese for the 4th straight night in a row, we are allowing them to be in control, and we’re the adults, that’s kind of our job.  I get it, I’ve been there, I’ve capitulated too, it’s human.   But the key is to make giving in the exception, not the rule.  I had the battle of breakfast myself today.  My nine-year-old wanted frozen french toast sticks with syrup and powdered sugar.  I am okay with that; he’s a mostly healthy and adventurous eater.  The problem was, he wanted to take that sticky and messy meal to sit in the basement and watch TV.  I said no.  I explained that the meal was too messy to eat down there, and the tirade began.  I don’t trust him, and I never let him do anything, I am so unfair.  I calmly stated, again, why he was not allowed to eat such a messy meal over the carpeted floor and said what would be unfair is not to allow him to eat at all.  He stormed away, saying that since I wouldn’t let him eat, he was going to the basement.  Not what I said, kid, but okay.

Photo Credit Joshua Coleman

                Fifteen minutes later, he contritely came upstairs and politely asked if he could have breakfast.  See, it works.   I didn’t enjoy it, it raised my stress levels, and I had yet to imbibe the delicious smelling coffee sitting out on our coffee bar calling to me.  But, he was used to my consistency and knew it was a losing battle to push.  My younger one could live on fruit and candy, and he’d be happy.  That’s not sustainable, of course, but he is in the picky phase.  So I keep the house stocked with the healthy things I know he likes: oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, grilled chicken, cheese, and granola bars.  I also make new and non-favorites regularly and place them on his plate.  When dealing with a picky eater, you should always make sure they have at least one thing on their plate that you know they like.  That way they are guaranteed to eat something.  Then consistently and methodically keep trying the unliked foods and encouraging one bite.  That’s it—one bite. 

                Don’t ever force them to finish the whole plate; this is another way to create an unhealthy relationship with food.  If they say they are full, then they are full.  They will not starve themselves.  If you served them their usual portion of chicken nuggets and they say they are not hungry, okay.   Since you know your child likes chicken nuggets, let them know if they are hungry later, they will be having the nuggets before they have something else.   I currently have 2/3 of a requested hot dog sitting in limbo. 

Photo Credit D. Hanelle

                In the end, you know your child best, and you have to do what you feel is right for your kid.  When parents come to me with this concern, I impart a cliff notes version of the above, and I ask them to speak to their pediatrician.  If your child’s doctor is not concerned with their eating habits or weight, then realistically, neither should you.  We all want happy, healthy children, and concern about their nutrition is valid.

Photo Credit Elevate

Food should be enjoyable. We should certainly find times to celebrate our triumphs are share our sorrows over a meal. A staple in every major holiday is the food. So celebrate the diverse options we have in this world. Enjoy the night our with friend’s just because. I simply ask you to consider the science behind children and their eating and the benefits of creating a healthy relationship between your child and food as young as you can. You will make it through, and they won’t starve.  Promise.

Teacher’s Pest

The long weekend is over, and that means time to head back to homeschooling. So much fun.  I don’t mind spending time with my kids but the horror that has become school work in this house is a reoccurring nightmare (or in this case daymare) I get to relive every Monday through Friday.  If I’m being totally truthful, they usually have work to finish on Saturday because the battle to get them to do more than one or two things a day has me pulling out so much hair that I usually give up.  Ok being really, really honest, I typically send them to their dad’s Saturday night with work to complete on Sunday. 

So…. I was grateful that there were no assignments yesterday.  They spent a lot of time playing outside and watching Minecraft videos.  I spent a lot of time doing work outside (I put up a new gate!) and household chores and all around we had a great day.  But now, the clock is looming over me, a big and significant 9:05 AM and I know the terror is soon to begin.  They haven’t come out of their room yet, so I am going to hold my breath and wait, why bother a resting dragon?  I know as soon as I hear that door crack my spirits will temporarily sink and the chaos of creating the balance between their desired fun time and schoolwork will begin. 

What makes it so bad you may ask?  Well to start with my younger one has ADHD.  It’s severe.  I think the only time he is fully stopped in motion is when he’s fast asleep.  However, he’s been having night terrors again, so even in sleep, of late, he can’t fully rest.  Trying to get him to focus on a tiny laptop screen and pay attention to a disembodied voice as it goes over the slide it’s showing is near to impossible.  I’ve tried having him wear earphones, and that works to some degree, as long as he doesn’t forget they are on and walk away.  Which he does.  Often.  In addition to the ADHD he has anxiety, like me and his older brother, and while his manifests in a different way than his brother’s he seems to have this intense fear of getting the answer wrong.  When he’s not sure he just says “I don’t knoooooooow” or makes up a ridiculous answer that he’s knows for sure is incorrect and starts playing with a toy nearby, or doing somersaults (literally, he loves gymnastics), or just rolling like a log across the floor.  The question could be “Name and animal the book said lives in the water.”  And he will reply “I don’t know, a monkey.”  Not cute kid, not cute.  So, I will either replay the segment or read it myself and over annunciate every word.  “Some. Animals. That. Live. In. The. Water. Include. Frogs. Snails. Crayfish. AND. ALLIGATORS.”  He’ll look at me and say “I said a monkey.”  I reach a fevered pitch and say “Just pick one of the animals I just said!”  and I’ll get “Ohhhhhhh that’s easy, frog.”  A question he could have probably answered before even reading the book since his brother is a budding Herpetologist and plans to move to Orlando and work for Dinsey’s Animal Kingdom.  I am not in the slightest joking; it has been his goal since he was 3.  We have a subscription to Reptile magazine that makes me cringe every time I flip through its pages. 

Animal Kingdom, 2016
Photo by Tiago Pereira on Pexels.com

The new phrase for the expression “If I had a dollar every time you said (blank) is “Am I done now?”  It is asked after every single question answered or math problem solved.  I have done my best to break their work up throughout the day.  An assignment here, then a break, then another assignment, then a break.  Problem is, they want to break constantly.  They want to live in a world of perpetual breaks.  And, amazingly as soon as I say it is time to work, everybody is miraculously hungry and needs a snack right now.  This literally just happened as I was editing, so I came back to add the dialogue.  It was currently 11 AM.  My kids got up around 9:30. I offered breakfast to both.  One ate, one did not, although he told me what he wanted.  I prepped his bowl of dry cereal, then he told me he wasn’t hungry.  Ok cool, it’s dry cereal, it’s not going anywhere.  At 11, I call down to the basement, “We are starting schoolwork in 5 minutes” and on cue “I HAVEN’T EVEN EATEN BREAKFAST YET MOM!”  Sigh. Eat, then work.

This would be my older one, and he is a whole different ball game. I think he might even be another sport. If there were a prize for whining and complaining, he would destroy all the competitors. I didn’t even know it was possible for a child to whine as much as he does about schoolwork. His usual proclamations are “This is sooooo hard”, “This is going to take forever!”, “I don’t understand this, it makes NO sense”, and my ultimate favorite “Can you do it for me?” No child, I will not do it for you. I went through second grade once, and that was enough for me. What I can do is sit with you, help explain things and I don’t even mind typing if it is a lengthy answer, since at 9 it is not his strong suit. But I will not simply do your work for you. I do my best to encourage him to at least read the directions and make an attempt before I jump in. His teacher and I have had many conversations about his sloppy mistakes because he rushes through to be finished. This is a boy fast tracked for the gifted program next year, but his anxiety and laziness jump in and everything becomes jumbled. Most of the time, when I attempt to help him, he doesn’t like my answer, or the way I am explaining it and then the fireworks start. He is very much like me in temperament. We both want to be perfect, we both embarrass easily, we crave our private time but at the same time want the people we most rely on close and at our disposal and we both cry at the drop of a hat. When I have tried to teach him anything over the years it usually ends badly, this is no exception. He gets mad says I’m so mean and don’t help him with anything and I snark back that I am not going to help someone who is being ungrateful and won’t listen. Lovely, I know, these are not my proudest moments as a parent. This will usually happen two or three times throughout the course one assignment. Then once the dust settles, we get to move onto the next one. Wash. Rinse Repeat.

I think it has been this crazy stress of homeschooling that has depleted my energy these last few weeks. I am a teacher, I tell myself should have been able to handle this, yet I haven’t; at least not the way I wanted to. But me being a teacher doesn’t separate the fact that I am still a mom, like all the other moms and dads out there, struggling to figure this out.

I made a promise to myself yesterday after we had so much fun putting a tent up in the backyard.  I am going to turn my engagement back on.  I will struggle through the muddy waters of schoolwork as required, but also make sure I am participating in fun things with my kids too.  I have let the stress of work take over the fun we used to have.  Summer is almost upon us, and with that the end of homeschooling, but it is still unknown what life will be like moving forward.  Will my son’s summer camps (that are all pre-paid!) go forward or will he be here with me?  Three of those weeks are camp learning about animals and reptiles and snakes (his favorite!).  He has already lost his baseball season, is he also going to lose his first time at sleep away camp?  What about the week of magic camp or baseball camp?  Will schools even open in the fall and if so, in what capacity?  We are heading, as Elsa so eloquently put it, Into the Unknown.  I can’t control the schoolwork that needs to be done right now, or the cancelled vacations and camps that may arise, but I can control how we handle our time here.  So, for today at least, I am going to create some fun, hopefully lessen everyone’s stress and then try again tomorrow.  As another one of favorite heroines said, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”