Archives for March 2014

Discussing Difference to Make a Difference (part 1)

My son is a very competitive student especially when it comes to subjects that he has a natural affinity for, such as math. He views himself as an outstanding math student and consistently does exceptionally well in areas related to math. He is constantly trying to outperform all of his classmates on their classwork, homework, and timed-tests (Remember the “mad minute”? The one minute times-table drills from third grade.)

Recently he came home from school and shared some all-to-familiar information about his classmates with me. “Koreans are good at math.”, he told me when trying to explain why two of his classmates did better than him on his math quiz.

Whoa! I thought. How could my son, be thinking this way? I have never given him any impression that performance in any area is related to the way a person looks, where a person comes from, or what a person believes. In fact, I have relentlessly done and said everything I could think of to prevent the kind of thinking he was doing at that exact moment. So where did I go wrong? And how should I respond now?

First, I had to stop making his statement about some parenting misstep that I had made along the way. After all, as a high schooler, I remember explaining my Chinese neighbor’s superior performance in school as a product of his cultural background as well. Children (and adults) often interact with one or two people from a particular cultural group, different from their own, and make assumptions about how or why the entire group of people do the things they do. This is called stereotyping. While it can be considered natural human behavior to stereotype, it becomes dangerous when we allow (consciously or unconsciously) stereotypes to impact how we act, interact with, and treat others that are different from us. And this is where parenting can make a difference.

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When children share their observations, like my son did, about Koreans and math, parental response becomes pivotal. As parents we have an opportunity to help our children develop a broad understanding of the differences and similarities between themselves and others as well as the similarities and differences within a cultural group. So I continued the discussion by asking my son why he thought Koreans are good at math. He replied that he scored the highest in math before the two Korean students enrolled in his class. Now the two Korean students in his class always score the highest on timed tests. I reminded him of his background and asked him if all of the kids in his class that looked like him are as good at math as he is. What about all the right-handed kids, are they all good at math? How about all of the kids with dark hair, are they all good at math? He quickly got the message. I could see the realization spread across his face.

“Okay mom, I get it.”

“You get what?” I asked.

“It doesn’t matter what you look like. Anyone can be good at math”, he replied.

As simple as it may seem right now, that is all he needed to realize. Our conversation was appropriate for an 8-year-old.  Hopefully this is the foundation on which he continues to build his understanding of difference.

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Listening and Learning: A mom’s heartfelt reflections on raising her two sons

This weeks blog post is submitted by guest contributor, Tanya Pritt. We hope you enjoy her piece and we look forward to future contributions from Tanya.

I watched my adult son as he helped the nurse in the NICU unit with his newborn son.  He was learning how to change diapers, assist with changing the bedding and bathe his baby with little wipes and Q-tips.  His son was born at 25 weeks and my son’s hands made his tiny body look even smaller.  It was all I could do to keep from jumping in and helping, or at least directing the care verbally.  Taking a step back and remembering my place as a support for my son, rather than as a parent or grandparent, was hard at first.  As I listened to my son ask questions of the medical and nursing staff I was struck by his attention to detail.  He carefully watched his baby, noting when he appeared uncomfortable, and bringing this to the attention of the medical staff.  He appeared attune to his child’s needs.

This observation had me thinking about times that he and his younger brother were small; times I wasn’t as attune.  This caused great anxiety and fear that I wasn’t doing as I needed to in order to be a good parent.  When my son was about 4 years old he seemed to have lost his appetite wanting only cereal.  His father was gravely concerned and we would prepare foods, enticing him to eat his vegetables, even bribing him to no avail. We had cookbooks and ideas and felt strongly we were on the right path to get him to eat a balanced diet when it turned from care-giving act of dutiful parents to a power struggle with a 4 year old. Guess who won?

My son’s wellness check with the pediatrician coincided with our mealtime struggle.  It was what my husband led with as we were talking to the doctor.  His tone became more agitated as he spoke, wanting the doctor to know that we were good parents, in charge, and capable of managing the nutrition needs of our children.  The doctor laughed.  He asked what our son was willing to eat.  “Cereal” we replied.  The doctor said “great!  Feed him cereal.  It won’t last for long; pretty soon he will ask for other things.”  In that instant, pounds of worry and frustration left our shoulders.  And he was right, our son began asking for the foods he saw us eating and in time he was eating his balanced diet.

My youngest son also taught me how to observe and listen.  He was an early walker but seemed to be in pain quite a bit.  He limped often and squirmed, often crying, when we would put his shoes on his little feet.  He was a year plus old and, and as older parents, we had already learned with our first two (now 14 and 15 years old) that shoes were necessary to protect the feet.  My toddler would put up such a fuss I grew concerned and scheduled a doctor appointment because I was sure he had something wrong with his feet or legs.  After all, he limped and cried often. Something had to be wrong!

At the doctor visit his pediatrician had him walk across the exam room.  As usual, my little boy limped and looked uncomfortable.  I explained to the doctor that we had him fitted for his shoes because we were worried the original pair we bought were the wrong size.  His pediatrician took off his shoes and held his hands out for him to walk to him again.  This time my baby fairly ran!  And no limp!  This doctor, not the same one as before, also laughed!  My little one did not want to wear shoes.  And really, there was no need for him to do so other than my own faulty beliefs.  I kept my floors cleaned and vacuumed; he wasn’t in any danger of injury.  He would sometimes wear socks, and later, at about 2, I had a pair of leather moccasins made for him.  He wore these or a type of moccasin for the next couple of years.  He didn’t limp again; his feet grew normally, and we had no further problems.  If I had only listened, as with the cereal example, I could have saved each of them and myself a lot of anxiety.

Children communicate from birth.  As mothers we are often able to understand what they need by the pitch of their cry.  As our children grow they become more adept at communicating but sometimes life is so busy, so demanding we lose that ability to really listen to what they need.  Sharing parenting challenges with others helps, reading about others’ experiences can offer perspective.  Slowing down and engaging with our children, putting work and worries aside lends calm to almost any situation.

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As I sat in the hospital with my son and his baby those days I had a chance to reflect about lessons I had learned.  And I was learning my biggest lesson:  to be quiet, to be a support not an expert, to set aside my feelings and wishes for later, and to give grace to my son to be able to bond without competition to his baby whom we lost three days later.

 Tanya has been the Director of Milestones for the past 21 years.  She’s  been working in the field of addictions for over 30 years. 

 

 

 

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Tired of Being Tired

We all have days when we feel like we’re dragging. And for parents those days may seem to come all too frequently. Even when parents are feeling tired or stressed we can’t always take a day off.

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“Parenting and child care are easier when you are not worn out and running on “empty”. Pay attention to your physical and emotional energy. Refill your tank before you run out.” Wondering how? Check out the latest complimentary “Qwik Sheet” brought to you by ParentingPress.com for ideas on how to reduce the stress of parenting.

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What Do You Want to Hear?

Today’s blog post is submitted by our featured guest contributor, Esther Schiedel.  We hope you enjoy the post and look forward to more posts from Esther.

In a recent talk with a group of parents I asked the question, “What do you want to hear from your children?” Answers were: “Thank you.” “Whatever you say, Mom.” “I’d love to clean my room.”

We all laughed. Then I rephrased the question to “What do we want our children to be able to tell us?”

Their answers included: Their real opinions. When they are in trouble. Their angst. When we are wrong about something. What they are excited about and passionate about. Their anxieties. Their relationships with others. When they feel unsafe. What they admire about us. Their reactions to body changes; their body images. Who they are or aren’t.

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Some of these things we love to hear about. But many are things that are difficult and painful to hear. There may be information that worries us or frightens us; that makes us angry or sad. Information that makes us feel powerless. Those feelings can be hard for us to deal with in everyday situations. When confronted with them as parent interacting with a child, the challenge is even greater.

I (and I suspect most parents) secretly believed that if I did my job right, my children weren’t going to have problems that I couldn’t fix. I wanted to make things better. I wanted to kiss the sore spot and make the pain go away. It was hard to accept the truth that I couldn’t fix everything. (My children are adults now and it is still hard!)

Unfortunately, that hard truth and that feeling of powerlessness interfered with my ability to listen to those things I wanted my children to be able to tell me. It wasn’t easy, and I messed up a lot, but here are some things that helped me to listen then (and still help me now).

  •  Giving myself empathy—acknowledging how painful and difficult it is to hear some things.
  •  Focusing my attention on listening and observing. Letting my child know I am listening—through touch, attentive silence, or short phrases like “I hear you” or “Oh.”
  • Accepting disappointment, sadness, fear, grief and other emotions as real, natural and legitimate feelings that don’t need to be brushed aside or gotten over right away.
  • Trusting that my child has many strengths, abilities, and resources to cope with challenges.
  • Knowing that I have access to resources—people I trust that I can talk to and professional help if needed.
  • My religious faith is also a resource.
  • Trusting that really listening to someone is valuable.

I can’t fix everything—but I can listen.

Esther Schiedel, 1/4/14

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to two boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

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