Archives for August 2014

The 4 Questions

There is no perfect way to parent. There is no perfect parenting book or advice that will solve all of our parenting dilemmas. Through my years of teaching parenting classes, I have heard pleas from tired new parents who want the magic trick to get their babies to sleep through the night. If only parenting were that easy. If only someone really could just give us an easy formula to follow that would consistently work every single time we needed it.  But every parent who has had multiple children knows that each child comes to this world with a distinct personality and a parenting technique that worked great for child #1 may or may not work for child #2. Every parent also comes with his/her own values and history that plays a large role in how he/she will choose to parent.

Each child is unique, and it sure didn't take us long to know that this little cutie had a lot of personality.

Each child is unique, and it sure didn’t take us long to know that this little cutie had a lot of personality.

Though I have never heard any perfect advice, I certainly have heard or read tips or words of encouragement at the exact moment when I needed to hear them. We all need more tools in our parenting tool belt sometimes, so it is always refreshing when we hear a new idea to try as a parent that seems to be a good fit for our children and family.

A couple of years ago, I was attending a great Parenting Education training in Eugene at “Parenting Now”, and I learned a simple parenting concept that has made a big difference in my own family and how I think about discipline. I think that every parent struggles with discipline and how to best teach our children when it seems like whatever we try isn’t working. This simple concept may not seem profound, but it has popped into my mind many times when I was feeling totally frustrated and helped save the day.

Think of the last time your child behaved in a way that was really difficult for you to handle and how you struggled to know how to deal with the behavior. This can be anything as simple as a struggle to get a child to brush her teeth to a child pushing his peers as a means to get what he wants. The scenarios are endless. As you go through the situation consider the following about your child:

1)Developmental Age-Is it developmentally normal for a 10 month old to throw food off of his high chair while eating? Yes (though still frustrating at times). Is it developmentally typical for a 7 year old to throw food when they don’t like what’s for dinner? No. Keeping in mind where your child is developmentally can be so helpful and reassuring that though what our child is doing is difficult, it is often normal for her age.

2)Temperamental Tendencies-Each child truly is so unique, so when we try to really understand our child’s unique personality and where he/she is coming from, it can help to know that children often times aren’t doing things to deliberately make our lives difficult, even though it feels that way at times. It can be really challenging at times to parent a child with a very different temperament than your own, and it can also be really difficult at times to parent a child with a similar temperament (I have both). So yes, parenting can just be challenging at times, no matter what your child’s temperament :).

3)Parent’s Values-Because every parent’s values and style of parenting can be so different, what may be a problem for one parent wouldn’t even phase another. For example, I am pretty relaxed about my children getting dirty,even at the cost of ruining play clothes at times, while some parents have a much harder time with this.

When you have considered the previous background questions, take your time to walk yourself through the following 4 questions:

  • What do I want my child to learn?
  • Is what I’m doing teaching that?
  • Are there any negative results from it?
  • If so, what can I do differently?

These questions are simple, but they truly have changed the way I view discipline. I now view discipline much more as an opportunity to teach my children something that they need to know rather than a means of punishment. When I scolded my children for the 10th time for being too loud in the library, it suddenly struck me that I had never taken the time to teach them the expectations for how we do behave in the library. How would they know if I never really took the time to explain to them the differences between how loud and rambunctious we can be in different settings? When my youngest child hit other children as a toddler, it was important for me to not only tell her to stop the behavior but to also explain how the other child felt and to even model comforting the other child to help them feel better. I might even have to let them know that play isn’t fun when kids are getting hurt and not feeling safe, so we would need to leave if this continued. Would this incident be the last time that my toddler ever hit? No. Hitting can be a normal behavior for toddlers, but I could feel good that I was on my way to teaching my child what she needs to know to be successful in interacting with others.

Our children are looking to us to teach them how to navigate this world, and I am grateful that I am here for them. Am I always perfect at remembering to ask myself the 4 questions? No, sometimes it is too late when I remember. I have already lost my patience or handled a situation in a way I am not proud of. But each day is a gift to try to do a little better. After all, we aren’t trying to teach our children to be perfect but instead, that we can ask for help and still be kind human beings even when we make mistakes sometimes.


More Than Smart: Teaching Children to Have a Mindset of Limitless Poss“abilities”

We travel down to Southern California at least once a year to visit family and we sometimes have the stamina to drive. It’s a long, hard, grueling 2-day/16 hour drive from Oregon to Los Angeles. On one such road trip when my children were five,three, and one, in the middle of the second day, somewhere after Fresno and beforeBakersfield, the car activities that the kids had assured us were going to entertain them for the entire trip lost their attractiveness. After hearing, “Are we almost there yet?” for the hundredth time we began playing old school car games such as: 20 Questions, counting cars and road signs, Slug Bug, and I Spy. During a car counting game in which my five-year-old daughter was counting the white cars and my three-year-old son was counting the blue cars I asked how many blue cars and white cars the kids had seen altogether. I waited for my five-year-old to answer. Instead my three-year-old son answered – instantly – with the correct answer. My husband and I looked at each other with surprise. Our three-year-old had just added 15 and 8 in his head! In no more than a minute! Okay, we thought, lucky guess. Let’s try another. So from the front of the car we pelted him with oral addition and subtraction problems that gradually got more complex in nature. After our astonishment wore off we asked him to explain how he got his answers. His reply was an amazing feat of three-year-old rationale and logic, and mathematically correct!

That’s the moment we decided that our son was gifted in math. As a parent and educator, I held onto that idea with pride and contentment. I still do, but at a cost. I am a believer in the notion of the self-fulfilling prophecy. What we (especially children) are told about ourselves we eventually become, because we begin to believe it, whether it’s true or not. So if I believe that my son is exceptional in math and I remind him of that, then he will internalize this as a part of who he is as well. So what’s wrong with believing that you are good at math – especially when you are? Well, it turns out, a lot. For my son, math was so easy for so long that when he was finally challenged in math (after his second grade standardized test scores confirmed his mathematical aptitude) he completely shut down, he absolutely refused to do the work. There are many possible reasons for this reaction,some include: fear of failure or fear of “no longer being gifted in math” if he fails (remember that he has defined himself this way since he was three), not knowing how to persevere when math is challenging, not liking the uncomfortable feeling of “not knowing” the answer, fear of “letting down” his parents who never missed an opportunity to remind him that he is “good at math”.



As it turns out, responding to my son’s aptitude for math by constantly reminding him of it may have been more daunting than helpful. Current research shows that children benefit from hearing that their effort is far more important than their aptitude, intelligence, or ability. In other words, success is more closely related to how much a person believes they can improve and grow rather than how smart they believe they are. In her book” Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, author, Dr. Carol Dweck, explains the powerful impact of having what she calls a Growth Mindset which allows one to believe in their potential to grow limitlessly rather than a Fixed Mindset which supports the notion that one’s ability and growth has a predetermined capacity.

In an effort to better understand my son’s reaction to challenge and to find ways that I could encourage a Growth Mindset in all three of my children, I read “Mindset”and while poking around the web, I ran across an informative interview with Dr.Carol Dweck where she gives specific advise to parents, teachers, and anyone working with children on ways to talk to them that focus on effort, perseverance, and possibility rather than ability. I watched the video with my children and it has changed how they (and I) approach learning and life. I encourage you to do the same– be more than smart.


Parenting Is…

If there is one thing I am learning as a parent, it is to be more flexible and to try harder to go with the flow when things don’t go as expected or hoped for. Tonight I planned/hope for a smooth bed time. We have kind of gotten out of our normal school year routine with the kids going to bed later than normal, so this might have been wishful thinking based off of our recent experiences. As I began bedtime by myself while my husband was working, my 6-year-old Gabe came running into the kitchen crying with blood flowing all over his foot and the kitchen floor. A ceramic art project had gotten knocked off his shelf onto his foot leaving a big cut. I thought at first that I would have to take him to the emergency room as it took several minutes to get the bleeding under control, but I finally did. This is while his two sisters were worried for him and crying in the background the whole time. After I finally got things under control and everyone in bed, the thunder began outside. Again, I heard the pitter patter of feet and my name being yelled. I was again on mom duty for the next 30 minutes trying to calm the chaos.

Some things in life are predictable, but not parenting. Parenting is the stress of figuring out what to do when your child gets sick at the beginning of a long vacation. It’s when your child throws up in the car one hour into your road trip and you realize that there is not a single wipe in your car to clean it up.  It’s calling a friend to cancel your get together when your child is having a meltdown. Parenting is trying to figure out what to do when your babysitter just canceled on you when you have work the next morning.

But parenting is also when the teachers at school tell you that your child is amazing and such a great student and listener, when you struggle to get him to follow through with the most simple requests at home sometimes. You beam with pride as you remember that your child really is a great kid. It’s your heart filling with joy as you spy on your kids playing and laughing together. It’s when your child tells you that you are “the best mommy ever” after a hard day. It’s when you watch them frolic and play on the beach, completely lost in their imaginations, and you just want to freeze time.

My children living it up at the Oregon Coast last weekend.

My children living it up at the Oregon Coast last weekend.

There are so many ups and downs with parenting. Some days truly do feel like an emotional roller coaster, and I feel like I have no idea of what I am doing. But tonight after the calm after the storm of a crazy bedtime, I peaked in to see if my kids were sleeping. And as I heard their deep breaths, I realized that I wouldn’t trade this time in my life for anything. Parenting is the hardest yet most rewarding job I will ever have.


Outside Everyday!

While visiting The Oregon Coast Aquarium this weekend with my children, I read a quote painted on the wall in the children’s area that said : “If we want children to flourish, we have to give them time to connect with nature and love the earth before we ask them to save it” (David Sobel). We have also been learning more about Helen Keller this summer as a family, and I love her quote that says: “To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.” Both of these quotes really speak to me as I have really been making a stronger effort this summer to have my children outside as much as possible. We have been swinging, bike riding, berry picking, hiking, swimming (in pools and rivers),gardening, playing in the yard, and going on family walks as much as possible. I’m sure that many of you have been doing the same with your families with maybe even more additions to my list.

I have personally observed that my own children seem so much happier, fight with each other less, and behave better in general when given opportunities to connect with nature, whether on a hike at Bald Hill or in our own yard. Children of all ages really can flourish when we slow down and prioritize outside time every day. When given the opportunity to move outside freely, children encourage growth across all developmental domains.

My kids having a good time on a hike at Bald Hill last summer

My kids having a good time on a hike at Bald Hill last summer

Much of my motivation to get my children outside more often came after reading Richard Louv’s book: “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.” If you are not familiar with this book, you can listen to a brief interview with the author on NPR. In his book, Louv explores many of the contributing factors to less outside play today, which include media use in the home as well as parents perceived yet inaccurate assumption that we are raising children in much more dangerous times than when we were children (thus not allowing children to roam and explore). I know for me, one of the biggest barriers to getting my children outside can be weather. I have no problem getting my kids outside for long periods when the weather is nice, but it can definitely be harder for all of us to be motivated on a rainy day in February when I’d quite honestly rather stay inside and bake pumpkin bread, even if my kids would be up for time in nature.

Though I am making a stronger effort to make outside time the norm in our family, we are far from perfect when it comes to getting enough outside time. In fact, it seems like we adults can sometimes have a harder time finding motivation to get outside than our children.  I have found, however, that there have been some things that have helped my family in our efforts to get outside more:

  1. Choose to bike and walk when possible. Though we live too far from my children’s school to bike (and lack a route that is safe), we have made more effort to walk and bike when possible. We only live a little over a mile from a movie theater, so we have been trying to walk or bike when we see a movie instead of hopping into the car. We also try to ride our bikes to the park and to church when I have my act together.
  2. Make sure that you have the right clothing and gear. There is a saying that says, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.” Having the right kind of clothing for weather can make all the difference in the world of making outside play a positive experience. Because nice outside gear can often times be expensive, look for used clothes at thrift stores and consignment shops if this is a concern for you. Another way to cut down the cost is to buy gender neutral clothing so that you can pass clothing down between brothers and sisters.
  3. Find kid friendly hikes and other outdoor activities in your area. With most of us being connected to social media these days, it would be very easy to pose a question to find out the best local spots nearby. One of my favorite things to do as a family is to walk the short boardwalk loop at Jackson Frazier Wetlands. If the weather is particularly bad, this short loop does not take very long and even toddlers can walk it.
  4. Make outside time a part of the routine so it just feels normal. I have thought about setting a rule that media use does not happen that day unless my children have first been outside breathing fresh air.  Limiting media use in general can also leave more time and motivation to get outside.
  5. Let your children participate in gardening. My kids love spending time in the garden and take so much pride when they have actually helped to plant and nourish the food that then nourishes our bodies. And as an extra bonus, my children are more likely to eat food from our garden than they are store bought food.
  6. Enjoy outdoor activities with other friends and family. I have found that my children are far less likely to whine or complain about going outside in the cold when they have other kids to run around with.
  7. Listen to your children and follow their leads on what they like to do outside. Children are going to feel more excited about spending time outside if they have input on what the activity is. Some children might enjoy the challenge of geocaching or having a bird guide with them while they walk so they can identify the wildlife around them.
  8. Slow down. Sometimes during the school year it can be hard to even find the time to get our kids outside when we are running children around from one activity to another. Make sure that no matter what activities your child does, they still have some time left for free play and spending time in nature.
  9. If you live in the Willamette Valley, make sure to attend “Get Outdoors Day” each year. We went as a family for the first time this year, and my children were so happy exploring and participating in all of the activities for hours

    Miriam kicking back and enjoying herself at "Get Outdoors Day".

    Miriam kicking back and enjoying herself at “Get Outdoors Day”.

Some of my best family memories from my own childhood and with my own family have been enjoying nature together. We would love to hear what you love to do with your families outdoors and how you make exploring nature a priority!