Archives for February 2015

Teaching Kindness

This week’s guest post is by featured contributor Tanya Pritt. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Tanya.

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I have always been intrigued by other people’s stories. In the treatment centers I work in, Milestones Women’s Program (for women and children) and YES House (for adolescents), one of the first questions I ask is “what happened to you?” Sometimes the question alone evokes a tearful and very sad response.

I listen to stories of pain and loss and of people just trying to survive in what is often an unkind world.

As a mom I always felt honor-bound to teach my boys kindness for others, no matter their presentation or circumstance. As we were driving we would see people holding signs at freeway entrances or grocery parking lots. Most of these signs said “Homeless…need help” or “I am hungry, please help me.” Because of my life experience I could often identify the Viet Nam veteran, the mother or father simply trying to do the best they could.

I carry dollar bills in my car and I give what can when I encounter people needing help. It’s not much; I don’t have that much extra, but I always can spare a dollar, or two, or five. I have taught my sons to do the same thing. Holding a sign asking for help in the rain or in the hot sun is hard work. I have heard others say “Why don’t they get a job,” as though that could be the answer. These people are faced with barriers that we don’t truly know or may not be able to understand. It is not mine to judge. And, thank God, my children don’t judge either.

One of the proudest days I remember is when my youngest was about twelve years old. He and a friend of mine were in the Albertson’s parking lot in Albany when they encountered a woman in a wheel chair. She was holding a sign that read “Please help”. My son read the sign and after passing her turned around and approached the women. “Here, I want to help,” he said, and handed her a ten-dollar bill. She smiled and thanked him for his generosity. They apparently spoke for about five minutes, and he asked her about her wheelchair.

I didn’t witness this act of kindness: my friend told me about it. I talked to my son later that evening and told him I knew that he had given his money away. I asked why he didn’t tell me. He laughed and then said, “I didn’t think I had to.” We spoke more and he shared that he saw she didn’t have legs and wanted to help in any way he could. He repeated the lesson I had taught him, that “she was working as hard as she could.”

Everybody has a story. We generally land where we do in life because of the help we receive or the help we don’t. There are many ways to give. Teaching children to give, to share, and to serve brings rewards we can’t count.

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

Little House, Big Family

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We live in a small house. We’re okay with that, but two adults and four children—who continue, inexplicably, to get older and grow in size—in two bedrooms and a converted garage can be a challenge. We spent the three-day weekend doing what we traditionally do, which is to rearrange the entire house. Thanks to this year’s tax refund, we rented a dumpster and got rid of as much of our dilapidated furniture and any items not fit to donate as we could. One Ikea trip and three full days of work later, this house is a little more habitable.

Our previous house was a bit larger, and the one before that was bigger still. What I found was that the more space we had, the more stuff appeared to fill it up. We didn’t even have to buy it; furniture arrived from friends and family to take up residence there, often for “safekeeping.” Toys seemed to breed overnight. Each successive move lead to more stuff filling less space. Thus the dumpster. I prefer small, thank you.

What makes a small house work for a family? A place for everything, and everything in its place. We make extensive use of baskets (I don’t even know where they come from): baskets for shoes, baskets for wooden blocks, baskets for sweaters and coats. These hanging closet organizers are surprisingly effective. Shelves and bins for the various things girls collect. And because we’re a family of readers, the bookshelves are finally cleared for books! Plus lamps, because of the reading, and tables to hold them. Our kids need floor space to build and play—blocks, Legos, puzzles, board games, sketchpads—so we try to make as much room as possible.

Most of the time, a two-bedroom house is cozy. But things come up. There are already lines for the bathroom, and none of the girls are teenagers yet. The nine-year old must have read somewhere about privacy, and is lobbying to move into the garage. Further rearrangement is in order. And a single couch can lead to territorial disputes if someone (for example, a toddler) is not in the mood to share her personal space. I try to stay on my feet as much as I can, and save my couch time for when they’re sleeping. I’m sitting right now! It’s nice.

I think that mostly a small house works because of the yard. It was sunny and warm today, and lunch was served on blankets on the lawn, surrounded by stuffed animals. While the parents shifted furniture and bagged clothes, the kids ran, played, gardened (planted sticks in the lawn) and found endless uses for sand, stones and mud.

Whatever space you share with your family, I hope that it works for you. Stay cozy.

Good Mornings

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If there’s a key to parenting, and I’m not saying that there is, it’s routines. If a child knows what’s going to happen next, and what to do about it, parents have already done most of the work.

I get up early for work, and all four of my daughters get up with me. They know that I’m going to turn the lights on, and they know that I’m going to make coffee. And when I’m reasonably sure that coffee is going to happen, I’m going to make breakfast. That’s it, really. Once breakfast is over they start on chores; the nine year-old puts away the laundry I have done in the night, and the seven year-old puts away the dishes. Everyone makes their bed, with varying degrees of assistance, and gets dressed, ditto.

If that sounds simple, let me tell you that it has taken years of practice. I learned somewhere that it’s healthier and more efficient to get up at the same time every morning, even on the weekends. Being a parent has made me a morning person. This was not a natural development. And there have been bumps. Hard experience has lead to the phrase, “I don’t discuss breakfast, I make it.” For a number of reasons, not having to negotiate or sell breakfast is the only way it can happen without issues. I am not a fount of calm and reason prior to coffee.

My wife sleeps in until I leave for work. She is in charge of homeschooling, and she will wake up—on a good morning—to children who are fed, dressed, and ready for a school day. I imagine it would be the same if one or both of us were taking them to school. More importantly, my wife wakes up to the makings of a perfect pour-over cup of coffee.

So here are the components of my morning routine:

  • The laundry and dishes have been done in the night.
  • I am up when the kids are awake.
  • I feed them.
  • I am ready to pass them along when I leave for work.

It’s a routine because it works the same way every day. I know what needs to be done—I am very attached to my routines as well—and so do the kids. The start of the day sets the tone for the rest of it. If a child needs an extra hug or a reassuring smile, I provide it. This is not always easy for me first thing, because frankly I would rather sit down with my coffee and read the music reviews on Pitchfork. But that can happen after breakfast is done. If I’m lucky, I get 10-20 minutes before it’s time to get ready for work.

There are a lot of ways to make these things work more efficiently, as detailed in this article from The American Occupational Therapy Association. One thing I found funny was the idea of establishing a wake up time for your kids. The wake up time for my kids is when the sun is first thinking about coming up. I know that I will eventually have to convince my children to get out of bed, but we’re not there yet.

Your routine will work differently than mine. You are probably more ambitious and energetic than I am, so you’re probably out jogging or doing yoga or something. That’s cool. The important thing is that it’s predictable, and that it works.

On Tantrums

 

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Tantrums happen.

There are two things that most parents, myself included, would love know more about when it comes to tantrums. One is how to avoid them. The other is how, when they happen, to deal with them.

Is it possible to keep a child from having a tantrum? Well, there are certainly conditions we can create that make them less likely, or at least less frequent. Children, especially toddlers, need an environment that is predictable and orderly. They want to know what is coming next, and in what order. What it comes down to is that they need to feel safe. When a child loses that sense of orderliness, of predictability, they will feel insecure. Too many choices, unclear expectations, transitions, anything which makes them feel a loss of control can trigger a tantrum.

In that sense, routines are important. Telling our child what is going to happen next, and giving them a sense that one thing will follow another, can certainly help. But as you may have noticed, life tends to upend these things. We might need to go to the store, for example. It might be time to clean up because we are going to have dinner. The castle built from blocks might fall down. The child might feel hot, cold, tired, hungry, frustrated, nervous or confused. Really, anything could happen. And will.

So, tantrums. There hasn’t been a lot of study devoted to how they work and what they’re made of, possibly because scientists might have children too, and a screaming, flopping toddler will beat science every time.

But there have been some recent attempts to focus on the tantrum. A study detailed in this NPR story offers insight into what goes into a tantrum, and some ideas about what to do when they happen. It’s worth listening to the story (audio can be found in the link) and to watch the brief video that accompanies the article. For one thing, it’s fantastic that researchers convinced a bunch of toddlers to wear special onesies wired with microphones to have tantrums in. I love that.

The story explains that, while it was previously held that a child’s outburst may come in waves of anger and sadness, the data collected in this study indicates that they are more often mixed or layered: there is a complicated and often volatile cloud of feelings coming out of a tantrum. It’s no wonder that children will feel overwhelmed and express themselves in ways that can be scary to them and to us.

So what can we do, as parents, when it happens? According to the researchers, the less the better. We want to help the child ride the peaks of anger and transition into a space in which she can accept comfort. Having expended all that energy, she will feel drained and disoriented and will need adult caregivers to help her reorient herself to her surroundings and her emotions.

Simply put, we should avoid adding fuel to the fire. Don’t ask questions. Don’t try to use reason or logic (even if the tantrum arose over something that simply doesn’t make sense; one example discussed in the story is a toddler who did not want her feet to be attached anymore). The more confusion, choices, or even simple information that we throw into the mix, the longer the tantrum will take to resolve itself. Simple instructions—sit here, put down the toy—are all that is needed to keep the child and others safe.

Perhaps most important, and not discussed in the article, is that the child needs to know we are there for them; that we are available when they need us (even when they are screaming at us to “go away”). Tantrums happen, and they pass, and we can imagine how frightening and exhausting they can be for the child. They will need our help when it is over.

 

Thanks to Rhonda Greene, Family Visitation Coach at Family Tree Relief Nursery, for calling attention to this study.