Kids Hitting Kids

As you know, occasionally I like to delve into an internet search (well, it’s not really delving, per se, since it takes three microns of a second) on a parenting topic. This time it’s something that’s been coming up in my work with families: namely, siblings wailin’ on each other. Parents have been asking me what to do in this situation, and as all parties (including the kids) agreed that it wasn’t a good thing to hit each other, we were at a bit of an impasse.

So here goes. One of the first articles to come up, at least in my info bubble, was kinda preachy and alarmist: the title says it all. Aside from pointing out in no uncertain terms that it is bad for people to hit each other (we’re in! We bought a ticket!), we’d like to know how to get to the bottom of it. How do we help our kids to try something else next time?

This next one was very promising. It focuses on how to talk to siblings about hitting when one is able to express himself in words and the other is not. It was written by an extreme parenting genius with perfect recall of a 15-minute conversation (did the author transcribe it from tape? Does she have a dictation team?), and really it is totally worth reading. She makes sure both of the kids are able to talk, and able to listen to each other. Which is really what they wanted in the first place.

Because, say it with me: “all behavior is an unmet need.”

Which is one of the 31(!) tips featured in this list which turned out to be the winner of the parenting internet this week. Note the first one: “Remember that this is normal,” and note as well that this makes it the complete opposite of what the first article said. Maybe it’s useful to tease out the meaning here. By “normal,” I think we’re saying both that it’s “something that happens” and that “the world does not end when it does.” The children do not explode (unless they are actually attaching explosives to one another, in which case it’s a more serious problem than this post can address), and one presumes that the hitting is not so frequent and vicious as to spill over into something else, which is called abuse, no matter who’s doing it to whom. Again, different blog post.

The fact is, though, when children are siblings (or in the same classroom, or sharing playground equipment, etc etc), sometimes they whack each other. What does it mean? In almost every case, it’s frustration, or tiredness, or hunger, or some combination thereof (“It’s an unmet need.” Everybody, now).

What do we do about it? That’s where it gets tricky, and where the author is smart enough to not give a straight answer. Or at least, a single answer. What I like is that she wants us to mostly look at ourselves. Should we interfere? If we do, are we actually just performing for the other parents in the room? Are we bringing our frustration into it? Are we blaming (this time or every time) one child or the other?

One of the answers is “do nothing.” I love when people give that advice. What if they can work it out? Isn’t that a skill?

Another is “make sure they have their own toys.” If they have things that they don’t have to share, there are no grounds for disagreement. Also, “don’t make toddlers share.” Word.

Also, too, “take them outside.” In my work that sometimes means to literally take them outside (we have swings, and a lovely meadow), but more generally it means that we need to change the environment. Move to a new place, find a new activity, take the energy up or down. Make it different.

Who knew there were so many things we could do about it? Come on kids. Bring it on.

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Turning the Cup

This week’s guest post is by Dessie Wilson. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Dessie.

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I do believe that you’re a product of what you’re raised in.

My mother was born into poverty; she suffered mental and sexual abuse from both of her parents. She got pregnant at a young age and was forced to marry a very abusive sociopath. My mother bore three children with my father, and I am the middle child. We suffered from chronic homelessness and abuse during my early childhood years, followed by several stays in domestic violence shelters hiding from my father. My mother had experienced tremendous trauma and abuse and yet she was raising (by this time) four kids, working, and going to college, so it was in all respects every child for themselves.

I was not raised with rules or discipline. I was never read to, nor did I receive help with homework. I was never told to brush or floss my teeth. I wasn’t raised to do chores, I was raised to run wild and make sure my younger brothers were taken care of.

Now that I am a mother, I often say that I am not sure that I was meant to be one. I don’t think that it is a gift I was born with. I am not naturally nurturing, or empathetic, or even that caring and gentle. I lack the skills to be a disciplined productive parent, the same skills that were not demonstrated to me when I was a child. I’m horrible at making sure my kids do their homework; I brush my teeth but do not make them brush theirs.

The one thing I take away from my childhood is that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mother loves me. I have always felt comfortable talking to her. And I believe that one thing I do right as a parent is fostering an environment where my children feel safe to talk to me. Throughout the last couple of years and through my program of recovery, I have learned how to listen to my girls. I can allow them to talk without talking back. I even ask my thirteen year-old if she would like to know what I hear, and if she tells me no, I listen and don’t give her unsolicited advice.

My children’s father is not present, and I get to share with my girls my own experience of having an absent father. I share how my relationship with my father made me feel unwanted and unloved and unimportant. I share my fears of being abandoned, of not being loveable or good enough.

Most importantly, I get to share with them how I learned that it wasn’t true. That I was always wanted and important and loved but that my father didn’t know how to show me, because he had something broken inside of him too. When my children come home and complain about getting picked on or bullied, I turn the cup for them. I share my experience, and how I have learned that what other people do or say to me is not about me as much as it is about them: how most kids are full of fear and have a basic social instinct, and if making fun of you is one way they can get to the top, then that has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them, and their fear of not being liked. I take my childhood and adulthood experience and share them with my children so that hopefully I can turn the cup for them and show them a different perspective on life.

I am by no means mother of the year—I yell at my kids, I get frustrated, I cry—but I try to foster an environment of communication and unconditional love.

 

Dessie Wilson is the Family Treatment Court Advocate at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

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10 Ideas for Family Summer Fun!

I am in love with summer in the Willamette Valley.  During the rainy spring months, I begin to dream of picnics at Mary’s River and look forward to the day when we can eat as many fresh berries as we want. Family bike rides, kids swinging, BBQs, and splashing in cool water are other activities that come to mind when I think of summer in Oregon.   There is so much to do in this area in the summer both locally and within an hour drive.  If you are new to the area or not familiar with local family friendly activities, here are some free or affordable ideas to get you started:

  1. Take your family for a picnic/hike at Finley Wildlife Refuge. My kids love to hang out for a few hours on a nice day. Hike the woodpecker trail or walk around the boardwalk. We see wildlife every time and the kids love to explore and run free!  Picnic at the old white house afterwards.
  2. Enjoy the second year of the Sage Concert Series. Let your kids dance their hearts out and feed the ducks at Starker Art’s Park.  Concert donations all benefit the Sage garden, which is an educational garden that produces over 7,000 pounds of food for emergency food shelters annually.
  3. Enjoy an affordable paddle boat ride around Waverly Lake with your family!
  4. Visit Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. This is an enjoyable activity for family members of all ages, and it is free. Enjoy flying a kite at one of the many excellent beaches on the same day.
  5. Pick berries! There are dozens of u-pick berry farms in the area. Blueberries are currently in season, and we love to pick from either Anderson’s Blues or Radkes’.  This is Oregon living at its’ best!
  6. Go swimming! Beat the heat during July and August with an affordable family swims at Osborn Aquatic Center or Cool! Pool in Albany.
  7. Participate in a “Fresh Grown Cooking for Families” class in a beautiful garden sponsored by the Healthy Youth Program. Families gather together to harvest and cook in an outdoor setting and then enjoy a simple and healthy meal together. There are also hands on garden activities and lessons each week during the program. With a $20 suggested donation for each 4 week session, families can be healthy and build community while spending less money than what it would cost to cook at home!
  8. Camp in a yurt. My family has gone on several yurt camping trips in the area, with one of our favorites being at Silver Falls State Park. For more information, check out Oregon State Parks.
  9. Make a goal to play at every park in your community this summer. Start with  Avery Park in Corvallis as a local favorite or North Albany Park.
  10. Enjoy the many fun activities happening at Monteith Park in Albany including Movies at Monteith and the River Rhythm Series.
Gabe showing up his blueberries a few summers ago!

Gabe showing up his blueberries a few summers ago!

All of my older babies have all loved being introduced to blueberries during their first summers.

All of my older babies have all loved being introduced to blueberries during their first summers.

We would love to hear your ideas of family fun during the summer! Happy summer everyone!

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Bully-proofing your kids

School is about to start, so now is a good time to think about the skills you want your child to have in order to cope with bullying.

Unfortunately, bullying is a common occurrence during childhood. It is most frequently seen in school, but it also occurs in the home, at clubs, and during sports activities. As many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and 10% are bullied on a regular basis. Boys are more commonly involved in bullying than girls – both as bully and victim. Some children learn well how to control and manipulate others and begin to enjoy doing so. These actions may set a pattern for how children will behave as adults. Children who are bullied suffer emotionally or physically and usually do so in silence for fear that the bullies will get back at them.

What can parents do to help bully-proof their children?

• Encourage friendships. Children who don’t have friends tend to be vulnerable to bullies. Start early in helping your child build social skills and make friendships.

• Teach your children to express themselves clearly yet tactfully. Help your child use “I statements” (e.g., “I am mad about you picking on me. Stop it!”). Such “I statements” explain how people feel. When children know how to express themselves without offending others, they tend to be popular with their peers, and that will keep bullies away.

• Teach self-respect. A confident child is not likely to become a victim of a bully.

• Stress the importance of body language. Teach your child to be assertive by relaxing his body (deep breathing helps), keeping his hands steady, and using frequent eye contact. These tricks will help children seem self-assured even when they are not.

• Start teaching the art of negotiation early. The preschool years are the best time to begin teaching children to settle their own disputes and solve problems. For example, when your child is fighting over a toy with another child, let them discuss how they can share the toy; let them talk about what can be done to solve the problem.

This information is excerpted from a publication by Montana State University Extension and authored by Jolene Huston, Family and Consumer Sciences, and Sandra J. Bailey, Extension Family and Human Development Specialist, MSU-Bozeman. You can find the whole article at: http://msuextension.org/publications/HomeHealthandFamily/MT200307HR.pdf

There are additional excellent resources about bullying at Oregon State University ‘s Extension website.

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