Archive for November, 2009

3 Qualities That Affect Your Children the Most

I’m giving away all the secrets today. Or at least, three important ones. To be a successful parent that effects change in your child’s life you need to have three qualities well established. After that, the rest is a walk in the park.

Here it is, successful parenting made simple.

The three qualities that you exhibit which affect your children the most are the qualities you model each and every day…

WHO you are

Are you honest? A hard worker? Fair-minded? Respectful? A responsible member of the community?

HOW you live your life

Are you living a life that models honesty, hard work, friendship, morality, and healthy living?

WHAT you say AND do

When you promise to do something, do you do it? Do you walk the talk, or do you just talk the walk?

Every one of us has different values and expectations of ourselves and our children. But the most powerful message we can send, the one that cements itself in their brains early on, is when we hold ourselves first to the standards we expect from others.

This means taking responsibility. It means showing strength of character and admitting when we are wrong. It means BEING the model.

If you want your child to be patient, you must show him patience first.

If you want your child to be an athlete, you need to avoid the couch and encourage a game of catch.

If you want your child to show empathy to those less fortunate, you must take her to serve on a soup line or volunteer at a homeless shelter.

By keeping it real, by modeling the behavior and values we wish for our children, we show them it can be done and we are living proof of its benefits.

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Becoming Picasso

My husband loves to remind me that the ‘id,’ that awake and alert and oh so literal part of our inner brain, does not understand sarcasm. Not one little bit. If you were to say, “I’m so stupid” then that is what the id hears and believes.

What we understand to be true dictates our behavior and choices each day of our lives. The subconscious rules up to 96-98% of our activities on a daily basis!

I am talented in many areas. I am reminded of this when talking to friends or clients. I usually get the head shake and a, “So you write, teach, build your own websites AND [fill in the blank]? Christine, is there anything you don’t do?” To which I usually grin and say, “Plenty. Don’t ask me to work on a car. I also prefer to leave the lawn mowing, laundry and trash duties to my husband, and I can’t draw stick figures to save my life.”

The last is especially true. When it comes to putting pen or pencil to paper and creating a visual representation, I’m lost. This became a very real problem when I wanted to create an exercise on observation. Basically, I wanted to show my class participants a sketch of five children and question what they saw.

Problem #1: I needed a sketch of children.

Problem #2: I couldn’t FIND a sketch of children. Perhaps I was having a brain freeze on the subject.

Problem #3: I realized that I would have to create the sketch!

I had hit up my oldest child for such a sketch, but she was busy and didn’t get back to me. I was on my own and I NEEDED it. So I pulled out some blank paper and decided that stick people would be just fine for this exercise. As I drew, erased, corrected I realized I was being watched…intently.

I glanced over and took in my 3-year-old’s expression. She was staring at my work, a mixture of longing and wonder on her face. She so wanted to do what I was doing, but when I offered the pencil to her she shook her head. She watched me from beginning to end and I must admit, by the time I was done her attention had me feeling like the Picasso of stick figures.

This is not the first time my little one has reacted this way. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, she has become uncertain about her abilities in the drawing department. This concerns me, mainly because both my husband and I are very encouraging of her efforts.

I thought about the id and the subconscious and I have to wonder what those two aspects are telling her right now about her abilities. Does she already think, right now, that she “can’t draw?”

See, I might be the Picasso of stick figures to my child, but I know my limits. Right now, my limits are that I don’t make time to improve my sketching skills. This is a choice I have made. Having seen the evolution from scribbles to sketches in my daughter as well as in a high school classmate, I can attest that, although a knack for it helps immeasurably, but barring physical impairments, anyone can learn how to draw fairly well.

I am certain that I could learn to draw at some point if I made time for practice and learning.

Human beings are capable of so much. Most of us barely skim the surface of our potential. We live half lives because we are told that this is it, this is the way things are. We learn, just as the child who reaches towards the flame and is burned learns, to limit ourselves when reaching out into the world.

Think about that for a moment. We…limit…ourselves.

Ouch.

It isn’t enough to react to that statement by turning to your child and saying, “Sweetheart you can do anything you want with your life.” That is an empty sentence and an impersonator of belief in and of itself. Instead we have to encourage the thought process through questions and answers, dancing with them sideways towards their amazing futures…

“Look at how that artist painted the hands. How do you suppose he learned how to do that?”

My mother once gave me the best gift she could have given. I was talking about wanting to re-upholster a recliner and going on and on about how I just didn’t know how to do it. She said, “Honey, after all, somebody put it together, you just need to figure out how to take it apart.”

A month later I was looking at the finished product. It had turned out pretty darn good! She hadn’t told me, “Sweetie, you’re so smart, you’ll figure it out.” She had simply reminded me that the chair had been put together by somebody and I was certainly somebody who could take it apart.

  • Giving our children answers doesn’t promote learning
  • Providing grand promises does not help build self-esteem

Keep it real. Picasso was a person, just like you or me. Make people, things, objects and ideas real and accessible. Make them a matter of course, and less like some high ideal that can only be achieved if you can perform magic or spend 30 years in a monastery perfecting your craft.

In this way too our children can see the reality and accessibility of their dreams. They will come to believe that they are capable of so much more. Once that is achieved they can choose where they want their focus to be.

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But I Don’t Want to Go to School…

Monday morning…8:40 am…and we were parked in the daycare parking lot.

As I reached to undo Emily’s buckles on her car seat she screamed, “No, don’t take me out!” I paused, her seat half unbuckled, and reached again for the last hook. “NO! I don’t want to go to school!” She looked as if she were on the edge of tears.

“Don’t you want to go to school today?” I asked. This vivacious, outgoing daughter of mine practically stampeded down the sidewalk each weekday, barreled through the entry and straight into a hug from a playmate.  That she would not want to go to school was rather shocking to me.

Her face showed a flash of sly wonder, as if she were considering how likely her chances were of actually not going into the building at that moment. “I want to go to work with you, Mama.”

I had recently taken on some part-time work for a friend of mine, working in her home office. When I was first turning over the idea of putting Emily in daycare two months before, my friend, desperate for office help, had even said, “If you need to bring Emily to work with you, you can.”

Knowing my three-year-old as well as I do, I knew that wouldn’t work. I have a strong work ethic, when I’m at work, I’m there 100%. Having a 3-year-old bopping around asking questions and needing attention would not work, not at all. I had insisted that I would retain child care and had found a large, colorful, fun and well organized daycare just a few blocks from our house. Emily had fit in well there, eagerly heading off to class each weekday morning.

Looking at her now, I figured this was a test. But a test of what? Was there something more at play here? Was she having difficulties with her classmates or her new teacher? In that moment I made the decision.

“Do you want to come to work with me today?” I asked her. She grinned and nodded. “Okay, but I think you are going to find it rather boring.” I fastened her back in, closed the door and drove out of the parking lot. As I did I thought of Jean telling me, “You can bring Emily to work with you if you need to.” Somehow, after nearly three months, I doubted the offer was still on the table. This would require some delicate footwork.

When I arrived I explained to Jean that I was pretty sure this was just a test and that, if Emily got rowdy, I would pack her up and take her home or to the daycare. I said it quietly, and asked Jean for her help, “I have told her there aren’t any toys here and I don’t want to switch on the television.”

My friend’s face was a mixture of incredulity and thinly veiled impatience. I could tell this wasn’t going to wash for very long. She came into the office, sat down at her desk and I called Emily over to me. “Sweetie, please remember not to touch anything, because this isn’t our house. There are no toys to play with either. Just let me know when you want to go to school, okay?” She nodded, and I leaned down and kissed her.

It took all of 30 minutes. “Mama, I want to go to school now.”

“Okay, Emily. I’ll take you to school.” I gathered up the deposit for the bank, and the mail for the post office. “I’ll run and do these errands while I’m out, Jean.” She smiled and nodded as we left.

When I returned Jean was laughing. “Wow, when you first came in and told me you had Emily with you and why, I thought, ‘This kid rules the roost!’ But I was really impressed with how you handled that.”

I explained to her that I had been concerned that there might be more than she was telling me. It was quite obvious after the first few minutes that Emily was simply testing the waters, and checking to see if I would actually be willing to take her with me if she wanted it badly enough.No abuse or problems were occurring, but I had needed to make sure of that.

If there is a next time and she again refuses to go to school, I will probably be kind but firm, and explain that, although I miss her when I am at work, we both have our places to go and things to do.

I am lucky that I have a work scenario where I could do this. It was the perfect answer for the situation at hand and it worked out very well. Not everyone is as lucky.

I imagined doing something like that in my last ‘real’ job working for an insurance company. I closed my eyes and imagined my daughter running up and down the aisles of that corporate office. Somehow I don’t think it would worked out as nicely!

Even if you don’t have the same situation. Even if your situation is more like mine was fifteen years ago with my firstborn, please tread carefully. Yes, we need our jobs so we can pay for our homes and clothes and food. But if we are slaves to our positions, to the extent that we send our children to school when all they need is just a few minutes of our time…what are we teaching them?

Perhaps I am suggesting a change in how we work and how we live. And maybe that’s too much to think of or make happen overnight. But I encourage you to give it some thought.

I was properly appreciative when I returned to work. I made sure that my friend knew that this was one of the reasons I had agreed to work for her…because I needed that flexibility and understanding as much as she had needed me to help out in her office.

I don’t regret spending an extra half hour of my day with one amazing and sweet little girl. The way I measure it…we’re both worth it!

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