A New Rhythm

It happened again. Another summer flew by way faster than it should have. There are only a couple of days left to cram in as much fun as possible. This of course is being balanced with the rush to buy any last minute school necessities and trying to get back into  school year routines. Fall brings with it a new and exciting feel and a new family rhythm. Since my first child started school a few years ago, I find myself filled with mixed emotions at the start of a new school year. It seems to be very common for siblings to fight more at the end of the summer (mine included), which leaves many parents excited for more structure. After being able to spend more time with my children during the summer, I also feel sad that my children will start a routine that involves so much time away from home. It makes me realize how important it is to be supportive of and engaged with the teachers who will spend so much time with our precious children.

Gabe on his first day of kindergarten last year.

Gabe on his first day of kindergarten last year.

My children are also starting a new school this year, which brings with it another set of to-do’s and hopes. I hope my children have a smooth transition and feel happy at their new school. As you prepare for a new school year, take a few minutes to check out this helpful post, “Preparing Your Child for the New School Year.” I was reminded of some simple things I can do as a parent to help start the school year off right. Happy new school year everyone. I have a feeling it’s going to be a great one!

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”.

dad_son_read

 

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.