Monday, August 11, 2014

I Wish I Had......

Today was my day off and I had a choice to make - I could go to IKEA and shop for lamps with my adult daughter or I could finish a training on trauma and write a blog.  Hmmmm, I am sure you think I stayed home and wrote a blog since you are reading today’s writings but actually I went to IKEA.  Why, you may ask, with so many important things to complete and so little time to complete it?  Because I always have something that needs to get done.  I did when my kids were little and now that they are adults I still have things that need to be done.  The only difference is my kids are no longer little.  
 
About eight years ago I had to make a choice.  I had things to do for my sons High School and I had a lecture to attend that night with a friend. School got out and my son came to find me working with the other mothers on our so important school project.  From the look on his face I knew it was a really bad day for him.  So I asked and he replied in High School boy form “It sucked.” Right there on the spot I asked him to dinner and a movie just the two of us. He knew I had prior plans but he said yes and went to get his back pack. I called and canceled with my friend and explained to the shocked mother’s around me, “You only get one chance with your teenager, and I am not missing mine.”
 
I look around me today and I see a society connected to their work, to their electronics, to their stuff. Where we put our time and energy is where we put our values.  I look back on my children’s childhoods and remember a lot of laughter, pain, fighting, giggling, playing, learning, loving, and so much more.  I remember their first step, their first word, their first day of school, their first play, their first bike ride, their first swim, their first date, their first heart break, their first time driving (I found out how many details of driving I just do naturally- which need to be explained to your 15 year old BEFORE they try it). I remember the important and the unimportant days of their lives because I was there with them to experience it. And I still have a regret that the years did not last longer, they were over too quickly.  
 
We as humans are created to connect with each other.  To meet mind to mind; to connect heart to heart; to feel valued by others. We do this by being together focusing on each other.  It is such a simple task that makes such an important impact on our children.  The meeting of the minds actually improves neurological function and health.  As a newborn it creates attachment, as a teenager it creates cortex connections. As a human it teaches what relationship is meant to be and how to manage them as an adult.  Our kids learn so much from us and through us.  The health of the culture relies on the health of the parents and adults connecting to our kids. There really is a reason to try and connect with each other. But as a parent it is important to remember the present moment counts in so many ways and there are no “do overs” when it comes to raising our kids.   
 
To connect with your kids every day begin by listening to them.  I am amazed at the wisdom that comes out of our kids.  The message is often lost due to the delivery but if we really listen to them we will begin to learn. When you listen to them look them in the eye and respond to what is being said.  Strive to understand their perspective, their emotions, their worlds. Next acknowledge them, give them encouragement, direction, or affirmation.  This leads to a sense of self in a child, a feeling that they have a place in the world and can impact it in ways both big and small.  Spend time enjoying them.  Here we have no mission, no list of goals, no agenda.  It is here that we just have fun playing, reading, telling stories, talking about the past, "hanging out".  There is no expectation or measurement of success and failure. To connect every day we need to turn off the electronics, to look each other in the eye- it may be as simple as sharing dinner together, not in the car but at an actual table.  Finally reach out and touch your kids. Unfortunately the majority of kids today are only touched by their parents with a purpose such as assisting in dressing, picking up and moving, or getting in and out of the car. In reality kids never get too big to snuggle with, to hug, to kiss, to tickle - the packaging changes not the needs. And if your teenager is not getting enough touch from you they may find it in other ways with their peers.   
 
So try today to live by a new motto - one that involves connecting with our kids.

Friday, May 30, 2014

How to Talk to Your Kids

com·mu·ni·ca·tion 1. the act or process of communicating; fact of being communicated.
2. the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs. 3. something imparted, interchanged, or transmitted. 4. a document or message imparting news, views, information, etc. 5. passage, or an opportunity or means of passage, between places.

Communication- it is truly an art form.  Some people come by it naturally, some need to be taught, and some never truly achieve it.  Communication comes in many different styles, formats, environments, and serves many purposes.  Typically it takes some attention between the individuals involved to accomplish it successfully- taking into account culture, intelligence, age, and attention span.  Of these the most important may be age. But this is not a blog about child developmental stages, rather the art of communication with children and teenagers.  I could really complicate the matter and give you lots of data and theories or I could simplify the art of communication into the one step children have taught me over and over.  So being simplistic at heart, and a lover of getting to the point- I will not impress you with all my book knowledge but cut to the chase.  To children young and old the most important ingredient of communication is caring.  Yep- CARING.  So simple, yet so complex.  How many times do I catch myself wanting to teach them what they need to know to solve their problems instead of hearing what they really want from me.  Many!  I am a professional problem solver, but that is not what our kids need most in communicating with us as adults and parents. They need to know we care. 

car·ing. verb (used without object), 1. to be concerned or solicitous; have thought or regard. 2. to be concerned or have a special preference (usually used in negative constructions): I don't care if I do.3. to make provision or look out (usually followed by for  ): Will you care for the children while I am away? 4. to have an inclination, liking, fondness, or affection (usually followed by for): Would you care for dessert? I don't care for him very much.
verb (used with object), cared, car·ing. 1. to feel concern about: He doesn't care what others say. 2. to wish; desire; like: Would you care to dance?
 
Caring within communication involves words, responses, and most importantly body language.  Our ability to care is displayed directly to children through the position of our bodies and the contact of our eyes.  This is followed by the use of linguistics involving tone, quality, and reflecting what was being communicated.  Notice I did not say “what was being said”, because children communicate more with their body than with their words.  So an accurate response to a child involves responding to the intent or motive of the communication not the communication alone. For a child our care of them is necessary before true communication begins because they need to feel we are invested before they try to communicate with us.  They must feel valued before they will trust us enough to give us their hearts.  As an adult we must remember that trying to understand is more important than trying to be understood. We may not get the point of the communication immediately, we may have to weed through their choices of words or their capacity with words depending on age.  But making the effort to understand their words is a form of caring.  With toddlers this can often times be frustrating due to their limited verbal production, but giving up sends a message to your child that you don’t care, and that they don’t matter.  With teenagers we can understand their words but often get stuck on their presentation.  For teens it is not how they say it that needs to be our focus but what they are saying, and any underlying assumptions that they present.  It is often difficult to get around these obstacles but attempting may be the most important part of the communication.  Many times in my office I say “I am not sure I completely am getting my head around what you are trying to say” and then I ask a clarification question or give them an opportunity to expound on their own.  Many children and teens have told me how much they feel valued by my statement because they sense I am actually trying- and trying says I care.  Now I would love to brag that I always get the message accurately- but I don’t.  But accuracy may not be the most part of the conversation, it may be feeling of connection that is developed in the effort to clearly understand.  Feeling felt by another person builds the brain, and is an important part of brain integration. So not only are you developing a caring relationship with your child but you are also helping their brain grow and develop.  (If you are interested in more information on brain integration take a look at Dr. Brian Siegel’s work beginning with “The Whole Brain Child”, or “Parenting From The Inside Out,” and for the teen age years “Brainstorm”.) 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wha'cha gonna do?

What do you do well? What do you love to do? What do you love to do that you do well? The last question leads one to their passions.  Passions are important to each of us.  It gives us a sense of purpose, a goal that we can achieve and feel good about.  Many of our children discover their passions when they are little, but most forget them before they start college.  Unfortunately this can lead to unfulfilling careers.  I have a theory (well I actually have many theories but one applies here) that you either love your job or you make good money.  The lucky ones make good money in a job they love- which is actually an excellent goal.  But many of our kids enter college with the goal of making good money.  They achieve their bachelor’s degree and hit the work field with big plans of financial success. Many of them do very well.  But others end up making good money and being miserable. 
Let me tell you a tale of two adults: My husband had the admirable goal of making good money- this goal I benefited from tremendously because it allowed me to pursue my Master’s degree AND be a stay home mom for my kids.  Unfortunately my husband was pretty miserable.  He was good at his job and he was very productive- climbed that corporate ladder very well- but he disliked his job.  He had great hobbies, things he did at home and for the community, but that did not make him love his job. Then there was me, I was lucky because my mother helped me see that my passion was something I was good at when I was in high school.  I thought at that time that I really wanted to make good money, so I considered becoming a lawyer based on money and the fact I was good at arguing.  But very gently my mother pointed out that I was fantastic with kids, and they seemed to be attracted to me like a magnet.  “Yeah but I can’t make money working with kids, and who respects teachers?  Everybody thinks they’re too dumb to do anything else,” was my adolescent response.  Mom’s reply was simple “Teachers are respected by the people they matter the most to- kids. And money does not buy happiness.” My mother is a very wise woman! So I followed my talent and my passion and have always loved my job.  
The point? We need to help our kids find their passions and nurture those into careers. Currently there is a big debate on what our government calls Core Curriculum.  It is their attempt to educate our kids better.  The debate is whether it actually will work.  Historically schools were developed by how they could most easily fit into the culture, not necessarily how children actually learn.  Very little learning is achieved by sitting in a chair and watching a teacher show you how to learn.  Actual learning occurs when we combine auditory, visual, and tactile experiences around something we are interested in.  What interests the child is dependent on how they were created, their talents and their internal interests. Some kids love to dig in the dirt building dams and rivers (my engineer son in law), others love to get lost in a book or tell a story (my daughter), but very few love sitting in a chair staring at a dry erase board.  (Teachers have a huge challenge in keeping so many little minds interested in an environment few enjoy, and unfortunately Core Curriculum does not address this adequately.) Ask any kid what their favorite part of school is and they will tell you RECESS.  The time when they get to go outside and play what they want, not what they are being forced to do.  And watching what they play and how they play can lead us to their passions and future fulfilling careers. 
 
So what is a parent to do?  Get to know your child.  Play with them as preschoolers and see what they seem to really enjoy.  All children will play a variety of games and participate in many activities, it’s the ones they repetitively play and stick with for extended periods of time that we need to notice.  Teach them about their world while they play at what they love.  Reading and math are easily found in everyday activities, science and history are all around us if we just look. Find books and stories about the things they love, research them on the internet.  Take a vacation and learn even more about those things.  Learning is everywhere, we just have to become aware of it.  And as your child ages, allow them the opportunity to participate in what they love- not necessarily what you love.  We as parents want our children to succeed and be the best, but often it is the best at what we want not what they want.  Tune in to your child and study them as a creation, then tell them what you have learned.  They need our guidance, and different pair of eyes to see the things they may miss about themselves.      

Friday, March 14, 2014

Greet Me Like The Dog

 I am a dog person.  I believe everyone should have a dog.  I love puppy pictures and videos. I love loyal dog stories.  I love dogs.  In my lifetime I have been owner of nine different dogs.  I currently own two large doodle mixes that bring me unending joy. There is so much about dogs to love: their loyalty; their kisses; their playfulness; their curiosity; their simplicity; their joy; and most importantly their greetings.  
 
If you have never had a dog let me describe to you their greeting.  My current dogs are under two years of age, known as adolescent dogs.  (Frankly there is very little similarity between a human adolescent and a dog adolescent, and NOTHING similar in the way they greet you.  Human adolescents typically ooze contempt when a parental unit returns to the home because they always come with a request of some sort.  But not so with the dog.) Because of their age they still have puppish enthusiasm.  They jump, they wag, they attempt to pull on you, they bark, they run around your feet- they are the ultimate reflection of pure joy.  (We even have one that we call the Fountain of Joy because he pees all over as he wags whenever you return home. It’s a bit messy so we plan our reunions outside or in the mud room.) There is no question about it, they think you are the best person in the world and they are extremely happy that you have returned once again. 
So when my children were little, and I was a stay at home mom, I had a goal: To greet my husband when he came home from work with the same enthusiasm that the dogs had.  We would hear the garage door open and I would gather the pack (dogs, kids, and me) near the door. As soon it opened we would yell DADDDDDYYYYY! And hug and kiss and wag and pee like we were extremely happy that he had returned once again.  It may have been a silly ritual but it sent an important message: We really love you and are glad you are with us.  
 
I have to admit, I still kinda want to be greeted like that when I come home from a late night of work- to know that I was missed, and patiently waited for.  I love when my dogs greet me, but I love it even more when my family greets me with the same enthusiasm.  So I have only one request at the end of a work day: Please greet me like the dog.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Stress in Our Kids

             Stress is a very real problem in our culture today and no one is immune to it.  Research is saying that every living thing in our world is capable of responding to stress, and often times has adverse reactions to it.  So it goes to reason our children too can be negatively affected by stress. Many of us may erroneously believe that our beloved children can’t be stressed since we provide so many of their needs and wants on a regular basis but this is not exactly so. Stress is prevalent in all of our children’s lives regardless of their age or living situation.  So I thought it might be wise to go over how stress looks for children and what we can do as parents to help.
                Stress can be seen in children by negative behavioral changes such as: irritability; moodiness; withdrawal from things they love; complaining; crying and tearfulness; fearful reactions such as separation anxiety, clinginess, nightmares; sleep disruptions; avoiding friends; angry outbursts; picking at their skin or nose; regressive behaviors such as thumb sucking or toileting accidents; lying; bullying others; changes in academic performance; or overreacting. Watch for words such as “worried”, “frustrated”, “annoyed”, “bugged”, “mad”, or saying negative things about themselves or others.
                Stress can be seen physiologically through: stomach aches; headaches; migraines; difficulty breathing; chest pains or other physical aches; bed wetting; difficulty concentrating; rapid heartbeat; fatigue; and anxiety.
If you see any of these symptoms it might be a good idea to look at what could be stressing your child.  It could be as simple as a disagreement with a teacher, friend, or family member.  It might be academically based. Many of our children spend over 5 hours a night on school work, not to mention their outside activities such as sports, work, or chores.  School is a major stressor for today’s kids regardless of age. Many of our kids are stressed because they are too busy with organized after school activities.  In our desire to give our kids every opportunity to succeed as adults we are missing out on the advantages of free time and relaxation for the growing brain.  Even some of their “fun” activities can stress them- the level of adrenaline released in many of our kids video and computer games equals levels seen when a child is being physically threatened.
Relationally stressors also need to be considered. Children overhearing adult conversations about work, money, health can seriously stress our children. Some simply can sense a parent’s anxiety and become stressed themselves.  Marital issues directly affect our children, especially when faced with a separation or divorce. As our children age so does their realm of influence.  Peer relationships become major stressors as a child ages.  Bullies and friends alike can make a child feel overwhelming stress, especially when they lack the skills to resolve relational issues. 
As a parent it is our job to teach our children skills for success in life.  So teaching skills to handle stress should be a top priority for us, up there with learning to read and count. Since modeling is one of the strongest educators look at your own skills of handling stress.  Parents that handle stress in a healthy manner indirectly teach it to their children. But remember what stresses your child might not be what you expect.  Children see the world from a very different perspective so they may be stressed by things we find surprising.
Making time for our kids every day helps children cope with stress. Whether they chose to talk or not is less important than them feeling like you care by being present. Discussing what may be causing stress and coming up with a few solutions can create feelings of relief.  Sometimes de-stressing is just having fun together; it does not necessarily mean it is deep conversation.   If conversation is necessary and the child won’t participate, talking about your own daily stressors may be helpful.  Letting them hear how you problem solved will indirectly teach them problem solving skills. In this process it allows our children to see that stress is a normal part of everyday life, and does not need to be debilitating. Let your kids know that feeling scared, alone, angry, or anxious is a normal part of life and all of us feel these emotions to some extent. Younger children do better if they are assisted in preparing in advance for scary or stressful experiences. Sometimes talking about upcoming stressors and possible solutions can be helpful- such as deep breathing exercises, getting physical activity, or decreasing judgmental thought processes. 
Some books that may be helpful with children include: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst; Tear Soup by Pat Schweibert, Chuck DeKlyen, and Taylor Bills; and Dinosaurs Divorce by Marc Brown and Laurene Krasny Brown.
Most adults have the skills necessary to deal with children’s stress, but at times it might be necessary to get the assistance of a professional. Symptoms would include persistent changes in behavior; serious anxiety; negative behaviors that interrupt success in school or at home; or with teens suicidal ideation.  Any licensed counselor or psychologist will have the training necessary to assist with the more serious or complicated cases.  Be sure you seek out an individual licensed in your state who has experience specific to your child’s age.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Current Events

I wrote a whole post on stress and children that I fully intended to post this month, but realized that with the current events I wanted to address a topic that has been prevalent in the news. The Arapahoe High School shooting.  I will post the blog on stress and kids next month.
 
Fearing Today’s Culture

                I live in a beautiful state. Incomparable to any other in my personal opinion.  We have rolling plains, massive plateaus, and majestic mountains.  We are blessed with four distinct seasons - none of them too intense for a long period of time.  People come to Colorado to visit or go to college and never want to leave.  It is truly a wonderful lifestyle here in Colorado.  But unfortunately it is currently not known for its natural environment as much as it seems to be known for its violent youth culture.  Beginning with the Columbine Massacre we have been watched carefully and whenever something goes bad the entire nation is informed within minutes.  Many teens are killed daily on inner streets in Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles and go unnoticed.  But when killing happens in upper income schools in “the healthiest state in the union” people notice and start to ask questions. Because of my career I tend to work on the front lines in such tragedies and have a much different perspective of what is going on. 
Stated simply we have stressed angry teenagers, who’s brain growth can be overwhelming and confusing at the same time.  These teens have been taught by our culture that success is a top priority, life is valueless, and that they must be perfect no matter the cost.  I have teens that attend school seven hours five days a week and come home with up to 6 hours of homework at some of our schools. Many are required to do extra-curricular activities or have part time jobs.  Over 50% of them have to navigate living in two separate houses, with parents that are often more interested in things that do not include them.  Other parents put so much pressure on their students that the only thing they discuss is how poorly they are doing in school or their athletics.  No real conversation about life, successes, or adventures. No wonder so many of them avoid reality through electronics, drugs, and alcohol.  Avoidances are right at their fingertips and instead of pursuing them we write off their behaviors as being teenagers and hope they will outgrow it. But now maybe they have our attention, I only hope it will last long enough to make a lasting change.
What we need is not stricter gun laws, metal detectors in schools, or armed officers.  We do not need to educate them on safe sex, bullying, or drug abuse.  We need to listen.  We need to make time to sit and listen to them.  Not when it is convenient for us but when they need us.  Teenagers today need to know that they are valuable regardless of their looks, talents, or accomplishments.  They need to know they are valuable because they are alive and breathing.  That even though their brains cause them to feel in unexplainable ways, or do unexpected behaviors that they are loved and valuable.  Loved for who they are- their personalities, their observations, their thoughts, and their life.  That they are accepted by us when everyone around them pushes messages that they are not good enough.  That simply by being alive they have intrinsic value.  That God breathed life into them and that alone means they matter. They need to know that adolescence is a stage that we have all suffered through but will come to an end.  That even if they are not perfect that they are loved and they have a purpose in life.
If we spent more time connecting with our teens they would not need to spend so much time connecting with the things that don’t help them- like electronics, drugs, and alcohol. If we recognized that this is just a stage and one day they will be more loving and loveable, we will want to connect with our kids more.  We should pursue them relentlessly- being available to them when they are finally wanting to connect.  Not judging them, or condemning them, but listening to their hearts.  They are still children, just bigger, but needing their mommy’s and daddy’s even more than when they were toddlers.  We need a perspective change as a culture and learn how to be in loving relationship. To treat all people, regardless of age, as valuable- not utilizing any as a commodity.  Instilling hope in their future, and being less selfish as adults.
So much for my opinion- I am sure you can see my biggest fault is being passionate about our kids regardless of their age.  I just hope that some of you will see kids as valuable as I do and start promoting a culture of love and relationship.  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Holidays and Little Hands

Oh, the sweet little hands that must touch to see properly.  Our children’s little fingers and palms have the need to fully experience (which means see, taste, smell and - oh yes - touch) their environment to learn from it.  So, it would only seem logical to plan our holiday around this very need.  Christmas is not to be only seen but to be fully experienced…beginning with the fingers and hands.  When my children were young the preschool teacher in me was the happiest.  Every moment was a learning opportunity in my mind, so I did not want to be running behind my children saying “No. No. Don’t touch that. Put that down. Give me that.”  Instead I chose to spend my time giving them opportunities to fully experience Christmas.  And in my Better Homes and Gardens decorating scheme I focused it all around the kids.  For example - when my youngest was a baby, we put the Christmas tree in the play pen.  The next year it graduated to the corner of the room unprotected but with the light cord inaccessible and the decorations completely accessible.  I refused to put breakable decorations on the tree until mid-elementary years.  I encouraged the kids to decorate and re-decorate the tree all they wanted.  This left the bottom half of the tree rather clumpy looking and the upper part, my eye height, nicely distributed. Just enough order to make the mommy in me comfortable (which is always a good goal), and kid-friendly enough to allow them to experience Christmas tree decorating.  So here is a list of child-friendly Christmas ideas for your perusal.
DECORATING: Christmas stuffed toys replaced the wrapped packages below the tree until Christmas morning except for one specially wrapped box - you know the kind you can take the lid on and off of without hurting the wrapping - that sat below the tree the entire season.  On the box was a simple note: “To everyone, open any time”; inside the box was a blanket-clad baby Jesus surrounded by gold tinsel.  The children loved to open the box daily, and were often caught playing the parts of Mary and Joseph.  The other decorating highlight was the manger scene - completely safe to play with, always displayed on the coffee table, just right for little hands and eyes to see and reach.  We had containers of brightly colored beads with string to make necklaces instead of candy dishes.  There were also toy trains, holiday dress-ups, soft pillows and blankets on the floor to cuddle by the light of the Christmas tree.
DAILY ACTIVITIES:  All children love to count down to Christmas Day.  This helps with many academic skills but it also assists Mommy with the never-ending question “How many more days?”  We used an advent calendar that had a Christmas Tree as it’s center piece and added a new symbolic decoration every day.  Each decoration was accompanied by an explanation of its importance and a bible verse.  (When I was a child, every Sunday night we did an advent wreath for the four weeks prior to Christmas that focused on the celebration of advent in the church.) Now you can download an app for advent calendars, and every day they add another activity.  At night the kids got to pick out a story from the many Christmas books we collected.  We never refused to read the kids a book any time of day, but especially at bed time. We also had a tradition of driving through neighborhoods looking for Christmas lights whenever we went somewhere at night- a tradition my adult children still beg for when they are home for the holidays.
FUN TIME ACTIVITIES: There are many activity books (check the local library) with plenty of crafty ideas for all ages.  Ginger Bread houses out of graham crackers; paper chains; hand wreaths; or frosting Christmas cookies - just to mention a few.  (However, I still frost more than my adult son - he always started with one and promptly ate it,  he usually lost interest after the third cookie because he only got to eat one!)  Making edible treats for neighbors and the local wildlife is a good way to teach the idea of sharing for young children.  Please keep in mind that although you may think every child needs a holiday picture with Santa the majority of our children truly fear this brightly dressed stranger.  (Take all the screaming children on his lap at the mall as an example) So if you have an opportunity to visit Santa at a children’s party consider it in place of the mall trip. When given the opportunity to warm up to a stranger, children will handle the stress much better than in an over-stimulating environment like a mall.  
So while you have children at home keep in mind: There will plenty of years that you will get to produce a professionally decorated look in your home, but only a few years that your children will be tactually experiencing Christmas.  Don’t rush through these years…instead relish every moment, seeing the holiday through the eyes of a child. So if they can’t touch, smell, or taste it, don’t put it out this year.  There will be plenty of years ahead when they won’t care anymore.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Please, Please


This is a short story I read to my children when they were little.  It made such a wonderful impact I thought I would post it here.  It is a public domain piece written near the turn of the century by a woman that wrote mostly poetry and short stories. 
 
Please
A short story written by Alicia Aspinwall in 1920

There was once a little word named "Please," that lived in a small boy's mouth.  Pleases live in everybody's mouth, though people often forget they are there.

Now, all Pleases, to be kept strong and happy, should be taken out of the mouth very often, so they can get air. They are like little fish in a bowl, you know, that come popping up to the top of the water to breathe.

The Please I am going to tell you about lived in the mouth of a boy named Dick; but only once in a long while did it have a chance to get out. For Dick, I am sorry to say, was a rude little boy; he hardly ever remembered to say "Please."

"Give me some bread! I want some water! Give me that book!" — that is the way he would ask for things.

His father and mother felt very bad about this.  And, as for the poor Please itself, it would sit up on the roof of the boy's mouth day after day, hoping for a chance to get out. It was growing weaker and weaker every day.

This boy Dick had a brother, John. Now, John was older than Dick — he was almost ten; and he was just as polite as Dick was rude. So his Please had plenty of fresh air, and was strong and happy.

One day at breakfast, Dick's Please felt that he must have some fresh air, even if he had to run away. So out he ran — out of Dick's mouth — and took a long breath. Then he crept across the table and jumped into John's mouth!

The Please-who-lived-there was very angry.

"Get out!" he cried. "You don't belong here! This is my mouth!"

"I know it," replied Dick's Please. "I live over there in that brother mouth. But alas! I am not happy there. I am never used. I never get a breath of fresh air! I thought you might be willing to let me stay here for a day or so — until I felt stronger."

"Why, certainly," said the other Please, kindly. "I understand.  Stay, of course; and when my master uses me, we will both go out together. He is kind, and I am sure he would not mind saying 'Please' twice. Stay, as long as you like."

That noon, at dinner, John wanted some butter; and this is what he said:

"Father, will you pass me the butter, please — please?"

"Certainly," said the father. "But why be so very polite?"

John did not answer. He was turning to his mother, and said,

"Mother, will you give me a muffin, please — please?"

His mother laughed.

"You shall have the muffin, dear; but why do you say 'please' twice?"

"I don't know," answered John. "The words seem just to jump out, somehow. Katie, please — please, some water!

This time, John was almost frightened.

"Well, well," said his father, "there is no harm done. One can't be too 'pleasing' in this world."

All this time little Dick had been calling, "Give me an egg! I want some milk. Give me a spoon!" in the rude way he had. But now he stopped and listened to his brother. He thought it would be fun to try to talk like John; so he began,

"Mother, will you give me a muffin, m-m-m-?"

He was trying to say "please"; but how could he? He never guessed that his own little Please was sitting in John's mouth. So he tried again, and asked for the butter.

"Mother, will you pass me the butter, m-m-m-?"

That was all he could say.

So it went on all day, and everyone wondered what was the matter with those two boys. When night came, they were both so tired, and Dick was so cross, that their mother sent them to bed very early.

But the next morning, no sooner had they sat down to breakfast than Dick's Please ran home again. He had had so much fresh air the day before that now he was feeling quite strong and happy. And the very next moment, he had another airing; for Dick said,

"Father, will you cut my orange, please?" Why! the word slipped out as easily as could be! It sounded just as well as when John said it — John was saying only one "please" this morning. And from that time on, little Dick was just as polite as his brother.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Plugged In Existence

 
            Today I take on a hot bed of contention, a topic of heated debate, and challenge to personal freedom.  The world of electronic connection.  But I will not be taking it on for adults and our own addictions to the internet- instead I want to address the disease I see developing in our youth.  Electronic familiarity often starts out when our little one plays with mommy and daddy’s cellular devices. There is an instant attraction- pretty pictures, fun movement, and control.  Not much different from the Jack-in-the-box of the past, just less space consuming and quieter- much more parent friendly. The next stage is when it moves into the classroom, as early as preschool, as an educational tool or enhancer. Then we find it in the pocket or back pack as a personal device for connectivity, to parents and friends, as early as first grade.  But as our children age so does the reliance on electronic connectivity.  Some kids use it as a taxi link (ie “mom come get me”), and nothing else.  Others feel they need it more than oxygen and experience actual panic attacks when separated from their connectivity. So as a parent we must consider what is “ok” connectivity, and what is addiction (the Diagnosis Manual for Mental Disorders is actually listing Internet Addiction in its newest version.) And then present that concept to our children without undue stress.
            First I want to look at the positives of internet connection. (I will be brief because I think we all know these already). The internet/electronic world offer to us a barrage of information and educational opportunities.  It gives us the ability to stay connected with friends and family that may be scattered all over the world.  (I loved it when my son was in college in New Zealand, probably the only way I survived the distance as a mom- yeah Skype!) We also have the ability to connect with people in power and let our voice be heard- whether it be a Senator or CEO. Children that learn to navigate the internet have a world of discovery at their fingertips. It is hard to imagine what the future will hold.
            But what about the dangers?  Let’s start with the obvious…pornography.  This is becoming a diagnostic challenge very few people in my field predicted accurately.  We are seeing children as young as 4 who have been exposed to internet pornography and seeing neurological changes we feel unprepared to resolve.  How do we exactly reprogram a young brain to not be sexually activated at such a young age? I have had contact with a lawyer in the Denver metro area that is currently handling five cases involving internet exposure to young children and legal liability for the locations it was accessed. I am sure there are many more cases, and believe legal precedence will be set in our court system in the near future. The effects of internet pornography on young children is well documented on the internet, and easily located on any search engine.
            Danger two: the shrinking of our children’s physical environment. Author Richard Louv addresses this distressing trend in the book- Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Here Louv purports that as our culture has advanced the child’s natural environment has shrunk thus decreasing the influence exploration has on the growing intellect.  Children that “go outside and play” actually show a higher propensity for success in their future. How many children spend hours a day “plugged in” to an electronic device entertaining themselves? Statistically it is recorded at up to 70 hours a week for some (during the summer vacation period.) That is nearly twice the hours an average adult clocks in at work. Research is showing that increased electronic usage actually decreases a child’s IQ, and the brain looks similar to a cocaine addict.  (This topic will be found under Internet Addiction on a search engine, there is also a Ted Talk on the topic.)
            Danger three: the power of electronic connectivity on the fragile developing self-concept. (This is my biggest concern as a counselor.) I know I am probably decades older than most my readers but I have not forgotten how influential adolescence was on my self-esteem.  Because of personality, environment, and brain growth I felt as though everyone was rejecting me.  I was not “popular” and was rarely elected for any form of recognition.  I was bullied no more than average, but had a natural fight response which probably decreased my bullying as I got a reputation as a retaliator. Adolescence took years to get over, and all this in a world that was pretty well confined to actual word of mouth. It is not an age I would to repeat because of the pain so I am especially concerned for this current generation. Today our youth have the ability to condemn someone and spread their condemnation to over a thousand individuals, in less than a minute.  Not only do our kids suspect they are being judged- they can prove it. And to a developing brain, that misinterprets social interactions naturally, this can be a literal end to their world. Bullying has taken on a whole new, more dangerous form.  And if your child is electronically connected they will find it difficult to avoid the possible condemnation of their peers.  If they face book, twitter, tweet, face time, instagram- they are even informed by the network if their name is mentioned anywhere on the web.  They don’t have to go looking for it, it comes looking for them- informing them someone has written about them. This danger also includes the natural miscommunication possible with written correspondences.  Many times I will interpret a text read to me by a teen differently than how the teen interpreted- often to their surprise.  Written communication has a higher probably of misinterpretation due to personal inference and lack of body cues. Which leads to danger number four.
            Danger four: decrease in direct communication skills.  I have become aware that with my teen clients I over emote facially.  I am much more animated with my teens, not because I like them better, but because they seem to miss facial communication otherwise.  They interpret average facial expressiveness as neutrality, thus decreasing communication in the physical setting.  I believe they have become so acclimated to electronic communication that they have become incapable of true one on one communication. 
            So what is a parent to do? Have face to face (literally) conversations at dinner, before bed, after school. Play a game of charades. Read a book together and discuss the plot, characters, or predict what will happen next. Put boundaries/limits on electronic usage.  Postpone buying your child a cell phone until it is necessary for their safety.  Turn off the phone at bed time (many parents have their child charge the phone in the parents’ bedroom at night.) Talk to your kids about the dangers of the internet. Have a internet free day, week, month.  But most importantly :Be prepared to be unpopular- you will hit resistance to the idea of limited electronic connection because EVERYONE is actually doing it. Help your child with the fear of isolation and instill into them a sense of self based on “self-evaluation” rather than “other evaluation”.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

PRIORITIES

When did it become all about me?
 
As many of you know I usually blog based on things that come through my clinical practice, and it usually has to be a few times in a row before I get the idea that there may be a bigger problem.  Today is one such topic.  I heard this idea from a seven-year-old, a 30-something mother, and a teenage girl all in a two-week span.  Plus, I realized it was an idea rolling around in my head. But with some informal research (ie private conversations outside my office) and a minor whine session (with my adult child in reference to their work), I realized I am seeing this trend with many situations and forms of parenting.    So let me give this my best shot……
The other day I had an adult say directly to me: “Well I deserve to have my own life, I can’t let my kids dictate my time.”  And in the back of my head I heard a small unprofessional voice saying: “Really? The day my kids were born I gave up my own agenda and began choosing for ‘us’ not me.” I have heard divorced parents talking about their custody agreement being scheduled around their own activities, giving up time with their kids for exercise, screen games, etc. I have seen intact parents (those in a marriage) say they don’t participate in their kids’ activities (school, sports, church) because they need their time away.  And again that unprofessional voice in my head says: “I gave up ‘time away’ when I had kids. AND I DID NOT RESENT IT!” I have to say that though I may have done many things wrong in my parenting (you can ask my kids - specifically my son for the itemized list), I did one thing right: My kids and marriage were my top priority.  My son said once in high school: “If you don’t do right by your kids, what’s the use?” Now I am sure you could take that statement to the extreme and argue about the selfishness of a teenager, but what he was reflecting on was the friend in high school whose parents made dating relationships more important than eating dinner with their own kids.
So let’s look at priorities.   There is a saying: Look where a person puts their time and there you will find their heart also.  There is 24 hours to a day - no more, no less (some days I would take less). Let’s label 9 hours to sleep/sleep related activities, leaving us with 15 hours.  Then we label 10-12 hours for work (though I know many work much more than 12 hours a day), leaving us with around 3-5 hours for house care, food, socialization, computer play, TV, church, hobbies, etc. Now that 3-5 hours could be involving family members - for example making dinner together or folding laundry- or it could be individual “me time”, as many adults have expressed.  If you are a single adult looking to add a romantic relationship to your life you have to put it into the 3-5 otherwise dedicated hours, and according to popular research this dating time should be without the kids - so it can’t be deemed family together time.  That leaves these single adults in a dilemma….anyone that has been in a romantic relationship knows it can be all consuming.  It takes time and energy and after we have children our energy seems to decrease exponentially.   Or maybe you are not in a dating relationship but do really enjoy reading, computer play, or golf.  Where does that time come from? The 3-5 hours of “extra” time of course; and if your kids are not included we deem that “me time”.
 Leading me to share with you a statement made in my office by a teenager that wanted her parents’ attention after their divorce: “I just want to be someone’s priority.” So if she does not get the attention she so craves from her parents, what else is out there calling her name?  The boy that wants to have sex with her.  The marijuana, booze or pain killer that numbs the pain. The friendly faceless person on-line that says they understand and would love to meet to help her feel better.  The cutting that makes her hurt somewhere else instead. I have personally seen them all.  But what if your child is younger? Maybe the electronic babysitter.  The classroom teacher, Sunday school teacher, or paid counselor that knows and connects with your child better because they focus on them.  Regardless of how it might be solved outside your relationship, there is a scar left on their hearts.  It is the lie they believe - that they don’t matter, aren’t good enough, or are an inconvenience on our time.  This is the damage that lasts a life time. 
So how do we make our children a priority again?  The first step is pretty elementary really- decide that it matters.  What is the message you want to be printed on your child’s heart? Second- make them the backdrop for all decisions. Always ask yourself: How will this affect my relationship with my child? There are so many things competing for their attention, be sure they are the top one competing for yours. Third- talk to them (if they are old enough to really have the conversation) and ask them how they feel you are doing.  But if you ask, be ready to hear things you may not like and don’t get mad at them for telling the truth. Fourth- remember your children did not ask to be born…you made a choice directly or indirectly.  They are only young for a very short time; after they leave for college you can have more “me time”, but until then remember you chose to have kids. Fifth- realize they are a ton of fun! They say the darnedest things, do the craziest stuff, and even have pint sized wisdom if we stop and pay attention. If we take the time to enjoy them we might just do that- enjoy them. Remember in the end it is not the amount of money, the internet connectivity or the way our house looks that makes a mark in this world- it is the relationships we invest in.