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Monday, October 13, 2014

Picture This! Parenting Trick #1

I have three children ages 12, 9, and 7 years.  They each have very strong personalities that have a tendency to collide with intensity and frequency.   When that happens, stars explode and planets move out of their way.  And although meteorologists would deny that children's behavior can impact the weather...I am often convinced that the seasonal storms that roll in can be directly attributed to my children's tempestuous relationship with each other.  At least it feels that way to me.

I know that parenting children who are given the opportunity to express their own opinions and "share" their emotions presents unique challenges.  It is also important for them to have a place to learn skills that will serve them well throughout life.  I want them to have experiences that allow them to practice self-regulation, appropriate social interactions, and acceptable behaviors when released to the community.  The consequence of providing this "practice" is that you will often want to bang your fists against a pillow and shake your head until your brain turns to scrambled eggs. 

The media has recently given much attention to the NFL player who whipped his child with a switch to "discipline" him.  The short term effect of instilling fear and pain is real and tangible to the child.  But in the long run, what will that child really learn about that interaction?  Planning for how to interact with a child and preparing to teach a  child about consequences is an emotionally draining task that requires on going maintenance.  Be forewarned:  You will repeat yourself a bazillion times and often feel like your words are absorbed into the ozone where they dissipate and  becomes inactive.  It is important to have the mind set that parenting involves a lot of repetition, frequent revisions, and a lot of input from a supporting cast. 

Fighting and arguing are prime examples of issues that occur among siblings.  "Stop looking at me like that" and "Stop touching me" are common phrases that fly around during waking hours.  When you have children who each wish they were an only child, it can be difficult if not impossible to convince all parties that you are being fair to everyone.  Someone is always going to feel maligned. Inevitably someone will to attempt to use that magical power of childhood known as "manipulation."  Smart little buggers.  They know exactly which buttons to push to make mommy feel guilty.  And because mommy was raised to feel guilty based on her parents' techniques...well you can imagine what a perfect storm that could potentially create.  Like I said...these are smart children.

So I came up with a few tricks of my own that have started to alleviate some of the stress that comes with parenting children who are actually given the opportunity to express their emotions without fear of "the switch" or other form of "that's the way I was raised" parenting that has been discussed in the media.  Last night was a perfect example of how reminiscing can be a great way to realign siblings with each other and help them see the strong bonds that exist...even though they might argue at times.

Parenting Trick #1
Goal:  Remind siblings of their strong bond with each other
Dream Result: 24 hours of peaceful co-existence
Reminder Cue:  "I loved seeing those pictures of us having fun together." 

Last night my brother came over so we could record Happy 100th Birthday" messages for our Grandmother.  (Can you believe 100 years old?!)  He also had photos and videos on his computer from several years ago when the children were much younger.  We looked at those pictures and videos together and rediscovered some of the fun we had together.  There were snow day pictures where everyone was bundled up to keep warm.  We had bubble day where my daughter screamed with joy at the large bubbles we blew outside.  There was a picture of the youngest son learning to walk.  We pointed out that even as a baby, the youngest one wanted to follow his older brother around.  Pointing out those connections and having visual proof that we had many happy times together was just the remedy we needed.  Sometimes we forget those opportunities to connect when we are so busy dealing with the day to day details.  

So if you have strong willed children who like to argue with each other, take heart.  You are not alone.  It is not an easy task to parent these children.  I can assure you, I would much rather have children who can speak their mind, have opinions, and are encouraged to express their true feelings than to be a parent who makes all my children's decisions for them.  The world can be harsh.  Children need to be able to speak up for themselves, stand up for their beliefs, and make decisions that are wise and in their best interest.  That doesn't just happen automatically.  We have to nurture those self-advocacy skills from the time they are young. 

So get out those family photos and videos and pop some popcorn the next time you need a break from the discord.  It's magical.  I look forward to hearing from you and would love to post your "Parenting Tricks."  have a wonderful Monday and a Blessed Week!

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Picture Day at School - The Mommy Fantasy Photos versus Reality

Once again picture day is here.  Our school district wisely links this day to the "Official Count Day" perhaps hoping to achieve their attendance goal.  The attendance count for this day is linked to school funding and budgeting for annual resources.  There is a psychological motivation to get your child to school on "Picture Day."  This is the one day you might have a chance to "inspire" you child to dress up a little more and wear the outfits you always dreamed would make your progeny shine.  You may or may not want to admit that prior to their birth you inevitably fashioned a Norman Rockwellian picture of your sweet babe. 

Did you not create a mental if not emotional image of a child who would be the envy of all your friends and family?  Betcha did!  This holy little angel you envisioned would willingly agree to whatever you set out for them to wear and remain clean with every hair in place until their image could be captured for all eternity.  Sometimes schools have Fall and Spring photo sessions.  This is a bonus for parents!  There are two chances each school year to dream a little dream and obtain that image of saintliness that often appears illusive the remaining 363 days of the year.  These moments are the "Mommy Fantasy" Photos.

Here's the deal.  The reality is that those photos never, and I mean ever, live up to those expectations.  Sure, you make luck out and your kid actually has every hair in place.  The pants may be zippered up so that a shirt tail is not hanging out the fly.  Cute little blouses may stay in place under jumpers without bulging out at the armpits.  And that adorable tie or hair bow may actually make it all the way through the class photo line and remain visible behind the photographer's lens.  But ask yourself if that is the way you want your child to remember his or her school years.  

Will your child be comfortable all day?  Will your child worry about getting nice clothing dirty or losing any of the props that accompany the ensemble? How disappointed will you feel if there is a wardrobe malfunction?  If you're o.k. with the potential consequences, then have at it and dress your little fashionistas up to the nines.  My children are built for comfort.  So is my wallet.  I love that they are active, exuberant, and already display their own sense of style.  Today their photos will reflect their unique personalities and energy levels.  My nine year old son wanted to do his own hair this morning.  I would have loved to add some hair product to keep it in place, but I resisted.  My seven year old son decided to spike his hair up and wore a pair of black framed reading glasses he insisted upon from the Dollar Tree.  It's his thing lately.  (We're going to the real eye doctor tomorrow to determine if glasses are indeed a necessity.)  

So my kids are going to look like the real deal when we look back upon their school pictures.  Sure, it's fun to dress up once in a while.  No problem there.  But for long lasting memories that capture my children's interests and quirks, I'll take the reality photos any day.  (Dollar Tree glasses and all.)

Hope you're having a great school year.  And hopefully this post is the first of many more this year.  Feels great to be writing again.  (((Hugs)))

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