Claudia Quigg

Let's Talk Kids Host

Claudia Quigg is the Executive Director of Baby TALK and writes the Let's Talk Kids parenting segment and column that honor the expertise parents have about their own children and explores issues that are universal for families. From toilet training and sibling rivalry to establishing family values, Claudia Quigg provides thoughtful and accessible insights that are meaningful to families' needs.

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The advent of warmer weather coincides with the release of yet one more bit of evidence about the positive impact of outdoor play.

While teachers have observed more young children wearing eyeglasses, no real research offered much  explanation for this phenomenon.  Some theorized that children spend more time indoors looking at screens, missing out on using their eyes for much long-distance viewing.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

He refuses to brush his teeth, adamantly opposes wearing clothes, and falls to the floor with a tantrum when you ask him to pick up his backpack.

And that’s all before breakfast.

Some children experience everything in their lives with such intensity that their reactions understandably exhaust parents.

At the same time, other children move through their days with little reaction at all.  These easy-going kids take life as it comes and rarely throw a fit.

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Her voice trembled as she greeted me on the phone.  “Gam?” she began.  “I really messed up.”  My beloved oldest grandchild Bella poured out her tale of woe, involving a careless remark that hurt her closest friend.

Fast forward three weeks when an exuberant Bella FaceTimed me to show off her mouthful of shiny, braces-free teeth on the way home from the orthodontist.

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I recently shared a memorable elevator ride with a mom, dad and their two-year old son, Joey.  We were staying in a hotel connected to a children’s hospital, and the IV pole the dad was patiently pushing suggested his little guy was undergoing treatment.

This tiny fellow was a clone of his dad, who grinned from ear to ear when I commented on the resemblance.  But most of the conversation was from the toddler himself in the repetition of this simple phrase:  “Go, team, go!”

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Insight emerges when we expose our stories to the light of day in the presence of someone we trust.  While this phenomenon holds true for us at any age, telling our stories is especially helpful for children.

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More than whatever is happening in the headlines, our days are made (or destroyed) by the kindness (or lack of it) displayed by the people whose orbits we cross personally.

A quick errand provides an example.  On a good day, you pull into a parking lot where another driver waves you into the spot nearest the door and takes a farther spot himself.  As you enter the store, the lady ahead of you holds the door and greets you with a smile.  When you bump into someone in a crowded aisle, you hear a quick apology and a gentle laugh about the narrow passage.

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The “Prayer of Serenity” asks for “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I thought of these words recently listening to an extroverted parent struggling over her introverted teen daughter.  This woman is a very gregarious person who comes to life when surrounded by friends.  On the other hand, her daughter likes spending time alone, listening to music, reading novels, and writing poetry.  

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

A mother returned home to her 4-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son following a serious surgery.  As her husband helped her into the house, she moved slowly, obviously in pain.  Her children hugged her tenderly, so relieved to have their momma home.

Quickly, her son cleared off the sofa and made a space for her to sit.  The daughter pulled up an ottoman for her to elevate her feet.  

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

The flu delivers a curveball to families.  When adults contract this foul illness, it means several days at home with chills, aches, and sniffling.  But when children have it, the course of the infirmity may seem like a life sentence for parents.  

The episode begins with the proverbial parental guessing game of figuring out what’s going on with the kids.  But when the fever spikes and other symptoms appear, a call to the doctor confirms the presence of the virus that seems to be making the rounds.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

Just weeks ago, your baby wanted to be cuddled many times a day.  This morning, your toddler stubbornly refuses your arms.

Your kindergartener clung to you on that first day of school, but now hops out of your car without so much as a backward glance.

Your teenager formerly came to you with every sorrow.  Today she asks to be left alone to talk to her friends because they’re the only ones who understand her.

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Megan and Tom are bucking a trend with their own courageous path.  For years they worked to climb the career ladder in order to qualify for a mortgage that would support the HGTV-worthy dream home they envisioned.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

I can still hear his voice when I close my eyes.  Mr. White, my sixth grade teacher, read aloud slowly to our class every day after lunch.  We came in from recess, sweaty from the kickball field, and collapsed gratefully into our desks.  He’d dim the lights and begin the next installment of whatever book he was reading to us.

He read fiction that kept us on the edge of our seats as we wondered about the fate of each character.  He read biographies that inspired us.  He read poetry that sounded like music when he read it.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

Your 3-year old can name all the states in the country, but you catch him as he prepares to stick a knife into an electrical outlet.

Your 8-year old is a regular piano prodigy, but he borrows his dad’s cell phone and leaves it in the front yard, overnight.  In the rain.

Your 16-year old is inducted into National Honor Society the evening before he posts on social media that his parents are gone for a few days and he has the house to himself.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

The sun was setting and the snow was falling as we scampered to our car.   Jane’s wide eyes took in the flurry of snowflakes framed by the pink late afternoon sky.  Head back, mouth open—she giggled as she caught flakes on her tongue.  A sense of wonder took my breath away as I tucked away another memory.

There was nothing extraordinary about the event.  It was just another day as we scurried from one place to the next.  But for once, I had my wits about me enough to realize this was a moment I wanted to remember.  

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

While carolers sing about peace on earth, parents stress about the ever-increasing list of things that must be done before December 25.  Not only is there little Peace on Earth, there’s little peace in our homes.

The thought of Christmas evokes nostalgia as we imagine the Norman Rockwell holiday we hope to enjoy.  But the reality is often very different.  For many, Christmas has become an exhausting undertaking with countless “special” events piled on top of already crowded lives.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

A mother said she’d had it with her kids.  They whined.  They negotiated.  They wanted more and more, despite the fact their toy shelves were already burgeoning with un-used toys.

She resented their self-centeredness, so she decided to try a different strategy.

She called her rascals together, looked them squarely in the eye, and said very clearly that for the days leading up to Christmas, they were going to focus on giving instead of receiving.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

The young mother sat amidst a group of parents and shared the news that her baby had just been diagnosed with a serious medical condition.  It was no surprise that a tear slipped down her cheek as she haltingly spoke these devastating words.

I looked around the group, and saw that almost every person present was tearing up, right alongside her.  The outpouring of concern that followed was natural and powerful. 

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

We offer thanks for our abundance on the fourth Thursday in November each year.  Living in the United States, where food is plentiful and we are mostly free to live our lives in peace, there is much for which to give thanks on this truly American holiday. 

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A mom friend wrestled with the question of how much support she should provide her 14 year-old son. 

His heart was set on playing football, which meant early morning practices before school.  But he stays up late watching TV and playing video games until she nags him to get to sleep.  Each morning, she was dragging him out of bed with lots of lectures and threats.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

It occurs to me that one of the dearest benefits of living in a family is something so simple it’s easy to overlook: our families bear witness to our lives.

Family members are present to observe our lives up close and personal. 

Siblings see each other with greater knowledge than classmates do.  Classmates may suspect we’re sad when we didn’t make the team, but our siblings hear us crying into our pillow. While our coworkers may congratulate us on a promotion, our spouses see our real joy when we find success.

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We parents love our children with equal commitment, but it may not look the same.

Every parent of siblings has been assailed by the “It’s not fair!” claim at least once. This complaint from an angry child may follow watching a sibling get more attention, more freedom, less punishment, or a pony.  This accusation represents an attempt to cause parents guilt based on the pretext that life should be fair and each child should receive exactly the same responses from parents.

Maybe in a parallel universe, but not in this world.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

Five-year old Thomas learned to ride a bike over the past few weeks. Watching him initially stagger and fall was painful for me, and the resulting bruises and abrasions were painful for him. 

Alas, there are no shortcuts to learning—a truth my own skinned knees have taught me well. Instead, there are predictable stages of learning for every new skill we seek to attain.

Psychologists describe the four stages of competence, or the "conscious competence" learning model involved as we progress from incompetence to competence in any skill.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

Last Sunday, I gave myself that extravagant luxury of a semiannual gift of a nap.  Later that evening I had a conversation with five-year-old granddaughter Jane, who just started kindergarten.  I couldn’t wait to ask her about school.

With stars in her eyes, Jane exclaimed that she didn’t have to take naps anymore!  Her single biggest joy to report was the fact that the school day has now eliminated her midday rest obligation.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

I recently visited with a young woman who sheepishly apologized that she was pulling her child out of one program in order to send him to another.  His cousins attend the other program, she explained, and his aunt and uncle can provide transportation. 

I assured her I thought that was a great choice, regretting her feeling the need to apologize.  She reminded me once again of something I already know:  Parents usually have good reasons for the choices they make

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

Recently, I heard about a family who’s adopted a weekly family meeting. They celebrate victories and roll up their sleeves for shared challenges.  Even the toddler helps chart the family’s course.

Family meetings hold the promise of less stress, better communication and greater productivity.  They provide for decision making in times of calm rather than in chaos.  And because everyone participates, each family member is more invested in plans that emerge.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

Even though family schedules are busier than ever, parents and children still manage to spend time together.  The challenge lies in making those minutes productive and purposeful

Case in point:  time spent in the family roadster. First up is morning drive time.  It’s a great chance to look forward to the day, reminding kids of friends they’ll see and activities they’ll enjoy.  We can also use this time to offer encouragement for challenges, like a dreaded exam or a tough social situation.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

While the rest of us watched from afar, the people of Charleston, South Carolina mourned the loss of friends and neighbors who died in the iconic Mother Emanuel Church in June.  The violence hit home for them in a way it didn’t touch the rest of us.

Part of my family lives in that beautiful city, including four of my grandchildren.  On the morning of June 18, my daughter and son-in-law explained the atrocity to their children as best they could with their assurances about keeping them safe.  But the children were naturally troubled. 

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

As a young professional, I taught kindergarten during the time when the phrase "school readiness" came into being.  Educators enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon of giving kids a good school start.

While I appreciate the thinking behind such a concept, I have to admit that it always makes me somewhat uncomfortable.  It implies that the purpose of the years prior to kindergarten is simply to enable children to succeed in our educational system. It feels somehow egocentric, limited in scope, and even wrong.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

The mother gazed lovingly at her 17-year old son, lamenting that he would be leaving for college in a year.  Fast forward 12 months and she could hardly wait to see him gone. It seems her son’s done a good job of getting his mom ready for him to leave home.

The separation of young adults and their parents is a major shift in the life of a family.  Kids and parents share their home and daily lives for nearly a score of years, and then suddenly, children uproot themselves to head out to new places for college or career.

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mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

For today’s parents, I see the greatest new challenge as the pervasive nature of smart phones.

All of us are susceptible.  We react to the bells and whistles like Pavlov’s dogs, reaching for our phones automatically, almost without regard for what is going on around us.  We treat them as the most exacting tyrants, demanding our instantaneous attention.

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