Let's Talk Kids

Content from Let's Talk Kids.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
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.  

Claudia Quigg headshot
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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
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. 

Claudia Quigg headshot
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. 

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
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

Claudia Quigg headshot
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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
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. 

Claudia Quigg headshot
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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

I was astonished recently when a lovely, successful middle-aged man I know shared with me that during the years he was growing up he suffered some pretty harsh child abuse.  I was moved by his story especially because I knew him during those years when this abuse was occurring regularly.  

I might have been able to help.  But I didn’t suspect a thing.

Moving through my own guilt about this, I looked into signs I might have missed.  Sure enough, he exhibited some characteristics, but I never connected the dots.  

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

A hand-held 8 millimeter movie camera captured flickering images of my first day of preschool several decades ago.  Then came family video cameras, a new innovation when my children were young.  I remember the suitcase-sized Betamax we lugged around to school concerts and baseball games.  Our focus and video quality were lousy, but we did manage to lay down a primitive pictorial record of our children’s early lives.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

She grew up the most feminine of little ladies, preferring tea parties to softball, keeping her ruffled dresses pristine even during school recess.  I recently ran into this woman and seeing her took me aback.  Her hair up in a ponytail, she was wearing jeans and a hockey jersey.

It seems she’s the mom of three boys, ages 11, 13 and 15, all serious ice hockey players.  They share a passion for this sport that has their mom shivering on the ice in some cold arena three evenings each week and every weekend for much of the year.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

A funny story involves an elderly Florida couple.  The wife hears a news report that an erratic motorist is driving the wrong way on Interstate 75.  She immediately calls her husband who she knows is traveling on that highway.  She tells him to be careful because there’s a driver going the wrong way on the interstate.  “One driver!” he yells, “Why, there’s HUNDREDS of them!”

Perspective means everything.  Especially in families, the way parents see their children—and interpret what they see—determines the reality of that child’s experience.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

My attorney husband says that no matter how thin the pancake, it always has two sides.

This notion guides me in my work with families as I’m forced to admit that each influence on the family system can have both a positive and a negative effect.

Case in point: the use of technological communication in the home.

I often rail against the dangers of overuse of digital devices by both parents and children. I worry that this practice is reducing parent-child interaction and rewiring children's brains at a cost to their social and emotional development.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared The War on Poverty. The following year, a panel of experts designed Project Head Start, aimed at helping break the cycle of poverty by providing low-income preschoolers a comprehensive program of education.

Head Start was based on the recognition that middle-income kids were entering school light years ahead of their low-income counterparts.  The theory was that, if disadvantaged children could get some of the benefits of better-resourced kids, they would be better prepared for school success.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

Most of us extend love with the expectation that our kind deeds will come back to us.  If we do a friend a favor, we assume that friend will be there in our hour of need.  If we offer to cover a duty for a coworker, we know we can count on the same support when we need a back-up.

But this summer, four of my grandchildren are learning a small lesson about giving with no hope for return.  They’re fostering a pair of kittens from their local Humane Society.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

Helpful advice has been offered to parents in every generation.  In 1916, the author of The Mother and Her Child advised parents they should be careful to “handle the baby as little as possible.  Turn it occasionally from side to side, feed it, change it, keep it warm and let it alone; crying is absolutely essential to the development of good strong lungs.”

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

Morgan is a typical teenager in many respects.  He has a passion for sports, a wicked sense of humor, and the usual teenage angst when it comes to matters of dealing with girls.

But in one regard he’s different from many teens.  Morgan’s mom, formerly a high-energy mover like her son, has spent the last year crippled by pain.  Her time has been spent in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and lying on the couch trying to cope with the unrelenting discomfort she faces.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR | Illinois Public Radio

A plaque on my desk reminds me of one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my work:  “What people need is a good listening to.”  While there’s often lots of talk in families, there is sometimes a mismatch as we fail to really “hear” what’s being said.  Most families I know could sharpen their communication skills by learning to do a little OPERA listening.

No, I’m not referring to listening to Carmen or The Marriage of Figaro, although there are certainly merits to that activity.

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