Let's Talk Kids

Content from Let's Talk Kids.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / WUIS / Illinois Issues

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 / WUIS / Illinois Issues

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 / WUIS / Illinois Issues

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 / WUIS / Illinois Issues

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 / WUIS / Illinois Issues

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 / WUIS / Illinois Issues

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 / WUIS / Illinois Issues

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 / WUIS / Illinois Issues

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 / WUIS / Illinois Issues

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 / WUIS / Illinois Issues

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 / WUIS / Illinois Issues

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 / WUIS / Illinois Issues

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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / WUIS / Illinois Issues

Garrison Keillor closes his “Prairie Home Companion” broadcasts by signing off from Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

This tendency of parents to celebrate the positive is admirable, but it doesn’t tell the whole story of a family’s experience.  Because for every child—no matter how lovely—the day will come when he disappoints his parents.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

At birth, we humans learn to breathe air, to eat and digest food, to move our limbs in space.  Simply existing in this very different environment with its bright lights and loud noises is a gargantuan task for one so small.
This challenge demands of us a certain self-centeredness as we figure out who we are. But immediately we become aware of the people outside with us whose voices we heard from the inside.  And so for these first months of life we’re contented in our family’s cocoon.  Our world is very small.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / WUIS / Illinois Issues

The London Daily Telegraph reported research about kids asking questions.  One study showed preschoolers ask the most questions, with four-year-old girls weighing in with an astonishing 390 questions per day.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

A recent study quantified the hours spent by moms and dads with their children aged 3-12 during the years 1965-2010.  In 1965, moms spent 10.5 hours each week engaged with their kids and dads spent 2.6 hours each week engaged with their kids.  In 2010, moms spent an average of 13.7 hours each week and dads spent 7.2 hours.  The study concluded that mothers spending more time with children is not necessarily linked to kids’ success.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Mothers do many things.  They wash, wipe, pick up, put down, stack, mix, measure, talk, sing, read, play, redirect, and laugh.  And that may be in the first 15 minutes of the day.  Most mothers are veritable whirling dervishes of activity.

And yet a mother’s most important job may look deceptively passive.  A mother’s most significant task may be to simply look at her children.

A mother sees subtle changes from day to day. She notices those newly-braced teeth shifting before the first week is out. She’s first to observe when a child is about to outgrow his shoes.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

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.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

When we think about “prenatal development,” we mostly refer to the amazing process whereby a fertilized egg becomes a newborn.  That journey is nothing short of miraculous when you consider the rapid progression of what resembles a tadpole turning into a fully functional person with a heart that beats, lungs that breathe, arms and legs that move, and a brain that processes an astounding amount of information.  

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Winter can be wicked, but the softer days of spring follow as a comfort.  The hyacinth peeking out of the thawing earth demonstrates that universal truth that joy follows pain, sun follows rain, and some satisfying resolution follows most every difficult experience.  If life teaches us anything, it should be to hope for better days.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

High holy days for a number of world religions are celebrated this time of year.  The Jewish Passover, the Buddhist Theravada New Year, the Baha’i Ridvan, and the Hindu observances of both Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti.

The names of these holidays may seem foreign to many of us, but they represent significant family practices, based on centuries of beliefs and traditions.  More familiar may Easter—the highest holy day for those who practice the Christian faith—also observed this time of year, and celebrated by many Americans.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

It was midnight when our toddler awoke with an astronomical temperature.  We hated to wake him, but our pediatrician responded eagerly, as though he’d been sitting by the phone waiting for our call.  Dr. Chiligiris listened patiently as we frantically described her fever, then assured us he would wait while we put down the phone and went to check on more symptoms.  After a short time, he’d talked us through a frightening episode, helped us plan a course of action, and bid us a peaceful goodnight.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

On a plaque marking Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace near Hodgenville, Kentucky, is recorded this scrap of conversation:

“Any news down t’ the village, Ezry?”

“Well, Squire MacLain’s gone t’ Washington t’ see Madison swore in, and ol’ Spellman tells me this Bonaparte fella has captured most o’ Spain.  What’s new out here, neighbor?”

“Nuthin’, nuthin’ a’tall, ‘cept fer a new baby born t’ Tom Lincoln’s.  Nuthin’ ever happens out here.”

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

During that bumpy journey of growing up, kids need a soft place to land.  The arduous trek through infancy, toddlerhood, childhood and youth is scattered with potholes which threaten to knock us off course and cause us to lose courage.  The dependable concern of a loving adult cushions the hurt and gets us moving again in the right direction.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

The young mom’s eye’s glistened as she recounted the tale: “My grandma was in high school in 1932.  Her dad bought her a Model A Ford so she wouldn’t have to ride several miles to and from school on horseback. When slogging home on rainy days, Grandma would drive the car until that inevitable moment when her wheels (not tires, wheels) would get stuck in muddy ruts. She would then have to walk home, hitch up a team of horses, and ride back to tow the car home.”

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced a new policy directing pediatricians to encourage reading to babies.  Pediatricians are urged to use each contact with families to promote reading aloud and conversation from the earliest weeks of life, according to Dr. Pamela High who wrote the policy. 

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Parents of multiple children complain that siblings’ squabbling is the most annoying challenge of parenthood.  There is almost no slight too insignificant to launch a new outbreak in the ever-simmering civil war between siblings

The basis of the issue is competition for their parents’ affection.  Children sense the possibilty that Mom or Dad may love the other better and must be ever vigilant so as not to lose their edge.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

In Bill Murray’s old romantic comedy “Groundhog Day,” the television weatherman awakens everyday to the same date on the calendar.  All the same things happen each day, so that he wishes more than anything for a new day.

Contrast this experience with young children who see every new day with a fresh set of expectations.  They wake up wide-eyed every morning, ready to notice every new experience the world has in store. 

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

A couple was discussing the holiday festivities their family would enjoy.  They mentioned a large gathering they would attend, and remembered they would once again hear Uncle Henry’s stale stories, repeated at every holiday meal. At this recollection, they raised their eyebrows and rolled their eyes.

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

In my occupation of watching babies, I’ve noticed newborns actually reach for things that captivate them.  My studies had earlier taught me that reaching is achieved by four-month-olds, but sure enough, newborns exhibit a sort of primal reach for just a few weeks which extinguishes and then comes back a few months later.

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