Let's Talk Kids

Content from Let's Talk Kids.

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.

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

Most families I know struggle with screen time.  Televisions, phones, computers and iPads—a plethora of electronic communication and entertainment devices lure children and their parents.  The use of electronics is an issue that begs for management control from this generation of parents.  Obesity, sleep issues, behavioral problems, impaired academic performance, and a desensitization to violence have all been tied to over-exposure to electronics.

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

The most significant change in family functioning I have seen in my nearly thirty years of working with families is the changing role of dads.  By some estimates, over the last twenty years, the amount of time fathers spend with their children has doubled.  And most of that increase is spent in real caregiving tasks, like feeding, bathing, and the other daily tasks of raising children—even when they require an adjusted work schedule. In some families, dads are staying at home to raise kids.

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

When an older child leaves home for college or career, second born children often blossom in one way or another.  Parents would do well to be prepared.

Two families I know are experiencing this phenomenon right now.  In one family, an older sister left for college in August.  She’d been a challenging teen, but her younger sister was more compliant. 

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

Worry represents our deep investment in our offspring whose health and happiness mean the world to us.  But there’s a steep cost to worry if it robs us of our enjoyment of our children.  A worried parent may be so consumed with fear that she’s unavailable to be present with her kids. 

A worried mom can’t celebrate her son’s learning to walk for fear that he’ll fall.  A worried dad feels sick at his daughter’s graduation, agonizing about her leaving for college.  Each development calls up a whole new set of troubles to anticipate.

Let's Talk Kids - "Design for Success"

Oct 9, 2014
Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com 2010 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

I’ve noticed something about my alarm clock:  If I set it for 4 a.m., it goes off at 4 a.m. every time.  It doesn’t sometimes sound at 4 and other times at 9.  It always goes off at 4.

It was designed to respond the way I’ve instructed it to when I set it.  For me to expect it to function any other way would be silly.  And yet sometimes, we expect people to function differently than they were programmed to function.  Here’s an example.

Kids and Water

Jul 3, 2014

In the months before we’re born, we swim peacefully in our amniotic sac. Born to be aquaphiles, we gravitate to water for all of our time on this planet (which happens to also be about 75% water.)

Infants sleep better after baths which seem to drain tension away from their tiny bodies.  Toddlers and preschoolers delight in their baths, using them as opportunities for physics experiments. Teenagers drain their families’ hot water tanks with marathon showers, which are about much more than getting clean.  And adults soak away their day’s troubles in a hot bath.

Social Surrogacy

Jun 26, 2014

They’re calling it “Social Surrogacy,” this new practice of affluent parents delegating the tasks of pregnancy and childbirth to another person.  Social Surrogacy is for women who could carry a child, but choose not to because of perceived risks to their productivity or physical image.

The price?  Social surrogacy represents at least a $100,000 investment.  And yet, I’m convinced that this cost is grossly understated.  The physical costs of pregnancy and childbirth are only the beginning of the toll paid by parents, like the ante required to get into the parenting game.


Jun 19, 2014

Closer than classmates, more sensational than siblings, cousins are a boon to growing up.

While I never lived in the same town with my own cousins, I remember how I loving family get-togethers.  Even for cousins I saw rarely, our play would pick up right where it left off the last time we were together.

My older cousins were someone to look up to.  My younger ones tickled me with their cuteness.  We always managed to fill the hours with games and adventures that each of us could relate to.

In my family, the first time we see a child after school lets out for the summer, we HAVE to say, “School’s out, school’s out, teacher let the monkeys out!”  A great deal has changed in the world since I was a student, but this remains true:  The last day of school represents a real transition for children, for teachers, and for parents.

Hatching is Hard

Jun 5, 2014

Hatching chicken eggs with my class as a kindergarten teacher turned out to be good training for raising the children I would have later.  One spring, after most of the chicks successfully hatched, one little fellow seemed to have a hard time. I worried about him like a mother hen. Thinking I could help, I contacted a chicken farmer to ask if I couldn’t give the chick a little assistance.  “No way!” he warned me.

Remembering Love

May 22, 2014

On May 1, 1865, former slaves dug up the remains of 257 dead Union soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp outside Charleston, South Carolina.  They worked for two weeks to give them a proper burial in gratitude for their sacrifice.  Following the burials, 10,000 people celebrated with a parade led by 2800 black children.  

Super Kid

Apr 10, 2014

Four-year old Luke sat quietly while his dad participated in a meeting with a bunch of grownups, hard at work on an effort of his own.  Brow furrowed, he labored intensely throughout the meeting.

When the group adjourned, Luke shared his work.  These words were written on small cards:  AQUAMAN, SUPERMAN, SPIDERMAN, BATMAN and ROBIN.

Each word was spelled correctly and written meticulously in his clear childish block letters. I was heartily impressed.

The Chaos Crescendo

Apr 1, 2014

You rise with the sun, planning for a happy day with your children.  You walk into your daughter’s room to wake her for school and discover urine-soaked sheets, again.


You calmly strip the bed and run the bath for the requisite clean-up you hadn’t really allowed enough time for.  You get this one headed to the tub and throw the linens in the washer just before you go wake your other child.


Always Do Your Best

Mar 27, 2014

If there’s a gift I could give parents it would be to forgive themselves for not being perfect.  We love our children so much we want them to be raised by perfect parents, but we’re daily aware of the ways we’re unable to be those imagined perfect parents.

The fourth of don Miguel Ruiz’ “The Four Agreements” speaks to this drive in parents:  “Always do your best.”  Notice, the concept is not “Be perfect,” but is instead “Do your best.”

The third of don Miguel Ruiz’ “Four Agreements” sounds simple enough:  Don't Make Assumptions.  But the application of this to living with children is not so easy.

When we make assumptions it’s because we believe we know what others are thinking and feeling. When it comes to our children, we blindly assume their lives will mirror our own.   “Of course you love Brussel sprouts!  Everyone in our family loves Brussel sprouts!”

Last week, I introduced the application of don Miguel Ruiz’ book The Four Agreements to our work of raising children.  Today, I would like to think about the Second Agreement, “Don’t take anything personally,” as it applies to the lives of parents.

In his book, “The Four Agreements,” don Miguel Ruiz laid out four principles based on the great religions of the world and particularly his own Toltec roots in Southern Mexico.   These four agreements, he writes, provide a practical guide to personal freedom and happiness.

His simple ideas also provide a solid foundation for successfully raising our children.  Over the next four weeks, I’d like to explore these four ideas beginning today with the first agreement:  Be Impeccable with your Word.

Playing Outside

Feb 27, 2014

The numbers tell a solemn story.  American children play outside less now than at any other time in our nation’s history.  Time spent playing outdoors has decreased for all children, but especially for females and for minorities.  This lifestyle change has contributed to increasing health risks as children display more obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure than in previous generations.

The Anchor

Feb 20, 2014

Every parent understands that your joy and sorrow rises and falls with your child. Your heart vacillates between those two extremes as your child faces tragedy and triumph.

You may be on top of your game at work, but if you get a call from the principal telling you your child just cheated on a test, you feel like an utter failure. You may be enjoying great health yourself, but when your child's pediatrician wants to run some tests to rule out a dreaded diagnosis, your lay awake nights worrying.