Let's Talk Kids

Content from Let's Talk Kids.

Parenting Partners

Feb 13, 2014

My years of marriage have taught me that raising kids with another person is rarely a smooth ride.  Any two adults bring very different upbringings to the table, causing them to often take a different view of kids’ behavior.

But the single most important thing parenting partners do for each other is that every day, we can count on this:  No matter how difficult their behavior, we know that our kids are desperately loved by at least one other human being who would walk through fire for them.

The Topless Blender

Feb 6, 2014

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s take on toddlers is right on:  “A two-year-old is kind of like having a blender but you don’t have a top for it.”

Our hopes for order and cleanliness are challenged when young children are around, for sure.  At a recent family dinner, we thought we’d placed toddler Emmy where she could do no harm.  We pulled back the tablecloth, laid a drop cloth on the floor beneath her, and covered her chair with a towel.

Watch for the Twinkle

Jan 30, 2014

Parents entertain the fantasy our children will enjoy the same activities that interest us.  If you lettered in track in high school, you may be shopping for baby running shoes before your child can walk.  If you spent your childhood playing in piano recitals, you have your little one listening to piano concertos on the nursery CD player as she drifts off to sleep at night.

Voice from the Past

Jan 22, 2014

Voice from the Past

The middle-age woman spoke tentatively as she reached for words to express her meaning.  She was raised in the south, the great-grandchild of slaves.  “When I was growing up,” she said, “We were taught that children are to be seen and not heard. I wanted to be a good girl, so I spoke very little until I went to school.  There, I struggled to keep up with other children whose language skills were light years beyond my own.”

I love words.  A well-turned phrase gives me goose bumps.  Words play a significant role in my life.  But sometimes in the life of a family, words are nearly worthless.

When your daughter runs downhill too fast (despite your repeated warnings) and breaks out her front teeth in a spectacular face plant, she doesn’t need to hear you say that this was what you’d feared all along.

When your son has to retake a class because he failed to complete the assignments you’d badgered him about, nothing you say can make the lesson clearer than this most painful consequence.

Fill Up to Give Away

Jan 9, 2014

You’ve probably had this experience.

Your day is too full already with too many places to be.  As you race from one point to the next, you glance down at your fuel gauge and discover you’re running on fumes.

What to do?  If you stop to fill your gas tank it will make you later than you are already.  But the alternative is worse.

After the holiday hustle and bustle, an empty datebook can seem anticlimactic. But in my estimation, those empty calendar pages feel like a benediction to the frenetic season just past.

Children are pushed through holiday observances on the crest of their families’ schedules and their own adrenaline. But as those special times wind down, regular life once again takes center stage.  And for most of the little children I know, regular life is a pretty big deal.

Capturing Memory

Dec 27, 2013

Stars glittered in the mother’s eyes as she described her family’s recent drive west through the Rockies.  They stood in wonder at the foot of beautiful waterfalls.  They marveled at the girth and height of some enormous trees.  They thrilled at their quick glances of shy moose and elk.

Mom and Dad are convinced they’ll never forget this experience, but they have a concern.  The youngest member of this journeying family is only three. How will she ever remember the experience?

The Race is On

Dec 20, 2013

The middle-aged woman’s excitement was palpable as she described the lovely gifts she had just purchased.

Her two grandchildren would be in her home at some point for the holidays, and she’s planned to recreate every holiday tradition her family’s ever enjoyed.  She’ll bake each cookie recipe in her family cookbook.  She’s arranged a visit from a friend who owns a Santa suit. 

And the gifts!  She’s bought every toy these children might possibly desire, and looks forward to showering them with her love on December 22.

A Firm Foundation

Nov 14, 2013

Each morning my little dog and I venture out in our neighborhood for a brisk walk.  She employs her excellent nose to read messages from other dogs, and I try to notice things a little higher up.

Yesterday for the first time I noticed each home’s foundation.  These foundations are primarily concrete of a non-descript color, so as not to take anything away from the lovely paint and siding colors and architectural details of the homes. 

"We've done it all wrong!" moaned the mother. "We've mishandled bedtime, and now we've taught our son the wrong way to go to sleep. Will he ever learn the right way now?"

How old is their son? Four whole weeks.

You don't get too far into the parenting game without questioning your choices. Second-guessing ourselves is a steady occupation for most parents.

Emergent Empathy

Oct 31, 2013

There’s one resource every parent needs:  a close friend or family member to stand beside them in the trenches. 

Dr. Victor Bernstein from the University of Chicago teaches that “Relationships take the edge off chaos.”  When we find ourselves in the midst of trauma, chaos or disorganization, a relationship with someone we trust has the power to soothe and settle us.

Better than You Think

Oct 24, 2013

Parents despair over their children’s disappointing behavior, but here’s some good news:  Odds are, your children are probably turning out better than you think at every point along the way.

The trouble with grownups is that we’ve seen the results of bad decisions and anticipate the consequences of every mistake our children make.

Normal and Novel

Oct 17, 2013

It’s one of those enigmas of child-rearing: In order to flourish, children need a complex mix of events that are both normal and novel.

Normal events include reliable routines which structure a child’s day.  Going to bed and getting up at the same time everyday may sound a bit boring.  And yet, this predictable pattern helps children develop healthy sleep habits.

Likewise, a consistent daytime schedule builds a child’s feeling of competence as he anticipates what comes next throughout the day.  This regularity breeds trust and reduces stress for kids.

Recent reports about women choosing not to bear children has brought the “Childfree Choice” into the spotlight. Time Magazine reports that in 1976, only one in ten American women in her forties was childless, compared to the current statistic of one in five.

Some say our world is in such a mess they cannot in good conscience bring a child into it.  Others describe their own sad upbringing and fear making the same mistakes their parents did.  Still others say they could never be as good at parenting as their parents were.

Parents long to know what’s on their kids’ minds, but getting kids to talk about those things can be a tough nut to crack.

But there’s one time when kids are likely to have a great deal to say, and that’s when in they’re smack-dab in the thick of an interesting experience. If you want to hear your kids talk, plan to be present with them when something’s going on.  Here are some ideas:

There were never two parents raising the same child anywhere who ever agreed entirely about how to do it.  When adults care about the same child, a certain amount of “gatekeeping” is bound to happen, in which each adult thinks he or she knows best about how to parent. 

Here’s an example:  Adam says, “Eve, you should make that boy behave.”  Eve says, “Adam, he’s doing the best he can. Quit riding him all the time.”  Years down the road, Cain slays Abel, and the finger-pointing commences.  “I told you we were doing it wrong!”

Parking Lot Pathos

Sep 19, 2013

It was a recent blistering hot afternoon.  A weary mother marched across the discount store parking lot with her three little boys.  She firmly grasped the hands of two of the stair-step tykes while the third trailed solemnly behind.

The two boys whose hands she held howled in complaint as she spoke to them seriously under her breath.  Noticeably, no bags of purchases accompanied this small group.  The purpose of the trip had obviously been aborted while the beleaguered mother dealt with the misbehavior of her sons.

Let's Talk Kids archive...

Amazingly, a wide variety of parenting styles produce healthy adults.  But the divergence of those styles may make for disagreement with other parents.

A young mother recently described a play date with her college roommate who has a baby about the same age as hers.  Amber had long anticipated getting their babies together to play, fantasizing about introducing these little girls to a life-long friendship. 

Far From the Tree

Sep 5, 2013

Recently I wrote about children seeming to absorb by osmosis the characteristics of their families during the years of growing up.  But a new book explores the other possibility: Children sometimes turn out very differently from their parents.  In his book Far from the Tree, psychiatrist Andrew Solomon shares stories of hundreds of families whose children have very different lives from their parents.

Southwind Park in Springfield is on the NPR accessible playground list, Playgrounds for Everyone.  Do you know of other accessible parks in the area?

Sunrise, Sunset

Sep 2, 2013

Among my favorite memories is a lovely evening in late May of 1984.  Just home from the hospital, I sat outside with my newborn son, listening while his two older sisters and dad played in the yard.  Other happy memories stand out around this little boy, including his third birthday where he sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” wearing a football helmet and one of his sister’s ballet tutus. 

Blind Trust

Aug 22, 2013

A recent summer storm provided an object lesson for a family I know.  Making their way along an interstate highway on a weekend outing, the family drove into a violent storm moving erratically across the state.

Within minutes, hailstones pelted the car along with heavy rains.  Visibility was seriously compromised.  The parents prayed for safety and watched for an exit where they could get off the road to wait out the storm. 

Meanwhile, the four-year-old in the back seat was alarmed by the noise of the pounding rain and hail.  She asked her parents if they were safe.

Raising an Heir

Aug 15, 2013

Every parent worries about making mistakes in raising children.  Imagine the pressure you would feel if you were raising the future King.  This is high-stakes parenting, indeed.

And yet William and Kate have started down this path with little Prince George, and they are doing it under a microscope through which they are being viewed by the whole world.

Starting Preschool

Aug 8, 2013

Preschool provides a safe venue for kids to learn some hard lessons about the world.  Is your preschooler ready?

Lesson# 1:  What do you mean you’re not going to stay?  For kids who’ve been home with parents, preschool may represent their first major separation.  You can prepare your child with visits to friends, playdates in other homes and seeing the classroom before the first day of school.

As summer winds down, parents see the start of another school year lurking around the corner. Summer freedom has been a blast, but academic expectations lie just ahead.  Here are a few suggestions to rev up your kids’ learning power.

Unexpected Gifts

Jul 25, 2013

A family of five I know has had a heck of a year.  They’ve lost a grandfather, suffered the loss of a job, and now struggle with the serious illness of their mother. 

This family’s three children have missed out on the carefree days of youth in the last year.  Instead, they’ve attended a funeral and mourned the loss of one who played a significant role in their lives.

They’ve listened in as their parents strategized about how to make do with less in the face of a lost salary.

“Don’t sweat this deadline,” commented the longsuffering contractor.  “It’s not a matter of life and death.”

Reflecting on his words, I was thinking about how we use that phrase—“a matter of life and death”—to denote the singularly most essential issues in our lives.  Our very language respects the importance of the experiences of life and death, but this honor dims in the reality of our expectations sometimes.

I Pledge Allegiance

Jul 4, 2013

Recently I attended a fifth grade “graduation” ceremony.  Stuffed like sardines into the hot multi-purpose room typical of public schools, proud parents and grandparents grinned and waved as their kids walked across the stage.