Archive for the ‘childhood’ Category

Will Traditional Forms of Discipline Keep You From Connecting with Your Child? One mom thinks so… and is it a surprise that I don’t agree?   Leave a comment

 

This week a friend asked me to comment on the blog entry of the mother of a 3 year old that never punishes her child.  Here is the link to the short blog entry – http://moms.today.com/_news/2011/04/20/6501676-why-we-dont-punish-our-son-ever

First of all, I would like to say that I view punishment as something that takes place as the result of committing a crime, not the everyday attempt to discipline a child by using methods such as time outs or taking away a toy.    I view the attempt to correct a child’s actions as discipline or consequences and this would never include something that publicly humiliates or belittles a child as most of us have probably sadly witnessed. 

When I was about 7 years old in the mid 1970’s, I met a neighbor girl who called her parents by their first names.  When I asked her why, she said her parents did not want her to view them as authority figures and ‘labels’ like Mom and Dad gave their family a hierarchy of control.   I think this idea is similar to what this mom of the three year old has in mind – the idea that we, as parents, are our children’s equals, that they are like mini adults and that if we use discipline tactics that involve anything more than “getting down on the floor and connecting with your child” or “attempt to identify their feelings” we will damage their precious self-esteem by wielding our power over them.   I disagree and whenever I hear parents using this kind of “reflecting back their feelings” kind of talk – it just sounds fakey – (is that a word?).  

I do believe I have the authority to use discipline to help my children attain a level of appropriate behavior.  Sometimes that discipline is a gentle reminder or are quiet words to help them see something from another person’s point of view.   But other times that discipline comes in the form of a tight grasp behind their neck as I get down to their level and quietly, through gritted teeth and a steel stare, say, “You will stop what you are doing immediately.”  Have I lost an opportunity to connect with my child as this mom suggests?  If you’re always looking to have warm, fuzzy interactions with your children – then yes, from her point of view this is a ‘lost connection’.   Honestly, there are times when I’m not interested in connecting with the kids – as when they are arguing or fussing and I just want quiet – not ‘connection’.

 I don’t believe I need to always be warm, fuzzy and gushingly understanding to connect with my children.  There’s a time for warm and fuzzy, but sometimes when things aren’t going well I will decide to take a toy away if I see the need, remove a child from my presence or at times – even issue a top of the head whack.  Ancient wisdom gives advice to parents such as the Chinese proverb that says, “Parents who are afraid to put their foot down usually have children who step on their toes,” and Proverbs 29:17 says, “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.” 

I have found this wisdom to be true.  Because I demand good behavior – and yes, that demand sometimes comes by way of the fact that I am the mom  and they do as I say ‘just because’ – but it leads to them realizing that when they behave pleasantly, we all enjoy being together as a family.  Sometimes we’ll see a family while we’re out and the children are whining, pestering or being disrespectful and the mom looks exasperated and might repeat the same request to behave three or four times in a tone that is too syrupy nice.  They certainly don’t look like they are enjoying each other’s company – but maybe they would if the mom would take her position of authority and quietly, but firmly demand proper behavior.   Would this undermine her relationship with them as this mom suggests?  Actually, I think it does the opposite.  It lets the kids know that the parent is in charge and there is security in that.

This mom claims that punishment and rewards– which I see as discipline – will not create long term good behavior.  I don’t believe she has the experience, since her child is only three, to claim that statement as true.  It might be interesting to check in with her in the future –especially if there are a few more children in the mix.  How will this child react in the future when someone in a position of authority – such as a boss – demands something of him and doesn’t give a crap about his delicate self-esteem but just needs the job done right? 

I can agree that the regular use of harsh, angry discipline along with the absence of warmth and love would not create long term good behavior.  But my experience has been that in order to build a family life that is generally peaceful, various discipline methods along with love, understanding and open communication are necessary.

The Safety Brigade Strikes Again! Many Outdoor Kid’s Games are Unsafe   2 comments

The Safety Brigade strikes again!  Remember childhood games such as Capture the Flag, Steal the Bacon, kickball and dodgeball?  Well here’s a story from New York where the health department has labeled these activities as unsafe and that they pose a “significant risk of injury.” Children’s recreational programs that offer these ‘dangerous’ activities will fall under certain regulations.

http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2011/04/19/2011-04-19_classic_kids_games_like_kickball_deemed_unsafe_by_state_in_effort_to_increase_su.html

I’ll tell you what is dangerous.  26 million people in the United States have diabetes, according to the CDC.   Many of them are children diagnosed with type II which was once rarely seen in those under the age of 40.  25% of America’s children are obese or overweight. We need to wake up!  Our kids need to be active – they need to play hard and use their bodies.  They cannot do that if we allow our fears of all the ‘what ifs’ to cause us to hover over them and keep them from physical activity.  When our schools and communities jump on the safety bandwagon we create a culture of fear and this handicaps our children by making them feel inept and creating barriers to self-confidence.  If that confidence and physical fitness needs to be attained by getting a few bumps, bruises, lost teeth and stitches – then so be it.

The Safety Brigade: Protecting Kids Everywhere from Adventure!   2 comments

 

“How do you like to go up in a swing?  Up in the air so blue?  Oh I do think it is the most pleasantest thing ever a child can do!”  This little poem was written by Robert Louis Stevenson and captures the childhood joy of the simple act of swinging.  But – obviously Mr. Stevenson has not been on a swing recently.

Gone are the days when playgrounds had swings on super long chains (I’m not good at gauging actual lengths – so I’ll go with super long verses super short) that really did allow you to go “up in the air so blue.”  If you were pushing a child on one of those swings, you’d have time to lay out a picnic lunch before they would make it back to you for another push!

 But along came… the Safety Brigade!  They consisted of helicopter moms, armed with bubble wrap, who alerted their communities about the dangers lurking in local playgrounds.  They investigated and saw that the slides were too high and too fast.  They determined merry-go-rounds were a death trap and that the big, metal giraffe was, well… big and metal! (remember those?) 

Well – the safety brigade won their battle and playgrounds all across American were stripped of fun, unique, stuff.  Now, playgrounds everywhere look the same – colorful, plastic slides that are slow as sludge, swings that are so short you’d better not blink when pushing a kid because they’ll be on the return from that push in a nano second and knock you in the face.  I remember when I was a kid every park in our town had different equipment.  One park had circus themed equipment – an elephant slide and an old circus wagon.  Another park had a slide shaped like a rocket that you climbed up inside to reach the top.  Our elementary school had giant, cement cylinders in its playground.  Cool stuff. 

The argument is that kids were hurt on that old equipment – the swings were too high and someone could fall and break their neck.  True.  The slides were too high and someone could fall and break their neck.  True.  But if you want adventure in life – it comes with risk. Even everyday mundane activities can be dangerous.  People choke to death eating.  Someone may slip in their bathtub and be seriously hurt.  Thousands of people every year die from taking medications.  Yet, we continue to eat, bathe and take medications because it is part of life.  Childhood fun and adventure was once a normal part of life taken for granted.  But now that adventure has been made ultra safe, sanitized and occurs under the ever watchful eye of an adult – who often times is literally hovering over the child.   

There is one park left in our town that still has those giant swings and I will get on one and enjoy the feeling of literally sailing through the air.  The height gained on those gems is such that you can feel the strong pull of gravity on your body after that split second of weightlessness.  That feeling just isn’t there at the end of a six foot chain.  So when we head to this park I always glance behind me to make sure a member of the Safety Brigade isn’t following – ready to snatch up one of the last remaining treasures from American playgrounds and robbing kids everywhere of the chance to experience the simple joy expressed in Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem.

The Goal is Independence   1 comment

image from Coaching with Horses

 

I have always listened carefully to those who are a little farther down the road than I when it comes to parenting and homeschooling.  I have tried to learn from their successes and mistakes.  Many years ago, when my kids were small, a friend who had adult and teen children told me about her experience in raising teens.  She wanted her teens to be independent and be making their own choices about their lives with her being there for guidance if they needed her.  I liked what I saw in her kids – the way they interacted with her on an adult level, they informed her about where they were going – but not asking like a little kid.  They always looked me in the eye and spoke to me like a fellow adult – not with mumbling and downcast eyes like I see so often with teens.  I wanted teens like that, so I followed her advice.

This was very different from my experience as a teen.  I was still very much a little kid – having to ask my parents permission to do anything or go anywhere, I didn’t have a job because my parents believed I had the rest of my life to worry about work (that’s a subject for a future post).  My life at 16 was not much different than when I was 10 – I went to school, my parents took care of everything and I wasn’t being well prepared for life outside of my childhood home.

I began putting my friend’s advice into practice.  My goal was/is to have my kids, by their mid teens, be prepared for life on their own.  They basically decide how to spend their time, how to manage money, how to hold a job and deal with people at that job.  This sounds pretty obvious, but in reality I think many teens aren’t given enough responsibilities and their parents are still running the show – and doing their laundry – when they hit 18.  

Without that push for independence, my boys would have never been able to experience their road trips to South Dakota on their own when they were 16 and 12 and then to Gettysburg and D.C. when they were 18 and 14.  For the last year, my 15 year old often stays alone for days at his grandparents’ cabin enjoying solitude and an environment he loves – the woods.  Last summer, when the boys were 18 and 14, I entrusted our then 3 and 6 year old girls to them for five days while I went on a church trip with my 11 year old (my husband is a truck driver and is gone most of the time).  They took them Geocaching, to the fair to see the animals, and let them stay up late watching Little House on the Prairie DVD’s.  I look at the level of independence my boys have and think I never could have done those things at their age – I was not prepared to. These experiences have enriched their lives and have helped make them capable and strong.

When my oldest was 17, he started college – after getting himself there.  He knew I was available for questions if he needed help filling out applications and financial aid, but I figured he was the one going to college – not me, so he needed to be the one to do the work.  After getting our tax information and asking my husband a few questions about it, he completed everything and got himself to college.

We are a culture of performance.  We want our children to get A’s, do sports, do dance, do theater or whatever.  Those things are great, but in the quest for performance we may forget that they need to learn how to be independent.  It’s wonderful if a kid is the swimming champion in his state while keeping up a 4.0 average – but has so much energy gone into those things that he can’t make a meal (without using the microwave), balance a checkbook, be trusted with the family home and siblings, do home repairs or change a flat tire?  When those life skills are not taught they are not getting a well rounded education so it should not come as a surprise that when they near their late teens  mama is still holding their hand and washing their socks – and believe me – you don’t want to anywhere near socks after they have been worn by a teenager.

Playdates and early academics interfere with a creative childhood   1 comment

An aspect that solely defines childhood in every culture is play.  No matter where children are found or at what time in history they have lived, children have and will always learn about their world through play.  There have been times in history where the playfulness of childhood had been cut short due to poverty or war.  But in recent times, children’s play has been suffering due to over-involvement from adults.  I believe this over-involvement comes in two forms; the push for early academics and too much structured play, such as a playdate. 

The word playdate actually makes me cringe. It brings to mind images of helicopter moms overly concerned with their child’s social calendar.  I have nothing against children playing together – but I guess what I find irritating about playdates is that it is yet another adult orchestrated child activity.  Many times the mom has crafts and a special activity planned – bless her heart. But what I think children need more of is unstructured, unplanned play and loads of it.  The kind where you throw them out the door and say, “Don’t come in unless someone’s bleeding – profusely!”   

When I started half-day kindergarten in 1973, I had never been to preschool or had any kind of lesson or activity.  I played my days away at home with my sister.  Today, most children attend preschool for a couple of years before they go to all day kindergarten with possibly afterschool care for a couple of hours.  Even before they get to preschool, as babies, they are plopped in front of Baby Einstein videos, with the hope of giving them an academic edge, but in reality it just produces kids who have spent more time than necessary in front of the TV screen. 

The push to get children involved in academics does not seem to be producing smarter kids.  My oldest son is in college and I returned to school last year and we are both appalled at how truly uneducated young people are.  We are required to read our classmates’ papers in some of the classes and both my son and I are blown away by much of what we read.  So many cannot express themselves properly in writing; awful grammar and punctuation – one paper I read the person did not know how to punctuate a quotation.   If this is the result of fifteen years of schooling, from the ages of 3 to 18, it’s definitely not working. 

All this structure robs our children of the chance to be bored.  Bored?  I know that you are thinking that being bored is a bad thing, but boredom gives kids the chance to come up with something to do on their own.  No one has scheduled a playdate for them, no Gymboree class to go to, or preschool to fill the time – they have to use their own creativity to fill their days, not just find something to do for a half an hour before supper. 

Of course a structured activity is not bad.  My kids have taken art classes, gymnastics and have been invited on playdates.  But when it’s all put together and most of the hours of their day are orchestrated by someone else, the freedom to use their own creativity and find ways to fill their time is gradually lost. 

Play is the work of childhood.  If we continue to devalue it and replace it with activities, electronic media and academics, I think we will continue to see a decline in creativity and educational performance in our youth.  We need to tell our children more often to… “Go find something to do.”

Posted March 19, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in childhood

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Lessons from Charlotte’s Web   1 comment

 Books are an amazing thing. They speak to us and what we hear may be determined where we are at in life. A phrase may swiftly be read over in one reading, but may jump out at us when read again at another time.

 I recently read Charlotte’s Web for the fourth time.  Years ago I first read it to my now nineteen year old and continued on through our children to the present, where my four and seven year olds enjoyed this sweet tale. I have been at different stages in my adult life at each of the readings and with this most recent one, some of the book’s wisdom had resounded with me.

At one point in the story, Wilbur, the pig, is making plans for his day. For one hour he planned to stand perfectly still and think of what it is to be alive. What wisdom we can learn from simple Wilbur. We are a culture of doing and we seldom learn to just ‘be’.  Can most of us even imagine just ‘being’ for one hour in today’s world?  We may have a lot of down time sitting in front of the tv or computer, but to just ‘be’ and meditate on what it is to be alive, as Wilbur suggested, is something foreign to most of us.  In our doing culture we want to be productive and see the immediate results of how our time has been spent.  When we take the time to ‘be’ we are able to reflect on life, connect with God, and learn more about ourselves.  Those results generally are not seen immediately, but over time we see we are more closely connected with God and walk through life with an inner peace. Wilbur understood what God has been telling us in his Word; “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:2 KJV).

What about our children? Does our culture allow for them to enjoy the green pastures and still waters? In the story, eight year old Fern spends her afternoons sitting in the barnyard watching the animals. What a wonderful way for a child to spend her time. If Fern were a child today her days may look very different; soccer practice on Monday, dance on Tuesday, soccer practice on Wednesday, piano lesson and soccer practice on Thursday with McDonalds in the van on the way to Girl Scouts, soccer game on Friday and attending her brother’s swim meet all day on Saturday. In a culture of doing and achieving, a schedule like that is a reality for many children and it makes for long days if they have already spent much of it in school.  Even when children are home, they are bombarded with constant media presence – computer, Wii, facebook, tv, ipod, texting – the lure of these things is strong and it’s easy to keep our minds occupied at all times with, for the most part, useless garbage.  We push our children to do and accomplish, and equipt them with technology, yet we forget they need time for quiet reflection and at times, to just sit and observe the world. 

Sometimes it takes the simplest among us, like a barn yard pig, to remind us to step back and listen to what God has been telling us all along.

Posted February 22, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in childhood

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Should everything be ‘fun’?   Leave a comment

While sitting in class for massage therapy, we were asked by the director of the program to give feedback regarding the class.  He was looking for suggestions on ways to improve the program and then he asked….. “Is it fun?”  I couldn’t believe he was asking a class of adults if their class was fun.  Fun is riding a roller coaster, water skiing, going to a movie, those things are fun.  I would describe the class as enjoyable, interesting and informative, but not fun… and I don’t expect it to be.

Webster’s dictionary defines fun as, that which is amusing, or mirthful; entertaining; recreation or play.  People today want constant entertainment.  If something is not ‘fun’ it’s not worth doing.  When I taught senior high Sunday school some years ago, I asked the kids what they envisioned the class to be.  It was no surprise that the first thing out of their mouths was, “It should be fun.”  Children have come to believe all their experiences should be fun partly because of the question I hear parents everywhere ask their children.  Whether they are picking up their children from school, church, sports practice, music lessons, the question is always the same – “Did you have fun?”    

 By asking that question it plants the idea in their minds that all their experiences should be fun.  In reality, all experiences aren’t fun, nor should they be.  For example, I enjoy going to church – do I have fun?  Not usually, unless we are doing something like a church picnic or a game night, it is generally not fun.  But just because it’s not fun, doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it.  Some experiences in life are fun, but others are meant to be informative, reflective, educational and productive – these experiences can be enjoyed for what they are meant to be, instead of turning into something that must always be amusing.

Instead of teaching our children that everything they experience should be full of fun and entertainment, I think we need to teach them to find joy in life and savor all the experiences life has to offer – not just the ‘fun’ ones.

Posted January 21, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in childhood

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