Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Learning from Others

I taught a two-hour class this month on the topic of patience and responsibility to a group of child care providers, most of them in-home providers. It was toward the end of the week and I could tell that many of the women in the group were worn out and more prepared to sit back and listen than participate.

So I was pleasantly surprised when, into the second hour, some of them began to open up about their experiences and share their methods for handling feisty children.

Feisty children are those children who tend to test our patience with their larger-than-life reactions, their energy and craving for attention. Although they can feel like the worst kids when you are trying to fulfill the needs of a group of children, I try to emphasize to parents and childcare providers that feisty children can be great leaders if their energy is channeled appropriately.

For example, a child who is "bossy" can be guided by putting her in charge of a project or duty. She can be the line leader or the snack helper or be in charge of making sure the shoes are lined up and coats put away. It is also important to model good behavior to these children because they look to adults to deal with their low frustration tolerance and high sensitivity.

Be aware of your reactions to stressful situations. The bigger their meltdown, the calmer you need to become. Take a breath, think, and speak softly.

A child who has a meltdown or cries at the slightest frustration can be encouraged when adults acknowledge their helpfulness, their intelligence, or their accomplishment when they have persisted at a difficult task. "Try, try again. I know you can do it. You are so smart. I really appreciate your help on this."

As the providers began to open up, they shared some great ideas. One provider started her day with one child by requesting a hug while the parent was still there. "I really need a hug so my day goes well," she told him. She said it is really improving the child's behavior to have that positive physical contact right away in the morning.

Another provider practices a lot of time-ins by giving children lap time and having them help her. Sometimes she'll have a few children on her lap, she says, but they love it and seem to get along better through the day.

A provider with sons said that she requires them to say something nice about each other when they are fighting to diffuse tension and encourage empathy. What a great way to build positive communication in your home!

I encourage parents and childcare providers to find others who share their challenges and stage of life in order to gain new insight and ideas on patience and discipline. Sometimes it just helps to feel like you're not alone. And that next idea could be the perfect thing to help a feisty child soar to new heights (not literally, of course. I don't advocate soaring in the house.)

Seriously, from a mom who has her own feisty child, take a second look at those challenging children. They have beautiful gifts to share with someone who believes in them.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Art of Doing Nothing

You have permission to nap more often. This is the mantra of SARK, an author who has made napping into an art form.

I interviewed her once when she was planning an appearance in Minnesota. She said that she pays close attention to her body rhythms. When she feels like working, she works. When she needs rest, she rests. That could mean working at 2 a.m. and going back to bed at 10 a.m.

When was the last time you had a nap? I used to think that napping was for other people. It seemed like such a waste of time. I had a job, two children, a husband, a house. Who could think of napping?

I didn't even nap when my children were infants. That was my productive time to work on the computer or clean up the kitchen from breakfast and lunch. Even as I read or rocked my babies, my mind was often thinking of my to-do list.

Now my babies are 6 and 3. I miss the rocking.

Take it from a multi-tasking overachiever. The art of doing nothing is well worth learning. New research is proving that multi-tasking is actually less productive than focusing on one chore at a time. When we multi-task, our brains still need to pause and re-focus, which leads to those times when we stop in the middle of a room and wonder what we're doing there.

Patience requires us to slow down, to be mindful of the situation before responding. It also allows our brains to move from beta "fight or flight" mode to soothing alpha waves. When we sit down for dinner. When we read a book to our children. When we take a bath instead of a shower, without worrying about what isn't getting done, we allow our bodies and minds to regroup. Alpha brainwaves are associated with higher learning. When we slow down to handle a task or to parent our children, we have a better chance of avoiding the same mistakes.

We are also happier. Too much time in beta makes us feel stressed, frazzled, even insane.

If you are used to handling it all in your house, learning to do nothing will feel very first. It will also take some cooperation from your family members. They will think you are sick if you suddenly sit down to read or take a nap. You will need to explain to them that you need some quiet time. Tell them that they are free to join you as long as they are also quiet.

Lately, my husband and I have taken turns having naps on Sunday afternoons. He handles the needs of the kids and the dog while I enjoy the delicious luxury of crawling back to my bed and reading until I doze off. If you are a single parent, I suggest swapping kids with a friend to allow each of you the luxury of doing nothing. It will feel like a waste of time at first, but as you get into the habit you find that you are more productive and refreshed than you have felt in a long time.

Don't you deserve one or two hours a week of sanity time? Yes. Yes. Yes!

Allow yourself this time. It costs nothing. But the costs to your health and happiness without it are too high.

La dolce vida, my friends.

Monday, January 1, 2007

New Year Parenting Resolutions

Happy New Year! I'm wrapping up my holiday break today and am ready for a highly productive 2007. I wanted to share some interesting observations from my holiday.

•When adults wind down from a busy schedule, they may pick on each other about things that otherwise don't seem to bother them. For example, a pile of holiday wrapping paper and ribbon in the laundry room. Or an empty bowl of cereal left on the counter.

•After all the presents are unwrapped and tossed around and a few broken, children will begin to whine and fight with each other again.

•The best gifts cost nothing. My favorites this year included seeing my daughters in angel and sheep costumes, singing "Get Ready for the Baby;" a fairy quest in the snowy woods at a birthday party, and trying to figure out what kind of holiday word was duct-taped to my back at a friend's Christmas party.

You may have experienced some of this yourself. If so, I challenge you to include in your resolutions a little less focus on the material and a little more focus on the spiritual, as in feeding your spirit and the spirits of those you love. It starts with little things, like stopping to listen to your child finish a sentence or story and responding to show you heard her. It means greeting your family members with "Good Morning!" even if you're really tired. It means cutting out the cuss words even when you're really angry. It means thanking your children when they help around the house.

My daughter recently wrote a cinquain poem about me, and it helped me understand how she sees me in relation to her life.

Helpful, Loving
Working, Working, Working
Taking Kids Fun Places

The line about working did make me pause, but again if this is how I'm remembered in this wonderful life, I can't complain.

Ask your children sometime to describe you. Their answers may surprise you.