Tagged Advice

Supporting a New Adoptive Parent

Supporting a New Adoptive Parent

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You know how the saying about assuming goes….

Supporting a New Adoptive ParentOver time I have found the creation of family to be a precarious thing. For some, the almost fairytale scenario of marriage, giving birth to children and expanding the family ranks seems, well easy. Yet for others, the road to a larger family is much more challenging. When it became apparent that we would not be having biological children my husband and I turned to adoption. We saved money, went to classes and baby proofed the house long before a child would join us. We had more ups and downs than a wicked roller coaster, but when G. joined us we felt joy, relief and amazement.

We were new adoptive parents…finally!

Interestingly much of the world saw our daughter’s adoption as fodder for conversation. They assumed they were part of the situation. If I hadn’t witnessed some of the comments first hand I would not believe them myself.

“How much did she cost?”

“Where did she come from?”

“Is she yours?”

“What is her story?”

“Thank you for saving her!”

For those of you who know me my sarcastic side wanted to jump out at every turn but most times I opted for education. Yet at each comment or question I wanted to shout “Nobody asks a pregnant woman if she can afford that child or details of conception!”

In today’s Information Age, some details are not for the public and some stories are not mine to tell. I am not advocating for closed adoptions and to go back to it being a taboo subject, but perhaps we all need to look at what is driving us. Is it curiosity? Fear? Hatred? Ignorance?

There is much grace in thinking before you speak.

Children often ask questions about our family. They want to know if those kids are ours and if we all go together. For them, an affirmative answer lets them move on. Perhaps we would all benefit from this mix of curiosity, innocence and acceptance. I  try to remember these experiences when I encounter something unknown – instead of assuming.

Here are 10 things to say to new adoptive parents:

10 Things to Say to a New Adoptive Parent1. What a blessing!

2. _________ is so cute/handsome!

3. Do you need anything?

4. How are things going?

5. Isn’t it miraculous?

6. Let me know a good time to come see you all.

7. Make a positive observation about the child ( alert, snuggly etc)

8. What is your favorite part of parenthood so far?

9. Are you getting any sleep yet?

10. I see so much love reflected in your eyes.

 

 

Practical ideas for traveling with kids!

Road Trip: Tips for Traveling with Kids

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The holidays are approaching and we definitely have a road trip or two planned. Here are some tips and tricks that have worked for us (alongside those things that definitely failed). These may help as you cross state lines and try not to fall off your sanity radar. I’m sure things on the list will change as children become older and more independent. For now, the toddlers and and tykes have given us these golden pieces of guidance.

Practical ideas for traveling with kids!

Snacks

Fail – cinnamon toast crunch, chocolates, and similar items that leave sticky residue over hands, clothes, and car seats
Score – froot loops, trail mix, and other easily vacuum-able dry finger foods

Fail – water bottles or juice boxes which result in inevitable spills, half empty leftovers, and excess trash in the car
Score – reusable water bottles that are both environmentally friendly & convenient

Entertainment

Fail – puzzles, legos, craft beads that fall and cause drama because butter fingered kid NEEDS to unbuckle from their car-seat or else…
Score – car DVD players, audio books, individual coloring books/kits to maintain a semblance of collective productivity

Fail – play doh. ugh. UGH!
Score – books and educational electronics

Clothes

Fail – cute outfits that will get spilled on and won’t be comfortable to snooze in
Score – PJs. Comfy cozy cotton lounge style easy to sleep in snuggle gear

Fail – anything NEW or anything with buttons
Score – older clothes that you can toss in a gas station trash can after ultimate diaper explosions (without struggling with buttons)

Maintenance

Fail – paper towel rolls
Score – baby wipes. they clean EVERYTHING under the sun. EVERYTHING

Fail – trash bag because it’ll inevitably get mixed up with non-trash bags so you’re stuck digging out the useful things amidst junk
Score – trash container, sealed to contain smells and easily disposed and re-used after a quick wipe-down (see maintenance score item above).

Backpacks

Fail – asking children to pack their own
Score – filling individual backpacks with quick emergency essentials (diapers, extra clothes, emergency undergarments, a soothing stuffed animal or surprise)

Fail – packing bandages and emergency supplies in someone’s backpack (the number of fake emergencies we’ve had to address…)
Score – hiding away the actual first aid kit and replacing child’s backpack with toy bandages and medical equipment to diagnose and treat themselves

Happy Holiday Road Trip, Folks!

Star Wars Blog

10 Parenting Lessons Learned From Star Wars

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So, not long ago, in a galaxy all too familiar, there was a rainy day, and restless siblings at odds with each other. A decision was made to join the rebel alliance, and begin the Star Wars experience.

Star Wars Blog

Since then, There have been moments of great despair, a night of confusion when the kids find out the relationship of Darth Vader and Luke (I’ll never forget the looks I got that night, as if all father’s were now suspect), there were times for parents to cringe (J.J. Binks), and times to rejoice for all.

But what we didn’t expect were the major parenting wins.   Important themes and life lessons frequently met with eye rolls when coming from the mouths of my wife or myself, but suddenly appreciated and heard thanks to new friends in a galaxy far, far away.

  1. Use The Force.
    Perhaps long ago, midi-chlorians were necessary to access the all-encompassing Force. Thankfully today, we have the knowledge of, and power to use Conflict Resolution. We all have the ability to solve problems, calmly with Jedi-like zen – and not let fear rule our lives and decision making ability. And we know “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
  2. Choices made in anger are usually not our best choices.
    How many times did I use my Yoda voice in my head when my middle child revolted putting shoes on, instead slinging them to the other side of the room. “Mmmm… much anger I sense in you. Anger is the path to the dark side.”

This actually helps me from becoming angry and to use the FORCE to solve problems. And that’s just for my benefit. Hopefully my daughter will eventually learn that it’s much harder to build up your block tower when you’re angrily throwing blocks at the tower. This also leads to…

  1. Problems are best solved when we are calm.
    Young Padawan learner, “You will know (the good from the bad) when you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

So in other words, when you’re brother takes your toy, and runs away, find a way to make peace, not scream, cry and chase with harmful intent.

  1. Conflicts are going to happen.
    I love the squabbles of C3PO and R2D2. They are connected to eachother through all the movies, but they also drive their hard drive’s batty sometimes.

Much like the relationships of … well anybody in the household. We love each other, we are dedicated to each other. And we will drive each other crazy.
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  1. Size doesn’t always matter.
    From birth, our oldest daughter has been in the bottom of the percentiles for weight and height. She’s petite and likely always will be. But she has this longstanding dream of being “the biggest kid”. Friendships have been cast aside because a friend (truthfully) told her that she was the shorter child.   So when our kids got to watch Yoda do battle with Count Dooku, my wife didn’t hesitate to point out that Yoda was physically smaller than his nemesis. Yet, not only did he hold his own, he clearly is a great warrior with a smaller stature. Therefore, it’s ok to be smaller because:
  1. Hard work and perseverance are the way to achieve your goals.
    You may be angry, you may be sad, you may be scared, or you want to give up. Your ship may be deep at the bottom on a swamp in the Degobah system. But if you stick with your work, with your training, you can be a magnatile jedi, or a math jedi. Learn from your failures, and continue to push forward.
  1. Even when things seem darkest, there is always reason to hope.
    Maybe this one is more for us as parents. Even when your kids didn’t nap, and have been fighting for an hour, and at your heels with every move you make, you know that bedtime is coming. “Mmmm… sleep they will.” I say to my wife, “I am not afraid!” and she responds back: “You will be, you will be.”
  1. “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.”
    You see it with Jengo Fett/Boba Fett, the climax with Darth Vader saving Luke from the Emperor, and even when Shmi Skywalker lets her only son go with the Jedi, there’s a feeling that these movies are a lot about relationships between parents and their kids. Our kids think a lot differently than we do – and that is an amazing thing that we should all appreciate.
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  1. Silly Jedi, Mind Tricks are for all of us.
    Obi Wan might consider this an abuse of power, but my wife and I were pleasantly surprised how we can use The Force to our advantage over our kids. “You do not want to stay awake, you want to go right to sleep.” OK, that worked 0 times.
    How about when we pass the $1 bin at Target, you just wave your hand and say: “These are not the toys you are looking for.”
    What Jedi Mind Tricks do you think your kids may be playing on you?
  1. Love wins. Always.
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How much are you willing to risk to reach your goals?

Coalition of the Willing

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How much are you willing to risk to reach your goals?

As I sat in a professional development class last week a new idea was brought to my attention that struck a chord with me. The idea is “the coalition of the willing.” Now, on further review there are some political ideas that might accompany that phrase, but this was not at all how the presenter explained it. We were embarking on how to be more blended in our approach with technology in the classroom. If you teach or deal with technology, sometimes the thought of really purposefully merging the two is quite daunting. Over and over the presenter said, we are not looking for perfection or to have everything figured out before you start, but rather a coalition of the willing.

Willing to try, willing to fail, willing to try again.

I am a person who loves learning and in learning there are always some failures. Most failures are great teachers. I like the idea of seeking out others on this journey that want to be in a coalition of the willing.

I can see many parts of my life where this is applicable:

  1. I have much to learn and much to teach about kids and parenting.
  2. I love to find new books to read and will talk to anyone about what they are reading even if it is a genre I don’t usually care for.
  3. I aspire to learn how to crochet better and hope a high school friend that lives far away can be a mentor.

I tell my first graders that one of the most important things they will ever do is become a life long learner. How can I espouse that, and not truly be following my own advice?

In my adulthood, I have wanted to learn new things in certain wheelhouses or in my comfort zone. I now seek others that can teach me, guide me, learn from me, and fail with me so we can strive for new learning and new adventures.

May this fall be filled with adventures, learning, teaching, mentoring and fun with others that seek the coalition of the wiling.

 

A sweet letter of encouragement to moms who just found out their child has Down Syndrome

Down Syndrome: A letter to a mama who just found out…

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October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. I hardly knew a thing about Down Syndrome before my daughter came along. I’m sure many people who receive this diagnosis for their child don’t know much about it either.

A sweet letter of encouragement to moms who just found out their child has Down Syndrome

When we received the news 22 weeks into my pregnancy, just days after Christmas, that our daughter had Down Syndrome, I thought my world was imploding. I had no idea what to expect, or what was in store for us.

I was almost 40 and we wanted a baby so very, very much.  There was no way we were going to do anything other than keep her – we decided that the day we found out I was pregnant. This baby was who we were supposed to have, and that’s just how it was meant to be.

But… I. Was. Terrified.

So this is what I would like to say to any woman who has just been told her precious child has Down Syndrome…


Dearest mama, with that sweet baby in your belly…

I can’t pretend I know exactly how you feel.  But I understand a lot of it.

Yesterday you found out that your baby has Down Syndrome.

I know this morning is so hard for you.  It may even be harder than yesterday.

I remember clearly the first morning after we found out.

I woke up after finally falling asleep for a few hours and had about 2 seconds of consciousness before the news I had received the day before hit me all over again, almost like for the first time.

I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. 

Like the walls were closing in.

Like someone was squeezing my heart in a vice.

And I’m not going to sugarcoat it: I had the same feeling for many mornings after.

But I want to share this with you, for what it is worth:

Each day it hurt a little bit less.

Yes, there were spikes of pain when some incident triggered it. Lots of them.

But overall, it got less and less and less.

On the day of our diagnosis, I said to my husband “What are we going to do?!”

He simply said,

“We are going to LOVE her.

Above all else, she is a BABY. She will eat, sleep, poop, pee, smile, giggle, laugh, and cry – hopefully not too much!

And we will deal with whatever else comes along, as it comes along.

But let’s not guess, or imagine bad things for her. Let’s wait and see.”

And that’s what we did.

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And as the days then weeks then months passed I found that,

almost proportionally,

my pain, which had been overwhelming and consuming and I thought would never ever go away decreased,

while my love and hopes and excitement to meet my Vallyn increased until I simply felt like I could not wait another single moment to hold her in my arms!!!

After Vallyn was born, they laid her on my chest and my first thought was “yes, she does have Down Syndrome – I can see it a little bit”.

But almost before that thought processed in my head another voice inside shouted

YES!  This is MY DAUGHTER and I finally get to see her and hold her and tell her how I love her so much! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” 

And she turned her head and looked straight into my eyes and I couldn’t believe the wave of love and peace that washed over me.

And now I find that every single morning since she was born, without fail,

no matter how tired I am,

instead of feeling that awful pain of those first few months after diagnosis,

I look down into that crib and I see her looking up at me, smiling, and

it feels like the best Christmas morning ever.

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And I can’t believe that on the day the doctor told me my daughter has Down Syndrome, I thought my life was over and would never be good again.

I was so, so very wrong.

Now, sweet mama, I’m not saying everything will be perfect. (Remember, no sugar coating.)

It won’t be – not with ANY kid – Down Syndrome or no Down Syndrome.

I’m saying honestly to you that there will be times that are scary and hard and frustrating.

Baby Girl Vallyn (3)

But there will also be times when you feel you can take on the world.

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There will be tears of both joy and sorrow.

There will be ups and downs.

There will be so much laughter, and SO MUCH LOVE.

Please don’t feel like you have to give up having dreams for your child.

Because you don’tyou may just have to change them a little.

And they may or may not come true.  So what?!  Make some new ones.

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I never could have dreamed that Vallyn would be as truly amazing as she is.

But she conquered a heart surgery at five weeks old.

 

A sweet letter of encouragement to moms who just found out their child has Down Syndrome

And it took a while, but she’s walking, practically running now.

She has hiked on her own two feet almost a mile around a lake at 9,400 feet.

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She has been in four Scottish Highland Festival parades and brought joy and smiles to those along the way, waving and blowing kisses and causing people to run into the street with their cameras to get her picture as she rides by.

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She got through having the flu, RSV, and pneumonia all at once, and with a smile on her face!

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She has ridden ponies.

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She has been a flowergirl in a wedding.

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She has been to the Grand Canyon.

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She has splashed with unadulterated joy in alpine lakes.

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She has spread her infectious smile to so many people; at the grocery store, doctors offices, and pretty much everywhere we go.

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She goes to preschool, plays with her cousins and friends, has been to both coasts, had multiple photos in a book on physical therapy for children with Down Syndrome, has met Miss Colorado (twice!), met government figures and important researchers, and had the most liked photo ever on the Rocky Mountain National Park Facebook page.

She has fought so hard her entire life – to be strong, to learn, to overcome. Her strength and determination and stubbornness blow me away on a daily basis.

SHE IS MY HERO. 

And she is a wonderful, caring, fun, silly, LOVING big sister.

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And she’s not even three and a half!

I had no idea that day so long ago that she would do all these things.

And I can’t WAIT to see what else she can do!!!

So…dear mama, I don’t know your exact circumstances, thoughts, beliefs, or feelings.

Or exactly what challenges you and your sweet baby will face.

Or what your baby may or may not eventually be able to do.

What I do know is that this is scary and it hurts and it is not what you expected.

And you are allowed to feel all the emotions you are feeling – please don’t believe otherwise and don’t stuff those feelings in.

Get them out of you, as much as you can, so that when that baby gets here, all that’s left is

LOVE and HOPE.

I can tell you that ‘it gets easier’ and you may feel like punching me – I might if I were you.

But please, please don’t give up on this baby. Or yourself. Ever.

I beg you – don’t place limitations on this child you haven’t gotten to meet yet.

Instead, choose to picture this child doing wonderful and amazing things.

Being healthy. Brave. And fighting hard.

And being so full of life, and joy, and LOVE that you will be utterly floored.

Please celebrate the little victories as well as the big ones.

(Often those that seem ‘little’ to others are GIGANTIC to us.)

Know that while your family may not fit into the “typical” or “normal”, what you have will become your normal, and it will just be what it is. (Plus, after Vallyn’s diagnosis a friend said to me “Well, normal is boring anyway!”)

When you feel ready, please reach out to other mamas who are going through what you are.

(I cannot emphasize this enough!)

They will be a source of strength, knowledge, laughter, tears and support.

Please also contact your local Down Syndrome organization. They can help connect you with resources and with other families. (That’s how I found my other mamas!)

I have not forgotten all the times along this path that have been so hard.  And I’m sure there will be more hard times for us in the future.

But I do know where I am now and I am so thankful.

Brave mama, you are so strong.

You can do this.

It may not feel like that now and you may feel beat up, but I know you will survive.

And please know that you are being trusted with, and gifted with, a very special child.

So give that little baby in your tummy a love pat, think good thoughts, and don’t stop dreaming!

Because dreams can come true. Even dreams we didn’t know we had.

With much love and MANY CONGRATULATIONS on your baby,

A mama with a beautiful girl that has Down Syndrome, and who I wouldn’t trade for the world

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Resources on Down Syndrome:

Down Syndrome Pregnancy

Support for Parents Preparing for the Birth of  Child with Down Syndrome

National Down Syndrome Society

National Down Syndrome Congress

Global Down Syndrome Foundation

Rocky Mountain Down Syndrome Association

You can find more of Cassie’s writing at Expectant…

Great ideas for putting the phone down and being present with your kids.

Ring the alarm: The Phone is on

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I’m calling it CPADD – cell phone attention deficit disorder and I’m guilty of it. Are you?

I like to think I am pretty good at being present. I’m a good listener. I can shut the world out and focus on a task. I play with my son. I do yoga. I read. Books and articles start to end. I do breathing exercises while sitting in heinous traffic jams.

So why can’t I put down the phone when I’m at home? Why do I need to bring it to the park? It has a camera right? For safety, ah ha. Why do I need to have my phone in my line of vision for 80% of my day?

Great ideas for putting the phone down and being present with your kids.

 

In my city, using a cell phone while driving is illegal. Distracted driving comes with a fine of $400, a potential court fee, a potential fine of $1000 if you receive a summons or fight your ticket and three demerit points applied to your driver’s record (we have a total of 6 points). Our governing bodies have had to police hand held use in vehicles yet every day you can see people using their phones in their car. What is it about our nature to want to be everywhere all the time? Why do we feel the need to respond to emails/texts/call immediately? What is it about the present that is so daunting that we need to escape it?

Something that resonates with me from my travels in Northern Canada is the idea of sitting silence. To paraphrase a dear friend of mine, Paul Andrew, “learning to sit in silence and be with yourself is a great challenge, but offers great rewards.”

We all have tasks and needs that require our attention, of course. But since I’m not in a profession that demand that I be ‘on call’, why can’t I put away my phone when I’m parenting my son? Why can’t I be present in extended moments of time with the people I’m closest to?

Since I’m the only one who can change my CPADD as I’ve yet to hear of a law for distracted parenting, I’m putting myself on a challenge and calling out to others who want to join me in opening even just a small part of the day to be cell-phone free. There’s a basket that sits in our front hallway that acts as a catch all for keys, mail, lip balm, sunglasses. And it’s now officially been made my free zone. The place where I drop my phone when I get home that allows for two things: one, my phone has a place to be out of my sight and reach and two, I can be present with my family for the precious hours in the day we have together.

It’s a challenge, for sure. But just when the urge to reach out and see what is going on ‘out there’ creeps in, I tune in to a softer inner voice, that of Paul reminding me of the rewards to sitting silence. Of being present, of parenting as best I can, in play and in guiding, in the sound of wind or music or laughter and tears in the playground or at home that need nothing more then my acknowledgment and being. Hands free.

How to help your kids find joy everyday.

Joy in the Journey

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I have long marveled at how my own two children approach life in so different a manner. One, is enthusiastic when giving gifts and eager to show the recipient the gift they picked out. This child is also the one that squealed with joy at a new dress her grandmother got her and said “I have wanted this for my whole life, thank you!” The other child is less joyful in giving and less grateful in receiving.

How to help your kids find joy everyday.

So, if they are being raised the same, it must be based more internally. I pondered gratitude and how to get my children to see the joy around them and cultivate that for others. It is going to be our fall project. I want to daily highlight the things we are grateful for, but not just list them of in a sanctimonious way. I think to truly be more grateful, you have to find the joy in the little things. Not every day brings celebrations, cake and presents, yet I am grateful for each day none the less. My children do have advantages in life that others do not and I want them to notice the difference and to be called to action. This fall our family will undertake to find more joy in the simple little things in life, and to cultivate joy in others’ lives.

Our habit at the dinner table is to share highs and lows or a favorite thing from the day. I love to hear the highlights of my family and what they remember at the end of the day. I plan to help us recognized our joy filled experiences at that time and to plan out how we can inspire others.

As with all new endeavors I am not sure how this will go, but I will see what we have learned next by month. Maybe we will be experts in spreading joy, and recognizing our own abundance!

How do your kids feel about going back to school?

Reluctant or Rejoicing: A New School Year Begins

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As the new school year approaches, there are a myriad of feeling swirling about for both parents and kids. Many kids are thrilled to back to school shop, break out the new backpack and head off for a grand new adventure in their new grade. On the flip side, some students are anxious about their upcoming school year. These kids might have anxiety, or be at a new school, or just struggling this year.

How do your kids feel about going back to school?

Here are some tips to help start the school year off right no matter how your child is feeling.

Rejoicing Students:

1. Help them start off organized with folders, and new supplies.

2. Talk with them about what they are most excited about as school approaches.

3. Talk with them about what they can do if their feelings change. (Like when they learn their best friend is in a different class, or they did not get the teacher they wanted, etc…)

4. Celebrate the beginning of the school year with a fun breakfast!

5. After the first day have them share out what they liked best! Some kids might like to draw or write about their day as well. A new journal might be just the ticket!

Reluctant Students:

1. Talk about the things that are making them worry. Are their things that can be done to minimize these feelings? Talking to the new teacher? Touching base with the school counselor? A good friend?

2. Go through the morning routines before school starts. Practice what the morning will look like and what the kid will need to do so there are fewer surprises. For some students, a picture schedule may help.

3. Celebrate the new school year with a special breakfast. For some students their favorite or “regular” breakfast will be a source of comfort.

4. Help the student know what each item of school supplies are used for. Sometimes they will need practice putting items in folders, using parts of backpacks etc. Model with items at home so they have a better idea how to stay organized. For those student that struggle with executive function, or focus, this will be an ongoing lesson.

5. Talk about the positive things that will be happening at school. This could be a good friend to play with, a familiar routine, teachers they know, or fun events that happen at school.

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The most difficult part may be to gauge what category your child falls into because it may change day to day or minute to minute. Talking to the teacher or school staff if your child is really reluctant may help so they can have a heads up and try to quickly get your student involved as they enter the building. If you have more than one child the struggle may be to keep the rejoicing student from overwhelming the reluctant student OR it may be keeping the reluctant student from stealing the joy from the rejoicing student.

Good Luck on a brand new school year! Celebrate each small joy, small victory and focus on the positive. This will help all of the students in your life!

Practical tips for talking about gender roles with your kids

Getting Social: A Gender Neutral Dialogue

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In the world we live, there is a constant sliding scale that is our social evolvement. In social evolution, not all of us are at the same place, there are many factors, background, exposure, education just being a few. This is an exciting time to be a parent, as many social issues are coming to the forefront, and that sliding scale is moving forward for many. It is a perfect time to start a dialogue now with your kids about social justice, and discuss issues, like gender, race, equality and consent. Our children are not only advocates for the future, but also advocates for change now. This is the first part in a series of articles about the discussions of social justice with my kids.

Practical tips for talking about gender roles with your kids

MY BEGINNINGS WITH GENDER NEUTRAL PARENTING:

First of all, there are many, many misgivings on gender-neutral parenting: (discussed here.) As a kid, I liked Boy George, and Depeche Mode, and wore earrings, and even once had my naval pierced. It never seemed odd to me, but it did seem odd to others in West Texas.

When I became a parent, the phrase ‘gender-neutral’ was not at all on my radar. As I continue the process of parenting, I have learned a lot. I hope to raise my kids in an environment that encourages freedom for personal growth, period. Wait, that lacks emphasis, I guess I should type it in all caps: FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. PERIOD.

Many things we do, without even thinking about them, encourage gender stereotypes.

Girls: We talk more to them. We compliment them, how they look, how pretty they are. Words we use: cute, pretty, princess, sweetie, cupcake, etc.

Boys: We talk about their future conquests, how they could end up as the next linebacker for The Cowboys, how they are so tough, no one will mess with them.   Words we use: heartbreaker, lady killer, or the less insidious but equally divisive; athletic, strong, wild, brute.

ELSA SPARKS A DIALOGUE 

So, let’s go into when I realized I needed to have this dialogue. Way way back in the Frozen –crazed days of 2014 (shudder: I swore I’d never speak of them), there was an argument in our house:

My daughter tells my son: “You can’t be Elsa, she’s a girl, you can be Sven.”

This was a pretty telling statement, 1. That gender trumped species, (though to be honest, my 3 year and Sven share similar eating – and likely, hygiene habits.) 2. There was an understanding that in play, boys were boys and girls were girls, regardless of species even. That’s when I started to be more aware of the gender-controlled world we live in.

Just after the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage, I talked with my daughter about love and gender.

Me: Adelaide, do you think that men can love men and women can love women, like I love your mom?

A:  Yeah, I know that.

Me: What do you think of that?

A: I like it. Wait, Do you mean like mommies and daddies?

Me: Well yeah. Some families have a mommy and daddy like you, some have 2 daddies, some have 2 mommies. 

A: Aww, how sweet.

Me: Yeah, 2 men and 2 women can love each other, and can have families, just like a man and a woman can. But not everyone likes that. Some people don’t think that people of the same gender
should be married.

A: That’s so mean of them. I think they should be married.

Me: I agree with you, and so does the law now. I think that love is love, and it doesn’t matter what gender you are.

Adelaide smiles in agreement.


But a couple days later, it was a harder discussion about clothes and toys:

Me: Adelaide, do you think there are some clothes just for girls?

A: Ummm, dresses, and skirts.

Me: Do you know that in some places, boys and men wear something called kilts?

We look it up on google images.

A: That’s only in pretend land.

Me: Let me ask you this, is it OK for you to wear boys clothes?

A: I can wear what Asher wears. Pants and shorts and shirts.

Me: Ok, so, can he wear what you wear?

A: No, silly, boys don’t wear pink.

Me: I wear pink.

A: Well, my teacher said boys don’t wear girl’s stuff, and she knows everything.

This helped me realize that there are lots of influences that a child has, and I’m only one of them. In many classrooms, there definitely exists very specific gender lines and roles – that go along with toys, dress up clothes and even class jobs. Getting to know them is part of being an advocate for your child, and will help in your continued dialogue.

Me: What about pretend play? Is it OK to pretend to be a boy or a girl?

A: yes. I like to pretend I am a boy –I’m Batman (in a gruff, and surprisingly accurate Lego Batman voice)

Me: And your brother?

A: Yes. He likes to be me, and play with my toys.

Me: You like that he likes to be you? (shocked)

A: Yes… sometimes – as long as he doesn’t copy.

BUILDING PARENTING WINS – 1 VIRTUAL LEGO AT A TIME

So, we had this proud parenting moment in our house recently when playing The Lego Movie video game. In the game, you can switch between a wide assortment of Lego characters and superheroes.

She felt an affinity for Batman, while she was curious about Wonder Woman, she decided she definitely preferred Batman. She ran around the house for days saying “I’m Batman!” in legit Batman voice. It made us happy that our daughter didn’t feel she HAD to be Wonder Woman, just because Wonder Woman happens to identify as Wonder Woman.

I know some people that I know would stop her if they heard, and correct her “You can be batgirl. Haven’t you heard of her?” She also wants to be Batman for Halloween. Boom.

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(Wanna have some fun? If you have both a girl and a boy, challenge them to get dressed in each other’s closet. It is a guaranteed good time. It seemed they felt like they were breaking the rules that society already set- and we all know breaking the rules feels really good.

EMOTIONS ARE FOR GIRLS AND WORK IS FOR BOYS

I have accepted that I will never have the communication skills of my wife. For instance, she can go into such detail explaining what happened during her day on the drive home from school. I have trouble mustering a 4 word statement to explain my day. “Good” or “Not bad” will usually be all I can muster. I am aware of this, and really try at it. But growing up as a male, I don’t think society challenged me to develop my communication skills.

I want both of my children to learn to deal with their emotions and communicate better than I have myself. So far so good, as Asher already is able to recognize and express his emotions more quickly than his 5 year old sister.

Ash: I’m mad

Me: You’re mad? What are you mad about?

Ash: I wanted to close the car door and jump out.

Me: Did you ask?

Ash: No.

Pauses for effect and stares at me.

Can I close the car door and jump out?

Me: Sure, just reverse the order.

At just 3 he is able to express his feelings so well, and communicate them to me, I have a lot to learn from him.

Emotions are not girl stuff. It’s life stuff. Learning how to handle your emotions is going to be pivotal in our child’s lives, and in their relationships the rest of their lives. Why would we prepare our daughters for heartbreak and conflict, but not our sons?

What’s your son going to do when he suffers his first breakup? What is he going to do when he has a conflict at work? “toughen up” is no longer an acceptable strategy.

It’s important that our kids understand their emotions, and have productive, helpful strategies to get through the big and powerful ones.

Breathing exercises have been great for our family, and we practice often when we’re happy. And sure, sometimes, when she is especially mad at me, my daughter chooses to hold her breath.

PRACTICAL LIFE SKILLS ARE FOR EVERYONE

Asher loves to help cook. And he has always wanted to “put back” whatever he is playing with. Montessori schooling only tells part of the story, Adelaide on the other hand would rather do anything but cook or clean. She will occasionally spread her bed, or put clothes away, but only ever under duress. Asher doesn’t mind, ever. And he loves to do dishes.

Oh how I wait for the day when kids are doing work independently around the house, cooking, dishes, trash, and, dare I say it: laundry. It is hard to believe there was a time when laundry was thought of as girls work. Learning how to cook, to clean after yourself, to take care of things, these are life skills. How did anyone make it without this crucial training? My wife will tell you these people just found someone else to do the work for them. Ahem. But if we want to raise independent, capable, confident little humans, how can household chores be skipped?


Giving our kids the opportunities to be themselves, enjoy a wide variety of things – instead of just boy and just girl things is a great start. But I encourage you to start a dialogue with your kids, about their thoughts on all this boy/girl stuff.

 

 

7 Tips to Help You Help Your Kids Build Healthy Friendships

7 Tips to Help Your Kids Build Healthy Friendships

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I consider myself very lucky. I had two best friends growing up, both of whom are still in my life. I no longer live in the town where I grew up, which seems to be more the norm these days than in the past. Neither of these friends live in our hometown either – we all scattered for college, got married and are now raising kids and pursuing our careers. I’m grateful that technology has allowed me to maintain connections with both of these bright, thoughtful, supportive women.

7 Tips to Help You Help Your Kids Build Healthy Friendships

As a parent, I want to help my kids build these kind of healthy friendships. Despite what my husband says, building healthy friendships doesn’t always come naturally to everyone.

Our kids sometimes need support and coaching, because let’s face it – friendships can be hard. You are opening yourself up to someone else, becoming vulnerable in a way you haven’t with anyone other than family before and it is quite likely that your best friends will hurt your feelings sometimes. Managing through the ups and downs of early friendships sets the stage for building healthy friendships throughout your child’s life.

All kids are different and need their own guidance and support – especially kids who are outliers due to various asynchronicities, cognitive ability or emotional regulation. As parents there are some specific skills we can encourage as our kids journey into healthy, life-long friendships.

Build Negotiation Skills

At the heart of all healthy friendships is the give-and-take that is rooted in a deep and genuine concern for the other person. That give-and-take rarely comes naturally to kids (at least it hasn’t to my kids).  As adults we have likely learned complex negotiation strategies – either through formal education and training or just through years of experience. Breaking those strategies down for kids can be daunting, so I suggest starting with the idea of teaching our kids to focus on a shared interest or outcome.

I’m going to pick on my own kids for a moment. They both really enjoying playing together – they like spending time together – but they don’t share a ton of common interests. Given their druthers, Davis would play basketball and Patrick would play Minecraft. This used to result in lots of fights and hurt feelings. We have worked hard to teach them to focus on a mutual goal – spending time together. When that is the goal, then they can both step back a bit and make a compromise – maybe it is a game of Around the World first and then a cool down with a collaborative session of Minecraft or a competitive game of Plants v Zombies. Whatever the plan, when the focus is on the goal of spending time together (and not what they are doing), the squabbles abate and they enjoy themselves immeasurably more.

Foster Empathy

Healthy friendships require that both friends are able to put their own emotions aside and respond appropriately to the other person’s emotional needs; healthy friendships require both people to practice empathy.

Empathy isn’t simple. In fact, it requires some fairly sophisticated skills like distinguishing your feelings from someone else’s, understanding another person’s perspective and regulating your own emotional response. Some kids are naturally better at these skills and other kids need lots of practice.

In our house, we focus on:

  • Naming our own feelings
  • Identifying other people’s feelings
  • Role-playing facial cues and body language that frequently accompanies specific feelings
  • Exploring how people can have different perspectives
  • Developing an internal moral compass

Teach How to Say, “I’m Sorry” (and Mean It!)

Learning how to apologize is really an art form. Many parents want to rush the process by insisting that their kids say, “I’m sorry” for transgressions. However, if your kids aren’t cognitively and emotionally ready to apologize, then the obligatory apology doesn’t do any good. It becomes a hollow way to brush past hurt feelings. The simple recitation of, “I’m sorry” doesn’t teach our kids what an apology means.

True apologies require that our kids have 1) the cognitive ability to understand that they did something wrong, 2) the emotional skills to empathize with another person, and 3) the moral compass to want to make things better. This isn’t the apology of a toddler – it is the sophisticated and meaningful apology of someone capable of and interested in developing healthy friendships.

So next time your kid makes a misstep and really should apologize to someone, stop focusing on the outcome (the apology) and focus on the process.

Role Play Through Tricky Situations

Almost all friendships hit a rocky patch every now and then. What defines healthy friendships is the ability to manage through the hurt feelings and get back on track. This takes negotiation skills, empathy, and the ability to say, “I’m sorry.” Even with all these skills, sometimes it helps to practice in a non-threatening environment – that’s where role-playing comes in handy.

When your kids hit a rough patch with their friends, there will be hurt feelings on both sides. Helping your child break-down what has happened, how (s)he is feeling and how to make amends will make the actual friendship mending process go much more smoothly.

Our kids don’t always have the right words or the emotional regulation to do this naturally, so let them practice with you. Be the coach. Provide encouragement, a safe place to process, help deciphering the situation and gentle guidance.

Encourage Hobbies (Find a Tribe)

Making friends comes naturally to some kids, but not all kids. Kids who are outliers for whatever reason (IQ, the alphabet soup of diagnoses, innate nerdiness, etc…), sometimes struggle to find their tribe. The best way to find a friend is to do things that interest you and do it with other people!

Take inventory of your kid’s favorite activities and then seek out groups who enjoy those things. Martial arts, sports teams, chess clubs, naturalist groups, church groups, etc…It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it is important to your child.

When you find these groups, help your child understand that the friends may not share ALL the same interests as them and help him/her focus on their commonalities. It is unlikely that any one friend will meet all of your kid’s needs – encourage your child to appreciate the difference between friends and how they complement each other.

Make Your Home Welcoming

Yes. You want your house to be the “It House” – the house where all the kids come, where they feel welcomed and know they will have fun and be safe. It may be an inconvenience at times. It may go against your introverted nature. It may be noisy and raucous at times. You still want to do it.

When your kids friends come to your house, they will have lots of fun, but they will also have squabbles. If they are at your house, you can help model the steps of maintaining healthy friendships. You can teach kids to negotiate, model empathy and make amends.

This is hard work and takes a BIG commitment from you (and your spouse), but teaching your kids these skills is worth more than any formal education they will ever get. A PhD in microbiology won’t get you very far if you don’t know how to get along with other people.

Model Healthy Friendships

More than anything else you can do, you can model healthy friendships. Show your kids what it means to have a best friend – how you support each other and have fun together, how you work through disagreements, what it means to make room for another person in your life.

We travel with our best friends frequently (like 3 or 4 times a year). These are family affairs – two couples, each with two kids. The kids are also best friends, which makes it great for everyone. Part of why we can travel together is that we know each other so well and make allowances for each other’s quirks and needs – we accommodate each other.

I guarantee that if we are together for more than 3 days, the kids will hurt each other’s feelings. Every time it happens, we huddle with our own kids and help them process and then teach them how to make it better. It’s a hands on learning process in a very safe environment. I couldn’t ask for more.


Resources:

Can Children Learn to Negotiate?

Teaching Empathy: Evidence Based Tips for Fostering Empathy in Children

Coaching Children in Handling Everyday Conflict

How to Help Kids Make Friends: 10 Evidence Based Tips


Hoagies Blog Hop - Gifted RelationshipsThis post was written as part of a blog hop hosted by Hoagies Gifted Education Page.

Check out other people’s thoughts on Gifted Relationships.