Celebrating Earth Day — Connecting with Our Kids By Exploring Nature Together

“Mom, come quickly!” E says practically jumping up and down. “There’s a bluejay in our yard!” And this scene has played out over and again but with varying creatures – bunnies, beetles, and butterflies – oh my! If you have a patch of grass outside your door, there’s an opportunity for your kids to explore nature. Take them to a park and no screens, toys or equipment are required for discovery. In Spring, it seems we are all feeling “nature-starved” and ready to get out to experience the beautiful weather.

There’s strong evidence that points to a range of benefits for children who get outside and play. In schools, teachers have worried that taking kids outside will result in misbehaviors and a lack of control. But when they’ve tried it out, such as leading students through a park while creating field journals or tending a community garden, they found just the opposite. Students were more engaged and held greater focus on the learning taking place. (1)

And for families, there are significant benefits for discovering nature together including greater:

  • family connectedness
  • cooperation skills
  • empathy and perspective-taking skills
  • caring
  • sense of awe and wonder
  • motivation to learn (2)

One study compared a group of preteens who spent five days in nature with no screen time with a demographically similar group of preteens at home who engaged in regular activities including daily screen time.(3) That study showed that the children who spent the time in nature after only five days were more skilled at taking social cues including nonverbals and understanding each others’ emotions. That short time spent with peers in nature enhanced their abilities to connect and communicate with one another.

The experience of being in nature, appreciating and discovering and learning together as a family, is an incredibly simple and yet, powerful way to spend time together. You really only need to go for a walk together outside. But sometimes, we appreciate and can use a bit more structure and inspiration. So in celebration of Earth Day, here are some ideas for exploration at various ages and stages.

Preschool

Discover Bugs; Play Hide and Peek!

This game involves lifting up and peeking under any and every rock you can find and explore the world of bugs that lives underneath. Preschoolers will be thrilled by the pill bugs, worms, slugs and more that are just waiting to be discovered. The nine- and ten-year-old in the photograph below still find it exciting!

Track Animals

Go on a nature walk and look in the dirt for tracks. See if you can follow and attempt to identify various paw prints you see in the mud. And be sure to leave your own!

My son and his friend excavating behind the garage in search of bugs!

Early Elementary

Go on a Nature Scavenger Hunt

Print off one of the many checklists on Pinterest and head to the park or a woods nearby. Some lists are fairly simple and straightforward such as, find a stick, a stone, and a ladybug. Some are more involved such as, find litter, find an animal hole, or find a group of mushrooms.

Plant a Garden

Designate a small spot in the yard to dig up and allow your child ownership over the lot. Help her line the edges with rocks to divide the space. Pick out seeds at a local garden shop and consider all of the requirements for growing – sun, soil, water? Plant, tend, weed and marvel. If you plant herbs or vegetables, incorporate the crop into family dinners and your child can feel proud to have grown what you are eating.

Create a Habitat

You may select a cardboard box or else find a small place in your yard for your child to create a habitat. Consider what animals might want to live there and what they require to be happy? Will they need a water source? What kind of food will they gather? Help your child make a habitat for a local chipmunk, ant colony or mouse.

Middle to Late Elementary

Create a Nature Journal

You’ll need a few items in order to create a nature journal. Get a blank notebook. Fill a pencil pouch with colored pencils and a glue stick. And pack your camera (or camera phone if that’s the only option) too. Now head to a natural setting. The challenge is to recreate the natural setting in your notebook by drawing, taking pictures of and writing about the different aspects of the habitat you are experiencing. Draw pinecones. Write about the smell in the air. Glue pine needles onto your pages. Imagine getting it back out in the middle of winter. Would your notebook place you right back where you are? This activity can enhance a child’s discovery and appreciation of a place while adding their own creativity to the mix.

Assemble a Nature Art Collage

Go on your nature walk together with an empty bag for collecting. Pick up natural treasures along the way such as seed pods, buckeyes, and flower petals. Then, find a suitable backdrop like cardboard or even, a wood plank. Now arrange and glue (an adult may need to help if a hot glue gun is necessary).

Go “Creeking”

As adults, we can forget or simply underestimate the incredible lure of a trickling stream. You need no instructions for kids here. Just let them go (and make sure their shoes can get muddy and wet!). Skipping rocks, looking for crayfish, and finding fossils are all on the agenda here. In my experience, we have to practically drag our child away when it’s time to leave.

Middle to High School

Identify

Check out a field guide from your local library or bookstore. Find a natural subject that most interests your son/daughter. There are guides for fossils, rocks and minerals, plants, wildflowers, birds, woodland creatures, trees and more. Now head to the park or hiking trails and see what you can identify together.

Camp

Camping as a family does not have to require major equipment or planning. In fact, you can pitch a tent in the backyard or at a nearby nature preserve and enjoy the bonding that occurs because of it. Make a bonfire and share ghost stories. Take a hike. Pick out the constellations in the night sky. Leave your electronics behind.

In addition to all of the aforementioned benefits of getting out in nature with your children, it can have the added impact of calming us down and changing to a slower, more steady pace in contrast to our daily lives. Use this Earth Day as a reminder to find simple ways to appreciate nature with your kids and enjoy the many benefits of exploration together.

Resources

About:

Earth Day Facts and History

Books:

How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature
by Scott Sampson

Balanced and Barefoot; How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident and Capable Children
By Angela J. Hanscom

Supportive Organizations:

The Nature Kids Institute

The Children and Nature Network

Science Kids

References:

(1) Scott, G., Colquhoun, D., (2013). Changing spaces, changing relationships: The positive impact of learning out of doors. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 17(1), 47 – 53.

(2) Garst, B. A., Baughman, S., Franz, N. K, Seidel, R. W., (2013). Strengthening families: Exploring the impacts of family camp experiences on family functioning and parenting. Journal of Experiential Education, 36(1), 65-77.

(3) Uhls, Y. T., Michikyan, M., Morris, J., Garcia, D., Small, G. W., Zgourou, E., Greenfield, P. M., (2014). Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues. Computers in Human Behavior, 39, 387-392.

Originally published April 20, 2017.

In Youth Connections Magazine… “Cultivating Trusting Relationships”

Between Adults and Children…

This article responds to the question: “How can you become an ‘ask-able’ adult?” Whether you are a teacher or a parent, how can you be sure children are coming to you with their important questions and confiding in you with their problems and worries? This article is one of a six-part-series focusing on parenting with social and emotional learning including one article on each of the five research-based social and emotional competencies. This series is sponsored by the Montana Center for Safety and Health Culture and their helpful site: https://parentingmontana.org which offers many more tools and resources for building relationship skills! Here’s how this feature article begins…

“It’s sad our girls aren’t talking. How are they going to work anything out that way?” said Tara, the mother of Janie’s teenage daughter’s best and oldest friend. “I didn’t know they were fighting,” replied Janie as she walked away wondering why she hadn’t heard first hand about her daughter’s friendship woes. When she returned home, Janie asked her daughter about it. “Oh, it’s nothing,” was her daughter’s response. She recalled just last evening noticing the light on under her door late into the evening and could see her daughter’s tired, worn expression. “I can see you’re upset. And Mrs. Anderson mentioned that you and Cara aren’t talking. Won’t you tell me what’s going on?”

As Janie wondered why her daughter chose to struggle in silence, she thought about their conversations about Cara over the past months. Janie didn’t approve of how Cara pressured her daughter to take risks she might not otherwise take and had made that well-known to her daughter. Had her comments about Cara created a barrier between her and her daughter? Was she now not safe to confide in? Her frustration mounted as she tried to figure out what she might do or say to get her daughter talking again.

How does an adult become “ask-able” – the kind of adult with whom children and teens are comfortable coming to and confiding in? Parents and educators need to be able to help with smaller, everyday issues like when children and teens face simple friendship problems and the big upsets that accompany them... READ the full article here! 

 

Ten Positive Ways to Deal with Whining

“Mooooommmmm, I don’t want to go to the sitter’s,” seven-year-old Elaina says in a high-pitched, sing-song (as in a fingernails-on-a-chalkboard, not melodic) way. The powerful whine is wielded to get her Mom’s attention. And it works every time. How can you not hear, turn toward, and grimace at that tone? In fact, research confirms what we already know — that whining is the most annoying sound we can hear even beyond crying or yelling which also makes it a power tool for our children and teens. Though whining peaks between the ages of two and four, this tool is not limited to the young. We encounter adults who whine in the workplace when the work is stacked high or whine at partners who face a pile of dishes. 

Because whining is so irritating, we, as parents or educators, often don’t react in the best ways. “Stop whining!” might be an automatic response or “Just do your job!” may be another. Both expressions are likely to be said with force and aggression since we reactively want to match the astringent tone with the same level of emotional energy. In order to become adept at reacting to whining, we need to understand the motivation behind it. The whining may be an attempt to:

  • gain more connection with you. With children, often any attention, even if it’s negative, is good attention;
  • get a physical need met. Hungry? Tired? A mash-up of these is more often the case.
  • get an emotional need met. Children may be upset and seeking your support and understanding.
  • seek comfort and solace in behaviors from their younger years. As our children grow older, they retain all of the ages and stages from their past and can fall back to old habits when they are feeling sensitive and vulnerable.
  • gain control of their situation. If your family has been particularly stressed, you might experience your child whining more frequently. 
  • avoid responsibilities. Children can feel overwhelmed by the mound of school work they have or a full messy room you are directing them to clean up.

Our responses then can be most successful if we address their motivation. Keep in mind that all whining is a request for your attention. How you respond can turn around the situation so that your child feels supported and knows how to gain your attention without using his power tool: whining. Here are the top ten easy tips.

  1. Plan for your Own Reactions

    Naturally, we’ll want to cringe when our child whines. After all, that’s the intended reaction to bring our full attention to our child. But if we think ahead and decide how we’ll react, we can lessen future whining instead of unwittingly encouraging it with our negative responses. What can you do to help yourself remember to stop, breathe, and pause before responding? Post a note on the refrigerator? Wear a red bracelet? Then, practice moving toward your child to show support. If you are too annoyed and it will clearly show in your voice, don’t talk. Place your hand on their shoulder, rub their back or hold their hand. Show that you are trying to understand and support them acknowledging they are having a rough time. If you react in upset, this rise out of you will reinforce more whining. They’ve gotten you excited and they were hoping to do just that. So it’s worth taking a moment to breathe.

  2. Teach Positive Ways to Ask for Attention.

What could your child say or do that would guarantee your attention to their needs? Often we inadvertently reinforce whining only offering our focused attention when that annoying communication tool is used. Instead, practice ways your child could genuinely gain your focus. “Mom, I could really use a hug right now,” “Dad, I want to tell you about what happened to me today,” or simply, “Excuse me, Mom.” After practicing together what you want your child to say, work on recognizing when they are asking in appropriate ways and give them attention in response. Also, if your child is frequently interrupting you when you are talking to another, how can you create a hand signal to get your attention so that they don’t have to interrupt you to get their needs met? Maybe they raise their hand or you give each other a high five indicating you’ll be with them in just a minute. If you have a young child who may not be as comfortable with words, you may practice a signal that they can consistently use. For example, a preschool teacher guides young children to place their hand on her arm and she, in return, places her hand on their hand. This signal is a positive way they’ve agreed children can seek her attention.

3. Trading Places — Dramatically Play through Gaining Attention

This strategy is best used if played (read: practiced) in advance. If your child is in the midst of whining to you, stop and say, “Switch!” See if you might change places — you playing the child, your daughter playing Mom. Now, Mom gets to whine and see how the daughter will respond. If she struggles, then you might ask “How can we help you feel better? How can we help me feel better too?”

4. Be Certain to Have Sacred Time Together Each Day

If your child is whining for greater connection, they may only increase their efforts until they get that attention from you. If you have multiple siblings to share your attention among, why not create a daily ritual in which you can solely focus one-on-one time on each? Perhaps bedtime is an opportunity for a five-minute time to connect and share with one another thoughts from the day? When the whining occurs, you might mention that you are looking forward to that special time together.

5. Empathize and Identify the Feeling

The whining may be occurring because your child is feeling sensitive or hurt. How can you help meet that emotional need? First, name the feeling to help your child figure out what’s going on inside of her and show you are working to seek understanding. “Are you feeling sad? How can we help you feel better?” might be all that is needed — that and a good hug — to chase the blues away. Also, reading and learning about your child’s development at each age and stage can help extend your patience as you gain understanding realizing that they are working hard to learn particular physical, cognitive, social and emotional skills.

6. Met Physical Needs

Can you tell if your child is simply worn out? Time to take a break, enjoy a quiet time, or work on a consistent bedtime routine so that a full night’s sleep awaits. Do you know your child is hungry, or in this case, hangry? Try out a high protein snack to see if it might do the trick.

7. Break Down Big Responsibilities into Small, Manageable Ones

Children can easily become overwhelmed with too many choices or too many tasks. And that overwhelm can contribute to whining and giving up trying. That’s why it helps to recognize when they are feeling like it’s all too much. Break down any homework or clean up tasks in one small step at a time. “Do you want to put away your Legos or your books? Or “Do you want to begin with your math worksheet or spelling words?” Turn on some music while you get clean up tasks accomplished to add enjoyment. This will teach them how to manage their workload and prevent future whining episodes.

8. Notice Positive Attention-Seeking Behaviors

All too often we get in the habit of calling out behaviors we want to change but when things are going smoothly, we are simply relieved and may not say anything. When you see improvement, tell your child at the moment what they are doing well, particularly if it is a behavioral issue you are working on with him. Be specific. “I notice you waited until I was finished with my conversation to ask me a question. That takes patience and I appreciate it.”

9. Embrace Regression in Positive Ways

If your child is seeking comfort in acting as she did in her younger years, take notice. How can you relive some of the joys of those younger days or relish in old comforts to help soothe a weary, growing child? You may get out a long-forgotten toy or stuffed friend. You may watch videos of her toddler self. Reflect on the best of those times and also the best of these times. What makes this particular age so uniquely wonderful?

10. Connect More During Stressful Family Times

Whether you are moving, renovating, having a baby, or dealing with the passing of a loved one, these stressful times can become ripe conditions for your child to whine more. And those are precisely the times when we do not react well considering that we may already be stressed to our limits. So during particularly stressful times, we can help ourselves by creating more frequent opportunities for loving connection with our children. Add more hugs, more snuggles, and more time to read together to help get through the rougher times together showing support for one another.

Simply put, if you are dealing with a whining child, it requires a little more of your time to focus on that child. As you offer more positive connections, you’ll experience less whining. And all family members can feel a greater sense of loving connection.

Starting Today…Building Confident Kids!

Jennifer Miller will be speaking with Mom and Educator Heather Davis today on how you can play a critical role in supporting your child’s social and emotional development. Her interview will be available FREE for the next twenty-four hours. And there are many expert speakers with practical strategies you’ll find valuable this week in whatever role you play with children. SIGN UP HERE!

Building Confident Kids Online Event — Coming Soon!

Next week, April 7-12, check out the free online conference hosted by full-time teacher and Mom Heather Davis. This 5-day online event includes interviews with experts focused on how we can authentically build confidence in kids in our everyday roles as parents or educators. 

If you want to learn ways to improve your role and effectiveness with the children you love, you’ll discover plenty of helpful strategies from world-class experts. Here are a few of the topics to be discussed:

How You Play A Major Role In The Social and Emotional Development Of Your Kids – Jennifer S. Miller

How To Help Kids Develop A Growth Mindset – Alexandra Eidens

The Importance Of Encouraging Play At EVERY Age (Even As Adults) – Janine Halloran

How Boosting The Competence Of Our Kids Builds Confidence And Resilience – Dr. Ken Ginsburg

How To Teach Kids To Be Courageous In The Midst Of Fear – Karen Young

The Secrets Of Boosting The Confidence Of Anxious Kids – Natasha Daniels

and more! Be sure to sign up here for free to gain your pass and also, receive the playbook Heather has put together to compile resources!

 

Changing Behavior Patterns


How do you make the changes you desire?

A parent at a workshop expressed, “my son talks back and it gets me so mad. I know I’m probably contributing to his acting out but it sets me off every time.” “It feels like my daughter tries to get me upset. Why would she do that?” another lamented. When we have identified patterns in our children’s behavior that we want to change — particularly those that push our hottest buttons — how do we change them?

In fact, that is the time when we have to examine our own reactions. Consider that children’s behavior will indeed change when adults’ reactions change. There may be an adjustment period as they experience you differently but ultimately children will adapt to their caregiver’s choices and reactions. The good news is that our reaction is something we can control. The challenge for us then becomes how do we change and how do we know what behaviors to shift toward in order to elicit a more constructive reaction? You might ask the following key questions:

  • What patterns in my child’s behaviors do I want to change?
  • What behaviors would I like to see my child adopt instead in those same circumstances?
  • How can my reactions to their undesirable behaviors demonstrate the behaviors I would like to see in them – so that I am modeling what I want to see reflected back to me?

“I know what I don’t want to do, but I’m not sure what I can do instead.” said a parent as we further discussed challenges. Often it is easier to look back on the experiences from our childhood and know exactly what we don’t want to repeat. But if we haven’t explored the connections between our current parenting challenges and our experiences as children related to similar issues, we may – consciously or unconsciously – repeat them. We get caught up in a cycle of shame and guilt and then fear and regret when we feel out of control with our children and at times, ourselves.

And there’s brain science to explain why that occurs. Our experiences from our own childhoods are part of our mental wiring. That’s why when children challenge us, we feel it can bring out our worst selves. Parenting from the Inside Out authors explain it this way:

Experiences that are not fully processed may create unresolved and leftover issues that influence how we react to our children…When this happens our responses toward our children often take the form of strong emotional reactions, impulsive behaviors, distortions in our perceptions or sensations in our bodies. These intense states of mind impair our ability to think clearly and remain flexible and affect our interactions and relationships with our children.1

The good news is that patterns can be changed. You can get out of that cycle of shame, guilt, fear and regret. Countless individuals have been able to raise their children in ways that align with their values, changing patterns from their pasts. These individuals are sons and daughters of parents with mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction and the behaviors that are associated with those illnesses including emotional and physical violence and abuse. Parents with those kinds of experiences as part of their childhood story may not perpetuate an addiction themselves but be quickly wounded when a child lashes out and may be prone to lash back.

So the big question is “How do you change those patterns?” The only path to truly addressing patterns we don’t want to repeat is through self-awareness, intentionality, goal setting, practice (a.k.a. diligent work on it) and a commitment to continual learning. Perhaps that means seeking a counselor to share your childhood story with to work on processing themes from your past. Perhaps that means journaling, reading and reflecting on how you can heal your own wounds. Certainly it requires learning about how you will replace the old behaviors with new behaviors. Instead of yelling when my child won’t get out of the door on time and we are going to be late for school, what can I do? What can I say? And most importantly, how can I help myself deal with my own emotions in that moment so that I am able to bring a better self to the moment?

Build your own self-awareness first.
We all have blind spots – aspects of ourselves we are simply too close to see. That is why seeking support is so critical. Coaches, counselors, therapists and other mental health professionals are trained to listen to our stories and then reflect our blind spots back to us to help raise our self-awareness. Have you ever said something that, perhaps, had been in your mind but never articulated out loud? And when you did say it out loud to another person, just the act of articulating it gave you your own “aha” insight into yourself. Those moments of raised self-awareness are essential if we are going to grow as parents and bring the selves we want to bring to our children. In addition to talking with a trained professional, reflection is another way to raise self-awareness. Use a journal dedicated solely to parenting and understanding what you bring to parenting from your own childhood. Write out links between your current challenges and how those same kinds of challenges were handled when you were young. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What are the behaviors your children exhibit that challenge you the most?
  • How do you feel when those behaviors occur?
  • What actions do you typically take when they occur? What words do you usually use?
  • Do those words and actions align with your values in life and for parenting? Do they align with what you want to teach your child? How do you know? Here’s the ultimate test — If your child repeated your words and actions in public, would you be glad, proud or ashamed, guilty or angry? If the latter is the case, then it’s time to re-evaluate.
  • Consider those current kid behaviors that challenge you in the context of your own childhood. Did you exhibit those behaviors? If so, how did your parents react to you? How did you feel in those moments?
  • And did your parents happen to act in a similar challenging way (to those kid behaviors)? If so, how? And when they did act that way, how did you feel at the time? How did you react at the time? Is it similar to your current reactions to your children?
  • If you have discovered through your reflections that your words and actions do not align with your values and have uncovered childhood wounds, how can you first address those hurts? How can you deal with them, work to understand them and be compassionate toward the child you were? Consider whether you might need support on the journey toward healing.
  • Then, how can you accept that your big feelings – when your child acts out – are reasonable considering your upbringing?
  • And then, how can you find ways to learn about dealing with your current feelings in the moments of great challenge? How can you learn what words and actions would align with your values as a parent? And how can you begin to practice new ways of being?

___________________________________

Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives studied what we can do and has a helpful set of suggestions. 2 Though many of her examples are related to weight loss and getting physically healthy, they translate well into parenting habits we want to replace. She offers some helpful supports for making desired changes and I offer my parenting spin on the following.

Define your goal. First, she writes that it matters whether you are prevention or promotion-oriented. So consider, do you prefer to stop eating junk foods or do you prefer to start eating healthy foods? It may seem like semantics but the way you frame your goal will help you follow through on it and stay motivated. If you are prevention oriented, your goal may be to stop the yelling. If you are promotion oriented, your goal may focus on promoting calming down strategies when family members are upset.

Learn. An important part of changing patterns is learning how to act differently. We cannot do that without seeking outside resources. Explore sites, articles and books that seem to be in alignment with your values and spend time learning about what has worked for others. In addition, be certain that you include reading about your own child’s developmental milestones. So often, challenging kid behaviors are related to their learning and developmental process so your understanding of those issues will extend your empathy, compassion and patience.

Experiment for a Limited Timeframe. We learn new ways to parent just as we learn other skills in life often, best through trial and error. Why not decide on a plan for how you will react next time that predicable, but undesirable pattern crops up and you get angry at your child? How can you plan to react differently just for one week? What will you do? For example, you could utter aloud “stop,” for your own benefit and your child’s and go inside yourself to calm down and recall your plan before reacting with anger. Ask yourself, “what’s my child’s motivation here? How can I build empathy for their misguided attempts at attention or power? And how can I help them achieve attention or power positively, constructively?” Set short timeframes – even a day or two – and help yourself become successful in trying out new strategies. Keep what works and then…

Create a ritual or routine. Rubin writes about the virtue of starting with a clean slate, meaning finding a time in life that is already a turning point (a move, a new job, a new grade level for your child) and begin your change at that point. But you need not wait for a major life change to get started. You can create one by developing a ritual or establishing a routine. Want to yell less? Perhaps you create a routine of “inside voice level” talk with your whole family. Ask members, “How can we help each other to remember to keep our voices at a reasonable level?” and “What can we do to calm down when we are getting angry at one another?” If you decide that each family member agrees to take five deep breathes in the midst of a conflict, then practice and make it a routine. Each time there’s a disagreement, before it escalates too far, remind each other to take five deep breathes. Do what you can to help yourself remember so that you become consistent with your new routine. This not only supports changing your behavior, it also changes your brain wiring as you act with consistency. And in turn, your children will react accordingly.

Take care. Changing an undesirable pattern takes focus, commitment, persistence and hard work. That means that if you are sleep deprived, you are going to be much less likely to have the capacity to follow through on your new routines or practices. If you are serious about changing a pattern, then you need to get serious about your own self care at the same time. Rubin writes that

It’s helpful to begin with habits that most directly strengthen our self-control: these habits serve as the foundation of all our habits. They protect us from getting so physically taxed or mentally frazzled that we can’t manage ourselves. 2

These habits are ones that help us to sleep, move, eat and drink right and unclutter. It may feel like an onslaught of goals to try and tackle a parenting challenge along with eating healthier. But the truth is one will support the other. The aforementioned areas will help reinforce other patterns you are trying to change by meeting your physical and emotional basic needs allowing you to focus on your goal – your desired behavioral changes.

Schedule it. If it’s in the calendar, it gets done. It’s just that simple. If it’s not in the calendar, it’s not likely to be accomplished. So go ahead and book your practice toward achieving your goal. Maybe you put in your calendar practicing deep breathing for five minutes each day after you drop your child off at school. Maybe you schedule your practice with your child after school to bring some accountability to your practice. I find if I am focused on teaching my son, I am much more committed to the task. Writing down a regular time to practice implementing the new behavior will assist you in following through and actually doing it.

Establish accountability. Certainly you are accountable to that sweet face that is your child and she is what likely incited you to develop a goal in the first place. However it is helpful to establish multiple points of accountability to support you and keep you on track. Rubin writes that

Accountability is a powerful factor in habit formation, and a ubiquitous feature in our lives. If we believe that someone’s watching, we behave differently. 2

So how can you make yourself accountable? One first step is to let all family members know that you are working on yelling less and require their support. If they’ve noticed you’ve yelled that day, you could ask for them to give you that feedback, gently and kindly, by the day’s end. You could agree upon a hand signal to use that will help everyone moderate their voices. I often use a kitchen timer to help me remain on task or remind me to change gears. How can you find a way to make yourself accountable?

Recognize steps. No one person can skip from A to Z, from failing to succeeding, from irate to fully calm. But it’s critical that we recognize our steps along the way to keep up our motivation. We have to see some progress to feel like we can forge ahead. So be realistic about your steps forward. Recognize when you have made changes, even if small, even if for one day. Call it out to family members or write it down in your calendar. “My child came home from school and had a frustration meltdown. I kept calm and didn’t yell.” Those small steps represent your progress toward permanent habit changes. Give yourself credit for each step of the way.

One of my favorite quotes from experts on change is “When change is successful, it is the quality of the little things that makes the final difference.” 3 Becoming a parent helps uncover our identity in a way that no other experience can. If we embrace that fact as an opportunity for greater learning and development, we can become the person and the parent we truly want to be.

 

References

  1. Siegel, D. & Hartzell, M. (2003). Parenting from the Inside Out, How a Deeper Self Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive. NY: Penguin Group.
  2. Rubin, G. (2015). Better than Before, Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. London, UK: Two Roads Books.
  3. Hall, G.E. & Hord, S.M. (2001). Implementing Change, Patterns, Principles and Potholes. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Originally published March 3, 2016.

The Birth Stories of Two Parents

Our lives are forever changed by the birth of a baby. That event or more accurately, process also signifies the birth of a parent. For every new parent, it’s a completely unique experience. But commonly, that birth can also bring us to the brink of death — whether physical, emotional or both — and can shatter illusions of who we think we are. We leave behind the life of an independent person focused on our own relationships and career success and begin a life of focusing on the relationships and successes of our baby. This fundamental shift in thinking is confirmed in studies that show that new parents undergo a major brain reconstruction at that time.

Telling our birth stories reveals lessons about who we were, are, and continue to become. One of the central gifts of parenting is that in focusing on and advancing our child’s development, we simultaneously have the opportunity to advance our own development. Adults can become adept at masking our developmental urges – pretending that our children are all about learning but we somehow are a finished product. Having a baby can be a wake-up call. It can alert us to the fact that we are not fully self-aware, that we have not deeply reflected on our past to inform our present, and that there’s a lifetime and more of learning and advancing our own social and emotional development if we allow for it.

Earlier this year, I asked readers to submit their own birth stories and was delighted to receive personal, moving accounts. In sharing our stories of how we became parents, we have the chance to reflect on those major shifts that occurred in our lives. When we do, we can shine a light on what we learned and how it made us stronger than we were before we became parents. The first story submitted by Nikkya Hargrave tells of a birth that almost didn’t happen for multiple reasons. Perhaps because of that fact and the struggles she and her partner endured, gratitude and a relinquishing of control are the central themes of her story. The second story submitted by Lana Whiskeyjack is a story which shows a gradual awakening after a series of births, the first of which took place when she was very young. Her story focuses on how she has made sense of her Cree heritage, her experience of abuses that came from being placed in an Indian Residential School, and her discovery of self-worth and cultural pride. She describes how she has worked to understand her own upbringing, her ancestral heritage and generational trauma, and how she is actively working to rewrite the lessons for her children to offer them a new sense of cultural pride, wisdom, and gratitude. I am grateful to these two confident parents for sharing their personal stories.

In this season of Springtime, as we witness new life as plants and flowers emerge, may this post help you reflect on your own birth into parenting. You might ask yourself:

  • How did the birth process change me as a person?
  • What awakenings have I had about myself in becoming a parent?
  • In the telling of my own story, what themes might emerge?
  • How do I continue to reflect on and learn from my children’s development to raise my own self-awareness?
  • What am I challenged to learn from right now in my role as a parent?

 

Releasing Expectations: A Parents’ Birth Story by Nikkya Hargrave

My heart had been ready for some time but my body was not. I wanted babies for as long as I could remember, lots of babies. Why? I wanted to mother them the way I never was. I wanted to love them and instill in them many of the values I was raised with. I wanted to give them all the things I wanted in a mother. My own mother couldn’t mother me because she was too crippled by her drug addiction and incarceration. As a young child, I sat and daydreamed about what kind of parent I would be, what my pregnancy would be like, and what my babies would look like.

On our very first date, I talked at ad nauseam about my desire to be pregnant and have a big family. It did not scare my date away and in 2011, I married my wife, Dinushka. In 2013, we embarked on our journey to have a child together. It was not at all easy. I was scared. I was excited. I was eager. And within our marriage, we needed to have the tough conversations: What if this doesn’t work? How many times will we try? What if the insurance does not pay? What kind of parents will we be? We’d already assumed the role of parents to our son whom we adopted through a kinship adoption. We had a sense of how we worked as parents though this trying to conceive journey would be the first for us – coming together in mind, body, and spirit to bring another life into this world, one we planned together from day one.

And in my heart, I knew this was my calling, to be a mother. With every step forward, I kept my goal in sight – to be pregnant. We decided to use my doctor at the time who was also a reproductive endocrinologist and had been my gynecologist for many years prior. She was also the person who performed my fibroid removal surgery a few years before we began the in-vitro fertilization, commonly known as IVF process. In 2012, just after my surgery, our doctor informed us that my fibroids, the unwelcome benign tumors that they were, would grow back and if we wanted to try, we should do it sooner rather than later. In 2014, we tried for the first time to get pregnant. I had so many emotions and the one leading the way was fear. What if it didn’t work? What if my fibroid removal surgery did more harm than good? What if I wasn’t meant to be pregnant?

I put so much trust, energy and carried so much faith in this very process, in my body and in my calling. I knew this first time had to work. But it did not. I cried in my wife’s arms. I cried hard when my at home pregnancy test came back negative. This was the test I’d dreamed about as a child, coming back positive, the pink plus sign indicating a baby had begun to grow inside of me. Why had this dream not come true? After reeling from the news of the negative at home test, I needed to go in for a blood test with my doctor to confirm what I secretly already knew. The nurse called:

“Nikkya, the results of your test are in,” she told me. And I took a deep breath.

“Your number is twelve and to be a viable pregnancy we need your number to be over 25 or 30,” she said.

“I know that is not the news you were hoping for. I am sorry,” and with that, we hung up the phone.

It took me a few months to dust myself off from the news. It took me six months to be exact before I felt like I had the courage to try again. I asked friends who they’d used to conceive their children, which local clinics had worked for them. I did my research before attempting another round of IVF. I tried as hard as I could to tell myself that it is indeed a process and there wasn’t much I could control and what I could, I would. With that, I went to a new doctor, at a new clinic, and transferred our donor sperm with us. We had one vial of donor sperm left, the second attempt would be our last. From the start, we’d chosen a Sri Lankan donor which was important to me given that my wife is Sri Lankan. The same emotions followed me as we embarked on our second attempt: fear, excitement, nervousness, and this time, a sense of patience.

I needed to be patient with the process, with my body, and with our doctors. With each consult, a wrench is thrown in our way, I needed to find patience. It wasn’t easy. I kept my goal in sight, to be pregnant and to have a baby. With each check up, I waited. I tried to will into existence the phone call I’d been waiting for.

The first week of December of 2014, I got the phone call I’d been waiting for. I saw the number I’d recognized so many times before appeared on my Caller ID. It was my assigned nurse from my new clinic with my new doctors. I hesitated and thought for a brief second that I should let it go to voicemail, my contemplation felt like an eternity. If it were bad news, I could process it later. If it were good news, I could share in it with my wife just after the call. It rang. I waited. And then I decided to pick it up.

“Hello,” I said, in a dry, almost muted tone.

“Hello, Nikkya,” she said, with a tone too rehearsed to surmise if any positive news would follow.

I held my breath. It hung between my lungs, like a newly hung painting.

“You’re pregnant!” she said. I release my breath, a smile eased onto my face.

She continued, “you’ll need to come in in two days for another blood test. Come in any time after 6 am. Congratulations again and see you soon!

I sat in the hard wooden chair of my barren office. I took this moment in, confident in the fact that this was the last time I’d know this feeling: excitement, nervousness, and jubilation. I felt like a triumphant warrior, never forgetting why I set out on this journey. I called my wife, told her the news and she said, “WOW…YAY” and let out a muffled scream to not distract her focused coworkers. With that, we hung up. A few seconds later, she called back.

“Babe, I think you’re pregnant with twins,” she says. I could hear the fear in her voice. “Don’t be silly. You’re just feeling anxious,” I wrote off her.

Later that evening, before going home, I stopped to pick up another home pregnancy test. I already had the blood test to confirm what I knew – I was pregnant! A tiny part of me needed the validation in my hand, proof of what the doctors already knew and tested me for. I took four at-home pregnancy tests that night and an extra photo of myself to remind me of this moment.

In 2015, I gave birth to twin daughters through a scheduled c-section. At 31 weeks, I was put on bedrest due to preeclampsia. Upon the diagnosis, I spent five days in the hospital while they tried to get my blood pressure and liver levels within the normal range to allow me to be discharged with the promise I’d stay on bedrest. In the company of a visiting nurse, I spent the next five weeks leading up to their birth, at home watching old episodes of Criminal Minds. Watching this show, in particular, gave me permission to be scared about this fictitious world and detach from my own pregnant reality.

What if something goes wrong?

What if I have a heart attack?

What if the babies decide they want to come today?

What if my water breaks?

The show gave me something else to focus on other than the voices in my head and the questions I couldn’t know the answers to. Would my babies have all of their fingers and toes? Would the anesthesia in my spine work? Could I breastfeed two babies? Would I want to breastfeed two babies? In my heart, I thought I knew the answers simply because I yearned for these babies.

I have no memory of the birth of my babies. I did not get to do skin to skin. I did not get to hear their first cries. I did not experience the same fear my wife did as they whisked one of our daughters away because of her labored breathing just after her birth. I did not know any of this until 24 hours after their birth. I felt the pain of the c-section during surgery. I started screaming (which I do not remember) as they tugged and stretched my uterus. The louder I screamed, the more medication I was given until I was completely knocked out.

In the end, I got exactly what I was meant to get from the birth of our daughters – two healthy babies. During my pregnancy and leading up to their birth, I had so many expectations of what I wanted for them, for me, for my recovery, for our family bonding. It wasn’t until the day of their birth that I realized (a hard lesson for me to learn) that I could not control much.

Recognizing the Sacred and Powerful Medicine: A Parents’ Birth Story by Lana Whiskeyjack

I was seventeen when my first child grew within my womb. I didn’t tell my parents until I was eight months pregnant. Isn’t that weird that we lived under the same roof but they didn’t recognize how much my young body was changing. Mind you, I hid my pregnancy well within the 1990s fashion of baggy pants and sweatshirts, thanks TLC and Salt-N-Pepper. Like most young mothers with no father-to-be in the picture, I felt utterly alone and scared when I should of felt supported and sacred. 

I came from a family that endured intergenerational soul wounding from Indian Residential schools; meaning there was some unhealthy parenting and family cycles passed down from one generation to the next. Nikawiy (my mother) and Nohkom (my grandmother) both attended an  Indian Residential school not far from our Cree Nation community. Each of them had their own good, bad, and very ugly, experiences that deeply affected their connection with their own bodies, kinship relations, and the outside (reserve) world. I may not know the truth of their experiences, but I most definitely learned from their behaviors of their paradoxical autonomy over their own bodies. In one teaching, I was told to turn the other cheek; and the other, I was to go back and hit twice as hard. There were no in-between balanced ways of socializing when historical educational policies that governed every aspect of their bodies, minds and spirits would not allow them to be Cree. They were forbidden to speak Cree and in many cases, children were taught to hate themselves. 

I am grateful Nohkom reminded me repeatedly that I was a Nêhiyaw (Cree), even though being Nêhiyaw contributed to feeling unwanted and unworthy, a tragic legacy from those schools. Nohkom worked hard to undo those unworthy thoughts by telling me repeatedly that I am powerful, and I am loved. When she found out I was pregnant, she reminded me that I carried the most sacred medicine – life in my womb. My first born, my beautiful son reminded me that he was worthy of being loved, adored and respected, therefore I was also worthy. 

It took my third and last child to finally realize that my sacred center – my beautiful womb – carried intergenerational trauma. Those generations of colonizing oppressive self-harming words that carried fear, rage, and hatred, manifested in three-week long menstrual bleeding every single month for six years. I tried all kinds of healing modalities but ultimately I felt betrayed by my body to the point of hating my womb. My hate for my sacred centre was a reflection of the hate of my body and self — that unworthiness rooted in unresolved childhood trauma and historical soul wounding — so connected to my cellular being. 

When the blood transfusions could no longer keep up with the monthly bleedings, I screamed, yelled, cried all I could into the woods not knowing the grandmother spirits heard. I had a hysterectomy. As my body slowly recovered, my blood levels rebalanced to normal. I had no choice but to look within for the medicine I needed to restore balance in my life. As I explored where I came from, the wombs I came from endured, I found the seed of woundedness within the traumatic stories of Indian Residential Schools, from the removal of our grandmother’s power within the traditional governance structures by the forceful patriarchal domination over our bodies severely affecting the holy sanctity of the family. 

I see now that my medicine (my womb) carries historical trauma. My bleeding taught me that I no longer had to carry the burden of colonization in my womb. The more I returned to my Cree language, land connection, and ceremonies, the more the empty space where my womb was began to fill with self-acceptance. 

With the support of my three beautiful children, husband, and loved ones, I reconciled with having the hard conversations with myself and those grandmother spirits. Nikawiysis (my little mother/aunty) sang while we buried my womb wrapped in grandmother print (flowered fabric) in the river valley of my reserve. No longer do I have to be silent about the sacredness of my/our womb(s), what Nohkom called the most powerful medicine. The trauma our wombs, our ancestors wombs, no longer define us when we remember where we come from, honor the teachings of the past in order to carry good medicine into the future. When we remember and sing to the wombs we come from we break the colonial patriarchal cycles so our future generations no longer have to carry soul woundedness in their medicine. 

 

pastedGraphic.png* Thank you also to Alejandro Magallanes for sharing his book with his parents’ birth story, “The Legendary Daddy.”

Dialogue on The Key to Motivating Students, The Brain and Beyond

Did you miss our Twitter chat last week on motivation and learning? In fact, it was a national trending topic on Twitter that evening and quite a rich conversation. We dove into questions like:

  • Where does our children’s motivation come from?
  • How do we inspire them to work hard especially on challenges that are not intrinsically motivating?
  • What strategies can parents and educators adopt to motivate students?
  • How do rewards fit in to motivation? How does punishment fit with motivation?

And much more! You don’t need to be a Twitter follower in order to check out the conversation. Visit this link to the Parent Toolkit display of our excellent dialogue featuring CPCK’s Jennifer Miller and neurologist and author Judy Willis. Thank you @NBCNewsLearn for the opportunity to have this great conversation!

Here’s one of the tweets and a video shared:

Learning takes place in loving, caring conditions whether at school or at home. Children are motivated to work hard when they feel a trust from their caregivers that they are capable of learning. Check out this video on How Learning Happens: The Power of Relationships by Edutopia: https://youtu.be/kzvm1m8zq5g 

Diversifying Your Parent-Child Reading…



Widening Your Family’s Circle of Concern through Children’s Literature

When we consider our child’s daily interactions with various cultures, differing belief systems, or other income levels, they may not get the kind of exposure we desire. We want to raise socially aware and inclusive kids who are able to make connections with or act kindly to a person of any age, gender, ability, color, culture, or creed, but our neighborhood or school may not be conducive to forging those important connections. Ah, but the world of children’s literature can…and in the comfort of our very own homes. 

Consider that story can act as a central builder of empathy, the skill of seeking to understand others’ thoughts and feelings. And empathy can be exercised and practiced and honed in our kids. Deepen your own trusting relationship by reading and discussing together. Yes, point out differences but also discover how many truly important commonalities there are between these characters from all parts of the world and you! 

Picture Books:

One Day, So Many Ways
By Laura Hall, Illustrated by Loris Lora

Discover what daily life is like for kids all around the world! Meet children from over 40 countries and explore the differences and similarities between their daily routines. Over 24 hours, follow a wide variety of children as they wake up, eat, go to school, play, talk, learn, and go about their everyday routine in this stunning retro-style illustrated picture book. Gorgeous illustrations! This book is a must have. Published by Quarto Group.

The Skin You Live In

By Michael Tyler, Illustrated by David Lee Csicsko

With the ease and simplicity of a nursery rhyme, this lively story delivers an important message of social acceptance to young readers. Themes associated with child development and social harmony, such as friendship, acceptance, self-esteem, and diversity are promoted in simple and straightforward prose. Vivid illustrations of children’s activities include a wide range of cultures.

We Are Family

By Patricia Hegarty, Illustrated by Ryan Wheatcroft

Through illness and health, in celebration and disappointment, families stick together. Some families are made up of many people, and some are much smaller. Sometimes family members look like each other, and sometimes they don’t! But even though every family is different, the love is all the same. Illustrations many varied types of families.

First Chapter Books/Early Readers:

Max Loves Muñecas 

by Zetta Elliott

Max wants to visit a beautiful boutique that sells handmade dolls, but he worries that other children will tease him. When he finally finds the courage to enter the store, Max meets Senor Pepe who has been making dolls since he was a boy in Honduras. Senor Pepe shares his story with Max and reminds him that, “There is no shame in making something beautiful with your hands.”

Lola Levine Is Not Mean 

by Monica Brown

Lola loves writing in her diario and playing soccer with her team, the Orange Smoothies. But when a soccer game during recess gets “too competitive,” Lola accidentally hurts her classmate Juan Gomez. Now everyone is calling her Mean Lola Levine! Lola feels horrible, but with the help of her family and her super best friend, Josh Blot, she learns how to navigate the second grade in true Lola fashion–with humor and the power of words. 

The Year of the Book (one in a series) 

by Andrea Cheng

In Chinese, “peng you” means friend. But in any language, all Anna knows for certain is that friendship is complicated. When Anna needs company, she turns to her books. Whether traveling through A Wrinkle in Time, or peering over My Side of the Mountain, books provide what real life cannot—constant companionship and insight into her changing world.

Middle Grade Novels:

Merci Suarez Changes Gears 

By Meg Medina (Latinx)

Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World

by Ashley Herring Blake (LGBTQ)

When a tornado rips through town, twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen’s house is destroyed and her family of five is displaced. Ivy feels invisible and ignored in the aftermath of the storm–and what’s worse, her notebook filled with secret drawings of girls holding hands has gone missing. Mysteriously, Ivy’s drawings begin to reappear in her locker with notes from someone telling her to open up about her identity. Ivy thinks–and hopes–that this someone might be her classmate, another girl for whom Ivy has begun to develop a crush. Will Ivy find the strength and courage to follow her true feelings. 

Amal Unbound

by Aisha Saeed (Pakistani)

Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when—as the eldest daughter—she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens—after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt. 

Young Adult Novels:

The Poet X 

by Elizabeth Acevedo (African American)

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo. Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking until she finds poetry.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

by Erika L. Sanchez (Latinx)

Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family. That was Olga’s role. 

 Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal? But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter.

American Panda 

by Gloria Chao (Asian American)

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Enjoy expanding your children’s reading possibilities while also expanding your families’ circle of concern!

* Special thanks to Kimberly Allison and her school’s diversity council for her/their outstanding recommendations!

 

What is the Key to Motivating Children?

Have you ever wondered what is motivating your child when you just can’t get them to do something? Or maybe you know what they are motivated by but can’t figure out how to translate that knowledge into inspiring them to work hard, persist toward their goals, or contribute to your household. For educators, springtime can become a particular challenge as your roomful of students gaze out of the window at the increasingly beautiful weather and you still have learning goals with them to pursue. We are so excited to engage in this upcoming conversation on motivation and learning! Join us on Twitter tonight, March 19th, 7 p.m. EST! Follow the hashtag — #Toolkittalk and join in the conversation! Thank you host, @NBCNewsLearn for this valuable opportunity!

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