Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Using your true inside voice

My son is a talker. But, as we all know, there is a time to talk and a time for quiet. My husband and I are trying to teach him ways to identify when he should be quiet. One of those ways is by telling him that the conversation he is currently having is one that should only take place in his head.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy hearing the things that my son has to say most of the time, but sometimes his thoughts are not meant for others to hear.

All of that got me thinking about the constant running conversation I have in my head and why I need it. Then, I stumbled across this article discussing the different forms of inner dialogue we keep with ourselves.

The article reminded me that it is normal to hear my son talk to himself when he is playing, because he is working through his plans, and that it is fine for him to talk to himself in high-stress situations, the way that many adults do. But, it is those instances where he is just talking to get attention at school and at home that I need to help redirect him.

Do you feel that your child talks too much? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Routines are for more than just bedtimes

The bedtime routine is a battleground. There is the reluctance to get it started, the whining during each step and a six-year-old's attempted negotiations that have to get shut down. After years of this, we are getting somewhat closer to the stage of acceptance and I know that one day, I can send him off to do his nightly routine and he will do it without question and I may cry a little on that night. (Happy tears.)

But, it occurs to me that there are a lot of routines in our household. There is, for example, the morning routine, which is met with the same reluctance as the bedtime routine but somehow goes smoother even with the factor of tiredness thrown into the equation. There is also the family dinner routine, and the safety activities upon getting in the car routine.

And all these routines - even the micro routines - offer the repetition that is needed to provide my son with a sense of security and provide him with the knowledge of what is expected of him.

Hopefully, all of the routines add up. A small study has shown that routines in childhood may add up to increased time management skills and ability to focus in adulthood.

That may or may not be true. What I do know is that daily routines - and the battles I sometimes have to wage to get through them - are paying off overall in terms of my son knowing what to do without my help.

What's the toughest routine for your children to follow? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, November 25, 2016

What do you have to lose?

I try very hard not to lose my temper with my son. I repeat phrases in my head like "he's only six" or "he's still learning" or "will he have a memory of this moment?" but sometimes it is inevitable. I yell; he cries; he loses things.

He is at that age where the loss of objects or fun activities works as a discipline tool. For example, he has lost his electronic devices privileges and is really bummed out by it. Discipline is a tricky thing, and what works for our family doesn't necessarily work for someone else.

What doesn't work for all families? Spanking. Research has shown that spanking is on the decline but there is still work to be done. There are lots of families out there who either don't know about the negative side effects or who believe that because they were spanked and turned out fine it is fine to continue that as a punishment. Spanking really only teaches children that hitting is OK when anger flares up. And that is the opposite of what we want them to learn.

So, we try other various modes of discipline and see what sticks. Taking away privileges is one, sending him to a boring spot in the house (for there is way too much fun to be had in his room) is another. It kind of depends on what the infraction was, but we learn as we go. And, hopefully, he learns too.

What discipline measure works well in your household? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Getting a call from the teacher

During our parent-teacher conference with my son's teacher, my husband and I did our best to ask the questions we had about homework, behavior, areas of improvement and strengths to develop for our son. (We did not ask about the brightly colored emails.) We did make sure that she knew that if there were any problems, we wanted to know about them.

But after reading about potential teacher racial biases when deciding to reach out to parents, I now wonder if I will ever hear from my son's teacher. The problem, as depicted in the article on that link, is that most teachers don't even realize they have any racial bias when it comes to reaching out to parents - whether the news is good or bad. And what happens is that only the parents of minority students get contacted, even when the behavior is the same among children.

But, I am not solely relying on my son's teacher. We talk to our son about school every night at family dinner. I let him choose what he wants to share with us and try to take a deeper dive into whatever topic he starts to discuss. I ask him the same questions every day:
  • What was the best moment of the day and what made it the best?
  • Were there any moments today you wish you could fix or that weren't so great?
  • What do you want to do differently tomorrow?
We may not get through all the questions at the dinner table, but I usually get to them all by the time I tuck him in bed at night. I'm trying to get my son to understand that I expect him to tell me about his day - the good, the bad and even the ugly - before I hear about it from the school.

Like most things in parenting, we'll see how this goes.

Is your child's teacher good about reaching out to you if there is a problem at school? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, November 21, 2016

I haven't complained about running in awhile

I have not been running as regularly as I should. Every morning, I flip through the list of excuses of why I shouldn't run today:
Pictured: Not my shoes
  • It's cold
  • It's dark
  • I'm tired
  • My back hurts
  • I feel more rushed in the mornings when I run
  • I promise I'll take a walk later (which is a lie)
  • I don't want to
Some mornings the excuses win. Some mornings the running wins.

I have noticed that if I consistently run, my mood and overall outlook is better. For years, people have noticed a link between exercise and mood, but for the first time on a large scale, researchers have been able to prove that exercise wards off depression.

So, now in addition to my health and desire to keep up with my son, I have another reason to go running in the morning. Sure, my benefits list isn't as long as my excuses list, but I really need the extra motivation to lace up my sneakers in the morning.

What exercise do you turn to when the weather gets colder? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Taking a moment to catch my breath

I took yoga in college, and I loved it. I felt that it was a great way for me to relax my body and my mind in the middle of a hectic workload. I learned how to stretch out my body, how to move for both relaxation and for energy and how to breathe.

It's funny how often I forget about that last part.

I still sometimes do yoga with my son now (nothing like the college stuff, though, and maybe I need to get back to that). I feel like a lot of children's yoga has way too much movement in it and we never sit still long enough to catch our breath. That seems like the wrong message.

Breathing is (obviously) important, but for more reasons than we think. It is, for example, a natural stress reliever and a natural energizer. You just have to know how to do it right. So, I'm bringing breathing back to my day. (Yes, I know how dumb that sentence looks.) But my hope is that if I learn how to do it right then I can pass it on to my son and he can grow up with the right breathing habits in place.

Let's all take a deep breath together and see how this goes...

Do you participate in any breathing exercises during your day? Tell me about it in the comments.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The risks we take (and the ones we don't)

"Watch me, Mommy!"

This is usually the phrase that precedes my son jumping off something. I smile when I hear this; I look at him dutifully; I suppress every instinct I have to tell him the thing he is jumping from is too high or dangerous or risky. That urge, I've determined, has to do with being his Mommy. Because the thing he is about to leap off is usually not a terrible risk for him to take. But the instinct is still there.

I notice that my son doesn't direct this phrase as often to his Daddy. I believe this is because my husband is very good at letting my son take normal physical risks and so my son doesn't feel the need to point out when he is doing them.

But, there are risks, and then there are risks.

Physical risks are something that all children experiment with (and sometimes that is carried through to adulthood), but there are lots of other types of risks - like financial and ethical.

Researchers now believe that adults who take more financial and ethical risks had low positive or even negative interactions with their parents when they were younger. (Whereas social risks are usually associated with peer influences.)

It's hard for me to see exactly how these behaviors were all linked and other factors were completely excluded from the study, but I think this just supports the importance of parents' influences over their children's lives long-term.

What's your first reaction when you hear, "Watch this!"? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The words that are off-limits

When my son was in preschool, he came home with the announcement that one of his friends got in trouble at school for saying a bad word. As nonchalantly as I could, I asked what the bad word was. As quietly as possible, he said, "hate."

I am very proud of the next part of this story, where I reminded him that hate was the opposite of love (he was four and big on opposites at the time), and that it wasn't a bad word and he could say it whenever he liked. I had a follow up conversation with the teacher around giving that word extra power by not letting children say it.

This scene repeated itself when the school banned the word "stupid," and although I can imagine it is annoying to have a bunch of 5-year-olds running around calling everything and everyone stupid (or its variation of "studpid-head"), I wanted my child to understand that it was fine to say it.

Of course, I say all that because none of those examples are swear words. And, I am not sure how I will feel the day my son comes home spouting an actual swear word at me. I make a concerted effort not to swear at all - either in front of him or even at work. But, I know that some words make it past his ears. We were, for example, watching the 1982 version of Annie and a few "damn" references came floating his way. They probably went right over his head, but it was interesting to hear them in that movie at all.

I know that swearing serves a purpose: It is a way for people to underscore serious emotions; it is a way to vent. It also doesn't bother me when I hear it at work. I was surprised to learn that women seem to swear more than men do, (or that anyone was actually tracking swearing by gender at all), but I wonder if that relatively small sample size was having a bad week.

We'll see how all my thoughts about words just being words plays out when my son drops a real bomb in front of me.

What was your reaction the first time your child swore in front of you? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, November 11, 2016

What do you mean "lockdown"?

My son came home from school talking about how they had a lockdown drill. I didn't know what that was. He explained the procedure they followed to lock themselves in a classroom and to stay out of sight "in case a burglar or bad person" came into the school.

I am completely happy that the school practices this. And, I am completely terrified. I am used to things like fire safety drills being practiced, but this is different. Now I know how my Mom must have felt the first time I came home from school discussing a bomb threat. (Side note: Sorry, Mom!)

The reality is that we have to hope for sunshine and prepare for rain - even at school, even when it is scary to think about it.

As my son gets older, I am realizing more and more how much different his school reality is from what I experienced (and not just because of the lack of nuns). His generation - although still early days - is going to be marked by the way they handle so many changes. And I am delighted to be a part of that and watch how he develops.

But, I am still a little bit terrified.

What is one big difference between your child's life now and your life when you were little? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Dinner at home

As mentioned before, I am the primary cook in my family. I love cooking. And I feel secure enough to admit that the idea of cooking for my family has been integrated with what I think constitutes Mommyness for me.

I teach my son to cook (when he is interested), I pass the cooking reigns over to my husband (who is also a wiz in the kitchen) several times a month to relieve the pressure from myself, and I let my son pick dinner on Wednesdays.

It is that last item of our family dinner routine that has been so fascinating to me: Wednesdays have become a bit of a wild card in our family. In a life that is so structured and organized, I can honestly say that I have no idea what I will be eating at least one night every week.

Most Wednesday evenings see us either out at a restaurant or digging into leftovers to play a game together. And both options work for us - as long as we are eating together, I am happy.

There will be plenty of years in my son's life when he gives up on cooking for one and joins the army of people getting takeout. But until that happens, we are going to enjoy sitting around the table together just a little longer.

What's your favorite family dinner? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Raising a gentleman

To this day, whenever a man opens a door or holds my chair out for me, I glow a little inside. A little bit of gentlemanly behavior goes a long way these days. And maybe that is one of the reasons why I try to show my son how important it is to be a gentleman. I have taught him to open car doors for me and get the door to restaurants; I have explained to him that it is respectful to let a lady walk first. I know that the practice of gentlemanly behavior is rooted in the thought that women were too weak to do all these things for themselves, but I am re-framing the conversation as one of kindness: We should treat others with extreme respect.

But, for everything I teach him, I know that there will be so much more to tell him - especially when it comes to gentlemanly behavior in relationships. As romantic comedies consistently remind us: There is a fine line between romance and stalking. The line is so fine in media, in fact, that it is often defined by the feelings toward the man: If you like him, he is romantic; if you don't like him, he is stalking you.

This is just a good reminder that my son shouldn't learn about relationships from television or movies but from watching my husband and I interact. Thankfully, my husband and I have an excellent partnership built of love and respect (and mutual snarkiness). Hopefully, that real-world example will help balance out the nonsense on the big screen.

Do you watch romantic comedies in your household? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The TV isn't invited to dinner

Sometimes when my husband has to work late, I give my son a special treat and let him watch a movie while he eats dinner. It's a rare event, but one that I can justify since most of our dinners are spent around the family table, eating and talking about our days. That together time at dinner is important to me, as it is one of the best parts of my day.

When we moved into our new house, I wanted to make sure that we relegated the television to a spot far away from where we eat our meals. (Happily my wonderful husband was on the same page as me.) I wanted to make sure that our meals were not distracted by the incessant noise of the television.

A recent study (small, but I like it) has found evidence linking television watching at dinnertime with less healthy meals. This turned out to be true whether or not people were actively watching the show that was on or if they just had the television on as background noise.

In my family, we talk a lot at dinner. We talk about our days and our plans for the weekends and even about crazy dreams. Sometimes we play music in the background and do silly things like try to match the music to the nationality of the cuisine that we are eating (which explains the "Sounds of Italy" playlist on my iPod). But the television doesn't need a seat at our table.

Do you like to have background noise while you eat a meal? What is it? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Asking the boss for a baby

My husband and I are planners. So, when it came to us having a baby, we mapped it all out: When we would start trying, what potential names we liked, and childcare after the baby was born. We were lucky in the fact that it didn't take us long to get pregnant, and although we had some wrenches thrown into the plan that required adjustments, we are a very happy family today.

Looking back at all those (somewhat naive) planning session, at no time did my husband and I think of asking our bosses about having a baby. And yet, that is what a lot of families are doing right now.

Of course, people aren't really asking permission from their bosses, but they are considering the judgement of their employers and even their coworkers as factors in having a baby. In the latest survey by Bright Horizons, parents-to-be are worried about losing out on potential job opportunities at their current workplace and are even taking pay cuts to work at more family friendly offices.

Both my husband and I work for family friendly offices today, but there are still a lot of days that I struggle with work/life balance. I think that is just something that parents get used to every day - no matter what type of office they work for.

Was your job a significant factor in your decision to have children? Share your story in the comments.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The types of friends we keep

Every night at dinner, I ask my son about his favorite part of the day. Sometimes he will tell me about a class; usually he will tell me about lunch or recess. When I ask him who he played with, I've noticed that the names of who he counts as his "best friend" varies from week to week.
These cats are all besties.

I went to a very small school and there were not a lot of children in our class. So, we were all friends. Sure there were times when we didn't get along and fought, but we all had to work through that because there were limited options of who else we could play with.

All of the varying "best friends" my son has, made me start thinking about the types of friendships that I continue to have today. I recently stumbled on this research positing that we only make three types of friendships:
  • tight-knitters (you have one group of friends who all know each other well)
  • compartmentalizer (you have separate groups of friends divided by function)
  • sampler (you have one-on-one friends who probably don't know each other)
It's hard to tell if this research all pans out yet. And, I know that it is far too early to tell what type of friendships my son will tend to make throughout his lifetime, but it is something that I'd like to keep in the back of my head. (Mostly, so I don't create issues when scheduling birthday parties.) For now, I want him to focus on making all sorts of friends.

What type of friendships does your child tend to make? Leave a note in the comments.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Where baby sleeps best

When we brought our son home from the hospital, we made a point of making sure he slept in his own crib in his own room every night. We knew that we didn't want him to sleep in our bedroom, as we reasoned that it would be harder to move him to his own room later on: We weren't worried about him becoming too attached to us, rather we were worried about us becoming too attached to him.

Fast forward six years later, and I am reading that we should have had him in our room, but in his own crib. (At least, for a little while.)

I understand that the research on babies is ever-changing: We know more now about how to reduce risk while infants sleep than ever before in the history of babies. But looking back at the pictures of my son, I wonder if research was ever done on the way he usually slept: On someone.

There are hundreds of photos of our son asleep on us. He had a knack of snuggling up against someone's heartbeat and conking out. I assume that is a good way for babies to sleep, since he was in someone's arms (watched), near his major food source (at least when he was with Mommy) and had the constant lub dub sound of a heartbeat to lull him to dreamland.

I love the fact that we have very smart people around to determine the safest way for babies to sleep, and hopefully this information can continue to be taught to parents. I have a feeling, however, that we still have lots to learn.

In what position did your baby love to sleep? Tell me in the comments.