Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"How do you cope?" – A mile in my shoes

I've never filled out one of these memes before, but something about this one just drew me in. Maybe it's how personal the questions are.



Lately when I look around at all the tough situations people are in – abusive relationships, deaths in the family, special needs, financial woes – I think that if we all put our problems into a pile in the middle of the room and got to choose whichever ones we wanted to go home with, we'd all take our own problems back again. No one's problems are "easier" or "less significant" than anyone else's. And no one would judge anyone else if we'd walked a mile in each other's shoes.

Here's what Rebecca of Here Come the Girls posted about her "A Mile in My Shoes" Carnival:

"I often wonder how people cope with the difficulties they are presented with.  Or rather how I would cope in those situations. When I think about the single mums and dads, the people who have lost a parent, the children with an unexpected medical diagnosis or emotional and behavioural problems, I often think I wouldn’t be able to do it, without really thinking about what it is. It’s very hard to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and think what it must really be like. Yet that is what blogging does so brilliantly. You get to look into other people homes and into their hearts. It’s the perfect opportunity to share some stories, hopefully in a positive way. People are amazing. It’s incredible what we can cope with and I want to be able to celebrate that."

Here are my answers to Rebecca's questions:


1. What is it about your life which has made someone ask how do you cope?

I have lost four pregnancies; three early miscarriages and a stillbirth.

2. What is the best thing about the situation?

I think the best thing is the perspective it's given me on life. I really appreciate what I have and I even appreciate what I've been through because I recognize that it's brought me to where I am and made me who I am today.

3. What is the hardest thing?

The hardest thing is people not getting it. They think that losing a pregnancy is not the same as losing a baby. Well, they were all my babies and I loved them and they all died. Don't judge me for being sad about that. They also think I should just "get over it" and "be thankful for what I have." 
Here's what I have to say about that.

4. What gets you through the day?

Hope. Before I had kids all I could do was hope that one day I would. Now my kids ARE my hope for the future. I get up in the morning because of my kids and every night when I go to sleep, I know I will get up again tomorrow because of them.
When you lose hope, you lose all reason to live.

5. What would you change if you could?

I don't think I would change the fact that babies die. I know I wouldn't change the fact that mine did.

I think what I would change is the amount of information and support that women have available to them. And I am working to change that. When a woman loses a child, she doesn't have the time or the presence of mind to research all the things she needs to know. She doesn't think of the fact that if she doesn't hold him now, she will never have the opportunity again and she may always regret it. It doesn't occur to her to take a picture so that when the memory fades, she will always have something to look at to recall what her baby looked like. She doesn't realize that she should name him now because it's her only "official" opportunity. She has no way of knowing that there will be no grave for her to visit if she doesn't speak up now and interfere with the hospital's SOP. And when she gets home, she feels utterly alone because she doesn't know who to talk to or anyone who can possibly understand what it feels like or where to even begin the healing process.

6. What piece of advice would you give to someone finding themselves in your situation?

Let go of the "why." You will never be able to accept the situation and move on if you keep asking why this happened to you, why this happened to your baby.

I have come to the conclusion that there is a reason, and it must be a good reason, that things happen the way they do. Whatever that reason is, it is bigger than me and bigger than anything I can comprehend. I choose to let go and just accept the fact that that I may never understand. Knowing that there is a reason is enough for me I don't have to know what that reason is.

(The "A Mile In My Shoes" Carnival will be published on July 23rd and there will be a link to it here so you can find all the other entries.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Keeping Our Children Safe in a Scary World

Since the horrific murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky in Brooklyn last week, a lot of us parents can't stop wondering whether our children are safe and what we can do to keep them from being harmed.

There are a few simple but incredibly crucial things you can - and must - do to keep your children safe. Watching them like a hawk and not letting them go out on their own are not one the list.

The single most important thing every parent must do is have an open relationship with his or her child. Maintain a dialogue with your kids about their daily lives and make sure they feel they can tell you anything. This is not something you can do overnight, especially if you haven't been the type to share with your kids in the past. But you need to express an interest in what's going on in their lives and let them know that they can always come to you - even (especially) if they've done something wrong or think the information will be upsetting to you. If you have this kind of relationship with your child, he or she will feel comfortable asking you questions and bringing up uncomfortable situations.

In addition to fostering an open relationship in which your children know they can tell you anything, there are three messages you MUST get across to your children in order to protect them:

1. There is never a circumstance where an adult can tell you to keep a secret from your parents. If anyone ever tells you "don't tell your mommy and daddy," come tell me about it right away!

2. Your body is your own. Just like a person can't come grab a cookie out of your hand, NO ONE can touch your private parts. (Be clear: These are the parts of your body that your bathing suit covers.)

Be specific about who may and may not touch your children. Don't say "it's ok for relatives and friends." Unfortunately, most cases of sexual abuse are perpetrated by people the child already knows. Tell your child that only Mommy and Daddy can touch his private parts when bathing and dressing him and his doctor when examining him.

3. It's ok to say "no" - even to an adult. If something makes your child feel uncomfortable, there's probably a reason for it. Empower your child and let him know that just because someone is an adult doesn't mean they can touch him or speak to him in a way that makes him feel uncomfortable. Kids have good instincts. They can tell when something feels wrong, but they don't always realize they have a say in the matter.

There are three things you should know about the molestation / kidnapping / murder of children.

1. These crimes are incredibly uncommon. I mean, the chances of one of these things happening to your child are miniscule. We freak out when a big case like Leiby Kletzky's hits the newsstands, but it is extremely extremely rare for these kinds of things to happen. I'm sure that's no comfort to Leiby's family but I'm hoping it will help you.

2. Most of these cases occur when children are unsupervised, especially during the summer months when they're just "hanging out" and have no structure or schedule. So for goodness' sake, send your kids to camp, to their grandparents, to a neighbor, or to a babysitter, but don't let them wander around and get bored!

3. The vast majority of these cases occur to children who are naïve and whose parents never warned them about "stranger danger." They feel they can trust an adult and go with him in his car even though they don't know him. It's an uncomfortable topic to talk about with your children, and please don't go into the details of what happened to Leiby. But do talk to them about the points mentioned above and that they should never, ever get into a car with a stranger, no matter what he says or what he offers them. If they get lost they should call you or find a police officer or go back to the last place they saw you, but by no means should they go with any old adult who offers them a hand.

Finally, here are some things you DON'T want to do. Don't decide to take away their freedom. Do not doubt yourself or your children. And do not scare your kids! The last thing you want is to give your children the idea that the world is an unsafe, scary place. If our children are afraid to go out into the world and see every stranger on the street as a threat, what kind of world are we raising them in? We need to instill confidence in them - confidence in themselves and their capabilities as well as confidence that the world around them is an intrinsically good place - albeit with a few not-so-good people living in it.

Don't start changing the rules on them. If you let your children walk home from school by themselves, don't decide it's too dangerous and insist on driving them from now on. If you were about to let your child ride his bike to a friend's house for the first time, don't question your judgment and tell him he's not old enough after all. Remember, and remind your children, that the "bad guys" are one in a million. Make sure your kids are equipped with the knowledge they need to be safe and protect themselves, and with the confidence that they can do it on their own. (Don't show them you're anxious because they'll detect your anxiety and lose their self-confidence.) It's perfectly acceptable to ask your child to call you when he gets to his friend's house. But let him ride there alone - he's going to have to step out of the nest sometime.

When we feel helpless, our instinct is to be overly cautious and protective of our loved ones. As LA child therapist Miven Trageser says, this works well for belongings but not so well for people. Psychologically speaking, people are actually less safe locked away and protected all the time. Children need to learn and grow, and necessary to this is letting them venture out on their own and learn to be autonomous. One day our children are going to have to grow up. And if we make them wait to experience real life until they're actually grown up, they will not be prepared to live in the real world.

So yes, be afraid. You wouldn't be a good parent if you were completely unphased when something like this happens. But instead of trying to keep them "safe" from reality, talk to your children, prepare them for life, make sure they know how to stay safe and what to do if they feel unsafe. And then watch them take a step into their futures.

Sources:

Horowitz, Yakov. "Speaking to Your Kids about Personal Safety."
http://www.yideotube.com/content/speaking-your-kids-about-personal-safety

Trageser, Miven. "Leiby Kletzky's death shouldn’t make us fearful parents: Let yours roam free."
http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2011/07/17/2011-07-17_ill_still_let_my_kids_walk_home_alone.html

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Death in the Family

Q: How do I tell my 2-and-a-half-year-old that her dog died?

A: Talking about death is tricky with little ones. We tend to want to use euphemisms to lessen the blow, but don't be tempted. Euphemisms are confusing for kids and can end up being scarier than the actual truth.

For example, some people refer to death as "going to sleep" for a long time and not waking up. This can lead to a fear of going to sleep, which will result in issues at bedtime that may last a long time. Your daughter might be afraid to let anyone go to sleep, lest they never wake up.

One euphemism that adults often use to refer to dying is "passing away." Sometimes we forget that children don't know what this means. I know a woman who approached the little flower girl at a wedding and said "I'm a friend of your grandma's." The preschooler responded "oh, are you the one that passed away?"

A natural connection for us grownups is the one between illness and death. But resist the temptation to say "Lucky died because she was very sick." Your daughter will be terrified of illness. Every time she, you, or anyone she knows or loves gets a little cold or a sniffle, she'll wonder if they're going to die.

Another thing you don't want to say is "she's gone to be with G-d" or "she went to a better place." My friend's daughter has taken to saying "I don't care if I die, Mummy, because I'll go to heaven and it's better there anyway!"

I have found that the best way to explain death to little kids is to say that the person (or animal) got very very old and his/her body stopped working. Just like sometimes an old toy stops working because it's old and we've had it for a very very long time and we can't fix it anymore. Lucky's body died, but her soul (the part of her that we loved, that was playful and silly and was inside her, in her heart) is - fill in the blank - with G-d, looking down on us from heaven, etc. Or you can just leave it at that.

Be prepared for a lot of questions. Especially "When will Lucky come back?" My grandmother died when my daughter was three-and-a-half. She's five now, and every once in awhile she still asks me when Great Grandma is coming back! The finiteness of death is very difficult for children to grasp. You're going to have to gently remind her every time she asks that Lucky won't come back. She loves us very much but she can't come back because she died and her body doesn't work anymore. But we can think about her and talk about her and look at pictures of her to remember her, and it's OK to be sad and miss her - Mommy misses her too.

Your daughter is too young to make this connection, but one day, like my daughter did recently, she might ask "Are you going to die, Mommy?" Here's where I recommend against honesty. We know that nothing is certain in this world, but for a young child, the knowledge that Mommy and Daddy are going to be there tomorrow is everything. So as hesitant as you may feel, try to sound confident when you say "Everybody dies, and one day Mommy will die too. But not for a long long time, when I'm very very old and you're very very old too. You don't need to worry about that."

Make sure she's asked you all her questions and gotten satisfactory answers. Then change the subject and bring out the toys.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Taming Tantrums

The other night I was trying to get the kids fed, bathed and into bed. For some reason that evening, in the eyes of Eliana (4.5), I could do nothing right. She didn't like the way I prepared her food. She didn't like the bowl I served it in. And how dare I take her little brother upstairs to try to bathe him while she was "starving" (despite the fact that her dinner was sitting right there on the table)?

I've tried every reaction to tantrums I can think of. I've tried placating. I've tried ignoring. I've tried bribing. I'm embarrassed to say I've tried screaming back. This girl will have none of it.

So that evening, while Eliana was screaming in the kitchen and Ami (2.5) was playing contentedly in the bathtub, I opened a package of brand new bath crayons I'd been planning to surprise them with. A few minutes later, Eliana walked into the bathroom, still screaming about the "unfairness" of it all, and caught sight of Ami gleefully scribbling all over the tub. "Why did he get those," she demanded, her temper escalating.

"Because he's behaving nicely," I answered quietly, turning back to Ami and helping him draw a star on the tub.

Without a word, Eliana zipped her lip, took off her clothes and climbed into the tub.

So I recommend the next time one of your kids is having a tantrum, forget ignoring, forget reasoning, forget bribing, forget yelling, forget punishing. Rewarding the child who's behaving works so much faster and so much more easily. The reward doesn't have to be a prize or a treat, either. A cuddle, some lap time, a story or a game works just as well to tell your tantrum-thrower "this is what you'll get when you settle down, but right now you're not very pleasant to be around."

If you only have one kid - sorry, I've got nothin for ya.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pick Your Battles

We were about to go out this afternoon so I told my kids to put their shoes on and get ready to go. Four-year-old Eliana asked if she could keep her Tinkerbell costume on for our outing. Two-year-old Ami refused to wear his shoes. "Elmo slippers," he insisted. I smiled at my crazy kids, helped Ami put his slippers on, and shooed them out the door.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. You have to pick your battles. This is true with your kids, with your spouse, with your boss, with whomever.

Whether you want to "battle" with your kids on a particular subject depends on a number of things:

• How major/minor is the issue? (Hitting - Battle. Shoes on the couch - Up to you.)

• How many other things are you working on ingraining in your child simultaneously? A kid can work on learning approximately three different lessons at any given time. If you're working on teaching her not to lie and to look both ways before crossing the street, do you want to make speaking with an indoor voice your third issue or reserve that slot for something more important that might come up? Believe me, they'll be yelling next week too. You're not going to miss your chance. You WILL have an opportunity to teach them about indoor voices!

• What else is going on in the immediate environment? Did your child miss her nap? Is the baby crying to be fed? Are you stressed to get out the door and get to work on time? Is your daughter starving because you haven't gotten dinner on the table yet? Did she have a hard day in which she failed a test, was teased or bullied, or fell in the mud? Did YOU have a rough day in which you messed up a work assignment, had a flat tire, or argued with your spouse? Is it bedtime and you don't want to spend an hour arguing when it's time for the kids to start winding down? Your child's mood and emotional state, your own mood and emotional state, and whatever else is going on in your household at the moment is going to have an impact on her behavior as well as on your decision about whether or not to fight this battle right now.

Remember, anything that is an issue or a lesson your kids really need to learn is going to manifest itself over and over again. You will have plenty of opportunities to deal with the issue in the future, especially if your kids are young. Not only do your kids' immediate needs (food, sleep) need to come first, but any lesson you try to impart to them isn't going to sink in anyway if they're hungry/tired/upset.

Now I'll be honest. Sometimes I do tell Eliana an outfit she's chosen doesn't match. (And she has gotten to the point now that she will often ask me whether it matches.) But I know that not only is arguing over what she wears a waste of time and energy that I should be saving for the real issues, but letting her pick her own outfit also boosts her independence and self-confidence.

So let your kids pick out their own outfits sometimes. Even if you're not in a rush to get out the door. And even if you know you're going to get some funny looks because your toddler is walking around in Elmo slippers!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?


Q: My kids refuse to sleep in their beds. How can I get them out of mine?


A: Co-sleeping is a heated topic, and there's no right or wrong - only what's right or wrong for your family. If no one's getting any sleep, if it's causing discord between Mom and Dad, or if for whatever reason you want your kids out of your bed, then it's not working for your family. If that's the case, consistency is the key to getting your kids out of your bed for good.

First of all, tell them in no uncertain terms that sleeping in Mommy and Daddy's bed is not happening anymore. You love them very much. Don't follow this with a "but." The "B" word negates the entire first half of the sentence - any time you use it. Tell your kids they're big boys and girls. They are to sleep in their beds, you will sleep in your bed, and you'll spend lots of time together during daylight hours. Nighttime is not for spending time together - it's for sleeping.

Do they have a fear of something in particular? If so, address it. Do they need a nightlight? Do they need the door left open a crack? Do they need you to yell, "Monsters, monsters, stay away!" into the closet and check under the bed for the boogeyman before you leave? These are all acceptable ways to resolve children's fears. (Don't tell your kids that there's no such thing as monsters. They're not going to believe you, they're just going to think you're not on their side. Instead, come up with a way to keep the monsters away.)

Maybe your kids feel that they're not getting to spend enough quality time with you during the day and are trying to make up for it at night. If this is the case you're going to have to make more time for them. This can just be an extra 15 minutes a day. Fifteen minutes amounts to a few extra stories, a quick arts and crafts project, or a game of catch. It's quality here, not quantity. These few minutes can make a huge difference in your relationship with your kids. I highly recommend finding the time, even if your kids don't have sleep problems or security issues!

Once all underlying issues have been addressed, this is what you need to do:

Let's say your kids go to sleep fine in their own beds, but creep into your bed in the middle of the night.


I know you're tired and it's easier to just scootch over and let them in, but if you ever want this to stop, you need to get up and take them back to their beds. Do this as many times as it takes. It might happen 10 times in one night, but don't give in. If you give in once, they'll learn that all they have to do is keep trying and eventually they'll wear you down. I promise you, if you do it 10 times in one night, the next night (or maybe the night after) it'll only be seven or eight times, and after about a week they won't be coming to your bed anymore. It's just not worth their time and energy if they see it's not going to get them anywhere.

If your kids won't even go to sleep in their own beds and insist on going straight to your room at bedtime, here's what do to:

Put your child to bed in her bed. Sit on the bed with her for a few minutes (quietly - don't get her into another habit like singing her songs or rubbing her back, unless you want to keep doing this every night forever. Which is fine, if you want to do it every night. Just be aware that if you start in with something like this, it will become another routine that your child won't want to let go of). If you pray with your children every night, this is a good time to do it. If your child is the type that falls asleep very quickly, it's fine to sit with her until she falls asleep. If not, choose an amount of time and then say good night and leave the room. Do this every night for a week.


After a week, when you put her to bed, sit on a chair right next to her bed. (Make up an excuse if you have to - your back hurts or there's not enough room for both of you on the bed.) Sit there for a few minutes for several nights to a week. Then move the chair a foot or two away from the bed, towards the door. Sit there for a few nights. Continue moving the chair until it's outside the bedroom door.

You did it! You're free!

P.S. It's perfectly OK to reinforce good nights slept in their own beds with stickers on a sticker chart in the morning if you know this will help motivate your kids!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How (Not) to Praise Your Kids

This post is dedicated to Ava Josephine Jerrick, who passed away one month ago today. Ava, I know your Mama would be praising the heck out of you if you were here right now.

I hesitate to ever say there's a "right" or wrong" way to parent. But there has been research in the last few years on, of all things, how to praise your children.

One would think that praising your children is good and not praising them is bad. Period.

Right?

Wrong.

According to psychologists, when you praise your child, you're supposed to focus on his effort, rather than on his accomplishments. This seems counter-intuitive. After all, if your child scored three goals in the soccer match or got an A on his essay, shouldn't you focus on how well he did?


Apparently, you shouldn't. Instead, focus on how much he practiced and how hard he played, or how much time he spent in the library researching that essay even though you know he'd rather have been doing something else.

Why is this so crucial? For several reasons.

First of all, your child can't always control how well he's going to do something. For example, some kids are just uncoordinated. They're not going to score that many goals in a soccer match, if they score any at all. (Whether uncoordinated children should be playing soccer is another question. Personally, if they enjoy it I think they should go for it. Only if they feel discouraged and out of place should they be encouraged to find an activity that is more suited to their abilities).

If you focus on the quantity of your child's achievements, i.e. number of goals or grade on an essay, you're focusing on his ability or skill level. Granted, sometimes kids can improve by practicing harder or studying more. But sometimes that B or C really is the best they can do. They shouldn't feel bad for doing their best! They should be praised for how hard they tried, not for the outcome.

Secondly, it's hard to believe, but praise for your child's accomplishments can actually have negative effects. If your child sees that what's important to you is how well he does, this can affect not only how hard he tries but also his self-esteem and in fact his entire outlook on how the world works. If he thinks the only thing that matters is skill level - coordination, intelligence, artistic ability, or any other - he might decide there's no point in trying to do something that could be a great experience or a crucial part of his development because he just doesn't believe he has the skills to succeed. For example, if you're always praising him when he gets As on his English homework and he comes home with a C in math, he may well decide "I'm no good at math so I might as well not waste my time. I'll just focus on the subjects I'm good at." This will become a self-fulfilling prophecy: if he doesn't make an effort to study math, he will in fact fail at it, which will only reinforce his attitude. On the other hand, if you praise him when he studies hard, no matter what the end result, he'll get the message that the most important thing is effort. This way he'll continue to work hard and may just get a B or even an A the next time. So in effect, praising him only on his accomplishments may actually end up sabotaging him.


Praising our children for their efforts is crucial not only to our kids' self-esteem but to teaching them that in order to succeed in life they need to try hard and can't give up.

My kids are young, but I have to try to catch myself and not only praise four-year-old Eliana when she draws a picture that actually looks like a person or a rainbow, but also when she draws a picture that I can't recognize (and don't even know which end is up). After all, she spends a long time on her drawings and she is working on valuable skills like patience, concentration, and fine motor development, no matter what she's drawing. The other day she tried to write "Mommy" for the first time. She started with a "W." The first thing I did was say "Wow, Eliana, that's amazing! I can't believe you did that all by yourself." (The second thing I did was teach her the difference between a "W" and an "M.")


But I guess I should have said something like "I'm so proud of you for working on your writing! You're trying really hard," rather than the more specific "You're writing really beautifully." I'm not exactly sure how this whole thing works, but I'm going to try to be more conscious of it in the future.

Praising our kids for their efforts rather than their accomplishments is a really difficult rule to remember. But no one ever said parenting was easy.