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Friday, March 25, 2011

My Boys Can walk. Earth hour plans, March 2011

This year with the boys being that much older, we've got alternate plans for Earth Hour tomorrow night. In previous years we've lit the candles and played card games, or forgotten the candles and played catch with the foam balls. It's amazing how much ambient light there is in the house, what with the charge lights from the phones, and digital clocks on the radios, microwave and stove.We rarely experience true darkness here the way I did in Malawi.

Earth hour is a much talked-about topic at their school. They were going to have special activities this afternoon which I'll hear more about when they come home. They are very excited about our plans to go for a walk tomorrow night, probably because I mentioned the hot chocolate we'd be taking with us. We'll walk the neighbourhood and talk about our beautiful planet and all the many ways we can care about it to make things better.

Enjoy your own Earth Hour. If the weather permits, maybe a walk would be a good idea for you too. For me, it will be a reminder of those 5 years I spent in Malawi where almost everyone got along quiet nicely without so many of our North American amenities.

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Boys Can cry.

It always bothers me to see adults jumping around and waving toys in front of a crying child in a ridiculous attempt to provide a distraction so the kid stops bawling.

Crying makes us human. It's one of our defining characteristics. Think of another mammal on Earth that has the capacity to cry. Drawing a blank? Me too. So why does our society have such an issue with it?

This member of society has no problem with crying and I had no intentions of conditioning my boys to suppress such an important characteristic of our human nature. I saw no point in it. How could I tell them not to cry without sending the message that their pain was not important? They hurt, so they cry, but Mommy says don't cry, so Mommy doesn't care that they hurt? That's the reasoning I would take and I'm a lot older than 3.

Crying is such an effective means of communication that I would argue we spend a large part of our adult life trying to find socially acceptable words to replace it. A baby cries. Any Mother who has spent more than 24 hours with her child will easily name 3 to 4 different types of cries and in seconds she will know exactly what her baby is saying: I'm hungry; I have a stomach pain; I'm uncomfortable; I'm tired. Perfect communication in one crying sound.

Even though the type of crying and the reasons for it has changed over time, my response to the boys hasn't altered that much.  
  • if they are upset enough to cry, then in their mind it's justified. Whether I'd be laughing on the inside or not, I always took their emotions seriously. I can't count the number of times the younger one came into the house holding his head and tell me he'd hit is eye on the van....
  • acknowledge their reason for crying. Talk about it. Help them work through their emotions. Sometimes the tears were caused by physical pain and I'd tell them I knew how much it hurt, and sometimes it was emotional and we'd talk about their behaviour that lead to the crying. Whatever their reason, talking about it as the tears flowed let them know that I knew their pain was important to me and by extension, they were important to me. 
  • give them time. I always let them cry sitting on my lap while I wiped their face. I'd give them as long as they needed. And usually it wasn't long. They wanted comfort and validation and they got it. They would calm down and we'd talk about what happened. They would recover quickly then be off and running again, all upset forgotten. 
When the boys were young I didn't react to their 100s of falls and when they saw that Mommy wasn't going to come running at every little bump, they'd just pick themselves up without a peep and continue playing. Even at the ages of 6 and 7 they will have some wipe outs that make me cringe but they think nothing of it.

When they cry though, I'm not telling them Shush Shush. I'm not bouncing them on my knee. I'm not trying to get them to talk or think about something else. I'm not running off for a favourite toy to jingle in their face. I'm not offering them a cookie or the chance to watch tv.

They want my time and attention and they've got it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

My Boys Can walk. Coping with comments from friends

One of the more persistent questions I had to survive regarding my young son was "Is he walking yet?"

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that, as the saying goes....

But seriously, I was asked that question A LOT. And I did my best to remain friendly and civil while I replied "No", but near the end I was ready to wring anyone's neck who dared to ask.

My son was born with a big fat head (just like Mommy) and a long skinny body (just like Mommy) which made him rather top heavy and incredibly flexible. For the longest time he never bothered to crawl because with the flip of his hips and a twist of his torso he could cross the rug to the toys, avoiding tables and chairs and couches with ease.

When he did decide to start crawling, he looked like that African lizard with his bum coming up to his shoulder on one side then swinging around to his shoulder on the other side as he darted across the kitchen. I took him to a play group at the library when he was about 12 months old and he was the only one who wasn't walking (and yes all the Mom's were sure to point that out to me in case I hadn't noticed my son didn't walk) but when he crawled across the floor to the toy box, the Mom beside me said "I have never seen a kid move that fast" as she watched him basically running on all 4s.

The art of movement. A baby will do what works best for them. I've heard of kids who were experts at rolling. They could roll anywhere. My son did that for a while. His skinny little neck muscles didn't stand a chance holding up that head of his so he'd twist and roll and contort himself where ever he wanted. It was fascinating watching him pass under the coffee table without EVER hitting it.

After a while, a baby will discover that crawling is a faster way to get where they want to go. And they will stick with it as long as it works. My son could move like lightning on hands and knees so why try walking? I wasn't concerned or bothered by the way he moved around and I certainly wasn't going to interfere by pulling him up before he was ready. So I bravely tolerated The Question and the shocked intake of breath that inevitably occurred each time I answered No. Then a new question came: "Aren't you worried?" After hearing this one for a while, I'd say "I'll worry if he's not walking by the time he's 5." That was sure to put a lid on further comments.

He started walking at 15 months. This was considered Late. Everyone hovered around to wait for the next developmental phase that must surely also be Late. Now I had new reasons to secretly roll my eyes as the unfolding of my child was microscopically charted by everyone but myself.

I never worried about the physical development of my son. I let nature take it's course. I had no interest in plotting Milestones and watching Development Phases and following Charts that said what he should be doing at so many months of age. I didn't pressure my baby to conform with the medical standards of the day. In my heart I knew he was fine and normal and I didn't give a hoot about what everyone else thought he should be doing.

When he was 6, I took him to meet the new dentist. She was very impressed with him on a number of levels and out of the blue she asked me "Did he start walking late?" I was so taken aback but I told her Yes. She said "I thought so. Children who did a lot of crawling are much better developed. Now they are getting kids in kindergarten to crawl around on the rug to help with their development because walking too early is not considered good."

It seems like the 'medical standards of the day' are aligning with 'letting nature take it's course'. I could hope.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Boys Can sleep anywhere. A skill that lasts a lifetime

The knack to sleep anywhere under any circumstance is enviable. Vast amounts of literature attests to the fact that sleep issues plague a large proportion of the population and sleep-related research continues to be a well funded topic.

As a new mother, I was under pressure to implement society's more pervasive rules and regulations around infant feeding and sleep that happened to be in vogue at the time. To Schedule Feedings or to Feed on Demand. To Keep Them Up so they slept when it suited me or Let Them Sleep Whenever. After about 30 seconds of thought, my decision was made. I eat when I'm hungry and I sleep when I'm tired so why shouldn't they?

Happily, this was a smart decision to make though I didn't realize it at the time. My first boy was a very quiet little soul so a happy, content little baby on the rug would turn into a sleeping little baby without nary a peep. No matter where he was, if he was tired he would sleep. And I would leave him. 

My second boy was the exact opposite. Why was this kid screaming all the time? Why couldn't I comfort him? Why couldn't I calm him down? I remember being extremely frustrated, stomping down the hall, tossing him into his crib and stomping back to the livingroom. Immediate silence. Aha. So this one cried when he was tired. After I figured that one out by the time he as a year old I was much better at getting him settled in places other than his crib.

Today both boys can sleep anywhere at any time. And I wholeheartedly believe it's because I did not overly control their sleeping environment when they were little.
  • let sleeping babies lie. If they are safe and warm there is no need to move them. They are learning to sleep in different locations. You'll love this when you travel and they have to sleep in places other than their own familiar room and their own familiar crib.
  • let there be light. If they are sleeping in a bright room in the middle of the day, so much the better. Don't pull the curtains and don't make it dark for them. I bet we all wish we could sleep in less than dark conditions.
  • let there be noise. If the radio or TV is on or you have to make some phone calls, go ahead. Resist the urge to creep around lest you disturb your sleeping baby. Having them sleep through noise will make your life a whole lot simpler. The last thing you want is a baby who wakes up early and exhausted just because the phone rang.
Learning to sleep anywhere at any time I truly believe to be one of the greater gifts I have given my boys. And I'll admit that I'm envious of their ability to fall asleep without being in a dark room under many blankets with earplugs in and the door shut. And God forgive anyone who phones.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Boys Can throw a fit! Understanding your child's tantrums

Sometimes I wonder how such a huge amount of noise can come out of someone so small. Face as red as a radish, mouth wide open, glass-shattering volume. Did they really get all that from me?

Understanding your child's tantrums may take a little thought and investigation on your part but it's definitely worth the effort. If you can figure out what sets your child off, you're better equipped to help them cope with those situations.

When my oldest first started junior kindergarten, the tantrums and fighting that happened right after school were at a level I hadn't experienced with him before. I had no idea why his behaviour was so deplorable after school days. I spoke with his teacher because I wanted to know how he was coping in the classroom. She told me he was very quiet, very reserved, always followed instructions and was greatly distressed by the children who didn't behave properly. (There's nothing like a kindergarten teacher to see firsthand what those little 4 year olds had been getting away with at home.) But she was delighted with my kid because he wasn't a handful like so many of the others.

Ah ha. No wonder his behaviour was so "expressive" when he got home. An entire day's worth of frustration and confusion needed to erupt from his little person to help him process the stresses he had experienced in the classroom. And given his personality, any misbehaving in the other children would have been hugely upsetting to him. He kept his emotions under wraps all day, but when he got home where he felt safe he'd let all that frustration out.

Ultimately, tantrums are a way for your child to process those feelings and emotions that are overwhelming them. Their repertoire is limited at that age so they use what they've got. Full body thrashing, lashing out, screaming, hitting and crying are hugely effective in helping them release those pent-up feelings. Let them! It's a coping mechanism that works! When they are older, they will learn to express their anger and frustration in socially acceptable ways but at a young age, they need that physical release.

So what can you do about it?

Knowing what I was in for on school days did help a lot. I kept the younger sibling at a safe distance because he was a natural target. I gave the older one plenty of room to yell and scream. I gave him my full attention. I never tried to prevent his tantrums or suppress them. I never tried to control his behaviour. Surprisingly enough, this last tactic was the winning ticket. He was much faster at processing and releasing his anger on his own when given full reign to do so than he was when I tried to interfere. Instead of dealing with bad behaviour from him for hours his tantrums would be over in 20 minutes. When he was calm, we would talk about school and problems in the classroom. Once his emotions were out of the way he was able to communicate his feelings verbally and as he adjusted to school his tantrums disappeared.

Tantrums are an expression of anxiety, fear, anger and frustration over not being able to control their environment. As they grow, they gain self confidence and learn more appropriate ways to deal with life's challenges but in the meantime it's a good idea to let them express themselves the way only children can.

It won't last forever.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

My Boys Can drive me crazy! Controlling your temper with your children

To avoid the misperception that my boys are well-behaved, enjoyable, respectful little darlings whose company is a delight every waking moment of the day, let me tell you nothing could be further from the truth. Sure I have the upper hand most of the time and I stick to my rules about being a Yes parent and not having double standards and making sure that work comes first etc. etc. but my own moods and my own level of tolerance for their antics can have a big effect on how things go day to day. Sometimes they can really bug the heck out of me. 

I can usually tell when I'm having an off day, when I'm particularly short tempered and am likely to throw a fit at the drop of a hat:
  • something they do all the time suddenly drives me nuts. For example, normally they set the breakfast table even though I usually hear "Why do I have to do it?" but some mornings that question will make me want to scream. The first clue that I'm particularly edgy is the instant feeling of anger over something that's routine.
  • my tolerance for their behaviour is zero. The horse-play around here is a mainstay and it's usually very amusing to watch because the little one can easily hold his own against the bigger one but some days even a little wrestling can be enough to make me throw both of them outside.
  • my mood deteriorates during the day. I start out being a normal parent in the morning but by the end of the day I could put both of them up for sale. 
Learning to control my temper began very early in my marriage because I didn't want to fight with my husband. Besides, it was useless and unproductive (I did try a few times...). Controlling my temper with my kids however, was a different skill. I wasn't dealing with another adult, I was dealing with small children who could not defend themselves verbally or physically. When I get REALLY ANGRY with them I can totally understand why child abuse is so prevalent in our society. It takes determination and strength on the part of the parent to stop themselves from doing real damage to their child. And remember, those harsh words you throw are just as lethal as anything physical.

When I know I'm feeling short-tempered and edgy and something small has set me off, I tell the boys exactly how I'm feeling. "Mommy's not in the mood for any nonsense today so cut it out." Obviously there's a certain tone that goes with these words but the point is, I'm telling them exactly how I feel. 90% of the time they know me as a tolerant, patient, loving parent so they deserve fair warning when that's not the way I'm feeling.

I'll gain control of the situation. If it's something that has slowly escalated, I'll shut it down so the 'source of my anger' goes away completely. For example, they love playing in the kitchen sink but after a while when water is all over the counter and they've got their feet in the water and their shirts are wet, I will have had enough. Instead of flying into a rage which would be very confusing for them I get them out of there, dried off, changed and things cleaned up. I make the source of my anger go away.

Stepping out of the room is a tactic I use in those situations where I feel that rage welling up inside me and I don't trust myself to stay in control of my emotions. Walking into another room gives me those 3 seconds alone to tell myself to calm down or quickly find something else to fill my mind - a distraction no matter what it may be. I will stay away from the boys as long as I feel that overwhelming anger inside me.

Practicing self-restraint and controlling one's temper and being mature and reasonable and loving are very admirable traits that I don't have all the time. And judging by the number of children who are killed every year by their parents, I'm not the only one who struggles with self discipline. It takes a conscious effort, it takes self-control, it takes coping skills, it takes energy and effort, it takes determination. And I'm proud to say my boys have no reason to be afraid of their parents.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Boys Can eat what I eat. Not being a double standard parent

I've always been bothered by the expression "do what I say, not what I do". I didn't hear it a lot growing up thank goodness, but when I did I always thought it was ridiculous. The divorced marriage counselor, the overweight dietitian, the chain-smoking medical intern. Do what I say, not what I do.

I'm not a double standard person and I certainly wasn't going to be a double standard parent.

This was easy of course when the boys were very small. After all, a diet of breastmilk doesn't call for a lot of variety. But when they were older and teeth were visible and diets expanded to suit their growing bodies, there was potential for two sets of rules around food; one for my husband and I and one for them. Not the direction I wanted to go. I also didn't want the boys to develop any "food issues" that could lead to skewed perceptions and stresses and insecurities around eating. As far as I was concerned there were no bad foods, just bad amounts.

I've always had a sweet tooth, I've always eaten when I was hungry and I've always eaten whatever I wanted. None of that was going to change just because the kids were around. On top of that I was preparing for Ironman Canada so my calorie intake was impressive and constant. How could I tell the boys not to eat a row of cookies or a bunch of chocolate before dinner when that's exactly what Mommy was doing? 

Not being a double standard parent AND being a Yes parent (see my earlier post about being a Yes parent) went hand in hand rather well:
  • when I ate, the boys ate. No matter what time I was eating I always offered the same food to the boys. At night after a ride, mid-afternoon after our rest, while we were making dinner, it didn't matter. If I was eating I was also offering the same food to them.
  • no restrictions were placed on food. The boys would see me eating all sorts of things at any hour of the day. Any type of food was fair game and they had the same opportunities.
  • most of the time, they would have a little of what I was having to "keep me company". But if they needed a proper meal, I would have them put their treats out first so they knew they could have them later.
And the result of doing this for years? Amazing. Neither one of my boys over-eats. They stop when they are full and since they eat the healthy things first, the stopping usually happens after a small bite of cookie or a few spoonfuls of ice cream. No foods are coveted over others. Since there were never any restrictions related to food and the boys always had access to whatever they wanted (though I would control the AMOUNT they had), things like chips and chocolate or cookies never developed the currency value of gold to be stolen and hoarded when Mommy wasn't looking. Even now when I'm eating these things and offer them to the boys they are more likely than not to say No Thanks.

In our house, food is not a bargaining tool. It doesn't control our schedules. It doesn't dominate our thoughts and emotions. It doesn't control our behaviour.

In our house, Food knows it's place.