Friday, May 25, 2007

A Tribute to Teachers

Today marked the last day of my twins’ first year at preschool. It was a sad day for all of us, especially—incredibly—for their teacher! How many people are truly blue when their job has come to an end, at least for the summer? Most of us would be jumping for joy if we had a couple of months off from work. But not her . . . she truly loves what she does. And she dearly loves "her" kids.

When I was first shopping around for preschools, I visited several where the teachers and aides just seemed to be doing their jobs and getting through the day. There was no joy on their faces. They just looked tired. But when I went to this particular preschool, there were smiles all around. And hugs . . . lots of hugs! When the kids would go into the classroom, the teacher would say, "Look at all those beautiful faces!" And when she’d escort them out to the car at the end of the day, she’d tell them she loved them and shower them with kisses. These kids just felt cherished all day long.

And they learned so much, too! Some people might criticize me for placing my twins in part-time preschool at age 3. Perhaps I should be spending all day with them. But I know in my heart that my boys benefited so much more from being with an additional person who loves them. They made an ant farm, and watched the ants make tunnels in the dirt. They kept caterpillars in a jar, and observed as they spun cocoons and became butterflies. The children came home with a new song on their lips every week. These are the types of activities I don’t always have the patience or creativity to do. Their little intellects and spirits just blossomed from all the special things they did at school. They hated to see the weekends arrive!

When we got home from preschool today, I found a note in one of the backpacks. It said, "Dear Mr. and Mrs. Heim, Thank you for sharing your beautiful, beautiful boys with me. They both left their fingerprints on my heart! Love, Mrs. C." Here’s to all the teachers in the world like Mrs. C, who love and care for our children, and deeply bless the lives of their parents.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Raising Kids with Confidence

As a child, I lacked self-confidence, and even though I think I turned out fairly well as an adult and am happy with my life, I often wonder how different my life would have been if I had been a little more confident and courageous. For instance, I graduated as valedictorian from my high school with a straight-A average, and yet I was only brave enough to attend my first three years of college at a school in my home state that didn’t have particularly high standards for admission. If I were to do it over again, I would have applied to Ivy League schools and to universities situated in places that I’d always wanted to go! How I would have loved to study overseas. Who knows what I’d be doing today if I’d followed that path. And there are so many other opportunities I never pursued because I just didn’t feel confident enough to go after them.

Therefore, one of my goals as a parent has always been to try to encourage my children to have more confidence and courage than I did. That’s why I was intrigued when a copy of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids by Dr. Jenn Berman came across my desk. Although Dr. Berman covers a wide range of parenting issues, I especially liked the chapter called, "F Is for Free to Be Me!" because it really got down to the basics of building self-esteem in children. I was reassured by Dr. Berman’s words: "All parents want to raise children who feel great about themselves and, while there are no guarantees, there are many things that you can do to give your little ones this advantage." Some of the strategies she suggests include:

Watch Your Words: She cautions parents to avoid name-calling. Instead of saying, "You’re so careless," say "That was a careless thing to do."

Be Accepting: Let your children know that you accept them for who they are, flaws and all.

Grok Your Kids: The term grok, from the book Stranger in a Strange Land, means to "deeply comprehend and accept another." Parents need to make an effort to really understand their children by "not projecting any fantasies or desires on to a person and acknowledging who he or she really is."

Pay Attention: "Providing focused attention and empathy is also vital to your child’s self-esteem."

Respect Thoughts and Feelings: Respect your child’s opinions even if you don’t always agree. Ask your child for her opinions and really listen to her response.

Teach Your Child to Fail: Allow your children to engage in competition, which gives them opportunities to learn from their mistakes.

Have High Standards:
Set high standards for your children, but don’t be "punishing, controlling, or benevolent." Learn how to balance having high expectations with pushing too hard.

Teach Them to Express: Teach children how to express their feelings so they don’t "act out in destructive ways." Know that all feelings are valid, even if they’re negative.

In my own life, I’ve made a promise to myself to work on my own self-esteem, to defeat those self-defeating thoughts that I’ve carried over from childhood. As Dr. Berman points out, "The best way to raise a child with healthy self-esteem is to model good self-esteem yourself. . . . If you feel that you are not a positive role model, then you owe it to yourself and to your child to do everything you can do to raise your self-esteem." That sounds like great advice for raising confident kids.

You can find more of Dr. Jenn’s advice at www.DoctorJenn.com.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mother's Day Isn't Happy for Everyone

I was very fortunate to have a nice Mother’s Day. My own mother visited with my dad for the weekend, and we had a great time. My husband and I took my parents out to a very special Japanese restaurant on Saturday night for sushi, teriyaki chicken, and shrimp tempura. My children all remembered the day with cards and gifts. I asked my teenagers to write me a poem, and each of them created a true masterpiece! I consider myself truly blessed.

But, for other women, Mother’s Day is a holiday to dread. Our pastor reminded us of that fact at our Sunday morning service. Mothers, for instance, who have lost a child often mourn on this day. I know this to be true as my friend Dawn lost her wonderful and talented son Jason four years ago in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Understandably, she still mourns him terribly and is reminded of this loss even more deeply on Mother’s Day as there are no cards or gifts from her son. Other moms have lost their children, not through death, but to drugs, or distance, or a fractured relationship of some kind. They, too, mourn the loss of their child’s companionship.

And we can’t forget those—men and women—who are spending their first Mother’s Day without their own mothers. This day can be a sharp reminder to them that they’ll never enjoy their mother’s love and support again.

When our pastor asked for "joys and concerns" that morning, one woman stood up and thanked the birth mothers of her two adopted sons, women who were courageous enough to give birth to their babies and make sure they were placed in a loving home. This woman was so grateful to have been given the opportunity to become a mom. But that reminded me of another group of women who are sad on Mother’s Day—those who are spending another year not having the children that they so desperately want, whether it’s due to infertility, miscarriage, or just not being at the stage of their lives that they had hoped to be.

So, if you had a happy Mother’s Day, as I did, count your blessings—and count them again. Then pray that those women who didn’t have such a great day will find happiness and comfort in the coming year.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Parenting Advice Changes over Time

It’s funny how a lot of the advice our parents received about taking care of their babies has changed over time. Of course, most of it wasn’t bad advice, and certainly didn’t hurt us. But certain precautions were sometimes taken that weren’t necessary. Here are some examples:

OLD ADVICE: Babies’ bottles must be warmed before serving.
NEW ADVICE: Most babies don’t mind formula or milk that’s served cold or at room temperature. And there is no medical reason why milk must be warmed. Merely taking the bottle out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before feeding will take the edge off the chill. Or formula can be prepared right before use and fed at room temperature.

OLD ADVICE: Swimming sooner than a half-hour after eating will cause cramps.
NEW ADVICE: There has never been a single death caused by swimming too soon after eating. People do not experience cramps from swimming immediately after a meal.

OLD ADVICE: Sugar makes children hyper.
NEW ADVICE: Many studies have been conducted to test this theory, and no connection has been found between sugar consumption and children’s behavior. Some children may have sensitivities to certain foods, but sugar does not cause hyperactivity in the average child.

Of course, there are also plenty of examples of old-time advice that has withstood the test of time and shown that our mothers were right! For instance, our parents were usually told to keep their newborns home for the first few months to minimize their babies' exposure to germs. But I’ve seen plenty of newborns at public places, such as the grocery store, with strangers’ hands all over them! In this case, I’m with Mom . . . I wouldn’t want to risk a cold or the flu when the baby’s only a few months old.

If you’re a new parent or grandparent, it’s important to educate yourself on current parenting advice. Check with your doctor, read parenting magazines, and listen to your instincts.

Susan M. Heim is the author of It’s Twins! Parent-to-Parent Advice from Infancy Through Adolescence, Oh, Baby! 7 Ways a Baby Will Change Your Life the First Year, and Twice the Love: Stories of Inspiration for Families with Twins, Multiples and Singletons. Visit Susan’s website at www.susanheim.com.

Friday, May 04, 2007

How to Cope When Your Kids Are Driving You Insane

Perhaps you’ve had more than a few days like mine. Caleb likes to pretend he’s a monster and chases his brother around the room while screaming, "Roarrrrr!!" at the top of his lungs. Austen, of course, is also screaming because he’s being chased. Every time I try to leave the room to get a drink or use the bathroom, they start wrestling. This time, Caleb bites Austen on the back, and Austen hits Caleb in the lip with a Lego. In frustration, I put them in their high chairs for lunch. When I go into the kitchen to clean up, they proceed to throw every piece of food on their tray across the room (including yogurt!) and spit their drinks all over the floor. Do I get mad? YOU BET! I’m furious! At times, I’m nearly in tears at the prospect of another battle with them, and entirely frustrated at not being obeyed. On days like these, it’s nearly impossible to keep my cool. Nevertheless, it’s important to maintain the peace. The key is to ward off these episodes by having a few strategies for warding off a parental meltdown:

Isolate yourself from the situation. Put the kids in their high chairs or beds where they’ll be safe and away from each other. Then go into the next room and collect yourself. One day, when my twins were younger and being particularly frustrating, I placed them in their cribs and escaped to the next room to watch fifteen minutes of a comedy I had taped the night before. The twins quit yelling after a few minutes and were happily making faces at each other afterward. Best of all, I got to do something for me, and the funny show lifted my mood.

Go outdoors. If the weather is decent, strap the kids in the stroller and take a walk. The fresh air and sights will clear your head, and the change of scenery will snap everyone out of their bad moods.

Use distractions. Have a few things on hand that you only bring out when you really need the kids’ attention. A bottle of bubbles often does the trick! My children love to chase bubbles, and their giggles make me feel better. We also shine a laser light or flashlight on the floor and walls. The twins chase after it like they’re trying to catch a mouse. It’s hilarious to watch! Strap the kids in their high chairs and bring out erasable crayons or finger paints. This will occupy them for ages!

Call a sympathetic friend or family member. This may be your mom or your best friend, but call someone who will reassure you that your kids will grow up. One day you’ll be wishing your children wanted you more…trust me! If your friend has little ones, ask her to take yours off your hands for an hour or so and promise to do the same for her the following week. Even an hour of time to yourself can be a sanity-saver.

Remember how blessed you are. My first two pregnancies ended in miscarriage, and I was devastated. Every sighting of a pregnant woman (even a fake one on a TV sitcom) would put me in tears. I was terrified that I would never be a mother. Now, four children later, it still makes me giddy when I remember that my dream came true! If you experienced a difficult road to parenthood, reflect on the days when you feared you might never have children. You’ll find a new gratitude for the little hellions now running around your house!

Stick in a favorite video. I know, I know, some experts say our kids shouldn’t watch TV, but hey, many of those experts aren’t in the throes of parenting toddlers when they write that advice! I’m not advocating that your children sit in front of the boob tube all day, but if you really feel like you’re “losing it,” I still think a half-hour of Baby Einstein is much better for your kids than a swat on the butt. And hey, they might even learn a new word or two!

Tempt their tummies. My twins immediately stop what they’re doing when they hear we’re going to share a dish of ice cream! We savor every bite and stretch it out for a half-hour or so. Of course, we don’t make this an everyday occurrence, but it’s a sweet indulgence for a while and distracts the boys from their chaos. A word of caution: If certain food ingredients make your kids wild, get them to look forward to the apple slices or carrot sticks!