Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Ferocious Fours

My four-year-olds are at an age when I dread picking them up from preschool because I don’t know what is going to come forth from their teacher’s mouth. Most of the time, it’s “Austen had a bad day.” Yes, like many four-year-olds, especially boys, my twins are a real handful. Nonstop action. Tattling. Asking “why” constantly. Using “potty talk.” Wrestling and hurting each other. Not listening. This can be a real challenge for my husband and me because we’re both the kind of people who need some peace and quiet once in a while. I’ve always been amazed at the people who say they love the sound of chaos in their house.

Fortunately, I have older boys, so I know that it does get better. One of my teenagers was a real terror at age four, but is now perfectly calm and good-natured at fifteen. Being difficult at age four is completely normal, and is not necessarily an indication that you’re in for a lifetime of visits to the principal’s office. When I get another stern look from the teacher, I tell myself that next year will be better! When Austen gets me up in the middle of the night for the third time and says “I’m scared” or “I’m not tired,” I reassure myself that this will soon be a distant memory. (After all, my teenagers haven’t done that for years!) But until that day comes, I decided to see what the experts have to say about coping with four-year-olds. Here are some of their recommendations:

- Let their creative juices flow by giving them lots of material for art projects, such as play dough, colored paper, washable crayons, pipe cleaners, pieces of felt, stickers and more. Provide sidewalk chalk for drawing pictures outside.

- Take lots of walks with them, and encourage them to explore the great outdoors. My twins would rather go outside than sit in the house and watch a movie any day. Make sure they have lots of outdoor toys to play with, and don’t get too upset if they pick up worms and bugs. It’s all part of their great curiosity!

- Kids this age love projects. Let them plant a garden with you. Order baby caterpillars and “grow” butterflies! Make an ant farm.

- Four-year-olds relish pretend play. My boys still ask me to let them wear their Halloween costumes. And one of their favorite toys is a castle with plenty of knights and horses. Have plenty of things around that encourage your kids to engage in imaginative play.

- Teach them how to handle their anger. Four-year-olds can get mad easily when they don’t get their way, and they need to be taught positive ways to handle their anger. Their immediate instinct is to punch, hit or kick when another child has annoyed them. Teach them how to take turns, perhaps with a timer. And role-play the right words to use when they want another child to share.

- Read lots of books. My twins love going to the library and selecting books to read. The highlight of their day is sitting down to read with Mommy or Daddy before going to bed. Read with lots of emotion. Once you’ve read the book a few times, let your child “read” it back to you. You’ll be amazed at how much he remembers!

Despite the drama associated with raising four-year-olds, there are lots of benefits, too. I love to see their enthusiasm over something as simple as a banana milkshake! And the beaming smile they give over a few words of praise. Four-year-olds are full of life and laughter and love. Focus on these positive aspects and they’ll make those “tough days” a whole lot better.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Twins' First Pets

Two days ago, my four-year-old twin boys became the proud owners of their first pets. Snappy and Crabby are the highly unoriginal monikers assigned to two hermit crabs, who are now residing in a ten-gallon tank in their bedroom. (Technically, these aren’t the boys’ first pets—we also have two cats—but our feline friends are both eighteen years old and have been around a lot longer than the twins. The crabs, however, are the first animals the boys have acquired themselves.)

My number-one criterion in getting a pet for them was that it be easy to care for. After all, my boys are only four, and I knew that the lion’s share of the work would fall on my husband and me. According to Susan E. Davis on DrSpock.com, “Three- to five-year-olds are often very enamored of pets and see them as special friends that are endowed with human qualities. . . . Preschoolers can also begin to understand the importance of being gentle and quiet around animals, as well as patting appropriately and not pulling on ears, legs, or tails.” After many years of cat ownership—entailing numerous vet visits, scooping poop, treating fleas, and so on—I was really ready to give up the “pet thing” altogether. In fact, my husband and I have agreed that after the cats go up to kitty heaven, we are done with all furry, four-legged friends. But the twins kept begging us to visit the pet store, and one of the employees gave me a really good sales pitch about how easy it is to care for crabs, so we were literally “hooked.” And I mean that in all seriousness.

When we got home with the crabs, I picked one up, expecting him to crawl cutely all over my hands like the one at the pet store did with the employee. Instead, he grabbed the skin on the palm of my hand with his pincer and held on tight. Owwwwww! If you’ve never been pinched by a hermit crab, I don’t recommend the experience. Fortunately, I refrained from flinging the little guy across the room, and he eventually loosened his grip. We soon discovered, however, that crabs normally reserve their feistiness for nighttime. They sleep all day, and then race around their aquarium at night, pushing over shells and rocks that we had neatly displayed on the sand. I must say that their decorating talents leave much to be desired! They also woke up one of my sons by all their activity. He came into our bedroom last night and announced, “The crabs are keeping me awake!”

So, we’ll see how things go in our “craboratory” in the next few days, weeks and months. Will they become beloved family members…or live up to their names of being “snappy” and “crabby”?

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

I’d like to wish a very happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who are reading this, although I find it kind of sad that we need a special day to tell mothers how much they are appreciated! Wouldn’t it be great if your kids told you every so often how grateful they are for all that you do? I have a feeling that most of us don’t hear these sentiments very often. What a wonderful (and surprising) gift that would be!

Ironically, the woman who started Mother’s Day also became disenchanted with what she started. One hundred years ago, Anna Jarvis organized the first Mother’s Day service at her mother’s church following her mother’s death three years earlier. An article by The Associated Press notes that Anna recommended that mothers be given a white carnation as it represented the purity of mothers’ love. When the day became more of a commercial celebration over the years, with people buying candy, cards and other expensive items, Anna protested in public letters. She said that people who bought greeting cards were too lazy to write their own letters. And she was actually arrested for disturbing the peace when she publicly protested a Mother’s Day celebration in New York. Despite her regret over what she had started, Mother’s Day lives on and is celebrated on the second Sunday in May in 52 countries.

So, I’d like to remind everyone that, as Mother’s Day comes and goes, your “obligation” is not over. A few months from now, when you’re sitting mindlessly in front of the TV, why not give your mother a call and tell her you’re thinking of her? Or write up a mushy note that will make her weepy. Although we mothers love the gifts that our families give to us, we also want to hear the sincere thoughts that accompany them, not just on Mother’s Day, but when we least expect it.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Stories Needed for Women’s Devotional Book

One of my current writing projects is putting together a book of devotionals with another busy mom like me. In fact, the book is full of devotionals for women like us, who are juggling families, friends, careers, friends, charitable activities, and more. Our biggest challenge is to write a story for every day of the year! Therefore, my coauthor Karen and I are looking for people to share their stories for the book. Here’s a sample of what we’re looking for:

“Why do you want to save all these books?” my husband asked recently as we were trying to condense some of the items we had stored in the garage. Books are like friends to me. If I’ve read a book that I dearly love, I can’t bear to get rid of it. But my husband sees them as unnecessary clutter. “Well, what about all this stuff you have in the garage?” I countered. Every tool known to mankind, partial cans of paint, and assorted containers of hardware had all been saved in the unlikely possibility that we might need them for some future home project. But to my husband, these things were much more useful than a bunch of old books.

Experts say that too much clutter can actually add stress to our lives. And I can attest that fighting about clutter isn’t very relaxing either. The Bible points out that the accumulation of things means that we place a high value on our possessions—sort of like worshipping false idols. When we become too attached to the “things” in our lives, they come to mean more to us than anything else—even God.

Is it time to sort through all the “stuff” you’ve accumulated over the years? I asked God to help me whittle down my book collection. What kind of clutter is standing between you and God? Make your relationship with him your dearest possession.


Do you have a story that you’d like to share for our devotional book? What happened, and what did you learn from it? As you can see from the example above, it doesn’t have to be a monumental occurrence. Sometimes the small events in our lives provide the greatest teaching experiences. Please send your stories to susan [at] susanheim.com, along with your contact information. We'd love to hear from you!

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