When my first child was born, I thought I had reached my full capacity for love – that is, until my second child arrived, and then my third. With the arrival of my first grandchild, Sam, my cup runneth over. It isn’t that I loved Sam more than I loved my own children, it was the new grandparent kind of love. Instantly, I wanted to give him the moon and the stars. Did you also latch on to your grandparent’s prerogative to spoil your little darlings from the first moment you held them in your arms? But how do we know what is right to give? How do we know what is right to do? What shouldn’t we do?
My mentor, Abe Abramovitz, was the former Chief of the Section on Child Development and Behavior with the State Board of Health in Madison, Wisconsin. As a psychologist, he added his extraordinary insights to many of the issues in my book, 27 Secrets to Raising Amazing Children. Among his essentials for good parenting he stressed the importance of parents getting to know their children. Over thirty years of working with hundreds of parents, he found the following three issue were the most common obstacles that stood in the way of seeing their children for who they are: having preformed ideas as to who or what their children “should” be, interpreting children’s words and actions literally, and excessive sentimentality. Let’s talk about literalisms, as Abe called them.
January and resolutions go together like hand and glove. Some of us have no trouble keeping our resolutions but for the rest of us, well, there's always next year. However, some resolutions can't wait. I'm thinking about the promises many of us make about being better parents, especially after we've reacted (or overreacted) to our children's behaviors without thinking of the effect it might have on them. When we call them names like lazy, careless, clumsy, and stupid, we don't stop to realize that they take such labels as gospel. After all, they believe their parents know everything, so if they say these words, they must be true. Literal beings that they are, they internalize the label we've given them and they act accordingly, sometimes for life. Or they may engage in extreme behaviors just to prove us wrong.
First, did I say 84? When did that happen? Neither I nor any of my friends who are in their 80s and 90s can grasp our respective ages. Time seemed to go by so slowly when we were young, and now it rushes by at breakneck speed.
If we understand that our task is to bring out the best qualities that children are born with instead of trying to instill them, then our role automatically changes from fixer to mentor.
My column last month, in the August 2011 issue of Baltimore's Child, was inspired by a grandmother in one of my parenting workshops, who told the group that she gave candy to the children in her care as a reward for doing their schoolwork. By the end of the discussion, she came to see that candy, or toys, or other such short-cut external rewards could distract the children from developing the internal rewards of personal satisfaction, pride in their achievements, or awareness of the value of their own abilities.
Parents attain these longer-lasting results by showing real interest in their children's schoolwork, taking the time to find out what they did to earn their grades, and praising their efforts. When we corroborate what children know about themselves, we create a partnership in helping them build healthy self-esteem.
Sarah, one of the mothers in that group, suggested another way parents try to motivate their children by relating her husband's approach. She said that when their daughter, Susie, brought home a test with a B grade, her dad asked her why she hadn't gotten an A. Rather than motivate Susie to work harder, mom felt her husband's approach only served to discourage her.
"My daughter says she feels she is never good enough to please her dad," says Sarah.
That day's discussion quickly became all about the relationship between rewarding children and motivating them. Here is a look at how that discussion went.
In the May issue of Baltimore’s Child I wrote about Camp Me Too!, a weekend experience for bereaved children. On May 14th and 15th I was there with 15 children and 15 buddies. Coincidentally, the number 15 in Christian numerology "refers to the energy that is found within the acts of divine grace" – a perfect description of the power of the program designed by the director, Doreen Horan, and her colleague and co-creator, Heidi Schreiber-Pan.
It was a time to laugh and a time to cry, a time to listen and a time to be heard, a time to be silent and a time to make noise, a time for sorrow and a time for joy.
Where can heartbroken children learn a vocabulary that will enable them to express their pain? What is the language of grief? Where can grieving children find solace and understanding? Where can they find friends who too, are struggling with devastating loss? Where can they go to learn how to live with loss – and how to be happy again?
Stella Maris, well-known for its outstanding hospice services, offers children ages five to eleven, and teens from twelve to seventeen, a place of their own to share in the healing process after the death of a loved one - a parent, grandparent, a favorite relative, a special friend, a beloved pet. Each year, for twenty-five years, children of all backgrounds met for a day with their peers and skilled counselors to talk about the wounds of loss. Here they hear the words they need to sort out the myriad feelings that happen when a loved one dies – feelings of sadness and grief, pain and fear, anger and loneliness, and for some children, guilt. Who will take care of me? Why did this happen? Will I ever be happy again? Does anyone know how I feel? Was it my fault? Why does God do this to people? How can I live without _____?
It's spring and the end of the confining harsh winter, and many of us can hardly wait to take a car ride out to the country, or across the country, on the first warm sunshiny day. But are you as scared as I am about the anarchy on the highways you see everywhere you go? It seems it's every man, woman and teenager for him and herself, driving without any regard for the safety of their fellow travelers. So before we head out, perhaps it is time we start asking the questions none of us wants to ask - or answer: What kind of people are driving 10, 20, and more miles over the posted speed limits? What kind of people are ignoring stop signs and red lights? What kind of people are cutting in front of you without a fare-thee-well, gesturing and snarling at you when you protest the threat they pose to your life and limb? What kind of people are talking on their cell phones while driving despite the new law against it, and worse, what kind of people are still sending and answering text messages, eating their lunch, putting on their makeup, driving drunk or drug impaired and slamming into one another with frightening frequency. Since judging others is frowned upon in this politically-correct era, are we just supposed to allow that it is simply a matter of good people doing thoughtless things?