Building Self-esteem

133If you’ve ever watched a baby struggling to take her first steps, you’ve watched an exercise in self-esteem building. The struggle leading to sweet success is written on her face.

Parents waving and clapping make the event super fun yet the glow of satisfaction, the child exhibits, comes quite instinctively. It’s from the sense of accomplishment that baby feels.

Our modern society understands that self-esteem is very valuable to a healthy whole person, but sometimes, the zeal of parents, endeavoring to promote this, actually has a counter-productive effect.

The biggest misconception, about self-esteem, is that it stems from happiness. The happiness on baby’s face (above) is the end result of her struggles, bumps, and mistakes. It is not the cause of her satisfaction.

cleanup 451lips

I don’t know one mother who has not felt mortified by the realization that it’s “library day”, at school, and her child’s book has been left behind on the kitchen table. Take heart mom…your child will survive the trauma. She will learn, also, that responsibility for her own happiness comes from herself.  I speak from experience and my own mistakes. In hind-sight, I thought “good” moms smoothed the path leading to their children’s success. This was not a wise philosophy for building independence and responsible behavior.

It is clear to me, now, that self-esteem lives alongside of feeling capable. We learn much more from our mistakes and, by resolving, not to repeat them. This advice is directed toward new moms. Bite your tongue, and let your child fail while they are young and their problems (very big to them at the time) are not so big. Be there to help them design a better approach but avoid being the answer.

Katherine age 5

Katherine age 5

Hey, every parent makes mistakes. This is why they get a second chance with grandchildren. 😉

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The Positive Power of Peer Pressure

tex playing video games

tex playing video games (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Competition for kids is not only good for them, it is essential to their well-being.
The approach of parents and schools to reduce competition is, in my opinion, misguided. It seems to me that as in many things, nowadays, the real value is overlooked in favor of “kindness”.

Johnny wins the spelling bee. Sally tried very hard, studied very hard and wanted the shiny medal very much. She cries for a moment when she loses. Johnny, on the other hand, jumps up and down and shakes the medal at Sally.

First, crying and being disappointed isn’t fatal. But let the scene play out.

Johnny’s applause fades quickly (due to his flaunt) and classmates move in to console Sally and give her an “atta girl” rally. If she cries for too long, though, she’ll learn sympathy has a limit.

To interrupt what seemed to be a cruel scene in the beginning, would have stripped every kid of lessons in sportsmanship and human decency.

Johnny feels embarrassed for flaunting and sorry for Sally, whom he never intended to hurt. All the kids, notice that. Sally got the reward of friendship and support. All the kids, notice that too. Both kids survive the event with a clear message that losing is not the worst but poor sportsmanship is ugly. 

Society has weakened the effectiveness of peer pressure by regarding it as, primarily, negative. I’m asking you to consider what we lose when we deem competition and peer pressure unhealthy? Just as a body kept safe from germs fails to build antibodies, children kept safe from competition fail to build character. Peer pressure is the key tool in directing a positive result.

Both Johnny and Sally survive their embarrassment and disappointment, respectively. (Surviving adversity is one fine lesson, as well.) Each will react differently the next time they are exposed to competition. I’d advise, keep it coming until it becomes as much a part of them as saying, “Please and Thank-you.”

Dog trainers all agree that, in order to have a well-rounded happy pet, owners must socialize them while young. Their brilliant premise is built upon other dogs correcting un-dog-like behavior while dogs are formative.

No, I don’t think kids are animals but as human beings (who are basically very good and much more complex) they have an awful lot to learn from peer pressure.

Now, consider kids who have been protected from “real life” lessons (tears, anger, sympathy and hurt) and plop them in front of video games. No peer pressure in video games. There is one objective…WIN. Nameless, cold opponents don’t cry. Flaunting is encouraged AND if you don’t win, you can quit by pulling a plug!

Funny thing is, another misguided solution would be to take the video games away too. Apparently, some people aren’t getting the BIG picture.

Monkey Finds His Way

Monkey in Bali, Indonesia

Monkey in Bali, Indonesia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A little monkey got up one morning and decided to only look down from the trees.
It was wonderful!
He noticed that other monkeys lived in his neighborhood, he found a banana that had been overlooked, and he discovered his own shadow. Suddenly, he almost fell. His mother caught him and smiled gently.
The next day, the little monkey decided to only look upward.
It was wonderful!
He saw the clouds and the bluest sky. A flock of birds passed over and his heart felt as though it would burst from the beauty of it all. Suddenly, he almost fell. His mother caught him and smiled gently.
On the very next day, a bit more cautious little monkey, decided to look only behind himself.
It was wonderful!
All the while he walked, he could still see his soft leafy nest. Now, he was sure this was his best decision, yet. It made him feel warm and safe. Suddenly, he almost fell. His mother caught him, once again, and smiled gently.

This time, his mother warned him that he must look around to best prevent himself from falling. Little monkey had fun looking around until he noticed ugly, fearful things were in the forest.
This was not so wonderful!
“Mother? I was happier when I looked down and looked back and looked upward. How can you look around and still smile?”
“I have an eye for beauty, a mind that knows discovery and warm memories of safe places, all those things make me smile.”

“I just don’t understand why I must look around when I don’t want to see ugly, fearful things?”

“Because, my dear little monkey, I will not always be near enough to catch you.”

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I have no doubt that this story has already been told, in some form or fashion. I am alarmed by what I consider over-protectiveness on the part of  many young parents who want only happy, dreamy feelings filling everything in their children’s environment. Because of that opinion, I wrote this story today, and my words came to me separately from any other sources. 😉

You CAN be TOO Careful

Safety first and “You can’t be too careful.” are two common phrases in our language, especially, pertaining to kids.

I believe keeping a keen eye on safety is very important but also know that parents can be careful to the point of causing more danger to their kids.

The first area where ultra-cautious parents endanger their kids is by being “chokeaphobics”.

Baby’s first solid foods can drive, some parents, crazy. There are lists of foods that I would never feed children under four.

  • whole hot dogs
  • whole grapes

    Young couple with baby.

    Young couple with baby. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • peanuts (most nuts) but walnut meats are softer than most.
  • sticky, chewy candy like gummy bears
  • hard candies
  • popcorn (sometimes okay)

You see, at about a year old, kids have their first exposure to chewing food for swallowing. Gagging can be an alarming sound but it is a noise from a reflex which alerts the child to chew. The sound also lets us know that his/her airway is not obstructed. Up to the time of the first solids, babies are gulpers. Parents who “cream” everything and avoid approved baby “munchies” just because gagging frightens them, are encouraging their baby to continue gulping. Chewing must be learned and the earlier, the better. An over-protected eater will have more gagging and choking episodes in later years when other kids are chewing things, like popcorn, without incident.

Then there are the “germaphobic” parents.

Germs are not all bad and even those which offer colds and stomach bugs, have value. Unless your child has a compromised immune system, let them mingle.

Babies are clean slates. Their immune systems are too. As much as we dislike a sick baby, the illness makes baby stronger. Children who rarely get to play and exchange germs with each other, will not only be in for a “plague” of illness when they go to school, they may really get sicker when they are older before they are exposed.

To me, the worst over protection is what I’ll call, the “bumpaphobic” parents.

You’ve seen them. The ones who interrupt “rough and tumble” play at every opportunity.

Kids are pretty sturdy creatures. Their bodies are developing many groups of muscles, and sadly, there is not manufactured child-safe equipment suitable for every need. Kids who aren’t challenged by uneven ground (they will fall)or jumping off of steps (they will fall) or climbing up things that cannot hold their weight (they will fall) are deprived of lessons in balance, depth perception and the physics of living with gravity. Too the extreme, “bumpaphobic” parents create clumsy, accident prone kids who won’t keep up with their peers.

These are my biggest over-protective peeves. I’ve witnessed every one in my day care experience of 38 years and thought I’d warn parents OR give a printable text to offer someone who is witnessing over-protection.

Cultural Dissolve

Homecoming "He's everything I hoped for a...

Homecoming  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No political correctness

No political correctness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a dissolve going on in our culture. Very few actions, that bear a burden of public shame, still exist. That fact, is clearly an alarming example of the erosion of our cultural foundation.

Consider what having a baby out-of-wedlock or being in tremendous debt used to mean. Our culture policed itself by frowning upon such things in years past. Now, those things have no stigma and, therefore, have become culturally acceptable.

The feminists were so zealous in their quest for workplace equality, that they ended up redefining the art of being a “lady” and the act of being a “gentleman”, which I maintain are still worthy titles. Strange how being thoughtful and polite are now viewed as weaknesses? A bad sign, me thinks.

The equal rights defenders have made the fight for justice such a racial endeavor, that it divides us, and distracts us, from our American oneness.

Fairness has replaced, justifiable, in every argument and there IS a difference. Things that seem “fair” quite often don’t justify the burden placed upon others to create such a utopia. Might I add, Utopian ideals belong in the land of unicorns where, I understand, there is no unemployment, debt or greed.

The steps to citizenship have turned into an elevator, with buttons labeled in 7 languages, rather than a goal worthy of being hard-earned.

We accept that all politicians lie, and justice is for sale, without “blinking an eye” while we squabble about semantics (political correctness) to the point of ignoring our common cultural erosion. There is not one problem, other than foreign terrorism, that cannot be explained by and blamed, partly, on our ailing culture.

We don’t recognize that by creating new laws, we also are defining new categories of criminals for an already over-burdened justice system and refuse to realize that the overburdened system, is the reason the current laws aren’t already enforced.

Our media takes advantage of our busy distractions and choreograph our outrage by carefully choosing or boycotting information according to their own tastes and addiction to sensationalism.

Parenting used to be a cultural obligation to our children. Parents who did not take their roles seriously were treated as deadbeats.  Look around, parenting has become a choice according to personal comforts, decided after kids are born. There is no backlash, no stigma, any more.

Look at our current culture and ask, “Is there no shame?”

Seems to me, that pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

Subliminal Messages: What we really are telling kids.

Jenn & John 108

Why do we adults avoid telling kids the truth?

I’m not talking about the “birds and the bees” at an inappropriate age. I’m thinking more about just telling them why things, that they don’t like, are good for them. I do it too. The little song and dance for vegetables. The demand that homework be done first, before play….”because I said so.”

Well, I have started telling the kids the “whys” and “why nots” more often. If they don’t, at first, understand my reasons…I’m going to keep at it until they do. Like eating vegetables, the plain truth can taste bad but we keep offering the vegetables, why not keep explaining?

My daughter, Ellen, surprised and pleased me yesterday. (BTW-She does it often.) Her daughter, Katherine, came home, from her first grade class, with valentines. One large red heart from the teacher was a “get-out-of 1 homework assignment” coupon.

Ellen grimaced. “I don’t like this.”

She was, in my opinion, exactly correct. What that coupon did was counteract the message that we’d worked to convey to Katherine. Homework is necessary. It helps you practice and remember your lessons and is the perfect gauge that measures if you really understood what is going on.

Instead, the message of homework as an optional drudgery, rang “clear as a bell”.

Ellen’s, advice to her daughter, was,”Let’s save this. You may be sick one day but I think, not using it , will bring you a reward. We’ll talk about the reward.”

We adults convey subliminal messages to kids with our reactions. I catch myself frequently and attempt not to do this.

I had remembered advice given by a dentist, who’d seen very many frightened kids coming for their first visits. He advised parents to never treat the dentist visit as “evil” with phrases like, “Sorry, but you have to go.” or “If you are very brave, we’ll get a treat after.” That stuck with me and I use that advice when I talk to kids about any subject. I listen to myself from the viewpoint of a child. Takes practice, and isn’t fool-proof, but advice worthy of sharing with all of you.

Copycat!!!!

Sometimes as a child care provider, I feel more like a referee than an educator. The most frequent complaint from kids is,”They are copying me!”. Seems that every single child, at one time or another, has that complaint.

In my opinion, the old kid game of repeating every spoken word another kid says in order to irritate them is the only example of copying that requires a complaint. Ever wonder what makes the young (sometimes old ) human being feel it has to be original? I do.

We all remember hearing from our parents and telling our kids, “copying is a form of flattery.”. The indignancy of being copied is still prevalent in the immature mind, in spite of that wisdom. Certainly being original is great. Without valuing originality, where would innovation and invention be?

We don’t want to have kids become sheep, but this morning’s example of the copycat complaint speaks to something that I find baffling.

Child A and Child B interrupt my bathroom visit (as usual) both claiming an urgency to use the facilities. Child A is extremely agitated by the fact that Child B is copying her request to use the bathroom. Child B is new to toileting and once she decides to go, there is a finite amount of time for success. Child B’s request to use the bathroom may well have started as a copycat behavior but it is obvious that the need has become real. I place Child B on the toilet while Child A screams the indignity of being copied and not getting first use.

Some kids have a greater sensitivity to the “copycat offense”. Amusingly, those same kids are the ones who do the greater amount of “copycatting” and serves as one fine example of the art of projection. “I do it, so you must also be doing it.” Liars think everyone is lying, thieves are quicker to think a lost item has been stolen…and so on. This isn’t always true and should not be accepted as a unanimous fact but sometimes it really shows where a person’s head is.

The view of innate emotions that I get from watching kids, is fascinating. I think we can learn so much from kids. Their innocence is refreshing and even their, less than stunning moments, give us so much to consider.

One prime example of a great idea that backfired: I convinced my daughter (when she was about 7) that trying to be first in my day care line-ups was boring. (I was only attempting to ease the “I’m first!” bickering.) So, she started asking to be last. Well, before long, everyone wanted to be last…Lining up is impossible without someone going first!!! I’m sure there is a wonderful lesson in that debacle. HA!!! 🙂

Bunk and Positive Reinforcement: I need a vacation!

It’s two days before my summer vacation. I’ve been doing child day care since 1975 and my 56-year-old self is tattered and tired. The release of kids from school has added a new dynamic to my daily schedule. Big and little kids are battling for their place in the group. I’d like to say that I have everything under control and all’s well. It’s not.

My first instinct is to devise a chart for my current charges to accumulate “stars” upon. You know, those same charts that parents use for positive reinforcement. They would earn stars for “good” behavior. Accumulating a predetermined amount would allow the little cherubs to turn them in for prizes. BUNK! This whole philosophy seems wrong.

What is the overall complaint about our modern society? No one seems to fear nor anticipate consequences for their bad behavior. Kids are not exempt from this. All this happy, Barney the Dinosaur, atmosphere makes me ill. I couldn’t put my finger on why it bothered me until I considered a chart system that I believe may have better results.

The positive reinforcement Star Chart system is flawed when you consider that the whole premise is based upon the kids being considered already “naughty”. The kids have to work their way UP.  That seems as though our expectations are low for them from the “get go”. I’d rather assume they are good and “nip” the bad behavior when it happens.

My system, which I will implement right after vacation, will expect the kids to know their manners and will reduce their “stars” upon each and every infraction. They will START with 10 stars. Screeching and bickering (for example) will result in an automatic loss of a star. The consequence will therefore happen in that moment. Stars can be earned for kind and mannerly behavior of an exceptional nature too. At the end of the week, those who have a 7 star, or better, average will receive a prize. The kids, who have been schooled with the first star chart, adopt an, “I’ll just make it up later.” attitude or “It’s only Monday. Why worry?”

When you consider the way a mother wolf teaches her pups, my chart is more natural. The wolf mother reprimands her young immediately. This lesson lasts longer. We can learn so very much from animal parents.

My method will be using punishment that is immediate. Yes, punishment. Our society has attached such a bad “taste” to the word or if you’d rather, consequences. I think my method may have good results.

Ever ask yourself how folks without jobs afford tattoos, cell phones and jewelry? I suspect it is because the “check” is in the mail and therefore their “star chart” remains perpetually full.

On one more note, I wonder sometimes when I stopped being an authority figure and became a waitress. Seems the kids play happily until they find me idle then demands for snack time etc. start. I know I’ve created this environment. Heck, their parents love happy, indulged, little people at day’s end. My livelihood is based upon the happy parent. I’m too old to tread lightly and submissively any more. If the kids go home and complain about my rules…so be it.

Vacation time is beckoning, don’t you think? 🙂

The Weight of Parenthood

I came across and old photo of my son. It reminded me of some “heavy” criticism that I received while he was growing up. Parents are a particularly susceptible group when it comes to criticism , in general, but I had my reasons and here’s my story:

My son was a difficult child from the start.(Actually, three weeks before he was born, he kicked me hard enough to bruise me internally.) They call it ADD but I am aware that many folks use that diagnosis as a ball park term for naughty kids too. Anyway, he never seemed to foresee consequences and danger.

It started with a toddler who walked at 9 months old. That boy could literally get burned and go back for more. He’d walk off the end of a dock into a lake. He’d climb to the top of a playground slide and throw his hands up, drop his weight and holler, “Watch this Mommy!”

As he grew, his careless nature did not mature. I still think he may have other emotional disorders. But, in my day, that was considered bunk and he is now 30 years old and therefore was never diagnosed.

There was a time, that he became very “chunky”. Actually, he was quite overweight. This added to teasing at school and compounded every attempt to get his self-esteem lifted but he was alive.

Yes, it was THAT simple. His snacking and sedentary habits were, in my mind, a trade-off for his life.

We lived on a busy street next to a river and railroad tracks. To encourage my son to “go out and play” was too big a risk because I understood his inability to sense danger. Video games kept him happily occupied and he felt successful and proud of his gaming prowess. He had so little to feel proud of himself for. At school, he’d sought negative attention because he was unable to accomplish normal goals in a classroom. He became a chronic “bad boy” and hated school which hated him back. One foot note from a teacher described him as a good kid, at heart, but a trouble maker, just enough, to be disruptive.

Childhood obesity is a real problem in our country. I’m “on board” with kids becoming more active and taking in fewer calories. But I want folks to realize that letting kids go out and play isn’t like it used to be. Child predators and dangers are out there. Parents are busier trying to make ends meet and not available for supervision in many cases. Even healthy foods in large quantities can add weight when kids sit around. My son visited the refrigerator as an activity. We had yogurt. grapes, whole wheat bread and he ate them all. To this day, he will not eat a fatty piece of meat and chicken is his favorite meat.

Well, there I go explaining again. I heard many comments, secondhand sometimes, they all came down to,”Why did she allow him to get fat?”. (BTW-He is a trim and fit adult now.)

My answer…because I loved him, that’s why.

Next time you feel like criticizing an obviously attentive parent. Remember this post, and, please, keep it to yourself. They just may have their own reasons. 🙂

Keeping Kids Creative: Summer Book Club

With the last day of formal schooling racing toward us, the question of how to entertain the kids and keep them learning arises.

I have a few ideas for activities in my category named “Keeping Kids Creative”.

My mother had a great idea inspired by our own book club meetings. Why not start a Kids Book Club?

There are so many ways a gathering of similar aged kids could be successful.

A few ideas:

  • Offer prizes to those who participate and make the gathering a party-like atmosphere.
  • Have kids write their own stories to share from photo or word prompts. Compile the entries in a homemade book for them to keep.
  • Ask kids to bring and share their favorite books.
  • Offer a book topic, have the kids find a book that reflects the topic, then have a read-a-thon.
  • Give kids a camera and have them print out a photo journal of their vacation trip or a topic of interest. (Walmart prints photo books rather cheaply…check out their photo gift page.)
  • Have a letter writing campaign. Maybe to long-lost relatives or to a children’s book author.
  • Make t-shirts and name your club. Possibly follow one or two specific authors. Contacting that author may be a great idea too. They just might enjoy reaching out to your club.

I’m sure with this germ of an idea, creative parents can come up with others. Consider the cost of the pizza party or photo books, an investment, rather than a burden. When you compare what you spend on day camps, video games and gas running them to other activities, it isn’t much.

Remember parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and mentors: You are the most influential  teachers that your kids will ever have.

Just a thought…have a great summer people!

Any other ideas would be appreciated in my comments. 🙂