Monday, November 1, 2010

Mom and Dad...Are you mad?


Today, my husband and I had our first "heated conversation" in front of the kids. It came from a lot of frustration that had nothing to do with each other. Nick, jumping into his "fixer man" mode (which I usually love), came up with several solutions to try with the kids today. Unfortunately, instead of suggesting to me what I should do about my problem--he told me what to do. I, being the prideful, stubborn woman that I am, did not take too kindly to that. Since we didn't have time to talk about it, I resorted to childishly making comments about his ideas in front of the kids. Then, because he didn't know the whole story when he made his "suggestions," I smugly made note when his ideas didn't work out.

Thus, the "conversation" ensued (no yelling or name calling, just raised voices and a lot of "well you did..."). Nick and I are not ones to get worked up over much. As a result, I think the kids were pretty surprised to see us not being kind to each other. In the end, it didn't last long and we made up with a big hug and a kiss.

I say all this because I believe it is important for kids to see our flaws. That doesn't mean it is okay to excuse those flaws, or to have a "do as I say, not as I do" attitude. It simply means to acknowledge that they exist. Nick and I make it a goal to build a relationship with the kids we work with. The problem with relationships is that they make it hard to hide things. Kids see more than many adults seem to believe. Furthermore, it affects them more than we realize. Little things mean so much.

When we tell kids not to be mean to each other, but we are mean to each other, it confuses them. Not only do they not understand what kindness looks like, they also learn that they cannot trust our word. The problem is that we are not always kind, we don't always confront issues head on, sometimes we make mean jokes--the list goes on. It's just a product of being human. So how do we remedy that?

Here is what I think: be transparent. Yes I made a mistake. I am sorry for my mean words honey...and kids I am sorry that I didn't uphold my end of the bargain to be a good example to you. I have found that humility covers a whole host of sins with kids. It is hard, and VERY embarrassing, but I have found that it builds trust faster than any other mode of communication. Kids in my home are more willing to try working on something when they know I am trying too. More importantly, they are more willing to accept when I am not perfect and not use that as an excuse to quit. In fact, it gives them a reason to keep trying: because it is okay to fail.

The other positive factor of our "conversation" was that the kids see that our love is real and long lasting. We didn't let hurt feelings or disagreement get in the way of making things right. That was the way we approached the "conversation" and that is why it ended quickly. We didn't want to keep hurting each other, we wanted to get to the bottom of it quickly so that we could make each other feel loved and taken care of. Nick and I don't like to see each other hurting.

Allowing the kids to see the whole process also allowed them to see our commitment to each other. Most of the kids here at our Ranch have not seen healthy marriage relationships. Our goal is for them to learn how to build a healthy relationship based on our example. Therefore, it is paramount for us to exemplify a loving, others centered marriage at all times. But sometimes we don't. So, when we don't do it right, we need to show them how to do that too. We need to show them that mistakes are okay and that love runs deeper than those feelings. Beyond that, we need to show them how to be upset. Anger is not an excuse to yell, name call, or make threats.

I know all of this is common sense, but it sure is hard to put into practice. Nick and I have not always been this way. In fact, we were the exact opposite. When we became pregnant, we made a pact to change because we did not want to emotionally cripple our children. We had to work hard everyday for two long years until we got it down.  Now, I can't even imagine ever yelling a him (or anyone really) for any reason. It just seems so pointless. If being conscious about the way you treat your spouse or kids is a struggle for you I want to challenge you to try a new approach. Start by apologizing for your previous actions. Trust me, the embarrassment of having to do that for your kids will be enough to make you think before the next time you say something mean. Just the act of apologizing is a kindness. I promise it will revolutionize your home and bring much needed peace. And it is the first step towards having an attitude of kindness.

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Toddler Sign Language

I haven't posted in a while; so I decided to stop waiting for divine enlightenment and start talking about what I know. Right now I know that my 15 month old can only say about 10 words--and only my husband and I can really decipher them!  However, she can also sign about 10 words (mostly different ones, except for milk and more...she says something along the lines of moa and signs them at the same time). The nice thing about that is, close family and friends who know the signs can understand what she is saying (which is nice when you have as many kids rotating through yours house as we do). If people don't know what she is signing, they can ask once, and then they will always know what she means.

 Starting at about 10 months, my little "princess" has been quite the fit thrower. I don't really see the point of a time out or similar punishment at such a young age (although at 15 months, we are starting to get to that phase). Along that line, although swats helped her know to stop when mommy said "no," she would just throw a bigger fit  if I swatted her for throwing a fit (which is understandable...don't you feel the same way when you get cut down for just trying to get your point across). So, I decided she needed to learn how to communicate what she wanted. When I first taught her to sign, it took her a while (I think she was 12 months before she started signing). In the mean time, it gave me peace of mind that I was doing something about the problem, and it made her more willing to patiently wait for mommy or daddy to figure out what she wanted.

 Somehow, even before she could do it, she seemed to feel like she had more control when I showed her a sign, and then showed her the result of that sign . For example, when she would cry in the morning, just after waking up, because she wanted a bottle, I would wait until she was done throwing herself on the floor, show her the sign for milk, and then give her that "sweet nectar of life" she was addicted to! The other thing my daughter would do was cry if she ran out of food when she was still hungry. I would wait until she calmed down, sign "more" and give her more food. Slowly the fits got shorter, and she eventually picked up the signs. She was a little later than is normally predicted, but she was also born three weeks early; so for her, she was right on time. Of course she picked up "more" before "milk" or "please," and then promptly started saying in in reference to everything. I'm okay with that though, because she stopped throwing fits when she knew I was able to help her when she had some way of telling me what she needed. It was really nice. Neither of us felt helpless anymore. It was right about that time that she became much more independent too (wanting to feed herself more, wanting to climb things herself, walking, looking at books by herself). Although, that part was hard, we all know how important it is for healthy growth--and I was so proud of her! I don't know if signing and independence correlated, but it sure seemed to help. She was definitely more confident about know what she wanted!

 In my non-professional opinion, it also helped her language skills tremendously! At the point when we started signing, she was behind in speech. She didn't really know any words besides mama and dada (and I'm not even really sure if she knew what those meant). Now she is a little bit ahead, because she can communicate 20 words and she is learning new words everyday. She has started picking up new sounds, which creates opportunity to pronounce new words (which she is taking advantage of). My daughter has never been ahead doing anything! Now, I know that doesn't mean much, because kids level out around age three. Still, it is really nice not to have to wait to communicate.

 After a while, the nuance wore off, and she got tired of using more and please for everything. I too got tired of trying to decipher what she meant. So, next, we taught her "eat," "all done," "play," "sleep," "want," "fruit" (her favorite food), and "thank you." That doesn't take care of everything, but it sure helps. At least now, even if she doesn't have a word for everything she needs, she has something close enough for me to know where to start. After my experience with signing, I definitely suggest to all moms of young or disabled kids.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Homework? Whz da?

In addition to my regular job, I teach a photography class at our private school. Part of the class is learning how to write for the yearbook. This way the students can write their own stories and captions for the photographs they take. Sounds simple? It should be!
I have been working on the same four paragraph paper with my students since March! I assigned it. They didn't turn it in on time. I added work. They only got it in on time after coming to me last minute and asking for help. I gave it back to be corrected...and they forgot it was due today! even though it was written down on their homework slip! I tried to help them...but there is only so much I can do in an hour! That is why it is homework.
As frustrating as all this has been, I think my students are really making progress. They are learning a whole new approach to writing. I wouldn't say that they enjoy it yet, but I can see the wheels turning. They are starting to grasp the abstract concepts and creativity is flowing more naturally. Writing is a multifaceted tool that will carry them into adulthood--something very significant for youth coming from their backgrounds.
On the other hand, I am thoroughly confused as to why this has been so difficult. If they aren't learning English in school, then what is the foundation for all their other studies. Many of our students are behind upon entrance to our school. This is a testament to what they are learning in public school!
Don't get me wrong, I am a product of the public school system. I think it can be a wonderful asset if utilized properly. However, if the standard is to teach, test, and move on, how can we be sure our children are properly applying the skills they learn? Too many kids are being pushed through the system. Parents have to fight for their kids to learn. So what happens when the kids don't have parents who care? How will they become productive members of society if we don't teach them the skills they need to succeed? If we don't set an expectation for excellence, or mediocrity for that matter, then we can only expect the future leaders of our nation to fail! One of my seventh grade students didn't even know the difference between first and third person! When I told them they couldn't talk about themselves, they still used words like "I," "me," and "my" throughout the entire story!
We must expect more, or they will never become more. Although it has taken months of painstaking work, that same student can now form concise, cohesive, and even creative sentences with very little help. My students have become beautiful writers and beautiful photographers! I am so proud of them, but it took a lot of work. There were many rude and frustrated comments along the way, but if they can become successful in the workforce and in college, it is worth every moment. It would have never happened if I had given up on them. We cannot expect other people to do the work. So whether you are the parent, the teacher, or someone else entirely, be encouraged to make the extra effort by pushing your kids just a little further.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Welcome to my chaos!

I am training to become a relief houseparent working at a christian ranch for displaced children. I am starting this blog to shed some light on the work I do and the type of care we provide. I love my job and all the duties that it entails! It is constantly transforming and astounding me daily. From the mundane to the profound, I hope these moments of my life inspire and enlightens you as much as they do for me!

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