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The Greatest Teachers

Jessica, Allen, and AidenAllen, when he was three years old, told me one morning, “I love you.” Then he went on to say, “And I love Daddy and I love Aiden and I love Jessica…” He continued until he had named pretty much every person he knew or could remember at the time.

Children have so much love to share and give. It is contagious.

A few days later, he was giving a multitude of kisses and cuddles to my husband. Aiden, who was turning one that day, and was fully focused on his birthday gift, placed it down and crawled up to daddy and likewise started giving him “kisses.”

As adults, we tend to withhold love, forgiveness, and time, giving it to those who we feel deserve it. Or those who are in our “good books” at the time. Amazing how three-year-old’s (and one-year-old’s) naturally recognize the contagious and beautiful power of love. Perhaps that is one reason Jesus said we would do well to become like children—not only to enter the Kingdom one day, but to also enter a place of joy, peace, spontaneity and love in our everyday lives. Sometimes I feel my children are teaching me every bit as much as I am teaching them – probably a lot more.

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Self Do It

Pretty much every child goes through the “all-by-myself” phase. Depending on the age of the child during the phase, they can also term it “self” or “self-do-it”. For some kids, it is a quickly passing phase, and they soon go back to their usual “I can’t do it” attitude, where they want you to do every single thing for them. The other kids, though, remain in this stage pretty much permanently, as it is part of their nature. Toddler Walking

At times it can be exasperating: your two-year-old son wants to button his nice shirt “all by myself” when you are already late for a dinner engagement. It is easy to usher them along and quickly button their shirt, saying something like, “I can do it more quickly. Don’t worry; you can do it next time.” Or even (let’s hope not), “You’re taking so long! Can’t you go any faster?” For a child who is entering the stage of trying to figure out things, solve problems and find solutions, a reaction such as the above can hurt a child’s desire to try and find solutions or work things out for themselves. At that age, anything is possible, and it is our reactions that determine whether this can-do attitude remains or it degrades into a can’t-do frame of mind.

I have noticed it is sometimes the oldest who has more of a “I can’t do it” mindset. However, younger children need to see their older sibling (or siblings) accomplishing and succeeding; then they see it can be done. What is more, their reaction is often, “I want to do it too!”

Helping your child (and importantly, your oldest child, if you have more than one) build a positive attitude about their abilities will build confidence not only for that child, but the younger one/s to follow.

Case in point, I am the fifth of the six “kids” in my family. When I observed my older sisters or brother mastering a skill or undertaking a new challenge, I wanted to do it too. When my brother began to memorize his times tables, I started to do it as well, even though I was not yet officially “learning” it in my schoolbooks. When my sisters took typing in high school, I pulled out my mom’s typing book (from the ‘70s) and used her archaic typewriter (as in, you make a mistake, you pull out whiteout to fix it) and began to teach myself touch typing.

I recently noticed something: though I am grown now, it is still my nature. When I see someone doing something interesting, or something I don’t know how to do, the two-year-old inside me says, “self do it” and I find myself a tutorial or simply jump in and begin to figure it out. From computer skills to graphic design, from photography to writing, from teaching to cooking—my range of interests run wide and I love to master new skills.

Back to your two-year-old who is still working on his buttons. Stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and then cheer him on. You have a wonder child in the making; or didn’t he tell you yet?—nothing is impossible.

The First Day of Preschool – Mother’s Day Contest Entry

Sharada's DaughterThe First Day of Preschool

By Sharada

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I would surf the internet for information on babies and children and what to expect from motherhood. I came across an interesting article that explained that the importance of early learning especially for infants and had flash cards for numeracy and reading skills. I was thrilled to come upon this information and started building high hopes and expectations of what I was going to do for my child. I was going to be this super mom, who would do flash cards right from infancy, never use disposable diapers, only feed her organic homemade food and basically be a perfect, flawless parent – creating a perfect, flawless babyhood and childhood for my soon-to-be-born baby.

Enter reality with childbirth and all my high aspirations went flying out of the window. My determination to not use disposable diapers didn’t last more than a few days. I couldn’t remember where the flash cards were, and used that as an excuse to not do them. And although my daughter’s first solid meals were all homemade, I relied on store-bought baby food later. I had settled to what I thought was mediocre parenting.

Then came the biggest and most painful decision of my life; I had to go back to work, leaving my nine-month-old baby at daycare. My ambitions for a perfect motherhood were crushed. What was worse was that those aspirations, dreams, and ambitions lingered in my mind and heart as failures. Although my beautiful daughter was friendly and cheerful and adjusted very quickly to daycare and the kids there, I constantly battled motherhood with feelings of incapacity, inadequacy and failure.

Two years passed and my little girl was ready to join preschool. I was confident that she would have no problems going to a new place and meeting new kids. She was always friendly and excited to see new people and never really showed separation anxiety. On the big day, in her new uniform and school bag and school shoes, her dad and I proudly walked with her to the new school.

When we kissed her and said bye she began to … CRY! We tried telling her about the fun things she would do and the new friends she would make. She calmed down a little but was still clearly upset. I couldn’t believe it and was heartbroken. The teacher asked us to say bye again and leave calmly so we did. As miserable as I was leaving her at daycare, I had a tiny consolation that she wasn’t going through separation anxiety and was happy. Now that she was upset and crying made it all the more difficult and painful for me.

But as I walked out of the gates, something happened. Seeing my daughter cry on her first day of preschool pushed something in me to be strong, not just for her but myself too. I realized this was life. I cannot predict or control everything. I could go to work feeling worried and upset for her, or I could go to work praying for her and feeling proud that my daughter has entered preschool. I could choose to be strong and positive instead of weak and sad.

That one change in thought brought a whole new outlook to my parenting and my view of me as a mother. I might not have had the opportunity to be with her at home fulfilling all those super mom dreams. But I made the most I could with every minute I had with her. I wasn’t able to do flash cards or other great early learning programs, but I managed to read to my baby every night. I taught her colors, numbers, shapes and the alphabet while juggling a full-time job and housework. I might not have taught my child to read by age two but I did imbibe in her an important love for learning. I did not have quantity but I did give her quality.

That day, as I walked out of the gates of that pre-school I realized I was a supermom! I just had to let myself feel it!

P.S. Six months after starting preschool, my daughter is well adjusted and happy!

About Sharada: I am a mother of a three-and-a-half year old girl. I am married to a caring and loving man and live in the UAE. I work as a Teaching Assistant in an American school and I love my job, but I love being a mom the most.

[Like this story on our Facebook page to help the author win Positive Parenting’s Mother’s Day Writing Contest! (You’re welcome to “like” it here too! :)]

Every Special Moment

Jessica, Allen, and Aiden

The three siblings, when Aiden was a baby.

My son’s birthday was last week. The youngest in our little five-member family, Aiden, is now five. The past week has flown by so fast. The five years have flown by so fast.

Sometimes I wish that I had made note of every special moment. Somehow recorded it or remembered it. They go by so fast and too often pass into that place that seems almost oblivion (but perhaps is kept somewhere … somehow … by Someone).

But I remember a few, and they bring a smile to my face when I think of them.

My son running up to me as I got out of the car last Tuesday – his birthday. “Mom, mom!” His excited shout, his joyful face.

“What?” Waiting to hear what interesting thing he’d been doing with daddy while I was at college.

“I’m five years old now!” he exclaims wrapping his little arms around my waist and squeezing tight. I know he’s five. I’ve been helping him count down the days for the past month or so every time he’s asked, “How many days is it until my birthday?”

Kind of like I did five years ago waiting for him to arrive on the scene, which he did after only five hours of labor. As with everything else in my little boy’s life and schedule, I guess he didn’t want it to last too long because he gets bored quickly. I can picture him in my tummy. Okay, enough of those squeezy contraction things. Let’s get this show on the road. I definitely didn’t mind him hurrying things along that time.

Another snapshot highlight of the past week occurred a couple nights ago. It was past “lights out” time. And the boys still had the lights on. I peeked into the room, ready to help them turn off the light and get into bed (little boys seem to forget sometimes). And Aiden was sitting next to his big brother, Allen, my seven year old who would opt for drawing over reading any day. But he sat next to Aiden and read him every page of a storybook. I kept the light on for a few more minutes.

Then there was Saturday, when we celebrated Aiden’s birthday. I’m always nervous about parties, especially hosting them. As simple as I usually keep them, there is always the unknowable factor of children; who knows when and how hurt feelings or frustration will develop, and why it seems to increase exponentially with each kid added to the mix? Although there were a couple huffy moments and a squabble or two on the side, for the most part the kids got along great and had a blast. I think the big kids (aka adults) had fun too.

And the next evening, Aiden handing his new Hot Wheels hovercraft and tow truck to his little cousin, telling her, “You can keep this with you for the night.” I had to do a double take. Did my son just share his new birthday toy with someone else? Maybe those repeated pep talks about the joy of sharing (that I and my husband have been giving him half of his life) are finally getting through!

Every smile is a highlight. Every hug. Every question that exposes a mind thinking and feeling and growing. Yes, the challenging moments definitely exist and at times can seem like all there is. But I guess it depends on what we, as parents, focus on. Perhaps seeing my son turning five and growing up so fast has caused me to try to focus more on the good, the brighter points, during the past week.

But if so, I hope to make it somewhat of a habit.

What methods work for you in recording the high points of parenting? (One friend of mine posts all her fun parenting highlights on Facebook and that’s her way of keeping a record.) Do you have any tips on focusing on “the brighter points” of parenting and keeping a positive perspective in spite of the tougher moments of being a mother or father? Would love to hear from you in the comments below or on our Facebook page!

Jess, Allen, Aiden 2013

The siblings today. A day at the lake, Autumn 2013.

Teaching Kids How to Say Goodbye

saying goodbyeA friend visited from India last week. My kids were excited that he was coming and brimming over with stories to tell him, things to show him, and ideas of things to do together. We spent a day at a national park and had a great visit. But, as time often tends to do, it flew by. Every day I heard from one or the other kids, “I wish he was staying longer.”

On the last day of his visit, my youngest – who probably didn’t even remember him from when we lives in India – was nigh distraught. “I don’t want him to leave, because I love him,” he told me a couple of times.

When we dropped him off at the bus station, again as Aiden waved goodbye through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, he turned to me. “I don’t want him to leave, because I love him.”

Saying goodbye. I think it is a relatively new thing for the kids, although the older two are a bit more familiar with it, as they remember moving to California from India. I’ve moved over 20 times in my life. Across state lines. Across nations. Across seas.

I’ve said a lot of goodbyes, some more poignant than others. Some for the last time while in this world. Some with the hope of seeing loved ones again. Others with that inner hint that I won’t, at least for a very long time.

But how do you pass all that on to your children, especially the ones that seem almost too young to grasp concepts that can’t easily be explained? How do you explain to them the importance of living in the present, being thankful for every moment, yet not living for today?

Living for the hope of tomorrow. Of eternity.

Last night again, as I kissed the kids good night, my youngest expressed his sadness in having to say goodbye. “When you’re sad,” I told him, “you can remember the fun times you had and you can also pray for the people you remember.” He asked for a story instead. I’m not sure how deeply my advice went.

But they will face more goodbyes. Some more poignant than others. Yet there is joy, hope, and purpose … in every day and in every circumstance. I’m still working towards that understanding. And if I can help my children understand it as well – or at least work towards it – even goodbyes won’t be so bad.

Challenges of a Work-at-Home Mom

Aiden, three years oldSo, as I mentioned in a recent post, it had been a rough couple of weeks with my youngest.

He’s in the stage of testing his limits (and my patience – quite effectively, in fact).

Whether I put something as a question, a request, or an order, his response has been the same. (And just to let you know, it’s not “Yes mommy”).

Now let me clarify before anyone thinks I’m raising a little “lomster” (my kids’ word for both lobster and monster).

If my requests/orders were along the lines of, “Let’s have school together,” or “Let’s read a book together” or “Do you want to do a puzzle with me?” Or “It’s time to wash the dishes with mommy,” he would come running.

He loves anything that includes one-on-one time with mommy and input. He reminds me a bit of Number Johnny 5 – more input!

Therein rests the problem, and an inner struggle I face daily.

I’d love to be a 100 percent, full-time mommy.

But I’m not.

I’m a work-at-home mom. I love my kids. I enjoy my work too. But finding the correct balance on a daily basis – when you have deadlines on one side of the scales, and kids on the other – is a challenge.

Actually, that’s an understatement. Sometimes it’s downright tough.

And I know it’s not just me who faces it. These days, there are more work-at-home moms and dads than ever before. And even for those who don’t “work,” they’re still working. There’s always something to do – if it’s not deadlines, it’s dishes, laundry, shopping, or maintaining a blog (ahem).

(For the record, I write most of my blog posts on my phone while either putting my son down for his daily nap or while watching them in the pool and working up the courage to dive into the cold water.)

So how do we, as parents in this modern and ever so busy world, maintain the right balance (and at least a measure of sanity)?

How do we fulfill our most important responsibility and calling to teach and train up the upcoming generation as well as keep up with everything else?

Well, you’re not going to find all the answers within this blog post (which is why I’m writing a book on this same topic – it’s in the works!), but for starters, love your kids.

I know you love them already, like crazy.

But remember it, in the craziness of the hectic days you live in.

Love them, and make sure they know you love them.

More than the to-do’s and the work.

Give them the best of your time, as often as you can.

This will help them to more easily accept the times you might be too busy to spend as much time with them as they would like

Invite them into your life.

Making dinner? Let them peel the carrots or wash the potatoes.

Doing laundry? Let them sort the colors or hand you the clothes pins.

Trying to meet a deadline? Let them know and ask them to pray for you…or celebrate with them once you’ve met it.

 

As I write this, my son just fell asleep. As always, he looks so peaceful cuddled on top of his Lightning McQueen pillow case.

The instant he opens his eyes, I know he’s going to ask me to take him swimming, or to read him a book, or play cars with him.

I also know he doesn’t fathom the fifty pages I need to edit by the end of the day, or the reason mommy seems impatient and busy sometimes.

All he knows is that I’m his mom. And I’m his friend too (he told me so himself).

I think, when he wakes up, I’ll try to be just that.

Fun and Food on the Fourth

I glanced at the clock.

10:00 am

Guests would be coming somewhere between two and three in the afternoon, for swimming and celebrating July 4th. In the meantime, I needed to clean the house and prepare the food.

My daughter had volunteered to help with the dusting, so after we read a story together, I told her where the dusting cloths were as I headed to the kitchen.

Nine peeled potatoes later, I went to check on her.

She reclined on the couch, an open book in her hands.

“Did you dust yet?” I asked, completely aware of her response.

She looked up at me, a little worried. “No.”

I clenched my teeth, trying not to get annoyed. Doesn’t she realize we don’t have all day?

“What are you waiting for?”

“You.” She smiled.

“I’m not dusting with you. I’m working in the kitchen. I have food to prepare.”

She sat forward. Her eyes lit up. “You are?”

I groaned inwardly. I had been planning to do some baking with my daughter over the summer, but not today.

Today I was on a deadline.

Today the food needed to taste good.

It just wasn’t the opportune time to be cooking with a child.

Hold on! What on earth was I thinking?

What’s more important? To make the perfect dinner, or to enjoy creating something with my daughter?Jessica making potato salad

The answer was obvious.

“I was in the middle of making potato salad. It needs to get in the fridge early so it can get cold before the afternoon. Want to help?”

“Sure!” She jumped up, forgetting about her book for the moment as she eagerly followed me into the kitchen.

We finished making the potato salad together.

“Is there anything else to do?”

I had been hemming and hawing about whether or not to attempt a dessert. Why not?

“You want to make a pie with me?”

“Really?” When seeing the excitement in her eyes at such a simple thing, I wondered why I hadn’t done this earlier.

After placing the pie in the fridge, she went on to dust while I washed the dishes. She even asked me for Windex and started washing the glass door leading to the balcony.

By the way, the food wasn’t just good. It was perfect.

It had been created with love – the most important ingredient for anything in life.Jessica making lemon tart fruit pie

The Best Teachers

My three young children had been quite ill for over a week. Allen got an upset tummy from something he had eaten; he was just recovering when the viral fever then came around, putting him back in bed for the next few days.

Over the weekend, their health was picking up, and by the start of the new week, I thought we could start out slowly with some school, just to get back in the groove a bit. Usually school time begins around 10:00am for them; today it was noon before we opened the school books. I tried to keep in mind that it had been over a week since their last lesson and might take a bit of time before a couple young kids would “get into it” again.Father and Son Washing Dishes

Still, it was difficult to keep from becoming frustrated, as Allen spent most of the morning either staring off into space, or crying at absolutely-nothing-in-particular. It was quite a departure from my usually happy little boy.

Jessica, on the other hand, had decided that she needed to do the whole last week’s worth of school in one day because she had been sick, and kept insisting on it, so much so that she was accomplishing absolutely nothing. I assured her that we could go at her pace today.

Needless to say, it was not the most productive school day we had experienced.

As a home-schooling mother, it isn’t always easy to find the right balance between school and life. There are some inspired and wonderful teachers and parents who turn every moment in life into an educational experience for a child, without the child even realizing that they are “learning”. Life is just one great experience after another and the parent manifests that in every moment of the day. They just make learning fun, exciting, and an unforgettable experience on a daily basis.

It is great when a parent, especially a home schooling one, can make education fun for children. Especially when they are young, they need a bit more excitement, interaction and inspiration. I have been blessed to have some of these folks teach my kids classes and songs from time to time. I often feel I can’t measure up to this class of teacher. I have borrowed a few of their ideas and tips to make learning fun. Other than that, I tell myself it takes all kinds, and as long as I am dedicated and manifest patience and love, my children will learn that which is most important.

A few tips, for those of us who need them…

Start each school day with something special. It can be as simple as a bug you found in the garden that morning, or a funny song on youtube, or a sketch of the child.

Have a “star system” of some kind, for good behavior, or great performance, or completing something in school. Be consistent and fair with the reward system and children and students will look forward to it.

Be spontaneous. You do have goals and requirements, but at the same time, a dull and uninspired child will work slowly and perform poorly. If you notice they are slowing down or lacking inspirational, introduce a new idea, or a fun break, a live class, or something to bring new vision into their day.

Most of all, strive to be inspired and happy yourself, as well as calm and patient, and every day can be a wonderful learning experience—not only for your children, but you as well. Kids are often the best teachers we have, and their exuberance and wonder can rub off on anyone, of any age. Pretty fair trade, I’d say.

 

Image by © Tim Pannell/Corbis

Learning Styles, Cars, and “Tantennas”

“Mommy, yesterday I was doing school all day!”

That really wasn’t the case. In fact, he couldn’t have been sitting at the school table for more than a couple hours total (and that was due to focusing issues), but in the mind of a little boy, it has been “all day”.Boy studying

I explained that to him, and assured him that if he set his mind to it, he could accomplish his goals quickly. I also attempted (quite valiantly, I believe) to make his school as fun as possible.

Things went well and he was done before the morning was over, giving us the afternoon for projects and play.

It was Wednesday, and he was looking forward to learning how cars work, with daddy, later that afternoon.

As they played in the yard, my husband opened the hood and called him over. He explained different parts of the engine and their function. After each explanation, Allen would say, “Oh!” enthusiastically.

He finished explaining about the engine, closed the hood, and started doing something else, when Allen bounded up to him.

“Can you teach me more about cars?”

What started as a simple lesson ended up being a long and detailed explanation of every visible or partly visible part of the car.

That evening, I asked him what he had learned about cars. He started naming one part after another.  When he mentioned the “tantenna,” I first helped him with his pronunciation if it, and then asked if he knew what it was for.

“Listening to music,” he replied.

I explained to him that if I played music from my phone hooked up to the car speakers (as I often do), we wouldn’t need the antenna, and that the antenna is used when the music comes through the radio.

His next question was, “How does the music get into the antenna?” This prompted another extensive explanation—conducted in turn by myself and my husband—about radio waves and electromagnetic fields, about energy and discoveries.

Again, a number of wholehearted “Oh!”s showed his interest at the discussion and subject matter.

Every child has a different learning style (or styles). Every parent and teacher also has a different style (or styles) of teaching. Sometimes it is a challenge when you discover something isn’t working. Maybe you are discovering that your teaching styles are not all that similar to the learning styles of your child (or student). When you are the primary educator, that can present a fair challenge, to make times of learning fun and educational for both of you.

It often helps to find others who are available to take up certain aspects of learning, and be open to new methods of education, such as searching online and letting them learning something via youtube (that you have checked over first to make sure it’s okay), or asking a friend or relative if they can teach them some skill over the summer or during weekends. There is almost no limit to new and unique ways that a child can learn something; it just might take a bit of research or thinking outside the box, but it’s worth it.

I realize that my son won’t always ask me, as he did his father, “Can you teach me more?” but I can still do everything I can to help his times of education be interesting and interactive, and make every moment a learning experience.

 

(Image by © S. Seckinger/zefa/Corbis)

“Let ’em Do It”

The wisdom of a grandmother…

I like to consider myself at least aware when it comes to teaching my children practical life skills. I am by no means a pro at it. I don’t follow a systematic approach at ensuring they have accomplished a certain set of skills at a specific level by a particular age. Every child is different, after all.

peeled orangeMy youngest, who just turned two, loves oranges, and tangerines—which he calls ‘baby oranges’.  I used to peel and cut the oranges for him. Then I started cutting them without peeling them and he does a pretty good job at eating the edible part and throwing away the peel. He used to throw them straight off the table, but has learned to aim for the garbage can instead.

At dinner recently, he was eating when he noticed some tangerines in the fruit bowl on the table. He was sitting next to my mom, and reached for the ‘baby onange’.  She peeled off a little patch and gave it to him to peel the rest.

His face completely lit up at the challenge, and he spent the next few minutes carefully peeling his baby orange. He didn’t mind that he had to work a bit before being able to eat it. He seemed very pleased, in fact, and had a great time accomplishing a task all by himself.

It’s great to have an outside source now and again to remind us how much our children are capable of accomplishing, and inspiring them to reach for the sky… or at least for the fruit bowl.