Superheroes in Disguise

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”
– Carl Sagan

Each day I am constantly in awe of my 3 year old son and the way in which he makes sense of the world around him. His life is full of wonderment, excitement, discovery and awe. He takes himself to places that, as an adult, I actually struggle to fully comprehend. The way in which he creates his own entertainment in parallel worlds provides me with an entertainment that I find myself reliving moments of the day with my husband when all are asleep……and having such a chuckle in doing so.

Today, he informed me that he was a Superhero. Not just any superhero, but the best Superhero in “the whole wide world”. From that moment on, he was completely committed to his character. I observed his stature physically change shape as he truly convinced himself he was who he believed himself to be. Suddenly, I was no longer there…..unless I served a useful purpose (be it damsel in distress, or evil villain). He transported himself to a world where he was the most powerful, and where mere human strength was inferior to that of his super power abilities.

His ability to truly believe and commit to his character was confirmed to me when I queried what exactly his powers existed of. I was told to ‘watch this’ and then treated to a display of his physical prowess. Samples of which included contorted hand movements, twisting and jumping from side to side (fighting the baddies) and then a demonstration of his amazing running speed through a pre-defined race track in the house. It was only until I pointed out that his super powers may need food and drink that he returned to the here and now and agreed to have a snack. However his powers were demonstrated during the consumption of a cut pear – of which he could eat at lightening speed.

This kind of play is fundamental to the healthy development of any human being. So many children are being deprived of the opportunities to have ‘real’ imaginative play, because ‘reality’ is provided to them in the form of closed toys (in this case it could have been a licensed dress up costume). Closed toys define the play for the child, rather than the child defining the play instead. My son could have slipped into a Spider-Man or Batman outfit and happily ‘played’ these characters. But these are pre-defined. Spider-Man has a clear set of powers that have been created by someone other than my son. By being a ‘Super Hero’ as constructed by my son’s imagination…..there are no boundaries or ‘rules’ on his super powers other than what he sets for himself. And if they don’t work…..he can change them. This is particularly crucial for boys. By him having many opportunities to be in control in appropriate situations such as imaginative play – he will be less likely to seek out opportunities to control in inappropriate situations (such as how he behaves on the next supermarket visit).

So the next time you are informed that you have a little superhero in the house, or that your children have disappeared but in their place is a cat or dog or baby or horse or truck or digger or …….. allow them to ‘remain’ for as long as the play takes. They are going ‘somewhere’ which is exactly what we want for them in their lives ahead. They’re just having a practice run at it in the meantime.

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Pink Potato Stamping

My children really enjoy anything to do with painting and art. Whether this is because of the modelling they receive from their very talented artistic father (it certainly isn’t from my side of the family), or just an inherent desire to create…….they are forever wanting to paint. Because of this, we have a large box of paints, brushes, card and paint trays that are never far from their side. But last weekend I thought we might do a variation of the theme, by introducing them to the idea of mixed media art.

I try very hard to value all the artwork my children create, but inevitably the sheer volume of artwork can simply not be displayed proudly for all to see … we simply don’t have the wall space. So last weekend I thought I would try an idea I saw on a wonderful blog I follow called Lil Blue Boo. So off we went to the Emporium in search of small stretched canvases. Returning home colours were selected, tarp put down in the carport and the canvas preparation began.

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Predictably my daughter hoarded all the reds, whites and purples….which were quickly turned into various shades of pinks. She certainly learned a great deal about blending in her canvas preparation. Our youngest (3) is still very much at the exploratory stage. Which paints go where, what happens when we mix colours and of the most fun is what happens to the water when cleaning the paint off the brushes! As for our teenager, he has definite artistic talent, despite his lack of confidence. He was left to independently create, and so decided to pass on the potato stage, preferring to concentrate on the creation of a landscape piece.

After many laps of the carport and concrete pad on bikes and scooters while waiting for the backgrounds to dry…..it was time to bring on the potatoes. The children watched in amazement as I manipulated the sharp knife into the requested shapes. Trust in my ability slowly grew after the initial standard diamond, circle and crescent shapes were crafted. Requests began to become more adventurous….including the kids initials and the ever popular ‘love heart’. After quietly congratulating myself on my feats of potato carving, the kids were into their stamping.

I must admit I found it very hard to sit and let them create. I had an image in my head of how I wanted their canvases to look. Because of this, I lost sight of the very fact they weren’t my canvases. And the point wasn’t really now they looked in the end….but the process they had experienced in getting them to where they were happy to say they were finished. I had to really bite my lip when my daughter decided to begin her stamping with yet another pink.. The same colour as the background. She did not foresee the issue with using the same colour one on top of the other. But she quickly modified her colour choice when she could see it was it going to work out as she had planned. If I had told her, however, it would not have allowed her to reflect on this herself.

My son learnt that by dunking your potato stamp in the paint the shape became muddled on the canvas. Again, this learning was simply through trial and error. The personality he is he would only do the opposite of any suggestion I would make out of a need to help. And as for my 14 year old…..he produced an amazing landscape piece, with his learning coming from accepting the genuine compliments he has received as a result if it. A hardworking morning for myself and my husband, that what would’ve appeared from the outside as a bit of painting with the kids. But a minefield of new learning opportunities for our three cheeky kids!

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Negotiating World Peace with One Eye Open

I was not prepared this morning to be negotiating world peace between my 3 and 6 year old at 6.32am. What I had hoped for, in making a blanket ban on visiting Mum and Dads bedroom prior to 6.30am was a rare, uninterrupted sleep in. Instead I was woken by both children at various times leading up to 6.30am requiring many reminders about the new rule and a redirection back to bedrooms to ‘rest’ in bed (due to the adamant statements that they couldn’t possibly go back to sleep), or to read quietly and not disturb their brother/sister. Collapsing back into bed I quickly dozed feeling positive that this new approach would eventually reward me with the highly valued sleep in.

But when I heard an ear splitting yelling from my slumber at 6.32am, my body went into action leaving my brain firmly in doze state. It wasn’t until I was standing in the doorway of my daughter’s room, with one eye open viewing the folded arms and sulking face of my daughter that I really needed my brain to join my body in the moment. My 3 year old was a ball of fury, ready to throttle his sister. World-peace negotiator hat on (with brain steadily making its way into action mode) I managed to separate the two to their respective corners/bedrooms. Fortunately, in the time it took for my 3 year old to ‘calm his body’ (my brain was functioning enough to remember this new cue we are using to teach anger management) my brain had caught up and my other eye had opened. Thankfully, the remaining moments were managed in a way that the episode ended in hugs and kisses between siblings, with new ideas spilling forth for activities to engage in together. All agreed we were best friends again……but by the time it had taken to had reached consensus, my brain was so ready for action there was no chance of it ever returning to its sleep state. So the day began, breakfast duties commenced……and peace reigned once again in the world.

Male Communication – A Female Perspective

I talk far too much. I talk too much because I am female and because I am genetically predisposed to over talk. Because of this I am very mindful about how I speak to my sons. All the research shows that men and boys interpret information aurally far differently than females. So when I give instructions to my sons I can almost hear myself talking far too much. With my teenage son, my husband is often left to deal with him so that I can avoid becoming the nagging mother. But at the same time I have one ear open and hear the interaction that occurs. It plays out something like this……’stop being an egg……’ ‘pick that up…..’ ‘hurry up’…. ‘leave it alone’. I’m sitting there listening, thinking this boy is going to be emotionally scarred for the rest of his life because of the way his father is talking to him. But it works. He responds. He does it. He loves his father no less than any other time. The jobs get done. If I were to ask him to do something for me, it would be ‘can you please put this away because……’ with usually a very long-winded reason for why I’m asking him to do the job for me. Invariably the request is forgotten, because he didn’t hear all the instructions. He just heard a barrage of words and quickly tuned out. I then get frustrated that I have had to repeat myself, and feel offended that he didn’t pay attention to me in the first place.

So over the past few weeks I have been undertaking some informal observations with my youngest son in the way I can have my instructions interpreted. As a 3 year old, he manages very well in 2 and 3 step instructions. This is unusual, as I would expect 3 year olds to be able to just manage simple 2 step instructions such as pick up teddy and put him on the table. I think the success of my son following more complex instructions is in the breakdown of language when delivering them. I have been trying hard to state the steps in one, two or three word phrases. For example teeth, pick up toys, bed. Then I hit ‘repeat’ to almost provide a rhythmical pattern to the instructions in order for them to be retained long enough to be completed. Teeth, pick up toys, bed….teeth, pick up toys, bed…….and I can often hear my son repeating this to himself as he works through the instructions.

The benefits of this approach are numerous. Firstly, the success felt in following someone’s instructions and receiving the feedback when completed. Secondly the ability to develop a way of remembering instructions, retaining information and processing it aurally. Thirdly, not being bamboozled by the ‘noise’ unnecessary words can create for our boys. Simply keeping things matter-of-fact.

So Mums, Aunties, Nanas, Grandmas and sisters. Keep it simple and stop talking quite so much! Choose your moments to engage with the boys in your life verbally. Of course, we must talk to our boys, model language they need, discuss emotions, problem solve and scaffold self-management. But learn to recognise the glazed look….the distracted stare….or the need to repeat several times. These are definite indicators of a male being ‘talked to’ far too much.

Family Traditions

Our family are probably representative of most these days in the little time we actually have to spend together. For the most part, my husband and I are ships in the night. He’s on morning family shift and I am on the nights. I start work at 8am, finish in time (usually) to tend to homework, dinner, bath time etc. He starts after lunch and can work through late into the night, depending on his customers requirements. Add into this a teenage son who has rugby practice, kick boxing training, not to mention the brief notion of a blossoming social life. As a result our family work in ‘departments’….Mum and the little ones…..Dad and teenage son. Because of this, Sundays have become our most precious day of the week. It is the one day where both my husband and I aren’t working, and we as a family can all enjoy each others company. It is also the one day of the week when we are all home at the same time for dinner.

Because of this, I have been on a crusade in establishing a new tradition for our family to adhere to. Our family Sunday lunch. While this may sound a little simplistic, it rarely is not. I first started the idea of a Sunday dinner. The one time when we are all sitting formally at our dining table, rather than up at the kitchen bench, or in front of the TV. But, because my children are early risers, this meant we were having to sit down at 5pm for the evening meal. If not, the point of a relaxing, enjoyable family meal was lost in the midst of fussy, tired, grumpy children.

So the idea was tweaked to that of a lunchtime sit down meal. I even had the wild idea of opening up to anyone in the house at the time….(teenagers friends usually leftover from a Saturday night social event). We have had a few successful meals since the tweak…..but to really establish the ‘tradition’ takes an awful lot of commitment. And buy in from those involved. Which at the moment I am yet to get from both children and husband. Life is so busy that I seem to be the only one concerned with the lack of time we have together solely to enjoy each others’ company.

To me the idea of traditions offer so many more benefits than just the focus, such as mine, of spending time together. They are occasions fondly recalled as adults. They are events where new and specific social learning may occur in a realistic context. They provide self-identity and a sense of belonging to the family unit. They give children something to stand for…..because there is something of importance upheld by the adults in their lives. These traditions can be as simple as Sunday lunches or as complex as which presents are given and received at Christmas time. The point is there is something there for children to identify as theirs. Something they can say happens predictably in their family, that has a feel good factor or a real point to why it happens. And something they can say is important to their family……and is therefore important to them.

Which makes the idea of my Sunday lunches all the more important. I haven’t the answer to its success yet….but I’m working on it. I think the fact it’s on my radar must give it a much higher chance of success than if it were not!

Going for the Easy Option

Friday is our weekly grocery shopping day in our household. It is also my day off to spend time with my 3 year old son. Grocery shopping + 3 year old generally causes heightened levels of anxiety beginning from the moment we head off in the car (currently toilet training so pre-empting any possible ‘situations’ prior to departure) right through until the unload of groceries at the end of the trip. Today was a particularly successful event. Partly because my 3 year old was in a delightful mood and determined to ‘help’ through every part of the visit. Also, in part, because I now feel like I have begun to get a handle on what works when heading into a supermarket with a potential natural disaster securely fastened in the front of the trolley.

Our visit today though made me really consider the temptation that must be too great for many parents now, in taking the easy option when out with their toddlers. I observed a few weeks ago how parents entertained their toddlers while waiting for their 5 and 6 year old daughters’ gym class to finish. I must admit, again, I shudder at the thought of having an hour confined with my 3 year old on a mezanine floor overlooking 6 year olds engaged in forwards rolls and handstands. But, with a little bit of reflection, the moment can be turned into quite an adventure. My son and I observed, discussed, predicted, laughed, cringed and played together, all the while me keeping one eye on my daughter – waving occasionally to acknowledge I had seen her and her gymnastic abilities. What was potentially a situation whereby I could have had a 3 year old out of control after 30 minutes due to sheer boredom, I instead had a wonderful time with my son improving his observational skills, oral language, and self-management skills…..as well as simply having good fun. This was certainly not the easiest of options!

Parents at the same gym class, with similar age children in tow chose instead to supply one with an iPad and another with an iPhone. For the hour I watched as these children expertly navigated their way around the i-devices engaged in various activities, never once letting their eyes distract from the screens. While children were glued to the device, the parents sat and watched their other child below in silence. Gone were the moments of interaction, modelling, coaching, bonding and fun. Child interacted with device, parent had peace and quite – the easiest of options.

I thought of a similar situation again today as I was unpacking my weekly groceries while my 3 year old flew around the house with his new toy from the shopping trip. A supermarket chain here is now providing online shopping – ordering all your groceries online with either the option of picking it up yourself, or having it delivered to your door. This has so many appealing factors, on so many levels. Especially to a mother of young children. No longer would I need to plan my shopping around nap times, toilet stop times, times before naps (when the potential for tantrums are statistically far higher), school pick up/drop off times, Friday afternoons and dinner times ……….the food would simply arrive at the door and I would have the luxury of unpacking. In fact, I may even save more money as I would not be pressured by little voices asking ‘can we get that Mum….puleeeeez’. So much easier.

But the thought also occurred to me that while it is the easier option, what about the learning opportunities my children would miss in having the food magically arrive. No longer would I be able to meander through the fruit and vege section showing my children the array of different produce that they were yet to try. No longer would I be able to introduce the children to new language around food, or the counting out of items into the trolley. No longer would I need to answer endless questions about ‘what’s this’ and ‘where does this come from’. Where would they learn to be considerate of others as they moved through the aisles – either in volume of voice, or in where they are walking? When would they learn it was not ok to touch everything on the shelves, or open the pick-n-mix lolly bag before it was paid for? Where else would they learn that sometimes, just sometimes, we have to be somewhere that is not going to be the most highlighting entertainment segment of the week? That some times there are things we just simply have to do. There are some times when we just have to sit and wait. There are some times when we have to do what others tell us to do. And for the parent that is in charge of this visit to the supermarket – this is by far the harder option. To get through a shopping experience while entertaining young children, being available and responsive to them, modelling, correcting, reminding and rewarding, is an utterly exhausting experience.

But…….as parents, are we wanting the easy option now? Or the harder option later when we have children who have not been put in situations where they have been able to practice, make mistakes, practice again, refine and master the very basic skills such as those needed to manage themselves around a supermarket. As parents, we are always working to grow our children. So for me, I’ll collapse into bed at night, having taken the much harder option!

 

Parenting – Fit for the Job?

My line of work brings me into contact with a wide variety of parents and professionals alike. The idea being that I work to promote positive behaviour management. This involves understanding that all form of behaviour is a communication and not necessarily a naughtiness worthy of punishment. It is up to the adult in charge to translate the behaviour into ‘adult speak’ and provide the child what they need in an appropriate way. For example, a three year old tantrums because they aren’t given the flavour ice cream they requested. Rather than seeing this as the child being naughty, in understanding that this behaviour simply reflects a developmental moment typical of a 3 year old learning what they can and can’t control. By ignoring the tantrum, being consistent in the original flavour decision, and ensuring the child has control over other more appropriate decisions, the behaviour will reduce and the child will successfully move through the stage of development they are in.

As a parent, this knowledge makes me reflect that the role of parenting is one of the most hardest jobs anyone ever could do. That is, if you are doing it correctly. For you to be working hard, you will be responsive to your child’s needs and communications at all times. You will no longer have a life that is your own. You will not be able to go out in an evening and then be able to be a truly responsive parent the next day. You will not be able to have plans that will necessarily be completed in the timeframe you had hoped for……because ultimately you are there to respond to, model for, negotiate with, explain, teach, guide, lead, direct, and respond to your child’s needs in a way that allows them to develop appropriately. And this is damn hard work.

So it makes me so frustrated when I come into contact with parents who just do not realise the responsibility that lies before them in raising their children. They do not respond to their children in a way that encourages positive development. They do not reflect on their responses and how things could have gone better/differently. They do not make decisions about their lifestyle that is reflective of the fact that they are responsible for the care and protection of dependants. It is almost as if the child is a by-product of their lives and that they simply better hang on for the parents’ ride…..raising themselves as they go. To me, this form of parenting is the easy option. It isn’t hard to parent when you don’t have to modify your lifestyle too much to respond to the needs of your children. It isn’t hard to parent when you don’t have to think about what your child really is needing when they are behaving in a certain way, or in many cases misbehaving. By giving in, ignoring or using a technology-babysitter parents can get on with their own lives and have a relatively easy run of this parenting ‘lark’.

More parents need to truly understand that having children is not a right, but a privilege. To be a responsible parent, you must truly be working incredibly hard. You must understand just what a responsibility you have before you in growing a little adult that will one day be able to manage themselves appropriately in the world, and treat others with kindness and compassion. The hours that you as the parent would put into this position of responsibility are more than any one would expect to do in paid employment. You are on-call 24/7. Sick days are rare (if ever). There is no user-manual and your duties range from menial tasks such as cleaning, toileting and dressing, through to spiritual education, social interaction education and conflict resolution. Just when you think your skills have developed to a competent level, you will be thrown a curve ball to which you are ill-equipped to deal with.

But, if working hard, the rewards are priceless. Those special moments of delight and wonderment. The satisfaction in seeing your children representing the values and behaviours modelled and upheld in your home environment. The joy in watching your children grow into confident, self-assured and secure young adults. And if you have worked extremely hard, the reward in one day seeing your children model the very same parenting behaviours you have done with your grandchildren.

Parenting should not be a walk in the park. If it is…..you’re not fit for the job.