Growing Pains

We were excited when the new size 6 pants I’d ordered for J arrived. She’s been growing like a weed and had grown out of her clothes. I asked her to try on the new pants, but sadly, she reported that they were far too loose in the waist. I washed them all and put them aside.

After several days with temperatures in the 70s, today was a relatively chilly Texas day. J came out of her room dressed in 5T sweatpants. They left a good portion of her shins bare. My foot came down.

“No ma’am,” I told her. “Those pants are too small for you. Please put on your new purple ones.”

She came out of her room again with an important update. “These are too big.”

I took a look, and they seemed to fit just fine. I noticed her pulling them up at the hips, bunching the fabric on both sides below the waistband.

“I think,” I informed her, “that you have become accustomed to your pants being too tight. It’s just like how you resist switching to new shoes when your feet grow. You’ll feel comfortable in a while.”

That did it. To cut a very long, very loud story short, she lost it. There was screaming and stomping, tears and threats, and a general insistence that her panties were going to fall off without super-tight pants holding them up. I don’t try to reason with the unreasonable, so I didn’t point out all the things wrong with her argument until M wanted to discuss them with me over sister’s screams. Yes, I agreed, her panties did stay on when she jumped on the trampoline in a dress. J even tried M’s panties on, only to break down into a fresh slurry of tears because they were too tight.

Proving myself to be the meanest mommy in history, I insisted that J go to school in her own panties and pants. Once she’d settled into the car and quieted a bit, I told her that I was 95% certain that she would get used to her new clothes by the time school was done. I also suggested that perhaps part of her resistance was that I wasn’t making her sister go up a size. She agreed that that was a big part of it. It wasn’t fair that M got to wear the old pants.

“The fact is,” I told her, “that your sister is just smaller than you right now. You’ve always been used to sharing clothes so it feels strange not to, but it’s no different than you having different shoes because of your different sized feet.”

J struggled with this idea, but had accepted it by the time we got to school.

When I picked her up after daycare, she said those sweetest words: “Mom, you were right.” She loved her new pants and had received 2 compliments on them. They were softer than the old ones, which she admitted had been too tight. She even agreed to model her too-small and just-right clothes for a before-and-after photo set.

A 7-year-old with a tendency to resist change isn't a fan of switching to a larger size of clothing

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

Siblings Without Rivalry – A Book Review

A mother of twins reviews Siblings Without Rivalry

Siblings Without Rivalry is by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. If you missed my review of How to Talk… you can check it out here to get a sense of the prevailing philosophy behind these books. In a nutshell, Faber and Mazlish promote empathetic communication between parents and children and collaborative solutions to conflict.

While Siblings Without Rivalry is NOT a book centered upon the unique challenges of raising multiples, its sibling-centric focus does make it very applicable to most parents of twins. The authors wrote it as a follow-up to How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk because they felt they had not had sufficient space to fully explore sibling conflict in the first book.

The most important prevailing theme throughout Siblings Without Rivalry is that parents should acknowledge and respect children’s feelings, particularly toward their siblings, without minimizing or sugar-coating them.  If a child says, “I hate Owen! He always ruins my stuff,” then rather than saying, “Be nice to your brother,” a parent might say, “You really seem angry at your brother! You wish he’d take better care of your things.” Allowing both children to express anger and validating their feelings can help them to work through the conflict on their own, increasing both their autonomy and their sense of belonging within their family.

Other Interesting Takeaways:

  1. Wherever possible, parents should stay out of conflicts between children, and instead provide them with tools to work through their disagreement together. The general formula prescribed for intervening when necessary is:
    •  Acknowledge each side’s anger: “John, you want to watch Curious George, but Kristen wants to watch Elmo, is that right?”
    • Appreciate both sides of the conflict, and express faith in their ability to come to a fair solution: “Wow, that’s tough. There’s only one television, and both of you want to use it. But I know you can come up with a solution that works for both of you.”
    • Walk away.

    I admit that I find this approach a little hard to fathom. My children are two, and while they can express (loudly) what they want, they don’t grasp the idea of compromise. Or patience. But I really like the idea of giving kids the tools to work out problems on their own without requiring Mom or Dad to resolve them. (Note that the book DOES provide a different approach for handling violent conflicts. A parent would never be advised to walk away from a fight that could cause real harm to either child.)

  2. Resist the urge to compare. I think that as twin parents, we generally know better than to do this, but comparisons can pop up in unexpected places sometimes. (“Look, your sister ate all HER food…” for example, or “Your sister put HER jacket away…”) Rather than comparing one child to another (“Why can’t you put away your toys like your brother does?”) describe the behavior that you see: “I see your blocks on the floor.” Or describe what needs to be done: “Please put your blocks away.” Likewise, be careful of comparing one child favorably to the other. Rather than saying, “You are a better eater than your sister,” describe the behavior that pleases you: “I see that you ate all your carrots!”
  3. Don’t allow your children to be locked into roles or personas. People seem really inclined to do this with twins. People often make references to one of my twins as “the shy one” or “the artistic one”. And when they were small babies, a stranger once asked me which was “the good one.” Never tell your kid, “Why are you always so mean to your brother?” The child walks away thinking, “Yes, I know I’m mean.” A better approach is to set a positive expectation for the child: “I know you can be kind to your brother.”
  4. Rather than treating children equally, strive to treat them uniquely, according to their needs. Instead of focusing on doling out identical servings of food, ask, “Do you want a little bit of _________ or a lot?” Instead of saying, “I love you both the same,” say, “I love you because you’re you! No one could ever take your place.” Give time according to need, as well. “I’m spending a lot of time helping your brother with his project right now. It’s important to him. As soon as I’m finished, I want to hear what’s important to you.” And then tune in and engage with the other child.
    This idea really resonated strongly with me. I remember being aware that one of my children really “needed” me more when they were small babies, while the other was more independent and able to accept help from others. I felt guilty about that at the time, feeling that I had somehow neglected the more independent child or affected our bonding. Now, with the space of time, I’m aware of how my relationships with my children have evolved, and I worry less about how much time I’ve spent with each and more about the quality of the time I’ve spent with each.
  5. Set expectations about boundaries of conflict. If kids hit or use name calling, say something like: “You sound mad, but I expect you to talk to your brother without hitting or calling him names.” And then provide some alternative strategies. “Rather than hitting, draw me a picture of how you feel.” “Rather than hitting your brother, go hit this pillow.” But note that insisting upon good feelings between children can lead to bad feelings or lingering resentment. Allowing bad feelings between children can help them to work through those feelings and have a more positive relationship in the long run.

 Overall Impression

As with How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, a few ideas in the book made me think, “Well, that sounds nice, but what do you do when THAT doesn’t work?” In general, though, I found Faber and Mazlish’s philosophies on how to treat and talk to siblings to be intuitive and thought-provoking. I was even able to (tactfully) suggest alternative ways to think about  and talk to my twins to other family members. All in all, I found it to be a very interesting and helpful read, but as with any parenting book, one should approach it willing to apply what makes sense and ignore what doesn’t.

NurtureShock – A Book Review

A review of the child development book NurtureShockNurtureShock: New Thinking About Children is the book that has most influenced my approach to parenting. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman pored through child development, psychology and eduation literature and highlighted some major ways in which our generation, in trying to do right by our kids, may actually be doing them a disservice.

This isn’t light reading. There’s a lot of information packed in there. The authors report on a lot of practical, relevant research and some philosophically fascinating research. With that second category of information, it’s up to us to figure out practical applications in parenting. Each chapter of the book could easily be its own book. There’s little coherence between the chapters, but that’s okay. It’s not like I had the time to read it in one sitting!

A mother of twins reviews the book NurtureShock

Chapter 1: The Inverse Power of Praise

Sure, he’s special. But new research suggests if you tell him that, you’ll ruin him. It’s a neurobiological fact.

If you’re going to read one chapter of this book, it needs to be this one. I really think this applies to all children. In short, generalized praise that tells your child that her inherent superiority is the source of her success doesn’t build her self-esteem in a way that is lasting or constructive. Instead, make praise specific. Acknowledge effort over talent. Instead of, “You’re so smart,” tell your child, “You worked so hard!”

In one study the authors cite, Dr Carol Dweck’s team gave a group of children a pretty easy test to complete. Half the kids were praised for their smarts, and the other for their effort. They were then offered a choice of two puzzles. The harder one would teach them a lot. Ninety percent of the kids who’d be praised for working hard chose the harder puzzle, while most of the other group elected the easier one.

Kids who know that they’re smart are more likely to give up when they need to put forth effort. Guilty. I was that kid. I’d always been a good student and studied hard, but freshman chemistry in college was the first class in which I was frequently stumped. It took an enormous effort of will for me to stick with it, and the shock of not being the best student in the class hit my sense of worth hard. I’d always been the smart kid; needing to study stole from me the core of my sense of self. It was quite the fall.

Kids who feel valued for being hard workers are likely to stick things out and take greater pride in their accomplishments. My children have been consistently labeled as gifted. I am so glad that I read this book before they started elementary school. Instead of praising my girls for being at the head of their class, I talk to them about doing their best. I’m not disappointed if they come in last if they try their hardest. Doing a lazy job and getting the highest grade in the class? That isn’t an accomplishment.

Not buying it yet? Check out this passage from the chapter.

By the age of twelve, children believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign that you did well–it’s actually a sign you lack ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement.

Chapter 2: The Lost Hour

Around the world, children get an hour less sleep than they did thirty years ago. The cost: IQ points, emotional well-being, ADHD, and obesity.

This is a hard one for me. It’s so hard to make enough time for sleep, getting home as late as we do, as much as the kids drag their feet getting ready for bed, as late as their bedtime conversations last. I struggle to value sleep; it just feels like this thing that takes away from the time I could spend living life and getting things done.

Interestingly, even allowing kids to switch their sleep patterns on weekends is detrimental. Dr. Avi Sadeh showed that every hour of sleep shift (going to bed later and waking later) resulted in a 7-point drop on an IQ test. As the authors put it, “The more you learned during the day, the more you need to sleep that night.” (p. 34)

Even more alarming is the fact that after pre-school, children are getting an entire hour less sleep every single night than we did as children. In fact, the authors suggest that the teenage moodiness may be mostly the result of chronic sleep deprivation.

Chapter 3: Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race

Does teaching children about race and skin colour make them better off or worse?

This chapter was really uncomfortable to read. My ex-husband and I must be America’s whitest brown people. His father is of Mexican descent, and his mother is Caucasian. My parents are both Bengali, South Asian – Indian, if you must, although we’re actually from Bangladesh. Neither of us has ever encountered real racism; both military and university environments are meritocracies and we both grew up in open-minded, accepting school systems with open-minded, accepting peers.

Reading this book prompted me to discuss race with my girls, something I’d never done before. We had assumed that the fact that they’re triracial and have friends across the spectrum would be enough to keep them from being prejudiced. Bronson and Merryman call this the “Diverse Environment Theory.”

NurtureShock‘s authors convincingly argue that we’re wrong to refuse to talk about race. They argue that humans look for patterns. Kids don’t assume that groups are random. They look for commonalities and draw conclusions, and it us up to us as parents to encourage them to evaluate their assumptions.

If we don’t talk about the generalizations they’re making, they stick. Bronson and Merryman argue that school desegregation doesn’t bring an end to racism unless race is actually discussed. An example they gave was of an elementary classroom spontaneously discussing Santa’s race after being read a book in which Santa was depicted with black skin.

We all want out children to be unintimidated by differences and have the social skills to integrate in a diverse world. The question is, do we make it worse, or do we make it better, by calling attention to race? (p. 51)

Bronson and Merryman state, “All minority parents at some point tell their children that discrimination is out there, but they shouldn’t let it stop them.” (p. 63) This doesn’t jive with my minority family experience. It was only after reading this chapter that I began to dive into the history of discrimination. They’ve since studied the Civil Rights movement at school.

A few weeks ago, my 7-year-old daughters and I had an interesting conversation about affirmative action and whether it still has a place in our society. That would have never come up had I not read this chapter.

Wow. This review is getting really long. I’d better speed it up. It’s just such a thought-provoking book

Chapter 4: Why Kids Lie

We may treasure honesty, but the research is clear. Most classic strategies to promote truthfulness just encourage kids to be better liars.

When I read this chapter, I was kind of disappointed. I was looking for research-based suggestions on how to teach our children about the value of truth, while also helping them gauge what truths should be spoken where. Parents who have faith in their children’s inherent honesty will certainly be shocked by how much good kids lie. They don’t want to disappoint us and they don’t want to get in trouble. So they lie.

Chapter 5: The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten

Millions of kids are competing for seats in gifted programs and private schools. Admissions officers say it’s an art: science says they’re wrong, 73% of the time.

This chapter was hugely influential for me. My kids are among those who were identified early as gifted. Had I not read this chapter, I would have probably sat happy on those laurels. What I learned, though, was commonsensical enough. Kids bloom at different times. A child who is super-precocious as a 5-year-old may be an average student by middle school. The kid who doesn’t stand out in 1st or 2nd grade may burst into brilliance as a 5th grader. However, our school systems only looked for giftedness once, early in elementary school. We end up with kids in gifted programs who would do better in regular classrooms and miss out on nurturing other children’s genius.

Even worse, the measures of giftedness are limited and miss out on things like emotional intelligence. When I was researching schools for my daughters, I ended up choosing the school district that would allow children into their Gifted and Talented program even if their gifts manifested in only one academic area. While I knew my daughters would qualify in all areas, I wanted them in a program that valued uniqueness and understood that children are individuals.

In December, I read A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, which I’ll review tomorrow. When I was telling my daughter M about it, she observed that her teacher was likely good at teaching gifted children because her own daughter was so smart. Her teacher’s daughter is one of the most emotionally intelligent and insightful children I have ever encountered, but she doesn’t test particularly well. She’s struggled with math and reading. I knew that M’s ability to see her friend’s gifts, despite their not being the ones that most schools acknowledge, was a sign that we were doing something right.

Chapter 6: The Sibling Effect

Freud was wrong. Shakespeare was right. Why siblings really fight.

This is the chapter for MoMs. One observation is that sibling relationships stay qualitatively similar over time, at least as long as they’re living together. Those of us with kids who adore each other now can be pretty confident that their connection with stand the test of time. The bad news is for those whose kids mostly ignore each other. Interestingly, fighting a lot isn’t necessarily bad, if it’s balanced out by fun, fun, fun times.

Conflict prevention is the key, not conflict resolution. Kids as young as four can be taught the skills needed to get along with their siblings. Siblings who can work things out without needing parental intervention are in good shape. The sibling relationship is its own thing, not some reflection of each child’s relationship with their parents or sharing parental attention.

Here’s a showstopper: “One of the best predictors of how well two siblings get along is determine before the birth of the younger child… [The] predictive factor is the quality of the older child’s relationship with his best friend.” Those of us who have multiples first seem to have a major advantage here.

Chapter 7: The Science of Teen Rebellion

Why, for adolescents, arguing with adults is a sign of respect, not disrespect – and arguing is constructive to the relationship, not destructive.

If your teen argues with you, it’s because she still cares about your opinion. The kids who agrees with you all the time is just ignoring you as soon as you’re out of sight. Mind. Blown.

As you’ve probably heard elsewhere, teenagers’ brains just don’t work like adult brains. There’s no point expecting them to. We don’t expect that of our two-year-olds, right?

Chapter 8: Can Self Control Be Taught?

Developers of a new kind of preschool keep losing their grant money – the students are so successful they’re no longer ‘at-risk enough’ to warrant further study. What’s their secret?

I found this chapter less coherent that the others. Teens make bad decisions. A bunch of teens together make such insanely bad decisions, it’s crazy. Young children can be taught self-control by being empowered to set their own boundaries and practicing holding themselves to those boundaries. Tools of the Mind sounds like an amazing educational approach, but good luck finding a school that uses it.

Chapter 9: Plays Well With Others

Why modern involved parenting has failed to produce a generation of angels.

There’s a fascinating insight in this chapter about kids’ TV. Modern children’s educational TV programs, despite attempting to teach positive behaviour, does the opposite. So much time is spent building up a conflict and so relatively little time spent resolving it, the kids absorb the conflict and not the resolution. One way to address it? Let your kids see you fight so that they can see you resolve conflict. If you agree with your spouse not to fight in front of the kids, they still pick up on the tension, but never get to learn from you how to make up. Let your kids know that conflict is a normal part of human life… as is resolving it.

Chapter 10: Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t

Despite scientists’ admonitions, parents still spend billions every year on gimmicks and videos, hoping to jump-start infants’ language skills. What’s the right way to accomplish this goal?

Perhaps it’s because my academic background is in linguistics, but this chapter didn’t do anything for me. Social interaction is critical to language development. Responding to your child, even before the child can produce meaningful speech, helps him learn to speak. Reponses can be verbal, tactile, eye contact. All of it matters.

Conclusion:  The Myth of the Supertrait

This book has no that-explains-everything insight. Raising kids is a complex exercise. There’s no one aspect of childhood that fixes everything if you tweak it just right. Well-rounded parenting helps kids.

Pretty straightforward, that, but there were a lot of good details along the way.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

1-2-3 Magic – A Book Review

2When my girls were younger, between 12 and 24 months or so, I employed the fine art of distraction and redirection, along with consequences-based “discipline” to manage behavior in our house.  It was a full-time job, and I was anxious for “time out” to have meaning.  I would test the time-out waters every few months, and eventually, when the girls were close to three, it seemed to sink in that time-out was a consequence they didn’t want to bear.

Yay!  So…now what???

I emailed a handful of trusted mommy friends, and several people recommended 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, which I promptly bought and began to follow.

123 MagicThe 1-2-3 Magic principles are used for “stop” behaviors, something your child is doing that you want her to stop.  There are two “warnings” given on the counts of one and two, and when three is reached, the child earns a time-out.

For example:

Baby A, spied running through the house: “Baby A, no running.  That’s ONE.”

Within a minute or so, Baby A, spied playing with the blinds: “Baby A, hands off the blinds.  That’s TWO.”

Within a minute or so, Baby A, spied stepping on a toy: “Baby A, we are respectful of toys.  That’s THREE.  Time out.”

In this example, Baby A committed three separate indiscretions within a short period of time.  (There is no determined “window” of time.  It certainly wouldn’t carry over throughout the day, and I feel there is a much shorter window associated with younger children.)  The scenario could have applied to repeated offense, like continuing to play with the blinds after I’d counted once / twice.  And there is an option for such a severe breach of rules, like hitting a sibling, where a parent can go straight to THREE and time-out.

If a child knows she’s breaking a rule, you may simply say, “Baby A, that’s ONE,” with no further explanation.

What I Like

Our girls picked up this system within a couple of days.  It requires discipline and consistency on the part of the parent, but my girls know I mean business when I count.

The system puts the onus on the child for her behavior.  She is “earning” a number with each of her actions.  Rules are rules, and if she breaks a rule, there are consequences.  Yet with the counting system, the child has an opportunity to right her behavior and switch gears before she’s in real trouble.

Most of all, I love that this system helps keep my emotions in check.  One of the most powerful things I’ve read as a parent is this: “…ninety-nine percent of the time that parents scream, hit and spank their children, the parent is simply having a temper tantrum.  The tantrum is a sign that 1) the parent doesn’t know what to do, 2) the parent is so frustrated that he or she can’t see straight…

Whoa.  An adult temper tantrum.  I could fall into this easily if I let myself…but the powerful image of an adult temper tantrum (think about it!) stops me from going there.

The 1-2-3 Magic system advocates that parents remain very calm when they count.  This reinforces that it is the action of the child that is earning counts.  With very few exceptions, the parent does not owe the child an explanation for counting.  The book cites that when a parent gives lots and lots of reasons to a child, the message can become, “You don’t have to behave unless I can give you five or six good reasons why you should.”

What I’ve Changed

The 1-2-3 system worked really well for us from age three to age four-and-a-half.  My girls just turned five, and it remains the framework for how we keep order at our house.  What’s changed for me is the “time-out” portion of the equation.

Around age four-and-a-half, I found our girls to be much more emotional.  There were many more reasons they were acting out…it wasn’t just that they got too excited to see the garbage truck and started playing with the blinds.

While I still use 1-2-3 Magic, with the increased emotion in play, I realized that the time-out wasn’t always addressing the behavior issue, but was oftentimes making it worse.  I turned to “The Five Love Languages of Children” [review to come on Friday].  I’m trying to recognize when­ our girls need more than “standard” discipline.

To sum up 1-2-3 Magic, I’ll quote one last passage:

We want your attitude and message to the children to be something like this: ‘You’re my child and I’m your parent.  I love you, and it’s my job to train and discipline you.  I don’t expect you to be perfect, and when you do do something wrong, this is what I will do.’”

I bought this book seeking a game plan, and that’s what it has helped me to develop and implement at our house.

Have you read 1-2-3 Magic?  Have you incorporated elements from it at your house?

MandyE is mom to five-year old fraternal twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

When Mommy Throws a Tantrum

Last night, I lost it.

After over two years of holding it together, I went off the deep end. I screamed at my kids. I don’t mean that I just raised my voice to get their attention. No. I screamed a throat-tearing hair-raising scream, letting out all the frustration of getting dumped for another woman, parenting alone, managing the house alone, our cats seemingly trying to kill each other, cat feces on my rugs, post-divorce drama, extended family drama, and kids who just don’t listen. I lay down on the floor and invited my daughters to kick me while they sobbed and begged me to stop being a monster. I marched into their room, threw everything on the floor that didn’t belong there into one of two 20-gallon totes until both were filled beyond the brim, and put both totes in the garage.

I lost it.

tantrum

I’m Sorry

I’m ashamed of myself. I would love to pretend that last night never happened, but I believe in parenting transparently and admitting my mistakes. I believe in letting you who come here to HDYDI to know how we really do it know that we mess up too, sometimes in epic fashion.

Both my daughters called me to task. J told me that I was supposed to be a role model to her and her sister. M told me that she didn’t want a monster mommy. M told me that she didn’t want me to sleep in her room… something I’ve been wanting for over a year, but not this way. J told me she wasn’t sure she would ever trust me again.

I apologized. I acknowledged all the things I had done wrong, all the things I should have done. I told the girls that while I wanted their forgiveness, I knew I hadn’t earned it and I certainly didn’t expect it. We cried together.

I told the girls that I think I understood a tiny part of how they felt, because they had gotten a glimpse of what my childhood had been like. I never wanted to them to have experienced that, and I would never let them see it again. I thanked whatever vestiges of self-control had kept me from letting my daughters see the depths of ugliness my own mother unleashed on me regularly when I was their age.

Where Did This Come From?

I’d noticed that I was starting to have depressive symptoms over the last couple of weeks–eating poorly or not at all, sleeping as long as the kids and letting the house slide even more than usual, having horrific nightmares, getting in conflict at work where usually I could swallow perceived incompetence–but I hadn’t done anything about it. I hadn’t forced myself into a routine of healthy sleep and nutrition. I hadn’t pulled out my sunlamp. I could have done things to prevent last night from happening and I didn’t.

Fixing It

So, starting today, I am taking action. I am going to take my antidepressants first thing in the morning, instead of whenever I happen to remember. I am going to use my sunlamp daily. I’m not going to let myself sleep in on weekends, no matter how tempting it is. Who knows, perhaps the science behind light treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is bunk, but if it’s the placebo effect that gets my mind in the right place, so be it. One would think that living in sunny Texas would be enough to combat SAD, but there’s something about the length of the fall and winter days or the quality of the light that puts me in a semi-hibernating state and messes with my mind.

The Kids’ Role

I reminded my daughters of my “brain disease” of depression. J told me that she’d noticed me acting strangely for a couple of weeks but didn’t want to hurt my feelings by bringing it up. I told her I needed her help, that she needed to let me know when I wasn’t myself so that I could take steps to fix it.

The girls also admitted to being able to do more around the house to help me. They’ve actually been enjoying having an open space in the center of their room, even as they rescue some toys from the bins in the garage. I have had to remind both kids to pick clothes up off the floor, but each item has required only one reminder, not dozens, and I haven’t had them whine at me about it.

School

We talked about where their kicking has been coming from, J’s kicking me having been the final straw last night. We’ve never accepted violence in the home, so I wondered out loud where in the world they’d learned to throw out a leg when frustrated. It turns out that boys at school have been kicking them and other kids. When I told the girls I’d like to speak to their principal about that, J asked me to hold off so she could talk to the school counselor about it herself.

What’s Next?

The children seem to have forgiven me. I’m not pretending that last night didn’t happen, but J and M don’t seem to want to talk about it any more. I suppose all I can do know is show them how I recover from seemingly unforgivable offenses, that deeds are the way to redeem oneself, that the non-monster mommy they’re accustomed to is who they can rely on. And I can confess my shortcomings to the world, manage my depression, and hold myself accountable.

Have you ever let your kids see your own ugliness? How do you recover?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

Conflict Resolution

When I arrived at after-school care yesterday to retrieve my children, M was in the bathroom. J seemed happy enough to see me and gave me a great hug before biting her lip.

J: Mumble mumble trouble mumble mumble kick M mumble mumble jacket mumble mumble meatball.
Sadia: You got in trouble because you kicked M for calling your jacket a meatball?!
J: Of course not!
Sadia: I thought I must have misunderstood that.
J: Look at this bruise! M kicked me!
Sadia: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Start at the beginning. What happened?
J: I told M yesterday not to call my jacket a meatball. Today she called it a meatball again! So I pretended to kick her. Except I really kicked her by mistake. But I didn’t mean to! And then she kicked me.
Sadia: Did you get in trouble?
J: Yeah, we had to sit out and not participate.
Sadia: J, this is completely unacceptable.
J: I didn’t mean to.
Sadia: I understand that. The fact is, though, that in just pretending to hurt your sister, you actually hurt your sister. I’ve told you before to use your words. Do not use your body to solve arguments, even if you’re just pretending. What’s going on with you guys? Have you apologized?
J: No.

At this point, M returned from the bathroom.

Sadia: Hey Buggy! How’s it going?
M: Good!
Sadia: I love you.
M: Me too.
Sadia: Is there something we need to talk about?
M: J calls her jacket a fuzzy purple meatball so I called it a fuzzy purple meatball too but she told me not to do that so I called it a meatball because I thought she meant, “Don’t call it a fuzzy purple meatball,” so I called it just a meatball and she kicked me.
Sadia: And then?
M: I kicked her back. We got in trouble.
Sadia: I think you owe each other apologies.
J: I’m sorry, M
M: I already apologized.
J: Yeah.
Sadia: This is so unlike you guys. We do not hit, throw or kick in this family. We do not pretend to hit, throw or kick in this family. If you’re feeling frustrated, take a break! Find an adult! Is this because you’re together all day?
M: We don’t do this in class.
Sadia: I’m glad to hear that, but you need to figure out better ways to solve your problems, right now. Are you in the same group at the Y?
J: Yes. Mommy, please don’t change our groups.
M: I’m okay with that. There are two 2nd grade groups.
J: No! I get scared without my sister!
Sadia: Hold on just a second. You’re okay with being apart at night.
J: That’s different. I know everyone in our house.
Sadia: But M gets scared by herself at night and that didn’t seem to bother you when you moved into the other room.

J only moved back for one night, then returned to the guest room last night.

J: But you were with her.
Sadia: Only because she needed me because you decided to sleep elsewhere.

At this point, we had arrived home. The girls ran off to put their schoolbags away while I unloaded my laptop and purse.

Sadia: Girls! Want some water?
J: Mom, can M and I work things out privately?
Sadia: Sure. Of course.

The children went into their, I mean M’s, room and closed the door. I got busy with laundry. They emerged 30 minutes later.

M: We’ve decided to stay in the same group at the Y and J is going to sleep in our room again.
Sadia: Okay. What about the hitting and kicking?
J: We can use our words. We worked it out.

I think that the lesson here is that if you’re a really terrible negotiator it forces your children to learn effective conflict resolution skills.

What’s the most ridiculous thing your children have argued about?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

When Separation Isn’t a Choice

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If there is one topic that comes up in twin-Mom blogs, forums and groups more than any other, it is whether to separate your twins in school. It’s a hot topic and everyone has their own best answer. There are laws on the books in many states allowing the parents to choose, but in reality it comes down to the principal and teachers’ willingness to do what is best for the kids.  Parents argue, teachers argue, each side cites studies and anecdotes. Before I was a Mom of twins, i probably wouldn’t have put much thought into it. When my boys were born it seemed so far away, and there were so many other, more pressing matters, like sleep.

Fast-forward to age 3-almost-4 and we’re on the precipice of preschool. But the decision to separate was made for me, without any real choice. Whether I could or would choose to put my boys in separate classes in kindergarten and beyond, I know for certain I would not have chosen to separate them at age three. Starting next month my little boys, my babies, will be starting preschool in two different classes, in two different schools in two different parts of town.

We’ve gone back and forth over the past three years whether to even put them into preschool. Long ago, before their second birthday, I quit my job to stay home full time, and had a pretty decent home preschool thing going on with them. We did fun things, they learned a ton. But by their third birthday, one seemed to be really “getting it” with complex language, learning letters and numbers, explaining complicated concepts. The other deferred to his brother for the answers. We started to see problems with behavior, outbursts that were beyond 3-year-old tantrums. He would be agitated, impatient and inflexible.  Early Intervention is available to kids under 3 who show signs of developmental delays, but he and been on track up until his 3rd birthday, so we never had any reason to call. After age 3, those services are provided through the local school district. Between January and May of this year, he went through several screenings at the school district’s preschool program, and they determined his delays sufficient enough to warrant services through the school district. He does not have a diagnosis other than “developmental delay” in the district’s qualifications. He will be starting there four days a week in September (meanwhile we are waiting for an appointment with a developmental specialist as well.)

My other son will be attending a local private preschool, the one we intended for them both to start this year. As luck would have it, some of our closest twin playmates will also be in that class. He will be going only two days a week, one of which overlaps with his brother’s school days. We have been trying to build it up all summer as a great chance to do fun things at school and how amazing it will be to run home and tell your brother. But truly, it kills me to separate them. I know they are very attached to each other. The few times we have split them up to run errands or take them to an appointment, they only worry about the other. One will tell perfect strangers in a store about where his brother is and what he is doing at the time. They speak in plurals “we would like a snack.” and do everything with the other in mind (like swipe two yogurts from the fridge, one for each!) We had a brief separation in swim lessons when one kid moved up to the next level and the other wasn’t quite there. The instructor asked if we preferred to hold the one back until they were both ready, but that didn’t seem fair. The first class they were apart the one who wasn’t quite ready refused to go in the water and cried the entire 30 minutes. He also refused to do the lesson the next three weeks.

So in a few weeks, I am going to load up my 3-year-old with a backpack full of school supplies (My Baby! School Supplies?!?!) and put him on a school bus (which I am told is outfitted with car seats for little guys.) while his brother and I wave from the lawn. On alternate days I will wait for the bus and then take the other kid to school in our not-a-school-bus Minivan. (and if you don’t think that is a Big Thing then you don’t know 3-year-old boys.) They will spend 15 hours a week apart. Neither will have his brother there when the class celebrates their birthday. My heart breaks for them. When we talk about school starting, one will invariably say, “But I will miss my brother!” while I fight back tears. It will be great to finally have one-on-one time with each, but I can’t help but feel the other will be missing out. Or maybe we will be missing out while he is having a blast at school. One of the arguments I have read so often about separate classes for twins is that they are different people and need different experiences, but can find each other at recess or lunch and still maintain their bond. I love how close my boys are to each other. I want them to excel and I want what is best, but I also want them to have each other and not feel like we are taking one away from the other.

Will this be great for both of them? Absolutely. Is it going to be the toughest adjustment we’ve faced so far? Undoubtedly. But I hope we can get each the level of help he needs to excel in school, and we will all work together so that maybe, just maybe, I can exercise my right as a parent to chose whether or not they will be together in Kindergarten after all.

Jen is a stay-at-home Mom of 3-year-old twin boys who have already packed their backpacks several times with favorite toys and random treasures, ready to start preschool next week. Their adventures are (intermittently and mostly in photos) blogged at goteamwood.com.

When Toddler Became a Preschooler

Toddler started preschool on August 1st. Though it wasn’t time yet for me to return to work, I wanted to make sure she got a few days with me nearby just in case. I didn’t know what to expect, especially since she would be napping without me away from home, which was something she’d never done before. Suppose she started to panic and freaked out when it was time to sleep? Suffice it to say that I was anxious.

The only other time she’s been in the care of someone other than her parents or grandparents was briefly about a year ago. Last summer when I was about 5 months pregnant with her siblings, we tried sending her to a daycare/preschool. The thinking then was that I wouldn’t be able to take care of her at home along with infant twins, so she would need to go somewhere else. In case I was to choose to be a permanent SAHM after the twins were born, I wanted to free up my mom to go back to a full time job. We also thought maybe it would be beneficial for her to interact with some other kids. So I decided to try it out for only 3 hours in the mornings. I would get up with her to get her ready, Daddy would drop her off on his way to work at about 7:30am, while I went back to sleep for an hour or two (I was so exhausted all the time), then maybe run some errands before picking her back up at 10:30 to come home and nap at 11.

We only lasted two weeks on this arrangement. The teachers were very loving, everyone spoke Mandarin, all the kids were super well behaved there… but ultimately we still felt our daughter was too young to be without us. My mom agreed, so we brought her back and she’s been home for another year (back with my mom for the 6 weeks of school I taught last year). I didn’t plan for it to be so long, but it turned out that Husband stayed home for 3.5 months after the twins were born (long paternity leave, then a job change) and was a great help. And though twin babies plus Toddler is definitely no joke, with not a whole lot of income or any extra time, I just didn’t get around to figuring out this school thing. But it was great. I got to experience all of Toddler’s age two: I was able to take her to Mommy-and-Me and swim lessons, I got to watch her become her own little person, and I was present to shape a time that I feel is very critical developmentally. I’m so glad that is how things worked out.

But now she’s three, I’m going back to work, and this summer keeping her home was feeling like I was holding her back. She’s ready, has been ready actually for quite a while now, for the more structured environment of school with peers. I was still a little reluctant, because I knew that she would be picking up coughs and runny noses from school, which she would then bring home and give to her baby brother and sister, and of course I would miss her terribly. Even worse, I would no longer have complete control over what she did every minute of every day. But I definitely couldn’t give all three kids to an aging grandmother, much as I wanted to. And mostly, she was ready.

So, I researched and visited many preschools. In fact, I visited her preschool no less than 5 times, at various times of day, and spoke with all of the caregivers. I took her along with me most of those times, so she became pretty familiar with the teachers and layout of the school. Actually, the last couple of times she was reluctant to leave, because she wanted to stay and play.

My biggest concern was the napping. I thought maybe I would ease her into being able to sleep there without me by sending her only half day for a week, staying with her for the first few mornings, and then transition her to full day. I figured since she’s so independent, once she was comfortable and trusted her teachers she would shoo me away. I had a couple of weeks before school started, and I didn’t think it would take that long. But the director of the preschool cautioned me against that plan, and all the teachers advised me against it as well. Apparently kids are much more adaptable than adults, and it is better to just let them figure it out on their own. I didn’t want to unnecessarily prolong her adjustment, so I agreed to full day from the start.

I was careful not to let my anxiety show of course. To her I always discussed the whole school thing with lots of excitement, making a big deal about how she’s such a big girl, and that all her friends from Mommy-and-Me are also going to start going to big kids’ schools. I told her that sleeping at school will be so fun, and she’ll have a little cot just like camping. And she would get to run around, and there would be snacks, and she would make new friends, and when she was tired from playing Mama would come and pick her up. I wasn’t so sure about all of this myself, but I guess I was a pretty good actress because she didn’t show any sign of apprehension.

The first day, I waited until 9:30 to drop her off because I still felt a true full day was a little too harsh. She was excited in the car on the way there, chattering about this and that. We had her blanket and a sheet for her cot, a cup with her name on it, and a change of clothing in a bag. It was pretty bulky, but she carried it out of the car on her shoulder like a big girl. Then she ran ahead of me toward the gate of the school. I followed behind, but before we even got there she turned around and sternly said to me, “Bye Mama! I don’t want you come in.”

Wha??? I really thought she must have meant something else at first, but indeed she wanted me to leave. I told her I had to walk her in so I could sign in and say hi to her teacher, which she then let me do. Upon entering she immediately ran to pick a cubby for herself, placed her bag in it, and then she was off to play. I was barely able to get her back for a hug and kiss before I left. I drove all the way home shaking my head in disbelief, and I still can’t believe that happened.

Since then all mornings are Huggy-huggy-kissy-kissy-loveyou-bye! There were a few days when she was confused why she was going to school every day instead of twice a week like Mommy-and-Me, and a couple of mornings she asked to go with DiDi MeiMei to Grandma’s, kind of teary-eyed. But really she’s done incredibly well. My own transition back to work is still ongoing, but hers has surpassed all my hopes. No behavioral incidents, eating great, fully independent in the potty, and happy all day long. At 4pm I pick her up every day, and she gives me the wildest greetings, yelling Mommy! and taking a running leap to jump into my arms. We recount what Mandarin lesson she’s learned that day on the drive home.

Despite all my earlier trepidation, this was the right move for us.

First Day Butterflies and How Kids Categorize Themselves at School

This was a discussion I had with my 7-year-old daughter, J, while grocery shopping.

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Photo Credit: Ian A Kirk.

J: I have butterflies in my stomach.
Me: Hunger butterflies or nervous butterflies?
J: mumble mumble
Me: Excuse me?
J: Nervous.
Me: What are you nervous about, sweetie?
J: I never had a teacher I knew before. I’m worried that I’ll forget how to behave.

Some context: M and J are starting 2nd grade today. Their homeroom teacher is M’s best friend’s mother. Over the last several months, she and her husband have become close friends of mine and made my girls feel like family. My daughters have spent several full days this summer at their house and even slept over. On one occasion, their new teacher, Mrs. H, picked them up from summer camp when I had an appointment, even though her own daughter was spending the night at her dad’s and wasn’t home.

Me: What do you think might happen?
J: Well, I’m used to being the… the example of… well-behaved. Actually, perfectly behaved!
Me: So how would it be different with Mrs. H?
J: It’s just different because I know her.
Me: My advice would be to listen first, then act.
J: Act? What do you mean, “act”? Like put on a monkey show or something?
Me: No, I mean to do something. Listen to the instructions first, then follow them. Mrs. H isn’t worried about it, is she?
J: No.
Me: Well, if she’s not worried, there’s probably no reason for you to be too concerned.
J: I guess.
Me: Why don’t you give me an example of a situation you’re concerned about, and we’ll figure out how to handle it?
J: Mom, I’m a role model.
Me: I know you are. Just make good choices, and it’ll be okay.
J: I guess.

You may recall that I wrote about how the most well-behaved kids may act out with the people they feel safe with. J’s concerns seem to underline that point. Mrs. H is safe harbour and practically a member of our family. To have to behave with her as a teacher has J flustered. J knows that she’s been pushing the boundaries with Mrs. H in a way that she would never do in the classroom.

We have made some efforts to maintain boundaries over the summer. My daughters call their new teacher Mrs. H, even as they refer to her husband by his first name. Mrs. H’s daughter won’t be in her home room, but due to the nature of the dual language program all 3 kids are in, she’ll be teaching her daughter for part of the day. Obviously, she’s well aware of the issues that may arise. At Meet the Teacher night last week, Mrs. H found a quiet moment with my daughters and another close friend of her daughter’s to let them know not to be surprised if she was stricter at school than she was at home. Obviously, if J hadn’t been thinking about the issue before, she was then.

The bigger thing that struck me about my conversation with J was how certain she is of her role in the classroom. She’s the kid who is perfectly behaved, the best reader and the most enthusiastic learner. Talk to M, and she’ll tell you that she’s the math whiz, fastest runner and best listener. My daughters are in 2nd grade and they already know where they fit in the classroom pecking order. Like me, they are the disgustingly obedient nerds.

What about those kids who, for whatever reason, have internalized other, less positive labels? Mrs. H asked for a particularly challenging student to be placed in her class so that she can try to break through to find the source of his acting out. It’s the rare teacher that does that. It honestly never occurred to me that these things would already be set going into 2nd grade.

Even while it saddens me somewhat to see my daughters pigeonholing themselves already, I remember that this is exactly the sort of social skill my kids will need in their adult lives. This sort of thing is why I was happy to see my kids “held back” with their age peers instead of pushing on ahead in a grade with kids a year older. When their father insisted that our children attend public schools, it was so that they would have a broader view of the types of people in our community and better appreciate the resources they have, including their talents, to give back to others.

How do you feel about kids labeling themselves as academics, jocks, or other things in elementary school? How would you feel about your child having a friend for a teacher?

What Are They Thinking?

What are they thinkingHow often do you look at your kids and say, “What are you thinking?” If yours are anything like mine, it’s probably about every 30 seconds.

I know we can’t ascribe reason to our children’s reactions to the world. I know that their brains aren’t fully formed and they don’t have the experiences yet to lead them to good decision-making. I know all that, but still, I’m human, so I ask, “What were you thinking? Why did you do that?” I mostly ask silently, without hope of response, because I really do try to apply humankind’s growing understanding of child development and psychology to my parenting. My kids are too young to know what they’re thinking much of the time.

What’s nice, though, is that my children, at 7, are old enough to be capable of attempting to answer.

We’ve been having a serious issue with 7 year old disobedience of late. (Okay, it’s not that serious. I don’t need an intervention yet. I’ve only yelled once. But it feels like a backslide to age 3. All the great progress of years 4, 5 and 6 has vanished.) As I told my daughters, M and J, on leaving church this morning, their behaviour there having been way out of bounds, I’m not used to being the mommy of kids who don’t listen. I’m used to being the mommy of role models.

We had a family meeting after lunch. I was honest with my J and M. I told them that I felt like perhaps I hadn’t been a very good mommy recently. I had been trying to help them make good decisions, because that is my main job as their mother after making sure they have their needs fulfilled. (A lot of our decision-making comes down to a discussion of needs vs. wants.) I wasn’t seeing good decisions being made consistently.

J was the first to respond. She told me that she thought that I was a very good mommy. She had tears in her voice when she said that the problem was her listening and M’s. I asked if they wanted help going back to being excellent listeners and role models. They said yes.

I asked them how I could help. They didn’t know. They both thought that the consequences we employ are reasonable.

  1. I dock their allowance varying amounts for different transgressions. They get $3 a week, and I reduce it in $0.25 increments for things like leaving their dirty clothes on the floor, chasing the cats or leaving their shoes on the dining table. (What was she thinking?)
  2. I supplement their allowance for good behaviour. If J puts her clean laundry away without my having to hound her, she gets an extra $0.50. If J leaves her dinner plate on the table and M picks it up for her without taunting J about it, she gets $0.25. There’s no set fee schedule.
  3. Photo Credit: Dave Dugdale

    Photo Credit: Dave Dugdale

    I’ve instituted a politeness jar, where we deposit a nickel each whenever we interrupt someone, forget to say “Please,” “Thank you,” or “You’re welcome,” make an inappropriate face, or are intentionally hurtful. I contribute to the jar too, although I haven’t had to put in more than a dime a day so far. I mostly struggle with appending “please” to my commands/requests. We contributed our collection to the local YMCA recently, and our next collection is intended for the food pantry.

  4. Toys that aren’t cleaned up lose their place in the girls’ open access toy collection. They become toys that the children must ask permission to play with. So far, they’ve lost Monopoly, Scrabble, paper dolls and markers.
  5. I wash, dry and fold clothes that are in the laundry basket. I need a 2 day warning if a particular item of clothing is needed and is dirty. If the girls still can’t find what they’re looking for, tough. This meant that J couldn’t fully participate in water play day at summer camp last week. She couldn’t locate a swimsuit. (As it turned out, there were 3 clean ones at the bottom of a very large bin of clean clothes they’d been avoiding dealing with. Natural consequences.)

I suggested that perhaps we start our efforts of behaviour improvement with sleep. It’s very difficult to make good decisions without enough sleep. Especially with school starting in a few weeks, we need to get serious about bedtime. Perhaps a focus on bedtime would be a good step in the right direction.

M and J agreed to try it out. We wrote “Get to bed on time!” in large letters on the mirror in the girls’ bathroom, where we would all see it constantly. We would convene another family meeting after lunch next Sunday and review the effectiveness of our focus on sleep.

The rest of the afternoon went pretty well. J called her grandmother to get her tuna sandwich recipe, insisting that there was no way Grammy’s yummy tuna had mayonnaise in it. “Eww, mommy!” Of course, Grammy’s recipe turned out to the same as mine. We had tuna sandwiches for dinner. With mayonnaise and relish.

Photo Credit: reb

Photo Credit: reb

Then came bath time. The girls were surprisingly non-combative when I told them to put up their things and get ready for bed. If they could be completely ready for bed by 8:00, we could watch 15 minutes of Star Wars before bed.

Things were going fine in the bathtub until I drained the excessively bubbly water to replace it with some clean water for rinsing. I asked both girls to scoot up the tub because the water would start coming out cold and …

J immediately scooted her body down, her legs taking the full force of the water coming out of the faucet.

I looked at her for a full second in disbelief, then lifted her out the tub, still covered in bubbles. I began to dry her as she began to scream. The bubbles were bad, mommy. They would give her eczema. I wasn’t listening, mommy.

I asked her to blow her nose. She screamed. I told her that, on the count of 3, I would take a nasal syringe to her nose. It was either that or blowing her nose. She chose the latter. She was now calm enough to talk.

Me: “Do you know that you did exactly the opposite of what I asked?”
J: Nods
Me: What were you thinking?
J: You were wrong. The water doesn’t come out hot right away.
Me: If you’d have let me finish, you would have heard me saying that the water would come out really cold and then really hot. I didn’t want you to be exposed to either extreme!
J: Oh.
Me: You have to trust me. When I’m telling you to do something, I need you to obey first and argue second. You do know that you did the opposite of what I asked?
J: Yes. I didn’t know you knew it was cold.
Me: Because you didn’t listen. Because you didn’t let me finish.
J: I guess I scooted down because you told me to scoot up.
Me: Seems that way. Can we just talk if we disagree?
J: You didn’t listen when there were bubbles on me.
Me: That’s a fair statement. However, I did listen to what you were saying. I just didn’t think you were capable of hearing my response while you were screaming.
J: Oh.

So that’s what she was thinking. Great. I still don’t know how to deal with it. There’s no magic bullet here. Maybe I can work with the understanding that the girls’ disobedience is part of them realizing that the adults around them are fallible. It’s their way of questioning the status quo. It’s their way of getting closer to being independent adults.

Yeah, I know. Just wait until they’re teenagers.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012 and is usually better able to keep her love of puns out of her writing. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.