Kids are Different – More Different When They’re Not Identical Twins

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Categories Education, Identical, Individuality, Parenting, Siblings, Talking to Kids3 Comments

“My kids are totally different,” I tell anyone who will listen.

Identical twins aren’t identical people, after all. They’re siblings who happen to have matching DNA and several months as wombmates.

One of my girls gets anxious more easily than the other. One is loving her Orff ensemble, while the other has us scheduled to attend a sculpture demonstration this weekend. One is all about T-shirts and sweatpants, while the other can spend an hour matching a new top to the perfect skirt.

In celebrating my twin daughters as individuals, I forget, sometimes, how similar they are. Their shared DNA, the shared crucible of our single parent home, and being in the same school and extracurricular programs all contribute to similar interests and abilities.

Girls Scouts: The Reality Check

I’m a Girl Scout leader. Exhausting though it is, I love it. I get to have 9 extra daughters, in addition to a supportive community of other adults who mentor girls from age 5 to 18.

5 Girl Scouts posing. Girl Scout leaders get to experience a massive variation in abilities and interests. The the identical twin kids are different!

Girl Scout meetings, field trips, and cookie sales have made me realize that my daughters are far more alike than different. While my troop runs the gamut in mathematical ability from struggling with subtraction to bored with basic algebra, my daughters are the ones who see math in everything they do. I see all sorts of behavior when the troop is together, but my girls tend to have the narrow repertoire of hard work, silliness, and sulking. My daughters are among the most extroverted in the troop. They’re also the shortest.

One of the moms in my troop is leading the Geocaching badge. I usually plan out badge work myself or help one or two of the girls come up with the plan. I thought it would be nice to share some hard-earned wisdom with the mom on her first badge-leading escapade:

Don’t assume all the girls have the same background knowledge. You may need to cover basics like “the world is a sphere” when explaining latitude and longitude.

Then I remembered that she has two kids of different ages. She deals with different levels of knowledge and ability every single day. She doesn’t need my advice on handling differences in ability. I’m the one who needed that advice, because I’m the one wearing identical twin blinders.

Would I parent differently if I had kids of different ages with a greater variety of talents and interests? I would definitely spend more time marveling at how similar my identical twin daughters really are in contrast.

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How to talk to kids about the Orlando shooting: 5 musts

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Categories Anger, Community, Fear, Grief, How Do The Moms Do It, Mental Health, Older Children, Parenting, Talking to Kids1 Comment

I felt like I was falling. My immediate reaction to learning of Sunday morning’s Orlando tragedy was visceral. I felt my stomach and heart drop before my brain could catch up to put words to my feelings. Grief. Anger. Fear. Above all, confusion. How could someone be so evil? Why would anyone bring a gun to a place of joy?

I quickly confirmed that everyone I knew who had even the most remote possibility of being at the scene of the massacre was safe. They were. My entire focus then turned to my daughters. How was I going to talk to my kids about the Orlando shooting?

Like so many parents, I’ve wrestled over whether to talk to my children about the horrific murders committed by a single deranged man. My daughters are 10. They interact with other children during the day. If they were going to learn about the shooting, I wanted them to learn about it from me, in a way that was honest, age appropriate, and non-sensationalist. I thought long and hard about how I would talk to my kids about the Orlando shooting specifically and mass shooting in general.

The way our morning went Monday, I only got around to talking to one kid. When I picked the kids up from camp, she was the one to encourage me to talk to her sister about the Orlando tragedy.

“Something really bad happened yesterday,” I started.

“49 dead? 53 injured?” she interrupted.

It turns out that she had read about the tragedy in Orlando on the news ticker. There was sports programming playing on TVs at the day’s field trip destination.

I wished I had spoken to her before she’d read those details, but she didn’t seem too traumatized. I got the impression that my willingness to discuss the matter did a lot to counter the children’s fear of this act of terrorism. Their confusion mirrored mine.

My willingness to discuss #Orlando with my kids did a lot to calm their fear. Click To Tweet

My daughters are as goofy and energetic as 10-year-olds come, but they are unusually mature. They, like me, feel empowered by information. You know your children better than anyone. If they are at a stage where they still think that everything that happens is because of or about them, they may be too immature to handle the news. Protect them from the television, radio, newspapers, and unthinking adults. You need to decide for your family, for each individual child, how to talk to them about the Orlando tragedy.

I knew that my daughters needed to talk this horrific event through. I explained that a very wrong man went to a place that is specifically intended to be a safe place for gay people to meet and hang out.

“That’s a great idea,” my daughter interjected. “It’s nice that there’s a place where gay people can know that all the not gay people will be nice to them.”

Obviously, my kids were already familiar with the concept of homosexuality. I told them that boys could marry boys and girls girls when they were toddlers. They’ve since noticed a number of lesbian and gay couples among my friends and met kids with two moms.

“But,” my little girl continued, “that makes the bad man even worse. Because he picked a place that’s nice to be mean.”

She was right, I told her. There were five massive ideas at play in the Orlando shooting, as I saw it. She had already identified two: terrorism and homophobia. She brought up 9/11 and we talked about the parallels between the two events for a bit.

It was then easy to segue into the religion part of the discussion. I told my daughter that a lot of people associate terrorism with Islam. A lot of our Muslim friends and family feared hatred from people who painted all Muslims with a single terrorist brush. I confessed that a small part of my choice to keep my married name after divorce was to avoid a recognizably Muslim name.

“But mostly to match us?” she asked. Yes, I mostly kept my married name to match my kids.

“But Mom,” my daughter realized out loud, “Christian people do bad things sometimes, but I’m not a bad person and I’m Christian.”

She was spot on. “What does it mean to be Christian?” I prompted. “If someone hurts a bunch of people, is that following Jesus’ example?”

“No,” she realized, “and he wasn’t very good at being Muslim either.”

Whenever I can, I let my children draw their own conclusions. I learn far more from them than they do from me.

“That’s three things, mom. You said there were five.”

The other two things were mental health and gun ownership. We have depression in the family, so we’ve talked in the past about chemical imbalances in the brain. I told my daughter that there was probably something very very wrong with the shooter’s brain for hmm to even imagine what he had done, much less follow through.

Next, we briefly touched on gun rights. Her father is a soldier, so she’s familiar with responsible gun ownership. I told her that my personal belief is that guns should be treated like cars, with training, licensing, and insurance required.

It was a great conversation, although one I wish we didn’t have occasion for.

“I understand the five things,” my thoughtful child told me, “but I still didn’t understand.”

I told her the truth. I didn’t understand either. No one would ever understand. There was nothing sensible, logical, or comprehensible about what this man had done. The families who are smaller today will never understand why their loved ones will never come home. The big question – WHY? – would always be out there confusing us all.

My daughter accepted my answer. She was old enough to get that this story wasn’t going to wrap up neatly. She asked me to spend the night in her room, because she was sad. We snuggled up in shared sadness, confusion, and complete love and trust.

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Dimensions of Intelligence

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My children are smarter than me.

Allow me to define “smart” for my purposes. I am certainly more knowledgeable and experienced than my 9-year-olds. I am better read than they are and more able to find practical solutions to problems, whether academic or everyday. I am far better at explaining complex concepts to people than Misses Giggles and Distractable. My ability to critically examine an argument is currently, at age 36, quite a bit better than J and M’s at age 9.

M and J, however, have always been better at absorbing new concepts than I was at the same age. Their minds work faster and burrow deeper. They see connections and parallels that would have never occurred to me. I have no reason to believe that this general trend won’t continue. As far as I can predict, when they are 36 years old, their brains will process ideas more effectively and deeply than mine does today.

The only milestone I beat them to was reading. According to my mother, I read at age 2. J and M were 3 before they were reading independently.

The fact that my daughters are smarter than me makes me proud. Perhaps if I had fewer academic successes under my belt, I would feel diminished by being outshone by my children. Perhaps if I were less egotistical, I wouldn’t be confident that I am just as smart as I need to be. I’m not in competition with my children. My task is give them the tools, skills, and support to be the best M and the best J they can be. I certainly aim to be the best Sadia I can be.

I am not a trained teacher, but I’m a proud nerd and I love getting others excited about knowledge. When my daughters learn a new concept at school, I often expand on it with them at home. It was while doing this that I confessed to them, for the first time, that they’re both smarter than me.

The children were studying 3D shapes in their regular 3rd grade math class. They told me all they knew about rectangular prisms, pyramids and cylinders. I asked if they knew why they were called 3D shapes.

They didn’t.

A mom explains the third and fourth dimensions to her kids, and is at peace knowing that they learn more easily than she did at their age.

The “D”, I told them, stood for “dimensional”. They could think of a dimension as a direction that exists in a shape.

  • A dot has no dimensions because you can’t move around inside it.
  • A line has one dimension because there’s no room to turn around.
  • A plane, I told them using a piece of paper to illustrate, has two dimensions. You can go back and forward or side to side. By combining those two motions, you can get anywhere on the sheet of paper.
  • If you jump off the sheet of paper, you’re in three dimensions. That’s the world we inhabit. Back and forward. Side to side. Up and down. Ocean creatures experience the three dimensions more fully than we do, being able to move vertically with ease.
  • The fourth dimension, I told my girls, was time. That took a little more convincing.

I still had the 2D piece of paper in hand, so I rolled it up to illustrate.

Sadia uses a rolled up sheet of paper to explain to her daughters why time is the fourth dimension.

Imagine, I told them, that there was an ant walking around on my sheet of paper. His world is two-dimensional. He’s not aware of what’s off the paper. Whether the sheet is flat or curved until opposite edges touch, he’s moving around in two dimensions. Even if I wave the paper through the air, the ant probably doesn’t know that it’s being moved. His entire universe is that 2D sheet of paper.

We are similarly unaware of moving through time. Right now, we’re in the dining room, playing with paper. Count to three, and we’re in the same place in the three dimensions we can navigate, but in a new second in the fourth dimension of time.

How to visualize time as the fourth dimension.

J and M said that made sense. “I’m in a new time now!” exclaimed M. “And now… and now. And I hardly wiggled!”

J took the next logical step. “Is there a fifth dimension, mommy?”

“Yes,” I told her. “I’ve read about theories of physics that argue that there must be a fifth dimension.”

“Show me, mommy!” J demanded. “Explain me the fifth dimension.”

“Little J, I recognize the concept, but I can’t see it in my mind. Without a picture, I have to use words. My best explanation is to say it’s the next logical step in the ant analogy.”

“So the fifth dimension is of the parallel universes, mom!” J realized. “Why didn’t you just say that?”

“I didn’t say it because I didn’t understand it. I can’t see it clearly the way you can right now. I’ll do my best to create a metaphor and picture in my mind, but it’s going to take me some time.”

“Mom! It’s obvious,” J told me, more than slightly irritated.

“Sweetheart, you’re going to run into a lot of people who have a harder time understanding ideas than you. Please be patient.”

“But mom,” J pointed out, “you’re mom.”

“I know sweet girl, but as you get older, you’re going to know and understand more and more things that you’ll have to explain to me instead of the other way around. There’s a lot I don’t know, and a lot it’ll take hard work for me to understand. Some of those things will come really easily to you, and that makes me happy.”

I hope that this confession, made with confidence and without apology, showed J and M that it’s okay to be smart without being smartEST. That was a lesson that I struggled with. It was quite the blow to my ego to realize that I wasn’t the top undergrad at my college. I was “only” in the top 10% based on the very narrow measure of GPA. I’ve since learned that being seen as the smartest person in the room is no measure of success.

Doing my best — that’s how I now measure success, even if that fifth dimension escapes me. And for the moment, I’m doing my best to raise two little girls who are officially smarter than me.

The Dad Network
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Toddler Thursday: Why Kids Ask “Why?”

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Categories Development, Education, Language, Talking to Kids, Toddler Thursday, ToddlersTags 47 Comments

It was 2008. I was cutting 2-year-old M’s nails. (She was 25 months old, if you seek precision.)

M: Mommy cut my nee-uls.
Me: Yes, I’m cutting your nails.
M: Mama cut my toe.
Me: Yep.
M: (pointing to her knee) Mama cut my knee?
Me: No honey. Your knee doesn’t have nails.
M: Why?

When a child between two and four keeps asking “Why?”, it’s definitely not to annoy you. It’s often not even to understand the causes of things, although they are certainly starting to understand the concept of cause and effect.

Your child asks “Why?” to indicate interest in the topic at hand.

The child’s “Why?” translates to your, “Tell me more.“.

M didn’t need me to explain to her narrowly why her knee was without nails. Instead, she was interested in me talking about the distinct purposes of the different parts of her body. I could show her how similarly her knee and elbow bent, allowing her to move around. I could explain why her nails and hair grew and needed trimming while other parts of her did not. I could point out the similarities and differences between her fingers and toes. I could compare her dimpled toddler hand to my lean vein-ridden grownup hand.

By hearing what my daughter was trying to ask, instead of what she did ask, we were able to embark on a wonderful educational discussion. It all started with the simple word “Why”.

Once I realized what “Why” meant, I didn’t hear it repeated any more. The girls were satisfied with my first answer, because I was responding to their request for more information instead of giving a quick cause-and-effect brush-off.

Has your child reached or gone through the “Why?” phase yet?

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Wouldn’t Do Without Wednesday: Daddy Dolls

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Categories Dads, Emotion, Holidays, Products, Talking to Kids, Toys, Travel, Wouldn't Do Without WednesdayTags , 48 Comments

Monday was Memorial Day, the American remembrance to honour all who have given their lives in service to the USA.

Too often, we get caught up in the excitement of a day off work, family barbecues, and widely advertised sales, forgetting the Memorial part of the day altogether. My daughters’ father is a career soldier and has served 3 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. While we’re thankful that he has never been injured, I’m very aware that not all military families are so fortunate. On this day of the year, I always remember a waitress I met near where we live. We started chatting about our families when she noticed that my girls were twins. She was pregnant with her twins, she told me, when her husband was killed on duty at the Pentagon, on September 11, 2001. She moved back to Texas so that her parents could help her raise her three children even as she grieved.

It’s easy to overlook how war, especially war that takes place far from our shores, impacts children. It does impact them, though. My daughters have known all their lives that Daddy goes away to catch bad men. They know that he carries a gun, and so do the bad men. They also know that most of the people in Iraq and Afghanistan are just mommies and daddies and kids who don’t want any fighting. They just want to be together.

These conversations with my daughters were not easy. They were at least as hard as the conversations we’ve had about divorce and that mommy and daddy don’t love each other any more. Now that M and J are 9, they can verbalize how they’re feeling. When they were younger, it was much harder, especially with Daddy away more often than he was living with us at home.

To help my daughters talk about and process their father’s absence, I turned to Daddy Dolls, a company started by two Marine wives. They turn the full-length photo of a loved one into a doll for your child to interact with. Ours came out wonderfully. They held up through 2 years of daily hugs and countless runs through the washing machine, looking just as they did they day we received them. Sadly, they’ve been left at the bottom of the toy bin since shortly after the divorce, despite my efforts to bring them out to play.

I ordered the girls’ dolls the day that my now-ex left for his 3rd combat tour. We took photos of L in front of our garage the morning he deployed to Afghanistan. The company removed the background image and printed a smiling picture on each of two camo-backed dolls.

Daddy dolls give the military child something to hold onto while a parent is deployed.

When our then 4-year-old daughters received their dolls, they were completely enamoured. You can see their reaction in this video.

A few days after we received the Daddy dolls, I walked over to J’s bed after brushing M’s hair. J had her doll in her hand, facing me.

J (age 4, as Daddy): Hi Sadia!
Me: Hi L (ex’s name)!
J: So, how are you doing?
Me: I’m fine, but I miss you. I have a hard time falling asleep.
J: I just came by to say, “You’re welcome.”
Me: I see.
J: You’re welcome for the dolls.
Me: I love you!
J: I miss you all, even Penelope (the cat).
Me: And we miss you.
J: (as J, addressing the doll) You and me only have the … What’s the hole called?
Me: A dimple.
J: You and me only have a dimple.
M (age 4): Mommy and me have moles!
J: Does Daddy have a mole?
Me: Yes.

Of course, the utility and value of these dolls isn’t limited to families with a deployed parent. Any child suffering loss might benefit. I gave a gift card to the site to a friend for her son when her husband passed away. Moving away from the morbid, when it comes time for holiday shopping, a Daddy (or Mommy or Grandma or Sister) Doll might make for a good present. We received ours in less than two weeks.

Wouldn't Do Without Wednesday at hdydi.com: This week, the gogo Kidz Travelmate.As with all Wouldn’t Do Without Wednesday posts, I received no compensation for this review.

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The Importance of Messing Up: Grit

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Categories Attitude, Feeling Overwhelmed, Parenting, School-Age, Talking to Kids, Time ManagementTags , 5 Comments

My little girls messed up big time this week. I happen to think that this was a good thing. It gave both of them a chance to come up with their own solutions to the problem, a skill far more valuable in life than doing things right the first time. Oh, how the Type A in me has been tamed by motherhood!

As I understand it, the psychological term for the characteristic I value is grit. I want my children to have tenacity in the face of adversity. I want them to be able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and try a different way. I do wish there was a way for them to develop that without ever getting hurt, but I know that life doesn’t work that way.

Our kids need to be allowed to make mistakes. It's the only way they'll learn how to deal with them.

School Teaches More Than Academics

I don’t worry too much about whether my daughters, now in 3rd grade, are learning what they should, academically speaking, at school. I know that they are.

M, J and I have a wonderful ongoing dialogue about what they learn. We find ways to explore concepts that they’ve found particularly interesting or that need a bit more oomph to be an intellectual challenge. Both girls love to talk about math and what they’ve been reading. Social studies is deeply interesting to J, although M needs a little more encouragement to discuss what she’s learned. Science takes more effort, mostly because they’re learning it in Spanish and don’t always have the English vocabulary to discuss the details.

What we spend most of our time discussing about school, though, has little to do with my daughters’ classes and assignments. Instead, far more of our effort goes into dealing with the social, problem-solving, and administrative aspects of school.

We talk a lot about relationships. We’ve discussed how to balance friendships. We’ve defined where the boundaries are when it comes to being the peacemaker between classmates who aren’t getting along. We often talk about when to try to work out conflicts without adult intervention and when to seek help. Recently. J observed that the boys and girls in her class sit at opposite ends of the lunch table and she has taken on a mission to reintegrate the genders.

Both M and J are phenomenal problem solvers. M is a strong manager of relationships and J is extraordinary. They’re both absolutely terrible at staying organized.

These kids would forget to take their heads to school if they weren’t attached. I’m pretty certain that there’s a daily stream of fallen paper marking the way from their classroom to our front door. Permission slips, homework, pencils, party invitations. You name it, J and M are experts at losing it.

Can you guess how many jackets my twins lost between them the winter before last? Seven. How do you lose that many jackets when there’s a Lost and Found that we check weekly?! How did I ever allow myself to buy them that many jackets?

Organization is what we work on at home. Organization is what they work on in class. Their second grade homeroom teacher once described my girls as typical absent-minded professors. She nailed it. Thank goodness the teachers at their school put the effort into helping M and J, instead of letting them slide because of their academic talents.

What Happened This Week: Problem 1

One of the programs that my daughters’ school offers to challenge and engage high performers is the Independent Study Project. They do 2-3 of these each year. All of the students in the Talented and Gifted program participate, but so do other standouts who might not qualify for TAG but still need an extra something. Some projects need to relate to a theme, but at least one is a Passion Project on a topic of the child’s choosing.

The Independent Study project was due today. The third graders have had intermediate deadlines, needing to turn in, in order:

  1. A brainstormed list of possible topics.
  2. A selected topic.
  3. A mind-map of ideas and research findings.
  4. An outline for the paper.
  5. A five-paragraph essay.

The teacher emailed all these deadlines to the parents and has made sure that the students are aware of them. I made sure that my daughters knew that they, and they alone, were responsible for meeting the deadlines. I would help if help were requested, but managing the project was up to each of them.

At 8:12 last night, after a good hour of conversation and reading to each other, J’s face fell.

J: My ISP is due tomorrow.
Sadia: Oh? Didn’t I ask you if you had finished your homework as soon as you got home?
J: I forgotted.
M: I forgot too. Oh no! I’m going to get an F. I’m going to get an F!
Sadia: Can you finish getting ready for bed and finish your project in 18 minutes.
J: No! I can’t do it!
M: I’m going to fail!
Sadia: Here’s the deal. Bedtime is 8:30. Period. You can tell Mrs. O that you forgot. Alternately, you can find a creative solution. Staying up late is out of the question.

Much to my surprise, M, usually the higher strung of my daughters, took a deep breath.

M: I’m going to set an alarm for 4:00 am.
J: Wake me too.

I let M set an alarm on my iPad and put it under her pillow.

What Happened This Week: Problem 2

We went to bed on schedule, but J woke me around 1:00 am. She was wide awake and thinking about her project, so I gave her permission to work on it, with the understanding that she would go back to sleep when she was done. I gave her my iPad to use to log into her school-provided Google Drive account to retrieve her outline.

At 6:00 am, I woke to my backup alarm ringing on my phone. I woke M, who began to get ready for her day, berating herself for having slept through the 4:00 am alarm.

While M was brushing her teeth, I heard an alarm go off on my iPad in the living room. J had forgotten to return it to M’s pillow, thus preventing her sister from waking early to finish her assignment. As soon as I pointed out what happened, J felt awful. She knew that she both owed her sister an enormous apology and needed to explain what had happened to their teacher.

Once again, M surprised me. She had no anger at all, instead comforting her sister. She got ready for school in record time and by 6:10 was at her desk, writing. By 6:45, she had finished her essay and handed it to me to review. I found a missing period, and that was that.

My 8-year-old had faced the consequences of her own forgetfulness and her sister’s, forgiven, problem-solved and met her goal. I would have preferred better scheduling in the first place to avoid all the high stress and procrastination, but I was pretty proud of my gritty girls nonetheless.

How do you encourage grit in your children?

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The Twinkle Diaries

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Resenting Gifted Children

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Categories Difference, Emotion, Other people, Relationships, Talking to Kids, Unique needsTags 2 Comments

Profoundly Gifted

My identical twin daughters, now nearly 9 years old, have both been identified as being profoundly gifted. This is an extraordinary, well, gift. School comes easily to them and they both love to learn. They’re voracious readers, and they retain everything. They’re more than happy to accompany me to public astronomy lectures, and “let’s research that” is a phrase that’s said at least once a day in our home.

When it comes to discipline, I can reason with M and J. At 8 years old, they are intellectually capable of understanding it when I explain the psychological underpinnings of my approach to setting boundaries and expectations for them.

“You have to be strict with us,” my daughter J once told me, “so that we’ll be able to make good decisions when we’re grownups. I know you have rules because you love us.”

Kids

Despite their intellectual abilities, they are still little girls. They have to be nagged to floss and brush their teeth every night. They get their feelings hurt on the playground and can spend hours playing pretend. They believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. They needed me to inform them that Star Wars was, in fact, not a historical account.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. The opening crawl to Star Wars.

The vast majority of people they come across are incredibly supportive. While often initially taken aback by the insights in my daughters’ observations, most friends and strangers alike will adjust their conversational expectations and meet J and M where they are. Their best friend A almost always introduces them as “my friends who are super smart, but they’re really fun too!”

Resentment Demonstrated

Unfortunately, some people are intimidated by my daughters’ giftedness. Even more unfortunately, some of these people are adults whom M and J love and want to trust. They don’t always handle their resentment well.

J’s recent Pi Day project led her to find out how to calculate the volume of a sphere. While asking Google for the formula may seem rather mundane to those of us with high school geometry under our belts, 8-year-old J was beside herself with excitement. She told everyone she was close to about her plan, and nearly everyone caught her enthusiasm.

One person, though, wounded her deeply. This adult, on hearing her plan to calculate the volume of the sun, repeatedly told her that this exercise would be beyond her abilities. J attempted to demonstrate that she was prepared, explaining what π was, describing what a volume is, talking about her love of exponents. Her conversational partner was having none of it. Finally, the person found something J didn’t know to put the final nail in the conversational coffin: order of operations. J was devastated.

I explained to J that the concept of order of operations was something that she knew inherently, just not by that name. Some people, including the adult who’d so hurt her, needed to be taught the steps in which to perform stacked mathematical operations. To her, it was as obvious as the existence of negative numbers. I told J that I was confident in her ability to take on her project.

She and I elected to talk through her sadness with her friend A’s mom, who may be one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. J poured out her heart. In short, she felt that the adult in question hadn’t listened to her. Even as she explained what she already knew, the adult had told her that she couldn’t possibly know enough, trying to teach J things she had already demonstrated understanding.

A’s mom recommended that J tell the person who had hurt her how she felt, but that it was okay to protect her heart.

A’s mom pointed out that the adult might have been intimidated by J’s knowledge. This person may have been rusty on their geometry and been unwilling to confess their own ignorance. Our dear friend told J that she didn’t understand all of the mathematical details that J had spelled out when explaining her project, but that she was excited that J was excited and was proud that J was so comfortable with math. A’s mom knows her own strengths, and isn’t particularly concerned that math isn’t one of them.

Coming to an Understanding

While talking to me and A’s mom about the incident made J’s immediate pain manageable, it continued to haunt her for over a week. She was visibly sad. While it was pretty clear to me that the person who had hurt her had done so out of personal insecurity, J felt that she had done something wrong.

I decided it was time to turn this into an academic exercise. While M played on my iPad, J and I sat down together at the computer. We wrote down what J was feeling:

This adult doesn’t want to listen to what I have to say. They don’t think I’m smart enough to understand π.

Next, I encouraged her to come up with some alternate explanations.

This adult can’t hear very well.

This adult was having a bad day.

This adult doesn’t understand what I say. They don’t understand π.

Next, J wrote in her observations from the conversation. The only explanations that they all fit was the last one: The adult didn’t understand the math and was embarrassed to admit it.

Over the last days of Spring Break, J perked up. I asked her how she was feeling about the whole situation.

“I learned a new expression,” she told me. ‘Misery loves company.’ It means that grumpy people want everyone around them to be grumpy too. I won’t keep grumpiness company.”

I’m sure this is only one of many incidents in which my children’s giftedness will brings challenges their way, in addition to making many things come easier to them than it does to many of their peers. I wish I could protect my girls from hurtful situations like these, but part of me is glad that they’re dealing with them now, while I can still guide them towards a place of peace. As J said at the top of this post, she and her sister will need to make good decisions when they’re grownups.

What do you do when you feel that your children have been wronged?

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Toddler Thursday: Easing Fears at the Pediatrician

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Categories Parenting, Preschoolers, Talking to Kids, Toddler Thursday, Toys2 Comments

The holiday just before my girls were three, they got a toy doctor kit.  Immediately, it was a huge hit.  They checked out all their babies, and each of their stuffed animals took a visit to the vet clinic.

Dr kitWith their three-year check-up soon approaching, I decided to get in on the pretend action, admittedly with a bit of an agenda.

I made a big deal, talking about each of the different instruments, what they were used for…and how they were just like the ones Dr. F, our pediatrician, uses.  We took turns being the doctor, the nurse, and the patient, and I made a point to work into the scenario that someone was scared.

“I understand you feel scared, Mr. Bear, but you know Dr. A.  She’s been taking excellent care of you since you were a tiny cub.  First, she’s going to listen to your heart.  What a cool stethoscope!  Ooh…is it cold?  Does it tickle?  I know it does hurt.”

“Now she’s going to take a little peek in your ears.  It’s OK…there’s no need to be scared!  She’s just checking to make sure you didn’t lose any bananas in there.”

“This little band measures your blood pressure, how fast your blood is dancing around inside your body.  Is your arm ready for a hug???”

The girls got very accustomed to the routine, and soon they were repeating it to all their babies.  They were very encouraging, even to the most scared bear cub.

The real key (advice I got from a friend) was the positioning of the shot.  There’s truly nothing to be afraid of as far as the exam goes, right?  But shots hurt…no way around it.  And that’s the approach I took with the girls.

Mr. Bear, it’s time for a shot.  It will hurt, but ONLY for a second!  Then you’ll be ALL DONE and then we’ll go do something fun / get a sticker / have an ice cream [insert reward of choice]!”

My girls are now almost six, and they haven’t cried at the pediatrician — even for shots — since before they were three.  Empowering them with information and perspective has made visits to the pediatrician nothing to sweat.

(And, as a side note, my girls still play with their doctor kit almost daily.  “Vet” is a huge theme at our house.  That’s what both girlies say they want to be when they grow up, and they make sure to get lots of practice.)

MandyE is mom to 5 1/2-year old twin girls, A and B.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk – A Book Review

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Categories Book Review Theme Week, Book Reviews, Discipline, Emotion, Parenting, Talking to Kids, Theme WeekTags , 3 Comments

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First published in 1980, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, is a book that I’ve seen referenced over and over in parenting conversations online since before my kids were even born. Now that R and J are two, I’m much more anxious to find and implement consistent parenting strategies that will work well for us and promote a spirit of cooperation, rather than constant discord, in our household. How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk largely fits the bill.

Because How to Talk… was first published over thirty years ago, I found many of the philosophies and parenting strategies it suggested to be fairly commonsensical. The book primarily promotes empathy with children, encouraging parents to acknowledge their child’s feelings rather than dismissing or ridiculing them. This seems like a parenting philosophy that is more mainstream now than it might have been in 1980, and it has been reinforced over the years in educational television programming like “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Sesame Street,” etc.

But while much of the book seemed fairly straightforward and self-evident, the authors pointed out a few things that well-meaning parents often do that might undermine their children’s feelings without ever even knowing it. For example:

  1. Parents often try to reassure their children by saying, “You’re alright!” or, “It’s okay!” if a child falls or encounters a minor mishap. While parents are trying to diffuse the situation and cheer up the child, he or she may not feel alright, and parents may seem unsympathetic. Instead, the book suggests acknowledging the child’s feelings and letting them know that it’s alright to feel what they feel. The parent could instead say, “Oh, you fell and scraped your knee. That looks like it hurt!” to a child asking for comfort and reassurance. Expressing sympathy builds trust from the child to the parent. Another pitfall that well-meaning parents sometimes fall into is immediately turning the situation into a teaching moment. While our impulse might be to immediately say, “This is why I told you not to run on the sidewalk,” kids can perceive that you haven’t “heard” their distress.
  2. Parents often try to solve a problem or resolve a conflict on behalf of their child, rather than giving children the tools to do it themselves. This is a problem we face a lot in my house, where my kids are struggling to assert their own autonomy but lack the skill to do everything by themselves. Rather than jumping in to help by saying, “Here, let me open that for you,” the authors suggest showing respect for the effort and tools for success, by saying, “It can be hard to open a jar. Sometimes it helps to tap the lid gently on the counter.”
  3. Parents can provide harmful praise. Instead of evaluating or categorizing your child, the book suggests describing what you see. If a child brings home a good grade on the spelling test, rather than saying, “What a smart boy you are!”, try describing what you see: “You put a lot of work into studying this week, and it really paid off!”

I found many parts of the book to be helpful, and I’ve been working over the last few weeks to put some of them into action. As the mom of two-year-olds, it can be challenging at times. My kids aren’t quite old enough to understand cooperation and collaboration, and because frustrating moments come about pretty frequently in our house, I don’t always have the wherewithal to think through my initial (often negative) response and replace it with something more constructive. I did find myself asking myself, “Okay, but what happens when THAT doesn’t work?” as I read through the suggestions and examples.

How to Talk… is largely opposed to punishment as an outcome, preferring solutions allow kids to have some input into the outcome. A lot of these solutions are ideas I’ve heard before, like asking children to choose between two outcomes the parent can deal with, or allowing the child to experience the natural consequences of their actions. But the book also suggests some very collaborative problem-solving, involving brainstorming solutions and choosing a combination of solutions that work for everyone. I really like this idea, as it gives kids buy-in into the final outcome, but my two-year-olds don’t really grasp the concept yet.

Overall, I found How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk to be a good read, though perhaps not a complete, bullet-proof parenting strategy. I appreciate the book’s philosophy of treating your children as people to be respected and heard, and I’m continuing to work on implementing some of the ideas I’ve read in my own home.

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Things Kids Say: Thanksgiving Edition

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Categories Talking to Kids1 Comment

Our kids came up with some quotable quotes this Thanksgiving.

  • MandyE‘s daughter, 4-year-old Baby A, told Mommy that she was still hungry after a huge lunch and two desserts. How? “My tummy digested it really quickly. It’s already in my intestines, Mommy! I need more pecan pie!”
  • When MandyE’s daughter said, “Mommy, last year I think you gave us gifts on Thanksgiving, didn’t you?” it took her a while to realize they were thinking about the small goodies they got on Valentine’s Day. Since then, both girls have been repeating, “Thanksgiving isn’t about gifts; it’s about family,” over and over… as if to temper their expectations.
  • One of Helene‘s younger twins, Garrett, aged 6, told her, “Mommy, I’m so thankful for you that in another year or two, as soon as I can wipe my own butt, I’ll wipe Landon’s butt too so you don’t have to do it anymore.”
  • His twin brother, Landon, had his own gem: “I’m thankful that Mommy makes me try new foods because now I like turkey legs. I’ve expanded my horizons.”
  • Sadia‘s 7-year-old daughter J, sampled her apple pie only after Mommy spelled out the ingredients for her. “This is so good! The ingredients say it should taste like apple and sugar, but it tastes like love.”
  • One of Jen Wood‘s 4-year-olds says he’s thankful for Ironman. The other replied to her, “I love you,” with, “I love Batman.” It appears to be a superhero kind of year.
  • Dana‘s 7-year-old boys came up with this impromptu ode to turkeys:

What have your children said to you that will stay in your memory forever?

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