Helping My Children Cope with Grownup Challenges

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Categories Grief, Loss, Parenting, School-Age, Talking to KidsTags 6 Comments

7-year-olds have to cope with the sudden death of the therapist who was helping them navigate their parents' divorce.

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog regularly for a while know that my family has been through a lot in the last couple of years. We moved across the state; the girls started kindergarten in a town where they knew no one; they skipped up to first grade midyear; my ex and I suddenly divorced; the girls and I moved back home but to a new house and new school; my ex remarried and added two stepsisters to the mix along with stepmom within 8 months of the divorce.

The girls’ school has been an amazing source of support and solace during all this upheaval. In addition to gifted and deeply committed teachers, the school counselors have been nothing short of stellar. They even host a program called Divorce Club in which all children from divorced families can participate. It really helped my daughters, now aged 7, realize that they weren’t alone in the world of separated parents and blended families.

As a result of Divorce Club, my daughters felt especially close to their counselors. J, in particular, sought them out with some regularity to talk through the things that were on her mind. At the end of last year, the school counselors suggested that I consider getting my daughters into play therapy. While they were remarkably well-adjusted, they had been through an awful lot, and the two school counselors had to spread themselves among the 800+ children at school.

I didn’t end up getting my daughters into therapy until last month. Things were just too hectic over the summer and the first, highly recommended, therapist I tried to contact never returned my calls. When this school year started, one of the school therapists had moved to a different school district and the other was approaching maternity leave, so it seemed like an excellent time to find my daughters someone else they felt comfortable sharing their worries with.

We found a lovely counselor we all liked. At our first appointment, the three of us went in together and chatted. The girls were given paper and crayons and allowed to play freely, snack on doughnut holes, and play with the therapy dog. The therapist asked them why we were there. M wasn’t sure. J said it was because of the divorce. The therapist asked whether they worried about Mommy. They looked at her blankly. The therapist asked what Mommy did for fun. The girls agreed that I played on my computer. She asked them what they thought about the divorce. M thought that having a stepmother and stepsisters was great. J said she missed her Daddy.

During the next session, the therapist shared her impressions of the girls and their needs, since the girlies weren’t willing yet to talk to her without me there. I’d done a great job, she told me, but she worried that J was ready to write Daddy off completely and M may have already done so. She asked whether they were in the school’s gifted program, since they were clearly intellectually and verbally precocious. She would like to meet with the girls together and separately so they weren’t answering for each other and feeding off each other so much. She had me list Daddy’s combat history for context.

In our third session, I met with the therapist without the girls, while they went and drew pictures with her assistant and the therapy dog. I was able to share my concerns openly and honestly without fearing that I was imposing my worries or perspectives on the girls. The therapist told me that she felt that both my daughters had a lot of loss to process. She would help them grieve in as constructive a way as possible.

She cancelled our next appointment because her children had come into town with her grandkids to surprise her for her birthday.

When we went in for the next appointment, there was a note on the door. All her appointments were cancelled for the foreseeable future. There was a phone number to call, but it wasn’t hers. “Strange,” I thought, and pulled out my phone to transcribe the number.

A woman in an adjoining office poked her head out. “She died,” she told me helpfully.

“What?”

“She went to the hospital Monday. She died.”

J began to cry and I picked her up and held her. I pulled M to me. I asked them what they wanted to do. J wasn’t ready to leave. She told me that she felt close to her therapist in her office, so we went and sat in her waiting room for about 15 minutes and snuggled. J wanted to visit her office and I let her. She was ready to go outside.

We stood by the little pond nearby and talked for another 15 minutes. I tried to draw M out, but she was clearly more worried about her sister than the therapist or herself. J pondered the concept of fairness. She thought about all her loved ones (mostly pets, ours and friends’) who had died. M tried to comfort her with talk of Heaven, but J explained that it wasn’t much help. She was mad that she was so young and was going to have to wait so very long to die and see people she cared about in Heaven.

It turned out that J had been doubting the existence of God for a few months, thanks to overhearing disagreements in Biblical interpretation and pondering the existence of different religions. I told her that religious belief was a choice. She had to choose for herself what to believe. I wished I could just tell her what was to be believed, but I couldn’t do so honestly. I’m an atheist and she knows it. Finally, I told her that I believed in love. It wasn’t rational or sensible, but it was something I believed in with all my being. That comforted her.

“I believe in love too, Mommy. And God is love. So I believe in God.”

That will tide her over for now. We went into town and got Amy’s ice cream, the ultimate comfort food.

Now both J and M have yet another loss to deal with. J says she’s not ready to find another counselor. I called the school and let both the teachers and the substitute counselors know what had happened.

I’m just waiting for M to explode in anger, as she does at times like this. It’ll be within the next week, I think, and then we’ll find out what she’s been feeling.

What do you do when you have to help your children cope with adult emotions?

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.

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Conflict Resolution

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Categories Anger, Behavior, Discipline, From the Mouths of Multiples, Frustration, Parenting Twins, Talking to Kids1 Comment

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.

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In Which My Daughter Does a 180 on Having Her Own Room

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Categories From the Mouths of Multiples, Individuality, Loneliness, Overnight, Parenting Twins, School-Age, Sleep, Talking to KidsTags , , , Leave a comment

My daughters are at a turning point. Being together 24/7 at age 7 as they more deeply explore their distinct interests is grating on each other. M loves to sing and J sometimes just wants her to stop humming. J likes to see the bright side or educational opportunity in every challenge, while M just wants to have the freedom to feel and express her frustrations.

I’d sent the girls off to get ready for bed Sunday when J flounced out of the bathroom and threw herself into my lap.

J: M’s annoying me.
Sadia: Have you talked to her about it?
J: Yes! And she won’t stop!
Sadia: Just find somewhere else to be.
J: silence
Sadia: There are moments when I get frustrated. Sometimes the thing I do is go to a different room and do something distracting.
J: I can’t do that. We’re sisters. We’re in the same place. You don’t get it. Being an adult is so easy.
Sadia: hiding a smile Adulthood has its own challenges. You know, we do have an extra room. Do you want your own room?
J: How would you fix the bed back together?
Sadia: I was thinking you could sleep in the bed that’s already in the guest room.
J: Yeah! I’ll do that tonight.
Sadia: Oh! You need to let your sister know what’s going on so she’s not surprised.

I hadn’t anticipated J’s response. I thought that the idea of sleeping alone would horrify her, as it has done every time Daddy has brought up getting separate rooms. He and his sister were 13 months apart and in the same grade. He cherished the sanctity of his own space.

Five minutes later…

M: getting louder and louder But I don’t like sleeping by myself!
J: M! It’s just for a month.
M: Mommy, J says I’m annoying and she won’t sleep with me.
Sadia: I know, honey. It’s like when you told her last night that she couldn’t sleep in your bed because she was annoying you.
M: It’s not the same. I don’t like sleeping by myself. I only sent her to a bed in the same room. Who’ll sleep with me?
Sadia: What if I sleep in your room?
M: I guess. My bed. I need snuggles because I’m without my sister.
J: It’s for a month, M. In one month I’ll try sleeping in your room if you’re not annoying. If you are annoying I’ll go back to my room for one more month.

With little fanfare, J went to bed in the guest room. We read a chapter of Little House on the Prairie together in J’s new bed. The girls said their prayers.

J: … Thank you, God, for giving me a mom who understands my needs…

The new arrangement lasted one night. In the car yesterday evening, J brought up having come to snuggle with us around 2:00 am when she was suffering a snuggle deficit. She reports our having had a conversation. I didn’t remember it at all. I didn’t think of my lack of memory as a big deal, but J interpreted it as “sleep talking”. She has an inexplicable terror of sleep walking. After many tears and endless attempts on her part to get me to remember the discussion and on my part to show that there was nothing wrong, she elected to sleep in M’s bed for comfort.

I wonder where she’ll decide to sleep tonight. At least she’s convinced that I understand her needs. From my perspective, it’s all a big fat mystery.

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.

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Twins Comparing Grades

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Categories Difference, Parenting Twins, School, Talking to KidsTags 1 Comment

My 7-year-old M was on a communication kick Monday night. She spoke to her father on the phone, texted her stepmother, and texted her grandmother. Grammy immediately called her back, and they had a nice conversation.

AplusA major news item that M chose to share with Grammy was that she was one of only two kids in her class to get 100% on their latest math test. Not even her twin sister J had made 100%, she told her, and then shared J’s grade (still an A, by the way).

J was livid. M was still on the phone with Grammy when J stormed over to me, near tears.

“Mom, M told Grammy my grade on my math test. She shouldn’t do that! That’s personal information!”

She was so indignant that it took a couple of tries to get J to notice that I agreed with her. I told her to speak to M once she was off the phone to air her concerns. J wasn’t convinced at first. She felt that M should already know that telling someone her grades was off limits. I told J that she could come to me if she felt that M wasn’t listening.

They had their conversation in their room, and M came out, running. Her attitude was a mixture of embarrassment and anger.

“I didn’t know, Mommy! I didn’t know it was personal information!”

I told her that it was fine, but that she needed to respect J’s need for privacy going forward. She agreed and J was mollified. I thought that this topic was closed.

Yesterday morning, however, J confessed to me that her confidence had taken a beating. She was convinced that M was smarter than she was because she got 100% scores consistently in math, while J had a couple of grades in the 90%-95% range. It was hard to maintain a serious demeanour as I saw my own elementary school misgivings played out in my daughter’s mind.

I did my best to point out that an A was an A, and that J still did better than the majority of her classmates, many of whom she considers plenty smart. I pointed out that she had been able to independently identify the mistake she had made on her test by looking at M’s answers, without even having her own test in front of her. I pointed out that she was just as good as M at solving problems in our everyday activities.

I know that I’ll need to boost her confidence over the next while, until J realizes that slight differences between her performance and her sister’s on tests don’t indicate an intelligence differential. Both kids are extremely bright. I give them 3-digit multiplication problems to do in their heads at home and their writing teacher has given them Latin roots to work on, all at age 7 (second grade).

This incident makes me wonder, though, how parents of multiples who aren’t as evenly matched in academic ability handle kids’ tendency to compare themselves to their siblings, whether they’re comparing grades or other measures of success.

Do your twins or higher order multiples compare their performance to that of their siblings? How about different aged siblings? How do you handle differences, whether perceived or real?

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.

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I Have a Mature Discussion with My 7-Year-Olds About the Value of Challenges

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Categories Difference, Discipline, From the Mouths of Multiples, Household and Family Management, Parenting Twins, Talking to KidsTags , , , 3 Comments

For months, my 7-year-old twin daughters’ room looked like a department store after a tornado. There was so much stuff–toys, books, clothes, art supplies–strewn across the floor that I could rarely get the vacuum cleaner through the door, much less vacuum. I attempted to pick up, only to have two chipper children distribute junk across the carpet in my wake. I nagged and cajoled to no effect.

Part of the problem is that I’m a lousy housekeeper myself. How could I ask my children to clean their room when there were papers strewn across the dining table and my kitchen was forever in the midst of reorganization? My requests that they clean were half-hearted, at best.

Over the course of two weeks, I did a major decluttering, tidying and deep clean of every corner of the house, except the girls’ room. I hired a new lawn care service. I still need to apply fresh contact paper to my kitchen shelves, but everything else feels livable. I’ve even shampooed my carpet. (Why, oh why, did I wait so long to buy a steam cleaner? I used to rent them from our local grocery store, but found that my Hoover brand one paid for itself in no time.)

I now had the moral high ground to demand that my daughters clean their room. There would be no screen time (TV, computer, tablets), I told them on Wednesday, until their room was clean enough that I could vacuum and steam clean the entirety of the carpet. We average 2 hours or less of screen time a week, but my kids consider it a premium treat.

I didn’t bring the cleaning thing up again. I figured that the next time they asked to watch a movie or look something up on their Samsung Galaxies, I’d remind them that they needed to clean their room first.

Imagine my surprise when I awoke this morning to find J diligently cleaning. I tried to stop feeling guilty about bribing my children to do their duty. After all, it was working, although I’d prefer that my kids do what I ask just because I ask.

It wasn’t long, of course, before there was conflict between the children. J complained that she’d asked M to help out with the cleaning, but that M had told her that she’d rather read. I need to find an approach that was fair to J but still stuck to the expectations I had already communicated. I told J that she could have screen time back as long as I could vacuum the entirety of her room with the exception of the area directly below her sister’s desk. Similarly, M would only get screen time once the entirety of the floor, except for the expanse under J’s desk, was available to the vacuum cleaner.

I asked J if she would like to communicate the adjusted expectations to her sister. She said she would, so I worked in the kitchen. Before too long, J came in to get me. “M needs you.”

I walked into the girls’ room, and M was up in her lofted bed, sobbing. “When I look under my desk, I feel too overwhelmed. I can’t do this, Mommy. I can’t do this.”

I told her to pick up and deal with the first 10 things she could reach. She cried and asked to be held. She was obviously completely defeated by the idea of cleaning up. We talked about how good she was at cleaning up at school. She said there wasn’t as much stuff. I said there wasn’t as much stuff because she took care of it daily. She cried some more, finally agreeing to climb down from her bed and picking up a sheet of paper.

J couldn’t understand it. “This is easy!” she told her sister, picking up more beads off the floor. “Look! Easy!” This just made M cry harder. I left her to pick up 9 more things and invited J to the dining room for a conversation.

Me: M’s having a hard time with this whole cleaning thing. Let’s be supportive.
J: It’s so easy, though. Why is it such a big deal?
Me: It’s a challenge for her. She feels overwhelmed.
J: It’s a challenge for me too! I like challenges!
Me: You have an easier time with challenges than M. She gets worried easily, so I need to help her contain her worries.
J: Challenges are good. Challenges are how I grow up. If I had no challenges in my life, I would still be a little baby.
Me: I agree. Facing challenges helps us learn. This is one way that you and your sister are different. Challenges frighten her, so it’s harder for her to learn from them. Let’s not make her feel worse than she already does.

For those of you with younger kids, you should know that J’s self-awareness is atypical for 7-year-olds. You can certainly have discussions of this sort with the average 7-year-old, but most of them will not look at cleaning their rooms as learning experience without some serious guidance.

I returned to M’s room, where she was back in her bed, crying.

M: I picked up 10 things, but I just can’t handle it. There’s no way I can finish.
Me: We’re similar in that we can both think too much. When I had to clean the dining room, I overwhelmed myself by trying too hard to plan. When I just started, without worrying about the end, it got all cleaned up. Does that sound familiar?
M: But I can’t just stop thinking.
Me: I know. Just think and do. Don’t just think. Go pick up 10 more things.
M: I can’t. I just can’t.
Me: You can.
M: This is a too big challenge.

Whoa. How’d she know what J and I had been talking about?

M: I’m not J. She’s better at challenges because she’s more used to challenges. She has more challenges than me.
Me: Like what?
M: This is too hard.
Me: What challenges does J face that you don’t?
M: Um. Uh. I don’t know. None.
Me: I know it feels overwhelming, but facing challenges now will make it easier to face challenges that come later on. Tell you what. Read a book chapter to calm yourself down. Then put away 10 things. Then read again. You can do this.
M: Okay.

Thirty minutes later, she asked for my help again, but she’d made discernible progress. I helped her finish up. I praised her plenty, but refused to agree that her space was cleaner than J’s. I reminded her that J had cleaned the entire common area without help and deserved her thanks.

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.

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Identity Crisis

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Categories Difference, Identical, Individuality, Parenting Twins, Talking to KidsTags , , , Leave a comment

I was folding laundry when my 7-year-old daughter J bounced out of her room to talk to me. She lay down on the carpet and looked up at me.

J: I feel weird.
Me: Oh?
J: I’m uncomfortable.
Me: What about?
J: M (her twin) has been eating dessert and I haven’t.
Me: I thought you didn’t want dessert.
J: That’s what’s making me feel weird. M wanted dessert and I didn’t. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
Me: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Perhaps M has a sweet tooth like me, and you don’t feel like having sweets so often, like Daddy.
J: That’s possible. I love Daddy. This might hurt your feelings, but he’s my favourite parent.
Me: That doesn’t hurt my feelings. You absolutely should love him.
J: He’s my second favourite person, after M. But I still like sweet things.
Me: Sure, of course you like sweet things. You probably just don’t crave them as much as you get more mature.
J: Is M getting more mature?
Me: Absolutely, but not in exactly the the same way at the same time as you. You’re different people.
J: No we’re not. We’re the same people.
Me: Um.
J: It doesn’t make sense. It we were born together, it doesn’t make sense we mature and different times and lose our teeth at different times. I don’t like it.
Me: I can understand that it feels uncomfortable, but you and M have always been different people. You have a lot in common, and it doesn’t change your love for each other or your closeness to have differences.
J: I guess.

I’m sure that these are only the beginning stages of a long and bumpy road to individuation.

Have your kids ever expressed to you how they feel in relation to their multiples?

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Children of Military Divorce

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Categories Discipline, Divorce, Grief, Mommy Issues, Older Children, Parenting, Relationships, Single Parenting, Talking to KidsTags , , , 2 Comments
My ex-husband deployed to Iraq when our babies were 5 months old.
My ex-husband deployed to Iraq when our military babies were 5 months old.

Early in my pregnancy, I made the mistake of referring to our twins as “military brats.” Their dad told me that he would not accept that term. Our children, M and J, would never be allowed to use our family’s military connections as an excuse for brattiness or other poor behaviour. His point has stayed with me. It extends to our divorce too. Divorce has been hard on the children, but does not furnish them with a free pass to be badly behaved.

Military life is hard on kids. The moving, the extended absences of a parent and the fear associated with having a parent in combat are no small things. We’ve honestly had it pretty easy. Instead of having to move to a different part of the country or world every few years, we were able to stay in the Austin area for 8 of the 9 years that I was engaged or married. That gave us the time to build a solid steel support network. Although I got to stay put, during the time I was a military fiancée/wife, my husband went to Iraq twice, Afghanistan once, Korea once and was activated for hurricane relief. He missed every one of our daughters’ odd birthdays.

My ex is currently stationed in North Carolina. We live in Texas. This absence is much harder for my girls than the ones in the past have been. Perhaps it’s that now, at age 7, their memories are long enough to know what they’re missing. Perhaps this absence, where Daddy is stateside and in garrison, not overseas or in training, feels different to the girls.

My ex got to master the two baby hold before he was needed in Iraq.
My ex got to master the two baby hold before he was needed in Iraq. He was also a champion diaper changer and baby burper. He did not cut nails or breastfeed, but he was otherwise as present as I was to our babies.

I don’t have much patience for excuses. Instead, I believe in acknowledging our mistakes and identifying their sources to prevent similar mistakes in the future. When my daughters try to pull the army or divorce cards to explain away poor decisions, I acknowledge that it is difficult to be military children and have gone through our divorce. I then remind them that those things are no excuse for bad behaviour.

On Monday, my daughter M couldn’t find the shoes she wanted to wear to summer camp. I was less than sympathetic. I reminded her that she was responsible for her things. If she couldn’t be bothered to store her favourite shoes somewhere she could find them, that was too bad. She could wear another pair. I was not going to help her look for her shoes beyond double checking the shoe rack where they should have been.

There were a lot of tears, but when I ushered the children into the car, M was not barefoot. She had, however, left a pair of shoes in the middle of the hallways. These shoes were neither the pair she was wearing nor the pair she wanted to be wearing. I made her get out of the car and put them away.

She was not happy about that. She cried and cried and cried. Finally…

Dress greens with daughter http://hdydi.comM: It’s because you and Daddy got divorced!
Me: What is?
M: That’s my sadness. That’s why I have tears.
Me: Uh, no. Your sadness is that you’re dealing with the consequences of not putting your shoes away.
M: But I miss my Daddy.
Me: And so you should. Would you like to call him? You can talk to him. You cannot blame him or me for you not putting your shoes where they go.
J: There is a big hole in my heart. Around the center of my heart is a empty part. The center of my heart is M. The empty part is of missing Daddy.
Me: Sweetheart, I know. I think I understand. Remember, my parents are also divorced. I know that there’s a pain that feels like it would go away if Daddy and I hadn’t split up. But if we hadn’t gotten divorced, you wouldn’t have such a great step-mom and step-sisters. And this is one of those really really difficult things that is part of our lives that we accept.
M: My sadness is because I’m not used to Daddy being so far.
Me: I don’t understand that part. I totally understand that you miss him. What I don’t understand is why you think he’s away more now than he was before. He was gone a lot even when we were married.
J: It feels more away. Because he doesn’t get to visit so often.
Me: He didn’t get to visit much from Iraq or Korea or Afghanistan.
J: This is different.
Me: You’re right. It is different. And your feelings are normal. I wish you didn’t have this sadness. Do you want to call him on my phone?
J: No! I want to see him.
Me: Let’s figure out a way to see him, then! He’s going to pick you up for Christmas. Maybe we can find a way for you to fly to North Carolina for a few days.
M: So you’ll take us and fly home and come back to get us.
Me: No, you’d probably fly by yourselves. It’s called “unaccompanied minor”. You’d be with Sissy, of course, but the airplane people would be responsible for your safety until Daddy picked you up, or I picked you up.
M: That’s a good idea.
Me: He’s going to expect you to put your shoes away, you know.
M: Moooooooom!

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What Are They Thinking?

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Categories Behavior, Development, Discipline, Frustration, How Do The Moms Do It, Older Children, Overnight, Parenting, Perspective, School-Age, Single Parenting, Sleep, Talking to KidsTags , , , , , , , , Leave a comment

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.

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The 7-Year-Old Tantrum

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Categories Anger, Behavior, Discipline, Feeling Overwhelmed, Frustration, How Do The Moms Do It, Parenting, School-Age, Talking to KidsTags 2 Comments

I’ve said before that parenting gets both easier and harder as our children get older.

Things get physically easier. Just think how much time you get back when your children become capable of wiping their own behinds!

My 7-year-olds can shampoo their own hair and M is starting to want to dry herself after her bath! If they hate the meal I’ve prepared, they can fix themselves something to eat. I can even stay in bed when they’re awake because they’re fully capable of pouring a bowl of cereal. I spent 4 hours (4 hours!!!) in a rehearsal this afternoon, focused on music while my girls sat quietly-ish on the other side of the room, reading, playing on their tablets, drawing and making new friends.

Things get emotionally harder. We have to teach our kids to be okay without us there to protect them. We have to help our children learn to tackle peer pressure, perhaps even bullying. We have to advocate for them at school with their teachers and administrators. Our kids learn about injustice and hate and we must teach them to live and fight for acceptance and love. Today, J said to me, “You and Sissy have perfect eyes and I have little lines.” She’s only 7. Age 7 appears to be when girls, at least, begin to criticize their own appearance, and my heart hurts. J happens to currently have eczema under her bottom eyelids.

The constant thread through parenting, the one that doesn’t let up until many years from where I am in my parenting journey, is the quest for self-control.

A Bit of Context

M and J were given Samsung Galaxy tablets for Christmas when they were 5 years old. They’re the only grandkids on the paternal side. My ex-in-laws are actually very good about respecting our rules and expectations for the kids, but they channel all their grandparental spoiling powers into over-the-top gifts.

We don’t really watch TV at our house. We’ll watch a movie together every month or two; I’d actually been living in our new house for about 3 months when I unpacked the TV remote and realized we hadn’t noticed that it was missing. Screen time is, instead, time spent on the girls’ Galaxies or my iPad.

We have a loose policy of no screen time during the week, although I will occasionally allow J and M to use their Galaxies for research or as Spanish-English dictionaries in support of homework. On weekends, I may give them an hour or two to play games, watch movies on Netflix, or research various topics. The most recent Google search was “Is magic real?” which led them to a Youtube video of a stage performance by a magician that they thought was, “Awesome!”

Before they can have Galaxy time, I usually require that the M and J have dressed for the day, brushed their teeth and hair and eaten breakfast. I’ll also ask them to pick up around their room, help me with chores, and take care of any other responsibilities that are relevant. They are not allowed to download anything new without my permission and they need to be in a room where I am within earshot. Any inappropriate behaviour results in the immediate loss of screen privileges.

What Happened Yesterday

J and M requested Galaxy time yesterday morning after we got home from the gym. They had taken care of the basics already. I reminded them that I would be going to choir practice in the afternoon and asked if they would rather save their screen time for then, and they both elected to cash it in in the morning at home instead. I agreed.

J went over to the charger and grabbed the tablet off it. M screamed at her. “Why did you do that? Get your own Galaxy!”

J tried to explain that she’d failed to read the name on the tablet and had thought it was hers, but M was too shrill to hear her. She snatched her tablet away from J and stomped off. I considered intervening, but J seemed to have things under control.

While I was taking my post-workout shower, M came into the bathroom to ask what J’s name was in some game they both play. I told her I didn’t know. As I was drying myself off, I heard her growl something at her sister. I quickly dressed and asked M into her room for a private conversation.

Me: M, I’ve observed you talking rudely to your sister twice today, both times over your Galaxy. What’s going on?
M: I asked J what her name was! And she didn’t know! And I asked her was it XXX. And she said no! And then I asked you and you didn’t know. And then J said it was XXX. I asked her that. It was so frustrating!
Me: I understand that you were frustrated, but your tone of voice was completely inappropriate. You also got upset when she mistakenly picked up your Galaxy this morning, and weren’t very gracious about accepting her apology. She just made a mistake and thought it was hers.
M: I didn’t know that.
Me: You didn’t know that because you didn’t listen to J’s explanation.

At this point, M began to cry.

M: This is not fair! J’s getting more Galaxy time than me.
Me: I understand that you feel that this time is unfair, but we have to have this conversation because of choices you made. I need you to speak more politely. It would also help if you listened to me and sis the way you would like us to listen to you.
M: This is not fair!
Me: I agree. It’s not fair that J is getting Galaxy time right now and you’re not. You can go back to your Galaxy after we’ve discussed what’s causing you to be rude to your sister. Is something bothering you?
M: I don’t know. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. She sobbed and fell into my arms.
Me: Oh, sweetie. I can help you try to figure it out. It’s a big step for you to acknowledge that something is wrong. That’s the first step.
M: Gritting her teeth. This. Is. Not. Fair. Getting louder. I. WANT. MY. GALAXY. TIME!
Me: When you calm down, you can have Galaxy time. Screen time is a privilege and tantrum-throwing is how to lose privileges.

At this point, M went into a full 3-year-old style fit. She threw herself out of my arms onto the ground, arched her back, drummed her heels and screamed, “Not fair! Not fair!” I knew full well she wouldn’t hear anything I said, but I still told her what was going to happen so I knew I’d done my part.

Me: You can stay in your room without your Galaxy. I’m going to go to the living room with Sissy and rest my ears. If you can get control of your body while it’s still screen time, you can get it back.
M: LEAVE ME ALONE.

I picked up the tablet and took it with me as I left the room. M ran out of the room and screamed.

M: DON’T THROW MY GALAXY IN THE TRASH.

She repeated herself I don’t know how many times, while J and I ignored her. She retreated into her room. After about 5 minutes, I felt calm enough myself to dare enter the Cave of the Out-of-Control 7-Year-Old.

M: STAY OUT OF MY ROOM. YOU’RE NOT WELCOME HERE.
Me: Okey-doke. I love you. See you when you’re calm.

About 15 minutes later, I went into the girls’ room for a hairbrush. M had shoved her toy box against the door in an attempt to keep it shut, but I walked in anyway.

M: I told you to stay out!

I ignored her, grabbed the hairbrush, and left the room. It was another 30 minutes before she ventured out, sniffing.

M: Did you throw my Galaxy away?
Me: Of course I didn’t. I just brought it out of your room because you need to be calm to have that privilege.
M: I’m ready to calm down.
Me: Okay. Can I help you do that?
M: I need snuggles. Can I snuggle?

I held her for a while and then pointed out where her tablet was. There was only about 10 minutes of screen time left, and both girls meekly put their tablets away when I asked.

Me: M, you are within your rights to feel frustration, but the way your approached your sister was not okay. You were venting anger instead of solving a problem. And your tantrum? Completely unacceptable.
M: Everyone throws fits sometimes.
Me: I disagree.
M: Yuh-huh.

I didn’t have an immediate reaction to that, so I let it go and picked the discussion back up in the evening.

Me: I’ve been thinking about what you said about everyone throwing fits. I think everyone feels frustration and anger, but there are lots of better ways of expressing it and dealing with it.
J: Like reading a book or taking a cozy bath with good smells. She meant essential oils.
Me: Well, those are ways to calm down, but that doesn’t actually give you chance to fix the problem that’s causing anger. I think those are great ideas, but often you need to go back and deal with the problem. Do you understand? Another great way to get frustration in your body out so your brain can think well is to exercise. Run around the backyard or do some jumping jacks!
M: J shouldn’t have taken my Galaxy.
Me: How about you ask her what she was thinking?
M: What were you thinking, J?
J: I forgot to check the name. I’m sorry. I thought it was mine.
M: I’m so embarrassed. She began to cry again.
Me: I’m sorry, sweetie. I know that doesn’t feel good. Please use today as a lesson that you need to use the Golden Rule instead of assuming that people are hurting you on purpose.
M: My less time of Galaxy was fair, Mommy. I behaved terribly.
Me: I bet that was really hard to admit. I’m proud of you for recognizing what you did wrong. Next time, talk to your sister and come to me for help, okay? We’ll figure out our problems together.

What Happens Next

M obviously learned her lesson, but will that learning stick? Will J think twice the next time she feels like giving into rage? I have no idea, but I continue to hope that these discussions will trigger something in my girls to cause them to take ownership of working on self-control.

You know where I learned my self-control? It came from a deep desire to model for my children how I want them to behave. Perhaps the self-control I want for them will be out of reach until they have a reason as good as mine to learn it.

I hope I don’t just scare those of you with younger kids, but this is pretty par for the course for age 7 so far. I have no idea whether my approach will bear fruit, but I can’t really come up with any other ideas.

Is teaching self-control part of your parenting strategy? What techniques have worked for you?

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 in order to better protect their privacy 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.

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Twinfant Tuesday: Baby Sign Helps with Early Communication

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Categories Books, Development, Language, Products, Talking to Kids, Twinfant TuesdayTags , , , , 28 Comments

I’m a huge fan of using Baby Sign, or modified sign language, to help babies communicate with you successfully before they can speak. For us, it reduced the frustrated you-don’t-understand-what-I-want crying by about 80%.

babysignMy daughters, M and J, started using single signs to communicate their needs at the age of 7 months, so my recommendation is to start sign at birth, to get the parents into the habit, if nothing else. I honestly think any time before school-age is fine to start signing. I didn’t get around to it until age 5 months.

Why sign?

It makes life easier!

Infants are ready to communicate well before they have enough control over their vocal tract to produce words. I think most parents have been surprised to discover how much language babies can understand well before they begin to speak. Using Baby Sign allows extremely young children to communicate their needs in a way the adults around them can understand and respond to, cutting down on crying and frustration. There are some studies that indicate that infants exposed to Baby Sign have higher IQs than control subjects, speak earlier, and have larger vocabularies. However, it may simply be that the kind of parents who adopt Baby Sign are the kind who read more to their kids and consistently encourage language development in other ways too.

Do I need to know Sign Language?

No. American Sign Language (ASL) is a fully fledged language that uses hand gestures and facial expressions in the same way that English uses vowels, consonants and intonation. Baby Sign consists of some words from ASL without any of its grammar, and you’ll only learn these words. Unless you expose your child to ASL, your Baby Signing child will not be learning to communicate with the American or Canadian Deaf community in any meaningful way. I presume that there are other Baby Sign systems derived from the sign languages of other parts of the world, but I know nothing about them.

BabySignHow do I start?

Make a squeezing gesture with one fist for "milk."
“Milk”

Starting Baby Sign is easy.

Pick one or two signs to learn, and use them consistently whenever you (or other caregivers) say the word. “Milk,” “eat/food”, “drink” and “more” are great starter words.

You can add more words once your child starts signing back. It’s never too early, and never too late. The benefits are most tangible before your child starts speaking, or when they have a very small vocabulary. You don’t even have to use signs from ASL or Baby Sign books. Make something up and use it consistently within your family. As long as you’re consistent, your child will learn the sign.

It may be a couple of months before you see your child make a sign. Don’t give up! Remember that they’re hearing English for nearly a year before they say a word. Once they are about a year old, they will probably consider it a game to learn new signs.

Show me the signs!

I had a leg up because I took ASL classes in college and grad school and had Deaf friends, but I’ve found a number of resources other people have found helpful.

  • Baby Einstein’s My First Signs DVD. My girls continued to pick up new signs from it through age two even though they already had English, Bengali or Spanish words for them. Of course, M and J’s signs looked nothing like the ones modeled on the DVD, but their daycare teacher and I understood them, as did Sissy, which is what mattered. Plus, they just loved the DVD and fell over laughing at some of the puppet shows.
  • Sign with your Baby by Joseph Garcia. It takes a little work to learn the code used in the glossary of signs, but it’s got a great how-to on introducing new signs, combining signs, and just keeping it up.
  • Baby Signs by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. It’s a longer book, but the glossary is very accessible and pretty extensive. It’s good for arming yourself with information about why Baby Sign is beneficial if you’ve got any nay-sayers who need convincing.
  • Baby Signing for Dummies by Jennifer Watson. This is an easy read, with great illustrations of 150 basic signs, which is more than most families need.
  • A helpful website is http://www.babies-and-sign-language.com/. This site has a great video dictionary as well as pointers on getting started and a discussion of how Baby Sign differs from American Sign Language.
  • http://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/pages-layout/concepts.htm is a list of 100 common signs. Each link takes you to an active demonstration of the sign. The site belongs to a professor of ASL.

In case it’s relevant to someone, here’s the vocabulary list I used:
We started at 5 months with:

At 6 months we added:

By 12 months:

  • Baby
  • Share
  • Mommy
  • Daddy
  • Cold
  • Cereal (M used this one for the first time after she’d been saying the English “cereal” for 4 months! I think it was because Daddy was home from Iraq for a couple of weeks and didn’t understand her, and she was hoping he’d get the sign.)
  • Cookie
  • Drink (J used to think this one was funny and started giggling every time she used it. I have no idea why.)
  • Gentle
  • Play
  • Where is it?/Where’d it go. (My girls always said “Go?” when they used this one)
  • Sleep

In the video below, M and J are 16 months old. No, they still haven’t learned how to sit still at home. These days, they have to save up that effort for school. Note that even while the girls are signing “Baby” at my request, J uses her sign for “Gentle” to tell me what she knows about babies.

What do you think of Baby Sign? Did it work for you? Would you consider trying it out?

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