The 3 A’s

Another memorable school year has come to a close. I’m still pinching myself when I see how much my children have grown this year, not only in inches but in character. Thanks to some amazing teachers who have really gotten to know and value who they are, they have excelled. Anna and Brody seem really comfortable in their own skin. They have lots of close friends. And, their grades couldn’t be better. I celebrate these milestones.

But when I reflect back on the most success that they’ve had, I really think it’s their maturity and sense of responsibility that’s made me most proud this year. I’m not saying there’s not more room for growing :), but I have most impressed as a mother by their acknowlegement of mistakes and gratitude for rewards.

Take, for example, Anna asking to bake another cake and promising to clean the kitchen. Six months ago that meant she threw all the stuff in the sink, ran some water, and left the batter and piles of measuring cups and bowls to soak. But most recently, the poor thing had a huge baking fail. Nothing worked, not even the cake mix. She spent an hour of time and resources working on this half-baked, tie dye cake only to spend even more even more time cleaning up the disaster of a mess. She wanted to do her old throw-in-the-sink-trick. But, I reminded her that wasn’t going to work. So, she proceeded to quietly cry while she unloaded, loaded, and cleaned the entire kitchen. She said she was “so disappointed”. There was no talking back or arguing. She did it and then moved on. (Success!!)

Then there’s Brody who thinks he’s never wrong; it’s always someone’s else’s fault! And being a 10, almost 11-year-old boy, he gets frustrated when he has to do something he doesn’t want to do too. But, I hold my kids to high but reasonable standards and will not accept disrespectful back-talk. Like in life, there are consequences for poor choices. But, he’s a good kid who is human.

So, when he most recently said something completely rude to Bo at dinner about “getting his soccer goal done already” when Bo had spent hours researching and building the thing, Bo was furious. Luckily, he contained his anger but told Brody how mad that made him when he was doing something nice for him. Instantly, Brody knew he shouldn’t have said it and looked ashamed.

He was sent upstairs to start the bedtime routine. When I went into his room to check on him, he was crying. He said that he “regretted saying that”, and I know he did. I told him that we all say things we don’t mean. Then, I simply said he needed to fix this and left. I didn’t tell him what to say or do next. I didn’t continue lecturing. He needed to feel bad and sort through things on his own.

After a few minutes, I overheard him go to Bo in our bedroom. He burst into tears and said he was sorry, and that he didn’t mean it. (Success.)

I really do not believe in making kids apologize if they are not sincerely sorry. But, I also really believe that feeling remorse for mistakes you’ve made and then fixing it is such a valuable life skill. It’s one that doesn’t come easily as our egos don’t want to lose. No one likes admitting that we are wrong.

What Anna and Brody are achieving this school year is humility and responsibility. Every time they have come to me within the past 6 months and told me that they are sorry on their own, I have felt proud. And, when they choose to tell me what they know they have done wrong, I know we are moving towards accepting our faults and becoming better people.

This year in my small group counseling sessions, I came up with 3 simple steps to resolve a problem.

Acknowledge– accept and acknowledge what you’ve done is wrong or hurtful. Say is out loud. Admit it!

Apologize– say you’re SORRY like you mean it. “I am sorry.”

Aim to please– then, decide what you can do to make that person happy. Stop making excuses and think about what will make it right! Take action; don’t just feel sorry. Do something to make it better.

These 3 A’s are just something many people don’t do. But if more people did, think about how much more quickly we could move on and grow. It works. When my children have made mistakes or just been ungrateful and then they realized they shouldn’t have acted that way, they have begun to repair. They have been moving away from the me-world and into the we-world.

As a mother, I appreciate this so much! A heartfelt “I’m sorry” can go a long way. Steps to show you care about your actions make others like, trust, and forgive you. Doing something that makes someone else happy builds closer relationships. We are not perfect and I know Brody and Anna will continue to test limits and make mistakes. But, I feel good about where they are heading, towards a healthy balance of personal wants and the needs and consideration of others.

They get an A from me for being super kids!

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“He wants money.”

Just a few minutes ago, I almost believed Brody was actually being kind towards his sister, Anna, for a second, a rarity indeed! She’s been suffering with some seasonal allergies and her eyes have been itchy and red for the past week. It’s always worse outside.

So when we came inside, she couldn’t stop rubbing her irritated eyes. She washed her hands, popped a Zyrtec, and got a fresh, wet washcloth while whining a bit. Meanwhile, Brody walked by and asked what was wrong.

That alone was unusual and kind for him so I noticed and commented that I liked hearing that empathy. He then said, “I hope you feel better, Anna!”. Now, this was a sweet and very odd thing for him to say! And, I’m like…awww, that’s so sweet, Brody! (thinking, he’s such a sweet brother, I’m raising him right, etc., etc.!)

After I complimented this statement, Anna simply replied in an unimpressed monotone voice, “he wants money.”

😂She gave him money earlier in the week when he was upset with her to try to cheer him up. Truly, it was him that needed to apologize to her on this occasion for his bad attitude, but she just wants to please him. (And, he really wants new soccer cleats and is broke!)

So, did she bribe him into being nice?! No money was exchanged and I don’t know what his intention was…

#wantingtobelieve

#shesthesweetone

#siblinglove

Just beneath the surface

So much of what’s really going on with someone is hidden. Although some children and adults wear their emotions on their sleeve, there are many happy-looking, well-dressed kids who are masters of disguise. These high-functioning children are experts on being strong and holding it together, while their world is falling apart at home. No one ever really knows what goes on when they step out the school door.

I was reminded of this this week while meeting with a popular, handsome boy. He looks like my son or like any of his friends, wearing his Nike and Under Armor apparel. He’s the athlete, the straight-A student, the smart kid, and the kid everyone likes. He’s got it all, or so it appears….

But, when he goes home, he doesn’t know what kind of mood his father will be in. He knows he won’t be working because he just recently got fired, but that’s about all he knows. He doesn’t know if mom will let them continue sleeping in their beds or take them again and go, leaving the home he loves. He doesn’t know how all the bills will get paid with his pretty, nice mom working 4 jobs. He doesn’t know what his dad does when he’s gone for hours or days on end and won’t return his texts. And, when his dad isn’t home, he worries that he’ll be coming back home. In fact, he worries that he could be dead. His dad is a drug addict.

Pills. Maybe more, I don’t know, but pills are ruining the marriage and wrecking what could be a stable home. And, it is painful for a boy who’s changing and growing up himself and old enough to realize what’s going on. This isn’t the ghetto or the usual suspect. This is addiction.

But, despite the many joys and disappointments just in the past 3 months, this boy holds it together. He looks and acts like success. He is the student we want our kids to be, and the kid we want our child to play with. You’d just never know. That’s the thing- you never really know what’s going on with people. What appears to be perfect may be crumbling on the inside. If you scratch beneath the surface you may see a very different picture; one that’s not so pretty.

So, we should take opportunities to be kind. We can teach our children to choose to take little extra steps to make people feel welcomed and liked. We can stop judging people on their clothes or their looks, and search for depth and connection. We can talk about hard, sad things. And, we can practice gratitude by teaching our children to appreciate and give thanks for the things and people we have instead of what we don’t have. Because, you just never know what your neighbor or tablemate is facing.

 

Teaching empathy

kids-helping-kidsImagining how others feel or taking the time to recognize that something may be wrong is an action that doesn’t come naturally to all. Some souls are born more in tune with the world, just more aware, loving, and caring. It’s true that some kids are just more sensitive. Take Anna, for instance.

When she was a preschooler, we realized that if others got physically hurt, she also got really upset. It was totally distressing to her and still is, really. One time in CVS, she had a complete melt-down when Bo went in to get his flu shot. Just thinking about him getting a shot made her flip out and she began running up and down the isles screaming and crying. The workers in the store felt so sorry for her.

She’s always been and continues to be more sensitive than most when she thinks someone she loves is hurt. She was born like that. But, I also encourage empathy from my children and I do think they genuinely care about how others feel. Brody will often times tell a story where someone was hurt, embarrassed, or upset and say “he feels sorry for them”. He can be watching something and comment on how that would hurt or how hard something may be. He’s imagining what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes.

Exploring feelings and actions

Magnifying why

Pretending it’s happening to you

Adapting your needs

Talking

Helping

You make a difference!

I was trying to think about what empathy really is, and came up with the above to teach my kids. It’s more than just imagining because we can make a difference when we act. The above acronym contains actions. It’s nice to think or even say, “Oh, how sad…”, but we can and should teach our kids to do something about it. That’s the difference between sympathy and empathy. And, we need more of it in our schools and in this country!

Too often, we are apathetic and think that something is so sad or wrong, but yet we do nothing about it. Why? Because it’s easier. We only have so much time in our lives. And, we only have so many things we can worry about. All true.

But, developing empathy in our children and showing them how to take the steps to help someone else will go a long way in our society where we are encouraged to be self-centered (let me take a selfie!) by the media and pop culture. Instead of always doing what’s easy and comfortable, I want to challenge my kids (at school and home) to take the next step to do something more: actions not just sympathetic statements. We can practice:

  • Talking to our children about what-if scenarios
  • Noticing and talking about the feelings of others as adults
  • Modeling caring about someone else enough to go out of our comfort zone to help. Taking the next step will show them what it looks like to be an empathetic person.

Kids will be selfish. We are too because we are human! But, we truly can teach them to be better, more loving, kind, and empathetic people by just taking a couple extra steps to show we care about others. And, if you are an empathetic parent, I guarantee the empathy will come back to you. When I have a headache, Anna brings me a wet wash clothe without asking. And, when I recently got news that I would have to move schools against my wishes, Brody was quick to note how I must feel and then even offer advice on what other jobs I could do. I love my kiddos!

Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

children-hugging-e1397841411257

 

 

Officer Tom

kids-in-the-congo-heading

The best time of my whole week was at the very end of the day today, Friday, when everyone at school is tired and ready for the weekend including me! I offered to visit the ESL classroom and teach the new students some social skills.

Some of our new students from the Congo have lived in refugee camps their whole lives. A couple have never had a formalized educational experience. So, everything from riding the bus to sitting on the carpet is new to them, not to mention a whole new language, rules, and cultural norms. It’s amazing and the teachers have a tough job.

Our goal for today with this new-comers’ group was to start learning some empathy and an understanding of feelings so that they would start to think about how their actions impact other people and begin to see how friendly words and actions can help solve problems. To do this with a group of children who don’t speak English takes some creativity, but I’ve done friendship clubs before with English-Learners. It just takes some visuals, role-playing and today a puppet to assist. And today, in this case, a funny, helpful Cuban boy whom I’ve known from past friendship groups that he was actually in when he first moved here also assisted! We were the minority as the rest of the crew speaks Swahili.

So, I start with practicing “my name is..” and saying hi. A beach ball always makes this process more fun. Next, I bring out my other friend, my Melissa and Doug puppet fondly named Officer Tom. Wow- the reaction was priceless! There were oohs and awwws, giant smiles, laughter, and even some fear. Actually, it was the whole range of emotions! I really don’t think they had ever seen a puppet before!

Melissa-&-Doug-Deluxe-Police--pTRU1-2905388dt

One fifth grade boy who was giggling nervously refused to give Officer Tom high-five! He wasn’t sure about him, and probably me for that matter! I would love to know what was going though their minds when some crazy white lady whips out some stuffed little man in a police suit!….I so wish I had a picture of their faces.

Then, we moved onto to identifying feelings from these large back and white photos of children’s faces. There’s the happy girl, the scared boy, the surprised girl, the sad boy, and the mad boy. We practiced the saying the word, then saying ‘I feel__”,  and then acting out the emotion. Again, words don’t do justice to how cute and enthusiastic they were as we acted out all the feelings. Many things in life are just universal! We shared some good laughs.

Finally, I had my little Cuban friend (on the safety patrol, I should add…such an outstanding kid) do some role-playing with me. We hadn’t rehearsed any  this. He had no idea I was even coming in. And, I really had no formal plan.

I showed them more of these old black and white pictures kids in different scenarios and various emotions. We acted out two versions of the picture and the kids told us the ‘bad choices’ and the ‘good choices’, thumbs up and thumbs down. Fighting and tugging over the one bike is a ‘bad choice'(- yes, good). And taking turns, like my friend and I acted out, is the ‘good choice’ (good, yes. that’s right).

A couple volunteers came up to say,’ are you ok?’ and pat me on the back when I hurt my leg as shown in the picture. They really pick up on things so much quickly than I ever could. Maybe it was because we were having fun and doing, not just watching and hearing.

Actions speak louder than words.

We were cracking up (or maybe they were actually laughing at me but that’s ok)! The laughter was infectious. As the time together ended, I told one of the ESL teachers that I didn’t know if they even learned anything but I know we sure had fun together!

Officer Tom gave them a wave and high-five as they left, and my fifth grade friend didn’t reach out his hand but didn’t duck either. Can’t wait to go back with Officer Tom and learn some more together. While it’s obviously challenging to them to learn so many new words, it’s also a fun challenge to me to not rely soley on words to communicate and teach.

Thank you, Officer Tom, for again saving the day!

congo

(the above is not them but aren’t they cute too!? I just had to add some bright smiles since that’s what made my day).

#myalterego #crazywhitelady #beinghuman #laughterismedicine

 

 

Pearls of Wisdom

It was last Sunday evening when we finally reminded Brody that he was having another follow-up MRI the following morning. As parents, we never forget but we wanted to wait until the last minute to talk about it with him knowing the anticipation is just as bad as the experience itself. We expected he wouldn’t be happy but we didn’t expect for him to get as upset as he did. He truly started sobbing. First tears, then uncontrollable sobbing as Bo took his in the other room and hugged him tight on the couch.

Seeing your child scared to death is so painful and gut-wrenching. MRI’s are far from the worst of what he’s experienced but every time he faces his fear of needles. And, it’s a reminder of a wound that is still fresh. More than anything, revisiting the same office where we first discovered the brain tumor is a scary reminder of the many unknowns in life. So, it is understandable that he’d be scared. Bo and I have been scared for weeks leading up to this one.

Now, prior to March 25th (diagnosis day), my children had only really seen me cry one time that they remember, when I heard that my sweet Nannie had passed away. Since this past March, that stat has increased quite a bit as I really have been much more emotional. They’ve seen me sad and we are good about discussing feelings in this family but I am not a crier, really…. or, I didn’t used to be.

Back to last Sunday at the dinner table, when I saw Brody’s reaction, I couldn’t help but get upset. I walked away from the table to avoid the kids seeing me cry (again) but Anna saw that everyone was getting emotional with Brody’s reaction. She immediately responded with, “I think Brody should sleep in the big bed tonight”. To this day, my snuggly children’s favorite reward is sleeping in our bed all night! (some things never change!). And for Anna to suggest this for Brody and not herself is huge, as normally she’d be really jealous!

As I continued to fight back the tears, she looked distressed. Now, when my sweet babies were born, Nana began calling them her angels, and are they ever! Seeing that everyone was stressed, my sweet angel, Anna, also quickly ran to grab one of her unopened birthday gifts from her best friend. It was a real mussel in a can that you open to discover a lucky pearl.

Each real pearl is unique and the various colors represent different categories of good luck and fortune. You open the can, then pry open the stinky mussel, and the good luck and color of the pearl is revealed. Trying to help lift Brody’s spirits, she told him that he could borrow the lucky pearl for his procedure. The color of the pearl was white for health, and it did indeed provide the perfect distraction at the perfect time.

The pearl in the sandwich bag went with Brody to the radiology office and stayed with him until he was put to sleep. And, it did indeed bring us a report of good health! It was just what we needed and Anna was not only willing, but also so generous to share the little token of love with the boy she admires and loves more than anyone on this earth. She is an angel.

Most children cannot define empathy. I have discovered this in guidance class over the years as many of my books and lessons teach empathy in some way. And while some do know what it means, empathy doesn’t always come naturally for kids who are born to be really be self-serving. As they pass through the many turbulent stages of development and angst, some kids just stand out when they have the natural ability to think outside themselves and really want others to feel ok. Empathetic children like Anna are really a gift to this world.

Empathy can be taught, and studies prove that. But every once in awhile, God gives us a naturally empathetic child with a true gift to care about others. I am so grateful for her empathy towards me within the last six months. She has really been my angel.

When I’ve looked exhausted and felt like I just can’t do it, she was there to tell me I looked sad and tired and give me a hug. (I clearly remember this moment in the big bed the first night away from Brody when he was in the hospital.) When I have been broken down or when Brody has been scared, she’s always been there for us with her gentle, quiet love. Her hugs are so healing. Much like a mussel, she is beautiful at her core. She is our sweet angel and she definitely has provided us with pearls of wisdom for what matters most in life. Thank you, Anna. white-pearl-in-oyster

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