This Moment

Thanks for your sharing in the excitement of my last post! I really enjoyed the comments. However, there are things going on around here that have nothing to do with the third baby question. Here are a few of those things:

Dinosaurs. As part of Yogi’s ever-growing fascination with power (how it works, who’s got it, how he can get some) he’s got dinosaurs on the brain. Every library book is a dinosaur story (a really great one is Edwina: The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct (Mo Willems)) and most of his imaginary play features growling, crushing houses with his huge feet and telling everyone that he is a dinosaur who eats other dinosaurs. His favorite? T-Rex.

Sesame Street. This winter we started having some family TV time after dinner and the boys fell in love with Sesame Street. Now that we have more daylight and can get outside we’re trying to remind them of how fabulous the post-dinner family walk used to be. It’s a work in progress. Bert and Ernie’s Great Adventure, Super Grover 2.0 and Elmo’s World are hard to resist.

Repetition. Every word that anyone says is guaranteed to be repeated by the Monk. Not only will he repeat your words, but that repetition will echo. His little voice might be the sweetest sound I have ever heard, but there is such a thing as too much sweetness.

Yogi’s New Closet. He’s been choosing between two shirts every day since he was old enough to point, but until recently we called the shots on all the rest of his clothes. A while back it occurred to me that giving him a little more say might smooth out some of our getting-ready friction, so we rearranged his closet. Now everything is within his reach. He can choose shirts, pants, and socks. At night he picks out his pi’s. He looks a little eccentric much of the time, but he takes pride in his selections.

Evolving Values. I’ve been flirting with veganism for years. It’s the cheese that really stands in my way. I would miss fish and ice cream, but I could handle it. But cheese? Man would I miss cheese. And then last week I read this. I’m a long time Zen Habits reader and I’ve certainly read his ideas about living vegan before, but this piece really connected with me. The flirting continues.

Baffling Boys. The sibling dynamic is incomprehensible. I don’t think I will ever understand it. At 4:28 they can be shrieking and using every ounce of their strength to crush one another and then suddenly it’s 4:29 and they are belly laughing. I wasn’t aware that such radical mood shifts were possible outside of psychiatric facilities. Or maybe…… never mind. 😉

Another Big Boy Bed?! Grandpa has made it and brought it to our house, but I am NOT ready to set the Monk free. He, of course, feels differently. He spends much of his time trying to dismantle the crib himself. I guess we should be glad that we don’t have climbers, but climbing out of a crib might be safer than shaking the bars and jumping with such force that the whole thing crumbles beneath you. Ugh. We’ve got to do it soon.

Love List

My voice is gone and I really should be addressing Christmas cards, but .rlg. at .breaking into blossom. had a great idea with her love list. So, yeah…. my this moment loves:

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  • This awesome (and free!!) workbook. If you’re the journaling sort who likes to ponder the year gone by and the year to come you’ve got to give this a look. I downloaded the workbook and am using my own notebook (damn my printer), but this would be perfect for printing, scribbling in and filing away for next year. I love looking back.
  • Yogi’s highly detailed 3rd person narration. He is imagining pretty much all the time and overhearing his (not-at-all-internal) dialogue is hysterical. “The fireman is racing up the ladder. The ladder is very, very, very tall. The other fireman (always the Monk) is holding the ladder steady. Very, very steady. The cat is rescued!! The fireman rescued the cat from the very, very, very, very tall tree.” And no, I have absolutely no idea where he gets his tendency toward hyperbolic language.

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  • Cooperative play. These boys are playing. Together. This is not always peaceful, conflict-free play but I’m finally beginning to grasp that those were never the goals of play in the first place. At least not all the time. What they are doing is cracking each other up and running into one another at top speed and building anything and everything and holding hands and roaring like lions and sharing snacks in the backseat and hugging each other good night. I’ve never been so close to this kind of sweetness.

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  • This book. John Updike isn’t exactly known for his poetry for children, but A Child’s Calendar is just wonderful. The illustrations are lovely and each month of the year has it’s own poem. Our library has created a puppet play based on the poems and just this morning we saw it for the second time.
  • Days when Yogi naps. Dropping a nap is not for the feint of heart. And yes, he is getting older and his sleep needs are not as great, but he does still have them. He gets tired and a tired three-year-old drunk on his own non-napping power is a person you do not want to deal with. Ever. He is loud and uncoordinated and entirely void of logic and wholly incapable of managing himself in the world. He also tends to shout things (on a loop) that make no sense. Unfortunately he hangs out at my house two to three afternoons a week. However, the point of this is that sometimes that guy is nowhere to be found. There are days when Yogi naps and I marvel at what a wonderful child I have. He says interesting things and listens when I speak and can walk across the room without falling down and launching himself into a histrionic fit. It makes me wonder how much of the “crazy behavior” you see in kids can be attributed to lack of sleep. A sad thought.
  • Scholastic book orders!!! Yogi’s class got their first Scholastic Reading Club flyer a few weeks back and I was beside myself. I gave the boy a pencil and told him to circle all the books that looked good to him.  Oh, the memories. I LOVED marking the books I wanted as a kid. When my wife got home we went over it together, made our selections and sent the forms back to school. Well yesterday the books came in and Yogi shot out his class with the news. We immediately sat ourselves down on the floor and opened every one. Who needs to go home when you’ve got new books?!!

3 Things You Should Know: The Busy Parents Guide to NurtureShock

You’ve probably heard about this book.  
It’s  been called “One of the most important books you‘ll read this year” by none other than Daniel H. Pink (great name!).  
In case you haven’t found the time to wade through the 239 pages of text, I’ve got your back.  What follows is a guide to three of the key take-away messages from the book.*

All That Praise Isn’t Telling Our Children What We Think It Is

When we say things like “Way to go honey, you’re so smart!” we think we’re bolstering our child’s all-important self-esteem, but what we’re really telling them is “It’s important to look smart.  Better not take a risk, you don’t want to look stupid.”  

Bronson and Merryman’s research suggests that it is much more beneficial to praise your child’s effort, as effort is a variable over which we have control.  A kid can work harder if they choose to, but there’s not much to be done if you want to be “smarter”.

All of this is not to say that we shouldn’t praise our children, but that we should follow a handful of important pieces of advice when we do:

Be specific – Telling your child how much you appreciate their willingness to clean up their toys is much more instructive and meaningful than telling them what a good boy/girl they are.

Be sincere – Children know when they’re being put on.  Empty praise can backfire.  Psych research suggests that by the time kids get to high school they are so accustomed to praise that they perceive criticism to be a better indicator of a teacher’s belief in their ability. 
Don’t over-do it – Over praising can actually erode your child’s intrinsic motivation.  One of my high school teachers called this phenomenon “jumping for yummies”.  When you receive praise for every move you make, you become dependent on it and you lose touch with the intrinsic joy of doing something for the thing itself.

Choosing Not to Talk about Race Sends its’ own Message and it’s Not the one You Think

Race makes people uncomfortable.  

Talking with their own kids about race seems to make most people really uncomfortable.  
However, kids intuitively understand that when we don’t talk about something, that something is usually bad.  This intuition combined with the child’s developmental tendency to attend carefully to differences of all kinds and categorize accordingly, means that when we pretend to be color blind our kids draw their own conclusions.  
Making vague statements such as “Everybody’s equal” is not concrete enough to be understandable for young children.  If we want our children to dwell comfortably in a diverse world, we need to talk explicitly about differences.  
When your five-year old declares boldly in the grocery line that “Brown people are from Africa!” she is sharing something that she’s learned.  Grabbing her hand, going red in the face and attempting to distract her with the candy display teaches her something else and it’s probably not the message that you would choose.

Sleep Isn‘t Just for the Weak

Children get an hour less sleep a night than they did thirty years ago.  

An hour doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it?  A lost hour of sleep is something that adults can manage with relative ease, but it is a different matter for children.  
Children spend a greater proportion of their sleep storing and organizing memories than adults.  The more children learn during the day, the more sleep they need at night.  Without that sleep, their brains are less likely to store the new information.  It is for this reason, that one scientist declared that 
“Sleep disorders can impair children’s IQ as much as lead exposure.”  
That’s a pretty bold statement.
As much as we want to cram as much as we can into each day, emerging brain science indicates that protecting our child’s sleep is one of the best ways to prepare them for the future.  

Want to read more?  Check out the website!

* Some of the other topics include lying, sibling friction, language development, teen rebellion and the utility of kindergarten entrance tests.  They are also interesting and practically useful and perhaps I’ll write about them later.  For now, I’m too tired from all of my Rabbit anticipation** to delve any deeper.  😉

** He’s HERE and you must go over and see the picture!  You can find the loveliness here.  You’re welcome.

Parenting/Family Books

Here at fifteen months, I am happy to report that the parenting and family portion of our bookshelf is beginning to look quite healthy.  I was very eager to find quality books of this kind during the long months we spent waiting on Yogi.  There are SO MANY books about babies and children and parenting, but so few of them are really worth reading.  In the hopes that some TTC and expectant parents are reading and feel a similar safety in a good book, here is a list of my favorites so far:
  • I found this book at a local book sale and it was quite a find.  Rituals are so important and this book has lots of creative ideas for how to mark and celebrate not just the major holidays, but the minor ones and the everyday.  To give you a flavor, some of the rituals include Full Moon Bonfires, Social Justice Night and Family Book Groups. 
  • Lots of excellent (and highly detailed) information about nutrition.  Tons of recipes too.  This one is on my kitchen counter.
  •  I’ve written about this book more than once, but I found the information to be super useful.  I read the whole thing in a few hours and dog-eared a handful of pages for reference.  If you’re not an expert in baby cues, you should check this out. 
  • Very readable and organized around age milestones.  Each section outlines the big issues (sleep, eating, teething, motor skills, etc) at that age and what to look for/expect in the coming months.  
  • LOVE this book!!!  It’s essentially a readable lit review of recent research (and particularly outcomes that are counter-intuitive or not widely discussed) about childhood.  There is an excellent chapter about self-esteem.  
There are also a few more waiting in the wings and I’m eager to get to them as well.  Has anyone read any of these?  
What’s on your parenting bookshelf?
  • Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids (John Payne) 
  • How Babies Talk: The Magic and Mystery of Language in the First Three Years of Life (Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek) 
  • Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Richard Louv) 
  • Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids without Religion (Dale McGowan ed) 
  • The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Kinder, Happier and More Compassionate (Susan Kaiser Greenland)

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Amy Chua)

I’ve never done a book review on this blog, but I’ve decided it’s time to change all that.   If it’s as fun as I think it could be, perhaps I’ll do more.  Anything parenting/childcare related that you’ve been wanting to read?  I’m an excellent reading buddy!
Earlier this year everyone was talking about this book.  From the New York Times and NPR to Stephen Colbert and the Wall Street Journal, lots of folks were weighing in on this unusual parenting memoir.When the Tiger Mother brew-ha-ha hit in January I had left my academic career (in which research related to cultural diversity played a large role) six months before and was at home with an infant.  To say that I was in the target audience for this book would be like saying that Chua’s critique of what she calls”Western” parenting was scathing.  Um…yeah.
So what was it that got everyone all riled up?  Well, first it was the bold and aggressive voice of the author.  Not two pages into the book, Chua offers a bulleted list of all of the things (attend a sleepover, get any grade less than an A, watch TV or play computer games) that her daughters (pictured above – L to R Sophia, the Tiger Mother herself, Lulu) were never allowed to do. It is evident from the outset that the author intends to demonstrate and argue for the “rightness” of Chinese parenting to her (one would assume) largely American audience.  What is less clear is where the author herself truly stands with respect to the issues and family experiences that she outlines in the book.
It is the story beneath the story that I wonder about.  In spite of her bravado in recounting epic piano practice sessions and seemingly heartless interactions with her children (she writes on page 103 of her response to what she believed to be a hastily created birthday card from Lulu “I don’t want this,” I said.  “I want a better one – one that you’ve put some thought and effort into.  I have a special box, where I keep all my cards from you and Sophia, and this one can’t go in there.”) there is a note of something like the need for approval in her tone.  As much as she assures the reader that she knows what she’s doing and she’s confident that her way is the right way, it sounds like she’s reassuring herself.
I enjoy reading memoirs and I especially enjoy reading books written by people who seem just a bit (how would you say it?) nutty.  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother handily meets both of those criteria.  So, in spite of the fact that the writing was fairly academic (read: hum drum) and the story seemed to wander around in search of itself, I’m glad I read the book and it even gave me a few interesting things to consider in my own journey as a parent. The first is that writing a book about what a great parent you are (while explicitly ridiculing your perception of the dominant parenting style in the culture in which you’re writing) while your children are in their teens is just asking for trouble.  I mean, hasn’t some agent already got those girls under contract for the tell-all companion Battle Hymn of the Tiger Daughters?
The second (and certainly more serious) take-away from the book came the 10th chapter in which Chua outlines the three big differences between  the mind-sets of Chinese and Western parents.
1. Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem.
2. Chinese parents believe that their children owe them everything.
3. Chinese parents believe they know what it best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences.
I think that this first point is a very valid one.  While as a psychologist (and a human being and a parent) I value the importance that the development of healthy self-esteem has in the lives of children, I do not believe that the “every child that fogs the mirror deserves a blue ribbon” philosophy that seems to be in vogue is one that is beneficial to anyone.  Children understand what is going on around them and when they are consistently rewarded for behavior that is average or even sub-standard they begin to lose trust in their environments.  I agree (can you believe it?) with Chua when she asserts that this approach to parenting and education comes from an assumption of weakness instead of strength in our children.  Here are her words on the Chinese view of self-esteem:
Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them.  If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough.  That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.  The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. 
I’m not going to rally behind the use of shaming, but with that (yes, considerable) exception there is something that rings true to me in her thinking here.  It seems to me that much of the ethic behind the over-praising of children is the (perhaps unconscious) assumption that there is an inherent weakness in children that parents are called upon to strengthen through support and encouragement.  I’m not going to be arranging my own battle hymn anytime soon, but I do think that Chua is on to something with this point.  Leading with the expectation of strength (internal resilience, fortitude) in your children is an inspiring kind of leadership.  The kind of thing that nurtures intrinsic motivation instead of the endless searching for external validation.
So, has anyone else read this?  What did you think?  Leave a comment and let me know, I’m eager to hear.