Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Talking Back - Jest to Pest

Every child slips up and answers back when told to do something.  Harmless at first as a mere joke or playful banter, answering back quickly becomes a serious and dangerous habit.  Whether it consists of stuck-out tongues, battering with pillows, or verbal responses, talking back is a habit better not formed.  If a child begins in fun, they develop the habit quickly until answering back becomes second nature.  Regardless of their excuse of "I was only joking," answering back evolves into a highly disrespectful attitude.  This character flaw escalates until every time an adult asks/tells the child to do something, an unnecessary and disrespectful reply comes back.  

How does it come about?  As I said before, most often a severe case of "talking back" evolves from jesting responses when a child doesn't really want to do something, but they're going to do it anyways.  These comments include: "I'm not going to."  "You can't make me."  "I don't care."  "I don't want to."  Etc.  I could list numerous counts of talking back, but I don't want to bore y'all.  

When is it addressed?  Occasionally a child has a genuine slip of the tongue and something pops out that they honestly didn't mean to say.  It happens to everyone.  If your child slips up only once or twice, don't worry too much about a bad habit being formed.  If, on the other hand, your child begins retorting to your every instruction, you need to take action immediately.

I prefer the liquid soap.  It's harder to get the taste out of your mouth.
How is it stopped?  First, the child needs to understand what talking back entails.  Basically, the only correct response to a parent/authority figure's request, instruction, or command is "Yes, ma'am/sir/mom/dad."  There should be no complaints or excuses.  No smart aleck retorts.  No rolled eyes or stuck-out tongues.  No nasty tone of voice.  A simple YES.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Implementing this response early on reaps huge rewards.  It becomes harder to institute the older a child gets unless begun at an early age.  Nevertheless, it should be implemented immediately.  Next, now that the child understands what talking back means, punishment for disrespectful behavior must ensue.  A favorite method of mine is washing out the child's mouth with soap.  It's fast and disgusting to taste.  Most kids will think twice before talking back if they know a nasty taste will enter their mouth.  I understand this method is not for everyone.  I've heard the rants against toxins and cruelty towards children, etc.  Buy some organic soap and put it to good use.  If this really doesn't work for your family, find some other means of distasteful punishment.  There are numerous mixtures that are perfectly harmless and perfectly disgusting.  Vinegar.  Salt water.  Mouthwash.  Make them gargle one of these, and the talking back should diminish after a few tries.  I've always abhorred the taste of any of the aforementioned liquids, and I know kids detest them.  Regardless of your particular method, let the punishment fit the crime.  Since talking back is a sin of the mouth, the punishment should wash it clean (ergo my high approval of actual soap).  

Talking back is an easy habit to pick up and a hard one to stop.  If it runs rampant and unchecked, your child will (most likely) grow up into a sarcastic person with no respect whatsoever for authority of any kind.  And we all know that an attitude of this kind will never help them succeed in the real world.  Deal with the problem now, regardless of the trouble you will inevitably have.  You'll thank yourself and bless your children tenfold at least.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's All In The Presentation

Everyone knows a child's fear of the unknown, from the little to the large.  A severe break from the established norm can bring unprecedented terror unless properly introduced.  Telling an only child that they won't be the center of attention anymore after the baby is born can be a traumatic experience, especially if the child is relatively young.  That is unless you make the impending change an exciting and highly desirable event for the child.  The fact that they'll have a new friend to play with cancels out any (or at least most) of the potential fear of losing Mommy to the new kid.

Likewise, introducing new concepts and ideas that differ from what the child already knows can be a battle.  Most people learn something one way and find it very difficult to accept a different method of understanding it.  Kids are no different.  When presented with something new, they either deny its existence or simply state, "It's too hard."  This becomes their excuse for everything new that they're nervous about trying, whether it's new math concepts or writing fifteen words instead of ten.  Getting a kid to accept two simple facts can be challenging.  These facts are: a) You can do this.  b) You're smart enough to learn how.  I discovered today something I've known for a while - presentation really helps.

Case in Point:  Today, I was teaching the 3rd grader 4-digit dividing.  Scary concept to go from three numbers to four in the dividend.  But, knowing this particular child's general aversion to math, I started out by simply saying what we were going to learn and then interjecting "Don't freak out!" in an upbeat, happy voice.  Sure, the child looked at me like I was crazy, but she was laughing as I began explaining the concept rather than crying over the frustration of a "new" idea.  And you know what, she learned it!  

So how does this apply to everyday life?  In too many ways to even begin counting.  Kids have new experiences all the time.  They go to clubs.  They play sports.  They do schoolwork.  They learn how to read.  They make new friends.  They go to new places.  And to all of these things, at one time or another, every child will feel a little apprehension at starting something new.  Something different.  So introduce the latest change with style and fun.  If your little boy or girl is heading off to choir for the first time, reassure them of at least two things: a) how much fun they'll have and b) how much you love them and can't wait to hear all about it.  It always helps (in my opinion) to throw in the "If you really hate it, you don't have to go again."

Most kids don't know what they'll like until they try it, but their fear of the unknown keeps them from branching out.  So parents have to "force" their kids to try new things.  Believe me, it's good for them.  My mother (whom I love dearly) is the queen of making us try new things.  I was a very willful child, and I never wanted to do anything she suggested.  Finally, she just made me go, and I loved every single thing - tennis; softball; swimming; ice skating; volleyball; cotillion; choir.  And as I look back over those years growing up, I thank God that my mom did what was best for me rather than giving in to my whimpering complaints.

Of course, in my case, sugarcoating the new experience didn't really help, although sometimes it nudged me towards lessening the complaints.  But for 9 out of 10 children, emphasizing the good time they'll have and the fun things they'll learn works wonders.  Plus, you can always remind them that you're their mother, and you would never make them do something just because you wanted to make them feel miserable.  If you're excited about whatever changes and new things they're experiencing, chances are that they'll be excited too.  And maybe, just maybe, they'll start to realize that different and new things are good and can be loads of fun.  If you succeed in that, your battles for trombone lessons or baseball practice will probably lessen enormously (although if the kid doesn't like the trombone, find him a different instrument).  Just remember, don't freak out.  Show your kids that they have nothing to fear from the unknown, whether small or large.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Post-Holiday Trauma

Holiday.  The very word brings about numerous emotions and memories.  Hopefully, relaxation and a break from the everyday life are among the slightly more "stressful" of these thoughts.  Although, in the end, only the happy and joyful memories are the ones that stand the test of time.  Vacations and holiday celebrations give us a welcome respite from the humdrum day-to-day life.  If only the return to reality were not accompanied by the inevitable post-celebration shock.

While I love having a break from my work with children, coming back after a break, however brief, is never a piece of cake.  Well, if it's a piece of cake, it's a 10-layer marzipan masterpiece with chocolate flowers and tiny rosebuds.  Inevitably children consume too much sugar and not enough exercise over the course of a holiday.  Combine this with a lapse in the daily routine, and you create a recipe for potential disastrous effects.  No child willingly returns to their schoolwork and chores routine without a fight after they've experienced the freedom of festivity.  

How do you combat this reluctant tendency?  There are several methods, some more drastic than others.  If you have a large family, I'm sure the thought of ditching holidays altogether has crossed your mind at least once.  Surely the joyous occasion cannot outweigh the forthcoming disruptive and disobedient behavior of your children.  Do not despair!  Believe me, even if the kids transform into sugar terrors for a few days, the relative stress-less vacation and respite of the holiday is worth every peaceful second.  There are several less drastic options available.

1.  Pre-empt the sugar crash.  Everyone knows that kids love sugar - cakes, cookies, candy.  Every parent knows that an overload of sugar results in a burst of energy followed by a crash of behavior.  So why do we let the kids overdose anyways?  Because deep down, beneath all our firm resolution, we're suckers for the puppy dog eyes and the "pretty pretty please with a cherry on top" that kids know how to use so well.  Do yourself and your children a favor.  Steel your resolve.  I'm not advising cutting out the sugar completely.  It's a celebration, i.e. celebrate!  Let them have sweets.  Just make sure that you monitor it.  Don't let them simply eat candy all day.  Make sure they still get their fruits and vegetables.  And lots, and lots, and lots of exercise.  Burn off all that sugar energy.

2.  Remind yourself ahead of time.  You've most likely gone through several holidays with kids - either yours or as a child yourself.  You know the general cycle of events.  Dealing with post-holiday tantrums becomes a bit easier when you remember they're coming ahead of time.  You can prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for little Susie's tears and Sammy's disobedience before it happens.  If you keep in mind that some of this behavior may be caused by their recent relative freedom, you can be more understanding.  Not more lenient.  Just because they had a break does not mean they get to disrespect you and fool around.  But remembering the recent festivities can help tone down your surprise and aggravation with their present behavior.

3.  Experiment.  Try and figure out a good way to get back into your family routine with as little trauma as possible.  Some families find it easiest to simply plunge right back in without a second thought.  Others choose to ease into the normal schedule slowly, adding a few things each day.  Both methods offer genuine suggestions, but only you can truly decide what is best for your family.  If your kids don't adapt to change well, perhaps easing in and out of a holiday vs. stop-start-stop will work best.  On the other hand, if your kids can handle a complete break followed by a complete start-up, begin with a normal week immediately following your holiday celebrations.  Don't give up.  If at first you don't succeed, try again.  Keep working out the kinks until you find the perfect blend for your family.

It has been my experience that the first few days following a break of any type generally consist of shakiness and rebellion.  Unfortunately, this is more prevalent when the teacher (as in my case) has been absent for several days.  The previous authority is slightly undermined by the absence, and a few steps backwards are painfully taken.  When dealing with your own children, therefore, it should be relatively easy (in a manner of speaking) to discipline misdemeanors.  Your children still respect your authority completely and are aware of concrete consequences.  Whether they choose to be obedient or rebellious is an entirely different topic, but they are aware of the authority.  

All in all, holidays are wonderful things, although they should be taken with a grain of salt.  Don't lose yourself (and your family) in the festivities only to find a very nasty Monday morning waiting on the other side.  Enjoy the time of relaxation and pleasure in moderation.  At the end of the day, moderation is the key word.  In all things, moderation.  If you apply that to your life and that of your family, you'll be innumerable steps ahead of the world at large which will remain fumbling and stumbling along wondering why there are so many selfish, rebellious and disobedient children around as they continue to overdose on the sugar and instant gratification.  Good luck!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

On this Thanksgiving Day I'd like to take a moment to thank God for many things in my life.

My father.  He shows me how to work hard and patiently.  He inspires me to be a better person.
My mother.  She shows me how to live a good life.  Her words of advice constantly help me throughout the day.
My sisters.  They bless me every day with their unconditional love.
My friends.  Without them, I would not be who I am today.  And that's a good thing.  I can't count the number of times I've been pulled out of a dark hole by the light of true friendship.
My family.  Family is everything.  They stand by you and create an unbreakable bond.
My life.  God has blessed me innumerably.  I thank Him every day for all the times He has guided me through tough spots and granted unexpected rewards.
My imagination.  The ability to create has been, at various times, a comfort, a distraction, and informative.

I could continue, but right now, I am going to go enjoy the gifts I have been given rather than write more about them.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Vivid Imagination

Have you ever listened to a young child of three or five years narrate a story to accompany a series of drawings they have created?  I am still amazed at the creativity and imagination such young kids possess.  I heard three stories today, and each one was very original in its own way.  I could detect throughout the tales, however, the influence of fairy tales and stories that the children have heard in their short lives.  Characters who transform into various people; girls named after famous story people; happily ever after endings.  All of these combine within the young mind to create a tale of enchanting beauty and simplicity.  And one where the attentive listener can share precious moments with a child who is excited to create and express the workings of their own imagination.

Imagination is a key ingredient in our aspirations for something higher.  Without it, life becomes drab and sometimes unbearable.  In moments of great despair and despondency, a keen imagination can create a silver lining and golden rope to pull us out of our doldrums.  As we grow older, imagination and faith begin to intertwine.  There is so much in our world that seems impossible or unattainable.  So much requires simple faith in God's higher plan and goodness.  Sometimes such a childlike belief is too hard to manage alone in a world that seems so divided and dark.  Combining trust in God with the imaginings of the better things to come often serves as an antidote to worldly despair.  

Because the imagination is so significant in life, developing it within your children is an incredibly important task.  Children are very susceptible to their surroundings and experiences.  Giving your child quality stories and other means of activity help cultivate an inquisitive and intelligent mind whereas simply turning on the sub-par Saturday cartoons has much less effect, and certainly not a great one at that.  As your children grow, tell them the stories that matter.  Show them the lives of the saints.  Read them the fairy tales of good and evil.  Share with them the tales of bravery and friendship.  Above all, feed their hunger for something of intrinsic value.  The love of truth and virtue grows with the experience and understanding of these great gifts.  

Encourage your children to be creative.  Give them your full attention when they ask to share their latest scribbled story with you.  Support them in worthwhile endeavors of artistic attempts.  You never know what your children will be when they grow up.  The only thing that is certain is that their childhood will undoubtedly influence their adult years.  If you raise your children to be lovers of wisdom and seekers of truth, they will be several steps ahead of the rest of the world.  A keen imagination helps them to see what others cannot and to accept the seemingly unbelievable in the glorious world about us.  Above all, imagination provides a stepping stone to knowledge of the rarities of life and the truth of God's love.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Makes It All Worthwhile

A short post today since I'm getting over the sniffles, but I just wanted to write briefly on the joys of kids.

Here's an example:
Today, one of the babies that I work with was in her mother's arms, just waking up from a nap, and she literally leaned far out of her mom's arms, reaching for me.  It was so adorable!  The fact that a person so small would have that much trust in a person outside her family is very touching.

In the midst of strained nerves and disobedient students, moments like the one I described make every stressful minute worthwhile.  Every frustration and set-back is relieved by the love of an innocent and completely dependent child.  It is moments like these that remind me of where the seemingly destructive hooligans came from, and who they can be.  Treasure these precious memories, and when life seems dark and dreary, pull out a happy time and regain strength and hope.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Importance of Extra Curricular . . . or not?

When you home-school your children, you have to do it all.  Not only are you the mother and the regular teacher, but you have to make sure that your kids get their fair share of extra curricular activities.  Music, sports, dance, art, and so much more falls on your plate.  If you want your children to receive all this training and experience, you have to provide it or provide a means to attaining it.  When there’s just one or two kids involved, the steady stream of driving to this event and carpooling to the next isn’t so taxing.  When you’ve got several kids, however, and they each are doing different activities, the strain on your mental and physical capacities increases sometimes astronomically.  The question then becomes what is more important?  Their extra curriculars or your sanity?
Every mother takes on the role of Superwoman, but no woman is quite equal to the task.  Being mortal, we have limits.  Yes, even moms have a stopping point.  The trouble is that too often a mom doesn’t realize her boiling point until it is too late.  She piles on one activity after another for her kids, all in their best interests, until she finds herself spread too thin.  She becomes increasingly worn down and exhausted until something snaps, and all the activities disappear because she just can’t handle it anymore.  No mother wants to end up with this problem, but avoiding it does take some self-knowledge and a careful balancing act.
So you don’t want to pull your hair out, but you do want your kids to get out.  After all, we want to avoid the home-school stereotype of introverted, sheltered and unsocialized kids.  There are a few tricks to this trade that I have picked up from my mom and other home-schooling mothers I know.  If these are followed, your stress level will decrease and the happiness level will increase.
1.  Know your limits.  Before you can even begin to sign-up for events and activities, you have to know your personal limits.  How many nights a week can you commit to on a regular basis?  How much time can you afford to spend running kids places?  How much time will your daily schoolwork take?  Is there any way to share the trips with other parents?  Can your husband help with some of the drop-off/pick-ups?  Once you have answers to some (preferably all) of these questions, you can begin to understand your limits.  
2.  Choose the best activity.  Now that you know how much time you can devote to extra curricular events, figure out which one(s) best suit your children and what you want them to learn.  If music and the arts are important, place those at the top of the list.  If sports and physical activity rank higher, keep that in mind.  Oftentimes, asking your child what they are interested in pursuing can help guide your decision, although you do have the last say.  Sometimes a child does not want to have music lessons, but it is a good experience for them.  Likewise, many kids may oppose joining a sports team of any kind, but that experience is also exceptional.  Let your kids help decide, but keep in mind that you’re the adult.
3.  Overlap events.  If you have several children, sometimes you can find a way to place several kids in the same extra curricular program.  My sisters all take music lessons through the Home School Music Association.  All the children meet during the same block of time once a week.  The same overlapping can be done sometimes with sports teams or lessons.  Another trick of overlapping is finding friends who also have their kids in the same activity.  Try to carpool rides.  This cuts down on each parent’s driving time and eases the stress enormously.
4.  Learn at home.  Sometimes a child shows a keen interest in something, such as music, but you just can’t afford the time or the stress or the tuition to get them lessons.  Don’t despair, though, if you can’t get little Sammy or Sue their piano lessons.  If a child is interested enough, they have the drive to pursue it themselves.  Sometimes you just have to provide the tapes or books and leave the rest to the child.  I taught myself to play piano because I wanted to learn.  Eventually I had lessons for a few years, but the majority of my “lessons” came from my own determination.  I’m not claiming that your kids will become experts by themselves, but they will learn if they try.  And who knows, maybe one day they’ll put so much effort into whatever they’re learning that they will become the expert.
Given all of the above, the one thing you really need to keep in mind is balance.  Juggling kids and school and activities and life is tough.  Striking the perfect balance is doable with hard work, so don’t give up.  Make adjustments as the years go by.  Sometimes you may be able to do more than other times.  Just keep in mind that the mother is the heart of the home.  If the heart fails, the entire household crumbles.  Keep the heart in good condition, and you will never regret it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tantrums . . . How to Deal

I'm sure that every person, at one time or other, has witnessed a public tantrum by a willful and screaming child.  Tragically, most parents don't know how to cope with the classic tantrum.  Generally you see parents shushing their kids and promising them all kinds of treats and toys if they shut up.  Definitely NOT the best way to go about stopping the present tantrum and preventing future ones.

No parent likes punishing their child or seeing them suffer.  Unfortunately, life isn't fair.  Nobody is perfect.  We live in a broken (yet beautiful) world where suffering is a part of every day.  While I don't want to sound cynical or unfeeling, the sooner a child learns they can't have everything they want simply because they stomp their little feet, the better off they will be for the rest of their lives.  A child who is pampered and has their every whim immediately granted will inevitably grow up a selfish and self-centered human being. Miracles do happen, so there is hope that someday that "me me me" child will grow out of the nasty phase, but it's not a miracle to bank on.  Please, do your child and the rest of the world a favor.  Don't give in just because they look at you with puppy dog eyes or bang their heels against the ground.  You are the adult.  You know what is best for the child, and they have to learn to accept that.  Once they're older, you can begin giving them the responsibility of making the right choices.  Until then, little Sammy and his sister Susie shouldn't get the lollipop or video game they want just because they cry.

I'm not against giving children presents.  Oftentimes, it can make them feel loved (since Gifts is one of the 5 love languages), and presents can also work as motivators or rewards.  I am, however, avidly against giving kids a "reward" because they stopped screaming long enough for you to think.  This system of rewarding bad behavior does not end the bad behavior.  Rather, it encourages it.  Kids are smart.  They can put two and two together and discover that the sum is: tantrum = reward.  And believe me, your child will only become more greedy and more disobedient and tantrum-prone.

But how do we stop the tantrums?  Sometimes you can, and sometimes you can't.  There's a few methods of approach for tantrums.  Punishment for acting up, whether you're at home or out in public.  Ignoring the constant whining and screaming.  Preempting the angry reaction of your child to the famous line, "No, you can't . . ."  And, most importantly, training your child to understand that when you say "No," you mean NO.  There is no debate.  No pleading.  No complaining.  A simple "Yes, Mom." is all that is expected.

Consistent discipline should occur regardless of the environment.
Discipline and Punishment:  When your child throws a tantrum, please feel free to punish them.  Put them in time-out.  Take away their tv or computer time.  Give them extra chores.  Whatever you decide works best for you and your child, make sure you act immediately.  And follow-through with what you say.  If you take something away, make a solid mental note or write it down somewhere.  Otherwise, when you forget, your child will begin to see that the punishments are meaningless words.
     I have found that time-out seems to work the best for most kids.  Plus, it's a technique that can be used anywhere at any time.  If you're at home, it's best to have a specific "time-out" spot.  Pick a spot that is away from their toys and anything else distracting that could make time-out a fun thing.  Set the timer for the allotted time (a minute per year is often a good idea).  Tell the child why they are in time-out.  Walk away.  If they get up before the timer goes off, put them back and reset the timer.  Do not talk to them.  Most kids will try to get your attention, making time-out a game.  Ignore them.  They are being punished.  When the timer goes off, go back to the child and explain again why they were put there in the first place.  Then they're free to go.
     Sure this works great at home, you say, but what about at the grocery store or the park or any other public place?  The same exact method works in public too.  You just have to be strong enough to discipline your child where other people can see you.  Sure, everyone knows and dreads the stereotype of the "horrible mother" who punishes her children because they want a toy or a pack of gum.  But what you have to remember is that only you know what is best for your child.  If bystanders want to judge you on doing what is right, then let them.  Their opinion shouldn't matter to you.  On the other hand, I should think that most passerby would be grateful to have you take care of the screaming child rather than letting them run rampant.  If you're in the store, stand the child near you and set the timer.  Don't talk to them or make eye contact (but make sure they don't run away.)  If they move or try to play with things on the shelves, start the timer over.  Your shopping might take a bit longer, but the consistency and continuity will pay off.

Ignoring Petty Complaints:  In my experience (and that of many people I know), a child often throws a tantrum to get your attention.  If you ignore the screams and continue with what you're doing, oftentimes the kid will stop screaming and try a different tactic or decide it just isn't worth it.  When a two-year-old child pitches a fit because he can't have something, ignore them.  You've already told them no.  Give them a warning.  If the screaming doesn't stop, time-out happens.  Chances are, they'll decide to play rather than risk the time-out.  Again, this method needs to be accompanied by instruction in the proper method of getting an adult's attention and the correct response to a negative answer.  "Excuse me, Mommy," is a beautiful phrase.  You do, however, need to make sure that you respond to the child when they ask you politely.  If you're in the middle of a conversation, say, "Just a minute."  Your child should be taught to wait patiently.  At the earliest opportunity, take care of the child's question.  This saves a lot of screaming on both ends.  Too often a child asks, "Mommy."  "MOMMY."  "MOMMY!!!"  And finally the mother responds, "WHAT?!"  So the child thinks they need to yell in order to be heard, which shouldn't be the case.  Regardless, refusal to banter with a child because they're screaming is always a good thing.

Preempting Tantrums:  This method revolves entirely around discipline.  Plus a bit of knowing your kids pretty well - when they're over-tired.  When they've had too much sugar.  When they simply have too much energy.  Kids need to learn from an early age that bad behavior equals a just punishment.  But the punishment you give can be tempered by your knowledge of the child's current state of emotions.  If you know your child is acting up because they're overly energetic, send them to run some laps or do jumping jacks.  Avoid giving them too much of the foods they shouldn't eat.  And, above all, teach your children that complaining and screaming is never a method of getting what they want.

No means NO:  Every child will push buttons to see how far they can go before you explode at them.  What you need to keep in mind is that your word, as the adult, is the ruling word.  What you say goes.  There's no discussion.  If you can teach your children to listen the first time you say something, your family life will be much smoother.  At the same time, remember to balance things.  Don't say no to everything they want.  Sometimes you can say "yes" if they want a cookie or a short break from school.  You just need to remember, above all else, what is most important for them.  Let them be kids, but train them to be adults.

I know this is a lot to process.  At some point in the future, I'm sure I will revisit this topic in smaller, more potent posts.  In the meantime, hang in there.  You do have the first responsibility of raising your children, but you don't have to do it alone.  Ask for advice from your friends or your mother.  Read a few of the self-help books out there.  Just remember to take everything you hear and read with a grain of salt.  Not every tactic or disciplinary method works for each child or each family.  With a bit of hard work, however, you can create a discipline that fits your family like a glove.  When you strike the balance of harmony, you'll be surprised at how easily everything else that seemed stressful in your life falls into place.  Good luck!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Take A Moment

In the hectic mayhem of raising a family of rambunctious and growing children, one often forgets to breathe.  Not literally, but taking a moment to relax and rejuvenate often falls by the wayside.  Clinging children all clamoring for your attention tend to drown out your own thoughts.  Whether the kids are hanging on your legs or bickering with each other, they all want your attention.  The more children you have, the more important it is to do two things: 1) spend one-on-one quality time with each child; 2) spend time by yourself recuperating.

To address the first item of importance, don't be too discouraged by the term "quality time".  When there are several children in the house, it is easy for the older ones to be unintentionally ignored because the younger ones are more vocal in their demands and helpless by themselves.  Oftentimes, the bickering, whining and complaining from the older children - or any children older than the babies of the family - is brought about by a desire for attention, even if that attention gets them sent to time-out or results in punishment.  Every child wants to know they are loved.  They will act up if they feel there is a competition for your affections.  While sometimes there are children who require more specific attention than others - infants, sick kids, etc. - it is equally important to remember each of your children individually.  Spend quality time with them.  Read stories together.  Play a board game.  Spend a few minutes listening to what they did during the day.  And while doing things all together is essential to the familial unity, try to spend time with each child one-on-one.  It doesn't have to be more than a few minutes.  Just make sure that those few minutes belong entirely to you and the one child.  Don't let yourself be distracted by the laundry or making dinner.  By giving the child your undivided attention, you make them understand their importance and how much you love them.  They know that you are interested in whatever they're doing, and they will thrive on the chance to spend some "alone time" with Mom.  
In addition to the one-on-one time each day, it is often beneficial to institute a Mother/Daughter or Mother/Son day or night once a month.  Take the time to spend the day with one child per month.  If you have older children who can watch the younger kids, maybe you could spend the day out and about.  If not, try to set aside a few hours where you will have little or no interruptions.  Ask your child for suggestions about what they'd like to do.  You'll be surprised how easily (and inexpensively) kids can be entertained.  Take a drive to the park and feed the ducks.  Spend time creating your own story book, complete with illustrations.  Toss a football across the backyard.  You can even let them help you with your work - kids love to help stir the pasta, squish the cookies, and splash water as they "wash" the dishes.  
Throughout all of this, keep in mind the most important reason behind the Mother-Child time.  You want to show each child individually how much you love them and how important they are to you.  I know this can be difficult at times, especially in large families, but that doesn't make it any less important.  Rather, the more children in your family, the more important this special time together becomes.  You can't be everywhere at once, and often your kids will clamor for attention when you're in the middle of something, but if you try, they'll clamor a bit less and bicker more infrequently.  

Moving on to the second important moment, take time for yourself.  If anyone's job is close to that of a superhero, it's the job of a mom.  You have to rescue your kids from scary monsters and cuts and scrapes.  You have to comfort them when their tiny worlds seem to be crumbling, most likely because someone took their toy or pulled their hair.  You have to instruct them in the ways of becoming an adult. You have to patiently watch as, for the millionth time, your child dances around the room.  You must sacrifice your wants again and again as the children grow.  First, you wake up several times a night when the baby cries.  Then, you put off getting together with your friends because you have to drive this child here and make sure that child gets there.  And just when you think you have a moment, you have to keep going because one child is having a meltdown while another bounces up and down with too much energy.  
In the midst of all this sacrifice that comes with one of the toughest jobs in the world, we often forget to stop and breathe.  Yet taking time for yourself - whether it's a few minutes or a precious half-hour - is one of the most important parts of your day.  Your children will benefit if you have time to repair your frayed nerves so that you stay away from the snapping point.  If you sit down with a cup of coffee or tea, you can avoid reaching a boiling point of pent-up emotions.  Children, of any age, run the gamut of emotions every day, from screaming to angelic, and bickering to best friends.  The roller coaster of a family often takes you for a wild ride, complete with upside-down spins and twirling, hair-pin curves.  So shut yourself in your room.  Give yourself five minutes to just sit and focus on not doing anything.  Believe me, it may not seem like a long time, but those few moments are surprisingly rejuvenating and can spur you on to continue with your hectic job.  Besides, when you take the time to simmer down any angry emotions towards disobedient children, it becomes easier to recall how much you truly love them - and how you wouldn't trade your life for a million dollars.  So stop and breathe.  Give yourself time so that you can, in turn, give even more to your children.

To recap, give time to your kids and to yourself.  Spend quality time, i.e. schoolwork doesn't count, with your kids.  Try to spend time with each kid by themselves.  Make sure you take care of yourself.  If you can accomplish these moments, your family will be happier, and you won't have as many frayed nerves or stressed muscles.  And hang in there.  Implementing alone time doesn't happen with a wave of the hand.  It takes time and effort to develop a routine.  Taking time for yourself or for one person out of a busy day is harder than it sounds; however, it is possible.  So believe and breathe.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life's Little Annoyances

Have you ever wanted to throw your hands up and simply give up?  Well, in the life of anyone dealing with children - of any age - there's a lot of mental hands being thrown.  Being the mature adult, however, includes sticking with the job, no matter the frustration.  My example today is the innate dislike of school that most children possess.  One cannot reason with a child the same way as with an adult.  A child does not understand the higher things to be gained by intent study and striving for further knowledge.  All the child knows is that they dislike handwriting and spending time poring over math problems instead of listening to storybooks or playing computer games.  I honestly don't know how a teacher can deal with more than one or two students at a time.  I suppose the children who are sent to school have a bit more respect for their teacher than for someone who lives in their house.  Regardless, when homeschooling children, especially those not your own, numerous battles will inevitably occur.  Nine times out of ten, a child will fuss, complain or absolutely refuse to do their schoolwork.  Every instructor needs a plan of attack, even though no one plan is guaranteed to work for every child.  There are a few tricks, however, that can be useful.

1.  Be firm.  You are the teacher, not the child.  It is your obligation to ensure that the schoolwork is done, regardless of the child's feelings about completing the work.

2.  Be calm.  While the child will inevitably fly off the handle numerous times, you must be sure not to respond in kind.  Being the adult means reining in your temper and patiently sitting out the temper tantrums.  Oftentimes, a time-out of one form or other is necessary.  While some people may cry out against such "cruel and unusual punishment," a time-out which separates the child from the rest of the family and lengthens the time before the work is completed can increase a child's obedience.

3.  Be understanding.  Several children act up during their lessons because they have pent-up energy.  I do not advocate calling off school for the day because the child needs to run around.  I do, however, recommend breaks and exercise of some form or other.  Oftentimes, a few laps around the house or jumping jacks will calm a child down so that they can focus on their lessons once more.

4.  Be patient.  Teaching anyone anything can be difficult.  Finding the best way of explaining a new math concept or grammatical rule can be a trying task.  And more than likely, no two children will learn the concepts in the same way.  Through trial and error, you can discover how the child best learns - through explanation, hands-on activities, repetition, etc.

5.  Be creative.  We all remember the boring text books of yesteryear.  No child likes to spend extended periods of time poring over bland handwriting or rows of math problems.  Integrating hands-on activities or fun stories can help keep school exciting.  Flash cards are a great tool for friendly competition, or even self-competition.  See how many the child can get right in a certain number of minutes.  Look up pictures or videos of what is being studied in history or science.  Add hand motions and rhythm to memorization. Remember, your student is just a child.  They want to learn, but they prefer to learn in a fun environment.

6.  Be ready.  Each new day holds potential curve balls.  These can be quite surprising and upsetting at times, but if you are diligent and observant, most often the curve balls won't be too shocking.  Sometimes the child had a late night or ate too much sugar, which can often account for disrespectful or complaining behavior.  Keep a few tricks in the back of your mind to help get the child out of their funk.  Sometimes a healthy threat is required.  For example, if the child refuses to shape up, take away a toy or game for the rest of the day.  Sometimes a reward of some type is useful.  Give the child an extra few minutes on the computer.  Present them with a surprise sweet.

7.  Be open.  Home-schooling is inevitably an embarkment into uncharted waters.  No two children learn the same way.  No two children advance at the same rate.  No two children have the same temperament. Find what works for your family and stick to it, but always be open to improvements.  For the kids I'm currently teaching, we have a Star Reward system.  Every subject completed to my satisfaction gains them a sticker.  If they have enough stickers at the end of the week, they receive a small prize.  This chart serves a two-fold purpose: a) it provides an incentive for completing work; b) the stickers can be taken away as punishment for shabby work or disrespectful behavior.

In conclusion, home-schooling is a grand endeavor.  It is not for everyone, but if you try it, make sure to give it a solid effort before giving up.  Don't let a few bumps in the road deter you from giving it your all.  In my experience, while there are numerous trials that come part and parcel with home-schooling, the joy of having your children about you and the chance to watch them grow and mature day by day more than make up for the little annoyances.

Monday, November 14, 2011

At the Beginning

The Vocation: Motherhood.
I know that my vocation is to be a wife and mother. When God plans on sending me forth along that path, I have no idea. In the meantime, as I try todecipher the current steps of my life, I endeavor to better myself in preparation for the greatest task God will ever entrust to me. This preparation includes new experiences and garnering information and advice regarding the role of a wife and mother. Through observation, in-depth discussion, and hands-on learning, I am striving to learn as much as possible.

The Job: Nanny.
My current position is that of a nanny for a home-schooling family of 6 children. While the mother does stay home, I do most of the schooling. Having been home-schooled myself, I thankfully have a foot in the door rather than floundering in the sea of uncertainty. Nevertheless, home-schooling is not as easy as many may think. Likewise, while I gained much experience dealing with children through my younger siblings and various babysitting positions, I still have a great deal to learn regarding the proper discipline and care of children. Every day I learn something new. Sometimes rewards work. Sometimes threats work best. Sometimes what worked the day before doesn't work the next day. Sometimes the children are just in a bad mood. Sometimes there was too much sugar involved. Sometimes the children are angelic. Sometimes the weather is unpleasant, which affects the mood of the entire household. Sometimes the children are tired. And all the times, the nanny tries to be pleasant yet firm with the oftentimes unruly children. But every second of frustration is completely and totally worth it when you finally succeed and receive the reward of a cheerful, loving and obedient child (even if it's only for a few moments).

The Blog: My Confessions and Observations
At the insistence of a dear friend, and through sheer boredom and the desire for something to stretch my mind, I have determined to catalog my experiences - good and bad - as I strive to fulfill my job to its highest potential. The content will, more than likely, revolve mainly around teaching adventures scattered with numerous disciplinary moments and topped with the rare yet beautiful moments of serenity. It is my hope to neither bore nor intimidate any readers. Rather, I hope that the glimpses into my life will entertain and enlighten y'all. Likewise, do not let the "horror stories" of home-schooling or disciplining children turn anyone away from the idea of raising their own family. The frustrations, disappointments, arguments and discipline are part and parcel of the beautiful and wonderful reward of a loving family. Through prayer and perseverance, trial and error, and enormous amounts of patience, combined with a dash of creativity and humor, the path to a happy family can begin. And so it begins.