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Holding The Line

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.  Holding the line that is.  It’s one of the hardest parts of parenting, but also one of the most important.

You’re getting ready to leave for the day, kids have been fed, all their school belongings are gathered, lunches packed, coffee in hand… “H put your shoes on so we can be on time.”  Read that again.  Notice my careful choice of words?  It’s a command, not a request.  I’ve recently learned the importance of not confusing the two.  Also notice how the focus is on the outcome I want which is to leave on time.  I didn’t say, “H, please put your shoes on so we are not late”  That is a request that he can say no to, and the focus is on being late which is exactly what I want to avoid.  I’m not perfect at my word choice all the time, in fact it’s something I’m working on every day, however, I will say, when I say it right, and my word choice is on point, it’s much more effective.

Back to the story.  I could see it coming a mile away, this was a day for battle.  This was a day where my line holding had already been tested and I knew there were going to be more tests. And those tests no matter what I do are unavoidable.  “Shoes.” I reminded him.  I could see him getting frustrated, eyebrows furrowed, stalling at the whiteboard to draw a quick monster truck.  I handed him his shoes and asked, “Would you like me to help you?”  Now if you ask any parenting expert they would tell you that I’ve already lost the battle, I shouldn’t give him so many chances, I shouldn’t have even offered to help him because it is something he most certainly can do on is own, and does often.  But at that moment in time not being late for work was more important than waiting for my son to finish his drawing and put on his own shoes at his leisure.  I asked him again, “H, would you like help with your shoes?”  He looked at me, scowled, said nothing, and returned to his drawing.  Immediately I got my wits about me and realized it was time, I needed to hold the line.

Without saying anything I grabbed my things, and headed for the car.  H came running after me in tears shouting “I need my shoes!”  I responded in a calm voice, “It’s time to get in the car.”  At this point he was screaming, raging mad, begging for his shoes.  My husband stood by me communicating with just his eyes, “Are you really doing this?”  I responded with just my eyebrow “Absolutely.”

We drove to school, H screamed the entire way, and I said nothing.  Less is more, there was no need for words.  Mine would probably be less productive then necessary, and he already knew what was happening. When we arrived at school, I gathered my things from the car.

 H asked me, “Can I have my shoes?”

“I’m sorry, I do not have your shoes, you chose to not wear them today.  Let’s go”  Inside I was dying.  I did have his shoes, and I didn’t tell him that.  Is that a lie?  Or is a necessary part of this lesson?  We walked into school.  H followed behind me, while I shed a few tears with him just footsteps ahead.

When we were inside school I put my things away, and so did he.  His breath was that kind of staccato breathing that happens after you’ve been crying really hard for a long time.  I quietly grabbed our classroom peace flower and walked over to him.  His eyes were red and puffy, and his cheeks were stained from tears.  “I can see you are very sad.  You don’t have your shoes and you want them.  I feel sad too.  I didn’t like it when you ignored my words, and when you made an ugly face at me.”  He looked me in the eyes, his extra long eyelashes were drenched in tears.  He said, “I’m sorry Mama.”  My heart was beating fast, and I felt both sad and relieved.  Sad because he was truly sad and truly sorry and I don’t like it when my kids feel anything other than happiness and joy even though it is necessary.  I felt relieved because I knew he got it.

“H, I need you to be more helpful in the mornings so that we can get to school on time, and part of being helpful is putting your shoes on before we go.”

“Okay, I will, I promise.”

“I know you will.  I brought your shoes today but I need you to understand that if this happens again I will not bring your shoes and you will spend the day at school without them.”

“Okay, I believe you”  And he did.

“H, one more thing… can we declare peace?”

We held the Peace Flower together and said, “We declare peace.”  We hugged it out.  I held the line.

It’s hard, that line holding, but it is so very important.  Sometimes it hurts, often it’s the harder choice and is met with a battle.  But if we don’t hold the line now, if we don’t set limits, and hold boundaries who will?  When you hold the line you are creating safety and predictability for your children.  You are allowing them to experience disappointment an discomfort in turn, helping them develop a sense of empathy and minimize narcissism as an adult.  You are allowing them to struggle just a bit which is important because there is no learning or mastery of anything without struggle.  So I encourage you – make the hard choice, stay strong, and hold that line, you be glad you did one day I’m certain.

Emotions, Not Emoticons

Working through feelings can be tough.  They aren’t really tangible.  Often times they are hard to describe, and talking about them proves to be difficult even for adults.  Feelings are also real, and present, and important, and confusing, and powerful.  We need them, and honestly living a life without feelings would be stale, dull, and disconnected.

In our classroom we talk a lot about feelings.  We teach the children about “I statements” when they use the peace flower, and we teach them how to recognize that inner “feel good” feeling with the love light.  But what about those other feelings like worry, fear, stress, anger, etc?  What about excitement, bravery, and confidence?  What do we do with those feelings?  How do we teach young children to feel those feelings as well learn to navigate them? How do we teach them that emoticons are no replacement for real emotions?   These are questions that have been tugging at my heart lately.

I don’t know the answers, so I go back; I go back to my training, to what I know.  Maria Montessori was brilliant at breaking big things down into tiny bite size pieces so that they could be easily understood.  She made things tangible and real for children.  Surely the same can be done when it comes to emotional intelligence right?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  There is very wise woman among us and the children at our school are so lucky to have her as their teacher.  However, I’m the luckiest, because she is my sister.  A while ago Ms Kelly delivered a special basket to my house.  We call it the feelings box.  In it are a variety of items to help my children navigate those big feelings when they arise.  When she showed it to me I was giddy with excitement and I wanted to show my kids right away, but something inside me made me wait.  I needed to sit with it for a while, I needed to let the purpose and importance of this basket come to me, and I needed a clear message for my children.  What were these things for?  Why do we have them?  When can I use them?  Again, more questions.  I wanted to make sure my children knew these things were special, and that they weren’t toys, but rather tools to help all of us.  I wanted to make sure that they understood this was something positive, and wonderful, and I knew it needed to be handled with care.

When I finally did present the basket I covered it with a blanket.  We talked about the kinds of feelings we feel, and whether or not we had felt any of them during the day.  I told them that we had a new basket of tools (this is very important, these are not toys) to help us with our feelings.  They can help us feel them, organize them, and understand them.  Deep stuff eh?  Then one at a time I pulled each tool out of the box.

This is a breathing ball.  It expands and contracts, and I showed my kids how to take long slow breaths while pulling it out making it bigger – like our lungs, and then blowing air out slowly and collapsing the ball slowly as well.

This is a stress ball that can be squeezed and stretched.

This is a tangle, just something to fidget.  I told them, “This is something fidget with while you sit with your feelings.”

These are yoga cards with a few of our favorite calming yoga poses.

This is kinetic sand.  If you haven’t touched this stuff yet you must.  It’s amazing, and calming, and you can kind of just get lost in it.

This is a timer, and my children really like to lay on their tummies and watch the droplets fall.

This is just a small coloring book with markers.  We have found that coloring is one of the most regulating activities for our kids, they get lost in it.

This is a melting snowman, an dis by far one of the most used tools in the kit.  It’s basically silly putty that they build a snowman out of.

It comes with all the cute little accessories, and then they sit, and watch it melt.

And usually, but the time the snowman has melted so have their big feelings.

This is our little peace bag.  Inside is a worry stone, a tea light, and some lavender essential oil (in a nifty little roller bottle they can safely use on their own).  They put a little oil on their wrists, and either lay on their back, put the tea light on their belly and practice some belly breathing or sit quietly and rub the worry stone between their fingers.

The feelings basket lives in our living room and is available for anyone to use at any time.  Sometimes I use it myself.  It’s been a huge hit.  Sometimes I offer choosing something from the feelings basket as a choice when we are working through big feelings, and sometimes they choose it on their own.  More than anything it has opened to door to more conversations about emotions for our family.  We experience them together.  We share them, we work through them, and we honor them.

 

It’s Their Home Too

You may or may not remember this post from a while back when I talked showed you our new yard, and I talked about how dirt is a good thing.  If you haven’t read that post it’s a good read, but I have something else to talk about today.

Almost two years ago our family moved into a new home.  I was so excited, all I could think about was how this new house was going to have everything I needed.  It was going to be one where everyone could have their own room, and I would have enough cabinet space for all my kitchen necessities.  I remember being excited about getting to pick out carpet and tile, and lighting, and stressing about deciding whether we should go with maple or hickory. I remember picturing my children happily playing in the yard or in the playroom while I prepared dinner.  I remembering thinking everyone will love this house!

Flash forward to reality.  Yes we love our house, and yes it has lots of wonderful features and things, but in the heat of the move and design we may have lost sight of the fact that this is their place too.  All of my children do have their own rooms, but they rarely sleep in them, in fact they tell me that they miss our old apartment because we were all so close together there.  Most nights all three kiddos are sleeping in my youngest son’s room because they like to be together.  We ended up going with hickory floors, and I’m glad we did because they are dirty more than they are clean and all the variation in the wood color hides the dirt well.  I still don’t have enough cabinet space, and I usually find myself preparing dinner during the “witching hour” when they are all tired, and hungry and needy.  But the yard… the yard!  It’s finally done!  It’s taken us two years to get our landscaping completed and thank goodness it did because since we’ve lived here we’ve been observing more, and listening more to their needs, and because of that we made some changes.

For two summers we had a back dirt lot, not a yard.  During those two summers we got to “watch” our kids (read, strongly encourage) play outside.  They found bugs, went “hiking”, learned that thorns and bare feet don’t go well together, made “soup”, and asked us almost every single day, “When are we going to get grass?”  We worked tirelessly with landscape architects, collected ideas from Pinterest, and saved every penny we could.  We felt like this was our one shot to get it right.  We wanted it to be beautiful, and welcoming, and a place to gather.  In the beginning, I was picturing this.

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The thing about that, is there is really nothing there for my little ones.  No place to run, or hide, or roll, or dig, or explore.  So we adjusted our plans.  The backyard has lots of grass, we added a hill, and a path.  We planted raspberry bushes so that they could explore and pick fresh berries.  We have an awesome patio that we eat at every night, and we will soon have a sandbox.

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The front yard is quite small and simple.  Our plans called for a tree, a patch of grass, and a planter box off the front of our front porch.

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I was excited about the idea of quietly drinking a cup of coffee on my front porch as the day awoke.  It was going to be perfect.  So construction started and there were many exciting days filled with back hoe’s, front loaders, and concrete trucks.  All was going to plan until this happened.

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I got a text from my husband.  “Planter box or sandbox?”  I knew right then that we needed to make a change.  Sandbox, most definitely.  And that is what we did.

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Now I sit on my front porch and quietly drink my coffee while my kids play in the morning sun in the sandbox.  And in the afternoon we gather with neighbors and their children and seek shade in our front porch sandbox, and after school I cook dinner while my kids play in the sandbox.  The peonies can wait, because this is their home too.