As we do every Saturday, my three year old and I went to his ballet and tap class. It was a small class today, only two kids. Usually there are at least four kids and parents for three of us who hang out right outside of the room to provide encouragement and security for the kids while they are getting instruction.
Today was different. Only one other kid was in class and instead of her mother, who usually comes, her father brought her today. Class started late because they were late to class, but hey things happen, right?
It was a difficult class for my kiddo today, which made me sad because he loves to go to this class. The little girl, lets call her Carrie, was not having a good day.
Unfortunately, I have yet to see a class where little Carrie pays attention to the teacher well. In the beginning of class she will turn the lights on and off, play on the bars which is not allowed for this age group, crawl around on the ground pretending to be an animal or just ignore the teacher and doing her own thing. Sometimes my kiddo follows her lead, at which point I will gently remind him to listen to his teacher. Luckily little Carrie is a cute kid and usually sweet, so why get upset? These kiddos are young and the idea of this class is not to learn strict ballet positions, it is to have an introduction to movement and learn to love ballet and tap. Carrie's parents are never outside the door, they usually prefer to wait upstairs so they have no idea how their child is in class. Which is why I should not have been shocked today, but I was.
Little Carrie was having a cranky day and seemed to want to make sure mine did too. My little one was getting yelled at quite a bit by little Carrie, he brushed it off and ignored her. At one point the teacher finally looked at her and told her to use a nice voice and say please. The little girl refused. My son, who loves a calm environment, ended up coming out of class couple of times telling me he wanted to go home. I spoke to him and told him I understand it can be difficult when someone is having a bad day, but that he loves class and he is allowed to have fun and to tell Carrie "no" if she is mean. I encouraged him to go back and have fun with the teacher. He went back in. This happened twice.
And that is when her father chimed in. From around the stairs he peeked his head out to say, "Don't you think that is distracting? That is distracting to class to have him in and out. Don't you think you should move?" I replied no, I didn't think so and that I appreciated his concern. At which point he raised his voice and said, "I have no concern for you, I am paying for this class and he is distracting my daughter."
Maybe he forgot that he was late to class, but why go there? I did let him know that when it is a full class, all of the other parents sit here and that it says on the website that seating (although limited) is permitted for this age group. I also let him know that his daughter was actually providing a fair amount of distraction in the class and if he were to sit where I was, he would see that. His daughter is older than my son and has been in the class much longer and should be providing the example of how to behave appropriately. He responded by raising his voice again, although I really didn't pay any attention to what he was saying at that point and luckily the music drown him out so I just ignored him.
Then the unthinkable happened. His child ran out of class to go see her dad. Wait a minute ... isn't that distracting? I didn't say anything. Again, about ten minutes later, his child ran out of class to go find him. Oops, guess that is distracting again. But you know what, it actually wasn't distracting for my son at all. It actually allowed my kiddo to get some individual attention from the teacher who he adores. How great is that?
A few minutes later little Carrie attempted to hit Everett because she wanted to jump even though it was his turn. He dodged it and kept on his merry way, not letting her bother him. A bit later, it became too much, my kiddo came out and was upset. "Carrie stepped on my foot and hurt me," I asked him to show me and said, "Well that wasn't nice of her. You tell her no, she is not allowed to do that." I offered to kiss it and make it feel better and he said he was fine, he just wanted to go home. At this point, sheesh, sure, he shouldn't have to endure that in class. I said "Okay let's go tell the teacher we are going home now." He ran in so fast and she asked if he would wait so he could get a sticker. He was excited for that. The teacher came out and brought little Carrie to her Dad. His first question, "Did she pay attention today?" The teacher said, "Well she pushed him."
Her father was upset with her, told her she did not make a good decision and wouldn't get a sticker. Then he came over and forced her to apologize, right after being upset that she wasn't going to get a sticker. My heart broke for this upset crying little girl who just wanted her Dad to enjoy watching her dance the way I enjoy watching my son and the other parents enjoy watching their kids. Yes it is good to have a kiddo learn to say they are sorry, but she wasn't sorry she was now even more angry with my kid because now she didn't get a sticker. She still hadn't gotten over that and now she is supposed to deliver an apology? She finally did apologize, which I have mixed feelings about. Yes, kids should learn to apologize when they mean it. She had already said multiple times that she didn't want to say she was sorry and that she wasn't sorry. Guess what Dad, you just taught her to lie.
There are so many things wrong with what happened today and I don't really dwell on that. What I do want to say is when you have 3, 4, and 5 year olds, sports, dance, whatever activity they are in, IT SHOULD BE FUN. You are setting the foundation for your kiddo to love what they are doing. Instill the love of that activity first, it will become competitive work soon enough without your pushing it to be. Let them be kids and enjoy, be there to support them and love them. The teachers and coaches will take care of instruction. Little Carrie misbehaves in class constantly, not because she is mean. She is not a bad kid. She misbehaves because she is desperately seeking attention. She wants her parents to enjoy watching her.
I am going to leave you with a wonderful article I shared with some family and friends a while back ... it merits a reminder read, even if you have read it before.
Mommy McD signing off ... to go enjoy my kids. Please go enjoy yours and make sure to tell them that you love to watch them too.
Click here for the article:
The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports—Or Any Performance
I grew up seeing pictures of my mom and her family always hanging out on their front porch. What a wonderful place to be, in your home and able to see your neighbors and your neighborhood. When my husband and I were looking for homes, both of us really wanted a front porch. We quickly came to realize very few modern homes are made with front porches. Instead, we have lavish back yards with decks, pools, gardens and play area, which is great, but not the same.
I remember visiting my great aunt Julia who used to live off of Calhoun Street in Dearborn, MI. She would attend Mass every single morning at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church across the street. After attending Mass and weather permitting, she would have breakfast on her porch. She would go back inside her house to do dishes and come back to sit with coffee and tea. Then she would have lunch on her front porch. The front porch was much like a second living room. This second living room didn't have a television, it had real life. She knew all of her neighbors, she knew the children who attended the school across the street and she spoke on a daily basis with everyone. Many of the people around the neighborhood would affectionately call her, "The Mayor of Dearborn," because she knew everyone. On one visit, she invited us to attend a talent show at the school across the street. Although she had no children of her own in the talent show, a few kids from the school who passed by her house every day had invited her to come see their performance. I remember her introducing me to so many kids my age and younger, as well as all of their parents. It was a whirlwind of people for me, for her, just her circle of friends.
My aunt Julia is no longer with us, but I like to think we keep her spirit alive as much as possible by trying to cultivate relationships with our neighbors. It isn't easy. We don't have front porches anymore, everyone hides out back (if we can even get anyone out and away from television or other mobile devices at all). Like I said, I would like to think I help to keep the spirit of neighborhood friendliness alive, but I have to admit, I have a lot of work to do.
It will be a while until I can work on being more neighborly because I just had foot surgery and have been relegated to my bed for the next few of weeks, keeping my leg up and iced. But I have one neighbor, who is an inspiration, much like my great aunt Julia. She just left my bedside to run home to take care of her kiddos for lunch, but my neighbor came by this morning with Yahtzee to keep me company. The day after surgery I was craving a Sprite and she was sweet enough to swing by and bring one to me. We have had days where it has iced and no one could get out the neighborhood, and she has had the whole cul de sac over for dinner. My husband hit a gas line while digging and without a second thought she invited us over for dinner while the gas company worked on fixing the line. She has thought about my family on Veteran's Day and brought over a thank you for your service gift. If I enumerated all the nice things I have seen her do for our family and our neighbors, I would end up writing a mini novel. The most important thing I think she has given our neighborhood and my family is that wonderful return to a time where people used to build front porches and know their neighbors. She has helped to create a community where we can feel safe letting our kids ride bikes in front of our house. She has helped to create a welcoming atmosphere where the kids play with each other and run from house to house laughing. We may not have a front porch, but my neighbor has broken through that imaginary wall we all put up and created not just a cul de sac, but a real neighborhood.
My neighbor is an inspiration, like my Aunt Julia. In this blog, I hope these two people help to inspire you as much as they have inspired me to help cultivate those friendships with people next door and create a place where your kiddos can have contact with other kids instead of their televisions and video games. Get out there and make friends. Borrow a cup of sugar and bring back a pie. Drop a hand written note or just knock on the door and say hi. There is a wonderful world out there for you and your kids, one away from the television, away from computers, one that can just let you enjoy and become part of something bigger than just your backyard.
One question I got from a lot of people while I was pregnant was, "Are you going to keep your dogs?" I was shocked the first time I was asked the question, then I realized so many people asked the question and to them it was a normal thing to get rid of dogs before having a baby. That made me so sad.
Here is the issue as I see it: When you take on any pet, you make a commitment to caring for another living thing. One of the best lessons that I can teach my children is to honor their commitments and responsibilities. What kind of message would it send to just get rid of my dogs? It would send one of irresponsibility and one of not valuing living things.
I have heard people make all sorts of excuses like the dogs are crazy, they require too much attention, the bird screams too much. No matter the excuse, it isn't valid. You made a commitment. Honor it.
If you are worried, get to training your dogs or other animals before the baby comes! Remember to keep up training after the baby comes too. One of the best methods I have found with mine is to use a really high quality food as training treats. I know they are getting good food instead of the corn meal they try to pass off as dog treats, but they still enjoy it because it is different than their regular food. To keep treats readily accessible I used one of my rice cereal containers and filled it with the dog food. This allowed me to keep it on the counter without it being stinky and still readily available. (For other animals, using novel healthy food appropriate for the animal also works.)
Now for the most difficult part, catch them doing something good! That's right, any time you see good behavior that you want them to keep doing, give them a treat. Since you are giving them actual food, and small single pieces, you don't have to be worried about empty calories or unnecessarily high in sugar/fat treats. They will learn quickly the behavior you want. Ignore the behavior you don't want. When the kiddos do come, hopefully you will have such a great relationship with your animals that you kids can enjoy having them as part of the family too. All this being said, no matter how good your relationship is with your pets, do not leave your children unattended with any pet.
Keep your commitments and your kids too!
Merry Christmas! I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday season.
This is actually a two part blog. 1. The worlds best chew toy! and 2. A reply to some folks who have been upset about my blog content ...
So, the worlds best chew toy? Kong! Yes, not just for your dogs!!! I can't believe it took me this long (and with my mom's suggestion, too) to give my kiddo a Kong! My first one never chewed ... really, never. We didn't baby proof anything! My second little one, he chews everything (including drywall so we have to watch our windowsills!)
As a zoo keeper, pretty much one of the best toys for the zoo animals is Kong chew toys - from vultures to primates, they all love them. They are bouncy, fun to put treats in and can take a ton of chewing. I have purchased a huge variety of chew toys made for babies, but not a one has held up to the kind of chewing my little one wants to do! Not until we got him a Kong, that is! I just switched phones, so I don't have a great picture of my kiddo chewing, but please enjoy this blog (click on photo) from the Oakland zoo. If Kong is good enough to stand up to their bears, I bet it will work for your cubs at home too!
Chew on this (Part 2)
I have been told there are people who are extremely upset that I have not written more about being a military wife in my blog.
Well, this is not a blog about being a military wife. While I have mentioned it and my husband's service in my bio and my very first post, it apparently was not enough to satisfy some sort of quota military wives are supposed to meet in blogs about parallels between animal training and raising kids.
I am very thankful for my husband, his service and his commitment to doing what he thinks is right. There are many who sacrifice (whether a combat veteran like him, or having served in times of peace) and I am appreciative and thankful for all of them. There are also many military families who sacrifice through multiple deployments. I have only been through one. I suspect the wives with multiple deployments under their belt might be best qualified to write a blog about how to deal with deployment issues.
There are many events which define us as a person. While my husband has been military for many years and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, he has also done many other things which are important and defining of his character. Get to know him and you will find that out! Still, if anyone in our family should write about military it should be my husband, not me, and he has a great writing style too, so feel free ask him.
One of the things that defines me as a person is being a military wife ... but that is not all. I have had many years being an animal trainer, so for those who are interested, I parallel aspects of my animal training experience to raising kiddos. If you are interested in reading it and discussing it, I love it! I love hearing responses from those who agree and also hearing counterpoints from those who disagree.
If you are not interested in this blog, well this is a free country, you are welcome to read it and say whatever you want ... but isn't your time better spent elsewhere? If you don't like it, why get yourself all worked up? Just don't read it.
This is something we have all heard from someone in our lives at least once, right?
"Why can't I mom?"
"Because I said so, that's why."
Haven't we all heard some variation of that? What does telling a child, "because I said so," really accomplish?
Before I became a parent, it always made me cringe to hear other parents use that to quiet their kids. I knew I didn't like it, but I hadn't before examined why. Now that my 3 year old asks me why on, well, pretty much everything, I have figured out exactly why I don't like that phrase.
First, what I have noticed is that "because I said so," is frequently code for you are about to get in trouble. I am just not really a big fan of speaking to little kids in code unless it has to do with bathroom habits at the dinner table.
Second, is that it takes a moment where you could teach your child valuable reasoning skills and crushes it.
I dared the shopping on Black Friday this year, and heard the screams of kids wanting to do all sorts of things parent's were not okay with. One in particular really hit me. I heard a mom tell her child that he had to hold her hand to cross the street, "Because I said so." It struck me very strange that the mom wouldn't tell the child that the street can be dangerous, that cars might not see him ... I could think of a ton of reasons why that child should hold hands with his mom, why wouldn't you share one ... or all of them if he needs to hear them. I realize that she was probably rushed, but it takes just as much time to say, "to be safe," as it does to say, "because I said so." I thought about it in the car and realized that I have never told my kid, "Because I said so."
One of the most difficult things to teach a child is how to think. Our schools teach our children how to answer multiple choice questions, how to regurgitate answers in a 5 part essay, but few classes have time or funding to teach children how to think and reason through things. If "because I said so," becomes a regular part of your parenting dialogue, how can the child learn reasoning and thought from you? They can't.
I realize we are all busy and feel like moments are precious and the last thing we want to do is sit there and answer question after question. But the thing is, most of the time children are actually asking questions because they want to learn! It isn't until they get older and learn that having to answer the questions frustrates you and makes you cave that they will use it to get what they want ... and at that point, you kind of set yourself up.
If we do our best to remain calm and answer questions accurately for our children we might actually impart lessons with each of these questions. They may have to ask the same question a hundred times but if you give them a real answer then they learn and you might not get that battle or even that question as frequently. If you give them, "because I said so," you just teach them not to get caught by you doing whatever it is they were doing.
You set the example for them, show them that you think through your day, that you care enough to think through the answers you give them and that you respect them enough to share with them why you have arrived at a certain decision.
One of my regular battles at home is not giving pop to my 3 year old. Every time we go to a grocery store or out to eat, he wants Sprite. While I am fine with the occasional pop, I prefer him to be in a healthier habit of having water with his meals. It used to be a bit more of a battle than it is now. My kiddo wanted Sprite and would question over and over, cry and even scream. He would say "I want Sprite!" And I would reply with, "Sprite has too much sugar, we are going to have water." If he pressed more I might tell him that it could upset his belly or that it is getting close to nap time and we don't want to have too much sugar before trying to go to sleep. I even have told him that it is not as healthy and we want to be healthy, so we will have water instead. If he got really upset, I would hug him and let him know I could tell he was upset and frustrated but we were still only going to get water. It only took a few times explaining (and calmly not caving in to his tantrum) why we were not going to have Sprite for him to stop being so upset at me telling him that we were not going to have any. Does he still ask for Sprite? Sure. And sometimes I say, "I think it is a special occasion, sure we can have a Sprite." Most of the time, however, I say, "No Sprite today, too much sugar, we will have water instead." Now that is all it takes, no tears, no frustration, no sadness.
So why do kids get all that frustration when we say "No" but don't give them a reason? Children are concrete thinkers and they think in the present tense only. If you say "Yes," one time and "No," the next, all they know is that you are not letting them have something and they don't know why. Now since even until their teens kids think everything is about them, they are prone to faulty logic like "they are just doing that because they hate me." It seems crazy right, but really, remember what being a kid was like, I bet you might have had similar thoughts like all the other kids in the world.
The strongest method to teach is through observation. Take advantage of that! They are watching you more than you know.
In case you are wondering: I have had my child question why he can't do something and because I had to provide him an answer, I realized I was telling him no just because with no good reason. While we were putting up the Christmas tree he wanted to vacuum. I said to wait until I was done. Because he questioned me, I realized that there really was no good reason that he shouldn't be able to vacuum (after all he was doing something helpful and something that would keep him entertained while I put up the tree). I let him know that I thought about it and I think it would be okay for him to vacuum while I put up the tree. He was happy, I was happy and by the time my tree was up, there were no needles left on the ground to have to clean. :)
Holiday time is coming up. Time for family, love, cheer otherwise known as time for stressing out and drinking ourselves to oblivion with spiked egg nog! But how is being stressed new to any mom? We deal with stress all day long, we got this covered.
Holidays aren’t just stressful for us adults, they are stressful for our kids too! Yes it is fun to see cousins their age and play with other kids, but don’t forget, they are bombarded with just as many different personalities as you are in having to deal with extended family visits. They will need just as much love and understanding to adjust to having cousin Bobby pull hair or great cousin Sally punching them when no one is looking. Even if the kids are perfectly behaved ...(C’mon, if you can’t expect your crazy Uncle to behave, how can you expect more from your kids than an adult?) ... they still have the stress of getting along with and learning how to interact with kids they normally aren’t around. Don’t get me wrong: socialization is GREAT for them and I am all for it! They need to learn how to get along with others. What our family does is make sure that we don’t put any extra stress on our kids … and what I am about to say a lot of people don’t like so brace yourself.
I do not make my kids hug or be loving to adult relatives. No they do not have to sit on Auntie’s lap or run give Great Grandma a hug.
Before you judge, think back to when you were a kid ... having these strange people who you rarely see, who are twice your size, reaching in to pinch your cheeks and squeeze you with a hug tighter than your parents give (not to mention when you are a kid, perfume and cologne make adults smell funny so even their very nearness offends your olfactory senses). Did you like it? Did it MAKE YOU LOVE THEM MORE? NO! In fact, it probably made you dread having to see them!
So here it is from an animal trainer standpoint. You want the kids to like and enjoy their family? Let them develop the relationship on their own. Don’t force them to hug or hang out with family who they don’t really know (this includes babies, if they cry when being held, take them away for God’s sake, that is their only way of telling you they are scared). All you will build is resentment, not excitement. If you allow your kids the space to take their time to build a bond, it will be a rewarding bond they appreciate and one where they get excited and enjoy seeing their family. If you make them uncomfortable, they will not want to do it again. That being uncomfortable is turning hainging out with that relative into a punishment, not a reward. It may be difficult to explain to Aunt Myrna who never gets to see the kids that it is better in the long run, but you are the parent, you don’t have to convince them, you make the rules for your kids and whether others agree or not, that is your choice to make. And for those of you who are wondering, yes, even my Dad was not able to hold my oldest kiddo until he was comfortable with it – and those two have developed a wonderfully close relationship.
Now for the little extra lesson that your kids will learn: They have control over their body and are allowed to say NO!
Having to be forced to hug or show affection to people who they don’t want breaks a kiddo’s natural barriers and makes them feel like they can’t say no when they are uncomfortable. As much as I hate to think about these things, not all people are good. Not all teachers, not all coaches, not all family friends … not even all family members are safe, and many times abusers are someone a parent thought they could trust. If my child is uncomfortable, I want them to know that I will support them in standing up for themselves and that they are allowed to say NO!
So next time they don’t want to give scary Uncle Charlie a hug, do you really want to force them and teach them you expect them to have physical contact with adults even though they are uncomfortable? I expect my child to be polite and say, “Hi,” or “Hello,” but if they don’t want to be held or hugged by someone who they are not comfortable with, they don’t have to.
Do you agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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