So You Don’t Like One of Your Children…

Ok, serious topic.  But don’t self-torture yet.

The other day I was in conversation with one of my good friends and she confessed to me that she didn’t really like one of her kids.  She didn’t dislike them, but just couldn’t muster up the same snuggy feelings she had with her other child.  She was heartbroken and crying, and of course felt like a terrible mother.  So what did I do?  Tell her she was a terrible mother?  Of course not– I told her just the opposite.

Now, don’t get me wrong… not liking one of your children is a problem.  It is something you want to fix as quickly as possible.  But usually the moms who recognize the problem and lament over it are the ones who do not have to worry.  The moms who don’t recognize it, think their kid deserves it, or are proud of their aloofness are the ones who need serious help.  If this is you–you actually hate or have thoughts of harming one of your children, please stop reading the post here and call a counselor.  This is still a fixable problem–and not altogether uncommon–but still requires professional help.

For the rest of you who are just upset or guilty for preferring one of your children over another, and don’t know what to do about it, keep reading.

Usually the fact that you can’t muster up the natural love for one of your children (like you can for another) means the mother-child bond is not as strong as it should be.  This can be for several reasons including:

1.  You didn’t want to be pregnant in the first place, which translated into rejecting feelings towards the child from birth (usually subconscious).  Or you had a very difficult first year with lots of conflicting feelings.

2.  You and your child have opposite personalities– i.e. they are melancholy and you are sanguine, or vice-versa.  You push each other’s buttons.

3.  Your child has a particularly strong will in comparison with other children.  They may struggle with common, nonpleasant qualities like bossiness, bitterness, and disciplinary issues.

For these reasons, firstborn children are slightly more likely to be unbonded.  Some other things unique to the firstborn include:

1.  You had/have no idea what you are doing as a parent the first time through each stage, which makes everything difficult and anxiety-producing.  (Subsequent children are often a more peaceful, familiar experience).

2.  The firstborn may be the apple of Daddy’s eye (or the extended family’s), which makes you feel like you need to counterbalance the extra attention, praise, or spoiling given to that child by making up for it with subsequent ones.

There of course a million reasons why you may not get along well with or just be comfortable around your child, but assuming that there is no real anger with that child (i.e. just because they exist!), you probably just need a combination of techniques, healing experiences, and releasing the pressure to fix this problem.

Let’s go in reverse order:

First, let go of the pressure.  This means stop hating yourself for being partial.  People are people–even as mothers, we are flawed, which means we naturally like some people more than others.  We’re not friends with everyone, we like different relatives more than others.  Challenging characteristics are challenging for us, no matter where they crop up.  Children are no different, even though we wish they were.  We wish we could treat all our children EXACTLY the same so that none of them would grow up and say that their mother didn’t like them as much as Sister Sally or Brother John.  Most of us have known someone who grew up with lifelong resentment about this (or did, ourselves), and we shudder at storylines which repeat this theme.

But the fact is that even if we were to treat all our children exactly the same–even if we were to feel exactly the same love for each child–they would still grow up thinking we didn’t!  When was the last time you heard someone with sibling rivalry say, “but I know Mom loved me just as much as Susie…”?  Sibling rivalry simply leads to accusations of injustice.  And children are utilitarians with brief memories–there is no way they will accurately compare your treatment of them with their siblings, from birth, and evaluate them as fair and equal.  Whoever got to use the car first, or went to a more expensive college, or got to skip leftovers because they were allergic to dairy, will always be seen as “loved the most.”  So stop trying so hard!  You can’t prevent this!

Moreover, different children need to be treated differently.  Your child is half of your relationship with them, and you have to adopt different strategies to deal with whatever they present.  You will have different feelings about those strategies.  Sometimes being the “easy” child even has down sides. Easy children need less rebuking, but probably get less attention overall.  Difficult children will need more correction and more attention but may become better thinkers in the end, because of all the trial and error.  This divergence of paths from “difficult” child to “easy” child starts even from the first days of infancy, depending on what the newborn’s unique set of issues are.

Bottom line is, challenging children (even if they are challenging just in your eyes) are going to evoke more animosity from you, and this is liable to cause hostility.  The best parents will eventually figure out how to calm themselves and love the child unconditionally even when provoked.   But this desirable trait is still LEARNED and UNNATURAL.  It doesn’t develop overnight just because you’ve given birth.  So seek it by all means, but don’t condemn yourself.

We all have a lot to learn about being good parents, and for some of us, loving is not the most basic. Desire the unconditional, unnatural love, and by all means deal with your baggage that is making it difficult–but don’t compare yourself to your mother, your best friend, June Cleaver, or the model in whatever psychological book you’re reading.  You may have to start forgiving your child for the offenses they commit daily, even if that sounds silly or unkind.  You don’t have to tell anyone about it–just deal with it in private, if you feel you have been wronged or let down in some way.  Or talk it through with a trusted friend.  Forgiving will foster more mercy.

This brings us to the second strategy: healing experiences.  You probably need to have more positive experiences with the child you don’t naturally prefer, in order to bond deeply with them.  This doesn’t mean you will achieve the same exact bond that you have more easily with another child.  Perfect equality is not the goal.  But to erase any hard feelings between yourself and them, the burden is on you.  You are responsible for taking action since you are stewards of your children and in control of the relationship.  In no way can you wait for your child to become more lovable–that’s backwards.  It starts with you because you’re the adult.

Practically, this might mean to plan a vacation for just you and that child, or to start a weekly or monthly date with them.  If they are at a difficult age, the challenge will be to find something that encourages the least amount of discord–you want to have a positive experience!  So don’t take a noisy baby to Panera or a covetous kindergartner to the mall.  Try to find something that both of you will find pleasing and easy.  And do not fall into the trap of assuming you can repeat a good experience you had with another child, with your difficult one.  Just because Billy enjoyed Little League practices so much with you doesn’t mean Johnny will.  Don’t chat with an argumentative child, play games with a competitive one, or cook with somebody who hates to share.  Don’t take a long trip with one just because you did with another.  Keep the healing experiences appropriate for the age, maturity, and relationship you actually have with your unbonded one.  But plan more in.

Positive touch is also very important. Anytime you can hug your child or touch them affectionately, do it.  You might not realize how little they have been touched in comparison to your other kids, so if you’re not a big hugger, make check-in points three times a day: when they wake up, when they come home from preschool or school, and when they go to bed.  Try allowing them to be around you quietly when you’re reading or something and they can just lean on you.  You’ll be surprised how much this behavior can conjure up the right feelings.

Which brings us to the last strategy of re-bonding, and that is: proactive  techniques.  Try to be practical about why you don’t like or get along with your child.  Are there any things which need working on, that are fixable?  Is the child completely wild and undisiciplined?  If so, the best way to start fixing the relationship is to deal with that.  Always take age into account, but don’t use it as an excuse to ignore the elephant in the room.  Is the child very rude or standoffish?  If so, start with manners and some hang out time.  Maybe the child needs a special nickname, a game they always play with you, their own space/room, or some combination of things you can give.  The goal of parenting, after all, is to keep your child open to your influence, so if there are practical issues which will decrease hostility, address them.  You will be helping them as much as you.

(BTW, as you brainstorm, don’t get into huge arguments with your spouse, who probably doesn’t share your feelings or understand why you have them. Own your relationship with your child and do what you have to do.)

If in the end, you still can’t have grace over your child or you can’t get over your hard feelings, consider going for counseling (with or without your child, depending on the age and maturity).  If you don’t like your child even after they have made efforts to please you, that is a sign that deeper intervention is necessary.

But if, like my friend, you are normal mom just feeling guilty about how easy it is to love one child versus another, or to hold and hug one over the other, then just start at home.  If you don’t naturally praise or move towards one child, especially the difficult child or the  “golden one” whom everyone naturally loves, there are ways to start.  There are likely techniques and experiences, which along with releasing the pressure valve, will go a long way.

I Hope This Isn’t ADD!

If your child has authentically diagnosed ADD or ADHD, please do not read any further! This is only for moms with ADD-wannabes =)

So my second son, at 6yrs old now, has many of the classic symptoms.  He is distracted by everything.  He has sensory issues, so he hears, smells, and feels everything whether it is the heat coming on, a truck backing up on the interstate, or even the smell of the oven.  This doesn’t help.

But even when I get him “focused” and working, he is very distractable.  He’s an artistic type, so he gets derailed into doodling on his workbook pages, or writing little notes to me on them when he comes to a difficult problem.  He can write a whole misspelled paragraph to me about a one-word blank.  He also likes fonts, so he starts decorating his “Ts” and “Fs” with little serifs or italic/bold-faced type.  Then his pencil needs sharpening, so he spends about 10 minutes doing that only to have it snap off when he gets back to his spot.  He starts that process over.  I homeschool him, and he can easily take from 9am to 12noon just doing two or three tasks.

But he’s extremely intelligent.  So I try not to harp.

It’s hard though.  His ADD spills over into other areas too, like getting dressed, tying shoes, brushing teeth.  It is very frustrating.  And yet, I realize it is partly developmental.  As you know, boys are over-diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.  Sometimes husbands and grandfathers hear about it and believe they’ve suffered with it their entire lives.  If it is maladaptive, maybe they do.  But it could just be part of the male brain.  Male brains are like “waffles,” as one celebrated author says, and topics are compartmentalized–in the brain, each subject has its own box separate from the others, and men jump from box to box, subject to subject.  Little boys do this too, which is how they get so far off track.  Things are just INTERESTING to them, so they think about it, cutting off what they were originally doing.  My girl doesn’t seem to have this problem, but I am sure there are many girls who do, especially creative and  free-thinking ones!

There are many blog posts and books on this subject, so I won’t belabor it here.  The real reason I am writing this post is because it dawned on me just today that there is something  redeeming about ADD wannabes.

Other than the gender component, I had thought that perhaps ADD was personality-related in the sense of learning style.  My second son is very analytical–obviously if he’s into fonts!  But something about this hypothesis wasn’t accurate because my first son is also analytical and has no attention problems at all. He has laser-like focus.  Then this morning I was teaching my third son Language Arts (he’s five) and I saw some of the same ADD symptoms beginning to crop up on him as he worked.  “Oh no!!!” I thought to myself.  “I have to stop this from happening so it doesn’t consume him like my second boy!”

Then it hit me.

He THINKS about his work as he does it.  My third son is not analytical at all.  Not even a little–it took him forever to learn his letters because A and B all looked the same to him.  (My other two sons picked them up before they were 2yrs old).  My third guy isn’t picky about anything, is very independent, talks in general statements, and picks up concepts easily.  But as he was working on his vocabulary and spelling, he was actually trying to think about what the words meant.  He wasn’t interested in just reading them (“cast”… “task”… “track”), he was asking me questions about them.  Then as I would explain them, we would get off track as that led to more questions.  Sometimes we got off for 5 minutes talking about something six degrees away from “cast.”  And I’d have to steer us back to the page at hand.

That’s when I realized that my second son does the same thing.  He tries to really understand things on a heart level.  He is very artistic, very scientific, and has a high IQ.  His vocabulary–especially for a young boy–is excellent.  So he ponders his work and goes slowly, thinking about things as he goes through.  This causes the distraction and “six degrees” problem.

My first son, however, who is 8 and has no attention problems, is analytical but doesn’t think AT ALL when he does his work.  He breezes through it as quickly as possible.  We have trained him to try to get the right answers, so he does know how to slow down and rethink a question with prompting.  But I can tell when I talk to him that he doesn’t like to think!  He is a type A personality and does things by the book, as perfectly as he can and gets good grades for it.  But he’s the type of  boy who can read an entire book and know very little of what he read.  Or misread the directions on a page and complete the entire page according to a rule without it dawning on him that his answers don’t make sense.  Or look up a word in the dictionary and read the definition four times and still have no mental picture.  He’s got a great memory and devours books, but has a terrible vocabulary and makes few connections on his own.  (i.e. he’s a history buff but asked me the other day whether July 4 was an American holiday.)  He just has a superficial understanding of most things and doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.  Terrible commentary on how getting straight A’s doesn’t correlate to comprehension!

So maybe this is just the way it works: quick and brief, or slow and comprehensive.  If you have a child with attention problems too, you can be grateful that s/he’s probably a thinker.  They might grow up to be one of those kids who are terrible test takers but, if they took it correctly, would score extra high.  After all, it’s only if you think about what you’re doing, can you can think enough to get distracted!

I’m not trying to make light of attention problems.  I definitely think the kindergarten age is the optimal moment to teach this study skill– if you can teach your child to sit still and focus when they’re five-six, they will have a huge advantage.  But I have more grace on my boys now.   My kindergartner is clearly building his vocabulary and knowledge base, even though it seems like we labor over getting one page completed.  It’s developmental and important not to skip.

The Autistic Child (NOT)

Does this describe your child?

  • 2.5-3.5yrs old
  • probably male, probably firstborn
  • delayed language; doesn’t put words together yet
  • doesn’t use Yes/No correctly– can cry/temper tantrum easily
  • doesn’t call for help
  • doesn’t use Mommy/Daddy/own name well
  • very detail-oriented
  • walks on tiptoes
  • walks in circles, sometimes jabbering to self or no-one
  • spins car wheels, pokes blocks off, or otherwise repetitive play behavior
  • repeats your questions/statements
  • repeats sounds or scripts ad nauseum
  • easily distracted
  • bad eye contact
  • can’t answer comprehension questions
  • no gestures or pointing
  • few independent skills
  • doesn’t understand taking turns or people skills well
  • won’t drink milk, eat fruit, etc.
  • constipated all the time
  • difficult sleeper

Congratulations!  You have a fine, well-adjusted NON-AUTISTIC child!  No, I mean it.  Your child is likely a finicky, driven, bored and distracted little boy.  He doesn’t care about language, isn’t able to pick it up easily, and is therefore a tough cookie who is behind in some areas that he wouldn’t be if he had better language skills.  But for now, you have to suffer in the world of preschool, playgrounds, and other life adventures that really do require more English and social skills than your child has.  And guess what?  This is totally normal!  Stop worrying that he is on THE SPECTRUM because life doesn’t seem to fit his developmental timetable, and just hang in there until he’s 5.  Get a lot of structure and routine that works for you, adopt a rigid discipline ethic if necessary, and have faith that once the language kicks in, he will make up for lost time pretty much right away.  His behavior will also become less erratic.

How about this child?

  • 1-4 yrs old
  • picky eater
  • messy, clumsy, can’t dress self well
  • cries easily
  • strange phobias– water, vacuum, dirt
  • anxious behavior
  • taps or scratches self, has repetitive stimulatory behaviors (i.e. may still suck thumb, fidget with socks, etc)
  • seems lost in a group, or plays alone
  • deep, focused play skills; strange attention at times
  • doesn’t like to engage others
  • avoids conflict, checks out
  • can talk but doesn’t initiate or sustain conversation; people might not even know how well they speak
  • may speak to privileged individuals, in-depth about their favorite subject/question
  • unusual talents, or way ahead in an adult area
  • retreats to specific activities; self-soothing repetitive play
  • takes things apart to study
  • handles toys or household objects in peculiar (non-functional) ways
  • sensitive to smells, sounds, touch
  • “freak out” or “shut down” behavior
  • low muscle tone
  • allergies or inadequate nutrition

Congratulations!  You too have a sensitive, fearful, NON-AUTISTIC child!   Most people would like to diagnose your little guy with Asberger’s or Autism Spectrum, but more likely you have a misunderstood, sensory-sensitive little person.  This profile is less commonly complained about than the very first profile I outlined, but it definitely represents a portion of toddlers who are very quickly seen as at-risk for autism and usually packed right off to a specialist for a neuropsychological exam.  Whereas the first  profile I listed above is likely to see the child put in special preschool, perhaps with an ADD-type medication, this second profile is more likely to be medicated for childhood depression, anxiety, OCD, or reactive detachment disorder.  But kids come in all colors!  There is no need to panic because your little person isn’t the extraverted, sensible preschooler.  He/She may be an “old soul” or grumpy type who doesn’t fit in with the flashy world around them.  He/She probably needs a little extra nurture and coddling, as well as some occupational therapy or one-on-one play/floortime with a loved one.  Resist THE SPECTRUM curse!

** Note: Of course I am not against true autism diagnosis.  And I am not against checking out whatever symptoms worry you about your child.  I am just making light of the fact that “normal” is a wide range, and MUCH wider than we are told it is.  Usually we are told to worry, from experts, parents, or friends, because of the developmental scare climate out there.  Yet there is no reason to push the Panic Button just because your toddler or preschooler has some delayed or anti-social behavior.  Attention and special education might be necessary…as it always has been, in the case of small children who have individual tendencies and weaknesses.  But usually these are things you can do on your own or with limited intervention.  There is no need to put small children under a microscope and ship them off for multiple diagnoses so they can receive services from the state until they’re 21 because we’re afraid they’re all high-functioning autistic.**

How about this?

Does Your Boy Develop Unevenly?

After hundreds of comments from moms dealing with their speech-delayed boys who walk on tiptoes or have other such idiosyncrasies, it occurred to me to write another post on the boy/autism thing.  This time, with a focus on the developmental timetable.

I have another post on how boys develop differently than girls, but to recap an important point: boys often do not follow the timetables.  In fact, they are spotty.  They grow unevenly.  At times, they will hit the developmental mark right on the money.  Other times, they will be way off.  And often, they will have some abilities way ahead for their age—while at the same time, they will have glaring weaknesses way behind for their age.

For example, when my firstborn son was 2 going on 3, he could do 100 piece puzzles from memory.  No box, no pausing.  Just snap, snap, piece after piece together.  Like a robot actually.  He even found out, by doing the puzzles on top of each other, that some of them used the same template!  For a toddler who didn’t talk yet or even say “Mommy” or “Daddy,” this was strange to us. Then when combined with some of his habits like walking on tiptoe, spinning and crashing cars (but not really playing with them), memorizing long scripts from video, repeating himself, and not pointing or gesturing, we started realizing he had some of the autism signs.

In fact, when we read down the lists of symptoms, he had lots of them.  He had language delays, some social and emotional issues, and some of the sensory signs.  He seemed to have no imagination or interest in crayons or action figures.  But he seemed way ahead in spatial skills, knew all his letters and numbers etc., had great focus, loved to be cuddled, and generally seemed bright and charming.  His motor skills were great, and any non-verbal tests he got, he passed with flying colors.  Or things that needed one-word answers he could do.  He was way ahead in some cognitive areas and way behind in others.

Then my second son came along and was the mirror image of my firstborn.  Extremely verbal, very early, artistic and creative, but way behind in motor skills.  Emotionally unstable and very anxious, he had almost all the sensory problems common to autistic children, including choking issues, hatred of socks and tags, inability to cross the midline, and freaking out sometimes.  He didn’t bond well to others (except Mom) and couldn’t do puzzles or visual tracking activities.  So even though he was talking, imaginative, and sociable enough in his own way, HE was all over the charts.  And thus possibly autistic.

Then my third boy came along.  You know the story by now.  He hit some milestones right on time (i.e. walking), hit some way early (i.e. sentences by 19months old), and some way behind (i.e. toileting issues until his fourth birthday).  And he had some strange issues (i.e. severe fear of water).  By this time, however, we had trashed the charts.  We figured he was fine!  He didn’t have to love everything 3 year olds loved, he didn’t have to talk like 3 year olds talked, and he didn’t have to fit in some “autistic Spectrum” bucket because he had some emotional immaturity. And now that he’s nearly five, we’re SURE he’s not autistic!  (or any of our other boys either).

So this is my encouragement to you if your boys are geniuses at some things but embarrassingly behind at other things.  Do you know that book, “Men are Like Waffles and Women are Like Spaghetti”?    That book effectively describes how my little boys think.  Their brains are like waffles, with separate compartments for each kind of skill or knowledge.  They can dive in real deep within any one box, but the knowledge doesn’t seem to transfer over into other boxes or compartments.  The connections aren’t there, and there isn’t much infrastructure to help them build up their weaknesses. So they grow very unevenly.  It can be worrisome for a time because their strengths get stronger but their weaknesses seem to get weaker, especially when you start comparing them to other kids.  3 year olds tend to be the most diverse.  Sometimes therapy doesn’t even seem to make a difference, at least not right away.  Little boys just plunge ahead with their strengths (what they naturally get) and prefer to stay there, enjoying it and totally oblivious to your concerns that they aren’t “normal” all around.

Consequently it is now no longer surprising to me that my six year old son currently can take apart radios and electric circuits, but doesn’t understand that if he stands close to the stairs, he might fall down them.  My almost 5 year old son can talk to me about heaven and dying, and what he wants to be when he grows up, but still hates even the tiniest drop of water on him or will change his underwear or socks if they get a speck of dirt on them.  My seven year old son currently can pass second and third grade English and Math tests, on paper, but has a five year old’s vocabulary, says “What?” a lot, and uses awkward phrases all the time.  They are just not even developers.  Some things way ahead and some things behind.  Some normal habits and some strange idiosyncrasies.

In comparison to my girl, who is precocious socially and emotionally, and has met every deadline on time, there is just no similarity.  My conclusion: It’s ok for boys to be uneven and worrisome.  That’s just often how it goes.

The Shy Child

I am entitling this the “shy” child, although one of my sons who prompted me to write this is perhaps not the typical “shy” child as much as the cautious or worried one.  I have been studying this behavior a lot recently and, now that he is turning six, looking for appropriate ways to help him conquer fear and anxiety, especially socially.  He has basically had this problem since he was little.

Looking back, I can see that he was even a “shy” baby.  He was small and weak, clingy but happy.  He was easy—didn’t cry a lot, napped all the time, yet sometimes wouldn’t hang onto a feeding enough to get the full amount.  He gave up easily, grew up behind his physical milestones, fearful of trying to walk, and screaming his head off when I walked away from him, starting at about 8months old and ending I’m not sure when.  Probably at 16 months when he finally tried walking, and found out he could do it perfectly by then.  Toilet training was a nightmare, separation anxiety was terrible, and he sucked his thumb for a long time.  (He still does, only at night though).  We found out he had a barrage of sensory and motor issues, got him occupational therapy for that, and would stutter when he didn’t get enough sensory input that day.  He generally liked people though, he was exceptionally bright and talkative at an early age, and taught himself to read.  I never had any real concerns.

This may or may not describe your child, but the point is that the shyness and fearfulness began at an early age and it has been tricky to help him grow out of it.  We have only just gotten to the place where he was ok enough to do kiddie gymnastics at the YMCA.  He breaks down and cries so easily that most classes are a nightmare.  And most teachers don’t have enough patience!  Let’s face it… I don’t always.  I have a unique empathy for what he’s going through, as his mother, but sometimes I can’t handle an avid crier.  I  just can’t understand why games are not fun, competitions are so threatening, and most stuff he won’t even try.  And I don’t mean like trying out for the soccer team.  I mean, like he won’t try to throw a nerf ball through the Little Steps basketball hoop.  Or use a friend’s kiddie tramp in the yard.  Little things, you know?

Well, now that he’s older (6yrs) and so precocious, I have been able to have some good conversations about it with him.  And I’ve been reading up on the subject.  And here are some things I have learned, which might help you deal with your clingy and fearful one.  (I can tell this is going to be a long post, sorry!)

1.  Shyness is not a crisis. Don’t panic!  (Maybe I should have said, “shyness isn’t autism” =)  Even though it seems that everything for little kids in America is geared towards sanguine, extroverted children, eventually the more reserved ones will fit in.  For kids who are wary of excitement, the world can be a tough place.  As parents who want to see our kids happy so much, we just have to accept this.  There are melancholy types, and we may have one.  My second son is a stereotypical Eeyore, Gloomy Gus, or whatever and it has been a little difficult for me to accept this.  Yet I see the wonderful things God has placed within him which are going to make him successful when he’s older.  I see his empathy, thoughtfulness, gentleness, carefulness, and discernment.  He is analytical, scientific, extremely emotionally aware, and will probably end up in a counselor, teacher, therapist, doctor, or otherwise helpful role when he’s an adult.  I don’t want to squelch this even though I get frustrated that he won’t join in the Uno game or kiddie pool =)

2.  Share the positive things with the child. Whereas my other three kids are blissfully unaware of their strengths and weaknesses, and charmingly prideful about everything, my shy child is painfully self-conscious.  This makes it all the more important to start teaching shy children about themselves.  They are ready to hear it, actually, since they are already thinking about it.  And if I don’t interrupt the “bad tape” that my son is playing inside his own head (“I can’t do this.  I’m too short.  I’m not good enough…”) then it will take over.  I have to replace that bad tape with a “good tape.”  So I do this by sharing those good things I see… how neat it will be to see what he’s going to do when he grows up.  Even at 5yrs old, he was thinking about it and whether we have an accurate vision is not the point as much as it is that there is a purpose for his personality.  (Always approve of any idea they have, about what they want to be when they grow up, even if it is ridiculous or a bad fit.)  Subconsciously, I want to shift my child’s perception of himself from “my problems are my identity” to “I’m destined for great things, so I can overcome the challenges.”  Sort of like talking to the average 13 yr old who feels inadequate!

One way to help a little child who’s insecure is to draw a picture of a big bucket and put their name on it.  Then talk about what good things go in that bucket, like “kind” or “thinker” etc.  You can list these things and draw arrows into the bucket, and then put the picture somewhere they will see it a lot, like on the frig, or over a desk.  For non-readers, draw a small picture next to each word, like a heart next to “kind” or a thinking face next to “thinker.”  They will soon come to know these words as they see it daily, and you can bring it out when you have your talks.

3.  Teach positive thinking. This is kind of the same as #2 except more practical.  I actually teach my son to narrate what he’s doing, sometimes, instead of playing his “bad tape.”  The ol’ standby of “I think I can, I think I can” is ok, but my son is such a realist that “I’m putting this lace around this one, and then I’m pulling through” is better for him.  It replaces “I can’t do this, It’s too hard” while he’s practicing tying his shoes.

Also related to this is watching your language.  Shy is not a bad word, nor is sensitive, and the reserved child needs a vocabulary to talk about the issue as they grow.  Yet the shy child already feels like everything they do is under a microscope.  They feel that the problems they have are huge, but their strengths are insignificant.  If you’re careful how you speak, it can reverse this kind of thinking.  Obviously try not to scold or criticize, but more practically, try to give instruction instead of correction whenever possible.  And when appropriate, sandwich the instruction within two loving statements like, “I know you’re trying really hard to do that right, which is great.  I think you have to hold the bow in one hand while you loop with the other.  Then it will be easier.”  Pretending like everything is NO BIG DEAL is key.

4.  One-on-One time is huge. The shy child tends to appreciate the one-on-one time the most.  All kids need it, but the more tender or reserved child often doesn’t get it because they aren’t around as much, or are gentler, or whatever.  So make time and go get them if they won’t acknowledge the need to come to you.  And beware of leaving the child who plays alone in the corner, alone.  They probably don’t want to bother people, or have conflict, but direct eye contact and engagement goes a long way in warding off problems.  In particular, it keeps them from developing passive aggressive behavior later on, when they realize they need things but don’t know how to communicate or get what they need the right way.  Connect, connect.

One of the best ways to do this is create a personal ritual.  It can become very valuable to them, even if it’s just a bedtime story, or a weekly Saturday breakfast out, or whatever.  Even a non-demanding two year old is able to pick up on a ritual like this, and enjoy munching a bagel with you at Panera.  It tells them “I love you, and I like being with you.”  This will counter that negative tape they play and make them happier inside.

5.  Reward and Celebrate courage. The shy child is reluctant to engage social activities often because they have performance anxiety.  They may not know what to say, or to do, and so they are afraid of getting in the game.  And they may feel pressure to get things right the first time, do a good job, etc.  Knowing what “should” happen or what going to kindergarten “should” feel like causes them great cognitive dissonance as things “actually” happen or they experience what they “actually” feel.  Then they feel guilty or ashamed.  It is a very adult-like trap, really.  It takes some undoing.

Part of the undoing is to obviously teach as many skills as possible.  Shy children in particular need to learn eye contact, hand shaking, phone skills, manners, and what to say when they don’t understand or don’t know.   Many cannot turn off the fear or waterworks once they start, and they shouldn’t feel ashamed for it or convinced out of it until they’re ready.  Time-outs are often helpful.  They also need to practice with non-threatening people or contexts (even stuffed animals!) if actual performance is involved.  But once teaching and practice are done, then the key to reward and celebrate when they step out.  For another child, starting a conversation is not worthy of praise, but for the shy child, it is.  Speaking up, telling someone what they need, asking for help, trying something new, going to a party, singing in circle time at nursery school, offering help, etc…. all these things should be taught and then heavily rewarded no matter what the results are.  I’m not against giving shy kids candy for rewards.  It is a very tangible and non-consuming way to tell a 4yr old, “Great job.  I’m happy with your effort.”  Now with my shy child, giving him the incentive of an M&M to do something is different… it doesn’t work because then he feels all this pressure to perform to get that M&M.  This actually shuts him down and makes him cry.  So do negative consequences being threatened, obviously.  But an incentive is different from a reward.  His face does light up when I catch something good and reward him for it, probably because there was no pressure or expectation involved.  Find a balance, but reward based on the effort not the outcome.

6.  Get sensory and motor issues checked out. For my son, some occupational therapy (and now kiddie gym) has gone a long way in helping him deal with his anxiety.  Not every shy child has sensory issues, but probably more do than we know.  When a child actually feels everything too loud, too fast, too bright, etc., the world is an overstimulating and scary place.  Getting some occupational or physical therapy can raise their tolerance levels, as well as give them non-threatening one on one attention in the areas they need strength.  When I first sought testing for my son (then just 3yrs), everyone was so worried because of his fears and crying during the exams.  They thought he was depressed, had generalized anxiety disorder, and needed a neuropsychological exam.  I feared that only medication was down that path, so I persisted in my quest to take the more physical route.  I truly believed strength and self-confidence was at the root of the anxiety, so I insisted we try that first.  What do you know, it worked!  So if your child is afraid of parties, gyms, playgrounds, malls, etc, it is definitely worth checking this out.  My son not only hears the lowest sounds on the hearing machine, and sense all touches and smells more than anyone else, but he has bad visual discrimination skills so he can’t spot things well.  He can’t see me in a crowd, see Daddy coming back to the car, sense where he is when he turns a corner in the library, or get to the trash can and back in a restaurant without getting confused.  This of course contributes to startling and anxiety but is, thankfully, one of the easiest things to work on at home through worksheets, I Spy/Where’s Waldo, puzzles, and other visual tracking activities (try “Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready” by J. Oberlander for preschooler ideas.)   In my opinion, if there are sensory/motor issues behind social anxiety, you’ll never get the shyness to abate just by tackling them psychologically.  They need skills and desensitization too.

Salsa!! (Pico de Gallo)

Now I know salsa is not on the most practical end of little-kid foods.  It is spicy, there are specks, etc.  But for whatever reason, all four of my picky eaters (ages baby to 4 yrs) would all snarf the pico de gallo whenever we went to Baja Fresh, Chipotle, or Qdoba.  So since my husband and I LOOOOVE mexican food, I started trying to make my own pico at home.  After two futile years, and many seemingly similar recipes, I finally got something we all like.  It’s totally adjustable too, so flex it as you like.

Pico de Gallo

3 medium or 2 large tomatoes, hydroponic DOES make a difference! (sorry, regular people)

1 jalapeno pepper

1 med-small red onion

2tsp to 2  Tbsp. minced garlic

1/2 c. cilantro

2 or 3 limes

salt, garlic powder, cumin to taste

I’m not sure directions are really necessary, but here goes =)

1.  Dice up your tomatoes into small cubes.  There are some great youtube clips on how to dice properly.

2.  Chop up your jalapeno finely.  For non-spice, remove the pith and seeds.  For spice, mash up the pith and seeds, and add.  Beware!!  This can make it incredibly hot!  My husband and I like medium, so I only “kind of” mash up half the seeds by jabbing them with my knife handle a bit.  The pepper itself is not hot, though, so you don’t have to take it out for kids.  Keep it in!  It has amazing amounts of vitamin C, more than oranges.

3.  Chop up your red onion.  Again, consult youtube.  They show you how to slice your onion from bulb to tip first, which makes the difference in getting a good fine chop.  (You could use a white onion for more bland eaters).

4.  I have that garlic minced in a jar thing, so I kind of throw in 2 heaping tsp of it, but this is all relative.  Fresh would obviously be better but I hate having garlic bulbs around the pantry and not being sure how old they are or how long they will stay there =)

5.  Take 2-3 limes and squeeze all the juice in there.  Do not omit the LIMES. Repeat: Do not omit the LIMES.

6.  Mix it all up and season until you like it.  I tend to sprinkle the spices in a little at a time, continuing to taste.  But realize that the most important part of salsa is letting it sit for awhile.  You won’t know how it is really going to taste until 4-24 hrs later.  So don’t season for today’s immediate impact.  I think I sprinkle in a small palmful of kosher salt.  A small layer of sprinkled garlic powder and an even slightly smaller layer of cumin, just over the whole top.  Then mix in.  The salt should bring out the taste of the tomatoes, but if you can taste the salt itself, you put in too much.  Better luck next time, or cut some more tomatoes and onions.

7.  The last step: Cilantro!  So many people hate this herb, but I suppose not too many mexican lovers do, since it is in everything.  Get a fresh bunch and, after washing and patting dry, chop it up!  I guess I use anywhere from 1/2 to a whole cup, depending on how big my batch of tomatoes were.  Just take a nice handful and throw it in there.  My pieces are always too big, but smaller is ideal.  I stink at cutting up herbs… more youtube for me I guess.

8.  You’ll of course be snacking on it immediately, but it will be at its peak 12-24 hrs later.

*NOTE.  So much of salsa is proportions, which change from person to person.  You have to find a balance you like and eyeball it.  For this recipe, it makes about one medium tupperware amount of salsa (up to the brim), and the proportions of tomatoes to “everything else” is about half and half.  Usually a restaurant pico is closer to 3/4 tomatoes and 1/4 “everything else.”  And they almost always take out the tomato goop/seeds, using just the fleshy parts.  I didn’t do this unless the goop fell out intentionally.  Adjust as you like.

Chores/Milestones Your Kids Can Actually Do

So the other night I was skimming through a very popular mothering book from the 70s, and I came across the chore section where—i am NOT kidding—“holding the wood” while Mom saws it was an example chore for a TWO year old.

Ok, so I am not sure WHOSE two year olds are ready for holding wood or helping saw, but it definitely isn’t mine.  And I am pretty sure the book wouldn’t have been published today with the AAP and that kind of suggestion!  Fearful as we all are ;-)

Now I am like many other moms who think the Culture of Fear has gotten out of hand (we have to say NUTS are included in Almond Joy bars, and all playground equipment is plastic and spongy now).  But I still don’t stoop to quite the amount of security that these co-authors had.  And yet, I wonder why our kids today are so dependent on us, as compared to the earlier days.  There must be a connection.  I always get a great laugh when I watch “The Patriot” and one of the stony-eyed militia men tells his curly red-headed five year old, “Look after your mother!”  That’s a sweet joke of course, but there WAS a day when twelve and thirteen year old boys actually were supposed to look after their mothers and work the farm when Dad was away at war.  Do you know any 12 or 13 year olds who could do that today?  Not many.

So while I am pondering this loss of maturity, I realize I’m not doing that much better in my own home.  When it comes to jobs, I have a tendency to do them myself because my kids seem so… so… dumb.  Sorry.  But they are!  They ask ridiculous questions, can’t see the obvious, and have less coordination than their PE teachers are aware of.  My own fault, no blame here.  Also two of them can’t read and two of them are very short for their age.  But I am looking to transfer ownership and responsibility to my young brood—to challenge them to pitch in and take care of their stuff—without assigning them jobs which involve saws or fire.

But what is age-appropriate these days?  What is expected?  (I should get some info from a person with a farm.)  But here is a list of chores/jobs that I have so far found to be age appropriate.  Each age differs SO much.  And gender and birth order makes a difference (My oldest are three boys).  And personality.  But here’s where we have so far been successful.  (I will add more jobs in later as I think of them).

3-4 year olds

  • pick up own toys, including outside and bathtub
  • clean up own crayons, play doh, puzzles, school materials
  • put own dishes in dishwasher
  • help water plants
  • put laundry into piles (by color, category, or owner)
  • choose own clothes, get dressed mostly by themselves
  • gives everyone a placemat, napkin, spoon, etc
  • helps put reachable groceries away
  • puts stuffed animals, pillows back on own bed
  • can “help” wipe, clean a mirror, use a dustpan, etc.
  • runs things to the trash
  • lays out food on plates, with prompting
  • stacks things (cups, tupperware, etc)
  • hangs own things on the frig
  • turns TV on and off correctly, or other easy buttons

4-5 year olds

  • organize their own backpack, bookshelf, closet
  • puts things in the right folders, stickers in the right spots
  • change a CD/DVD correctly (with training)
  • work the basic remote buttons (with training)
  • run things up and downstairs, to the right places
  • put their own laundry away correctly
  • dusts
  • sets/clears table with help
  • helps bring in light groceries
  • can use automatic water/ice dispenser correctly (with training)
  • helps plant flowers, garden
  • helps clean out car
  • holds a flashlight for you
  • can plug and unplug more reliably

5-6 year olds

  • wipe kitchen table off, use sponge without too much water or mess
  • wipes most spills up ok
  • sweep crumbs with a dustpan (well)
  • brush own teeth (correctly, without supervision)
  • buttons own shirts, snaps
  • can help with laundry, using a stool
  • puts mail in and retrieves mail, remembers flag (not on a crazy busy street)
  • can put most groceries away, including the refrig/freezer correctly
  • toilets without help anymore (except occasional emergencies)
  • can change own clothing (dirty, wet, hot/cold) without prompt
  • makes own bed
  • straightens own blankets, folds blankets/towels
  • can bring you over a hammer, screwdriver, etc. reliably
  • helps a younger child with clothes or shoes
  • can help a younger child at nighttime with an easy problem
  • learns to put on own seatbelt
  • can do a “loop” around our neighborhood sidewalk, on a scooter independently (not a busy street)

6-8 year olds

  • comb own hair (correctly, without supervision)
  • learns to tie shoes, harder clothes independently (i.e. belts, zippers)
  • take ownership of dishes/dishwasher, plan ahead to run or not run
  • folds laundry correctly, pairs and rolls socks, puts things on hangers
  • sets own watch/clocks/timers
  • can do assignments independently, coming back when it’s over or there’s a problem
  • makes lists
  • can change/replace soap, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. with a little prompting
  • can (finally) assist in some minor home renovating projects =)
  • can take own bath with slight, occasional oversight
  • wipes a mirror, counter, or toilet correctly
  • use a dustbuster, or canister vac with some help
  • uses toaster and microwave correctly, with some supervision
  • can ride a bike independently on our street
  • can open and shut most car doors without incident