Stuffed Animals Are People Too

At age 10, my youngest is coming closer to the end of his stuffed animal days. But you wouldn’t know it looking at his bed:

Each one of those guys has a name and a history, each has a unique voice – some of them have French accents! (Because, of course, they come from France or French-speaking Canada. Why else?)

Over the years they have helped my son through lots of tough situations, everything from being left out of big-boy activities to those times when no human is available to play. It’s funny to walk into the boy’s room and see a board game set up – like Risk – and three or four stuffed animals each in control of their own part of the board, each taking turns.

Right around the time that Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014, just after the Sochi Olympics, he my son happened to watch Red Dawn, the movie about the USSR invading the US. We do talk current events in our home, as well as history, but I think because we had just been so invested in the Olympics, this movie resonated a little bit more strongly with him than it might have otherwise. Still, we didn’t realize the true impact until late that night, when he asked if I would come and “speak to the animals – they are scared that Putin is going to invade the US.”

When I went to speak to them, I found them all set up in a circle up in my boy’s bed; they had been having a conversation among themselves about “their” concern that Putin was going to invade the US. I told them that Putin was not going to invade the US, answered “their” questions, and just tried to be a good listener, all the while knowing that it was really my son’s fears and questions that were coming through via the stuffed animals.

I’ve come to think of the stuffed animals like puppets, each making up a part of my son’s world and through which he can express fears and show empathy. Since he was small, this child has had an incredible ability to see events from another’s point of view, to see how someone else might feel differently than he does in a given situation. This is a rare quality, and definitely one to be supported – his sense of caring pervades all his friendships, and kids are really drawn to that. I believe it’s the stuffed animals that have helped give him this perspective.

As he grows out of them, and moves on to the things that tweens and teens do and love, I know he’ll take that empathy with him. Continue reading “Stuffed Animals Are People Too”

007: When Siblings Attack: Stopping the Rivalry

Can you think back on your own childhood and come up with some crazy sibling-fight stories? I’ve heard some doozies, people being hung out windows or tied to trees by their siblings, the time a brother put green dye in a sister’s hair – so the sister retaliated by pouring glitter into the brother’s bed! Today, we talk about the ups and downs of brothers and sisters, both in our families growing up and in our homes as parents.

Siblings can hurt each other in lots of big and small ways; sometimes it feels like there’s no good intervention. Today, I share about a book that I first read while pregnant with my second: Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. This book is the second of The Fabulous Five, five books which will transform your relationship with your children, so get reading them ASAP (here’s the blog post detailing the Fab Five)! It made the list because, quite simply, if you have more than one child – or if you grew up in a family where you had at least one sibling – you will finally understand how to help when siblings fight.

  • Listen for how to:
    • make peace with childhood hurts of our own, in order to be better at handling sibling rivalry with our kids
    • be fair without being equal
    • handle when an older child says “can we give the baby back?”

Your one take away from today: it is possible to alleviate sibling rivalry! You don’t have to live with fighting, jealousy, the mean tricks that siblings play on each other… Siblings Without Rivalry will help you fix it.

Books That Will Change Your Parenting: Meet The Fabulous Five!

“If there were one way to do this, there would be one New Baby Owner’s Manual.” – A labor and delivery nurse, to my husband, just after our first child was born

Whenever I find myself in a new situation, or up against a new challenge, pretty much the first thing I do is run and find a book to help. Over the years, I’ve gotten really good at discerning which books will help and which won’t. Also, around when the children were born, I gave myself permission to start a book – and not finish it. Or, to scan quickly to see if it will work for me, or even to pick the chapter that sounds most interesting from the table of contents and go right to that chapter.

Between working toward my degree in human development, my graduate degree in early childhood education, and questing as a mom for that perfect Owner’s Manual, I have read a lot of books. The books I want to introduce you to today have been the most influential books in my parenting life; they’re funny, they’re thought-provoking, they’re anxiety-reducing, and if you want to have a better relationship with your kids you need to read them:

How Lincoln Learned To Read by Daniel Wolff – we all know about the achievements of great historical figures such as Ben Franklin, JFK, Elvis Presley. The genius of this book is that we get to find out how they got to be the adults they became, how they learned what they needed to know. I still look into this book when I have a big decision to make about Max or Jay’s education. Click here to listen to my podcast interview with author Daniel Wolff; we discuss the book and how our society is shaping kids “for a future that no longer exists.” Plus Daniel gives the best piece of parenting advice I’ve ever heard.

Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish – this renowned book has helped millions of parents figure out how to stop sibling rivalry. Often the solutions given seem counterintuitive, but they are explained – both in print and in comics – so that you feel like a parenting ninja even just a chapter or two in. If you would like children who feel like they are on the same team, if you want a family life that includes laughter, friendship and love, you need this book.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein – when her young daughter considers every moment wasted that is not spent dressing as a Disney Princess or playing with pink toys, the author decides to look into gender identity in young children, and how marketers take advantage of it. The result is a hilarious and truly frightening tale which includes a run-in with a Bratz doll in an airport, and a discussion of how Miley Cyrus’s journey from innocent cutie to brash slut is impacting your daughter’s growth and development. Even if you have no girls, you have to read this book.

Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy – how young is too young for a kid to have some independence? The author makes a really persuasive case for letting even quite young children do things that frighten us, like letting them use the stove or bike to the park on their own. With chapter names such as “Know When to Worry – Play Dates and Axe Murderers: How to Tell the Difference” and “Ignore the Blamers – They Don’t Know Your Kid Like You Do” this book will have you feeling better about all the great things in store for your children. I talk about how this book helped me relax when Max and Jay were young in episode 005 of We Turned Out Okay; Lenore Skenazy saved my life with this book.

You Just Don’t Understand! by Deborah Tannen – the author’s background in linguistics and communication, combined with a warm and supremely readable writing style, make this a must-read book for anyone who communicates with anyone. Reading it will give you insight into more than just parenting, but all our relationships, and may very well start you off on a Deborah Tannen book binge… You’re Wearing That?!? will probably come in really handy when your kids are teens.

I’ve been trying to decide if I should recommend that you read The Fabulous Five in any particular order, and have come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t. We are all at different points in our parenting, with different worries and different needs. The Fab Five are each quite practical, but about different things, so I think what you should do is read the one that grabs you right now first – and then come back to the others. I love my hard copies and return to them again and again, but if you would rather listen to them in audio format, or try-before-you-buy by getting them from the library, go for it!

The time you invest in reading these books will come back to you a hundredfold, in improved relationships with your kids and in your enjoyment of them, and of your life.

006: How Do We Learn What We Need To Know?

Today’s guest Daniel Wolff has, among many other things, produced a documentary about Hurricane Katrina, been nominated for a Grammy in 2003, and written 10 books on all different subjects including the one that we spend most of our time discussing today, How Lincoln Learned To Read. Written in 2009, this book is a go-to for me whenever I need to make big decisions about about the boys’ upbringing; because Mr. Wolff tells the stories of the childhoods of many prominent Americans throughout history, I learn something different from each one. Plus, a great read that’s fun, interesting, historical – and makes me feel a little smarter each time I pull it off the shelf.

During today’s’s show, listen for:

  • the importance of fun in education; all these years later, we may think of Ben Franklin as old and stodgy, but almost right from the moment he could read, Franklin was quite the mischief maker
  • how author and scientist Rachel Carson’s girlhood, during which she stayed home often from school to play and walk in the woods, helped her grow up into the advocate for national environmental change she became
  • a great piece of parenting advice – my guest shares that decisions became much easier for him when he to “think like a grandparent”

Key Links:

Daniel Wolff’s author page at Four Way Books; here is his new book, The Names of Birds

How Lincoln Learned To Read, a great read that has helped me be a better parent

Amazing poet-four-children-of-all-ages Shel Silverstein

If you take just one thing away from today’s show, I hope it is this: we parents must play a crucial role in helping our children understand about fighting hard for what they want to become; there will always be someone around to knock an idea down, or discourage our kids… for them to truly succeed in life, we must be their true support.

How and Why Standardized Tests Hurt Our Children

Sometimes, the howling frustration that we feel can only be expressed in comedy. I don’t know if you ever watch John Oliver, but he seems to be a person who feels very similar frustrations to mine, and rather than curl up in the fetal position with his thumb in his mouth (as I sometimes am super attempted to do), John Oliver makes great points with great comedy.

This 18–ish minute clip is a classic example. There are so many things that drive me bananas about standardized tests, like:

  • how many of them children take by the time they graduate high school
  • how preparing for them makes it so that kids don’t have much time for anything else in school
  • how they can make or break the rest of a kid’s life depending on what kind of test-takers kids are – what happens if you’re smart, but not a good test-taker?
  • increasingly, well-educated adults attempt to pass these tests, and cannot
  • sometimes the questions make no sense to anyone, but yet they’re included and have an impact on the rest of a kid’s life
  • test-takers and administrators must sign a contract saying they will not speak about any of the questions or answers, no matter how absurd they are…

John Oliver addresses all these wrongs, and so many more. Best of all, I don’t end up wanting to hit the liquor cabinet by the end. Instead, I want to share and be a part of the conversation about how to fix this huge mess. Standardized tests, while perhaps conceived to help Leave No Child Behind, have gotten us stuck in a huge quagmire. It is up to us – regular people, parents, grown-ups – to pull our children out.

005: Four Risks To Our Kids’ Well-Being That We Take Far Too Often

Sometimes as parents, we think we are limiting the risks to our kids by taking an action – or backing away from an action – when instead, their well-being and happiness would be better insured by doing something completely different. In this episode, I highlight four common things parents do (I know this, because I did them too!) where it would be better to go in the exact opposite direction.

Listen for:

  • the dangers of sticking close by your child’s side at all times; when we do this, we take away his or her chance to develop independence, creativity, and problem-solving capabilities
  • the risks of using antibacterial soap; this one keeps me up at night, and it’s pretty clear that it also keeps scientists and other super-smart people up at night too
  • how we fail our children when we don’t question a teacher or other authority figure who insists that our child has ADHD or ADD; while there is some risk that our son or daughter may have these or other learning disabilities, I share that during my years of teaching young children – and earning my Masters in Early Childhood Education – these diagnoses are given out far more often than they should be; increasingly, kids are put in an environment that is far too restrictive… In short, it is my opinion that schools, and not children, are often the problem when it comes to kids’ misbehavior
  • the importance of comics – yes, cartoons, graphic novels – in a kid’s journey towards becoming a reader; when adults ban comics, or even disrespect them, we run the risk of limiting our kids’ ability to thrive as readers

Whether you agree or disagree, I encourage you to really give some thought to the above Four Risks. Reasonable and intelligent adults can disagree, but the biggest risk of all that we can take is not giving consideration to any big issue that affects our children while they’re young, because the effects of our choices compound when they are grown up.

004: Bonus Episode – My Mother, My Hero

Picture - My Mom, my brother Rob, and me
My Mom, my brother Rob, and me – I’m the one in the middle with the sweet she-mullet.

Imagine parenting before the era of Google and social media, before there was 24/7 support – or at least entertainment in the form of middle-of-the-night lurking. Books are great, but difficult to hold while comforting a colicky baby at 3 AM. Now, imagine leaving your beloved home city of Montréal, Canada and relocating to a quiet suburb with nothing but houses in every direction. During the day, your husband takes the family car into work, so now you have a three-year-old and a three-month-old, no wheels, and a super expensive long-distance phone bill. A totally different world, right? My mother, Diane Lock, found herself in that situation (I was the three-year-old :-), jumped in with both feet – and thrived.

From that shaky start, my Mom went on not only to raise, along with my Dad, three children who turned out pretty well, in my completely unbiased opinion. She also has written books, started and run a catering service, and sung a solo for Pope John Paul II (we don’t talk about this at all in this episode, but it is still pretty cool.)

Listen for:

  • The Stuffed Zucchini Theory of Parenting – how to recognize it, and how to alleviate it
  • An unconventional book-writing method
  • Successful parenting amid pretty major culture shock

This bonus episode is my chance to speak with a truly remarkable woman, my Mom. If you take just one thing away in listening today, let it be this: when our children are small, it is easy to forget that we are so much more than the arms that comfort them and clean up after them, the legs that walk them around in an endless, bouncing dance when they cry. In those times, let my mother be an example to you of how much more you are than mere arms and legs in service to your child. Remember the little grey cells between your ears – and smile.

Why We Must Let Our Kids Do Dangerous Things

As parents, we all have our comfort levels about risk. Where do you draw the line? Does your one-year-old navigate stairs by herself? Is your six-year-old ever out of your sight at the playground? Does anyone drink from the hose at your house?

If you had asked me those questions when my boys were younger, the answer to each would’ve been “no!”… with a hint of “are you INSANE?” I really felt that the best way to keep them from harm was to simply prevent them from doing things I thought were risky, but looking back, I wish I had encouraged a little more risk. While I thought I was keeping them safe, mostly what I was doing was communicating to them my anxieties about the world, while simultaneously giving them the message that their abilities weren’t enough, that they had to rely on me at all times for everything.

This happened especially with my oldest; by the time his little brother came along, I had eased up a little and realized the harm in preventing them from trying their own strength. Once I realized that I was doing such harm, I made some conscious changes; we have all felt the benefits, believe me.

Fast-forwarding to today, the boys have done some amazing things! They’ve used power tools to help build both a gaga pit and a tree fort, they safely use large knives as they help with cooking, they walk home from a friend’s alone.

And they are always finding new ways to test themselves! When my Jay saw this TED talk, he immediately began a subtle but determined campaign to get behind the wheel of a car… At age 10. And you know what’s crazy? I just might say yes.

003: Michael O’Neal of The Solopreneur Hour Talks About Confronting Fears and Goal-Setting

When Michael O’Neal was growing up, his teachers repeatedly said that he: a) didn’t live up to his potential, and b) talked too much. In our lively conversation today, these two ideas come up again and again, because Michael is doing much more than merely “living up to his potential,” using his propensity to talk too much by helping people like me every day and making a great living at it too.

Listen for:

  • great stories all throughout the episode, including the one about Michael hitchhiking at nine years old, and the time he rode a bike down a mountainside
  • the similarities of raising kids and raising dogs
  • confronting and transcending our fears
  • why setting goals for ourselves is so important, and how to do it right

If you take only one thing away from this episode, let it be this: anxiety and enjoyment are two sides of the same coin. The more anxious you are, the less you are able to enjoy your life, and vice versa; this is especially important because anxious parents – as I was – pass on anxiety to their kids. We need to learn to limit our anxiety to heighten everybody’s enjoyment.

Launched!

“Perfectionism is destructive… Beating the sh*t out of yourself is a killer.” – Henry Winkler, a.k.a. the Fonz

That quote has been on our fridge since I heard Henry Winkler interviewed by Marc Maron a few weeks ago. Really, I don’t think it could’ve come along at a better time!

I had no idea how much launching a podcast would be akin to having a new baby in the house; sleepless nights, missed meals, that kind of thing. But when it all comes together – when you go out to your website, click a link, and hear it sounding so great, out for real on the web – well, that is like baby’s first grin.

And then, you are able to download it in iTunes, see the cover art, read your words in the description – for me, that is akin to baby’s first real giggle.

And then – you don’t even know how this could’ve happened, with the show out there less than 24 hours and the world almost completely unaware of it – more than 20 people have downloaded it! That is like your baby, born yesterday, now taking his first steps.

But, back to the Fonzie quote… There are mistakes here, that’s for sure. I can’t for instance figure out how to get the contact page up and running. Sometimes comments are working, sometimes not… Sometimes I end up on a page of my website called Podcast, and I cannot figure out why it is there, how to change it/get rid of it, very weird. Sometimes clicking on the words Leave A Comment brings me to the Podcast page! Riddle me that, Batman.

But this baby is laughing and walking, and that is what is important.

I’m not beating the sh*t out of myself, quite the opposite – we did it! The goal was to launch by May 1, and we did.

I call that a good day 🙂

002: Foster True Grit

Have you ever taken a look at your young child and wondered, how is this kid going to get along in the real world? The expectations we place on our kids, starting from when they are born, influence them all through their lives. In this episode, I take you into the future, linking what you do right now with your future child.

Listen for:

  • tips on figuring out what motivates a child to work hard at something – or give up
  • how to tell if the motivation is intrinsic, coming from within your child, or extrinsic, an expectation placed on that child by somebody else; which situation will your child work harder in?
  • me, dissing my Dad! (Sorry Dad…) I think my father assumed that I needed extrinsic motivation at all times, or maybe he was more concerned with his own expectations for me… But he has really reformed, and as a grandparent he’s really crushing this, giving incredible love and support to his grandson and helping them achieve their dreams, and I can’t wait to have him on the show to talk about this

If you take one idea away from this episode, I hope it is this: from the very start, we parents have huge power over our children in the form of expectations… And we need to use that power for good.