Tuesday, October 28

Homeschooling Easton

Did I mention I'm homeschooling Easton this school year? Yes, that's happening. Short answer for why is that he has been asking to be homeschooled for a couple years now and I've wanted to give it a go too. 

And yes, I did just have a baby. I might be crazy but homeschooling Easton with a new baby is working so far two months into both those endeavors! Aliza's birth story is mostly written, but it's on a different computer that is in use tonight. 

Tonight I'm just feeling so happy this experiment is working so well that I wanted to document a bit of it.

The biggest reason I think it's working for us is that we landed in a pretty sweet spot of a homeschool co-op. A couple friends from church were forming a co-op twice a week and they asked if we'd join in. Honestly, they took pity on me, their very pregnant friend and said they'd homeschool Easton until I was back online after baby's birth. Our co-op consists of four families all homeschooling one or two kids in their families. Between the four families, we have a total of 20 kids but only six are being homeschooled for various reasons. We have three 13 yr olds, an 11 year old, and two 10 year olds. That's two girls and four boys - all delightful smarty-pants kids. The motto is "If it doesn't work for mom, it's not working and something's gotta give." In two months, there's been a fair share of tweaking but it seems to still be working for all four of us moms and by extension, the kids. Who teaches what and when, rides to/from, homework, supplies . . . it evolves weekly.

We meet every Tuesday and Wednesday from 9-3. One day, Emily teaches language arts and two of the kids teach two of the others trumpet and violin while the remaining two work on a project of their choosing. The next day, Emily or Anna teach biology and Anna or I teach history. I love learning from these women and having them in my life as regulars! Having weekly contact with my peers to this extent is new for me but I like it. It's great to know them better and be known by them. I've been such a hermit for so long I'm realizing. But I'm learning fun stuff now and that, of course, is one of my true loves in life! For instance, I learned how to read poetry with iambic meter from Emily recently. I don't remember ever hearing about iambic meter before now. What a difference that makes in my attempts to enjoy poetry! 

In language arts, the kids are reading a couple novels and doing five paragraph essays, vocabulary searches, grammar, and other related assignments to the books. They are currently reading "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Bronze Bow."

In biology, they've been learning about classification (kingdom, phylum, families, species . . .). Last week in biology, Emily led them out to the forest and a nearby pond on an expedition to collect samples. They examined their specimens under the microscope, drew what they saw and tried to classify them. Homework was further research on the specimen and its classification. 

Today they again practiced being naturalists like Darwin. Emily had her son stand on a chair and recite from memory "The Jabberwocky." He stood tall and proud on the chair and recited it in his best British accent. Awesome! Did I mention that these kids are insanely smart?! They are, Easton and I are blessed by association! Anyhow, the poem mentions a number of creatures among which Emily had each kid choose one to draw. They were to put as much detail into the drawing of the animal and its habitat as they could. Then they traded papers and filled out a worksheet as if they were classifying the other person's animal. Each student presented their animal to the group as if they were professors at a meeting of naturalists, three of them with British accents. Just because. 

Next week is photosynthesis with more collected specimens.

In history, we're studying civilizations between 500-1500. We've been reading out of Story of the World, a chapter or two a week. We discuss what we've learned from our reading at home, review geography, and do an activity related to the civilization. When studying the Romans, they created signum poles. Another week, they made their own illuminated manuscripts, played with calligraphy pens and fonts, and bound their own "books" like the early Celts of Britain. 

But now we've taken a bit of a different direction with history and will be creating our own civilizations (on paper), borrowing this and that from the civilization we're studying that week - ideas of government, economics, or culture. Last week they each chose two numbers that became the latitude and longitude of their new civilization. We got Mongolia, United Arab Emirates, the Marshall Islands, Yellow River China and coastal southern China. For homework they had to research the geography, topography, fresh water sources, climate, and natural resources of their civilization to see what made life flourish there. 

Today after review our reading about Australia's aborigines and New Zealand's Maoris, we watched a short clip and discussed that early civilization's organization of their society and their culture. Emily's parents have spent time in Australia so she had a handful of children's books I'd read through and we discussed those and what they revealed about that place and its peoples. 

Then we moved on to our Civilizations Projects. They spent quite a bit of time sketching out and discussing their new civilizations, some already making alliances or plotting plans to invade their neighbors. Next week, they'll have reviewed the first four civilizations in SOTW to see what ideas they want to adapt to their own civilization. Last week I introduced a few of them to the Settlers of Catan game to get their minds ready for the Civilizations project. Some enjoy strategy video games of that kind so they are feeling pretty confident in the abilities to run a civilization. One girl was stumped today, however, on how she will disburse food in her civilization - should she give it out freely according to the number in each household or make her people work for it? It was fun to see this discussion evolve. In this project, the kids get to earn people and resources but will gain and lose them based on scenarios we'll play out such as invading armies, natural disasters, cultural project patronage and so forth. It's fun seeing them beginning to think about what contributions of prior civilizations they want to adopt.

On the home front, Easton's homeschool is pretty self directed. He does some gospel study, math (dvd teacher and worksheet), spelling (workbook), logic (workbook), a free typing program online, German and co-op homework. It's amazing how full the day is with all of that. We head to the base every Thursday so Easton can hit the library and I can get my grocery shopping done and gas up the van. It's becoming a good routine for us.

Last week, Easton also just joined a homeschool book group reading Lois Lowry's "The Giver" before the new movie's debut. The group meets once a week to discuss the assigned chapters. I really like this book but we'll see what kidsinmind.com says in their review before we take Easton to see it. The group happens to meet during his library time - SWEET!

So far this homeschool experiment is working! It's so great to be able to not stress over or have to fit in  homework with Easton in the evenings. It's nice to be able to enjoy him in the evenings and see him relaxed and able to enjoy family time. The co-op provides us the perfect balance of self-guided study and peer learning. It's fun to see Easton among peers and he still likes having me stick around to participate. It's so great having him home to play with Jake or hold Aliza while I see to a task or just because he needs a baby fix. He's such a great helper! 

We've had our learning curves as the co-op assignments have been harder than he's used to. He is learning valuable time management skills and how to break down a big assignment into doable chunks so he's not overwhelmed and immobilized. There's still much we need to learn and can tweak, but on the whole it's working and feeling like a blessing and not a curse.

Morgan and McKay both want to try homeschool although they both really like their school and classes. It's nice that twice a month they get to see what co-op does and participate somewhat because we rotate days and houses based on one of the participant's A/B middle school schedule. McKay says he'll do homeschool for 5th grade just like Easton is. We'll see!

I don't know that homeschooling is a long term thing for me, Easton, or our family. But it is working for now and we are enjoying it. 

Tuesday, June 17

McKay is 8!

McKay's baptism - April 19, 2014
McKay has been looking forward to turning 8 for quite some time now! It's a big birthday - he chose to be baptized, he got to join Cub Scouts, he selected his favorite meals for the day, and he planned his birthday party! 

First things first, his baptism!

Ryan overheard the conversation between Morgan and McKay on the way to the baptism.
Morgan said, “We have to be good or the Easter Bunny won’t come tomorrow and bring us treats.”
McKay thought for a moment and then replied, “Well, I’m getting baptized today so my sins are washed clean. So I only have to be good for one day for the Easter Bunny to come.”
We let McKay choose whom he would invite which kept it very small and intimate. One of the members of the Bishopric was concerned at how small the gathering was because his previous wards held large baptisms where most of the ward showed up. For us, this is what worked this time around and I'm glad I didn't have to think hard about orchestrating refreshments for a big crowd. McKay asked the Pitkins, Caziers, Palfreymans, Woods, Bargatzes, and our neighbors the Serranos to be there. He asked Ryan and I to give the talks on Baptism and the Holy Ghost. He was baptized and confirmed by Ryan and it was a nice special day for our family. 

When the bishop had interviewed McKay for baptism, McKay replied he didn't really know about the Holy Ghost. We had a few weeks to teach and review. As I was making a dessert for the baptism, I asked McKay if he'd ever felt the Holy Ghost before. He said once he'd been lost in a store and got scared. He prayed and didn't feel scared anymore as he felt led to where I was. We're very proud of our little man choosing to follow the example of our Savior and take this first step to make and keep covenants with God. We often see him trying to be a good example among his friends and he is well liked as a buddy among his siblings.

For McKay's birthday, he requested Cream of Wheat for breakfast, Indian food for dinner, and pumpkin pie with whip cream for dessert. Lucky for me, it was a baseball practice night so Ryan too felt like heading out to our favorite Indian restaurant was a good idea. YAY! We took along McKay's presents to open which was a lot of fun. Ryan got him a crossbow with nerf-like bullets and a remote control off-roading car. We also got him his scout uniform and book. Morgan had been hoping McKay would get some stuffed animals that he wouldn't want so he'd give them to her.

THE PARTY - April 16
McKay wanted to have 6 friends come to play games outside. About a month ago he made a 40 page booklet that said who he wanted to invite, what games they'd play, the food to eat, and he drew some comics of silly things that could happen at the party. He wanted to duplicate the games we'd done a couple years ago for his birthday party - the donut on a string game, an obstacle course, and some food challenges. Unfortunately, a few of McKay's friends couldn't make it but we had fun.

Easton and his best friend Henrique (Brazilian), Alexander (German),
Jake, Ritvij (Indian), Victor (German), McKay and Morgan.

We love this active, smart, caring boy of ours!

Our first baseball season

We survived! The boys really learned and improved a lot thanks to Ryan's work with them pre-season and outside of practice, some good coaches for my beginners, and a couple impressive young teammates for Easton who encouraged his efforts. 

I'm so relieved Easton enjoyed his first season! It's hard to start a new sport at 10 yrs old and also be the youngest on the team of 10-12 yr olds. Boys grow and develop physically and athletically so much during this time! It was very jarring to Easton's routine to have two 2 hour practices a week with one or two games a week. But Easton hung in there and tried his best and we're so proud of him and his improvement! It was fun to see how well some of these young players play the game since I have had so little exposure to the game.

McKay loves participating in any sport we have time for! He wished his team practiced as much as Easton's. He always hung back on the field as long as the coach stuck around for kids needing to be picked up. He couldn't get enough! By the end of the season, McKay accomplished a big goal he'd set for himself - he got to pitch an inning in his last game! For the 7-9 yr old league here, a kid pitches 3 and a coach pitches 3 for each batter. 

Our evening routine and "family economy" struggled through baseball season with frequent exhausted melt downs and tears. With two weeks left in school, Easton's beyond thrilled he's done with Language groups for the year! This year was the first academically challenging year for him. He's learning the hard way that not bringing the homework home and not asking questions when confused does not work out well for him. 

As for the family economy, it's still in place so I count that as a victory! McKay is very motivated to earn money while the others just do their normal amounts without much thought to what they could earn. They've had a couple chances to spend what they've earned so it's beginning to sink in. For instance, at our family meeting we were discussing the calendar for the week and there's a movie they want to see this week. There was much counting and recounting of what they've earned and some tears.

As we wrap up the school year, we're hoping to hang in there as both boys face two or three projects. It's hard to stick to it when the weather is perfect for enjoying outside together! Easton has two Ice Age "museum presentation" projects due next week and McKay has a "Field to Table" presentation he'll do on chocolate. This week both boys also have cardboard arcade games to design with a team for a school-wide arcade this Friday. Have you heard of "Caine's Arcade"? McKay loves creative projects, Easton bares them. And I'm trying to tie up some loose ends before I've got the kids home everyday. Summer is here!

Sunday, April 27

Introducing Our Family Economy

Our weekly schedule seems to have changed overnight as Easton and McKay have started baseball. For the next seven weeks we have an evening commitment of some sort every weeknight between practices, games, Scouts, birthday parties, and occasional school activities.  When does homework, chores, and dinner happen?!! It's thrown me for a loop and the kids too! 

Also, our family’s near future could see many significant changes – a new contract for Ryan’s work, perhaps a local move to a bigger place, a new baby in September, and Easton and I giving homeschooling a go. 

I've been struggling to figure out and implement some better systems around here for getting things done with the kids' participation. Feeling unsettled and too busy has made me downright grumpy and overwhelmed actually.

Luckily, I have a wise, lovely friend who has begun gathering a group of mothers each month for a Mother’s Circle. Each month there is a selected topic of interest that is presented and discussed. I presented last month on teaching children personal safety and our hostess presented last week on ideas found in Richard and Linda Eyre’s book “The Entitlement Trap: How to Rescue Your Child with a New Family System of Choosing, Earning, and Ownership.” One of the women there that night is someone I am slowly getting to know and glean from her wisdom. A military wife, she just moved here recently and then gave birth to her tenth child, home schools her kids, and runs three home based businesses (Homemaking Cottage website/E-zines, DoTerra essential oils, and energy work or something like that). To be doing all that, she HAS to have some serious systems at work, working! One element we all discussed that evening at length has stuck with me all week – creating a family economy.

Creating and instituting a family economy is just what my nesting brain needed to hear and mull over! What is a family economy? It is a system where parents train children to be functioning members of the home in preparation for launching them successfully into the world someday. Those who do the work earn the money or rewards of their labor.

This past winter, my bishop mentioned in passing this quote which has also been percolating in my brain: 
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
I do not want to fail at this parenting thing because I see so much potential in my children! Yet, I’ve been floundering for a while on how to move forward. For the past week I have read articles, listened to podcasts, and read snippets of a couple books I own on this topic, sharing ideas with Ryan along the way. On the drive home from our Spring Break trip today, I formulated a plan and continued to pitch parts to Ryan for his feedback. At dinner tonight, I introduced the basic ideas of the system to the kids. I was so relieved everyone seems on board with the whys and whats of the plan thus far.

The WHYs
I told them we as their parents want to help them become independent adults so some day we don't have to follow them around at college, on their missions, or when they're married - that'd be embarrassing and show we failed as parents to prepare them for the world. We also want them to learn how to manage money they earn and understand deadlines for responsibilities.

While the boys finished up their dinner rotation duties, I sat down and laid out two charts. One chart is for tracking each child’s daily check list of responsibilities each morning and evening and they'll have to get me to sign off when they're done. Our evening breaks down into three elements – practice (homework, math facts, reading, and music practice), zone (daily duty zone and weekly zone's deeper clean list), and dinner assignments.

The other chart describes the rotating duties and daily check list. I really liked Merrilee Boyack’s system of numbering certain things that rotate among her children - van seating to avoid fighting, table setting assignments, and dinner cleanup duties. We’re also going to start rotating unloading the dishwasher to see how that goes. Our cabinets are pretty high and not accessible to the kids very well so I’ll have to help, but over half of the stuff they can do and it’s time to include them in it!

We determined Sunday night dinner would be our best time to hold our family meetings. This is when a review of the previous week’s work will be evaluated, the banker will pay those who earned, look at the upcoming week’s calendar, set the week’s menu with everyone’s input, institute the rotations for the coming week and hopefully begin setting personal and family goals together. I really enjoyed the kids’ and Ryan’s levels of input tonight. The kids seemed to enjoy the idea of having a say in all the items mentioned and evaluating how it works for our family. I am so grateful that Ryan is eager to support this system and discuss areas of concern as a family.

The children will earn money and video game time based upon what they accomplished each week. Morgan said she’d prefer to earn outings with Mom or Dad so we’ll be figuring this out as we go. Easton said he is motivated by knowing what's expected of him so he can earn his video game time. McKay's more motivated by earning money thus far. We talked about what their earned income will now pay for instead of coming out of Mom & Dad's wallets – PTA Friday snacks, movies, apps, indoor and theme parks visits, toys, candy . . . we will see how this works.

I’ve read some families pay based on points earned and when I totaled up the items I want to work with them on, it came to ~250 points/week = $2.50. If they do everything, they can double the amount earned. Some families pay interest quarterly on money kids save and have the kids utilize a check register to record their earnings and expenditures. One family’s children can earn their age each week. We’re not ready to be paying our kids their age yet although it’d be nice to let them see their tithes-savings-spending totals grow quickly that way.

Tonight, we started with the dinner setting and cleanup rotation assignments and I had a big grin on my face! The kids are finally old enough to really be helpful, but more importantly, I’ve realized a few things about how I can better “inspire, not require” them to work. I've been waiting for this day to arrive! Was our first test run tonight perfect? No way! One son began with a dutiful grumble, the boys got in a water fight and a Pyrex dish almost crashed to the floor. But in the end, Morgan discovered she’s quite capable of clearing and washing off the table alone without whining. I got a little one-on-one training/talking time with each child as we worked together. McKay and Easton were able to work together rinsing and loading the dishes, and music was playing as they worked and laughed together.

As I head to bed tonight, my little heart is hopeful and happy rather than it’s usual Sunday night dread of a new week’s impositions on “my time.” Two things I hope to revamp are my master list of zones with kid-friendly images, and a date night with Ryan to update our version of Boyack’s “The Plan” – a master list of items they used to time the training of each child to know between ages 3-18. 

One mountain at a time. I haven't done my German homework yet and if grades were given in this course, I'm afraid my marks would be rather abysmal! My brain hasn't been in it for the past month, I need a better routine system for study time too!


Power of Moms podcast "What Really Matters" - interview of the Eyres by their eldest daughter. Links to the following:
- "A money system that works" post and video of Eyre's system when they first pitched it to their kids over 20 years ago and how one daughter adapted it to her own family
- "Everyday Traditions" podcast and the following links:
-- "After School Routines" post and video
-- "The most important 9 minutes of the day with your kids" short podcast - Awesome!
-- "Your family identity" podcast
-- "Housework builds relationships" podcast with link to . . .
--- "Two Tips for a Clean and Happy Home" post about bite-sized household tasks and a video showing sink-cleaning certification of 5 yr old

My mother-of-ten friend's youtube video about "Chores and Rewards"

Another friend's post five years ago about chores by age. 

The Parenting Breakthrough” by Merrilee Boyack. She's a riot! I love her idea of "The Plan"! That's the kind of deliberate parenting I aspire to!

Tuesday, April 15

Been reading . . .

I think most everyone knows we're expecting baby #5 in September. YAY! We're excited and found it's a girl last week! Morgan is excited to have a sister and the boys are cool either way. Easton's only request is that the baby be cute. "If not, it's your fault!" he stated with a big grin!

Frustrated by aspects of my previous birth experiences and my own naiveté, I have been dipping my toe into books about natural childbirth at the recommendation of trusted friends and family. A new friend here lent me a stack of books I'd heard of and I've been devouring them!

Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a modern midwife by Peggy Vincent
This was so fun! This certified nurse became a midwife after years working in a Berkeley hospital where she was intrigued by the difference in mothers who were able to give birth naturally, observing and working with their bodies in labor.

Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Natural Childbirth
The first half of the book is birth stories of women and the second half is about her philosophy and techniques to support women giving birth. Man, I wish I'd read this ten years ago!!! Ugh. This has been the refrain Ryan has heard for three weeks now between my reading of these two books.

I am glad I read Vincent's book first because it started me on familiar ground - within the typical hospital birth experience. I got to walk with the author gradually into her curiosity and education on  supporting women's work with their bodies through labor. I have a lot more to read but I'm so glad I've got time to then incorporate what I'm learning with Ryan and our health care provider here in Germany.

A book, however, that I think will hijack my current train of thought is this one that was sent to me today. Melissa Dalton-Bradford's "On Loss and Living Onward: Collected Voices for the Grieving and Those Who Would Mourn with Them" grabs you from the first chapter. I wish I had the rest of the day to hide away and absorb it! But parent teacher conferences today, a back up of laundry from our machine being broken for two weeks, and a birthday party and baptism this week are calling me out of my cave.

I've gotten to know the author in the past six months. You can read my Goodreads review of her first book "Global Mom" which I loved. While I am so glad she wrote "Global Mom," I have been anticipating this next book even more!

When Ryan's brother Eric and his family lived in Munich back in 2010ish, we'd often attend church with them when we visited. Sister Bradford was often the Sunday School teacher and her lessons were my favorite kind. Her love and understanding of many languages, the scriptures, and great works of literature from around the world facilicated great discussions and learning for me. She was polished and accomplished and yet there was something that kept her apart from the typical ward bustle of comradery. Then one Sunday, I sat among a small group of women as Melissa taught the Relief Society lesson and shared an intimate poem she'd written about Biblical Hannah's son and Melissa's own son, Parker. I had not known until that moment that the Bradfords were freshly grieving the loss of their eldest son and brother two years prior. Her poem touched me deeply and I hoped she was a writer but I didn't even know her name.

Fast forward to last September when MormonWomen.com interviewed her about her memoir, "Global Mom." I discovered her book and blog, devouring both. But I have been eagerly waiting for this next book because of that poem. I know her walk of loss and grief and her intense study of this path which she calls "avelut" will teach me profound and sacred truths that will carry great meaning for the rest of my life - either for the losses I will undoubtedly experience or to know how to walk with others in their loss.

I know I am not good at mourning with others yet and American culture in general, LDS culture too, does not have ritual ways to help mourners long term. We want them to move on and be happy again because their grief makes us uncomfortable. Some religions and cultures do have rituals of mourning for those in grief and the community who would mourn with them. I'm here to learn!

Friday, March 21

Teaching Our Children Personal Safety

This topic has been on my heart since last October. I'm sharing it here to share what I'm learning and to account for my time. After asking a popular mom blog to feature a post or podcast on this topic, I was asked to write this up. I've been looking for ways to share this information far and wide within my family and communities, so this is just one more avenue. (I apologize for the formatting, I don't have the time to make it flow all snazzy like I want to so there's many run-on paragraphs.)

Teaching Our Children Personal Safety

I grew up as the oldest of ten children from a strong LDS family in a conservative, family-friendly eastern Washington community. Despite my idyllic childhood, hard things affected people I love. When I was in fifth grade, a good friend’s older brother was incarcerated for sexually abusing two little neighbor kids he babysat. As the years have gone by, I have become aware of too many family members and friends who have also been affected by child abuse within their families. The startling common reality was that the abuse was done by a member(s) of their family or within their family’s circle. We must remove "Stranger Danger" from our conversations because kids don't understand it and adults don't practice it. Sadly, no community, religious or otherwise, is immune from these realities.

Did you know?
  • As many as 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused by the age of 18?
  • Approximately three quarters of reported cases are committed by family members of individuals who are considered part of the victim’s “circle of trust.”
  • Twenty three percent of perpetrators were under age 18. 

The four greatest challenges to children’s safety are abduction, bullying, child abuse and neglect, and sexual assault. Did you know that 90% of students in grades 4-8 reported being threatened or bullied in school? And that 85% reported no intervention by adults or peers? Further, the statistics around pornography’s impact on brain development in youth, brain chemistry, relationships, and communities are also quite sobering and have directly impacted my life. More than half of boys and nearly a third of girls see their first pornographic images before they turn 13. Addictions have begun by this age too.

These statistics have been a reality in my life. After reading Elizabeth Smart’s memoir of her abduction from her home at the age of 14, I knew I needed to do something. I have 4 children and one on the way. I was recently given the responsibility of 120 children in my church ages 18 months to 11 years old with a staff of 40 teachers and midweek activity leaders. We are part of an overseas US military community and my children attend an international school. My community’s global nomad children stand at a higher risk because they must integrate into new communities every one to five years due to their parents’ work.

How could I empower these children, their parents and their leaders to face the challenges and realities of today with confidence in their abilities to protect themselves and their families?

How can we create a family culture that loves, guides, and supports a struggling child or adult who may be the bully or perpetrator? Or how can we be a positive, supportive influence on a troubled child or family that comes into our lives while keeping our eyes open to their struggles?

Luckily we live in a day when the resources and liberties to arm ourselves with information, strategies and skills are readily available. I began scouring resources online with three questions guiding me and here are some of the answers I found:

What do my children need to know?
  1. I am special and no one has the right to trick or hurt me.
  2. Everyone else is also special and I do not have the right to hurt or trick anyone else. But if I am uncomfortable or being hurt, I can do whatever it takes to get away.
  3. I should tell someone until they help me. It is not my fault they hurt me.

These three guiding principles coincide with teaching our children that we as their parents love them no matter what. Children need to have a basic understanding of how to keep their bodies safe as well as safety in the home, going to and from or at school, being out and about, and being online.

When do they need to know it?

NOW! Parents automatically begin teaching their children about their bodies and their surroundings as babies when we bath them or ask them to hold our hands as toddlers when we cross the street. Keep those conversations going as they grow. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has great age appropriate conversation starters on their website Take25.org. Every parent should read the fact sheet provided by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network about what every child as early as three should begin to understand about keeping their body safe. (See link below.)

How do I teach personal safety?
  1. Be a safe confidante and understand how we as parents message this. When a child comes running to us crying, do we say, “What happened . . . oh you hit him so you probably deserved it.” Or do we seek to calm their wounded heart by saying, “I’m so sorry you are hurt/upset. What can we do right now to make things better? What could you/we do different in the future so this doesn’t happen again?” Rather than blame and shame our children for being in the wrong place and perhaps with the wrong temperament, we should seek to communicate empathy first and then mentor them into finding strategies and attributes they want in themselves. In communicating this way, we prove ourselves safe to communicate with as life’s choices and challenges get bigger. Our children will also be watching to see how we comment on other people’s choices and mistakes? Do we routinely judge others or do we reserve judgment with grace for what we do and don’t know, asking what we can learn from the situation?
  2. Be deliberate in making teaching moments a part of everyday life. As you go about your routine moments of the day getting ready, driving together, out on walks, cooking together, doing chores side by side, at bedtime and on outings – play “what if” and role play scenarios to get a conversation going. Hold special family meetings on subjects that need more in depth focus and perhaps ask older children to present on the topic so you know they understand it. Always be sure to let them know there are many adults around them who would drop everything to help a child asking for help and protect them. A good rule of thumb for my little ones is go to a mom with a child if you can’t find Mom or Dad. Reinforce family rules and guidelines as often as possible when encountering times of the day your children may not be right by your side – entering a store, riding the bus, playing in the neighborhood or park, play dates and sleepovers, community events or activities and so forth. Watch media together and discuss what you see. Ask family members how they felt and what messages were conveyed about relationships and personal character. What made it good or bad? Do we want this in our life, does it help us become who we want to be? Was it a good use of our time?
  3. Be their most regular, trusted source of information. From the time they are born you can make them aware of their bodies during bath time and getting dressed. Celebrate what our bodies can do and who is allowed to see and touch the parts of their body covered by swimsuits. Share children’s books to explore physical development and relationships. Two of me and my children’s favorite books for kids under ten are “Who Has What” and “It’s So Amazing,” both by Robie H. Harris. They are well illustrated to facilitate good discussions, provide accurate information, and do not push any particular social agenda. Regularly ask about your children’s day, their friendships, and their friend’s lives. Decide on an incremental approach or designate a special occasion for the puberty and sex talk and subsequent topics. Decide if you will provide them with a sexual education beyond the basics and how you will prepare them for a healthy transition into sexual activity, married or otherwise. If not you, whom do you trust to do so? Look into your children’s school’s biology and sexuality curriculum from 5th grade on up so you will be ready to discuss what they’ve learned. This will also enable you as the parent to share your values which may not have been part of the curriculum or peer interactions.
  4. Reinforce that life is a lifelong learning process and that learning to “fail well” is key to becoming who they want to be. Whether our child becomes a victim, perpetrator, or a friend of someone who is - they need this understanding as do we as parents! Utilize role models in biographies and stories who exemplify resilience, perseverance, and effort. Focus praise of children on their demonstration of strong effort and determination rather than on their performance outcome. For instance, when a child comes home with a spelling test score of 5/10, say, “Tell me how you came up with those spellings” so they can demonstrate the strategies they used, how they approached the challenge, and then help them build new strategies for success. Characteristics of one that fails well are these: They acknowledge the failure; take responsibility for their own actions; they work out what was done wrong and make changes; and have another go. Characteristics of failing badly are: blaming someone, something, or the system; pretending they never get or do anything wrong; adding drama to failures to avoid dealing with them; and avoiding any activity that could possibly result in failure.
So where to start? Here are some resources I have found very helpful.
  • Complete a Child ID kit complete with fingerprints and DNA sample. (See Take25.org)
  • If you are a smartphone user, download the free app “FBI Child ID.” Create and easily update a profile and picture of each family member, spouse included, that can be used when a child is lost in a store or goes missing and needs an Amber Alert blasted. Having all this information in one place simplifies a chaotic and anxious situation.
  • Explore the Take25.org website for safety tips and age appropriate conversation starters.
  • Every parent should read the following fact sheet for understanding and teaching body safety to our children. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network nctsn.org/nctsn_assets/pdfs/caring/ChildSexualAbuseFactSheet.pdf
  • Every parent should read why the term "Stranger Danger" is not a helpful tool in teaching kids about safety.  http://www.missingkids.com/en_US/publications/PDF10A.pdf
  • Netsmartz.org is a great resource for children, youth and parents to learn about how to stay safe online and what to do when you encounter unsavory things.
  • Fightthenewdrug.org is a savvy site for youth and adults about pornography that promotes a rather empowering outlook on the problems and what can be done.
  • Radkids.org is a children’s personal safety program that can be brought to communities and has some helpful statistics and resources that show how teaching our kids empowers better outcomes when children encounter difficult or scary situations.