Monday, December 27, 2010

Like the Way we Like Talk now...

Check out this great video above, sent to me  by my highly articulate son, ya know?

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Teenage Brain

Here's an interesting clip from an article I found on the Harvard Magazine online.  It helps to explain why some kids can seem so smart and act so... well, unsmart.  Your teenagers lack of judgement isn't always because they're just plain irresponsible or that they don't care, it could very well be the fact that their brain hasn't yet developed to full capacity and shouldn't be entrusted with many adult tasks quite yet.  For you hovering moms that just can't stop watching and making sure your child is well and safe, here's some proof that your instincts just may be more on target than everyone tells you.  

Your teenage daughter gets top marks in school, captains the debate team, and volunteers at a shelter for homeless people. But while driving the family car, she text-messages her best friend and rear-ends another vehicle.

How can teens be so clever, accomplished, and responsible—and reckless at the same time? Easily, according to two physicians at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School (HMS) who have been exploring the unique structure and chemistry of the adolescent brain. “The teenage brain is not just an adult brain with fewer miles on it,” says Frances E. Jensen, a professor of neurology. “It’s a paradoxical time of development. These are people with very sharp brains, but they’re not quite sure what to do with them.”

Research during the past 10 years, powered by technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, has revealed that young brains have both fast-growing synapses and sections that remain unconnected. This leaves teens easily influenced by their environment and more prone to impulsive behavior, even without the impact of souped-up hormones and any genetic or family predispositions.

There are also gender differences in brain development. As Drs. Urion and Jensen explain, the part of our brain that processes information expands during childhood and then begins to thin, peaking in girls at roughly 12 to 14 years old and in boys about two years later. This suggests that girls and boys may be ready to absorb challenging material at different stages, and that schools may be missing opportunities to reach them.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Raising Boys

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that girls think, act and develop very differently than boys.  But with the increasing number of fatherless homes, many boys are being raised by mothers who are completely baffled by the problems they encounter in raising their sons.  A few US based statistics I came across are alarming:  

Boys are four times more likely to commit suicide than girls.
67% of all special education students are boys.
71% of school suspensions are given to boys.
Boys are ten times more likely to be diagnosed with ADD.

Boys are falling behind in school aptitude tests compared to girls, and high school dropouts are overwhelmingly boys.

But one thing we won't see, are boys openly talking about how they feel neglected, overlooked, rejected, misunderstood.  And we'll never see that, because that kind of open expression is not a part of their make-up.  Call it programming by society, but I believe it's a part of the way God created the male gender to be less emotive than females.

Boys can easily hide depression and low self-esteem under a tough exterior that can fool their own family.  That's when you see outbursts of irrational anger, violent, aggressive or excessively sexual behavior appear from the creature that used to be that sweet little boy.  When the frustrations keep growing, there has to be some sort of outlet, and most of the time it's negative.

But these are the  young men that God created to lead and provide for families, to be innovators, creators of new ideas, conquerors of unknown territories.  They are made the way they are, for a good reason, but they need to be understood and nurtured with their different needs in mind.

I know it's impossible to generalize, but I am going to anyway, because most, (not all) but most boys are kinetic or spatial learners.  That's fancy psycho-talk for the fact that boys love to learn things hands-on and see for themselves just how things work.

Trying to force a kinetic child to learn by memorizing a text book over and over may get them to pass a test, but won't necessarily get them to remember any of it the next day.  But make it come alive by actually doing something about it with their hands, and seeing it work, and the practical lesson becomes unforgettable.

Teaching times tables by memorizing numbers was the way I was forced to do it, but my kids had a blast when I opened up a box of macaroni and separated them into groups and had them show me what 9x7 really looked like.  We'd talk about when you would need to know these answers in real life, and then the memorization of the cold facts became much more fun and easier.  I had to use my musical skills to come up with a funny tune to each times table, which I find myself using even now after all these years!

Teach about the rotation of the earth and the tilt of it's axis and use a flashlight and an orange, use a ping pong ball for the moon, and start spinning through space.  It's fun and it registers in his memory and best of all he knows you're right there with him in it all.  A boy who normally acts like he doesn't care about anything could all of a sudden show amazing ability when a neighborhood friend teaches him how to repair a car, how to work out a computer program, how to build or create something on his own.

Boys also often need a brain break where they can run off their energy, kick a ball around, get all out of breath and pump themselves up with oxygen, before they can hit the books again to finish their work.  If they are told to go straight to their rooms after school to finish their homework, though some might do just fine, others will stare at the walls because they need a brain break and a good shot of oxygen.  Then mom yells at them for being lazy and irresponsible, then they hate school even more, then they're compared to their disgustingly perfect sister who gets straight A's, then they're convinced they must be stupid and worthless and before you know it they're taking out their frustrations in very negative ways.

There are many more differences between raising boys and girls, and this is just one.  Give me your ideas, and I'll be sharing mine too.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Negotiating the Peace

One thing you realize fast when you become a parent, is that kids' minds are spinning at top speed from the moment they can walk.  They want things, they have their own ideas, their own will, their own likes and dislikes.  When they want things, they want them NOW and will insist until you either make it absolutely clear they cannot have it, or until you back down and give them what they want.  As soon as that is over, they start wanting something else.

Kids are relentless, and are skilled negotiators.  I found myself having to convince my 2 year old that his ducky pajamas were not the right clothes to wear to the store.  It was a battle of wills and I had to do a lot of quick thinking and be strong to stand my ground against his protests.  I knew that to get him to comply, I'd have to appear as if I was giving in to his desires in some way.  I'd have to give him choices - all of which had to be agreeable to me.

"Either your favorite blue jeans, or your overalls, or your grey shorts."
"NOOOOooooo!!  I want ducky pjs!"

"But remember your Grandma gave you these shorts?  They came from New Jersey!" said with awe and amazement as if New Jersey was paradise.

He pauses and then decides that shorts from New Jersey are the coolest thing ever and agrees.  Now for the shirt, the socks, the sneakers.  There always have to be bargaining chips on the table:

"You have to wear the blue sneakers, but then I'll let you take your water-gun in the car."

He wants the beat up old red ones?  Then forget the water-gun.  I speak as if the US Constitution itself dictates that old red sneakers can never be worn if you want to bring a water-gun in the car to the store.  It's just not done.  He sees there is no way around it, and even agrees to a clause:  the water-gun can come, but without any water. But now the shirt is a problem.

I sneakily choose one shirt that I like, and then quickly put it back, and say, "No, no, not that one."

Immediately he shouts, "That one! That one! I want that one!"

I hesitate, act uncertain, continue listening to him beg, and finally give in as if I had never wanted him to wear it in the first place.  He is triumphant. He puts it on as if it had been his idea all along, and at this point the ducky pajama's are so old news.

I'm a bit worn out by the whole ordeal, but at least I have a decently dressed child who is in a happy mood and ready to go to the store.  This scenario will play out over and over again through many and various situations.

How is this better than just demanding he or she does whatever you want them to do?  They feel grateful that they have a say in the little things in life that are their own, while you are still the authority in charge that has the last word.  

Monday, December 6, 2010

Single Mom Syndrome

Have you ever noticed that the term "single mother" has now become almost synonymous with the word, "hero"?  I talk to a lot of different women every week and have seen that label thrown out on the table like an ace of spades, proving a point about how tough their life is.  It's as if to say, "You can't say ANYTHING against me now!"

I'm sure it's tough.  Kids weren't meant to be raised alone, and a job that's hard enough for two parents is of course doubly hard for one struggling alone.  But I have come to know my share of women who will keep a messy, unkempt house, feed their children fatty processed foods, and find ways to go out partying on the weekends who freely use that label with pride.  Not quite my perception of a hero.

We could be talking about something totally unrelated:

"So have you been praying every day about that new job that you're hoping for?"  I might ask.
"Well, I'm a single mother, I don't have time to just take out and pray like other women."  ("Other women" spoken as if she were spitting darts...)

"Will I see you this Sunday morning for the special anointing of the family?"
"I don't know, my son's team is playing that afternoon and it's hard to get everyone organized to go to both church and the game on the same day. I'm a single mom you know..."
Yes, I know, you told me last time...

Curious, isn't it, that women have fought so hard for sexual freedom, to remove the stigma of having children out of wedlock, to be unhindered in changing from partner to partner, to end up as single mothers as a result,  and then demand to be set on a pedestal?

Yes, there are the widows, and the divorced women who really gave it their best and tried to keep their marriage together but ended up alone.  I wouldn't think of lumping all single mothers into one category, just like I would never imagine that their life was easy.  But I've noticed that women who want to be viewed as saints only by virtue of the fact that they have children and no spouse, are becoming more commonplace, causing me to have less pity on anyone who tries to impress me by flashing that trump card.

Life is tough in general, and for those who have faith, God gives grace and opens doors that we can't for ourselves.

So you're a single mother?  I'm a married one - one more mouth to feed, clothes to clean and voice to listen to.  I have to submit and follow and I've had to learn to adjust to the personality and gender differences that come with marriage and I've done it for over two decades.  It would be ridiculous for me to go around boasting about how I'm a "married mother," but I suppose if you sit down and think about all the pluses and minuses of anyone's life, you could come up with a "hero" anywhere you look if you tried hard enough.

My guess is that many of these young women keep their label well displayed because they are unhappy and would like something - anything, to make them feel better about themselves.  And with God, that unhappiness can definitely be changed and their lives transformed.  But first, can't we just throw away the labels?

Friday, December 3, 2010

If Mom is well - all is well

What happens when kids are surrounded by others who don't really care that they exist?  They get really really active.  They laugh louder than necessary, they talk louder, they put on a really annoying act that they are so incredibly happy no matter what happens.  They are, in fact, trying to make themselves believe that they are happy.  Quiet and calm are irritants to these children because they are forced remember they feel rejected and unloved, and then all sorts of behavior problems can arise.  Destructive behavior, anger, aggression, depression, even young children can seek out addictions to hide the pain.

Every heard of that little problem called bi-polar?  This sense of rejection is often the spark that starts a chain reaction that eventually gets kids diagnosed and prescribed mind-numbing drugs by psychiatrists. They are told they have a "chemical imbalance" that can only be treated with psychotic drugs. What they most often have, is parental malfunction.

A few weeks ago I visited an orphanage not too far from Houston with some of the Sisterhood girls to have some fun and games with the children there.  The littlest ones just soaked up all the love and attention with eagerness.  But the 9 and up crowd were exactly as I had described.  First cold and suspicious, and then changed to become excessively loud, active, laughing, jumping, talking, shouting, as if they wanted to believe they were so very happy.  These kids were trying so hard to prove a point, their desperate attempt to appear happy was heartbreaking to witness.  They weren't really trying to prove anything to us - they were trying to prove it to themselves.

No one gives birth to an automatically happy child.  You can't say, "Wow, this one just worked out better than the other one.  I guess he's a keeper!"  Children don't just "work out."  Each has his or her own uniqueness in personality and talents, but their sense of well-being and security has to be formed by their parents.  An unhappy, fearful mother creates instability at home.

A parent that sends signals through their behavior that they resent the presence of their child creates instability, no matter how much time or monty they spend on them, no matter how often they drag them to church.  Kids are experts at finding hypocrisy in us.  If we say we love them and then roll our eyes at the fact that they actually behave like children, their antennae are up to figure out why they are so unwanted, and their hyper-switch is activated.  If mom is tired of me, maybe she'll notice me more if I'm really really loud!  What if I just say, "Hey Mom? Ya know what mom?  Mom? Hey Mom, ya know what?"  over and over every few minutes? That should make her love me more!  Still doesn't work?  Maybe if I kick my sister in the shins and smash her doll against the chair Mom will see how much I need her...

We all know how well that works.

Mothers who find help for themselves first, stand the biggest chance of ever helping their children.  Just the atmosphere at home becomes brighter when Mom is at peace, and without having to say much at all, everyone feels a whole lot happier - including Dad.  And why am I picking at poor Mom as if it's all her problem?  I'm   not.  I just know that among all the couples and families I've counseled, if Mom is truly well - all is well, and the rest can be sorted out.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dogs in Space and Annoying Children

I knew a mother of four who insisted that she never praised her children, otherwise they would become proud.  She made a point to tell them everything they did wrong to keep them humble.  Her children are grown now, and humble is not a word that would describe any of them.

Another woman had a mother who was always telling her she was so pretty, so wonderful, so perfect, but wouldn't take the time to help her buy appropriate clothes as her body changed and developed with adolescence.  The praise was meaningless if her mother didn't value her enough to spend time or money on this perfect daughter of hers.

Fake praise is like no praise,  and when we receive no praise at all, we can turn into irrational creatures.

Most of the really irritating children that you know, are just desperate for attention.  We criticize them for it, and yet if they were given the attention they truly needed, they would become much happier little people.  The contradiction is, that when they misbehave and act annoying, the last thing you want to do is give them attention!  You'd rather lock them in the basement until they fall asleep because they're so unbearable.

But just like a crying baby, that child is lacking an essential need, and even if he gets punished for his behavior, he'll keep it up because he craves any form of attention, even if it's negative.  And if the annoying child happens to be yours, you've got your work cut out for you.

"But I give him plenty of attention!" you may say in exasperation.  But perhaps the type of attention you think is enough, is not what he needs.  Every child needs personal time alone with mom or dad, just to bond.  They need to talk about all the crazy little thoughts that come into their mind and be heard and still loved even so.  They need you to respond to their crazy thoughts as if they weren't crazy, to help them sort through the whirlwind of ideas that blows through their mind every day.  Here's one example:

"So mom, like if our house turned into a space rocket and we found out that aliens were living in our basement, would dad be able to fight them even though he doesn't have a gun?  And then if we blasted off into space, how would we breathe?  And do dogs ever go to space?"  Etc., etc.

If your default response is, "Why are you wasting my time with these stupid questions?  Do your homework, and look at the mess in your room," you are on your way to creating a really annoying child.  The questions will never end, and behavior problems will increase.  I know, serious discussions about dogs in space are not what you planned on when you became a mother, but welcome to reality!

Smile, listen, talk, hear all that they have to say with patience, give suggestionanswer them with reassurances that no matter what disaster they can imagine strikes, that you will all be just fine because God is watching over you.  Give them hugs and kisses, tell them how smart they are, what an amazing imagination they have, and how proud you are that they are growing so well.  Also once you are done, thank them that they will now quietly go to their room and clean up and finish their homework for the night because they are so good and smart and strong.  It's amazing how just taking that amount of your precious time out of your day can be returned to you in the form of a calmer, happier, more obedient child who wants to please you even more.

Of course there is a time they need to be quiet and get their work done and to respect your need for quiet as well, but if their basic need for your undivided attention and sincere praise isn't met a few times during the day, though you punish and criticize them, but you will never have a peaceful child under your roof.

My youngest is 12, and he still needs those moments, but the reward of a loving son who is a joy to have around is worth all the effort.   Don't know what to say when asked about aliens in your basement?  Email me to receive expert advice...