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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Teaching Kids to Self-Advocate

If you’ve ever worked with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) you know that goals are set for student achievement with respect to behavior, academics, and various skills. Self-advocacy—the ability to ask for what one needs—is a big one, not only on IEPs, but throughout school and childhood. Too many kids don’t know how or are afraid to talk to adults.
“I see teenagers whose parents are still ordering meals for them,” a waiter told me one time after our then-preschooler requested, “Pasghetti, pwease.”
Our overarching goal as parents should be to raise self-sufficient adults. Teaching kids how to speak up and to carry on a conversation with others is integral to their success in almost every other field. Not sure where to start?
Have the kiddos order their own meals at restaurants.
As soon as your itty-bitty can string together three intelligible words, she can order her own mac-n-cheese. You might need to clarify to the server that “wemo-wade” means lemonade, but the experience of speaking directly to the waiter sparks a sense of autonomy as well as the chance to see how her voice allows her to interact successfully with the world. Very few servers will find this tedious or annoying—in fact, I haven’t yet seen one who didn’t crack a smile.
Require your kids to greet adults. Every time.
Lately I’ve seen a lot of pushback to making kids give out hugs and kisses, and rightly so. Your kid’s body is his own, and he should never be forced to do anything with it that makes him uncomfortable. We’ve got one kid who will hug anyone who isn’t quick enough to deflect her, and another who prefers not to touch or be touched, ever. But kids need to learn and practice the basic courtesy of greeting another human being:
“Hi, it’s nice to meet you. My name is Yvette.”
“I’m fine, thank you. How are you?”
“Would you like a glass of water or iced tea?”
Let your child do his own check-in at the doctor’s office.
The sign-in form is pretty basic: name, time of arrival, has your insurance changed? If the child can write his own name, you can tell him what to write in the other boxes. In some offices all he has to do is tell the receptionist, “I’m Joe Moe. I have an appointment with Dr. Oh at nine thirty.” He can do that, can’t he? You go sit down and get caught up on Words With Friends.
“Please” and “Thank You” are never optional.
I recently volunteered in my daughter’s fourth-grade classroom, and the teacher asked me to distribute pieces of candy as a special prize for a project they’d just finished. I kept track, and exactly zero students—including my own daughter—said “thank you” when I gave them the candy. I let the teacher know and she gave them what for, then made them all thank me.
My daughter looked like she wanted to crawl under her desk.
If you pray before a meal, pass that honor around the table.
Saying grace is a great learning opportunity, both in semi-public speaking, and in being grateful for what we have. Every kid in a praying home ought to take a turn on a regular basis. In one story I read a woman asked her daughter if she’d pray over the meal when company came that day. That daughter balked, and her mother said, “Just say what you hear me say.” So company arrived, they bowed their heads around the table, and the girl prayed, “Dear God, why did I invite all these people over?”
Have kids initiate some phone calls.
I don’t mean you hand them your cell phone and tell them to dispute the insurance statement with the billing department at your dentist’s office. I mean sometimes they call Grandma and Grandpa and either say, “Hi! This is Julie,” or they learn how to leave a coherent message on the answering system. I realized we’d dropped the ball on this with one of our kids when I got a voicemail that said nothing but, “I want to go to Sedona’s house.” Um, who is this? How did you get this number? Who’s Sedona?
Let them manage their own purchases and returns.
This one’s tough when they’re fairly little, and they approach the cashier with a fistful of money, and four impatient people are in line behind you, and you just want to get out of there and onto the next errand. But what learning opportunities you’re missing if you take over transactions for them every time:
Kid: Pushes a Lego package onto the conveyor belt. “I want this.”
Cashier: “That’ll be $5.29.”
Kid: Dumps coins and wadded up bills on the counter.
Cashier: Patiently counts out the money. “You’re fifteen cents short, I’m afraid.”
Kid: Turns to Mom with beseeching look in his eyes.
Mom: “Here you go.” Hands him the money then stuffs the Legos in her purse. “You can have them back as soon as you refund me that fifteen cents by cleaning up your room.”
See? Everything’s a learning opportunity.
Never quit looking for chances to hand the ball to the kid.
Remember, your goal as a parent is to work yourself out of a job. The more tasks your child takes on, the fewer you have, and the better equipped junior becomes to manage his own life one day. And I’ll full-on brag here: I am so proud to be able to sit around the dinner table with my kids and any adults who visit us, knowing my children are able to carry on a polite conversation. It’s an awe-inspiring experience watching a child turn into an adult.
So have them talk to their own teacher about that disappointing grade, challenge them to talk you into or out of something they want, ask them about their days and their lives and really listen to what they say. You’re giving them the gifts of language, autonomy, and reason.
And those gifts will serve them well their entire lives.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Very First Thing

If you interviewed a guy for a job, and upon entering your office he immediately commented, “Your desk is a mess,” do you think you’d want to hire him?
When you got married (or thought about being married) did you fantasize about your beloved rolling toward your pillow first thing in the morning to tell you, “You snored all night— thanks for keeping me up”?
Do/Did your parents follow up a knock on your bedroom door with, “I’ll bet you haven’t done your homework, have you?”
What’s common to all of the above comments? They’re negative. They’re toxic. They instigate defensiveness straight off the bat.
I’ve touched before on the importance of first interactions when dealing with tweens and teens, but as I go about life and observe how people in general talk to each other, I feel like this one bears repeating:
The first thing you say when you encounter another person will set the tone for the encounter, and eventually (when a pattern is established) for the whole relationship.
So why not make it positive?
Our words reveal our minds and hearts. Listen to what someone says and how she says it, and you’ll see straight into her psyche. Is she a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty person? Does she think life is fair, or that she’s getting a raw deal? Does she have good feelings or bad feelings toward the person to whom she’s talking?
When we meet someone for the first time—whether that’s the first time ever, the first time that day, or the first time after a separation for work or school or other life business—we’re establishing or re-establishing connection. On the most basic level, we are discovering the status of that relationship.
My husband is an engineer, and his job consists largely of figuring out what’s wrong with a project plan, a design, or a system. I once told him, “Sometimes it feels like you walk into a room and look around for something to criticize.” He responded, “Well, that is my job.” And he’s very good at it. But it means he has to step back from his at-work habit and foster the intentional at-home habit of saying something positive first:
“Good morning. How did you sleep?”
“Thanks for picking up my dry cleaning.”
“How’d your math test go?”
If I consistently lead with negatives, everyone in my life starts to expect that from me. They bristle when they hear me coming, then throw up a defensive wall as soon as my mouth opens.
This trend may resonate with anyone currently parenting a teenager.
Negative lead-in is a hard habit to break, but curbing it is absolutely essential if you want better relationships. Not sure how to start?
First, take a day to simply listen to yourself. Maybe even jot down your own words in a notebook, so you can really analyze them. What kind of greeting habit have you established?
Next, if you discover that it’s not as positive as you’d like it to be, take action. Plan ahead and script out a few positives:
How are you? doesn’t have to be a mindless throwaway. Ask it with intentionality. Follow up with a question about something you know from a previous interaction: Is your cold better? How did your mom’s surgery go? How’d you do in that race you were training for?
Give a compliment: That’s a great color. Nice haircut. Fantastic job on that presentation yesterday.
Show some gratitude: Thanks for emptying the dishwasher. I appreciated your help on that project. I owe you one for folding that laundry for me.
Then, if you do have a problem to deal with or an unpleasant issue to discuss, you’ll have already established a positive foundation to the relationship before you bring up that potentially negative subject. Your follow-on conversation is almost guaranteed to go more smoothly than it would have if you’d led with it.
Just like our parents (should have) taught us: always put your best foot forward.
Every single time.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Knitting: a Philosophical Exercise

The Philosophical Gusset Scarf

This scarf looks pretty simple to make, doesn’t it? If you know how to cable and change colors you’d think, “No problem.”
You’d be somewhat wrong.
Bear with me if you’re not a knitter while I explain.
See the fuchsia gussets? While making those I had five balls of yarn going: white for the first panel, fuchsia for the first gusset, another ball of white for the middle panel, a separate ball of fuchsia for the second gusset, and a third ball of white for the last panel.
And to keep holes from forming where you change color, you have to twist the two balls around each other when you switch.
You can imagine the mess of tangles that develop after knitting a single row of this nightmare of a neck-wrap. It looks like the aftermath of a spaghetti fight. And there are 26 rows for each of the gusset sections.
After many rows of de-tangling, hair-pulling, and cursing the day I was born for starting this behemoth, it occurred to me that if I didn’t have to keep turning the work in circles (knit across one side, turn the scarf and balls of yarn 180°, knit across the other side, repeat) the stupid strands wouldn’t get as knotted up.
An epiphany illuminated my unraveled brain.
Instead of moving the scarf and the yarns, what if I moved myself?
In the immortal words of Ted Logan, “Whoa, dude.”
So I tried it. I placed the five balls of yarn in the following positions on the floor: 9:00, 10:30, high noon, 1:30, and 3:00. I picked up the scarf and knitted across one side, twisting the balls once as I changed, then laying them back into place. When I reached the end of the row I got up, moved to the opposite side, and knitted across the back side of the piece.
It was a game-changer. And not just for my knitting.
How often do I struggle against the world, trying to make everything and everyone else conform to my will for it?
But what if I were willing to let the things around me be what they are and do what they’re going to do, and instead move myself as necessary to accommodate that reality? I suspect my life will flow much more smoothly, with fewer tangles and temper fits, as well as less wasted energy, time, and work.
As usual, the answer to most of my problems is me.
And I’m the only thing I have the power to change anyway, right?
Who knew a couple of sticks and some wool could get you this deep?

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

What Is The Point?

I got teased yesterday for doing the right thing.
Last week I bought a box of cookies at Trader Joe’s but realized when I got home that I hadn’t been charged for them. So last night, while I was there picking up the second load of three gallons of milk to finish out the week (we have teenagers), I took a box of the cookies to the checkout and said, “I need you to charge me for these, but I’m not taking them home,” and I explained.
The guy bagging my stuff shifted his head back a few inches as his eyebrows shot up. He kind of snorted and said, “You’ve been losing sleep, huh?” As if a $2.99 box of cookies wasn’t worth the trouble I was taking.
I just smiled and shrugged.
At the end of the transaction, as the cashier handed me my receipt, the bagger barbed me again: “There,” he said. “Now you can sleep at night.”
“I’ve been sleeping just fine,” I told him. “Because I knew I was coming back to take care of this.”
At one time that would’ve chapped my hide, getting wisecracked for being honest. Because honestly, I would’ve expected a little admiration and appreciation for my obviously superior virtue.
But the last couple of years have knocked me around in that regard. I’ve witnessed some shockingly unethical behavior among people I once admired and respected. And I’ve spent a lot of time in what I guess was a dark night of the soul, not because I questioned God’s being or his goodness, but because I’d been so thrown off my game by man’s badness. I struggled to believe there was any real point in trying to walk out my own morals, since it seemed like hardly anyone else does.
After one more head-shaking hypocrisy came across my radar recently, I slumped into my chair prior to dawn one morning and asked heaven yet again: “What is the point?”
I don’t know why it took me two years to arrive back at the very beginning of Jesus Christ 101, but here’s what I ended up with on a piece of scrap paper that day:
1. Is my life bringing glory to God?
2. Are my relationships bringing glory to God?
3. Have my words brought glory to God?
4. Do my choices bring glory to God?
5. Am I pointing other people toward God?
And I had my answer.
That’s how I live even when others don't. That’s how I live even when I’m thrown under the bus for doing the right thing. That’s how I live even when the rest of the world is burning and drinking gasoline and screaming because it’s hot. That’s how I live when trust and honor and wisdom feel like something I just dreamed about once.
And because that’s how I live, it’s not about what my friends or my enemies or my husband or my kids or a bagger at the grocery thinks of me. It’s between me and God, period.
I don’t need any rewards for doing the right thing, and it doesn’t matter if I get punished for it either.
God’s opinion is all that matters.
That is the whole point.

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