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Technology Has A Place – But Where?

We’ve been hit with a huge change in our house this past week: my laptop, my beloved sidekick, essentially died a horrible death.  Or, it is at least out of commission for the time being.  Not even the Blue Screen of Doom could find its way to my laptop last week.  Just a hint: if you think your motherboard is going out – BACK UP EVERYTHING.  Thankfully, my machine was under warranty and was shipped off to Fix-My-Computerland for a makeover.  Or the dumpster.  We’ll find out one way or another in a few days.

In the meantime, I’m essentially computerless.   My husband does have a laptop through his office, but that is what it is for – his OFFICE.  Not my office or the kids’ games.  I’ve had to learn how to strategically check email and pare down to the bare minimum of computer-related tasks to complete while my baby is being reconfigured.

One thing I have noticed, though, is the changes that have occurred in my house this week.  Okay, maybe not huge changes, but differences between life with my computer and life without it.

First of all, my younger son naps a long time!  Wow!  I had no idea he slept that long.  It always seems much shorter when I’m racing around to get computer-related stuff done during naptime, like Spider Solitaire and Bejeweled (you know, the important stuff).  I got half of my house cleaned during naptime yesterday.  That would be the same house that takes me all week to clean otherwise.  Who knew?

Also, did you know that we actually have time to ride bikes and play board games after dinner?  I had no idea!  Usually, time after dinner is spent playing online (adults and/or children – we have Webkinz to feed, you know), but with the lack of computer this week, we’ve headed outdoors to visit neighbors, take a few spins around the block, and whip out Candyland.  I had forgotten we even had Candyland.

Speaking of games, instead of hearing the bickering over who’s turn it is on Lego.com or who gets to spin the Wheel of Wow in Webkinzland, I see my boys, giggling over their latest “cootie”.  I see my older son, teaching my younger one how to play Yahtzee or Memory.  And, their latest game has been to build a “town” in the backyard (heaven help my flower beds this week!).  Out of what?  Imaginary bricks.  Yep.  And a lot of imagination.

Technology is not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong.  My children have benefitted greatly from online resources and educational sites.  I would never deny them the opportunity to explore things we typically don’t get to see in Texas.  The computer, and the Internet, open innumerable doors for our children.  It is a great tool to use in educating and schooling our children.

But, time together is equally important and beneficial.  The key is to find the balance of the two.  Where does technology fit in with your family?  Is there balance?

The Power Of Empowerment

With our second child, we learned early on that in order for him to be successful, he needed to be in charge, or in charge as much as we could let him.  Letting children make their own decisions gives them ownership of the situation and can help them learn to behave well.

First of all, make sure that children are allowed to make choices.  However, as a parent, you can control the types of choices the child will make.  For instance, it is bathtime and my child IS going to take a bath, but I give him the choice of a bath in his tub or a bath in mine.  His choice, but it is the outcome that I desire (a clean kid!).  Or, we are getting ready to go to the store.  I may give my child a choice of two kinds of shoes to wear.  He is going to wear shoes, but I allow him to choose which ones he wants.

Giving choices is a good way to work with potential misbehaviors.  When my boys are getting overly rough, I give them a choice.  For example, stop throwing the ball in the house or the ball will have to be put away for a while.  My child then has the choice of rolling the ball (an acceptable behavior here) or no ball at all. 

Oftentimes, giving choices is a great way to get children to cooperate, even when it is something they initially do not want to do.  Instead of the battle of bedtime (and actually getting into bed), I give my son a choice of two or three books to read in bed before lights out.  He is getting in bed, but he gets to decide what we will do when we are there.  And, if he chooses all the books?  That’s okay, too…he is in bed, and that is the ultimate goal.

There are times, though, that my child will try to make a choice other than those that are given.  In cases such as this, the best thing to do is to let the child know what the choices are again.  I have been known to sound a bit like a broken record, but eventually my child will make a choice that is one of the options given.

Allowing your child to solve his or her own problems through making good choices is a wonderful way to parent with limits.  It gives freedom with structure, which is vital to providing a sense of security and confidence in children.

Incentive Charts

Last week, I mentioned monitoring my child’s progress through an incentive chart to achieve a certain goal – staying in bed for my older son and potty training with my younger one.  Incentive charts can be a useful tool for teaching a child a new skill or desired repeatable behavior, from picking up toys to folding clothes to clearing the table without being asked.  The key is consistency.

Charts are fairly simple to make.  With my boys, I created a simple grid for each of them.  The “title” of the grid was simply the desired behavior, such as staying in bed all night.  Then, I created a grid of ten rows, five columns.  Our charts hung on the side of the refrigerator, right at my son’s eye level.  This way, each child was able to view his chart and participate by putting a sticker in a box each time a the behavior was met.

Each time my son met his goal, he was given a sticker to place on his chart.  By the time he filled a row (in this case, five days), he was rewarded with a simple incentive.  Sometimes, it was a special trip to the Dollar Store.  Other times, it was a special playdate or an outing to the bowling alley or movie theater.  There was always a reward at the end of the “row”, though. 

In the beginning, it took my son well over a week to get his five stickers.  That was okay, though, because once he reached his fifth sticker, he was very excited to get his reward!  And, when he realized how simple it was to achieve that again, the desired behavior showed up more and more frequently, quickly becoming a natural habit.

When we finally filled the chart, we came up with a special reward.  In my son’s case, it was a sleepover at his grandparents’ house.  At the time, he had never been to their house to spend the night without my husband or I, so this was a GREAT reward for him.  And, by the time he reached that goal, sleeping in his own bed through the night was no longer an issue.

Using an incentive chart can work very well for children.  Keep in mind, though, that the focus should only be on one behavior at a time.  Trying to run two or more incentive charts for a child at a time can be overwhelming and confusing.  Once a behavior is mastered, then introduce a new one.  And, once a child finishes an incentive chart, move on to simply verbally praising him or her for their new skill.

Incentive charts are a great way to achieve a goal for a child!

At The End Of The Rope

I cherish the time I spend with my children, especially my older son.  During the school year, he spends the majority of his waking hours at school with another adult and other children.  So, our time together is all the more special.  During the summer, though, when we’re together ALL THE TIME, we have to adjust.  Oftentimes I find myself on the short end of the temper-stick.  Here are some things I do to keep my cool during the heat of the summer:

  • Count down from 10 – this is probably my most effective method of keeping calm.  I usually count down in my head, although the few times I have done it out loud, my kids are amazingly well-behaved by the time I get close to one.  It simply gives me a few seconds to refocus and remember to keep my cool.
  • Give myself a time out – when I can feel the tension or anger building up, I tell my children, “Mommy’s feeling (angry, upset, hurt, mad, etc), so I’m going to cool down with a time-out.”  With my younger child, I’ll simply move to a quiet area of the room.  With my older child, though, I may leave to go to a different room or ask that he find a different place to wait for me while I cool off.  The key is, though, to talk about whatever it was that made me angry or upset to begin with.  Simply removing myself and cooling off isn’t enough.  Children need to understand the process of discussion and understanding.
  • Opposites – this is quite possibly the most effective tool I’ve used with my younger child.  When I am feeling angry or upset and the urge to yell is overwhelming, I whisper.  My son is completely caught off-guard and will stop whatever it is he is doing to figure out why Mommy is suddenly quiet!  And, it calms myself down to talk in a quiet voice instead of yelling.

There are other ways to vent anger that are productive.  Listen to some music, take a walk or get some exercise another way, keep a journal of your feelings, call a friend or even cleaning the house are great ways to channel aggessive energy into something productive.  The key is, though, to discuss your feelings and the way you handled them with your child after you have calmed down.  Children learn by example, so set a good one for them.

Independence Day

In the United States today, people far and wide are celebrating.  It is Independence Day.  It is a day to honor the country and how it has evolved into what it is today – a free and democratic society.  It can also be a day to celebrate independence on another level…the independence of our children.

Perhaps it is an infant, learning to sit up alone or crawl.  Maybe a small child who has mastered the pincer grip and can grab his or her own food.  Or, maybe it is a small child who can play unassisted with a favorite toy.

It could be the toddler, learning to use new words and gestures.  Perhaps he or she have just learned to walk or run, climb and reach to get things that are wanted.  Independence from diapers – being able to take care of oneself – or even dress on his or her own can be celebrated.

Look at the preschooler, learning to recognize letters and write in his or her own way.  Maybe he or she is finally free from the parental grasp on the back of the bike and can now pedal that big wheel, tricycle or bicycle.  He or she might be learning to make choices on their own, based on their wants and desires.

Then there’s the grade-schooler: stretching his or her own wings and learning to thrive in society.  Maybe it is a sleepover or an unaccompanied birthday party that gives them the feeling of becoming independent.  Taking part in family discussions and decisions can help him or her feel valued and important, too.

And, as children grow, other milestones lay ahead on the road to independence: allowances, choices of friends, learning to drive, college.  All of these are steps that our children take, a little at a time, to becoming independent, productive members of society.

So today, celebrate the birth of a nation, but take a moment to celebrate another birth as well.  Celebrate your child’s independence!

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