One day I was doing preschool work with a boy I babysit. After reading the book Mindset, by Carol Dweck, I've always been very careful how I worded my praises. That day I was just plain excited because he seemed to be getting something he struggled with before. Without thinking I shouted, "You are so smart!" Then he did something that may surprise you. He said he was done. He didn't want to play that game anymore.
Why would a boy who was struggling with something, want to stop just as he started to catch on? After all I praised him!?!
Having worked with other kids as a nanny, a babysitter, a substitute teacher, foster parent, and parent, I have had a lot of chances to test Dweck's theories out, so when I absently praised him for being smart, his reaction did not surprise me. I knew why he wanted to stop, yet I was still shocked how at three years old, he had quickly went from having fun to not wanting to keep going after one small comment.
Many of you probably don't see anything wrong with what I did, or why he responded that way. Why would a kid praised as smart want to quit? Shouldn't he want to keep proving to me he was smart?
The problem was, he didn't know if he could. Although he couldn't consciously tell me this, nor would he realize his reason why, even if he could discuss his reaction with me. The thing is, I had called him smart, and he didn't want to prove me wrong. It was better to remain smart in my eyes, then prove to me he didn't deserve that title.
Praising in and of itself is a great thing! The problem is, too often we praise the wrong thing as parents. We tell a kid he is smart, because he got a good grade. We tell a girl she is pretty, because she dressed nicely. We tell a boy he is gifted at basketball because he is tall and made a few baskets. The one thing all three of these things have in common is the children have no control over whether these are true, and they are all subjective.
What happens when the smart kid gets a bad grade; is he no longer smart? What happens when the girl comes out of her room and asks how a dress looks, and she gets a courteous smile and you respond a distracted "that's nice." Will she think she's not as pretty anymore? What happens to the boy who suddenly goes off to college and joins their basketball team and he is the shortest, slowest on the team; is he no longer gifted at playing basketball? None of these are true, but they feel true to a person who is trying to gauge themselves as smart, pretty, or athletic.
That's why it is so important to know how to compliment your child in a way that will motivate them to want to grow as a person. Instead of telling a child who got an A on their test that their smart, try, "You really worked hard to get that A, it was so good to see how hard working you are!" Hard work is something they CAN control, and will cause them to strive for greater achievement. The same thing goes for dealing with athletics or music ability, focus on things they can control such as hard work, perseverance, focus, paying attention to instructions, good sportsmanship, etc.
Instead of giving your daughter a blanket statement of beauty, be specific. "That dress looks very nice on you!" "You have very beautiful brown eyes." "I love the way your smile brightens up your entire face." By being specific, this will help them on days when they don't feel pretty. They will always have the same beautiful brown eyes, whether they have a bad hair day or not. This can go for sports and athletics as well. Telling a kid that the way he positioned his hand while throwing the basketball was an excellent move, gives him something to hone in on the next time he passes a ball. By being specific, it gives the child a sense of control over their identity.
So although I called this sweet little boy smart, he didn't feel in control of his ability. I knew that he didn't want to not be smart again, because he failed the same thing ten times before. I only called him smart when he got it right. Even at the tender age of three he thought that if he was smart for getting it right, if he got it wrong, he might not be considered smart and didn't want to risk that.
I went in for damage control, and changed my wording as he started to get down from his chair. I looked him in the eye and said, "I loved how you didn't give up. You tried so hard, and you finally got it because you didn't give up. Do you think you could try that hard again? I'd love to see you try again!"
That little boy gave me a big grin and nodded his head yes. He wanted to play again. He knew I was proud of him, not because he got the answer right, but because he worked so hard to get the answer right. So he knew I'd be proud whether he got the next answer right or wrong. You know what the next time he tried, he got it wrong, but kept trying until he got it right and looked at me waiting for another praise.
I was recently writing an article about Adolf Hitler. I'm sure I don't need to explain who this man is. He's probably the most infamous person that ever was. More well-known than Nero, more hated than Stalin. Yet, people liked him.
I was going through photos that were free to use, because let's face it, I'm too cheap to purchase photos. When I came across this photo, I was struck that this too was Hitler. He had smile lines, not the straight-faced stern look too often portrayed. He was touching his friend Joseph Goebbel's daughter's chin ever so lightly, rather than shouting fiercely at the crowd. The woman in the background looks pleased at what she saw, not scared or stricken. He looked likable.
This made me realize something. To many, he was likable. People willingly followed him. Not because he was so evil they feared him, although I am sure that happened as well, but because people sincerely wanted to please him.
So why would the likability of Hitler have anything to do with a parenting blog.
Honestly, it's because it reminded me to be careful. Be careful who you trust, be careful who you allow your children to be alone with. Just because someone seems friendly, does not mean you can trust them. According to the United States Department of Justice NSOPW, 75 percent of sexual perpetrators are people the victim knows, although I have heard that number is as high as 90 percent. What that means is most likely, these were people that were trusted.
Now, I am not urging parents to never allow their kids to have sleepovers or be alone with another adult or to scare them. That being said, I have respect for parents who have made that decision. I heard once Ozzy Osborne's kids were never allowed to go to a sleepover. Not that they are the pillar of all that is good, but it shows that if that's how you feel, you are not alone.
What I am saying is, be careful. Get to know the people who are in your child's life. Really know them.
Unfortunately, some are too late. Some feel like failures, because in their eyes, they failed to protect their children from a person they trusted. I am hear to say, forgive yourself. Do not take the blame.
The NSOPW also cited that, "Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18." You are not alone; your child is not alone. We can not protect our children from every danger, every person, every thing that is out there.
So please, forgive yourself. Do not blame yourself. It was one person's fault and one person's fault only, and it was not yours. Then remember to "cast... all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7) Then be there for your sweet child. Listen to them. Nurture them. Seek help from people more qualified than yourself. But most of all, love them.
I will say a quick prayer for you moms enduring this.
Dear Lord, you alone know the pain in this mom's heart. You alone know her child's pain. Thank you Lord that you do love us, more than we love ourselves. Thank you Lord that you love our children more than we could possibly love them. Help us to trust you. Help us to set our anger, our disappointment, our grief aside. Give these sweet mom's wisdom in how and when to talk to their children. Guide them on how to seek justice. Be with their children, help their children to use this horrible experience as a reason to grow, not to crumple. Lord, give these victims and their family members comfort. Give them peace. Give them joy, despite the heartache. Lord please stop the men or women who did this, so they can never do this again. Lord, protect all your children, young and old, from this devastating abuse. In Jesus name. - Amen.
Dear Mommy Who Feels Like They Are Failing,
You are not alone! I am currently writing this as my 20 month old spends yet another night in her room screaming because she does not want to go to bed. I have scoured the Internet, asked Facebook friends, picked experienced mom's brains and tried all the methods I could find. I was consistent with each method for weeks in hopes that I could sleep train this sweet baby. Twenty months later and she is still not sleep trained.
My mom friends are often like, "Just stick with it, it will get better." Seriously does it? I do imagine that she will not be screaming in her bed as a teenager, so yes, I imagine it will get better at some point. But are they meaning next week, next month, next year. How long will this "stage" last?
Honestly though, I am tired. I am overwhelmed. I feel like life shouldn't always be this hard! And this sleep thing, it is small beans compared to the other life events that are not appropriate for a blog post. I strive so hard to be doing the right thing, say the right thing, and be the perfect mom. Yet, days are long, and sometimes I just want to check out.
Then I do. I get on Facebook or bury myself in my phone or computer and just mentally clock out. Thankfully I have wonderful parents who dote on my children. Yet, despite having wonderful people to fill in the gaps of my parenting I am reminded by the verse.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
The Bible actually says "do not become weary in doing good." It's like he is specifically talking to the weary mom who packs the lunches, wipes the noses, kisses the boo boos. He knew we were going to get weary. He knew that life was going to be exhausting. Yet, these small things we do for our children are good. He does not just end it with the command to not become weary, but adds that if we do not give up there will be a harvest.
Too often I think we forget how important looking at our future goal is when raising our children. It's much easier to endure the two hour long tantrum when you know that the future has better things in store.
Now I know this verse has much farther reaches than a mom who is struggling with a fussy toddler, who is trying to make the right choices for her family and not succumb to bad habits or attitudes. But right now, this verse is what I need. I need to know that as long as I keep striving to raise her in the way she should go, no matter how difficult the challenges might be, that someday I will "reap a harvest."
So I will try not to check out as often, though I know I will. I will try to continue to raise my children in the way that is good and I will try to remember not to become overwhelmed with weariness because eventually there will be fruits of my labor. I will try to keep my eye on the harvest that awaits.
I will never forget the realization that my oldest daughter was not who I thought she should be. I had this vision of who I was raising, and yet she never quite fit that mold. Of course, in my head, she was a better version of myself. All the qualities that I liked about myself, I wanted her to have, as well as all the qualities I hated about myself, she shouldn't have.
Little did I know, she was a girl who would become better than I imagined.
My oldest came to live with us when she was five years old. I had never been a parent and had a vision of what it meant to be. I wanted to mold her into this obedient, submissive, quiet girl.
That was not the girl I got.
My first clue should have been when I learned she preferred jumping in puddles to playing with baby dolls. Or maybe when all the cute girly clothes I bought, she thought made her look "stupid." Don't get me wrong, she was a sweet girl, but she was fierce and bold. Neither qualities that I possessed.
I would get frustrated when I'd go to school and instead of hearing that she did her schoolwork quietly and helped people complete their work as I did in school, they would say, "She loves to talk." Looking back, this should not have frustrated me, as they all said it with the same grin, not disappointment or anger. They could see the greatness in her, despite her mischievous ways. They saw the potential in her.
As I continued to try to mold her into this person who was a better version of me, one day it occurred to me, she is not me, nor will she ever be me. In fact, she is as outgoing as I am quiet. She was a leader, where I tended to fall back in the shadows. She was bold, while I was meek.
Now please understand, I always adored her and saw potential in her, but I ran into a mistake that I see many other moms make. I was trying to change who she was rather than help shape the beautiful girl she already was and is today. Suddenly, a verse I had heard made so much more sense. Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go..." I wasn't supposed to train her to go in the way I was supposed to go, I was to train her to be a better version of herself.
Today, I strive to encourage her in her natural born ability to lead by reminding her that gift is meant to encourage others, not to boss or belittle. I strive to teach her that her ability to talk to anyone should be used on those who may need a friend. I strive to teach her that her ability to make others laugh should be tempered with a sensitivity towards others. I no longer try to change her, but encourage the positive attributes that she already possesses.
What I learned with her is going to serve me well with my youngest. I will accept her personality as unique and strive to bring out the good that is already there rather than mold her into something she is not. I will say as a mother I am proud of my oldest as I see glimpses of the adult she will be. I adore that she is so refreshingly not me, and has made our family richer, because she brings so much to our family that neither my husband nor I can. Once I finally realized that raising our children is not molding them into our idea of perfect, but rather teaching them to enhance their natural gifts, it has allowed me to truly see how wonderfully beautiful she is.
If Mama Ain't Happy, Nobodies Happy! And let me tell you, a few years ago, this mama was not happy. In fact, I was downright miserable. I had committed myself to things beyond what I could handle. I was helping raise two toddlers through foster care, had my then preteen and was homeschooling her, volunteered at a women's center, did bookkeeping on the side, was a wife, tried helping my friends through problems, and tried to run a house smoothly, and I was failing! And the worst part, I was miserable and my mood trickled down to everyone else in the household.
The more stressed I got, the more stressed everyone else was. Fortunately, even though I put myself in a situation beyond what I could personally handle, many stepped up to help me through it, but it wasn't until I humbled myself and began asking for help. My parents were great help babysitting and just being with me when things felt overwhelming. I hired a cleaning lady to help with the stuff that got forgotten because I was too busy picking up toys and keeping up with my other demands. Then of course, my ever patient husband gave me the grace to not feel like the utter failure I felt like I was. I noticed a great thing, the more I humbled myself, the more my mood improved, then so did my daughters, so did my foster children, so did my husbands. My pride got in the way of bringing peace into my home.
Because I am a slow learner, again the past couple months I have found myself getting grumpy yet again. And again, my stress brought everyone else down. I knew I could not do this to my family again. I knew something had to change. This mama was not happy, and she was bringing everyone else down with her.
Now first I should clarify something. I believe happiness is a temporal thing and should never be a person's goal in life. Happiness is based on circumstances and can change from one moment to the next, and let's face it, sometimes life sucks! This post is actually not about happiness at all, it's really about setting the mood for the house.
Over the past few years, I have realized that whether I like it or not, it is my responsibility to set the mood for the house. No I am not discounting the role father's responsibility in this or their impact on the mood of the house, but I am not a dad, I am a mom. I can only speak to my own experience. If one is a dad, they may need to take this message to heart as well. Yet, I am a mom, so I speak to you moms.
For me I needed to have a heart change. I needed to let go of my pride and ask for help. I needed to be content with my circumstances and stop wishing for a different life. I needed to seek wisdom.
My life was not going to change, but my outlook could.
Often I hear people talk about how us as mothers need to nurture ourselves, get a massage, spend time with friends, get a manicure, care for ourselves. Although that may be good stress relievers, too often, we may feel recharged for the moment, but when we get back to the children and reality happens again, we find the same pull toward insanity and can even feel more overwhelmed than before we left for that massage.
Just as happiness is temporal, these stress relievers are just a temporary fix. What we need more than stress relief is a heart change. The bible says that what is in our heart will overflow through our mouth (Luke 6:45) and our actions (Proverbs 4:23).
This is not something we can do overnight, nor is it something that is just going to happen. We need to make a conscious effort to change our thoughts, for it is our thoughts that soon enter our hearts, that soon exit through our actions and words.
When you find yourself losing it, because you stepped on that toy you asked your child three times before to take care of, you need to stop and ask yourself, is my heart where it needs to be?
Yes, you do need to talk to your child about being obedient, but do you need to yell using words known ever too well to sailors?
Then when you do lose it and threaten the safety of your child, do you need to beat yourself up for failing yet again at being that perfect mother you imagine yourself being?
We, as mothers, assume we should be able to handle everything life throws at us and do it with grace. Then we beat ourselves up for failing yet again when we don't. We are never going to be perfect as long as we live on this earth, but what we can do is decide to grow from our experiences, work on our hearts, control our thoughts, and decide to do better next time. Our kids are watching us. They are going to mimic us, and not just in actions, but our moods too. So be the change you want to see in your kids. If you want them to be more patient, be more patient. If you want them to be calmer, then be calmer. It may not always work, but at least you are not adding to the problem that already exists, and when you do add to the problem, learn from it and move on.
So there you go, my random ramblings from a mother who too often fails, but is always learning.
This Christian mom is far from perfect, but continually strives to grow and develop. She is an avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction and focuses a lot on personal growth. She loves to share what she has learned through her studies and her own failures, as well as walks alongside other mothers as they learn together the ins and outs of parenting.