Tag Archives: encouragement

Overweight Kids

It doesn’t feel good to be hanging on to some extra weight. And a good majority of our population knows this fact by experience. What is a common problem for adults has created a multi-billion dollar industry in ways to let go of some of that girth – from diet foods, to detoxes, to laser surgery, to good old-fashioned PhotoShop. But the issues with weight don’t stop with adults. Nowadays kids are also battling the bulge. And no wonder – the increase in technology and convenient foods high in fat have promoted a sedentary way of life for our kids. Kids these days….  When I was a kid we used to walk uphill both ways with rocks in our shoes.  Seriously, though, there was no cable television.  There was no Facebook.  And video games weren’t all that addicting, so we actually preferred to play outside.  Kids these days are way too engrossed in virtual entertainment.  And the result is a child who is growing sideways, with a self esteem that is diminishing just as fast. And their way of dealing with it is to continue hanging out in front of the TV or computer, munching on food because it feels good in that moment.

But believe me, your child doesn’t want to be overweight. They want to be a healthier version of kids their age. They may even feel “eater’s remorse” after indulging in something sinful, just like adults tend to do. They may even know what foods they should avoid, and that they should be getting up off the couch and moving around. But they don’t know how to start.

It’s up to us to show them how. And it’s our responsibility to promote a healthier way of living.

I am not immune to this dilemma. The Taz is ending the summer roughly 30 pounds overweight. Last summer, he looked just like the other kids his age. He was active in sports, could run fast, and enjoyed playing outside. But over the year, the weight crept up. He was snacking a lot more frequently, something I excused with growth spurts. He was playing outside a lot less, preferring to play with his video games. When he did go outside to play with his friends it was to hang out at their houses, eat their food, and play their video games. And the Taz stopped having the energy to play the way he used to. And soon I realized that the Taz had put on more than just a little baby fat.  The kid was actually hanging over his jeans.

And the Taz was aware of his body image. He saw how his friends were skinnier. He wasn’t ignorant of the fact that the kids on his baseball team were faster than him. Whenever I took a picture of him, he quickly sucked in his stomach and puffed out his chest to make himself appear thinner. He finally asked me to help him lose the weight, telling me of his desire to start eating healthier. Week one came and went, and the Taz was eating smaller, healthier meals and nixing the snacks in between. He was even exercising a bit with me. But after that first week, his interest in working at it wore thin. And he gave up. He’d give me lip service about eating healthy, and then go to his friends’ homes where he’d drink several sodas and gorge on junk food. And he’d sneak his money outside and buy all sorts of junk from the man who rides around our neighborhood selling goodies from his bike.

I’ll admit, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to promote a healthy way of eating and living when my son is unwilling to be a part of the process. It’s frustrating, to say the least. And I admit, it pisses me off.  It makes me angry that he feels inferior to those around him because he is bigger, so embarassed by his body that he won’t even take his shirt off comfortably when we go swimming.  It makes me angry that he wants to become healthier, but not enough to actually make the effort.  It makes me angry that there are so many targets out there aimed at children, like video games and high calorie kid meals, that make it even harder for them to even have the desire to be healthy.  How can healthy living win out when the alternative is so much more appealing?  And it makes me angry that I have dropped the ball and have allowed him to gain weight.  But I haven’t given up. The most recent development on this path is that we’ve started taking family walks in the evening. It’s become something that we all look forward to every evening. The Taz walks with us for one lap, and then skateboards the second half.   And while I cannot easily stop him from eating unhealthy food at his friends’ homes, I can continue encouraging healthier eating at home, and continue creating a habit that will hopefully become second-nature.

I also found some great tips written by Dr. Holly Atkinson, the Chief Medical Officer and Senior Medical Correspondent for HealthiNation. She encourages parents of overweight children to emotionally support children, letting them know they are loved and accepted no matter what their size is. She also mentions that parents should be the role model when it comes to changes an overweight child should make to become healthier. “Children look to their parents as their models. If you eat healthy foods, your child will too. If you exercise, they are more likely to exercise.” And it’s a good idea to limit the amount of TV watching, computer, and video games your child is playing. To see more of Holly’s tips, check them out in the forums at SantaRosaMom.com.

What are your thoughts on weight gain in kids? Is there any easy way to prevent obesity in kids? Are there uncommonly known things about our society that is actually encouraging this weight gain? And what happens after our kids have gained an abnormal amount of weight, how can we turn things around?

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First Day of Kindergarten

In one moment they're just exiting the toddler stage, in the next they are independent big kids going to school for the first time.

As the oldest kid in my family, I had never felt small. But there I was, suddenly small in a classroom of other kids just like me. My mom, pregnant with my youngest sister and my 4 year old sister at her side, handed me my lunch and coaxed me forward. I wasn’t entirely scared, not like the kid who was wailing in the coat room, begging their mom not to leave. I felt a little hesitant, but I wasn’t going to be THAT kid. And so I moved forward, carrying my belongings inside the classroom until the teacher could tell me where to put them. My mom stayed for the first 10 minutes as we all sang a song together. And then my mom was gone, along with all the other moms and dads. I was left alone in this big classroom, the strange teacher sitting in front of us, 20 kindergarteners cross-legged on patches of carpet waiting to find out which desk space would be ours.

It was in that year that I learned many lessons. I learned how to count to 100. I learned that there were more shapes than just the triangle, square, and circle. I learned that if my neighbor was talking to me and I wasn’t saying a word, I could still get my name on the chalkboard. And if I argued about it, I would get a check and miss recess. I learned that kindergarten boys liked everything that had to do with the bathroom, and could draw themselves peeing on just about anything (I learned later that they don’t really grow out of this phase and will go into their adult years obsessed with bathroom humor). I learned that while we were all 5 year old kids, we were all very different. This was made apparent by the girl who blinked too much, the boy who seemed to have lost something up his nose, the kid who made machine gun noises as he drew bombs hitting the school, and the girl who always seemed to have sat in water after the lunch bell rang.

And I learned independence.

After the first week of school, being dropped off by my mom was no big thing. I would barely glance at her as I bounded off to be with my friends once reaching my classroom. And I reminisced about this as I stood with my daughter 7 years ago on the first day of kindergarten, surrounded by strangers and waiting to leave her with a teacher I had never met before. She hung by my side, shyly glancing at all the other kids who were about to become her classmates. A few of them she knew, and she glanced up at me cautiously before making her way over to them. But after awhile, she was one of the crowd, joining in the laughter as kids ran all over the yard. The bell rang, we all made our way to the classroom, and soon it was time for the parents to leave. And as I swallowed the lump in my throat, I realized something. This might just be harder on me than it is on her. And for the first time, I realized that my mom might have been feeling the same way as she relinquished care of me over to someone she had never met before for several hours out of the day.

Many of you parents are about to drive your children to a brand new school for the first time, leaving them in the care of someone who is a virtual stranger. It’s not uncommon for there to be tears in this new adventure – YOUR tears. And there are fears as well. Know that you’re not alone in this. Letting your baby grow up so much that they are attending a big kid school is a HUGE step. And it is a bit intimidating. And you may find different worries rattling around in your brain as they embark on this adventure without you. Will they find the bathroom ok when they need to go? Sure they will. Will they eat all their lunch? Probably not (but they won’t starve). Will they make friends? Most likely they will. Will they follow all the rules? Perhaps, perhaps not. This is a growing time for them, and a time for learning more than just the ABCs.

And it’s a growing time for you too.  As for your tears? It’s ok. This is a huge step for you. You are learning to let go, and this is the first in a long line of many times you will be loosening those apron strings. But my advice is to save the tears for when they are safely out of sight so that they don’t have to worry about how you’re going to make it without them.

How are you feeling now that your 5 year old is a big kid? Are you scared or nervous? Are you excited? Are you counting down the days until they are out of the house, or dreading the day you have to let them grow up?

Loving the Bully

Years ago, I was helping out in my daughter’s 3rd grade class. The classroom was a room of organized chaos as the parents and I helped out on the latest project. But the vibe in the class was good as everyone participated in something that was more creative than doing seatwork for hours on end. But in a corner of the room, there was a different vibe. One of the kids, a noticeably larger kid than the rest of his 3rd grade peers, was doing his best to create conflict. He was taking pens from another student to finish his project, and claiming them as his own. And when the student complained, the bigger kid yelled out that they were his. Seeing that he wasn’t going to get away with it, he finally threw his papers and the pens across the room in defiance.

“Outside!” the teacher yelled out. The kid was angry at being called out, and stomped out of the room, slamming the door as hard as he could. The teacher made a quick call to the office, and then went back to her students.

This wasn’t the first time that I had seen this kid act out in the classroom. My daughter had shared a class with him once before, and the story had always been the same. Teachers didn’t know what to do with him, and he didn’t care one bit about school or in behaving properly. But for some reason, I liked the kid. He was funny and had a great smile. And I knew there was something underneath that just wasn’t being reached.

I quietly excused myself from the classroom and joined the kid outside. He was kicking the wall to the classroom in frustration and defiance, determined that if he was already going to get in trouble, he was going to make sure that he got enough of it in. I sat next to him.

“Hey,” I said. He didn’t answer. “Rough day, huh?” He gave me a sideways glance and continued kicking the wall. “You know, your teacher called the office. And they are probably going to call your parents,” I said.

“So,” he said.

“Well, what do you think your mom is going to say?” I asked him.

“I don’t have a mom,” he said.

“Alright, what about your dad?”

“He won’t care,” he said.

The kicking of the wall did finally cease as he finally opened up a tiny bit about his home life. His dad actually got mad at him all the time. And he also lived with his grandmother. We talked about what things he liked about school (nothing, he reported), and what he liked to do for fun. And throughout the conversation I could see that this was a boy who was crying out for attention, somebody to notice him as a good kid and worth something. And he wasn’t getting that at home, at school, anywhere.

Sometimes we, as a community, fail our kids.

It’s not like my family is immune to bullies, or at being angry over victimizing members of our family.  Just this summer, the Taz was involved in a skirmish with a kid that was three times bigger than him.  It was a scary situation for him, and for me that had to then think quickly about how to deal with it.  In the beginning I saw red over a giant of a kid picking on a kid so much smaller than him.  And I was ready to string him up in a mob mentality.  But as I talked with him and his parents, I saw a young boy inside of a big body that was so insecure that he took offense at my little son laughing at him.

“Almost 30% of youth in the United States (or over 5.7 million) are estimated to be involved in bullying as either a bully, a target of bullying, or both. In a recent national survey of students in grades 6-10, 13% reported bullying others, 11% reported being the target of bullies, and another 6% said that they bullied others and were bullied themselves.”  (www.safeyouth.org)

Thing is, it’s hard to show love to a kid who is lashing out. You can’t hug a thrashing wildcat. And let’s face it, if it’s our kid on the receiving end of a bully’s rage, we’d prefer to throttle the kids than to try and help him.  Thing is, this kid had it so ingrained that he was unlovable that he was determined to fit the mold. Focus on a kid’s bad side too much, and that’s all they will see as well.

I was in conversation this weekend with a man who did work with kids who were classified as bullies. He passionately told me about these kids. These were the kids who were picking on smaller kids to feel power. They were the ones who decided that the rules didn’t apply to them. They were the ones being sent out of the classroom so that the rest of the class could actually learn something without disruption. Many of these kids who were trouble in their younger years were the same ones who were joining gangs or causing illegal trouble when they were older. The black and white of it is that they are a problem. They are picking on our kids and making them victims, causing so much fear in some kids that they are afraid to go to school.

But there is a gray side. And that is what their family life looks like at home, and the reaction to them as events escalate. It is very rare for a kid from a loving and attentive family to join a gang. Gangs feed on those kids who aren’t getting love and attention at home. And the kids who join, join up with the desire of being accepted once and for all, to have a FAMILY. And on the outside that is what they feel they are getting. For once, they have a group of people that are there for them through thick and thin. And the loyalty in a gang is strong. So strong that when a kid decides that they can’t be involved in the tumultuous life of a gang, it is near impossible to get out.

How would a bully’s life change if they had someone there to tell them that they matter, that they are worth it, that their talents are great and their possibilities even greater? The program that this man briefly told me about sounded so hopeful and enlightening, it made me wonder if programs like this exist in our community. What are we doing, or what can be done, to help change the direction of bullies who are going down a slippery slope? I hear all the time about programs dedicated for victims of bullying. And that is definitely necessary. But are there any bully prevention programs that help the child that might be reacting to something bigger than just victimization, and to ward off future violence and trouble?

Feeling Clingy

Over the summertime, my son started becoming extra clingy.  I would be in the next room, and he would call out to make sure that I was still there.  He wouldn’t go to his dad’s house without a fight because he didn’t want to leave me.  He was constantly worried that I was going to abandon him, or that I might die.  So I wrote an article about it, and got a lot of feedback from other parents that were going through the same thing.  And it appeared that it was going on with kids around the same age as my son. 

Here’s one comment in particular:

My 8 year old daughter seems to be going through this. There was no event that seemed to have caused it aside from turning 8. She refuses to go to her dad’s house, and hasn’t been able to have a sleep over. She has tantrums about going to her father’s a week in advance. She constantly asks to sleep in my bed. She can’t be on the second floor of the house without someone else being there unless she is somehow preoccupied. It’s hard to help her cope because I feel suffocated. I’d love to hear some advice.
by Kim

It appears that this really is just an age thing.  Maybe this is the age that they suddenly become more aware of the world around them and realize that things aren’t always safe.  That can be a scary thing for a kid to become aware of.  It seems like they magnify the negative parts of the world that they are not only worried about their own safety, they are worried about the safety of their parents.  For kids of a single parent, they worry about what will happen to their main parent if they leave them.  My son has actually said this to me, that he is afraid that I might die while he’s not with me.  So it makes him nervous to go to his dad’s house.  And he is also afraid that I might have left him if I’m not right around him.  He’s 9 now, and he still does the periodic check ins to make sure I’m still in the house.  But it has definitely decreased since I wrote this blog.  And while he will call me about 5 times on average when he’s at his dad’s house, he now feels comfortable going.

My advice for Kim?  Humor your daughter and let her do her check-ins.  If visits with her dad are too much for her, maybe decrease some of the overnights, or stick around (if you and your ex get along) for a little while before leaving.  Let her call you as much as she wants at first, and then start setting appointments for when she can call you so that you are sure to be available for her when she calls, and are still able to enjoy your kid-free time.  For nighttime, maybe set up one night a week that she can sleep with you so she has something to look forward to.  Give her a night light if she doesn’t have one, and maybe a “lovey” – a special stuffed animal to keep her safe.  Reward her when she has slept in her own bed at night.  I know it’s suffocating, but this really is just a phase.  And the safer she feels, the faster she will move through this phase…and then move onto another phase that is equally frustrating. 

Thoughts?

Raising the Ambitious Child

Ambition. It’s what the goal of the week is for my son, instructed by his teacher at yesterday’s conference. Really, it’s the goal for the whole year. Ambition to do his work neatly and with care. Ambition to pay attention during class. Ambition to show he is there to learn by staying near the front of the class anytime the teacher has something to show the class to give them more insight into what they are learning about. This week, ambition is the focus as we enter the second half of the year, eventually saying goodbye to 3rd grade as he enters the higher grades at a different school. It’s ambition to change the negative habits of yesterday and create positive habits for tomorrow.

Ambition, according to Mr. M, means two things. First, it’s brought on by enthusiasm to reach a goal. That morning, when the teacher had come over to the Taz’s desk to point out a couple of things, my son sighed and got an attitude of defeat. He would have to re-do everything he had already done to make the paper correct. Mr. M asked my son if he is bothered by him coming over and helping him without being asked. Truthful as an 8 year old, my son told him “yes” and said that he’d prefer if Mr. M only came over when he asked for help. That’s when Mr. M pointed out that my son doesn’t ask for help because he doesn’t seem to know when he needs it. He encouraged him to ask for help if he doesn’t understand what they are learning or why his answer seems to be different from the rest of the class. Together, they worked out that, at this point, it is actually ok if the teacher comes over and checks out my son’s work and helps him when he needs it. And that’s when he addressed my son’s attitude towards his help. His impression of my son sighing and moaning over more work to do was all too familiar in my house, and it made me laugh. My son got a sheepish grin on his face as I related to Mr. M’s description with my own rendition of what it was like while he did homework at home.

Me: You didn’t write out the sentences for these words you had to correct, you missed the corrections for this paragraph, and you didn’t even do this side of the paper.

Taz: Aw man! I just want to have fun! I thought today was going to be a good day!

Mr. M talked to my son about a different attitude he could have when errors were found and needed to be fixed. “Oh! Now I see what I did!” He had my son repeat it to him. At first my son said it in a monotone voice, still picking at the jeans with a hole in the knee. But Mr. M stopped him midsentence and told it to him again. Together, with zest, they repeated the words. “Oh! Now I see what I did!”

The second part of ambition is what it leads to – success. We talked about my son’s progress report that he brought home. The report only had numbers of 3, 3+ and 4 on it. On a number scale, a 4 is equal to an “A”, and a 3 is equal to a “B”. So his report card was exceptionally good. There were also notes about what he needed to work on, but Mr. M noted that the Taz had improved a lot since the beginning of the year. But we both agreed that the Taz was capable of so much more, and could possibly have all 4s. While math is his strong subject, Mr. M was especially impressed with my son’s writing skills. The Taz had recently written a letter to me from school, reminding me of a task I needed to complete to be turned in to the teacher. The teacher had told him the points he had wanted him to convey, and my son took the reins and wrote out a full letter. It read like he was talking to me, completely clear and well thought out. This is coming from the child who, last year, wrote sentences for class that had to use two spelling words. The sentences he wrote were mostly three words long. Over the year, he was suddenly writing long essays with ease, stories with description and conversation, and letters home to his mom about how he needs a letter to the teacher every time he forgets his homework.

The teacher was very adamant to my son that he is a smart boy, and capable of so much. He was capable of being successful, and had my son repeat the word “success” to him. My son, at that point, was still more interested in what was going on outside, or how much bigger he could make the hole in his jeans. And he mumbled “success” a couple times before the teacher finally accepted his most enthusiastic reply.

After the conference, I talked to the Taz in the car, telling him how wonderful it was that he had worked so hard to get to where he was at now, and how confident I was in his abilities. The Taz groaned in the backseat, tired of the conversation on ambition, just wanting to be done. But I was invigorated by the motivation of the meeting, excited about everything in store for my son.

“Let’s put it this way,” I said to the Taz. “You want to drive a sports car one day?” I asked him. He nodded his head, but then shook his head.

“I’ll probably just drive a cheap car when I grow up,” he said.

“I don’t think so. I could see you in a sports car,” I told him. He grinned at that, no doubt thinking of himself behind the wheel of some sleek, red car that went fast down the highway and took turns while hugging the road. “Well, to get that fancy sports car, you’re going to have to make money. And how do you get money?” I asked him. “You have a really good job. And to get that good job, you have to have done really well in school. And to do well in school, you have to WANT to do well. That’s why we’re meeting with your teacher. That’s why I’m so excited about the progress you’re making, and excited for your future. I want you to make a lot more money than me. I can see you making a lot of money. And I see you driving that fancy sports car.”

“I’ll probably be poor when I grow up,” he said to that, intent on staying in the negative.

“I highly doubt it,” I said back.

“I’ll bet you a hundred dollars I’ll be poor,” he told me, $100 being the equivalent to all the money in the world in his mind.

“It’s a deal,” I said. To that, his eyes widened and he grinned. I continued, “If you live your life with ambition, truly doing your absolute best at everything you set your mind to, and you still end up poor and unsuccessful, I will give you $100.” And we shook on it.

I was talking with Mr. Wonderful’s step-father last night, relaying the story of the Taz and his teacher, and how his goal for the week is to have ambition to be successful. And after I told the story, he told me this:

“There was this 40 year old man, some years ago, that called into a radio station after hearing a similar story about a boy that was being encouraged by his teacher. He told the host that in all his 40 years, he had failed at everything he had attempted in his life. He had lost job after job. He had three failed marriages under his belt. Every attempt he made to turn things around resulted in another failure. And he couldn’t figure out why until this very moment. When he was a young boy and sitting in a parent teacher conference with his mother and teacher, the teacher had turned to his mother and said,

“Your boy will never amount to anything.”

The man thanked the host, and told him that now that he knew, he could finally move on, and change things for the better – for good.”

Without our encouragement, our children will never be ambitious. If they are brought down time after time, they will believe the negative and will become the negative. Ambition is directly linked to self-esteem. If a child has low self-esteem, they will see the glass as half empty and won’t even be able to do their best. But if a child is encouraged repeatedly, told that he is capable of so much, and is encouraged to picture his future as something wonderful, they will believe that. And they will live it. Think of it this way – if a child is told that their room is a mess after they just spent time cleaning it, they will be less enthusiastic to help out the next time. But if they are praised for their efforts, raised up by compliments on how well they cleaned their room, they will be more enthusiastic about cleaning it the next time, and maybe even keep it tidy in between cleanings. If a child is told they are stupid, put down because their report card is less than satisfactory, or told they will never amount to anything because they can’t seem to stop goofing off in class – what exactly is going to motivate them to try harder? But if they are praised for their strengths, they will try even harder to utilize those strengths. And if they are recognized when they turn the corner on something they have been struggling with, they will be more apt to continue down that positive path.

Honey attracts more flies than vinegar.

It is enthusiasm about the goals that have been set that motivate ambition. And it is ambition that leads to success. But what leads to the path of enthusiasm? Our encouragement. And that’s what it takes to raise an ambitious child.

Are you making less than $50,000 a year?  You may be able to qualify for EITC and get up to $5,000 or more back, even if you don’t owe taxes.   See the forums for more details.

Guiding our Children Positively

Call it sassiness, adolescence, or plain old Back to School backtalk, but my 8 year old is suffering from it. And this means that our whole household is suffering from it. Last night was a prime example. We’ve been working on implementing the rules for a successful back to school schedule: packing up the backpack the night before, preparing most of the lunches, and being dressed for bed before bedtime so that a little bit of downtime is allowed. But each direction I gave was met with a complaint, a whine, a cry, or a “You’ve got to be kidding me!” The last straw was when he had to get a lunchbag down to put his lunch in. Upon trying to reach the top shelf and failing, he uttered, “Are you trying to humiliate me?!?”

Kids.

He claimed I didn’t care about him. To that I told him that I felt he didn’t care about me. It all went downhill from there. Argument after argument ensued until finally it was all done. By the time it was finished, it was bedtime. There would be no time for downtime. And he had a fit over it. I was exhausted, he was angry, it was all a bad combination. I put both kids to bed with a hug and kiss, though it wasn’t as endearing as usual. Upon closing the door, he called out, “I love you!” I said it back, and went back downstairs with feelings of guilt over how the night had played out.

The best way to guide a child is with love. Not with yelling, not with frustration, not with anything but love. They respond to it, things go more smoothly, and real lessons are taught that they soak up and remember. A hug telling them that you understand how hard things are with so many new responsibilities. Helping them when they get so overwhelmed they can’t see straight. Encouragement that they can accomplish anything. Telling them how proud you are of them when they succeed.

I got caught up in the moment. I did not do any of that. I was so frustrated I couldn’t get past the stress I was feeling over the frustration of the night. I failed to stop and think about the stress my 8 year old son was feeling, and how he really could have used an encouraging word. As the adult, it was much easier for me to turn the situation around than it was for him.

In times of stress, stop and take a deep breath. Pause before you say anything. Ask yourself, what am I teaching my child with this behavior. And then implement the kind of behavior you want mirrored back to you. Yelling never creates peace. As parents, it is our job to control the environment in our households. It’s not easy, it never is. And as humans, we’ll slip up time and again. But if we work at it, we can create more peaceful households, which can have the potential to create a more peaceful world.