I grew up in a household full of animals. At any given time, we had rabbits (Funny story: we thought we had two sisters…we did not. We went from 2 rabbits to 26 in a month!), guinea pigs, fish, dogs, cats, hamsters. Even a frog! I even “rescued” a butterfly, who stayed my constant companion for its short life and refused to fly away. Caring for and enjoying animals was a natural part of my childhood and I couldn’t wait to share that with my own children.
Right now, we have a bull dog, Ivy, and a whole slew of fish in a giant tank in the boys’ room (I believe their names range from Blackie, Big Fish, Baby Fish, to the Brothers). The host of lessons and teachable moments with these animals as part of our family are endless. With any animal, the opportunity is there to teach:
1. Responsibility: Teaching your children to be responsible for another life in all its many facets has countless rewards. Not only do they learn to contribute to the care and wellbeing of others, but they also learn to respect what you do as their parent. As they play “mommy” to their pets, they put someone before themselves, they clean, they work hard. It can be a lightbulb moment in communicating family roles and the necessity of everyone’s contribution to the greater good.
2. Care/Empathy: Teaching your children to recognize the needs of another being and to empathize in a way that prompts action and care is an invaluable life lesson. I truly believe that having a heart for others is a learned skill that comes from seeing that same love and devotion in action in the people surrounding you and from being in an environment that demands and challenges you to consider others before yourself. I want my children to have servant hearts. Caring for their pets is a helpful first step in molding that character trait.
With our specific family pets, we can highlight some specific teachable moments.
With our dog, Ivy (p.s. That is NOT Ivy…I admit to having only really lame images of her! I will work on that.)
1. Respect for Animals/Awareness for their Natural Cues: We spend a lot of time talking about what Ivy is doing and why, and most importantly, what that means for us. Is she resting and should we leave her be? Is she jumping and wants to play? Did she growl and what does that mean? Teaching children that pets are animals and not toys, and to have a healthy respect and awareness for the natural cues they give us as to whether or not they should be approached gives them the tools to make the best decisions for their safety.
2. Loyalty: Take this one with a grain of salt, since Ivy isn’t loyal to anyone except my husband (see above reference to lame pictures), but that relationship is truly something to behold. Those two are so stinkin’ in love with each other. The sun rises and sets on my husband and that example of true friendship and loyalty is especially important to little boys in my humble opinion. A boy and his dog. Is there anything sweeter?
3. Routine: Need I say more? We are all hoping to maximize every opportunity to teach our children how to follow and appreciate a good routine.
4. Obedience: Yeah, this one pretty much speaks for itself too. Watching the relationship develop between hearing a “command,” acting on it and the resulting positive reinforcement is a great example for any child.
5. Ask Permission: Here’s another safety one. The boys have been taught that because of #1, we must never approach any animal, especially a dog, from behind or without asking the owner first if it is ok if they pet it. Upon receiving permission, they have been taught to put out their hand and let a dog sniff first, and pet second. Respect.
With our fish, of countless aforementioned names (p.s. That is also not me or our fish tank – seriously, who takes a picture of their own fish tank? Not this photog.)
1. Counting: We count our fish in every way possible. By color, by size, by family. Count, count, count. How many fish are eating? How many fish are hiding in the cave? I use every opportunity in that fish tank to get them thinking.
2. Security: They go to sleep at naps and night time with the tank light on. They find an incredible restfulness and sense of security by watching the peaceful underwater environment ebb and flow. It quiets their spirits and develops their imaginations. They feel content and safe knowing their fishies are “watching over them.”
3. Socialization: We talk at length about the personalities of our different fish. We have fish that are friends with each other and are inseparable. We have super shy fish that hide and we speak encouragements to them to help them feel more a part of the group. We have the food stealers and the bottom feeders. The schools and the loners. We are learning, albeit on a much smaller scale, to identify emotions and personality through action.
4. Life and Death: Fish come and go pretty frequently. The boys are still a bit young to understand what’s happening when we flush a fishy, but I’ll continue to talk them through what happened and why, and I’m sure at some point, when they have a better understanding, it will be a teachable moment that it is ok to feel sad and miss someone who leaves, but that we keep on keepin’ on.
Pets aren’t for everyone. And as a mother of multiples, I’ll be the first to say that sometimes you just don’t have the resources to properly care for an animal while you can barely survive the day to day chaos of the kids. That’s perfectly ok. There are a million other just as effective ways to instill these different values and similar activities. If you are a pet owner, or foresee yourself becoming one in the future, keep these helpful tips in mind and use your pet not only as a new family member to love on, but also as a teachable moment for your children as they develop into sturdy, responsible contributing members of society.
Ah!! Look what I found! Ivy, in her cute stage, pre-husband obsession.
How to Avoid the Epic Meltdown: Understanding Your Child’s Cues
Duh, duh, duh….the dreaded meltdown. With one kid, this can bring the strongest mommy to her knees. With multiples, well…the word “epic” takes on a completely new meaning. In the worst possible way.
Moral of the story? A little organization and forethought can go a long way. Considering WHY my kids were throwing tantrums and then exploring what I could do to prevent them before they started has saved me a million tears. Like I said, it’s not a perfect system. But every little bit helps.
How to Speak the Right Language: Understanding Your Child’s Cues
Every day I pick up my children from day care to hear “They are such great kids! They had a blast today and are some of the best listeners we’ve ever had. They’re so well-behaved!” Yay, Mama win! And then we go home and they act like total demon-infested, hell-raising psychos and won’t listen to a word I say. Weekends can be brutal and I sometimes find myself praising Jesus that I decided to keep working and not stay-at-home.
sweet kids from day care?
Best Thing I Ever Did: I went to pick the kids up one day and they were enjoying themselves, so I decided to just sit and watch for a bit and let them play. Funny thing happened. I started listening to how the day care teachers communicated with my children and how they responded. And the light bulb went off. I don’t know how to speak the language my kids understand.
I started listening harder. And then I came back the next day and did it again. Now, every time I drop off or pick up, I listen. How are they talking to my kids? What are they saying? How are the kids responding? And then I mimick it at home.
Major win!!! My kids are starting to see an extension of their daily routine back into the home and it’s making sense. I say certain words they’re used to hearing and like magic, they listen. Not every time (which I suspect also happens at day care), but the majority of time. Major improvement. We are starting to speak the same language.
Sometimes I forget (or refuse to admit) that I am not my children’s primary care provider. For those of us that work outside the home, most often our kids spend the majority of their time somewhere other than with us. Sometimes, being reminded of that hurts. A lot. But truth is, they develop routines, cues and references that we’re not familiar with. We need to learn the language they are used to hearing every day so that we can communicate our needs in a way they understand. I need to speak my children’s language.
Phrase Adjustments that Worked for Me:
- “Walk away please” instead of “No!” or “Don’t Touch!”
- “Are you using your listening ears?” instead of “Listen to me!”
- “I’m going to go to work for awhile, but Mommies always come back!” instead of “Say bye to Mommy. I have to go to work.”
11 Alternatives to Self Harm: Emily Speaks
If you’re just connecting with the Emily Speaks series, be sure to check out her first post, Cyber Bullying and Self-Harm, to catch up. Today, Emily will be sharing 11 alternatives to self harm to help those hurting to make healthier choices to cope with emotional struggles.
I know it can be hard not to self-harm if you’re being bullied, but you need to try to think of other ways to deal with the pain. Cutting leaves angry scars on your body. You should try to deal with your hurt in other ways. Here are 11 good examples that will hopefully help you out a little bit.
1. Try talking to somebody about what’s going on so that you can get it out of your system.
2. Go outside where nobody is around and just scream as loud as you can for as long as you want.
3. Take a rubber band and keep it on your wrist so whenever you feel like cutting you can just take that rubber band and snap it on your wrist (softly – not to where it harms you).
4. Get an old teddy bear or stuffed animal that you don’t want and take your anger out on that.
5. Go on a jog or go out and ride your bike or long board or whatever you have and just ride around to calm yourself down.
6. Go hang out with your friend(s) and get your mind off things that would make you want to cut or do anything else to harm yourself.
7. Sleep it out and take a long nap and see how you’re feeling when you wake up.
8. Go hang out with your family and just relax.
9. Listen to some music.
10. Read a book.
11. Get an art journal and draw out your feelings. You can paint, draw pictures, even just scribble hard.
These are some of the ways that I stop myself from cutting, because I do still think about it when things get rough. When that happens, I try to do these instead and it helps. It does! You need to do anything that would take your mind off of any bad thoughts you are having and make you want to hurt yourself. This might not be the best list of ideas, but if you take a chance and try them out, they might end up working for you. You’re not only helping yourself, but you’re helping everyone else around you by making a better choice to not self-harm.