Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gently into Sleep: A Bedtime Ritual

"Listen up, everyone!" the excited mom cried out as she rushed into our evening workshop. "For the first time in two and a half years, Thomas went to sleep without sobbing!" She was exultant! Just the week before, the class of young parents cried out, in unison, for help.

"Bedtime should be the sweetest part of the day," they lamented. "But it dissolves into tears and tantrums and angry words. It's exhausting!" So we stapled together the pages of a simple, step-by-step bedtime book. That night, Thomas went to sleep without sobbing. Eventually, all gussied up professionally with pocket pages and charming, collage-cut illustrations, the little book became Gently into Sleep: A Bedtime Ritual.

Bedtime begins in the morning. If a child has your focused attention only at bedtime, he will do all he can to prolong your closeness. But a child who is comforted and cuddled during the day is more likely to sleep well at night.

Then, because you are the authority in your home, your child needs you to set the beginning and the ending of bedtime. But all the choices in between are his. Going to sleep becomes his responsibility. Wait! A contradiction? No. Good parenting! When you give a child ownership of a decision, you open the door to his cooperation. I've rarely known a child to say "No!" to a choice he has made. A little guy who sequences the steps of his own bedtime ritual will follow it. Happily. Right into bed. And gently into sleep.

Thomas and his missionary mom took his bedtime book with them to Germany. No matter how strange the sounds of the new language around him, Thomas knew the sounds of these words by heart: "Sleep well. Sweet dreams." And he did.

A Colorful Thought:
A bedtime ritual warmly colored with love is the security blanket of childhood.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Moments of Learning

Many years ago, my artsy friend Val taught me an extraordinary lesson about childhood.

I was leading young moms in a discussion in Val's charming (and child-proofed) family room. Our topic was how a child's confidence, or lack of it, develops between the ages of one and two years. Surprising as it sounds, that is the major developmental task of a one-year-old. A little one's confidence is either built up by loving approval of her impulsive moments of learning, or torn down by endless no-nos and corrections. It is confidence to explore with all her senses that brings explosive new learning into a child's brain.

Val nodded. She stood and reached for a lovely "objet d'art" looking down on us from a shelf above her head. Val placed the ballerina, dressed in gorgeous hues of gold, on her coffee table. Then she called her two toddlers to come and touch! The children's fingers wandered like shy sand crabs over the delicate dancer while Val explained the words "smooth" and "glassy" and "fragile." Satisfied, the girls watched Val return the treasure to a waiting shelf.

"One day, when my children's hands and feet are steadier, I'll put the dancer on the coffee table to stay," Val explained. "The girls will know a friend is joining their play and they'll watch over her. But for now, I'm teaching them to notice and respect beautiful things, like my artist mother taught me. I'm confident (she smiled at her use of the word) that, like me, the children's love of beauty will bring joy to their lives."

In that moment, I was the learner. Val taught me, just as you will teach your children. Don't wait for elusive hours of time that never come. It is in moments – in clumsy, curious moments of discovery – that children gain confidence to be a learner. A vital part of that learning is to "notice and respect beautiful things." Perhaps that is what God intended when He colored His majestic world.

A Colorful Thought: Color your child's confidence with the crayon of approval that lasts a lifetime.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mae Mobley's Remembering

In The Help by Kathryn Stockett, a wise and loving black maid devotes herself to the seventeenth white child she is raising. Mae Mobley is her Baby Girl! Dismayed that the child's mother demeans her, Aibileen speaks in whispers to Mae Mobley's heart. Her whispers fill the child with good thoughts she can believe about herself, thoughts no one can steal away. When Aibileen is forced to walk out of the child's life, she tells it this way.

"Law, I feel like my heart's gone bleed to death. 'I got to go, baby, you my last little girl,' I say. It just ain't by my own choosing. 'Baby Girl,' I say, 'I need you to remember everything I told you ... about what you are.'

"I look deep into her rich brown eyes and ... I swear I see, down inside, the woman she gone grow up to be. She is tall and straight. She is proud. And she is remembering the words I put in her head. Remembering as a full-grown woman.

"And then she say it, just like I need her to. 'You is kind,' she say to herself, 'you is smart. You is important.'

"Oh Law, I feel like she done just given me a gift. I cry and say, 'Thank you, Baby Girl.'"

The whispered messages, colored with an indelible crayon, will keep playing on the tape recorder of Mae Mobley's remembering.

In the same way, whatever messages you give your child – with your tone of voice, or body language, or words – record on her internal tape recorder. The erase button on a child's tape recorder is elusive and erratic. The messages of childhood keep playing the whole of a child's life, like unforgettable melodies that linger in our heads.

And your messages? Catch her doing good. Notice when she's kind. Praise her for being helpful. Empathize with her feelings. Draw attention to her very trying to get something right. Smother her with approval.

She believes you! Your messages become the messages in her head that guide her, like an immense magnetic pull, to become the person you tell her she is.

Oh, how I hope they leave the scene of Mae Mobley's remembering, "You is kind. You is important." in the movie adaptation. For all of us to remember.

A Colorful Thought: Color the memory tape of your child's early years with a brilliant, positive crayon that never fades.