Harmful Message Good Parents Send Their Kids

We are all a product of our raising and we tend to make decisions involving our own children based on how our parents did it, or the complete opposite of how our parents did it. We will also mix in tidbits we’ve picked up from books, movies, blogs, and friends we’ve observed (or even stragers). In short, most of us are just winging it at the parenting thing. It’s rare to meet a parent who has thought long and hard about the messages they’re sending to their children and its even more rare to think about the messages SOCIETY is sending to our children. Often, we just roll with it cause that’s how its always been. Well, I think it’s time to challenge some of the messages we send children without even realizing it.

Here are some of the most common messages even GOOD parents send their kids that are HARMFUL .

You can be anything you want to be.

Whoops! Not true. Unfortunately this is a message sent to our kids via parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and TV, but it’s one of the biggest lies. No, your child cannot be anything they want to be. My stepson wanted to be an astronaut when he was a little boy. He loooooved space! We took him to NASA Space Center, bought the galaxy stars for is room, and read countless books about space to him; however, we were always honest with him when he talked about wanting to be an astronaut. We told him, “I know you’d really like to be an astronaut, but you were born to two tall parents. Doctor think you will be nearly 7 ft tall and rocketships aren’t built for someone your height and weight”. We then would discuss what other space related careers would be available to him and even invited him to be an engineer and try to design ships for tall space travelers. We’re not doing our kids any favors when we let them think they can be ANYTHING they want to be. We can allow them to pretend and use those active imaginations, but also inject reality and forward thinking to avoid setting them up for failure.

I promise.

I have had a rule for working with young children nearly two decades now. I do NOT make promises to kids and I don’t allow them to make promises to me. A promise implies we, as parents, have control when we don’t. When you promise a child, they believe you can do it and nothing can get in your way. Unless you’re the almighty, all powerful, omnipotent being, this is a harmful message to send a child. “I promise I’ll make your play”, or “I promise we’ll go to Doughnut Haven on Sunday” and then you come down with the flu the night of the play or Doughnut Haven is closed for construction. The child then feels lied to. Never make a promise to a child, instead try, “I’ll try my hardest because this is important. I hope nothing gets in our way”, or something similar to remind your child that we are not in control of the universe, nor are they the center of it.

Everyone is created equal.

This is one of the biggest, and in my opinion most detrimental lies we send to children and people. No one was created equal. We were all made to be different and we’re limiting our children’s potential when we tell them we’re all equal, or when we allow everyone a trophy because we all “worked hard”. Let’s be honest, not everyone on the team worked hard. Some never made a single game and sat on their asses during practice watching the grass grow. This kid shouldn’t get a trophy! Some people are weak, dumb, slow, cruel, lazy just like some are strong, gifted, fast, kind, and hardworking. Some people are whole, while others missing limbs or eyes or ears. If  we teach our children that everyone is created equal, we’re not encouraging them to look at people and evaluate them based on character, actions, strengths and weaknesses. I want my child to notice the peer who’s missing their arms and offer to read stories with them or paint a picture for them. I want them to know that if they practice and work hard, they can win at something because it’s possible to be the best. Competition should be encouraged to bring the highest potential out of each child and it can be encouraged in a healthy way.

Happily Ever After

If you read original excerpts of fairy tales from Grimm’s books, most don’t end with “happily ever after”. In fact, this is one of the cornerstones of The Danish Way, a parenting book that encourages authenticity. The Danish, voted happiest people in the world over forty years, don’t teach happily ever after. They teach fear, sadness, frustration, disappointment, nd even death. This authentic view of the world is accredited for much of their happiness. The children are not shielded from life’s realties, but instead are groomed to cope with it and more importantly, to expect it. Parents, we’re not doing our kids any favors when we teach them life is one big happy ending. It’s not! It’s ups and downs, let downs, disappointments, failures, and hurt. But, by allowing our children to experience these things and providing empathy and love, we can allow them opportunities to learn decision making skills, coping skills, problem solving and logical thinking. We’re raising stronger happier people in the end!

Things matter.

This is one of the hardest to recognize you struggle with and the hardest to change! Think of how often we reward, or celebrate, with things. When you go to the doctor’s office, your child a dumdum. After a haircut they’re given a sticker. At the grocery store they’re given “buddy bucks”. Teachers and parents are now using elaborate sticker charts and treasure chests to award children for chores, grades, and behavior, all things that children should be doing because they’re the right thing to do, not because they get a prize. What’s happening is we’re shifting the focus from what feels good (intrinsic motivators) to “what do I get (extrinsic motivators). We’re raising our children to be reward seekers, but we’re also sending the message that joy can be found in “things” rather than within the self.

Even he focus of holidays has shifted towards materialism. Christmas, Valentines, Easter, birthdays and even Halloween for some is celebrated with things, gifts, candies. If we remove the material items from the holiday, we’re left with a focus on family, togetherness, and experiences to enjoy. Imagine Christmas morning after everyone opens A gift, the family makes breakfast together, plays outside, reads a story, and sings songs or has a dance party by the tree. Imagine a birthday celebrated with a silly string fight before school and then telling your child their birth story and all the wonderful things you enjoy learning about them each year. What if we stripped the holidays down and rediscovered the reason for each season? Would we find opportunities for learning and character building?

Our job as parents is not to entertain our children, always keep them happy, or prevent them from learning about the world. This is a very serious undertaking and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. It’s important we take a step back and really think through the messages we send our children and make decisions based on what’s best for them LONG-TERM, and not allow society to influence our parenting choices. Being a good parent in today’s world means being counter-cultural; not being afraid to do things differently.

“If they stare, let them stare. You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out” -Wonder

Stay gold, 

That Girl

Random Shit to Entertain Baby

It’s a little known fact that the less toys a child has, the more they play. Now, I won’t lie to you and say my boys have nothing but a cardboard box and some crayons. In fact, they have a whole playroom; however, they’re also toddlers. When they were babies, I kept things minimal on purpose!

Babies don’t need toys. Babies need freedom to explore.

The infant brain is has more neurons that stars in the galaxy! These neurons need to excited, or used, otherwise they die off. When a baby is given a toy that does the same thing repeatedly, we’re limiting the brains capability and allowing the “use it or lose it” phenomenon to lessen our babies potential. So, avoid gimmicky battery operated toys, definitely avoid screen time, and instead provide rich sensory experiences with a bunch of random crap!

Materials to keep on hand for babies:

  • clothespins
  • craft poms
  • ribbons
  • ziplock bags
  • cardboard
  • egg cartons
  • cans
  • spoons
  • pots, pans
  • strainer
  • pipe cleaners
  • pasta
  • stones
  • finger paint
  • playing cards
  • muffin tins
  • sand/cornmeal
  • sponges
  • pillow cases
  • empty water bottles
  • mirrors
  • beans
  • waterbeads
  • parachute
  • bubble wrap
  • duct tape
  • food coloring

There’s probably more I could add to this list, but my brain is fried. Did I mention I have toddlers now? LOL

Besides reading stories, singing songs, wrestling, and baby dance parties get creative with these materials. Allow baby to explore them with no “point” in mind. Set the stones out with a pot and see what baby does. Perhaps they’ll have fun moving stones from a pot to a pan. Maybe they choose to throw them into the pot and laugh at the noise, or maybe they’ll bang the pot like a drum.

Set playing cards out next to a toaster or ziploc bag.

Put beans into an old sock for a sensory toy.

Use the clotespins with craft poms to make paint brushes and let baby “paint” with water onto a cardboard box.

Stuff things into a pillow case and let them dig them out.

Throw poms, bottle caps (supervised), beans, and stones into the muffin tins.

The sky is the limit with these materials and that’s the point! Let baby explore their world, and their abilities, creatively without rules or judgement. My boys are two now and will play with just about anything and I marvel at their creativity! They’ve never required “toys” to stay busy and explore. They create fun with whatever is around!

Sty gold!

That Girl

 

What if it Was Weird?

My friends and family often comment on how I eat, what I wear, and my parenting choices. I hear, “She eats weird stuff” or “She’s weird about organic”, or “You’ll probably do something weird when they’re school aged, huh?”, but I don’t make my decisions about my wellbeing or my children’s wellbeing lightly. I make decisions based on research based practices. I have made the concious decision to be counter-cultural and do what I feel is best for my family, regardless of the norm. But, what if I weren’t the “weird” one? What if we flipped the script?

What if it was weird…

What if it was weird to see a kid with a bag of Cheetoh’s and a juice box? What if we were used to seeing kids drink nothing but water and almond milk and playgrounds were covered with half eaten celery sticks or roasted seaweed crumbs.

What if it was weird to see a kid with an iPad or a toy that lit up and sang songs? What if we heard a toy like this and it startled us because it was so odd? We’d gotten so used to seeing kids climb trees, build forts, or sculpt masterpieces from mud that when we saw a toy we stared at it like some kind of escapee from a world beyond.

What if it was weird to go to someone’s house for a meal and find out they DIDN’T have a garden nearby? “Huh? Where do you get your food? A store? But, how can you trust how it’s grown or where it comes from?” What if grocery stores were weird because we lived in a world filled with community gardens, farmer’s markets and homemade goods?

What if it was weird to see a TV in a home? What if TV was only for the news or public broadcasts so people rarely watched them and instead spent their time with friends and family traveling, cooking, creating, exploring, talking. What if living room furniture was arranged with seats facing inward to inspire conversation and relaxation instead?

What if medicine cabinets were filled with essential oils labeled with the ailments they cured? What if diffusers filled with Tea Tree oil or Thieves oil were in every doctor’s office instead of cans of Lysol and teachers cleaned toys with lemon and vinegar instead of bleach?

What if, just like the circus, zoos and aquariums were things of the past and the only way to see animals was in the wild, in their natural habitat? Instead of paying to see these beautiful creatures in captivity, families volunteered at sanctuaries and rehab facilities or they vacationed to various parts of the world in hopes of spotting them in nature (gasp!).

What if it was weird to see desks in schools? We were used to seeing kids running up and down the hallways for learning materials for a project, or kids crowded around books in the libraries? What if we saw History teachers dressed up like historical figures, science teachers in lab coats, and math teachers sculpting rollercoasters from Kinex as their students calculated velocities. This became so normal that desks made you think they were being punished for severe misbehavior.

What if it was weird to see an adult on a playground? The parents were usually conversing in a nearby coffee shop so seeing an adult follow a child around a playscape meant the child has special needs and needed additional guidance or perhaps the adult is a kidnapper and someone should contact the authorities.

What if it was weird for a school NOT to offer humanities and liberal arts? Maybe we’d get so used to kids being well-read, versed in poetry, fluent in multiple languages, and playing an instrument or two that if a child didn’t have an artistic talent or hobby we thought it strange.

All over the world you’ll find this “weirdness” I speak of. You’ll see prams parked outside of cafes with sleeping babies while their mother’s enjoy coffee together inside. You’ll see responsible, independent children on mass transit going to and from activities with noone concerned about their safety. It’s perfectly normal to see kids getting out of school by one or two o’clock in the afternoon to go home and free play with peers. It’s not uncommon for a child in primary school to be multi-lingual, play a few instruments, write their own music and perhaps paint or sculpt. It’s also common for a school lunch of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and gourmet cheeses to be served family style to a round table where children serve one another and hold intelligent conversations about their interests. So, why do we think these things are weird here in America? Why do we think our way is the only way and, dare I say it, the better way? We hashtag “‘merica” as if we’re the only ones living well or free, when we’re one of hundreds of countries with freedom and we still make poor choices about our wellbeing.

Why is it weird to live naturally and respect the environment? Why is it weird to eat only what our bodies are designed to process and treat diseases with what grows in our world? Why is it weird to see a Homeopath whose science dates back for centuries, instead of pediatricians who’ve memorized formulas for treating symptoms, rather than preventing illness. Why do we consider it weird for someone to not only think outside the box, but to live outside the box? How can we possibly expect our world and our society to improve if we keep doing the same thing over and over again wondering why things aren’t changing for the better? 

Stay gold, be different, 

That Girl

I Dream of an Empty School

Let’s face it, the rest of the world is kicking America’s ass! We may still be known as the most powerful country in the world, but we don’t rank number one for anything…nothing. Our healthcare, economy, crime rates, prison systems, standard of living, are all tanking at alarming rates and the education system is lacking significantly. New studies indicate top ranking countries ahead of US at two to three times the learning rates. Ick!

We keep throwing money at the problem, but we’re not fixing anything. I dream of empty schools.

curtesy of WHCSNews

I dream of walking into an American school and hearing crickets chirping. It’s completely empty and practically collecting dust.

A few of the math classes are stuffed into the kitchen measuring, sifting, pouring, sorting. They’re outside collecting data on the seeds they planted in the school garden and graphing.

The science classes are at the Nature Scenter collecting rocks, soil, bugs, water samples, and observing birds. Or perhaps they’re visiting with wind engineers off-campus or creating solar panels for the school’s energy source.

Habibis Hutch Preschool, Austin Texas

There’s a mass of kids outside painting murals on the fences and exploring with different building materials, trying to engineer new playground equipment. A few kids are scuplting with clay and water and the others are checking on their ceramic projects in the kiln.

Some of the students are spread out across the soccer fields, baseball fields, and football fields. There’s a group of girls attempting to build a human pyramid and a few kids from a younger grade are jumping rope and trying to walk while hula hooping.

I spot a group of kids in the auditorium listening to a children’s book author about his writing process and they’re taking notes before breaking into groups and publishing e-books on Amazon. There’s a class off-campus at a publishing house shadowing everyone from the receptionist, to printers, to editors.

The classrooms are empty. In fact the entire campus will be empty around noon because the kids will run home or to a friend’s house for lunch. The older kids will return to the campus for a few more hours of learning, but the younger kids are done for the day. They don’t have any homework so they’ll spend their afternoon climbing trees, skipping rocks, or building forts in the backyard.

Sound to good to be true? This is the very similar to the Finish education system and several home school co-ops around the world. Project based learning, communit involvement, mixed grades, no homework, and no standardized testing!

A Finnish classroom

The teachers have master’s level educations in many parts of the world and they’re paid well and highly respected for their profession of choice. The graduation rates are higher, college admittance is higher, and the students are quite literally taking over the globe with innovation and entrepreneurism.

My children will NOT go to an American public school…no way, no how! Until things change, I plan on a cultural learning experience traveling the globe, learning new languages, and utilizing online learning tools once my children outsmart me or need more individualized instruction. Need money to do this? Not really. Living abroad is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than you think. In fact, we can live like millionaires traveling the globe, while struggling to make ends meet here in the US. A global education is not a pipe dream if you want it to be your reality.

Mind expansion does not occur sitting in a cold, sterile classroom quietly doing exactly what everyone around you is doing. No learning is taking place when you’re being taught how to take a test. How can children develop creativity in a paint-by-number education system? And what’s more…think about how much time is wasted during an American school day.

How do we fix this?

Speak up! Inform your child’s teacher that they won’t do homework. Take your child out of school for field trips when you want and share the learning opportunities with your child’s teacher, peers and other parents. Refuse standardized testing and expensive, often unnecessary projects outside school hours. To teach our children not to conform, we ourselves must refuse to conform.

Maybe we’ll make a change for the better, but maybe it’ll go unnoticed. Either way, I’ll sleep better at night knowing I attempted something better for them.

Stay gold, 

That Girl

Raising Citizens of the World

It started when my boys were born, wanting something different for them, but this past weekend confirmed my decision. No more. Enough is enough. I’m done. 

I’m raising citizens of the world.

We started our Saturday morning wondering what we could do with two one year olds when our “small town” city of Austin was currently flooded with millions of show goers visiting us for the SXSW music festival. The thought of manuevering our toddlers through crowds, sitting in traffic, and being bombarded with music virtually everywhere (some soulful, but most is just hectic noise from unexperienced hopefuls). We decided to venture an hour away to San Antonio.

After circling the city blocks a few times looking at parking signs ranging $10-30 (to place your car on top of concrete safely), we found a spot. We stood in line with the crowds to pay for our spot, inhaling car fumes, cigarette smoke, other people’s ill chosen parfumes and deodorants and then began our excursion.

First stop- food. Dining out with twin toddlers is more fun when the ambiance is kid friendly so we chose Rainforest Cafe. Now, I’ll preface this post by saying I loved our day! Every moment watching my children’s faces light up with wonder is worth every harsh moment, but…my worldview shifted drastically on this day.

We walked our babies around the restaurant pointing out the rubber, plastic, and mechanical animals. We faked amusement when the lights flickered and the “thunder” roared from the speakers hidden behind the fake leaves surrounding our table. Then we paid $50+ for a meal of fried, over-processed, preservative laden food, leaving our meals half-eaten because American portion control is lacking. We showed our waiter our rewards card for this restaurant chain. This reward program allows us to get more artificial food when we eat enough of it over time at various locations. I was disgusted by this thought. Then we tipped the waiter because, in America, no matter how bad the service, the waitstaff is entitled to getting tipped. Blech!

Nextstop- downtown. Then, we paid $120 for a wristband that allowed us to get into several of the attractions for one “low” price.  Handing over the credit card made me feel so powerfless. They know they’ve got us because we’re there, we’re consumers, we want to be entertained. Sure, take our money and run.

Again, we had a good time, but is this it? We rode on a manufactured safari car wearing plastic 3D glasses and shot lasers at holographic zombies. I’m humiliated as I write this. We stood in line for 40 minutes for a 4D ride; another simulated experience (monkeys ziplining through the jungle). We walked down a red carpet through an old building looking at celebrities and athletes made of wax. Then, we took our children to a playscape IN a mall and watched them play on trees and ponds made of rubber. We paid $1 for them to ride in circles on painted, fiberglass animals.

After weaving through more crowds, stopping at umpteen million restauramts trying to find a place that could provide a table without making us wait close to an hour for service, we settled on another restaurant with overpriced, artificial food, and terrible service.

I drove home feeling disgusted. Disgusted with myself for participating in these shenanigans; for playing a part in this artificial world. I was disgusted for my children that we had simulated artificial adventures for them. I want more. I want something different.

Lucky for me, my husband felt the same way. As we drove home we began discussing. We’ve made the decision, not lightly mind you, to raise citizens of the world. Sure, we’ll shop at malls from time to time, we’ll even take our boys to amusement parks and local attractions occassionally, but our worldview has changed and we’re going to make a change for something better. It may be now, or it may be when the boys are slightly older, but we will not be raising them in a society driven by consumerism, gluttony, greed, technology, and materialism anymore.

We plan on raising them in the natural world, to appreciate relationships, experiences, and love. We want them to learn by doing, not sitting in a classroom or staring at a screen. We want them to love because they’ve felt nothing but love amd aren’t surrounded by morally compromised people we have to shield them from. We want them to be grateful by living simply and plan on simplifying our lives.

Stay tuned, friends. The Vails are making changes!

That Girl

Feed the Brain

Through my experiences as a therapist, a teacher, and a newborn care specialist, I’ve learned that a child’s environment plays a major role in a their brain development and behavior. Parents find themselves in a vicious cycle trying to correct their child’s behavior to no avail and they’re clueless about what’s actually causing the behavioral changes. Proactive parenting is far superior to reactive parenting. 

Consider the following…

Toys

The types of toys a child plays with have a major impact on their brain development and behavior. Technology and TV for example entertain the brain, meaning the brain is not having to work. There’s no problem solving, imagination, creativity, or thinking involved with technology or tv. Even “educational games” on an ipad have a negative effect on the brain because they limit possibilities to the software design. The brain; however, is limitless in its possibilities. Use of technology in children has been linked to aggression, sleep deprivation, violence, lack of empathy, detachment, and poor social skills. Ever notice agitation and tantrums more when you take away a tech device from your child? It’s not only because they lost the priviledge, they could be experiencing menal withdrawals.

Opt for open ended toys that inspire creativity, thinking, and imagination. Fat brain toys such as blocks, cars, dolls, play-doh, art supplies, magnetiles, role play items, and sensory play such as sand, water, or beads.

Food

Nutrition plays a major role in your child’s behavior. I always have to bite my tongue around my friends who complain about the terrible twos, having a “threenager,” or the frantic fours when often these are the same friends who fuel their children with sodas, gluten laden goodies, and sugary cereals. Sure, my kids will inevitably act up from time to time and I know I’ll have some disciplinary issues, but these things are far less in frequency as well as intensity when diet is considered. Major culprits to poor behavior include gluten, sugar, caffeine, low water intake, and dyes.

Opt for organic fruits, veggies, dairy, meats to avoid exposure to hormones and pesticides. Try not to allow your child to snack all day, but don’t allow them to go hungry. Schedule three solid meals of high protein, healthy fats, and high nutriton, but allow two smaller meals/snacks in betweek to keep sugar levels regulated. Avoid processed foods with artificial ingredients when you can and just say no to sugar and caffeine at all costs, especially if you’ve noticed a sensitivity.

Sleep

Adults need to take some responsibility for their child’s behavior when sleep deprivation could be the catalyst. If you allowed them to skip their nap, then it’s unfair to them for you to get angry when they throw a tantrum in the middle of Target. Were they up late because you wanted to finish your concersation on the phone before you started bedtime? Then, don’t get mad at them when they wake up cranky and start throwing food or spilling their juice. Children have crazy fast metabolisms, their mind is on constant overload and their body’s are growing rapidly. They need 10-12 hours of sleep a night depending on age and toddlers need naps (or at least downtime) in order to function optimally.

Envornmental Toxins

Numerous studies have shown a correlation between environmenal toxins and behavior. I recently saw that I can be found on google when you search “crunchy mom” or “granola mom” which totally cracks me up, because I’m far from crunchy, but I am green. I do not use toxic cleaners, detergents, soap or perfumes in my home. I refuse to eat nonorganic veggies, dairy, or meats. I wouldn’t accept a million dollars to vaccinate my children and I hold my breath, or sit in the car, when I’m pumping gas. Our environment is filled with carcinogens and neurotoxins that nnegatively affect our behavior. Top culprits include insecticides, pesticides, lead, paints, cleaners, mercury, formaldehyde and aluminum (found in vaccines), BPAs found in plastics, and parabens in lotions and soaps. These have been blamed for “silently eroding intelligence”

“Very few chemicals have been regulated as a result of developmental neurotoxicity,” Grandjean and Landrigan write. “The presumption that new chemicals and technologies are safe until proven otherwise is a fundamental problem.” As in their 2006 review, the authors reiterate their concern “that children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognised toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviours, truncating future achievements, and damaging societies, perhaps most seriously in developing countries.” (LINK HERE)

Organic clothes by Finn & Emma

So, before you even attempt at correcting your child’s behavior, search for the source first! It would be unfair to punish the child for behavior beyond their control when their mind is greatly affected by the environment we’ve created for them.

Good luck and stay gold,

Chelsea Vail