Are you a Builder or a Bulldozer ??

🙂  I’m back !! … Como siempre, tratando de aportar un poquito al noble, complejo y feliz mundo de la Maternidad / Paternidad !!!! …. Enjoy !! 🙂

nicolette lesson in kindness (pinterest)

 

In high school, I had what can only be described as an epiphany.

            One day, while walking to Spanish class, an older girl approached me in the hall.  She sneered, scrutinized me from head to toe, and then laughed as if she’d just heard a hilarious joke.  Except it was just the two of us in the hall.  I felt horrible.  Then the epiphany struck me—I  would never, ever be that girl; instead of making others feel bad, I could make them feel good.  It was like a switch had just flipped inside of me.  If it was so easy to belittle others and degrade them, it must be just as easy to build them up.  And it was!

            In life, there are two types of people: builders and bulldozers.  Builders are optimistic; they support and strengthen everyone around them.  Builders encourage, compliment, and treat others with kindness.  They build confidence in anyone they encounter.  Bulldozers tear others down.  They use negativity, critical words, and harsh judgements to make others feel inadequate.

            We’ve all encountered builders and bulldozers, and we all remember how they made us feel.   Chances are, we’ve all been both builders and bulldozers at some point in time.  With bullying reaching epidemic proportions, 1 in 3 U.S. students report having been bullied at school in 2014.  Isn’t it time to flip the switch?  It truly is just as easy to treat someone with kindness as it is to be cruel.

            That is one reason I decided to become a teacher.  If I could make kids feel good about themselves, the long hours, minimal pay, and frustrating politics of teaching would be 100% worth it.  Just walk through a high school hallway and it will break your heart to hear the things kids say about each other, both behind their backs and to their faces.  Everywhere they turn, our kids face bulldozers trying to tear them down.  You suck.  You’ll never be good enough.  You are worthless.

nicolette lesson in kindness (6)

            The day I met Luis was the day I realized my most important responsibility in life was to be a builder.  Luis sulked into my classroom, plopped himself into a desk, and put his head down.  He did that the entire 45 minutes of class.  In fact, he did that for three days, despite my requests for him to “wake up.”  On the fourth day, when Luis plopped himself down and checked out before class  even began, I walked over and plopped down in the desk beside him.  I noticed his muscle car binder and commented on it.  “Cool car, “ I said.  “What kind is it?”

            His head immediately perked and a spark entered his previously listless eyes.  He proceeded to explain to me in vivid detail the awesomeness of this particular car.  To make a long story short, Luis was the low man on the social totem pole of high school.  He’d just transferred from a different school and left all of his friends behind.  He was largely overweight and the target of teasing and terrible comments.  How would it feel to be Luis?  I imagine incredibly alone.

            Every day when Luis came to class, I said at least one kind thing to him.  Cool jacket, the Braves are having a good year.  I loved reading your free-write about horses; where did you learn to ride?  Hey Luis, that’s a great book—what do you think about…  It was like no one had ever talked to him like that.  Over the course of 16 weeks, Luis went from head down on the desk, zero participation, and not turning a single thing in, to getting involved and even making new friends.  At the end of the semester, he left a small, gift wrapped box on my desk with a note that simply said, Thank you for being nice.

            I’m not a teacher anymore.  That has taken a back seat in my decision to stay at home with my three little children.  Some days I miss teaching and having an important job to do.  Then I think, “Duh!  You are doing the most important job possible right now.”  I am building little people who will become confident, kind, big people, who will soon face a world that is trying to tear them down.  It is my job to build their foundations so strongly that when they come face to face with the bulldozers of the world, they will not crumble.  It is my job to make sure they are builders and not bulldozers.

nicolette lesson in kindness (3)

            That being said, I am far from perfect.  When I get frustrated, and tired, I say things I don’t mean.  Why do you have to spill everything?  Can’t you just listen for once?  Those criticisms solve nothing.  They never do any good; rather they leave my sweet babies in tears and me feeling utterly despicable.  So now, I strive daily to give more encouragement and kind words.  When my son spills his cereal all over the floor and looks up at me with tears welling in his eyes, waiting for the storm, I have two choices, and it’s crucial I make the right one.  I can give into the storm and yell, or I can seek the sunlight and assure him that, “It’s okay, it was an accident.  We all make mistakes.  Can you help me clean it up?”  It was just as easy to react with kindness as it would have been with anger.  We all left happy.

nicolette lesson in kindness (5)

            Every day, we have opportunities to be builders or bulldozers—to our children, our spouses, our friends, to other people’s children, to acquaintances, to our colleagues, and to complete strangers.  Every time we interact with a person, we have the chance to make them either feel better or worse about themselves.  There are so many Luis’s out there.  Some are hurting, some are broken.  All of them need a builder on their side, bolstering them up.

The following quote has always stuck with me:

You are good.  But it is not enough just to be good.  you must be good for something.  You must contribute good to the world.  The world must be a better place for your presence.  And the good that is in you must be spread to others…” {Gordon B. Hinkley}

 Six ways to be more kind:

1. Don’t tolerate bullying.  Ever.  If you see it, stop it in its tracks.

2.  Compliment every person you speak to—your spouse, your neighbor, the bank teller…you get the point.

3. If you’re thinking something kind, always say it out loud.  If your friend looks great today, tell her!  If someone is good at their job, tell them!

4. Really listen to what people are telling you (kids are people too!).

5. Speak how you would like to be spoken to.

6.  If you feel yourself losing it, don’t say anything…just wait and breath.

 We builders have a lot of work to do.

Family Time Capsule 2014….Why You Should Have One.

Why You Should Have a Family Time Capsule pinterest  {2004} Ten years ago, I left my small Idaho town to enter the much larger fish bowl of university life.  I was starting fresh, in a new state, with nothing but big dreams in my pocket.  My $6 an hour dream job at the movie theatre gave me free popcorn, soda, and movies.  How could life possibly get better?  My most frustrating problems were waking up for a 7:30am class, paying my own cell phone bill, and getting to the slopes as often as I could so I could become a pro snowboarder.

{2009} Fast forward five years.  I would have never predicted moving across country to a beautiful Florida city with a man I now called “husband,” where I would begin my new dream job as a high school teacher.  Yet there we were, living in a teeny, tiny house which smelled like a musty attic while my snowboard gathered dust in the actual attic.  Our family consisted of two: him and me.  Like Ponce de Leon, of whom our new city heralded, we were explorers, far from home, discovering exactly who we were.  I finally had life figured out.

{2014} However, five years later, I’m still “figuring life out.”  As of today, our family can now fill an SUV and form our own basketball team.  Teaching has taken a back seat to full-time mommy-hood,  and writing—a dormant passion—has blossomed into a new dream.  I can count the number of times I wear makeup a week on…one finger.  Three children have resided in my belly, which now sports an outie button where an innie used to be.  {My 2004 self would be mortified!}

It is amazing how life can change.

nicolette time capsule (4) On a day-to-day basis, life can seem mundane or redundant.  The sun rises, we go to school or work, we dirty dishes, we clean dishes.  There’s always laundry to wash, dinner to make, homework to do, then sleep, wake up, and do it all over again.

But when measured in bulk, we see how much actually changes in the course of, say five years.  Shoe sizes expand, pants become high waters.  Kids grow up and we sprout gray hairs.  Dreams change, evolve, and life becomes different than anything we could have imagined.

 The Greek philosoper Heraclitus said, “Everything flows, nothing stands still.”  Despite our desire to pause time and keep each sweet moment within a pretty little snow globe, time will keep ticking.

 That’s why you need a family time capsule.  It is the most concrete, visual way to preserve time and, essentially, these lives we are living.  For me, that is just as important as food storage or emergency preparedness.

 Making a family time capsule is easy and can be done in an afternoon or for a special family night.  Do it!  In five years, you’ll be so glad you did.

nicolette time capsule (9)  Things you’ll need for your time capsule:

1.  A Time Capsule Questionnaire: you can find many examples here, or make up your own.  These questionnaires are so fun to do in 3-5 year increments to see how much changes. {I love that my son wants to be an ambulance driver!}

nicolette time capsule (10) 2.  Kids’ Measurements: Especially if your children are still growing, it’s fun to take current measurements and compare them down the road.

nicolette time capsule (6) 3.  Art work/ a project: Include the artwork or any special projects your kids have recently done.  You’ll be amazed at the progress you see when you open your time capsule.

nicolette time capsule (7) 4.  Letters to self or letters from parent to child: Write letters to your future self, including any messages you’d like to tell yourself, what you imagine life to be like five years in the future {flying cars?}, any secrets you have now, and the hopes you have for the future.  If your children are young, write a letter to them including these same things.

nicolette time capsule (3) 5. Current pictures: of each child and of your entire family, even pets!

nicolette time capsule (1) 6.  A vessel for your time capsule: I scored this cool old suitcase at a garage sale for $1.  You could also use a clean paint can, a shoe box, a card box, or even an empty two-liter pop bottle.

nicolette time capsule (5) We’re all in different stages of parenthood, from having little ones that cling to you like barnacles, to big ones that repel you like negative sides of a magnet.  Maybe you’re at an in-between stage, or entering the grandparent phase.  Regardless of where you’re at with child-rearing, each phase has its particular awesomeness that deserves to be preserved.

23 Bad Habits Moms & Dads Can Break …. Sí se puede, sí se puede !!

We all have little habits that creep into our lives, but need to go. See if any of these common trouble spots for moms sound familiar to you:

1. Telling your kids, “I’ll be right there” and then forgetting about it.

2. Looking at your phone when your child is trying to talk to you.

3. Doing all the work yourself because it’s easier than letting your kids do it themselves.

4. Saying yes to volunteer roles for which you don’t have time, or a passion.

5. Not following through with consequences for your kids.

6. Repeating information to friends that’s not yours to share.

7. Skipping quiet time or prayer time because you think you’re too busy.

8. Yelling, especially when you’re tired or frustrated.

9. Using sarcasm as a frequent method of communication.

10. Spending without a budget or a plan. 

11. Fueling your day with caffeine instead of adequate sleep.

12. Jumping to conclusions before you’ve heard your child’s full story.

13. Routinely putting your kids first and your husband second.

14. Getting caught up in the extra-curricular rat race rather than focusing on a few meaningful activities.

15. Not making time for friendships. Even parents need to laugh and be encouraged!

16. Failing to organize your home so that clean-up is easier.

17. Skipping that precious Pillow Talk time with your kids at night.

18. Caring more about your child’s outward actions than the condition of her heart. 

19. Keeping up with the Joneses. And the Smiths. And the Clarks…

20. Letting the magazines and movies define beauty for yourself or your daughters.

21. Spending more time worrying about the challenges than celebrating the victories. 

22. Trying to be your child’s friend instead of a parent.

23. Comparing your child to his siblings.

12 Things Parents Raising Bilingual Children Need To Know.

1 – It doesn’t happen by magic

Children do not become bilingual “by magic”. There is a persistent myth claiming that “children are like sponges when it comes to language” and that they will learn all languages they hear regularly – this is simply not true. Yes, in the right circumstances children will naturally grow up to acquire the family languages, but this cannot be taken for granted.

2 – You need a plan

To be in with the best chance of succeeding in bringing up bilingual children, you need to plan ahead. How fluent do you want your children to be? What about reading and writing? Who speaks what and when? Discuss this in the family and agree on the goals.

3 – Consistency is crucial

Once you have your plan, you need to commit to it as a family and stay consistent in your language use. Yes, children can certainly become bilingual if parents mix their languages with them, but the risk that they will at some point prefer to stick to the majority language is far greater if they have become used to the minority language parent easily switching to the majority language.

4 – You will have to pay attention to exposure times

Once you have your plan, you need to look into how much exposure your children get to each language. There is general recommendation that children should be exposed to a language at least thirty percent of their waking time to naturally become bilingual. This should however only be taken as a guidance – depending on the type of exposure, children might need more or less time to acquire a language.

5 – You will have to invest some extra time (and sometimes maybe a bit of money)

You will need to find the time talk a lot, to do the reading and to find resources to help your children learn the language. You might find that you need to use your holidays to make a trip to boost your children’s motivation to speak the language.

6 – There will be doubters

Not everyone will agree with you that it is a good idea to raise your children to speak all family languages. There will be those who tell you that there is no point, that it is not going to work. Others will think that you are expecting too much of your children, and some will say that you are confusing your children with all these languages. Ignore these doubters, but also forgive them, as they do not know what they are talking about.

7 – Don’t listen to bad advice

There might be times when a professional tells you to stop speaking a certain language to your children. If in doubt with regards to your child’s language development – speak to a specialist who is experienced in dealing with bilingual children.

8 – It is not always easy

There will be all sorts of challenges along your family’s multilingual journey – apart from the doubters and the ill-informed “experts” there will be more mundane obstacles: will you be able to stick to your plan when “life happens” and offers its surprises in form of changed family circumstances, moves, career progressions, influence from others and so on? When it feels difficult, ask for advice and help.

9 – Your child might answer you in the “wrong” language

This one usually hits the minority language parent. You feel that you have done everything right and stayed consistent, and still your darling comes home from school one day and no longer answers you in your language. You will feel disappointed and disheartened if it this happens, but it is crucial that you don’t give up at this point, and that you continue to stay consistent and if possible, also increase the exposure time.

10 – Your children will gain an array of benefits by becoming bilingual

If you are still in doubt about whether to bring up your children to become bilinguals or not, read about all the great benefits your children will gain if you do decide to do it. We all want what is best for our children, so why wouldn’t you support yours to have the wonderful gift of speaking more than one language?

11 – You will never regret it

I can assure you, you will not regret your decision to stick with it and make sure that your children grow up to speak all the family languages. On the other hand, I have heard several parents who are sad that they gave up on passing on their languages – not to mention the many adults expressing their disappointment that they were not taught a language their mother or father knew when they were small.

12 – You will be proud

You will be immensely proud when your children for the first time speak to their grandparents or other relatives in “their” language. I can assure you that the feeling is absolutely wonderful. Not only will you be proud, so will your children and the rest of your family. You will also be a great role model to other families.

 

From TV to toys: What shapes boys into boys and girls into girls.

Most experts now agree that basic biology is the main reason that boys act so “boyish” and girls act so “girlish.” Still, hormones and anatomy alone can’t explain the gulf between the sexes. Social forces also push boys and girls in different directions right from birth.

 

Baby talk – different expectations from the start

Within the first few hours of life, boys and girls are already being treated differently. Studies show that adults describe a newborn baby as “sweet” or “feminine” if they think she’s a girl. But when that same baby is wearing a blue outfit, they use words like “sturdy” and “vigorous.”

Susan Witt, a professor of child development at the University of Akron in Ohio, says that in general parents tend to talk more sweetly and gently to their baby girls than their baby boys, and baby boys get more playful roughhousing before they’re even old enough to giggle.

 

Toys – trucks for boys, dolls for girls

In many families, boys get the toys with wheels, and girls get the toys with dresses. And kids take the message to heart. One study found that girls as young as 18 months associate cars with boys and dolls with girls.

And the effects can be long-lasting. “Kids who spend most of their childhoods playing with gender-specific toys will probably have fairly traditional ideas about gender,” says Witt.

 

Role models: Do as I do

Kids pay close attention to the men and women in their lives, developing expectations based on their observations at an early age. A recent Brigham Young University study found that 24-month-olds were fascinated by adult actors who crossed the standard gender lines, including a man putting on lipstick and a woman tying a tie.

Kids absorb the habits of adults with hit-and-miss results. Diane Ruble, a professor emeritus of psychology at New York University, describes one little boy whose mom drank coffee and dad drank tea. The boy thought he had the rules figured out until, to his great surprise, he saw a man with a cup of coffee.

The take-home lesson? Remember that your child is taking notes. If you want your kids to know that men can cook or that women can fix things, show them. The most powerful influence on kids’ ideas about gender will be what they see in their own home during early childhood.

But if you and your partner play fairly traditional roles in your house – and that’s not about to change – you can find creative ways to expose them to other options.

For example, find books, TV shows, and movies with men and women in various roles. Or spend time with friends whose household includes men who cook and vacuum, a mom who’s a doctor, and so on.

These days, the world is full of men doing what not so long ago was considered “women’s work” and women doing “men’s work.” One key to helping your children develop an open mind about gender roles is to point out, say, a male nurse or a female police officer, and speak positively about that person: “He probably decided to go to nursing school because he likes to take care of people” or “She’s protecting our city from crime.”

 

Clothes: Princess dresses and football jerseys

By the time girls are 2 and boys are 3 or 4, they know that there are girl clothes and boy clothes, and they’re reluctant to cross the lines.

Starting from toddlerhood, girls receive compliments on their shoes, hair ribbons, and everything in between, so it’s no wonder many insist on wearing a princess dress even on a camping trip, says Diane Ruble. (She calls this obsession the Pink Frilly Dress syndrome, or PFD.) They’re simply embracing their own girliness and also trying to pass muster with all of the other girls around them.

 

Reactions to emotion: Tears are girl stuff

There’s an unwritten law of bumps and bruises: Girls get sympathy and reassurance, and boys are told to suck it up. Many parents today encourage their sons and daughters alike to express their emotions, but it’s not that easy to change the attitudes we were raised with. Plus, you can’t control what your children encounter outside your home – on the playground, for example, where the old rules may well apply.

This attitude does boys a real disservice, Witt says. Boys raised with this approach can become emotionally stifled and stay that way as adults.

“In recent years, girls and women have been encouraged to be more assertive and decisive,” she says. “But there hasn’t been as much encouragement for men and boys to take on more feminine traits,” such as showing emotion.

 

TV: Stereotype city

Kids searching for clues about gender don’t have to look any farther than the TV, says Mary Margaret Reagan-Montiel, early childhood program manager of the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family.

Some characters do provide positive role models – the go-getting Dora the Explorer and her cousin Diego come to mind. But other shows seem to base every joke and plotline on age-old gender stereotypes. Reagan-Montiel remembers her dismay when her own daughter would watch the Disney Channel’s The Suite Life of Zach & Cody, a show about rambunctious, wisecracking boys and a few level-headed girls.

Parents don’t necessarily have to ban such shows, but it’s a good idea to screen them beforehand or to watch them with your kids, so you can point out, for example, “Have you noticed that in this show the boys never stop joking around and the girls have to figure out how to solve the problem? I don’t think that’s how it always is in real life, do you?”

 

Free to be you and me

You’ll be a big influence on your child’s thinking about gender. Still, don’t be surprised if your child’s attitude doesn’t exactly mesh with your own. Even if you’ve tried to create a gender-neutral utopia at your home, your young child may still see a rigid dividing line between how boys and girls are “supposed” to act.

Don’t worry: This is a normal phase. Children have a deep-seated need to make sense of their world, and they aren’t mentally flexible enough to be open-minded. They still see things in black and white. Or in this case, pink and blue.

If your little girl insists on wearing a puffy dress to go sledding, you may just have to slip on some warm leggings underneath and go with it. At the same time, don’t be alarmed if your son wants to play with dolls – practice in nurturing is good for anyone. When he starts having friends over to play, he’ll surely hear that dolls are considered “girl things.” He can decide on his own if he wants to keep playing with the dolls.

As your children grow older, encourage their interests – including, Witt says, the ones that fall outside of traditional gender roles. A girl who wants to play baseball – or even football? A boy who wants to take dancing lessons? Give your child a chance to discover whether it feels right. After all, it’s his life or her life – not yours.

Structure: Why Kids Need Routines … Aunque no nos gusten !!

Why do kids need routines and structure?

Because routines give them a sense of security and help them develop self-discipline.

Humans are afraid of many things, but “the unknown” edges out everything except death and public speaking for most people.   

Children’s fear of the unknown includes everything from a suspicious new vegetable to a major change in their life. Unfortunately, children are confronted with change daily.

The very definition of growing up is that their own bodies change on them constantly. Babies and toddlers give up pacifiers, bottles, breasts, cribs, their standing as the baby of the house.  New teachers and classmates come and go every year.  They tackle and learn new skills and information at an astonishing pace, from reading and crossing the street to soccer and riding a bike.  Few children live in the same house during their entire childhood; most move several times, often to new cities and certainly to new neighborhoods and schools.  

And few of these changes are within the child’s control.        

Children, like the rest of us, handle change best if it is expected and occurs in the context of a familiar routine.   A predictable routine allows children to feel safe, and to develop a sense of mastery in handling their lives.  As this sense of mastery is strengthened, they can tackle larger changes:  walking to school by themselves, paying for a purchase at the store, going to sleep away camp. 

Unpredictable changes – Mom called away on an unexpected business trip, a best friend moving, or more drastic, parents divorcing or a grandparent dying – erode this sense of safety and mastery and leave the child feeling anxious and less able to cope with the vicissitudes of life.

While helping children feel safe and ready to take on new challenges and developmental tasks would be reason enough to offer them structure, it has another important developmental role as well.  Structure and routines teach kids how to constructively control themselves and their environments. 

Kids who come from chaotic homes where belongings aren’t put away never learn that life can run more smoothly if things are organized a little.  In homes where there is no set time or space to do homework, kids never learn how to sit themselves down to accomplish an unpleasant task.  Kids who don’t develop basic self-care routines, from grooming to food, may find it hard to take care of themselves as young adults.  Structure allows us to internalize constructive habits.

Won’t too much structure dull our sense of spontaneity and creativity?
  Sure, if it’s imposed without sensitivity.  There are times when rules are made to be broken, like staying up late to see an eclipse, or leaving the dinner dishes in the sink to play charades.  But even the most creative artists start by mastering the conventions of the past, and find the pinnacle of their expression in working within the confines of specific rules.

There’s no reason structure has to be oppressive.  Think of it as your friend, offering the little routines and traditions that make life both easier and cozier.  Not only will your kids will soak up the security, they’ll internalize the ability to structure their own lives.

Does this mean infants should be put on routines as early as possible?

NO! Infants tell us what they need.  We feed them when they’re hungry, change them when they’re wet.  Over time, they learn the first step of a routine:  We sleep at night.  But forcing an infant to accommodate to our routine is not responsive parenting.  As your infant moves into babyhood, she will establish her own routine, settling into a schedule of sorts.  Most babies settle into a fairly predictable pattern.  We can help them with this by structuring our day around their needs, so, for instance, we make sure conditions are appropriate for her nap at the time she usually sleeps.  Gradually, over time, we can respond to her natural schedule of eating and sleeping by developing a routine that works for her and for the whole family.

Six Benefits of Using Routines with Your Kids

1. Routines eliminate power struggles because you aren’t bossing them around.  This activity (brushing teeth, napping, turning off the TV to come to dinner) is just what we do at this time of day.  The parent stops being the bad guy, and nagging is greatly reduced.

2. Routines help kids cooperate by reducing stress and anxiety for everyone.  We all know what comes next, we get fair warning for transitions, and no one feels pushed around, or like parents are being arbitrary.

3.  Routines help kids learn to take charge of their own activities.  Over time, kids learn to brush their teeth, pack their backpacks, etc., without constant reminders.  Kids love being in charge of themselves. This feeling increases their sense of mastery and competence.  Kids who feel more independent and in charge of themselves have less need to rebel and be oppositional.

4. Kids learn the concept of “looking forward” to things they enjoy, which is an important part of making a happy accommodation with the demands of a schedule.  He may want to go to the playground now, but he can learn that we always go to the playground in the afternoon, and he can look forward to it then.

5. Regular routines help kids get on a schedule, so that they fall asleep more easily at night.

6. Routines help parents build in those precious connection moments. We all know we need to connect with our children every day, but when our focus is on moving kids through the schedule to get them to bed, we miss out on opportunities to connect. If we build little connection rituals into our routine, they become habit. Try a snuggle with each child when you first see them in the morning, or a “recognition” ritual when you’re first reunited: “I see you with those beautiful gray eyes that I love so much!” or a naming ritual as you dry him after the bath: “Let’s dry your toes…your calf…your knee…your thigh….your penis….your belly …”  Rituals like these slow you down and connect you on a visceral level with your child, and if you do them as just “part of the routine” they build security as well as connection and cooperation.

7. Schedules help parents maintain consistency in expectations. If everything is a fight, parents end up settling: more TV, skip brushing teeth for tonight, etc.  With a routine, parents are more likely to stick to healthy expectations for everyone in the family, because that’s just the way we do things in our household.  The result: a family with healthy habits, where everything runs more smoothly!

The Birth Order Effect …. Para reconocernos y reconocer a nuestros hijos.

The Birth Order Effect

“The one thing you can bet your paycheck on is the firstborn and second-born in any given family are going to be different,” says Dr. Kevin Leman, a psychologist who has studied birth order since 1967 and author of The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are (Revell). But how is it that a gregarious comedian and a reclusive, introspective thinker can be so different yet share the same genes? Psychologists like Leman believe the secret to sibling personality differences lies in birth order — whether you’re a first-, middle-, last-born, or only child — and how parents treat their child because of it.

Meri Wallace, a child and family therapist for over 20 years and author of Birth Order Blues (Owl Books), agrees. “Some of it has to do with the way the parent relates to the child in his spot, and some of it actually happens because of the spot itself. Each spot has unique challenges,” she explains.

Birth Order + Parenting = Behavior

Simply by virtue of being a couple’s first child, a firstborn will naturally be a sort of experiment for the new parents, a mixture of instinct and trial-and-error. Perhaps this will cause the parents to become by-the-book caregivers who are extremely attentive, stringent with rules, and overly neurotic about the minutiae. This in turn may cause the child to become a perfectionist, always striving to please his parents.

In contrast, if the couple decides to have a second child, they might raise their second-born with less of an iron first due to their experiences raising their firstborn. They might also be less attentive to the second-born since there’s another child competing for attention, and they probably will be less inclined to impulsively dial 911 every time the child breaks a sweat. This may cause the second-born to be less of a perfectionist but more of a people-pleaser due to the lack of attention he gets in comparison to his older sibling.

In short, it’s not necessarily the fact that a child came out of his mother’s womb first that he grew up to be a leader who talks a blue streak. Rather, it’s the fact that his parents treated him as their firstborn child that shaped his attitude and behavior.

Firstborn

As the leader of the pack, firstborns often tend to be:

  • Reliable
  • Conscientious
  • Structured
  • Cautious
  • Controlling
  • Achievers

Firstborns bask in their parents’ presence, which may explain why they sometimes act like mini-adults. Firstborns are diligent and want to be the best at everything they do. They excel at winning the hearts of their elders.

Firstborns as Children

Lori Kiel McGowan, a public health consultant and mother of two boys in Cambridge, Massachusetts, can attest to that. She describes her 6-year-old firstborn son Kiel as a cautious boy who prefers the company of adults or younger children compared to that of his peers. “For his sixth birthday, we invited six friends of his choosing,” McGowan recalls. “For maybe the first half hour to 45 minutes, he crawled into a corner behind a booth and cried. These were close friends from school and after-school and the neighborhood. But after [his cautiousness waned], he came out and had a great time.” When presented with a new situation, Kiel’s cautious nature manifested itself in temporary introversion. However, once he became acclimated to his new environment, his caution subsided.

Moreover, as for his behavior around his younger brother Fionn, Kiel plays the role of the “controlling big brother” to a T: “He alternately tries to hug him and push him down, or gets a toy or juice for him, and then takes something away to make him scream,” McGowan says. “It’s definitely a sibling love/hate thing.”

The Grown-Up Firstborn

As firstborns grow older, their traits are not necessarily lost. Firstborn child Tracy Rackauskas, a 35-year-old from Denver, fully identifies herself as an achiever. “I want to be the best dressed, in a quirky-fashionable way; I want to have the best fantasy football team; I want to be the best editor; I want to be the most insightful and understanding partner; I want to be the sexiest and the smartest and the most interesting,” Rackauskas says. “And it’s not because I’m really competitive or want to be better than anybody else, but just because I want to be the best.” Her ambition carried over to her studies in law school, where she studied all the time and prepared for exams by making her own outlines according to her specific organization system. Perhaps in part due to her diligence, Rackauskas graduated summa cum laude and now works as a legal editor, making sure everything that passes through her hands meets her standards.

Middle Child

“The middle child often feels left out and a sense of, ‘Well, I’m not the oldest. I’m not the youngest. Who am I?'” says therapist Meri Wallace. This sort of hierarchical floundering leads middle children to make their mark among their peers, since parental attention is usually devoted to the beloved firstborn or baby of the family.

In general, middle children tend to possess the following characteristics:

  • People-pleasers
  • Somewhat rebellious
  • Thrives on friendships
  • Has large social circle
  • Peacemaker

Middle Kids as Children

Holly Schrock, a 31-year-old at-home mother of five in Newtown, Pennsylvania, describes her second-born child Maggie as an attention-getter with a mildly rebellious streak. “You’ll say to her ‘Go pick up the laundry right now’ or ‘Go put on your bathing suit so we can go to the pool,’ and if she’s in the middle of something, she’ll look at you bald-faced and say, ‘No!'” Schrock says.

However, “middle children are the toughest to pin down because they do play off their older sibling,” says Dr. Leman. For instance, the sex of the child is a big variable. If the firstborn child is a boy and the middle child is a girl, she may possess firstborn characteristics because though she is technically second-born, she is also the firstborn female. As the second-born child with an older brother, 4-year-old Maggie also qualifies as the firstborn female in the family, which may explain why she also possesses the nurturing leader qualities of a firstborn child. “Maggie likes to be a little mommy, especially to the younger ones.” Schrock says. “She picks up her 2-year-old brother and tries to tend to his needs in a positive way. She’s protective of them.”

The Grown-Up Middle Child

Schrock herself is also a middle child. Sandwiched between an older and younger sister, Schrock exhibited the same rebellious streak that her daughter Maggie does. “I wasn’t a bad kid, but I was definitely pushing the envelope a little,” Schrock says. In fact, at one point during her teen years, Schrock became embroiled in an argument with her parents that resulted in her running away for three days. Though Schrock admits she has since calmed down a bit, she still won’t take anyone’s guff. “I don’t like being told what to do, period.”

Last Born

Youngest children tend to be the most free-spirited due to their parents’ increasingly laissez-faire attitude towards parenting the second (or third, or fourth, or fifth…) time around. The baby of the family tends to be:

  • Fun-loving
  • Uncomplicated
  • Manipulative
  • Outgoing
  • Attention-seeker
  • Self-centered

Lastborns as Children

Megan, an at-home mom in San Diego, says her 7-year-old daughter Kacey loves the spotlight and will wrestle it away from others, if need be. “Kacey loves to go out into our backyard and put on shows,” Megan says. “One time she was out there roller skating with her older sister, Jessica, but when Jessica started skating in these pirouettes that Kacey couldn’t do, Kacey deliberately fell down to get our attention.”

The Grown-Up Lastborn

Lastborn child Janice Lee, now 25 years old and working as an architect in New York City, definitely identifies with the simplistic, uncomplicated nature of a last-born child. “Most girls would die if their boyfriends didn’t get them something for their birthday,” she says. “But my boyfriend and I don’t exchange gifts on our birthdays or anniversaries. We’re very low-key. We’ll go out to dinner, but nothing extravagant.” Lee also has a pie-in-the-sky, “everything will work out” worldview: “I don’t need to have that much security in my life. I like being spontaneous. I moved to Germany from Toronto for a job last year, and I didn’t even speak the language,” she says.

Only Children

Being the only child is a unique position in a family. Without any siblings to compete with, the only child monopolizes his parents’ attention and resources, not just for a short period of time like a firstborn, but forever. In effect, this makes an only child something like a “super-firstborn”: only children have the privilege (and the burden) of having all their parents’ support and expectations on their shoulders. Thus, only children tend to be:

  • Mature for their age
  • Perfectionists
  • Conscientious
  • Diligent
  • Leaders

Only Children as Kids

Just one meeting with 5-year-old Lilia, and you’ll see. “She has a sophisticated sense of humor and is often one of the few girls her age to get a sarcastic remark or double-meaning,” says Lilia’s mother Razan Brooker, a software business owner in Boston. “Her teachers are very surprised at her level of understanding of adult humor.” Even as a younger child, Lilia exhibited noticeable maturity and diligence. Like most children, Lilia sucked her thumb. But rather than throwing a temper tantrum when asked to break the habit, “she agreed to it and threw away her ‘blankie,’ claiming that is what makes her want to suck her thumb,” Brooker says. “She then proceeded to make a chart for herself consisting of 30 squares for the number of days she was told it will take her to break the habit.” A month later, Lilia was sleeping with her hands by her side.

The Grown-Up Only Child

Even when only children reach adulthood, they may not necessarily shed their need to be model human beings, able to run a five-minute mile and cook a seven-course meal without consulting a cookbook. “I hosted a Christmas party at my apartment and had to make sure the champagne was chilled, the music was on, the cats were locked in the kitchen,” says Margaret Lloyd, a 27-year-old New York advertising associate. “Even after guests arrived, I kept fussing with things, even though it probably took away from some of my enjoyment that evening.”

Exceptions to Traditional Birth Order Structure

Blended Families: In the case of divorce, remarriage, and the melding of stepchildren, Dr. Leman says, “blended families don’t blend; they collide.” Firstborn children who used to be the leader of the pack may find themselves unceremoniously thrown off the top of the hill by an older stepsibling, and the youngest of the family may suddenly have to deal with all the attention that’s segued towards the new baby.

But despite a child’s new position in a blended family hierarchy, he will not tailor his existing personality to his new position unless he is still in infancy. Many psychologists agree that personality develops tremendously during the first few years of life during the bonding stages. By about age 5, much of a child’s personality has been established (although that doesn’t mean it’s fixed). In this way, a 10-year-old firstborn will likely have a more difficult time giving up his position as the eldest than a 4-year-old might.

Families Within Families: In cases such as with twins, you have a family within a family — a unit that operates independently of birth order. “A twin will never act like a middle-born; he will always act like a firstborn or a baby,” Leman says. Since twins are perceived as a single unit — likely even referred to as “the twins” — they separate themselves from the traditional family and revel in their special position.

Gap Children: According to Leman, if you have a gap of at least five years in between births, another family begins in the birth order structure. A 2-year-old boy with a newborn brother and an 8-year-old older sister isn’t going adopt middle-child traits, but rather those of a firstborn.

Adoption: The same scenario occurs with adopted kids. The age at which the child is adopted is a key factor in which traits the child is most likely to exhibit. The younger the child is at adoption, the more time he will spend under the adoptive parents’ care and adopt his position in the existing family tree. For instance, if a firstborn 1-year-old is adopted by a family with a 4-year-old child, the adopted child will likely fall into the role of the baby, despite the fact that he is biologically a firstborn child. However, if a firstborn child is 7 years old when he is adopted into a family with a 10-year-old child, the adopted child will still act like a firstborn even though he has an older brother. “You don’t give up being a firstborn,” says Leman. “You take the birth order with you.”

Peers vs. Siblings vs. Parents: Who Influences?

Recent studies suggest that siblings may be the key players in forming a child’s personality. Other experts insist that peers have the magic touch. To date, researchers are unable to pin down the definitive shaper of a child’s personality, but there is one thing that remains constant in all competing theories: Most children have a parental figure to latch onto and learn from.

Though peers, siblings, genes, and circumstance all indubitably play into how a child’s temperament develops, “I think the parents still are the major influencing factors because, truthfully, the first year of life is the bonding with the primary caretaker that impacts upon self-confidence, trust, the ability to interact with another person,” says therapist Wallace. Now, whether or not this primary caretaker is actually the biological parent is negligible, considering the increasingly changing definition of the modern “family.” Instead, it’s the experiences shared by child and parental figure that leaves the lasting impression.

Is Personality Fixed?

Fear not, supposedly manipulative, attention-hungry youngest children! Psychologists agree that personality is not fixed by birth order. “You can consciously make a choice [to change],” says therapist Wallace, who outlines three basic steps to becoming a new you:

  • Make a connection with your behavior and your position in the family hierarchy. Do people always call you a neurotic nitpicker just because you always have to have things done just right? It may not be your fault, Perfectionist Firstborn.
  • Identify how you feel because of it. Your 4-year-old wants to wear a purple sweater, blue jeans, and orange boots to school. But trying to talk your kid out of looking like Rainbow Brite is a futile battle, and the daily fight in the morning leaves you exhausted.
  • Deliberately change your behavior. No matter how much you want to dress your child like a cover girl (or at least not like a mini Courtney Love), restrain yourself from criticizing her outfit. If you think about it, it won’t kill you to let your child exercise some choice in her wardrobe, and may even encourage her to be more independent and creative in the long run. Now, on the other hand, if it’s your husband who’s planning on leaving the house wearing black socks and Tevas….

Originally published on AmericanBaby.com, August 2006.

Why you should date your kids…and 50 fun date ideas !!

Whether you’re a newbie to this whole parenting thing, or a seasoned veteran, we all want to have a close relationship with our children, young or old.  Strengthening relationships and communication with our children can boil down to one thing: spending time with them.

10,000 hours?

In the book Outliers (an amazing read, by the way, that puts a fascinating perspective the opportunities we give our kids), author Malcolm Gladwell argues that the great achievers in our society weren’t born great: they just put in the most hours.  His 10,000-hour rule claims that the key to success in any field is practicing a task for at least 10,000 hours.  Could this apply to being a stellar parent? You bet.

You can argue that a full time, on-call 24 hours a day parent, puts in waayyy more than 10,000 hours.   We’re with our kids all the time, shouldn’t just being together be enough to go pro?  But just hanging around the basketball court never made Michael Jordan the best basketball player of all time, did it?

One of the best things we can do as parents is spend some special time with each of our children.  Time is one of the most valuable gifts we can give, and, if wasted, we can never get that time back.  

Could spending 10,000 hours of quality time really make a difference in our relationships?

Dating your kids

One of my resolutions this year is to start going on dates with my kids.  I think “date” is a very appropriate term.  A date involves time spent one-on-one trying to learn more about a person, talking, asking questions, communicating, building relationships.  Why not date our kids?

Going on regular dates with our kids will open lines of communication and build strong  relationships that will weather the good and bad times in life.  If you can talk easily now, you’ll be able to talk when it really counts.

There is something simply sweet and yet profoundly important in spending one-on-one time with each individual child.  It doesn’t matter what you do, what matters is that you talk, laugh, cry, agree, disagree, and always part ways with an “I love you.”

How often?

Once a month is a good benchmark for special one-on-one dates with your child.  Decide what works best for your family and your schedule.  Maybe it’s every Saturday morning, or maybe you live life on the edge and your dates are more impromptu.  Just do them regularly and you can’t go wrong!

50+ fun date ideas

These date ideas are perfect for toddlers, teens, and even adult children!

  1. Go out to breakfast (on birthdays or whenever).
  2. Shoot hoops, toss a football, a baseball, or kick a soccer ball.
  3. Go golfing or to the driving/putting range.
  4. Go ice skating or play hockey. 
  5. Go to the pet store.
  6. Out to a restaurant of their choice (usually McDonalds for little ones!)
  7. To a movie
  8. Ice cream, frozen yogurt, or milkshakes
  9. Silly progressive dinner (i.e. McDonalds for appetizers, Jack in the Box for dinner, and Winco bulk section for dessert)
  10.  Stop by the photo booth to commemorate your outing!
  11. Take your son to a “fancy” restaurant.  Show him how to open doors, pull back chairs, and talk to a girl.
  12.  Go to a thrift store and choose a special treasure.
  13. Surprise them by picking them up from school and go to lunch.
  14.  Zoo, aviary, aquarium 
  15.  Sneak out in the morning for a special donut together before everyone wakes up.
  16.  Go running together.
  17. Take a fitness class together.
  18.  Parent/child nights at some restaurants (like Chili’s)
  19. Girls: the jewelry store to pick out something special
  20.  Girls: beauty days (pedicures, manicures, hair, ect.)
  21.  Bike rides/motorcycle rides
  22.  Take them grocery shopping individually (believe me, this is much more pleasant!) 
  23.  Book store
  24.  Paint pottery
  25.  Museums
  26.  Take a dance class together
  27.  Take a hike!
  28. Fishing/hunting
  29. Arcade games
  30. Special trips (when they turn a certain age)
  31. Feed the ducks.
  32. Go to the park. 
  33.  Attend a play (Disney on ice, the Nutcracker etc.).
  34.  Painting/drawing each other’s portraits
  35.  A day at the beach
  36.  Go school shopping individually and then to lunch.
  37.  Go to Target, girls pick out a nail polish color and paint together, boys pick new lego set and build it together.  And of course, get some popcorn!
  38.  Monster truck races
  39.  Mini golf 
  40.  Go to a basketball/football/hockey/baseball game together.
  41.  Ride scooters together.
  42. Play laser tag.
  43.  Have a picnic which they help pack.
  44.  Visit the fire station.
  45.  Go on a nature scavenger hunt.
  46. Go to the library and take turns picking out a book to read together. 
  47.  Rock wall climbing
  48. Go to a sweet shop and share a cupcake or pick a special treat.
  49.  Go for a drive to your favorite place, somewhere nostalgic, or a different town that is near by.
  50. Try out a new restaurant and pretend like you’re a restaurant critic.
  51. Walk around your college campus. 
  52.  Take them to see your childhood home or your elementary/middle/high school.
  53.  Try a cooking class/cake decorating class.

Copy this list and print it out at home where you and your children can have fun planning your special dates.  Or, cut each idea into a strip and place it in a jar.  When it’s time for your date, pull one out and let fate decide!

Why It’s Harder to Be a T(w)een Girl Now Than It Was in the 90’s ……. Porque el tiempo pasa muuuuy rápido y ahora son chiquitas !! :(

Teen and “tween” (that difficult, in-between age of 9-12) girls nowadays have it rough.

Higher academic standards, more pressure than ever to fit in, the stress to look perfect, and act perfect, all while simultaneously acting like they’re not trying to be perfect, that they simply are that perfect.

Whew! Talk about pressure.

Contrast this with the caveman era that I grew up in, that oh-so-long-ago decade known as the 1990s, in which girls could simply chillax and be themselves…kind of.

And it’s not that those of us growing up in any bygone eras were free from societal (let alone peer) pressure, but rather the pressure of the past looked different.

Maybe I’m wearing hindsight rose-colored glasses, but it at least feels like girls of the past had more opportunity to develop authentic selves – or at least weren’t bombarded from every angle with the seductive marketing that consumerism and conformity to sexist ideals is your authentic self.

And with the advent of social media (where we can look at ourselves and our peers instantly, rather than having to wait for the film to develop), the pressure that girls today feel is constant.

And I think that before we roll our eyes at the behavior of “kids these days,” we should at least consider how our adolescence was different.

Even just in the ‘90s.

So without further ado, here are the reasons why it’s harder to be a teen now than it was then:

#1. Now: Tight Clothing, Then: Grunge Clothing

When I was a teen, the grunge trend was all the rage, and we girls had a brief respite from the body-constricting clothing en vogue in the ‘80s (think Flashdance) and again at the turn of the century.

Kurt Cobain told us to come as we are, and we did — in our Silver Tab jeans, No Fear shirts, and our dads’ flannels.

But now? In the words of your grandmother (probably): Have you seen what girls are wearing these days?

And unfortunately, it’s hard to address this scary trend.

It’s not as simple as saying, “Girls, stop dressing like slores” (slutty whores, in modern-day Girlspeak). Because that would mean being ostracized and condemned by one’s peers for not being trendy, and really, who would want that?

It’s just more pressure to add to their already full plates.

But we really need to spend more time addressing why these pressures exist and why the sexualization of women as an ideal is becoming attractive to younger and younger girls.

#2: Now: Sexual ‘Empowerment,’ Then: Feminist Revival

In today’s world, the media has teen girls (and women in general) believing that the equality battle has been won, that we don’t need feminism because we have the right to vote, play sports, work at any job, and are even graduating from college more than men are.

And while all this is amazing, there is still work to be done. Women are being beaten, raped, and undermined in “casual” ways every day.

But instead of addressing these bigger issues, the media shows girls that it’s preferable to use their sexuality as a form of “empowerment.”

Yes, there are female role models like Beyoncé, Rhianna, and Katy Perry who have dominated the world of pop culture, but how did they get there? Of course by being talented, but also by being sexy.

And there isn’t anything inherently wrong with wanting to be sexually attractive or with being outright and honest about your sexuality.

But there is something wrong with a society that teaches young women that they are defined by their sexuality, that that’s all they’re worth.

By contrast, in the ’90s, we experienced a bit of a feminist revival in the media.

Groups like The Indigo Girls and Bikini Kill exploded onto the scene and taught us Grrrrl Power – one that was much more genuine and stick-it-to-the-man than the Spice Girls’ version.

I’ll tell ya what I want, what I really, really want, and it’s not to be sexually exploited.

#3: Now: Size 6 is the New 14, Then: Size 6 Was Thin

I’m sure some of you have heard these stats before, but I’m going to enlighten you anyway.

In 1992, the average model was a size 4 or 6. Today, she is a size 0 or 2.

The unattainable standard of beauty has become unattainable-er.

And while clearly, most girls will never be models, they still look up to these women as the Ideal Standard by which to live, as evidenced by the rising rates of eating disorders and disordered eating and the thinspiration boards on Pinterest.

So much for the Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield of Sweet Valley High and their “perfect size six.”

In today’s world, that’s practically considered plus-size.

Even ex-supermodel Tyra Banks admitted that if she were just starting out today in modeling, she would not have made it.

Beauty, of course, comes in all shapes and sizes.

But manipulating young minds into believing that beauty is only legitimate if it can fit into a pair of size zero jeans is problematic.

When are we going to stop this trend of female attractiveness being defined as smaller and smaller, as taking up as little space as possible?

We are very well on our way to disappearing.

#4: Now: Cyberbullying, Then: Bullying

On a Friday night in 1991, my friend Keely convinced my friend Katie to call me and talk smack while Keely listened in on the other line in the hopes that I would say horrible, evil things about her and reveal my true tween nature.

Well, it worked.

I hung up the phone and cried to my mom about how deceitful she was, convinced that my life was over.

And was that bad?

Yeah.

But the difference between bullying now and bullying then, however, is that now we have that wonderful love-it-but-hate-it invention called the Internet. And cell phones equipped with text messaging. And Twitter, Facebook, and on and on.

In 1991, I cried and had my pity party, but then a few hours later, I recovered and went to watch Clarissa Explains It All, freed from the oppressive tyranny for at least the weekend.

Teens nowadays don’t have that freedom.

They  can criticize each other ‘round the clock, all the while cowardly hiding behind the glows of their laptop or iPhone screens, until something they’ve said causes lasting damage, or worse.

As an adult, it’s easy to dismiss bullying as “hijinks” or “a phase.”

What’s difficult to understand is that unlike us, these kids get no break from the relentless torture. No evenings or weekends free from the harassment. Just by logging into their Twitter account on a random Monday night, they might see a message that says, “Hey, fat, stupid slut. How’s it goin’?”

And it eats away at them. Every day. Little by little.

At age 12 or 15 or even 18, some don’t have the foresight to see that they will have a future that won’t be dominated by constant bullying. And that’s enough to drive someone over the edge.

#5: Now: Perfection Required, Then: Do Your Best

Girls today feel the need to be perfect in every way – physically, academically, morally, you name it.

When I was in high school, it was enough to do your best. Get into a decent school, but don’t worry if you don’t get into a top school. Just be yourself; boys will like you no matter what.

When I was a teen, of course we still dated, but oftentimes, it was on the way out of adolescence.

You ask a teens today if they’ve ever been on a date, and they look at you like, “Okay, 1950s woman,” followed by an eye roll.

Teens today participate in Hook-Up Culture, where they make out or have sex hoping that their partners will consider them worthy enough to be in a relationship with, which can be messy stuff.

And that’s not to say that young women can’t wield their sexual prowess at will, but it’s important to note the pressure for them to “grow up too fast” – to become adults (or adult-like) before they even have the cognitive function to think through their choices.