words

Calm, cool and collected

Do you think some parents have an intrinsic knack from being non-anxious in any situation? I was talking with a fellow mama the other day about children, sibling conflict, defiance and disrespect, and general fussiness. We joked about how easy it is to shout, “Would you stop SHOUTING!?”

How do you keep your cool as a parent?

Even though it may seem like some parents have a higher threshold for madness, I do believe that harmony and temperance can be learned and practiced.  When we are loving unconditionally, we have no reason to blow our top.  Even when I become the target of my child’s aggression, I must respond with compassion. I don’t see that as weak – in fact I see it as supremely strong.

I think there is a level of detachment that has to happen in intense situations with children.  I can not be tied to whether or not my kids like me in any given moment. I can not be worrying about what they might say to me. If I have clearly and consistently laid out boundaries for them, then I can confidently stand by those boundaries and not be swayed by their agitation or imbalance.

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We are Alexanders, we are learners.

My focus lately has been on family axioms, values and virtues that we overtly speak over our children describing the kind of people we are (ahem, suppose to be.) Call it a motto, maxim, adage, rallying cry….

On my post We are Alexanders, I describe what I mean by this, and list out many of the axioms we say day-in and day-out.

Today I am focusing on “we are learners”. This one is a tremendous parenting value for me. I am a learner, I was raised by learners, and I am married to a learner, so naturally I hope to impart this quality into the hearts of my children.

By learner do I mean over-edumacated academic elite? Heavens no. In fact, I agree with Albert Einstein who said, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

This world has so much to teach us.

Culture, nature, myth, math, history, technology, poetry, politics, physics, linguistics, economics…shall I go on? How could we ever imagine that we are done learning as soon as we finish our educational requirements? One thing I admire about my dad, is that at age 66, the man aspires to learn something new everyday. Never assuming he has all the answers, he ask good questions. He reads, he studies, he works hard to keep up with the inexhaustible pace of technology.

There is always something to learn from this bountiful planet. Project-based homeschooling works well for us, because it is designed to help kids pursue the things they are passionate about learning. But weather you homeschool or not: Does your child have a favorite food?  Trace the origin and historical preparation of that food. Discover how that food is prepared today, here in America. (disclaimer – your child may not like what she/he discovers). Did your child get a letter from grandma?  Outline the process of how we send and receive mail. Take the kids to the US Postal office and ask for a tour! Did your kids witness the dogs procreating?!?! Talk to them about the reproductive system of animals and allow them to follow the process out all the way through birth, infancy and independence.  There is so much to learn each day. We need only to open our eyes and pay attention! Life is our Guru. Earth is our hands-on instructor. History is our counselor. Get out there and let your curiosity lead you!

People have so much to teach us.

Do you think you have it all figured out? You don’t.  Your experience or degree make you an expert? Nope. Feel like you really have a handle on things? Guess again. Don’t assume that you know the perception of a Republican or the viewpoint of a Democrat until you share a meal with one.  Don’t expect to tell a teenager what they should do before you embrace them and listen to their heart. Don’t judge a buddhist until you are willing to sit quietly and let them share the experience of their faith journey.

Ok, I am no expert – but here are a few suggestions for us about how to lovingly approach people:

  1. Ask good questions.  Before my husband goes into a group meeting or a one-on-one coffee, I always remind him to ask good questions.  He grins and replies, “I know, I know, don’t talk too much….”  He is joking, but always comes home and reports the success of simply listening and asking good questions.  Not only do we learn so much more about the other person, but we come away nourished because listening is receiving – and our souls love that.
  2. Don’t give advice unless someone specifically asks you for it.  Over and over I hear people discharging dogma like an M2 machine gun (yea, I totally googled that). I want to stand up and shout, “NO ONE ASKED YOU FOR YOUR OPINION!” Although it is difficult to sit and listen and keep your mouth shut and ears open, please, for the love of all things vulnerable and tender – – please wait until you are asked before doling out your answers to life’s questions.
  3. Approach every conversation as an opportunity to learn. Every person you meet has a unique story. Try to engage them in that story. Strive to understand their perspective.  Think of your friends (and even random people you meet on the street) as mentors.  My friend Heather mentors me in self-dicipline. My friend Anna mentors me in a healthy lifestyle in regard to food and movement. My friend Laura mentors me in intentionality with children….and so on.  Every person in our lives has something to offer, something to teach us. So let’s tap into that wisdom.

We are Alexanders, we are learners. It’s an important message to my children to ALWAYS look for learning moments – every outing, every activity, every project, every movie they watch, every book they read. With every person they encounter, with one another, with home schoolers, with public schoolers, with babies, with elders, and with Mr. Henry – the mail carrier.

I must go now, because my friend is teaching me how to make organic apple muffins.

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We get in a rush, we get in a wreck.

I have been focusing lately on family axioms – values and virtues that we overtly speak over our children describing the kind of people we are (ahem, suppose to be.) Call it a motto, maxim, adage, rallying cry….

Today, I am expounding on one my my favs, the simple yet sensible “We get in a rush, we get in a wreck”.  A phrase aptly spoken to myself yesterday as I was dashing out the door and speeding down the street to get to a wedding on time. Breathe Nikki. We get in a rush, we get in a wreck. And by the way, your kids need a mom, so buckle up and bring your A game.

This axiom first came out of my mouth a while back, when 6 kids were in my playroom, fussing over who would get what lego piece. I declared, “Whoa, slow down kids! We get in a rush, we get in a wreck!” Seconds later, one of the children unintentionally flung my iPhone off the table, shattering the glass into 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces.

I love this axiom because of it’s clarity and veracity. Not mind-blowing, life-changing, earth-shattering.  But a valuable reminder to slow down and breathe. To remain sharp and alert, and be present in the moment.

A related note about HASTE. I have been pondering haste lately because many of my friends are leading frenzied lives, rushing from this appointment to that, practices, meets, recitals, rehearsals, games, tutoring, church, playdates, and terra-robo-astro-geo-paleo-lego-theo-neo-nova club.  Some of these mamas are frazzled and perpetually exhausted – missing appointments, double-booking, and complaining about being SO BUSY.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had many a season of overcommitment and boundary vertigo. But these past three years in Tuscaloosa, I have pulled back – banned chaos – shunned overcommitment – practiced NO – and sloooowwwwed down.

My message is this. On a micro level, take a look at each moment, each activity, as you move through your day. Notice the patterns that cause you or your children to spin into carelessness because of haste. On a macro level, examine your calendar, your lifestyle, and your commitments. Become aware of areas that need attention and balance.

Grounded in the midst of chaos.

Grounded in the midst of chaos.

Change it.

I have been focusing a lot lately on our family axioms – values and virtues that we overtly speak over our children describing the kind of people we are (ahem, suppose to be.) Call it a motto, maxim, adage, rallying cry….

Yesterday I had the opportunity to use my new favorite: Change it.

We had a German family over to play for the afternoon, a family I have been wanting to connect with for a while.  All the children were having a grand time outside for a couple of hours. But as soon as we came inside for cake and milk, my younger two children began to bicker and fuss at each other for every little thing. “You know how to work it out”, I reminded. Their clashing continued. Finally after about 6 minutes, I pulled each of them aside for these two simple words. CHANGE IT.

Why does “change it” work?

1. This quick two-word command is powerful. The word change is powerful. It is like a pinch in the arm or a glass of water in the face.  It snaps them out of their funk, and offers a real solution.

2. It reminds them that they are in control of their own actions and emotions.  Sometimes children get stuck in a feedback loop of powerlessness. “Change it” puts the responsibility back in their hands and kicks blame to the curb.

3. The third reason this works, is because we talk about it ahead of time.  I help the children prepare for an event, and plan their intended actions accordingly. I am a huge fan of James Lehman and The Total Transformation program.  One thing he talks about  is a concept called cuing.

CUEING:  It can be valuable if the parent and child have a cue -or signal they can give in times of high stress or intense frustration that signifies one party needs to take a break.  A cue can also be used as a signal to stop some troubling behavior from escalating.

I have a cue meeting with my kids before nearly every social activity. Cue meeting in the car before going into the grocery. Cue meeting before heading to the swimming pool,  the movie, a dinner out, a birthday party – whatever social situation we may be in.  It’s not a lecture. Cue meeting simply sets up the event and prepares the children for the choices they will make.  “Change it” has become a staple for us in the cue meeting.  The message is clear. If I say, “change it”, that means that something that you are doing is causing friction and negativity.  Do not try to explain, do not try to defend. Just change it. Then we can talk about who did what, and “this about her” and “he started it” blah blah blah… later.  Because I spoke to my children ahead of time, they were able to make an adjustment upon hearing the cue, “change it”.

Dawn and IPROPS to my friend Dawn who introduced me to this tasty little morsel.  When we visited last summer, Dawn shared a couple of her family axioms with me. Change it is one of them. 

We are Alexanders

“We are Alexanders, we are direct. We look people in the eye and say what we need.” One family member overheard me saying this to my 8 year old. She mentioned that she has noticed this saying, “We Are Alexanders, we…” in various forms over the years, and began to interview me on the subject.

Where did you come up with the idea?

We started our Alexander axioms when Canon (now 11) was 2. I didn’t want to be that mom who was constantly saying NO. I desired to parent in the positive. Speaking values and virtues over my children makes more sense to me than always negatively correcting. It is a code of conduct, whereby children begin to be aware of principles that are important in relating with family and community.

What are some other Alexander axioms?

We are Alexanders, we…
are direct.
are learners.
are leaders.
are problem solvers.
are kind.
use our words.
treat people with respect.
don’t whine or complain.
tell the truth.
listen.
include everyone.

These are the main Alexander axioms. My children hear many other sayings throughout the days and weeks as well.
“We get in a rush, we get in a wreck.”

“Be mindful of the needs of others.”

“Yes ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir, no sir.”

“You’re always in my heart.”

“A person falls down 7 times, but gets up 8.”

“There is no excuse for abuse.”

“Sometimes we need a reset.”

And a couple I recently picked up from high-school-bestie-reunited:
“Swear on our love.”
“Change it.”

Do you have them written down anywhere?

I have always told myself I need to start documenting our family axioms. I believe that each family has a unique set of values they are passionate about. We should all record these values and speak them over our children in ways that help shape character. If we feel strongly about particular virtues, we can either assume our children will magically pick up on them, or we can clearly communicate them.

What are your family axioms?

Time to bust out those Bridles!

We had 9 children coming and going this weekend. While this two-day playdate was packed full of adventure fun, there were definitely moments of aggravation and  fussiness. I heard words like weener, crap, and buttface.  I felt like I entered into The Sandlot with all the pre-testosterone attitude flying around. For the majority of the time, everyone was engaged and cooperative, and free just to be silly friends.

Sunday evening came, and the kids finally had a calm moment to decompress.  They shared their concerns about some inappropriate words they heard (and no doubt participated in).  They also shared things that sounded to me like gossip and rumors, which was disconcerting.  Their friends were detailing the failings of kids they know, and judging the actions of others. Finally, I was deeply saddened to hear that one child shared that he had been called a “faggot”.  My kids don’t know the meaning of this word – but they could tell it was hurtful.

I was reminded of James chapter 3 and explained the idea of “taming the tongue”.

James 3:7,8 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.

We talked about how the bible has lots to say about our words and how we can use them for building up or for tearing down. We discussed definitions of words and phrases. What is gossip? What is a rumor and how is it different or the same as a lie? What is meant by “betraying confidence”? How does it feel to be called names? How does it feel to hear your friends were hurt by the words of a bully?

We brainstormed a few tongue-taming rules:

  • If something is discouraging rather than encouraging, or you think it might hurt someone’s feelings, don’t say it.
  • If it’s not your news to share, don’t share it.
  • If you don’t know that a story is true, don’t spread it.
  • If it is inappropriate or potentially embarrassing, don’t let it come out of your mouth!

Finally, we looked up several verses in Psalms and Proverbs.

“Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.”

(Psalms 34:12-13, NIV)

“Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit.”

(Psalms 52:2, NIV)

“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.”

(Proverbs 12:25 NIV)

“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.”

(Proverbs 11:13, NIV)

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

(Proverbs 16:24, NIV)

“The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.”

(Proverbs 15:28, NIV)

“To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.”

(Proverbs 8:13, NIV)

“A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.”

(Proverbs 16:28, NIV)

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.”

(Proverbs 15:1-2, NIV)

“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”

(Proverbs 15:4, NIV)

Reading these verses aloud reminds me that NOW is the time to bust out those bridles.  Some may sluff off events like this, and claim that the current content of kid-gossip and insults is harmless. But I assure you, that beast will only get stronger, and the stakes will only get higher. Make sure you are talking to your kids about the conversations they have with their friends.  Be intentional about popping in regularly during play dates.  Keep an open line of communication with your little ones. Let them know they can trust you with their concerns about their friends. Listen. Help them make a plan ahead of time, so that if they get into a situation they are uncomfortable with, they will know what to do.  And coach them toward awareness of what comes out of their own mouths. Taming the tongue is a lifelong journey!