Tag Archives: children

The Boy vs the Beetle Virus: An Ode to the Great Outdoors

“No, no, don’t pull it out yet!” my son yelled.  He had a sliver of glass in his foot.  But his fear surprised me.  He is a barefooted nature lover who has encountered worse splinters, cuts and scrapes than this, and with less distress.  “It’s hard to even feel sorry for you,” I told my son.  “You knew you weren’t supposed to smash glass in the backyard.”  I didn’t say it harshly, but my son grimaced.  His eyes started to well up with tears.

I softened my approach.  “Is there something wrong besides your foot?” I asked, giving him a hug.  He was reluctant to tell me.  After some reassurance, he revealed the underlying source of his distress.  At a science museum day camp earlier in the day, his class took a walk outside.  My son found a large black dead beetle with pincers and a fuzzy yellow underside.  Excited, he picked it up.  He expected his teacher to respond with amazement and encouragement, as his parents and grandparents usually do when he makes a discovery in nature.  His collection of insects, rocks, shells and bones is a source of pride for him.

The beetle wasn’t quite this big.
By Harry Furniss (en:Harry Furniss, 1854-1925) (Lewis Carroll: Sylvie and Bruno. (1889)) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

To his shock, his teacher scolded him with an angry tone.  “Don’t pick that up!” she reprimanded.  “You can get a virus that will make you sick.  Your eyes will water and you will sneeze,” she warned.  Her anger and disapproval were so opposite of what my son expected, that he started doubting whether he could even expect me to respond in a positive way.  When some of the boys said, “Eewww!” his doubt was reinforced.

What?!  A virus from a beetle specimen?  When did our society become so afraid of the natural world?  When did adults stop expecting kids to play outside all day, encountering dirt and other natural substances?  When was it forgotten that humans used to live, work and eat outside?  Are we so far removed from the generation that urged its kids to “go play outside and come home when the street lights come on”?

I posed the question of a beetle virus to the pathologist in my family, a specialist with about 50 years of experience in the field of human disease.  He replied,

Well, apparently those teachers never had brothers!

…Very unlikely that an insect virus could cause disease in a human.  However, what she may be thinking is bacteria, not virus, in which case she may have a point, but still unlikely.  People even eat bugs with no problem (except for esthetics).

…My advice is don’t get bit/pinched/stung by the bug, and always wash the hands after handling.   How can you make a collection if you don’t pick them up?

Dirt is not bad for kids.  In fact, it is beneficial.  Recent research shows that childhood exposure to microbes in dirt strengthens the immune system.  It also reduces the chance of having allergies, asthma and other autoimmune diseases during adulthood.  And bacteria in soil can even cause an increase in mood-boosting serotonin.

The sun: good medicine
By Johann Sternhals [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Kids playing outside are also exposed to sunlight, our best source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D is important in the prevention of colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. (I know you’re smart enough not to get a sunburn).

If my kids are any indication, the backyard is a good place to stay strong and healthy.  At first, my son complained to me that he was the only child in his science camp who didn’t bring an electronic device to play with at lunchtime.  “I need a smartphone, Mom!”  But even though he is short and slim for his age, and at the lower end of the three-year age range of the science class, he turned out to be the strongest child in the class.  I like to think that there is a connection.  After some reflection, my son changed his mind about the smartphone.

Kids are not meant to be cooped up inside all day, staying clean.  This New York Times article points out that “Early humans evolved near the equator, where sun exposure is intense year round, and minimally clothed people spent most of the day outdoors.”

So mothers, send your kids outside, to fearlessly go where millions have gone before!  Let them get dirty, suntanned, and excited about the nature around them.  Let them stay connected to the real world.  It’s good for the mind, body and soul.

A note about splinters and tweezers: I think the very best tweezers for splinters are the ones in my Victorinox Swiss Army Classic knife.  They are tiny and thin for reaching into the cut to get the object.  You don’t even have to buy the knife.  You can buy just the replacement tweezers in a six-pack on Amazon.

What are your thoughts? I like feedback!

Sources: WebMD, Medical News Today

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Confessions of an Angry Mom

If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
Dosso Dossi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I couldn’t stop myself from losing my temper with my son, even though I love him to the ends of the earth.  I would yank him away from a fight with his sister, and yell a lecture into his face.  When he responded by hitting and kicking me, I would hold his wild limbs way too tightly, pinning him to me until his rage finally turned to tears.  At that point, I would lecture him in a more calm way until I thought I had said enough for him to get the point.  Then I would go to my room and cry into my pillow.

I knew my explosiveness wasn’t solving anything.  It was undoubtedly making things worse.  But I didn’t know how to stop.  If a mother’s love wasn’t motivation enough for me to hold it in, nothing could be.  I had to go beyond motivation, beyond counting to ten.  I needed to change myself at a fundamental level.

Reasons for Anger

First, I had to understand why I was getting angry.  I realized over time that I lose my temper when:

  • I want to scare my kids into doing what I want
  • I am afraid I might not be a good enough mom
  • I am afraid of not being in control of my kids
  • I am afraid my kids might be controlling me
  • I snap from hearing too much of an annoying noise from my son
  • I am afraid of what other people think of my kids’ behavior
  • I am cranky from hunger, thirst, or having to use the bathroom
  • I am overwhelmed by other stress in my like
  • I am more comfortable with the emotion of anger than I am with fear, anxiety or sadness
  • I magnify a temporary behavior problem by fearing it will be a long-term problem
  • I suffer from too much caffeine, or caffeine withdrawal
  • I feel defensive about someone’s anger directed at me
  • It feels good to vent my anger
  • I have too-high expectations for what I — and my kids — should be able to accomplish
  • I don’t know what else to do.

Managing Triggers

Once I understood the reasons for my anger, I could recognize and manage the triggers.  I recently read something that angered me.  I went into the kitchen to cook dinner and started snapping at the kids about messes they had left on the table.  I realized the true source of my anger, and apologized to my kids.  Then I concentrated on prioritizing my family and letting go of my anger over something less important.

New Skills

The next big step was to learn new ways to discipline my kids.  According to psychologist Ross Greene in his excellent online videos, “Maladaptive behavior occurs when cognitive demands being placed on the individual exceed that person’s capacity to respond adaptively.”  The same was true for me.  I behaved badly in situations that exceeded my capabilities.  I had the faulty authoritarian skill set of trying to enforce obedience with fear and manipulation.

I started developing new skills of connection parenting.  These included listening, empathizing, and coaching.  I felt less panicky when I understood my kids better and knew better what to do.  The more confident I was, the less I worried about what other people thought.

More often nowadays, when my son starts trouble with his sister, I focus on defusing the situation.  I calmly suggest why I think he might be angry, instead of escalating the anger in the situation.  I lead him to separate himself from her and find a more appropriate method to resolve the dispute.  In turn, he is becoming more capable in these situations.

Peaceful Home

I still lose my temper.  But my outbursts are shorter and less intense.  I am less frustrated and volatile.  My husband has noticed that the mood in our home has become much more peaceful in the past few years.  He is no longer the victim of my barrages of desperate and unfair complaints about our children’s impossible behavior.  With perseverance, it really was possible to loosen the grip that anger had on our household.

I love feedback.  What do you think?  What are your triggers for anger?

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Mommy and Me Road Rage

How do I get there?  Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-US Government

How do I get there? Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-US Government

I was driving near an urban mall just a few days before Christmas. Traffic was crawling at about one block per half hour. My Pre-K son started making unhappy noises.  I don’t mean crying, I mean random noises, like “AAAAH” and “OOOOH” to relieve boredom or frustration.  I failed to identify the sentiment as bored or frustrated, though.  I interpreted it as uncooperative and annoying.

To escape traffic, I chose a longer route.  No escape.  Now I was on the longer route, traveling at one block per half hour.  My son kept making noise.  Annoyed, I kept asking him to be quiet.  Both of us kept raising our voices, trying to win.  Eventually, I was screaming myself hoarse, hoping that eventually, he would give up or get scared or gain a solemn respect for me.  But instead, he matched me decibel for decibel.  If decibels were drinks, we both would have been under the table.  Oh, and also, I had a pounding headache.

Over the years, we went through many variations on this theme.  Son pulls daughter’s hair while mom screams for him to stop.  Or, father drives, son kicks mom’s seat, mom grabs son’s foot, daughter is crying.

Car troubles are definitely worse when the child’s tantrum triggers a mom-tantrum.  For kids, a tantrum can be a last-ditch effort to control a situation when they don’t know what else to do.  This is the same for moms.  At least for me.  It’s when I’m at my wits’ end that I yell and threaten.  It’s when I feel stuck or overwhelmed and can’t think of anything else to do.

It took years for us to get to the point of consistently good drives (I’m a slow learner).  I used to look for the magic phrase to say, or the magic time-out technique.  Now, I’ve recognized that my demeanor is more important than my technique.  Of course, recognizing is only the first step.  Practicing takes longer.  Years later, my kids still make unhappy noises.  I still yell sometimes.  I even found an effective technique, but it only works when I am calm.  Actually, the technique helps me stay calm, because I have a plan.

The technique is this.  I won’t drive angry.  If I feel like I’m getting angry, I pull over.  Then, I sit quietly while the kids fuss or whatever.  Eventually, one will ask, “Can we go now?”  My answer is that we can go when they have been still and quiet for two minutes.  Early on, it could take up to an hour to achieve two minutes in a row of quiet.  My point is to let them learn to quiet themselves.  If son is hurting daughter, I will let daughter sit up front with me while we wait for calm in our parking space.  After the quiet time, we move on.  We talk about what caused the disagreement, and what each party could have done to de-escalate it.  Sometimes we talk as we drive on, or if it has been a particularly difficult time, we talk before we drive on.  The waits have gotten shorter and less frequent.

We even managed a drive from Ohio to Texas.  The kids started arguing before we got through Ohio.  I told them, “No arguing until we get to Arkansas.  Then, you are allowed to have a great big blowout.  But not before then.”  I guess this seemed weird enough to surprise them into behaving — all the way to Arkansas!  We were actually in Arkansas when they started arguing again.  “It’s ok to argue now,” I told them.  “You waited until Arkansas, and now you can have a big fight.”  They paused. “But do you want to fight?” I asked.  Amazingly, they stopped right then and there.  We made it all the way to Texas with no fighting.  Holy sigh of relief, Batman!

The big lesson for me is that when I am more calm, the kids are more calm.  When I am overwhelmed, they are overwhelmed.  The better I learn to handle my own tantrums, the better the kids handle theirs.  Drive on, mom!

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Haiku: What’s on YOUR Car’s Back Seat?

Pennies, bottle caps

Scissors, acorns, stuck candy

On my car’s back seat

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