How (Not) To Choose Books Your Children Will Love

I went into a book-shop this morning to gather some inspiration for this blog.

BAD MOVE.

I love books. I love writing. I love reading.

But my all-time favourite thing to do is to read with children.

This morning, inspired by recently baby-sitting a very sweet 2 1/2 year old, I went to the local bookshop – the only book-shop in the entire council region.

I would have had a lovely time

except that

as soon as I found the children’s section (my favourite section) I heard

‘The Manager’ instructing his juniors on how to run a book shop.

 

I did not try to listen.

But I heard him. Everyone inside the shop–and probably outside the shop–heard him.

 

When a writer goes into a book-shop, she should almost be in heaven.

Not this morning.

 

When I venture into a book-shop I usually pick up a book, caress the texture of its cover and marvel at the book design; check out the title and author; and  re-experience that great excitement of opening up a book that’s new to me, or a new version of an old, loved book.

And if I’m really, really lucky, I feel that delicious crisp, slidy-crackle as the page edges peel apart for the very first time.

Not this morning.

 

I love to pick up old-favourites and reread the pace and rhythm of great writers. I rarely leave a bookshop without reading at least one of Mem Fox’s stories, and I hear her in my memories of the audio-tapes my children listened to every day when they were small.

But not this morning.

 

The Manager’s voice had no rhythm.

He didn’t teach about books or words or rhymes or rhythms. He didn’t take a book and stroke it, and demonstrate how to love it.

He spoke only of shelves and sales and stock-take.

 

My heart sank.

 

I left the children’s section, went to the bargain table, picked out some trustworthy classics, took them to the counter and handed them to The Manager.

‘I’m writing a blog about children’s books,’ I said. ‘Which is your favourite children’s book?’

‘I don’t have one.’

I wanted to give him another prompt, but my astonishment rendered me mute. He continued without prompt.

‘I left children’s books in my childhood. I don’t have children. Children and children’s books are of no interest to me.’

By this time, I’d managed to pick up my jaw from off the floor.

‘So, if a parent asked you for a recommendation, what would you say?’

I’d ask them about the child’s interests.’

‘And how about a grandparent asking for their two-year-old grand-child?’

‘Then I’d find out more about the desires of the purchaser.’

The pay-wave machine beeped.

The Manager handed me my bag of books–which was much smaller than usual.

And I left–no longer wondering why children are losing their love of books.

 

Let’s not leave the blog there:

Which are your favourite children’s books?

Which books have your kids worn out?

What do you love about them?

What are you currently reading?

What do your kids love about them?

Please let us know your recommendations.

 

 

 

How Relationships With Your Kids Can Rescue You

There were no spiders on my garden chair when I sat down today.

I checked.

 

The last time I went to sit on my garden chair, I used my hand to knock off a few dried up leaves from its cushions. But, as I went to brush a couple of leaves off the back of the chair, I noticed two big, beady eyes looking up at me.

 

I shrieked–evidently too quietly for my husband to hear me. But one of my sons yelled from inside the house

‘’You okay, mum?’

 

Bravely (I thought) I went inside to create the least fuss possible and sought out my daughter who had named the previous year ‘The Year of The Spiders’. That year she worked at an outdoor education camp and took it upon herself to transfer spiders from inside dormitories to outside, away from the screams of hysterical campers.

 

‘How big is it?’ she asked me as she proceeded to the pantry.

‘Oh, not too big,’ I said.

She raised an eyebrow at me, turned to me and held out her hands. In her left hand she held a square-round tupperware container, big enough for half a sandwich. In her right, a four-litre ice-cream carton.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Medium-sized’.

She grabbed a different container and headed outside to my chair… and the spider.

‘Ooh! He’s a big guy isn’t he?’

 

My embarrassment dissolved. I felt vindicated.

 

I also realized how much I enjoy having my young adult kids close enough to me to have them rescue me.

 

The tables are turning.  We rescue each other.

And I’m so glad of our investment in our relationship with them–or I’d be chasing my own spiders.

How To Be A YES Parent – Without Saying NO To Discipline

In a previous post,  I wrote about how we changed from being No. Don’t!  parents to  Yes! parents.

Saying ‘Yes’ didn’t mean that we gave up discipline, but rather, it changed the way we disciplined.

We read lots of books and listened to people who had a much gentler and more enjoyable approach to parenting – with better results.

We discovered we had confused discipline with punishment. After lots of research, we learnt that they had little in common – especially when dealing with young children.

Show them how

To discipline means to ‘train’; that is, to show how.

Kids are much more co-operative when they know what they’re  expected to do.

For example: We discovered we could show our children how to touch things ‘gently’ – placing their little fingers in ours and helping them to touch and feel things, such as baby brothers and sisters… gently.

When we began to respond with a ‘Yes, that’s right,’ instead of a ‘NO. DON’T!’ we found that desirable behaviour was usually repeated. If you think about it, ‘No. Don’t!’ doesn’t tell our child what to do next. It just breaks our communication with them, confuses them and leaves them with no options.

Learn more positive ways to communicate with our children

When the children wanted to change activity, instead of saying ‘No. The room is a mess; No, you haven’t finished your homework; No, your hands are filthy; No. No. NO!’ we learnt to answer

‘Yes, when the Lego has been put away; Yes, when you’ve washed your hands; Yes, after you’ve written two more sentences of your homework…Yes.’

Save NO’s for those times that are really, really necessary.

You can imagine our children’s surprise when we began to say ‘Yes!’ much more often than ‘No!’ But as they got used to it, they listened to our instructions much better. And on the rare occasions we did say ‘NO!’, they knew it was important and respected it.

At about the same time as we discovered this, our fourth child 
joined our family. We named him 'Noah'. You suddenly become aware of how
 often you inadvertently say 'No!' when you have a little one who 
responds every time you say the beginning of his name. 

Look through different eyes

We began to look at our children through eyes that looked for signs of discovery and wonderment rather than eyes looking out for trouble.

By observing our children we could follow their lead in learning new things, playing, seeking reassurance and rest. Our job was to provide a safe environment. Their job was to explore it.

Children whose needs are being met are much more eager to please their parents than to disappoint them.

When expectations of a child’s behaviour are consistent with the child’s development and ability, discipline becomes much more realistic and manageable, and parenting becomes enjoyable.

 

How I Remembered to be an Encourager

My friend left her three little ones with me one morning. And suddenly, I remembered what it was like to: wipe the 31st runny nose for the morning, change nappies, wash hands and little fingers that seemed to get into everything, dive for precious things before they hit the floor… You get the picture.

I was also very glad when their mum returned one hour and thirty three minutes later because frankly…I was exhausted.

Their mum took them home with her for the next few years, and I went to the local shopping centre to relax and enjoy a Chai Latte.

As I luxuriated in the froth of my latte, another young mum went past with her two little ones; the elder in the stroller and the younger one, probably about two and a half, throwing a tantrum behind the stroller.

The mum calmly, gently and firmly took control of the situation. She whispered something into her now calmer daughter, and continued walking…with a quiet child who was not only settled but followed happily.

I felt the urge to run up to the mum and say ‘Well done!’ But the comfort of my Chai overwhelmed me and I continued to sit and sip.

When it was too late to be of any use, my conscience pricked me and reminded me of those times that my own little ones had thrown tantrums in public. Those were inevitably the same days that the car played up, one of the children lost a shoe, four litres of milk landed on the floor, and it was the last day to pay the electricity bill–and payday wasn’t until Friday.

On one particularly rotten day, we managed to get ourselves kicked out of both the library and the local store in less than two hours. Some well-meaning person in the store had plenty of words about how unruly my children were. As if I didn’t know that.

Later that afternoon I discovered that the main perpetrator of the mischief had yet another fever and accompanying burst ear-drum. So, I ended up at home with sick kids who I had to pack back into the car when they had just gone to sleep so I could pick up their big sister from school, and later, repeat the ordeal to collect their dad from work.

I don’t remember the words of advice that well-meaning person gave. But I know that as I sat exhausted, frustrated, angry and depressed, I wished that some-one would wave a magic wand and give me five minutes of peace and quiet and take all of my troubles away.

Foundation!

Funny, isn’t it, how we can all be parenting experts until we have at least three children of our own. I maintain that nobody who has parented more than two children ever sets themselves up as a parenting expert.

Yet, the advice flows doesn’t it? And me – I’m as guilty as anybody at handing it out.

So, instead of offering advice, I want to give a collective ‘SORRY’ to all of the parents I’ve judged unfairly, neglected to cheer when they were doing a good job, or felt too shy to offer  15 minutes time-out for a mum while I watched her two-year-old at playgroup.

On behalf of all of us who didn’t encourage you when we had the opportunity, here is some instant encouragement.

And for those of you who, like me, need to practice to be more encouraging, here are some ideas for what to say in the future.

You’re doing a great job!
Way to go!
Be gentle on yourself!
You don’t have to smile if you’re feeling awful on the inside!
We understand!
One day soon there will be more sleep!
Would you like me to hold your baby for a few minutes while you finish your cuppa?
How would you like me or my teenager to baby-sit this Friday night while you both go out for dessert?

Who knows? Maybe we can change our local communities into child and parent friendly communities: by encouraging rather than judging; by baking biscuits with the neighbourhood children to give their mum a morning off; by doing the dishes when we’re visiting;  by being realistic about life and it’s challenges; by standing alongside other parents instead of criticizing them; by reminding ourselves of what it was like to be tired with sick and cranky kids; and by standing up for parents of young children in our local planning committees.

We might just find ourselves sipping Lattes without the guilt – and discovering young friends in our old age.

 

Originally published in The Lutheran  as ‘Perfect Parenting’

 

Family Recipes

My mother-in-law Ruth and her sisters are extraordinary cooks. So family get-togethers of our three generations are a great celebration of good, old-fashioned German cooking, with lots of cream, and belly-aches for the uninitiated who tend to be overfilled by too much great food.

At any family gathering, the aunties bring designated dishes. Auntie Audrey makes brandy snaps and pavlova. Auntie Doreen makes pink jelly cakes, with cream in the middle. Ruth makes jelly-slice. And Auntie Joy makes cream-puffs. But that’s just dessert.

Before then, home-made sausage rolls and little meat-balls with home-made tomato sauce are for entree. That’s where the newbys get into trouble. The rest of us know

‘Don’t fill up on sausage rolls because there’s an ocean of food yet to come.’

Then there’s Ruth’s soup: The best chicken noodle soup in the world. Main course provides mountains of turkey and duck, chicken, ham, lamb and corned beef with lashings of creamy coleslaw, potato salad, and whatever else the in-laws bring along as salad.

Cooking, like housework, is not my forte, and I struggled for years to find something I could happily contribute to my in-laws’ family table.

But, a couple of decades ago when we lived overseas, I asked their mother Ruby for her kuchen (German streusel* cake) recipe. When I was little, I watched my own grandmother making kuchen in her tiny kitchen, and helped her to use the same dough to make doughnuts and kitchener buns. So I wasn’t intimidated by the thought of cooking with yeast.

After Ruby died, when the family was facing their first event without her, I baked Ruby’s kuchen. The taste and smell that were faithful to Ruby’s original recipe brought back many happy home memories. I was really pleased to contribute in a very important way to the family’s memories.

Though all the sisters thought that kuchen was too difficult to make, it didn’t take Ruth very long to work out that if I could cook something, almost anybody else could!

IMG_20160825_145611Recipes are like that, aren’t they? Some of them are intimidating. Some of them call for ingredients we just don’t have in our homes, or are too rich to make too often. And some of them just don’t suit our tastes. But some of them are just right.

I’ve found that parenting tips are like recipes: Many are passed from generation to generation; some are intimidating; some leave a bitter taste; and some are just too yummy to use too often.

But some of them are just right: they fit us, our family and our situation. Once we’ve tried them a few times, we can’t imagine life without them – even though we may tweak them according to our own tastes.

I’ve had the incredible privilege of running parenting seminars, courses and groups. They include a collection of parenting ‘recipes’ that  I’ve learnt along the way, received from colleagues or acquired at a training course. Or they are a complete course, such as Toolbox. They’re all backed up by decades of research.

What I have found though, is that listening to me is not nearly as encouraging to the parents as discovering that others share their joy and frustration — and even their pain!

‘Oh, that happens in your house, too?’ is the most common question I hear. As soon as I hear that, usually within the first five minutes of a seminar, I know that somebody is going to go home feeling much more encouraged, knowing they are not alone in their struggles.

The best bit is to see a parent’s eyes light up as they hear about a different approach, another way of looking at what their kids do, and when they say ‘I reckon I can do that!’

Most of the time the camaraderie that comes from knowing somebody else shares your experience can be positive. But this can be ambushed by a sense of judgement or failure if particular styles or methods of parenting are imposed or implied as particularly better than others.

Because we have different circumstances, personalities and backgrounds, the way we parent will be different from the way others parent. And it will be deeply affected by the way we were parented. It may also differ among our own individual children.

Most of us have memories of promising, ‘I’ll never do that to my child’. But if we don’t find another way to deal with that particular situation, we may discover ourselves reverting to the only way we know how, especially in times of crisis.

2016-08-25 14.56.51

The good news is that we don’t have to stick to the recipes that don’t work or we don’t like. There are plenty of options.

So, where can we find healthy parenting ‘recipes’? How can we tell which methods are the best to follow?

Perhaps start off with a bit of basic biology. Books and dvds and websites are a great place to begin to learn basic anatomy and physiology. It’s great to be aware of how babies grow, what they need in order to develop and how best to meet their needs. Then you will be able to describe and understand anatomical features when you have a medical or child-health appointment.
It will also help you to discern good advice from the rubbish you might read.

With a little basic biology behind you, check out some child-development resources. Two good websites are www.raisingchildren.net.au and www.child-encyclopedia.com.

Find out what’s normal, so that you don’t get upset when your baby starts dropping things from their high-chair over and over again; your two-year-old says ‘No!’; your three-year-old asks ‘Why?’ three hundred times a day; or your eight-year-old argues against everything you say.

Knowing what to expect will help you to feel more comfortable when asking somebody how to work with this next stage.  That’s much better than believing that your child is rebelling against your parenting style, or worse, is attacking you personally.

My favourite place to find useful and practical ideas about parenting is www.theparentingplace.com. But like any recipe, there are bits I add or take out, according to the needs of my family.

Take a look at that site and others. Try them out if they seem like they might work for you. Tweak them as necessary. Ask others what they think. Observe other parents and try to see the cause and effect principle in action.

If parenting ideas don’t sit right with your tastes or ingredients, don’t feel obliged to stick with them. If something doesn’t work, try something else.

And remember, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.

Perhaps the best way to measure parenting recipes is to hold them up against a popular list of ingredients found in the bible in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Add a dose of fun and you have the greatest recipe for warm and happy memories that your kids will want to pass on for generations.

*Streusel is a crumble topping made with flour, butter and sugar.

Previously published in The Lutheran

Remote Chance of Chores: Julie Hahn

I did it again this morning.

The first time I did it was months ago, when my beloved child was not contributing at all to the smooth-functioning of our household. Instead of doing his allocated chores, he spent his time and energy on playing x-box on our t.v.

When he went off to school one morning, I grabbed his x-box remote and put it away.

I can’t remember whether it was intentional or not. But after I put it away, I forgot where I put it.

Sometimes I’m blessed with a terrible memory.

To say that for a while I was not a popular mum would be the understatement of the year. However, I do remember telling him that, perhaps, if he did his chores, I might be prompted to remember.

Weeks went past.

Everyone in our house has their own chores to do. Everyone else had already taken on his job of feeding the dog.

Shelby the dog was a bundle of white fluff that you couldn’t actually see on her. Chris used to say that she shed more fluff than she could possibly produce. In the ensuing weeks white fluff carpeted the rugs, the floors and every surface in the house.

It was disgusting.

But we were at an impasse.

Stubborn mum refused to look for the remote until his jobs were done. And refused to do his jobs despite living in dog-fluff circumstances.

Son demonstrated that he can be equally stubborn. He inherited a double-dose of stubborn, with an added pinch of passive resistance.

Possibly prompted by an imminent houseful of guests I decided that, regardless of my intentions to stick to my guns, I needed to do the vacuuming. I went to the cupboard in the laundry, picked up the vacuum-cleaner…and there, behind the vacuum-cleaner, was the hidden remote.

I didn’t need to do the vacuuming that day.
I simply went to find the offending son and explained that I’d suddenly remembered where his treasure was. If he did his chores I could make sure they were reunited.

He looked at me with that look that asks ‘Should I believe you?’.

I walked away.

A few moments later, I heard chuckling coming from the laundry.
‘Fair call, mum. Fair call. I deserved that. That was well done.’

Phew! Not quite the reaction I anticipated. But it reaffirmed to me that logical consequences and ‘assisting’ our kids to take responsibility for their actions works – at least it did, that time.

I wonder if he’ll know where to look when he’s looking for his missing computer…

The Crystal Bowl

The crystal bowl
A wedding gift
too precious to be broken
too beautiful to be stuck at the back of a cupboard

So, placed on a bench
Where the sun shone through the window

Rainbows danced on the wall
As the sun rose and set and the clouds moved around the sky

 

The bowl sat

Proudly for a while

Dusted regularly

Occasionally washed
in hot, soapy water
atop a folded tea-towel at the bottom of the sink

It remained on the bench for years
Just out of reach of sticky, inquisitive fingers

But when the family grew
Taller and busier
The bowl collected paraphernalia

The reliable place to find the keys
and stray coins
and springs that pop out of pens
and washers that somehow manage to find themselves loose
and lolly-wrappers
and dead batteries

No more did the sun shine through it
It lay
Forgotten
Clouded in dust

Ugly dust-bowl in its emptiness

—–

When dust and teens overwhelmed her

Mother cleared it out
Washed it
In hot, soapy water

Rainbows danced in the bubbles
As she lifted the bowl from the sink

A sliver of sunlight caught a facet of the crystal

A rainbow danced on the wall in front of her

Reminding her

 

Restored to its proper place
on the cleared, dusted, polished bench

The crystal bowl gleamed

No room for emptiness

No lack of purpose

Full of fresh, nourishing fruit

A new depth of colour and fulfillment

 

The crystal bowl

Beauty in its design

Life in its purpose.

 

 

 

Focus on your Priorities: Julie Hahn

Focus on your priorities,  they say.
Clear your desk.
Sit.

Be still.

Concentrate on writing whatever comes into your mind.

 

My pen is poised for a fraction of a second and…

The phone rings.

It’s Mum. Mum has been neglected somewhat since we left for our month long holiday. She joined us halfway for a couple of days. But I haven’t spent much time with her since then.

‘I have an appointment with the doctor. I’ll see you afterwards,’ she says. Then turns up on my doorstep with a relatively clean bill of health, but a need for some loving.

‘Let’s go out for lunch’, I suggest. Lunch extends into an afternoon of shopping. With a new grandchild / niece / nephew due in the next few weeks, we have new and interesting shops and departments to check out.

She leaves at 5 p.m.

‘I don’t know how to make mashed potatoes,’  says No. 4 child who is rostered to cook dinner. Mashed potatoes might be on the menu but life is on his mind. He needs some loving.

Husband arrives home. He needs some loving. The Olympics give us an excuse to snuggle on the couch – until my eyes demand to be closed.

I climb into bed – with no words written.

 

The next morning arrives.

Pen poised.

SMS from No. 1 child.

‘Do you have time for a mum-chat?’

Fifty-two minutes later, she smiles through the phone and says that she always knows I’ll help her get grounded and put life back into perspective. Thanks Mum.

I grab a cup of coffee and head to my office.

Pen poised.

Phone rings. I do all I can to answer politely.

It’s my sister – the one who’s about to present my new niece/nephew within the next few weeks.

‘Soothe that belly. Try some ginger’, I say, trying to reassure her. She needs some loving. And I enjoy a chat that I’ve forgotten we can do at waking hours now that she’s back in the country. Gotta get used to that.

43 minutes later, she decides she’d better do some housework.

I go to wash my coffee cup and No. 3 child returns from her morning classes. I ask how they went, and she smiles for the first time for weeks. ‘Great!’ I say and turn in the direction of my desk.

Okay if we sort out the Centrelink stuff? she asks. She needs much more than loving. She needs an income, and someone who is much more practiced at handling people who may or may not enjoy working for the government.

Three hours later I sit at my desk, which I cleared while I was on hold to Centrelink for 37 minutes. And all I can think of is how life as a mum is unpredictable, disrupted, and full of loving.

It doesn’t matter how many motivational speakers, self-appointed leaders, organizational experts or preachers tell me that I’ll never achieve unless I prioritize, life as a full-time wife and mum is exactly that: deciding moment by moment which is my biggest priority.

And my first priority will always be… to love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice Makes Better: Julie Hahn

Some people have told me how talented they think I am, and inside I laugh. The most important lesson I’ve learnt in the process of writing is that practice makes better.

Very occasionally, writing these articles happens easily. I wake up very early in the morning with a thought in my mind, get dressed, grab my glasses and my car keys and head to a coffee shop, and voila, 40 minutes later an article is born.  But more often, they are a slog—an enjoyable slog.

I became a writer quite accidentally … well, so I thought, until I took a look back at how it happened.

Our little family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, when our children were four, two and not quite one. Even before we were married we’d planned to move overseas for Chris to do post-doctorate research. We figured that I would be stuck at home with little kids during this time, so it didn’t really matter where we were.

But we had no idea how homesick I would be, being so far away from everybody we knew. It was before the age of computers in homes. These days I can communicate with my sister in the UK using Skype or Facebook.

In Memphis, I wrote letters. Ten pages of letters per day, every day. And in the process of writing letters,
I learnt to write.

My mother kept all the letters I wrote to her and presented them to me in a large folder only last year. The letters stopped after about 18 months, by which time we’d settled into the Memphis community and I was no longer so homesick.

After we came back to Australia, moved houses, had another baby and settled all the kids into school, I went to university and learnt more about writing … and word limits. Writing essay after essay helped me to learn to be more concise, and reading article after article, book after book, I learnt to be more discerning about styles and word choices.

‘Success means getting up once oftener than you fall down’

Being surrounded by toddlers in my work reminds me of their persistence. Toddlers are determined to get to where they want to go. They get up and fall down, and get up … and fall down. They keep getting up, over, and over and over again. I’m sure that whoever it was who said ‘Success means getting up once oftener than you fall down’ had been watching a bunch of babies.

Younger children just want to learn and keep doing, over and over and over again. They don’t seem to care how well they do anything. They just keep at it

But as children get to school age, that determined endeavour seems to disappear in some of them.

Children aged between five and twelve years of age need to become good at something

Chris and I attended an excellent ‘Family Wellness’ course a number of years ago. The kids were dragged along for a couple of sessions, too. A key idea of the course was that children aged between five and twelve years of age need to become good at something.

With a new perspective from the course, I looked at the people I knew who were confident and accomplished in what they did. Whether they were artists, engineers, architects, cooks, farmers or athletes, every one of them had worked hard to be where they are now.  Talent had very little to do with their success.

Skyscrapers, bridges, planes and ships are not designed by people who suddenly decide to build them. Great buildings begin with wooden blocks, Lego, meccano and piles of sand being moved from one spot to another. Great artworks begin with painting dots and squiggles, and experimentations with shade and light, correction and starting from scratch, over and over again.

Admittedly, some people are born to be more athletic or musical or artistic than others. But without determined, intentional, frequent practice, people do not become great at something.

Attempting to get good at something
Attempting to get good at something

Life is about learning; making mistakes, correcting mistakes

I recently heard an interview on the ABC with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the world-famous singer. She said,

‘You never stop learning … The moment you think you can’t learn anymore, I think you’re dead. Life is about learning; making mistakes, correcting mistakes … If I did two hours a day on vocalese, seven days a week, it would never be enough. Think of the tennis player. How many times has he hit that little ball? It’s a lifestyle, not a job.’

So, armed with our new perspective on parenting 5–12-year-olds, Chris and I looked at our parenting. We were familiar with our kids beginning new ventures: joining a basketball team, learning a musical instrument, playing a game.

They were eager starters.

Everything was new and interesting.

For a while the practice was a novelty, but soon it became a drag with its repetition. Being part of a team was fun, but it also became tiresome when it required early morning starts or missing out on parties or fishing trips.

With our new perspective we began to help them to ‘hang in there!’ We explained the plateau that happens when you learn something new: You learn eagerly and quickly for a while, but then you don’t seem to get any better; the kids in the team won’t throw to you because you keep dropping the ball; the clarinet refuses to give you that particular note and it squeaks precisely when you are trying your hardest; you keep coming ‘second’ every time you play chess.

It’s at the plateau that most people quit.

It’s at the plateau that most people quit. That’s the time that we as parents, coaches and encouragers need to get in there and be the cheer squad.

Forget about ‘constructive criticism’! Research by the Gottman Institute demonstrates that, particularly in children, criticism is not constructive.

Instead, stress the positive:

‘What a great catch! Now, do that again!’

‘See what happens when you do that: It’s strong!’

Describe what you see. Describe how you feel.

Give your children the words to express what they’ve done.

Encourage positive steps and celebrate small successes as well as big ones.

Every positive effort is a success, regardless of its outcome.

A few years ago I was part of a school chaplains’ meeting. One of the chaplains shared a story about a teenager who was constantly in trouble with the police. He kept breaking into cars and stealing them.

When the teenager was asked by the chaplain, ‘Why do you do it?’, his reply was,

‘I just want to be good at something, and that’s all I know’.

Everybody needs to get good at something.

Everybody needs to get good at something. Natural talent and ability play only a small part in a person’s success. For each of us, in everything we do, practice makes better.

 

First published in ‘The Lutheran’ 2012. 

 

For more stories about people who practiced to achieve, read Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’.

 

Today (Kakadu, Day 2): Mozzies 53- Julie nil

After my day in Kakadu yesterday, where my energy output exceeded my input and my willpower, I decided to give the others (Chris and Gabby) a day off.  I volunteered to stay behind at our camping ground at Cooinda in Kakadu, while they went to Gumlom Falls, unheeded by me.

Good call, apparently.

That allowed my companions freedom to drive on bumpy roads, climb and swim while I had a personal retreat day.

My challenge: to be still and to simply be.

The car drove off with them in it, only a few moments before I realized I’d left my hat in the boot.  That just meant that I must stay in the shade all day.

Aah…but…Chris had left his glasses in the tent.

So, very soon, the wanderers returned,  we swapped the pair of glasses for my hat and they departed. Again.

IMG_3620 IMG_3622 IMG_3632 IMG_3648

Under the shade of my hat, I gathered my tools together; books, paper, pens, paints, plates, cups, drink, kleenex, esky, hand-bag. And I wandered through the park to find a shady table and bench.

As I strolled past the bistro directly between our tent and the pool, I noticed the queue of between 50 and 60 people lining up for breakfast.PANO_20160705_090414 (1)

I congratulated myself on our choice to camp, and took a photo to remind myself that camping is a good idea, for the next time I felt that I might prefer a few more luxuries than a tent and a camp-stretcher.

I wandered through the shaded area just beyond the perimeter of the pool fence, found the perfect spot, set out the tools of my trade and began to sit quietly.

Aah! Serenity…

Except for the buzz of mosquitoes…

S l o w . . .  m o s q u i t o e s…

Julie: Five in one swoop

Mozzies: zero

Then… the mozzies I missed called for reinforcements.

And I remembered the one tool I’d left at the tent…

. . . Insect repellent.

Dilemma 1: Do I need to pack up everything in order to return to the camp-site to retrieve the insect repellent?

I continued to sit for about three seconds, thinking I might be able to sit it out… until more of the mozzie-army invaded.

Mozzies: 53

Julie: Nil – and 53 Mozzie bites.

Decided to leave most things as they were, but just take things of value with me.
Then sprinted (in a Julie-style-sprint) laden with my hand-bag, esky and books, across the park to pick up insect repellent, and Tea Tree Oil for the mozzies which had already got me.

Note to self: Always carry Tea Tree Oil.
Great for Mozzie bites, wasp stings, burns, infections: And especially soothing for bites from bugs that hitch a ride in your trousers while you’re on guided walks around the base of Uluru, and bite when they want to get out.

I returned to my spot.

And I sat.

And I wrote.

Dilemma 2: I get bored easily

Before I knew it, I was up and looking for some distraction. Any distraction.
Usually it’s food.
Today, I got frustrated with myself, knowing that at last I was all set up and had actually written something, yet I needed to wriggle.
I look at my phoned and jumped for joy that I’d been writing without distraction for eighty-three minutes. I got up, wriggled a little bit, and sat down again.

Julie: one
Mozzie: Zero

I deemed that I’d earned a coffee break…

The bistro-brekky-bunch had subsided. So I ordered a long-black coffee with soy milk on the side, sat at a bistro bench and sipped while I observed the people around me. But the patrons seemed intent on being peculiarly uninteresting. And the barramundi burger was less than inspiring: Not sure how the cook did that.

Refreshed

I returned to my reclusive table outside of the pool, right next to the playground. where a dad and his three little girls played together for the next hour.

I sat and I sat and I sat.  And listened and smiled and wrote and remembered why I wanted to write to inspire parents. The little family was so full of happiness – enjoying each others’ discoveries, helping but not interrupting, encouraging but not demanding, allowing exploration without initiating fear.  I wished I could bottle that love and spread it onto pages.

The afternoon grew warmer – and I edged closer to the pool, found a deck-chair and nestled in. Several families moved in close around me. I wondered if they knew they’d be observed.

A mum nearby read several new books to her children. Then she decided to read a book to herself while the three children shared TWO books.

Uh Oh!

Of course it was Little Mister Three who missed out. And everyone in the whole resort heard about it.

I love to keep bubbles in my hand-bag for such occasions. But with all the travelling we’d done, bubbles had not been on my list of what to pack.

But, as a writer and experimental painter/drawer, I had paper and pencils. So I wandered over to the family.

‘Excuse me, I’m trying to write a book and I need some pictures. Is there anyone here who might like to draw a picture?’

Mister Three’s eyes popped open. He jumped up and shouted.

‘I can. I can.’

Big brother and sister wanted to as well, but the mum said,

‘No, he was first’, so I left Mister Three with my pencil and some paper and went back to my deck-chair.

A few minutes later, little Mister Three was at the foot of my chair.

He held up his picture for me to admire and told me all about it, that his name was Jack, and that he was having a great holiday. And could he do some more, please.

My afternoon progressed with meeting other families who came to enjoy the pool. I talked with mums and dads and kids and aunties. We talked about where we were from, where we were going, places we recommend, things we’d seen, what we’d learnt along the way, and shared any news we’d heard.

‘Do we have a Prime Minister yet?’ I asked a dad, who had grown up in the town next to where I’d grown up.

But while we were talking, my grown-ups returned from their trip, excited at what they’d done, and not-so-secretly thankful that I hadn’t gone with them.

A great day of climbing and swimming for them.
And a day that reminded me of my vocation.

Refreshment for all of us.

The best kind of day.