Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Discussing Sexuality With Children?

The Question:

Hi there,

I just have to ask, how and when do you discuss sexuality with children?  What do you include, or leave out?  I have a seven year old, and was surprised to learn that many of her friends have already had the talk from their parents.  My daughter hasn't expressed any curiosity about where babies come from, or how our bodies change, etc.  Help!

Thank you,

The Answer:

Dear Anonymous,

I'll confess that I made a lot of mistakes in this area.  I grew up in the most "Victorian" of homes and the topic of sex was never discussed.  Never.  So I sort of had the idea that since I managed to figure things out, it wasn't absolutely necessary to go into much detail with my children.

As a matter of fact, just a moment ago, while I was typing this response, my daughter, Marlee, who is at BYU,  sent an instant message and we had the following conversation:

marlee: MOM

me: Marlee! hello.

marlee: are you at school?

me: yes

marlee: me too!

me: I'm answering an Asking Jane letter about when to talk to your children about sex.  Not exactly my strong point.

marlee: haha.  Just say: "Don't tell them. That's what I did."

There you have it--a little glimpse into one of my weak spots.  So I'm going to answer this question based on what I know now and what I would do now if I had it to do over again.

What I did:
I expected my husband to talk with the boys, while I handled the topic (haphazardly) with the girls.

What I should have done:
As a mother, I would talk with each of my children--boys and girls--and make sure that this topic was safe and comfortable in our home.

What I did:
I waited until they asked before I talked to them.

What I should have done:
At around 10-12 (depending on the child), I would initiate this conversation if it hadn't come up yet.  I know there is disagreement about when.  A lot of people think 8 is ideal but I think it might be a little hard for my 8-year-olds to swallow.

What I did:
I assumed that once I'd talked to most of them, the word would filter down through the ranks.  So some slipped through the cracks.

What I should have done: 
I should never have treated this vital topic carelessly.  I should have seen that each of my children was taught individually.

What I did right!
I really taught modesty at an early age and a high regard for the body.  I didn't allow crudeness.

When I did sit down and talk to my daughters, I taught them in the context of our Heavenly Father's plan for us.  I used the Proclamation on the Family as a guide.  This conversation was really powerful because it became clear that Satan had an arsenal of ammunition and our discussion led to the many ways he uses it.  This topic really does invite the spirit because it is at the core of our creation and purpose.  Since I had often taught my children the plan of salvation, and they had an understanding of why they were here on the earth, they easily accepted this new information.

This is a wicked world and Satan has hit new lows in his distortion and display of sex. It's not okay to approach this responsibility in the careless way that I did.  We must give a clear and timely understanding to our children.  I hope that you can learn from my mistakes.

With love,

Monday, October 25, 2010

One-Year-Old Screamer?

The Question:

Hi Jane,

  I am absolutely impressed with your blog.  Thank you for sharing your wisdom and knowledge with people like me who are new moms. 

So my question is this:  My 1 year old has become a screamer.  He screams to communicate and it is so embarrassing.  I spend church time, in secluded rooms, and find myself giving in to just about anything to make him stop.  It is a blood curdling scream, not just a little one.  My 2 1/2 year old never did this, so it is throwing me for a loop.  I feel like I have tried everything and exhausted every resource.  I AM EXHAUSTED.  It is flustering, and I can't seem, despite my best efforts, to get him to communicate in other ways.  Please help me if you know how.  He is only 1 as of Sept 4th, so I am not sure what to do. 

My husband and I just moved from a home to an apartment so that he could go back to school.  The neighbors can hear EVERY minute of my son's screaming . What do I do?


The Answer:

I am so sorry.  I remember returning to school with three little children and how I worried about the neighbors.  It was a lot of pressure.  And screaming is so unnerving.
But you realize, of course, that this is a temporary phase.  And it's good that you recognize that your little man is just trying to communicate.   The key is to downplay it.  If he sees you responding, he will think it's a game.  If you run over and grab him every time or look alarmed or, worst of all, give him what he wants, he'll have no reason to stop.    I would just try to downplay it and continue teaching him to say words.   Meet his needs in every way--make sure he's getting plenty of sleep and keep him fed.  Give him lots of love.  If he screams, walk away.  When he doesn't, pour it on.
That is to say, give him lots of positive attention when he isn't screaming and not much at all when he is.  If you have to remove him (because you're in church or some other public place) just don't make a big deal about the screaming.   Don't tense up and cover his mouth.   Calmly take him out and wait for him to stop.   Then make eye contact and smile and talk to him.  When he screams, be unresponsive.  I would also explain your dilemma to your neighbors and let them know that you're working with him.  Chances are, they aren't hearing anything.  Don't be exhausted by this.  Just ride it out and try to keep it low key.  At this age, your son is just trying out all of his new skills.  When he finds the ones that bring rewards, he'll gradually leave the others behind.  Children at this age are very perceptive.  He's going to stop when he realizes that screaming gets him nothing.
This is a challenge but you can do it. 
All my love,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Borderline ADHD?

The Question:

Dear Jane,

  I have a questions about ADHD. My 6 year old son, who has been diagnosed with "borderline ADHD" ( he doesn't meet all the criteria for full-blown ADHD) has been a great challenge for me and my husband. He doesn't handle transitions well, is very rigid at times, and is beginning to show anger and defiance toward us when we tell him what to do. The doctor said his brain is "wired" differently than most kids and will probably be ok, but I am worried. Do you have any advice or experience in this area?

Thanks so much-


The Answer:

Dear Felicia,

I haven't experienced ADHD in my family, but I have definitely worked with difficult children and teens.  Maybe because I only know one way to work with children, I've come to believe that a loving approach generally brings out the best in people--without exception.  You realize by now, that by "loving", I don't mean permissive.  I mean clear, consistent and firm.  But in a way that always communicates love.  In most cases that I've observed, anger comes when children feel dominated, forced and backed into a corner.  When they feel listened to, respected and securely loved, they almost always become more reasonable.  I understand that your son might have difficulty accepting limits. But he needs them and if you are clear and consistent and kind as you enforce them--giving generously in other areas (saying "yes" with a twinkle in your eye whenever you can) he will accept "no" more readily.  He is still young and in danger of being earmarked as "bad" and unlovable.
So, to me, the principles I advocate on this blog, completely apply with your son--maybe more so.  Between outbursts, during day to day life, work very hard on your relationship with him.  Discover his talents and learn to genuinely appreciate aspects of his personality.  Express love often--both in words and by holding him close to you.  Realize that because of his behavior problems, he may not have many people who smile at him and treat him warmly.  Let him see love in your eyes.   Help him over the bumps that other children seem to handle well on their own.  Just try to be on his side instead of being embarrassed by him.  Discover ways of working with him that really seem to hit the mark.  Pray for insight. 
You know that old saying about how nice it would be if kids came with a set of instructions.  Well, if I were to boil it down to step one and two, it would be--- love and teach---in that order.  When I feel loved I feel good.  When I feel good, I want to be good.  As my wise mother used to say, "a misbehaving child is a discouraged child".  That little piece of information gives us a map to follow.  
Finally, don't compare him with anyone ever.  Maybe his behavior will not be ideal by the world's standards and he might even be the worst kid in the class.  But stay focused on him and on his small improvements and praise his efforts however hard to see.   Be his fan and maybe sometimes, his only friend.
I believe we have the children we have for a reason.  Maybe we can best help them to grow. Maybe they can best help us to grow!  It's an amazing plan and if we step up to it, it will bring us joy.  This much I know.
All my love,

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How Do I Learn To Like Motherhood?

The Question:
As a teenager, I would lock myself in my room and shut the world out, be left alone with my thoughts and just be me. I hated it when my little sister would even touch me.  I need space.
Now that I'm a mother, I feel those same things yet don't get to lock myself in my room.  To top it off I have never been a very nurturing person yet not long after getting married, I wanted to have kids.  Now I have 3 kids (ages 8,6, &3) and feel like it's almost too much.  Some days I wake up asking myself what in the WORLD I was thinking having 3 kids?  Being a loving mom just doesn't come naturally to me. at. all.  I try and I try but it's almost against my nature.  It's hard for me not to compare myself to other moms who claim that they "just love being a mom" etc.  I feel like something is wrong with me because Some days I HATE being a mom.  When I leave on vacation without my kids, I don't really miss them.  It's hard to admit this as a member of the Church striving to magnify my calling as a mother.  I feel like this is not the norm.    I have read zillions of parenting books and am always working at improving but... I don't know how to LOVE (or even like) motherhood.  I wish I was the kind of mom that could handle 11 kids like yourself but I'm not and that makes me sad and frustrated.  So how do I learn to like motherhood?
The Answer:
Dear friend,
I am probably not the best one to answer this question.  I was born for motherhood.  I know that and I know that it's been a blessing for me.  The very thing I'm supposed to do--the very role that I am supposed to embrace, just happens to be my first love.  So a person like me gets all kinds of affirmation in the church.  My heart really does go out to people who struggle with this role and expectation and who just don't find the joy they keep hearing about.  I have a few thoughts and I'd like to invite readers to share their experiences in this area.
You already have children and they only have one mother, and one childhood.  You need to learn to really know and love your children.  You just can't give in to the self-doubts you're experiencing.  Nurturing is a skill that can be learned and love has a source.   Pray that your heart may be made tender toward each of your children.  You are the single most important person in their lives.  Your approval, your affirmation of them, your knowledge and acceptance of their uniqueness will stay with them throughout their lives.  If there is emptiness and coldness in your relationship with them, they will be injured.  You might feel like you really can't help that.  You don't feel it so what can you do?   You can invest yourself in a different way than you are now investing.  Maybe you are just very custodial.  Feeding them.  Cleaning the house.  Hauling them around.  Noticing all the ways they drive you crazy--arguing, undoing what you've done, talking back, etc.  But just step back.  Look at each child individually.  What is on their mind?  Who are they?  What is their world like?   Picture yourself building a visible bond.  Every time you smile at them, hug or touch or laugh at something together, you are strengthening the bond.  Be alone with each one and talk about things.  Just look right into their eyes and listen intently.  While you're listening, think that you love them, that they are precious.  They will see that thought in your eyes.  You might feel awkward about this.  Maybe you aren't a touchy feely kind of person.  But children really are and they interpret little gestures like a gentle hand on their back or a genuine smile to mean, "I love you."  I guess what I'm really getting at, is just force yourself to go through the motions of eye contact, touch and smiling with a light in your eyes until you begin to feel it.  Realize that you are feeding your child in a very real way.  This is nurturing.
Put yourself on a two week plan of going through the nurturing motions that I've described.  Take each child on an outing alone during the two weeks.  Do something fun like bowling or hiking or hunting for some special treasure with them at a thrift store.  When you get back home, don't go right into the house.  Just stay in the car.  Tell them that you've had such a good time with them and express your love.  Also during the two weeks, compliment each of them each day.  Focus on the good things they do.  Picture that you are building a bond.  Try not to raise your voice or look at them in way that communicates disdain.  If they misbehave, take them individually into another room and talk to them.  Hold their hand and talk to them. 
This is your family.  A family is different from any other project or accomplishment because it is an eternal, living thing.  It extends on for generations.  If you can make the sacrifice to learn to nurture, you'll not only be building emotionally healthy children, but you'll be teaching them how to nurture the generation that follows.  And I really can't describe to you the return on this investment of yourself.  Your children will not always be small.  They will grow to love you if you first love them.      My children still at home--ages 16, 14, 11 and 9 are genuinely soothing to me.  I look forward to seeing them at the end of the day--like good friends.  They aren't any better than your children!  I loved them every day.  Now they love me.

One final note...sometimes we fill our lives with hobbies or pursuits that produce more immediate rewards.  If we aren't careful, we start to resent our children and see them as obstructions to the things that bring us real pleasure.  The key is to discover pleasure in our children--to make them central, to genuinely value them during the relatively short time that they are in our home. 

 The day will come that you will be free to spend whole days any way you want-- you can travel, go to school, or go in your room and shut the door  But today, you are a mother.  I challenge you to come out and keep trying.  I know that the Lord will bless your efforts.

All my love,


Monday, October 11, 2010

My 6 month old just started crying before naps?

The Question:

Hi Jane,

Wondering if you can help!

My six month old daughter has just started crying before her day time naps.  And when I say crying, I mean really screaming sometimes kicking her legs out and arching her back, and for up to 20 or 30 minutes before going to sleep.

Up until now she has been an absolute angel.  She sleeps about 12 - 13 hours through the night with 1 or 2 feeds (usually 1), but she goes straight back to sleep after the feed, or I put her in her cot and she puts herself to sleep.  She is still doing this now, and is still an angel at night, but it's the day naps that have started causing heartache.

She has always only power napped in the day - usually only sleeps for about 30 - 40 minutes at a time and 3 or 4 times in the day.  In the past she'd start grizzling and rubbing her eyes and I knew she was tired, so I'd give her the dummy (she only uses this for day time naps) and she'd go to sleep straight away.  Now she screams and screams.  Is this normal?  At first I thought she may be teething, but why would she only cry at pre-sleep time?  Then I thought that maybe she is just at that age where she changes a bit, gets her own personality, and isn't just a dream baby who only sleeps, eats and poo's!  A lot of people have told me babies change at around 6 months.

Anyway, would appreciate your advice, thanks so much!

Kindest Regards,
Clair Mudaliar
(Gold Coast, Australia)
The Answer:

Dear Clair,
I just noticed that you sent this letter in July and I'm just getting it answered in October!  That means that your baby is nine months old now and is probably doing something completely different.  I love your Australian accent that comes through in print!  A "dummy" must be a pacifier, "grizzling" must be fussing, and every mother everywhere loves her baby to go to sleep "straight away."
I agree with your friends that tell you that babies go through changes at six months.  And they continue to change pretty regularly until they are 3 or 4 years old.  It's frustrating for a mom because just when she thinks she's got a great system going, her baby quits cooperating.  They don't need as much sleep, they become more aware of their surroundings, they teethe, they catch a little cold, they take a jump in appetite.  If you want to maintain a strict schedule in your life, if you want your baby to be in her bed at certain hours, you can.  But you'll have to plan on letting her scream or just lay awake to accommodate you.  I had eleven children.  Some were content and happy, others more demanding, but I never accomplished the feat of determining when they would sleep and when they would wake.  I knew every trick in the book to get a sleepy baby to sleep.  My husband was genius at it.  But if they weren't ready, I just let them be up until they were. 
Judging from the letters I receive, sleep seems to top the list of difficulties you face as mothers.  Sometimes it's easy to equate your overall success and failure as a mother, with how well your children go to bed.  There are hundreds of books written on the subject.  I've read some of them.  But I think that really, I just gave up fighting it.  The more I read about brain development in the first year, the less comfortable I felt letting babies scream it out.  So I didn't.  I walked, rocked, used binkies, bottles, car rides,etc.  When I was worn out, my husband stepped in.  Many times when we'd had a particularly rough night with a baby, we'd find that they had a fever in the morning and probably had been achy and miserable during the night.  I was glad we hadn't left them to cry.  After the first year, I had tender feelings for them.  I had a relationship.  I didn't feel comfortable letting them cry then either.  Sometimes I let them sleep with me.  It just wasn't a big deal.  By the time they were three or four, they seemed to go to bed better unless they had a late nap.  You see, my policy was just to be sensitive to their feelings...about sleep and about everything else.  They were people.  I just tried to treat them well.  I wanted them to feel secure, safe and loved.  It isn't, perhaps, the neatest, tidiest way, but it's a way that I look back on with satisfaction.  I believe that unique bonds are formed in the long, hard nights.  Motherhood requires continual sacrifice and then sometimes even new levels of sacrifice.  
This has been a long answer to a short question.  So...I would move through the stages of your baby's life with flexibility.  Don't get frustrated.  Just meet her needs from day to day and enjoy each new stage of development.  Accept that they are part of life and that she's growing as she should, and find tender ways of helping her learn to sleep as she changes.
All my love,

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lap Wars During Reading Time?

The Question:


I'm curious if you have any ideas for dealing the lap wars that ensue whenever I try and read a book these days.  My kids are 3.5 and 18 mo.  I've tried giving them each a turn (even changing who is sitting on my lap after each book), but the 18 mo. just cries and cries and tries to wiggle his way back on when it isn't his turn to sit on my lap, and of course, the 3.5 wants the attention too.  I really want reading to be a positive experience for both of them.  Any suggestions?



The Answer: 

Dear Brittany,

I know I quote my mother far too often on this blog--but sometimes I can just hear her little chuckle when I read your questions and I can also hear her answer.  She used to say, "Is there anything better than holding your baby while another child is clamoring to get on?"

 It sounds like that "enjoyable" moment has lost some of its charm.  Here's what I'd do.   I would tell my oldest child that the younger one gets to sit on my lap because he is the baby.  "But I need you to sit right beside me and turn the pages...because you're the oldest ."    Then just stick to it.  They'll accept your routine if you are firm.  If it really turns into an all out war, say, "Oh dear, I guess we'll have to read later."  Just make a big deal about that older child's responsibility to turn the pages.  And keep them cuddled close and remember that the oldest one just wants to feel important to you.