Why sharing funny stories about your kids can end up being hurtful

Why sharing funny stories about your kids can end up being hurtful
A few weeks ago, I told my family a cute and funny story about my toddler—and ended up feeling terrible.

With my toddler out of earshot, I had recounted an episode where he said an English word—”puddle”—but in perfect Filipino accent. He was so cute and so funny… except he wasn’t exactly making a joke, and probably wouldn’t appreciate it if my family suddenly approached him about it. After realizing my gaffe, I quickly followed up the story with, “Oh, but don’t mention it because I don’t want him to get embarrassed or think that I’m making fun of him.” The disclaimer may have saved LO public embarrassment, but the damage was done: I was laughing at my toddler’s expense.

“I don’t know why I felt so bad about telling something so cute about LO,” I told my husband later that night. “Should parents not tell others the cute and funny things their kids do?” After all, I adore kid stories, especially when they use incorrect grammar, mispronounce words or reveal their limited knowledge about the world, a lá Kids Say the Darnest Things. But then I thought, “Just because it’s funny to us, does that make it okay to blab it to other people?”

When, then, would it be appropriate for parents to share their kids’ cuteness? I decided on two criteria:

  1. If my toddler himself finds the episode hilarious, then he’s likely not going to be bothered if I share it with others, or
  2. If he isn’t likely to feel hurt or embarrassed if he found out other people knew.

My toddler actually makes tons of jokes. For instance, when I hand him something and say, “Here you go,” he loves to respond with, “Here you stop,” with a mischievous grin on his face. He thinks he’s the most hilarious person everI’m pretty sure that not only would he mind if I recount that funny episode, he would actually love to say the joke himself in front of others. Still, what about the other times when he isn’t making a joke or trying to be funny?

I won’t be able to always consider these criteria each and every time I want to share a cute moment. That said, I’ll do my best to be mindful of what I share about my toddler, especially when it comes to stories about him that he wasn’t exactly making a joke about. I would hate for him to hesitate around me because he’s not sure if I’ll blab cute (to me) but embarrassing (to him) stories.

As with most cases when considering children’s feelings, I try to picture how I would feel if I were in his shoes. A little background about me: I’m notorious for mispronouncing a ton of words. I know what words mean, I just mispronounce some of them. For instance, up until a month ago, I thought the word “sparse” was pronounced like “spears” instead of “spars.” If my husband all of a sudden addressed me in front of friends, “Tell them about how you pronounce ‘sparse’.” I might laugh, but I probably wouldn’t appreciate the attention much either.

I’m sure years from now, kids won’t think anything about being the subject of funny stories. A running joke in my family was when, as a child, I was rebukingly asked, “Who did it?” To which I claimed my innocence and answered, “I didn’t did it!” I laugh along with everybody about it now, so clearly no long-term damage was done (but who knows how I felt about it as a child).

Like I said, I won’t have a perfect record—what parent can, when kids are so darn cute? But I pledge to do my best to consider my toddler’s point of view and whether or not he’s comfortable being the subject of a funny story.

Have you considered how funny stories about your kids affect them? Have your kids let you know that they didn’t appreciate it, or are they okay with the attention?

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2 reasons your toddler seems ungrateful (hint: it’s not because he is)

2 reasons your toddler seems ungrateful (hint: it's not because he is)
The other day, my husband made one of our usual breakfasts—oatmeal and fruit—with a little extra treat for our toddler: a peanut butter sandwich. LO practically shoved aside the oatmeal in lieu of the sandwich and gobbled it up in record speed. Once his hands were empty though, he cried for more. “It’s all gone,” we tried explaining to him. Nothing seemed to register. Rather than being thrilled at having eaten a favorite snack, he instead showed little thanks once the sandwich was over.

This wasn’t the first time our toddler seemed ungrateful for something that should have brought more joy than cries. I had offered to show him slideshows on my computer and to see some waterfalls which I knew he liked. Both instances ended with him asking for more rather than enjoying the moment that transpired. We have also given him a smoothie only to face more crying when the drink ran out, and we took him to a playground he loved—staying for several hours—just to be thanked with a tantrum when we had to leave.

“Do you think he’s being ungrateful?” I asked my husband later that day. “I don’t feel like doing anything fun or giving him special treats if doing so causes him to throw a fit.”

“I don’t think he’s being ungrateful,” he responded. “He’s just dealing with emotions that we assume as ingratitude.” We thought about potential reasons why our little guy cried instead of relished the treat and came up with the following two:

  • He’s unsatisfied. When he’s having fun at the playground or drinking a smoothie, nothing seems worse than when it all comes to an end. I imagine the same is true for adults: eating a bowl of ice cream just isn’t as great when it’s over as when I’m actually eating it. Except with kids, they don’t always know that things come to an end, or why we have to leave the playground, or that there truly aren’t any smoothies hidden somewhere.
  • He’s unhappy about something else. My toddler also wasn’t in the best of moods to begin with when he threw a tantrum at the playground. He was tired, teething, and for the past several days, wasn’t his normal chipper self. When kids face rough days, any little nudge towards unhappiness takes on a wild ride in itself.

It’s so easy to feel down when kids don’t seem to appreciate the effort and intention we had. After all, when we treat others and surprise them with fun activities, we expect joy, not necessarily a fit of tears. Yet often it’s up to us to thicken our skin and realize that kids aren’t being ungrateful so much as they are disappointed, confused, frustrated, and a slew of other emotions they’re just learning to process. Instead of succumbing to their frustration, my husband and I now help him try to understand a bit more about the world:

  • Give him notices. Even though our toddler probably can’t tell time yet, we help transition him from one activity to the next by letting him know we’ll be doing something different soon. Whether it’s five minutes before leaving the playground, 10 minutes until stepping out of the house, of 15 minutes until bath time, my toddler seems to appreciate knowing that a transition is about to occur and can mentally prepare for it rather than simply whisking him away when it’s time.
  • Entice him with the next activity. If you’re lucky to find something fun in the next activity, highlight that fact to help your child move on from her current activity to the next. For instance, bath time in itself may not sound exciting compared to being able to continue playing in the living, but saying, “Let’s play with the water like the way we played with the puddle earlier at the park today!” may just be what he needs to leave what he’s doing in lieu of what’s next.
  • Plan treats accordingly. With the best of intentions, my husband probably could have waited to give our toddler the peanut butter sandwich after he had already eaten the oatmeal. I imagine the same goes for me should I be given dessert before my main meal. With a full tummy, kids are less likely to want more and instead appreciate the treat they have.
  • Describe and relish the moment. Rather than treating an activity or a treat as something to be consumed, we can help kids appreciate the moment by recounting what’s happening as it’s taking place. For instance, as my toddler drank his smoothie, we could have described its yummy taste, cold temperature and thick texture. When kids focus on the moment, they’re less likely to rush and instead take pleasure as it happens. Talking about the moment can also stretch the time rather than rushing through it.
  • Accept the tantrum. Sometimes kids will just escalate their frustration to a full-blown tantrum, and the best course of action is to simply accept its occurrence and handle the tantrum appropriately.
  • Consider his point of view. The overarching tip I’d like to end with is to always consider the scenario from your child’s point of view. Only in expressing empathy can we begin to understand children’s emotions and determine that he’s not trying to spite us and be ungrateful but rather is simply expressing frustration in the ways that he’s developmentally able to.

As tempted as I was never to take him to the playground again, I knew that withholding fun activities isn’t the best remedy (nor a realistic one). With a bit of timing and preparation, we’ve since been able to continue his favorite activities with less cries and seeming “ingratitude.”

How do you handle your kids when they fuss about a treat that has finished?

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What to do when your child misses a parent

What to do when your child misses a parent
I’ve mentioned the importance of addressing our kids’ emotions rather than brushing them off, but what happens if the emotion isn’t so apparent?

My toddler has been randomly asking, “Where’s Daddy?” throughout the day, and I always respond truthfully: “He’s at the office.” I even describe what his dad is doing so that “office” doesn’t seem like just another word that means, “not here.” I wondered where the onslaught of questions was coming from, and figured that he’s noticing his dad’s irregular schedule. Unlike me with my set hours, my husband is working on a tough project these past few months and consequently has had the most irregular 9-to-5 job these days: sometimes he’s home early and some nights he isn’t until after our toddler is asleep. Recently he only saw LO for five minutes in the morning before heading out.

And so the “Where’s Daddy?” questions started popping up. He would ask at random times with no relevance to what we were doing and wouldn’t necessarily ask in any particular tone. Just, “Where’s Daddy?” After a particular day where he kept asking about his dad so much that I finally called my husband to talk to him on the speaker phone, my husband and I discussed what could be going on.

“Maybe that’s his way of saying he misses me,” my husband suggested. And up until he said that, I hadn’t realized that my toddler had no way of expressing “missing” someone. I had always assumed he asked questions to get answers, rather than to convey a particular emotion. He’s aware of emotions like happy, sad, mad and such, but we hadn’t addressed the terrible feeling he must have for missing his dad. At least I get to see my husband in the evenings; my toddler is often fast asleep by the time his dad comes home. In other words, it must hurt not having his dad around.

The worst thing for my husband is that my toddler takes it out on him. Rather than jumping all over his dad when he comes home, LO instead prefers me over his dad and fusses if his dad so much as tries to spend time with him. My husband becomes discouraged, and it’s a terrible cycle that could continue all because they miss each other but my toddler still doesn’t know how to express his hurt from missing him.

The next few times he asked about his dad, I elaborated on the answer. “He’s at the office. Do you miss Daddy? Sometimes it doesn’t feel good when we don’t see Daddy for a long time because he’s not home. That’s called ‘missing’ someone.” He still asks where his dad is, but I noticed that the more I expounded on his emotions, the less likely he was to give his dad some ‘tude. I continued to describe what his dad was doing at work so that he knows it’s not for lack of wanting to be with him that he’s not here. On a recent day off, we even visited him for lunch where LO was able to see his office.

We also give him “placeholders,” like my husband’s watch where he tells LO, “Hold on to Daddy’s watch and keep it safe while I’m gone. When I come home, you can give it back to me.” This helps him know that his dad will absolutely come back and that he’ll see him later. And if my toddler won’t see his dad at night or in the morning, we give him a stuffed toy monkey that he associates with his dad.

In an ideal world, my husband, toddler and I would spend every single day together (well, most days!). But in the meantime, while my husband’s project is still wrapping up, we rely on addressing emotions, placeholders, and plenty of patience and love to help our toddler address the times he misses his dad.

What do you do when your child misses one parent?

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Is it okay to tell my son he’s handsome?

Is it okay to tell my son he's handsome?
My two-year-old looks stunning. I can look at his face and fall in love each time. Yet considering that being his mom gives me automatic permission to be over-the-top biased and that I can brag about him to everyone… I don’t. I not only refrain from telling others how handsome he is, I hardly tell my son, either. I’ll call him cutie-pie but usually say it when he does something cute (like when he makes jokes), and not when he looks cute. Even for the times when he takes my breath away, I end up saying “I love you” instead.

I never sat down and decided, “I will not give my son compliments on his looks.” In fact I hadn’t even questioned whether I should compliment him more until I read a few blogs advocating for either side: No, don’t tell your children they’re beautiful… or Yes, tell them. Often. This topic made me wonder why I don’t compliment him daily, and question whether I need to start telling him he’s handsome more often.

Maybe I don’t always tell him he’s handsome because he receives a ton off attention from other people (Get ready: this is where I will use the annoying mama-gets-to-brag card). Recently a lady came up to us at a coffee shop and went on for five minutes straight about how handsome he is. Another time at the library, I overheard a teenage girl whisper to her friend, “Look at him; he’s so cute!” Part of the reason why I don’t shower my kid with any more compliments could be because he already receives so many from random strangers—I’m afraid he’ll be too confident for his own good.

I also don’t want to focus on his appearance too much when he has no control over why he looks the way he does. His DNA determined that his eyes will look this way and his nose will look that way. None of that was of his choosing. When adults compliment one another, at least there’s a sense that we’re commending the efforts we took to look good: I fixed up my hair, I applied this makeup, I chose this outfit. The compliments are directed towards the efforts I made. But considering that my two-year-old who isn’t exactly choosing his wardrobe or styling his hair at the moment, I don’t end up giving him compliments on his style. Maybe when he’s older and starts dressing himself can I see myself paying him more compliments.

Maybe I don’t want him to think that his looks are “his thing,” that this is what people know him for, and that without them, he doesn’t have much to go by. His life shouldn’t be tied to being handsome where he’ll assume that that’s the reason people are drawn to him. I knew a girl who was beautiful, but growing up, that was pretty much all she heard. As an adult, she admitted to having terrible self-esteem.

On the other side of the spectrum, maybe telling son he’s handsome isn’t that bad. After all, I’d like my son to know how to accept compliments, and to do so humbly. I wouldn’t want him to freeze up every time someone pays him a compliment, nor do I want him to grovel at the feet of the first person who showers him with even the tiniest bit of attention. And what if he wonders why his parents hardly told him he was handsome and think terrible for it?

I like being told that I’m beautiful—it adds a little bit of pep to my day. But I also don’t need to be told in order to feel good about myself. I’d like my grown son to be humble but not blind, and to treat compliments as little additional smiles to his day instead of the necessary fuel he needs to get through it. Both camps have valid points, but for now I’ll stick to the cutie pie compliments, especially since they come naturally to me. But if I inadvertently blurt out “You’re so handsome!” I won’t feel too bad either.

Do you tell your kids they’re beautiful and handsome often? How do you handle the topic of beauty and appearance in your family?

The Whole-Brain Child: How empathy and storytelling help toddlers

The Whole-Brain Child: How empathy and storytelling help toddlers
I recently came across the book The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. that discussed how parents can better understand how the brain functions in order to survive daily struggles while helping our kids thrive. Most of us have heard that our brains are divided into separate areas, with each area doing a particular job (e.g. left-brain, right-brain sound familiar?). The more integrated the different brain areas are, the calmer and happier children tend to be. The authors offer 12 strategies that parents can use to help them do just that.

I’ve been fascinated with brain development for a while, and I’m definitely interested in all things parenting, so this book seemed like a good choice to read. Since I also like to share what I’m learning and reading, I thought I would start a section in this blog dedicated to book reviews. I’ll share my thoughts on the first two strategies.

So back to the left brain and right brain. The left brain controls all things logical and literal. Most adults have their left brains going at full force; unfortunately for parents, children do not. They tend to rely predominantly on their right brains, which are emotionally charged and “in the moment.” (And you know how kids start asking, “Why? Why?” ten thousand times a day? That’s a sign that their left brains are starting to kick in.)

So how exactly do we go about helping them integrate their left and right brains?

Strategy #1: Connect  and redirect
Whenever a toddler starts throwing a fuss, the parent should first connect to her child’s right brain (emotional side) by being empathetic to her emotions and feelings. Let’s say my toddler was playing with the blinds when he shouldn’t be and started wailing. The first things out of my mouth should try to relate to what he must be feeling: “Looks like you’re having fun playing with the blinds.” Once I’ve connected with his feelings, I can then redirect and set the boundaries: “Whenever you pull hard on the blinds though, they can break.”

I’ve been practicing this method and find that I’m having a harder time than I thought. Usually when my toddler is doing something he shouldn’t, my first action is to tell him what to do or not do. For instance, I’ll say, “Don’t take out the CDs from the cabinet,” or “Try to turn the pages gently so that they don’t tear.” That’s all fine and necessary, but I really should preface that with more empathy: “Are you taking out the CDs because you like putting them back in?” Then I can follow it up with the boundaries and let him know why it’s not okay to pull them out.

Doling out the rules and discipline without empathy will usually work on its own—my toddler will probably stop pulling out the CDs if I just told him to stop. But without empathy, he’ll probably do so begrudgingly. Showing empathy also helps strengthen his relationship with me because he knows that “I’m on his side” and can understand what he feels. And most importantly, encouraging empathy will help reach out to his “right brain” emotions (where two-year-olds predominantly function from) and make it easier to lay down the rules and prevent any flare-ups.

Strategy #2: Name it to tame it
Sometimes when kids experience emotional confusion, whether something grand like a death in the family or something less serious like battling a cold, telling a story can help integrate their right brain emotions with their left brain logic. Kids are more likely get caught up with emotions that they need their left brain logic to maintain order to all that madness (stories have a sequence of order, a beginning and an ending). Even labeling the emotion is enough to help them heal quicker and gain a better understanding of this strange thing that they’re feeling. Storytelling works wonders for adults too and is probably why I love writing in my journal, or why I can have a bad day only to feel loads better when I tell my husband what happened.

Most of the time we’re pretty good about storytelling with our toddler. When LO got bucked by a llama, my husband later explained what happened and described the emotions LO must have felt. And other times we forget: maybe we could have used labeling during our toddler’s week-long cold (which could have contributed to his crankiness this weekend). He probably didn’t like feeling sick and was overcome with emotion (“Am I going to stay sick forever? How come my nose is stuffy—is it broken?”). The next time he’s sick, I can talk about how terrible it must feel to be sick and how I get sick too and don’t like it much.

Left and right harmony
The more integrated my toddler’s left brain logic and right brain emotions are, the better able he will be able to maintain a peaceful flow between chaos and rigidity. His dad and I can help him do that by practicing the two strategies: address his right-brain emotions first before handing out the discipline (connect and redirect), and tell stories to apply sequence and order to the chaos (name it to tame it).

Do you practice empathy or storytelling with your kids? What are some parenting books that you’ve read and liked?

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