What About the Children?

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D’aja Robinson, 14

Gabrielle Molina, 12
Gabrielle Molina, 12

I’ve put this post off long enough. A few weeks ago, two tragedies hit relatively close to home in my hometown and current place of residence, Queens, New York. A 14-year-old girl was fatally shot on the bus after attending a party. The shooting took place a few blocks from my home. On the day of the funeral, I learned from my first-grade son that the victim was the cousin of one of his classmates and the funeral was held at the church that runs my children’s school.

A few days after the shooting, a 12-year-old girl hanged herself with a belt from a ceiling fan in her bedroom, the result of being cyber-bullied. This little girl attended the same school as my best friend’s daughter, whose classmate was friends with the little girl.

Like many others, I am deeply affected by tragedies that involve children. When a child’s life is cut short, due to accident, senseless violence, abuse, or even at the child’s own hand, it cuts me like a knife. But something about these two stories, so close to home, and so close to each other time-wise, just shook me. In reading about the suicide, I learned that the little girl, who was a beautiful little girl, had been bullied about her looks and had once been attacked by girls at school, who then posted the attack on YouTube. Her parents were aware of the bullying, because the father had complained to school officials about the YouTube video. She also had Facebook and other social media accounts, where the cyber-bullying was taking place.

My heart goes out to the parents of the 14- and 12-year-old girls. And I can only imagine what goes through the mind of a parent whose child has taken her own life. Of course, I turned to my children, and my parenting choices. Please, don’t misunderstand; I am IN NO WAY saying that the actions of these parents had anything to do with the outcomes of the situations.  I just think all of us would ask ourselves if there were signs of what was to come. All one can do is tighten the verbal communication reins, and more closely monitor, eliminate, or continue to keep our children away from social media.

How much do we talk to our children? Even at a young age, our children are experiencing far more than we did growing up. My six-year-old son told me last week of what a terrible day he had had – filled with ‘minor’ disappointments at school (not getting a toy during a school trip, a disagreement with a classmate, etc.). Even more important than how much we talk to our children is HOW we talk to them. How do we react to what they are telling us? Do we blow off their concerns, thinking “Oh it’s nothing”? Or do we show genuine concern and help them to sort out their feelings? Bullying is a lot different than it was when we were growing up. I find it interesting that the subjects of taunting are still the same – a child’s looks, grades, interactions with other kids, etc. However, the internet and social media outlets takes the bullying to a different level – instead of just being between the victim child and a small clique of bullies, the hurt is magnified as it spreads to other schoolmates over the internet and throughout social media.

The question also arises of how old children should be before they are allowed to have social media accounts, if allowed at all. I polled Facebook friends of This and That With Calandra. The average age was about 15, and some felt it depended on the maturity of the child. But all agreed that at any age, there should be strict parental monitoring. I have my own opinion about young teens and social media – they don’t mix. Who in the world do they need to be in contact with? As my mother used to tell us about using the telephone during the week, “You’re gonna see them in school tomorrow. Get off the phone!”

It’s tough being a kid these days. When we were growing up, the most we had to worry about was an after-school confrontation. We did not have to worry about being shot as an innocent bystander, or feeling so in despair about bullying that we needed to take our own life. The other thing that breaks my heart is the devastation done to their classmates. Growing up, because these things just didn’t happen, we didn’t have a need to see grief counselors, or have nightmares of some vicious attack on a schoolmate. I just continue to pray for the children, for the parents.

On a final note, This and That With Calandra would like to express our heartfelt sympathies to the family, friends, classmates and teachers of Gabrielle Molina, 12 and D’aja Robinson, 14. May they rest in peace.

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The Art of Respect

Be Altitude: Respect Yourself

Be Altitude: Respect Yourself (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love to hear friends quote wise sayings drilled into them by their parents and grandparents, including those I learned myself. My personal favorites are:

“If you really wanted to do it, you’d find a way to do it.”  (my mother)

“If it don’t come out in the wash, it’ll come out in the rinse.” (my Grandma Sadie)

“I pity the frog that don’t praise his own pond.” (my father-in-law)

My father was not one for uttering too many sayings, but he taught us some very concrete lessons that I am passing on to my children. One of the lessons he taught was actually a phrase I heard one of my uncles often say, “Every man’s name has a handle,” meaning people should be addressed by their proper title, whether professional or personal. My boss’ boss is the President of our hospital, as well as a physician. I have worked for him almost 20 years and we have a good professional relationship. Any time he sends me an email, he signs off with just his first name. But because of what I was taught, I still call him “Doctor.” Another physician I work closely with, who is around my age, has threatened me bodily harm if I don’t stop calling him “Doctor.” Needless to say my desire to respect his wishes overshadowed my childhood teaching, and it took me a long time to call him by his first name!

Older neighbors and other adults were never called by their first name, and even as an adult, I still call them “Mr. James” and “Miss Marie.” I remember the first time I was addressed as “Miss Calandra.” Coincidentally, it was the young man who shoveled snow in the neighborhood – his grandparents were our neighbors when I was a child. I didn’t feel old…I felt respected. And I was glad to see that the lesson his grandparents taught his father was passed on to him. We couldn’t even call older cousins by their first name. It was “Cousin Joan” and “Cousin Junior.” I learned from my husband’s grandmother that like in many Southern families, her younger siblings called her “Sister” because the smaller ones were much younger and were not to call their older sibling by her first name. It was a lesson in respect.

So of course, my children have already begun to learn the art of respect, by understanding that what we call people has much to do with how we treat people. It’s a simple lesson, but one I believe that will take them far.

The Art of An Apology

Since they were old enough to speak, my children were taught to apologize to each other if they did or said anything to hurt the other. Before you judge me, understand that I did not force them to apologize; I encouraged them to. My son, especially, will not apologize if he does not think he was in the wrong. And I don’t expect him to. It had always been my hope that by encouraging the practice of the apology, they would learn to understand the value of thinking about your actions and giving a sincere apology.

I love watching my children interact with each other, even when they argue. Like adults, they go through all the stages of an argument. They start out with a simple disagreement, then start fussing at each other. Then they take it down a notch (sometimes as a result of my intervention) and discuss the situation. I once listened to them have a ten-minute conversation about their disagreement. They actually worked things out, with my son realizing his actions had unintentionally hurt his sister’s feelings. After the apology, they gave each other a hug and, as usual, Yvette said, “That’s okay Izzy!” The lessons have been ingrained in them. Hooray! Watching them go through this exercise is proof to me that children can learn to fine tune their innate ability to express both compassion and remorse.

Though the art of the apology is a lesson for children, how much more can we as adults take from our children’s examples as well!

Homework Helps

Hello TTWC family! As many of you know, since March 2012, I have been writing a weekly column for the online publication, MortarNBrique, entitled The Mommie in Me. Most of those columns were either reblogged to, or posted in their entirety on This and That With Calandra. Last week it was announced that MortarNBrique will be on hiatus until the new year, in order to revamp the publication. I do not know the future of The Mommie in Me, but I am using this “break” to continue writing weekly motherhood/parenting articles and sharing them here on TTWC. Look for them under the category “Special Features – Motherhood.” Having said that, here’s my first installment, which will hopefully offer tips on how to deal with homework issues. Enjoy!

In doing research for this article, I decided to reach out to my Facebook parents, asking them what challenges (or successes) they have had with doing homework with their children. I was excited by the answers I received, and even found some tips to follow myself. I decided to let the article write itself, based on their responses. I love that I have FB friends who are also wonderful parents. Here’s hoping you pick up some tips as well.

“One of my challenges is having the procedures I’ve put into place at home followed when she’s away from home.” (SD, New York)

“While I am doing my work in my home office…or cooking dinner or whatever I am doing… I have my son to sit right across from me to do his homework. If he is in his room at his desk doing his homework, I will sit with him in his room and read, fold clothes or something. I do this to make sure that he is focusing. I require that he read everything aloud and then, before he even gets to what the real questions are, I ask him if he understands what he has just read and how it applies (depending on the subject). After he explains it, THEN we get to the real question. I ask him what answer he is going to provide. Whether he answers correctly or not, I ask him whether or not the answer that he has given is correct. He has to prove to me why the answer is correct. Does homework take an exorbitant amount of time? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes” (MW, Washington, DC)

“When my children were younger, I used to turn on the Closed Captions feature on the TV, so that my children would be “tricked” into reading while watching their favorite programs – which I only allowed on Friday and Saturday nights. They are currently both in High School and what we do now is read current event articles every week, and write a synopsis of the article and an alternate way they would have solved whatever challenges presented themselves in the article.” (IJ, Michigan)

“My son not paying attention. When I help him with his homework he expects for me to give him the answers without even trying. I get frustrated and he knows how to push my buttons.” (JB, North Carolina)

“[We] constantly go through changes regarding homework directions, proper grammar and writing. Once I lose my religion to make her understand the big picture then we are able to sit down and have a little fun doing her homework assignment. She is very argumentative at times, and it drives me crazy. Sometimes I’ll take her work and get some scrap paper to show her how she should do it.” (MK, New York)

“My biggest challenge… Is having patience when dealing with my child when she is being “under the table” lazy. Maybe it’s her way to prolong homework so we will spend more time together, or maybe it’s the Florida school system that treats 5 year olds like they are 3 year olds academically, or maybe it’s because my daughter was with me until she started school. Her language and academic skills became more advanced than that of her peers, which essentially made school “boring” to her.” (SG, Florida)

“I was a professional tutor for a number of years, and always found it easier than teaching my own kids. Buttons get pushed 🙂 One of the most useful things I’ve realized is that people have a lot of anxiety about writing, and the issue of how to start becomes an obstacle to getting anything done. In such cases I just tell them to start writing down ideas, and then to build around them. The introduction can actually be the last step!” (DL, Florida)

“I find the attention span an issue… But as for my daughter she is ok as long as I stay patient. It’s hard enough for them to be in school all day then come home to hours of homework at such a young age. I take breaks with her, have her pretend she’s the teacher teaching me. That helps both of our frustration because she likes to be in charge and it shows me how well she knows her work!” (MR, New York)

“I cheer when they get the right answer. I push them a little harder. And I try to give them a couple more questions than the actual assignment. Math is my class.” (DW, Maryland)

”Considering my girls were ADHD, it was always a challenge. I found when they were learning their multiplication tables, we sang them.” (SW, Pennsylvania)

“A set place and a set time works well!” (CT, New York)

“I think the main problem we dealt with about homework is taking the time to do it and not rushing right through it. We always remind [our daughter]  to read each problem or question, make sure she understands what they are asking and then answering it correctly. That also goes for studying for an exam – practice and review.” (RN, Massachusetts)

“The rule is no fun computer stuff until homework is completed. That has worked for us.” (WL, New York)

What homework challenges/successes have you had with your children? Please feel free to comment and share!