Herald Journal Columns
March 21, 2005, Herald Journal

Prioritize what matters most


When my son recently brought home his summer baseball registration information, it brought back memories of my summer job as a recreation supervisor and coach.

One incident flooded to the forefront of my mind, reminding me that kids really do know what’s most important in life, and that we should enjoy all the wonderful things around us. Children just instinctively know what matters in life, and follow their hearts.

The incident occurred during a t-ball practice or game with the five- and six-year-olds. A little girl was playing outfield, and a big hitter hit a fly ball to her.

I started calling her name to help her focus and follow the ball, but something else far more interesting caught her attention – a beautiful butterfly fluttering by her at the same time as the ball. Needless to say, the butterfly won out, and she started to chase the butterfly. Meanwhile, the ball dropped somewhere near her.

I could hardly reprimand such an act of curiosity. In fact, I just smiled from ear to ear. The ball eventually was thrown in by a teammate, and the butterfly fluttered away, but not before the little girl enjoyed everything that the butterfly had to offer.

(Sorry, Sports Editor Aaron – not that I don’t enjoy ball or sports. But really, isn’t a colorful, fluttering butterfly much more interesting than a hard, round, white ball with a few red stitches anyway?)

This incident also reminded me of the series of articles I have been writing on how to help children increase their learning potential. Children “tell” us through their words and especially, through their actions, what’s most important in life, and what they really need.

Sometimes, as parents and caregivers, we get so caught up in all of the jobs, tasks, and schedules we need to complete and follow, that we put what’s really most important not in the forefront. I am guilty of saying, “Just one minute” or “I’ll be right there” when my children have asked me to play a game or watch them do something, and before you know it, the moment is over and lost.

I am trying not to lose those “moments” (so much, anyway). Granted, there are responsibilities that need to get done, and we, as parents, need to take care of ourselves, as well, so that we are healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally, but the world won’t come crashing down if the task at hand isn’t completed immediately or perfectly, or sometimes not at all.

What we gain in the priority of “grabbing” those cherished “moments” when our children say, “Mom, Dad, come and see this,” is far greater for everyone involved than the completion of the task that doesn’t seem so urgent anymore.

As Oprah once said on her talk show, our cluttered closets will always be there, but our children won’t. That has always stuck with me.

We need to respond to our children. The website www.loveaby.com notes that we reinforce trust by being responsive, and responsiveness is made up of attention, smiles, cuddling, talk, and the love we give our children.

To build trust, you must be there when your baby (and children, for that matter) cries or signals for attention. We need to be there for our children.

In fact, Dr. Phil, in his book “Family First,” states that parents should hold their babies frequently. In a recent research study, the findings showed that the more a baby was touched by the parent, the less likely that infant would develop attention deficit problems later in childhood.

We need to give our children genuine attention and stimulation. Children need focused attention. This is not given by setting our needs aside, but by totally and genuinely interacting with our children, the website says.

So, it’s important, as adults, that we build a nurturing and accepting climate around us, and that we ask ourselves, “Does our behavior focus on things, such as schedules and pressures, or on people and giving?” What a great question to put things in perspective.

It is important that we take care of ourselves. A rested, happy parent can respond more lovingly and patiently to a child. Being calm and peaceful (as much and as often as we can), helps teach our children to respond to their environment and situations in the same way.

And we need to follow the “Golden Rule of Parenting,” which, as the website states, is “Doing unto your children as you would have others do unto you.”

Actively listening and responding respectfully to our children’s needs shows and teaches respect. Treating their feelings and reactions with consideration is important.

An article by La Petite Academy, April 1997, on the website www.loveaby.com, says that being warm, loving, and responsive stimulates brain power in children. Children who receive warm and responsive caregiving, such as touching, rocking, talking, and smiling, get along better with other children and perform better in school than children who are less securely attached.

Deputy Director of the Kennedy Center for Research on Developmental and Disabilities at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine states in an article on brain power on the website Tennessean.com, that the biggest tip that he can give to help children maximize their learning potential is to pay attention to them, encourage their learning, and be very supportive.

If children ask what seems like a silly question, try to answer the question and try to encourage them to think. We need to engage our children and ask them questions that allow them to reach conclusions, which helps sharpen their reasoning skills, the deputy director said.

Get organized

The web site, familyfun.go.com suggests adopting the 10-thing rule to help with all of the tasks and chores that we all have.

“If there’s a huge pile of laundry, fold just 10 things every time you walk into the laundry room; if there are a million dishes, wash 10 at a time; if there’s a massive pile of kids’ toys, sort through 10 (with help from your kids, I might add),” the website said.

It’s easier to deal with anything if it’s broken into smaller bits and if we’ve given ourselves permission ahead of time not to do it all at once (or we just can’t do it all at once).

A tool to aid in organizing your children’s daily school papers, letters, etc. is a basket (or plastic container) for each child. The basket serves a good purpose, but also looks aesthetically good (if that matters for anyone). My daughter and son each have their own basket in which we place school notes, letters, homework, etc. At the end of the week, we then sort through the papers in the basket and discard what we don’t need and keep what we do.

Easter ideas

Egg dying time is here and Family Fun magazine, March 2005, suggested some fun and different ways to embellish your Easter eggs. Remember to boil your eggs (make sure there’s no cracks to begin with) for about 15 minutes and let them cool.

One suggestion was to wrap your egg with rubber bands before placing it in the container of dye. Remove the egg when it reaches a shade you like, let it dry, then remove the rubber bands, or just remove some of the bands and dye the egg in a second color.

Similar to the rubber-band technique, letter stickers or stickers of other shapes can be affixed to the egg, and then the egg can be placed in the dye. Remove the egg from the dye and let it dry before removing the sticker.

String painting an egg is a creative idea also. Dip the end of a piece of string into some acrylic paint and move the string across the egg. Use different colors of paint, as well.

You could also use different materials to paint your egg – a cotton ball, Q-tip, or fingers – to create wonderful designs, as well.

A great place to visit

A great place to visit for a peak into spring is the Como Park Conservatory.

On my birthday, I requested that my family and I visit the conservatory. I love flowers and am ready for spring.

It was wonderful! And my children really enjoyed taking in all the colors, sights, and scents.

One area was adorned in foliage, plants, and trees, including a wonderful fish pond. The other area was laden in wonderful annual and biennial plants with magnificent colors. It was beautiful!

The winter show was over March 14, and new plants will be put in for a spring show, which I am sure will be just as marvelous.

We also bundled up and took a trek to view some of the animals at the zoo, and that was worthwhile, too. We were able to see many animals indoors.

Como Zoo also has a newly built indoor café that was very kid friendly too; as, of course, the rest of the zoo is.

Happy Birthday, Big Bird (his birthday is on the first day of spring) and Happy Spring to all of you!