Giving is the best communication

This ad from Thailand touched my heart. May it touch yours.

May we all find a place of giving and heart-communication: One never knows where a kind act would take another, and how it sets the wheels in motion for themselves.

What Would You Do If …? Children’s Safety Plans.


The mother of one of the children I work with called to let me know they’d would have to cancel their session for the week. There were some unexpected problems and she had no arrangement for the older child. Her youngest, whom I see in Speech Therapy, has several developmental issues, and the mother–a single parent–shuttles him for several remedial therapies every week. She sounded anxious and wrung out, so I asked her if she wanted to tell me more about what was going on.

“My older son had a bad experience with someone,” she sighed.

“What kind?”

“He usually stays with my mom when I take Mick* to therapies, but my mom’s away for a couple of months to take care of her sister who is having heart surgery. I found a sitter for him, but the sitter can’t come to my house, so I take him there and pick him up on the way home. Everything has been fine the first two weeks and Dan loved going …”


“He was really upset when I picked him up yesterday. Said he never wanted to go back …” The mom sounded quite upset herself.

“Did he tell you why?”

“He said he didn’t like being there anymore. You know where my mind went … I was thinking the worst … but I didn’t want to put words in his mouth, so I tried to breathe and told him I respected his feelings and that we’ll figure out what to do, but it would help me to know what about being there he didn’t like … At first he just shrugged and looked down and such. Then he told me someone had come to visit the babysitter and brought a ‘really big scary dog who jumped.’ He got scared but the babysitter laughed it off and called him a baby and kept egging him on to pet the dog, ‘not be so yellow’ and not ’embarrass himself’ … and kept sending the dog toward him. Dan wanted to go home but he ‘knew I wasn’t there’ because I was in PT with Mick and he didn’t know what to do … I’m relieved nothing worse happened … but I feel awful he was scared and I wasn’t there. When I called the sitter, he was dismissive and said ‘it was just a dog and it wouldn’t hurt for the dude to toughen up some’. I won’t send him there again!”

We rescheduled for when she could bring both children, at least until she found another option.

“It was good you listened and took him seriously,” I tried to reassure her. “You can’t always protect kids from having an uncomfortable experience, but you can give them the power to reach out and have you help make sure it doesn’t go on. He told you something changed, and you’re taking steps to keep him safe. He did well for telling you, and you did well by not pooh-poohing his worries. In fact,” I added, “this is probably a good opportunity to speak with both kids about things they CAN do if they ever feel uncomfortable or need help. Just like adults, kids feel more secure if they know there’s a plan.”

red phone

Many adults have some form of emergency plan. We know what we’ll do if there’s a fire. We know what to do if someone ails. We have an idea of who can help if we’re feeling scared or intruded upon. We have phones and know how to use them. We have friends and family we can call on, we understand ‘gut-feelings’ and know that danger requires a response.

While children don’t need to figure out their own safety plans, it can be very helpful for them to have some tools and to have rehearsed certain scenarios during times of calm.

It is why schools have fire drills. It is why you should have one in your house–in day time as well as during dark. Make it fun, but keep it serious: it can save lives to know what way one is expected to go, what the alarms sound like, who to look for, where to convene, what exit to use, how to make it to the door with your eyes closed (think: dark and smoke and a blaring alarm …).

It is why children need to know to call 911 (and that it’s not a toy or something to ‘experiment on’). Why it helps to teach children to ask for help from people in uniform and/or from mothers with children (while most strangers are probably safe, uniformed people are often ‘in official capacity to help’ and mothers with children can often feel less intimidating and know how to respond age-appropriately to a child in distress).

Children as young as three can memorize their first and last name, as well as their parents’ names, what they do, and where they work. They can memorize their address (make it into a song …). Four-year-old can memorize a phone number. At five they can practice writing it from memory.

In addition to immediate safety, children should also be taught what to do ‘in case’: what if they find themselves separated from you in a mall or public gathering? What if they’re someplace else (with a baby-sitter, school, a birthday party or sleepover) and feel something is wrong? What can they do if they don’t feel safe?

Children should know they can always reach out to you, and need not worry about hurting the feelings of the adult they are with (you’d be surprised how often children don’t call a parent because they worry they might upset the adult they’re with). They need to know you will not be angry with them if they tell you they’re uncomfortable or scared. They need to know you’ll find a way to make it better–it may not be possible for you to fly in from another State in the middle of the night, but you might be able to speak with someone where the child is, or to otherwise assess whether more extreme measures are required–children shouldn’t feel they have to figure it out on their own if things feel too much to manage.

Teach children what to do if they need help and cannot reach you. Who else can they call? A good friend of the family? Another family member? A classmate’s parent?

Teach them when it is a good idea to call 911: If there’s a fire (even if they’d caused it), if they think something really bad is happening; if they or someone else is being hurt or might get hurt real soon if someone doesn’t come to help; if someone (especially an adult, but also if the adult in charge seems unable to manage the situation) is out of control or inappropriate; if the person in charge ‘acts weird or scary’ (children may not know to identify drunk or drugged, but often do pick up on something that’s not as it should be).

fireman with boy

Reassure children they shouldn’t get in the car with anyone they don’t feel safe riding with, who breaks the rules or is being tricky or secretive. It doesn’t have to be a stranger. You don’t have to explain drunk or drugged to very young children (though it might not be a bad idea to bring up the issue with older elementary school children), but you can give the child a sense of control for when they feel unsafe and ill at ease. I know a child (age 9) who refused to get in the carpool because the adult had texted while driving and had her eyes off the road for what felt like very long. That child’s mother had discussed safety with her, so she was able to say to the driver: “My mom doesn’t let me ride in cars where someone is texting. Please put the phone away until we get there.” When the driver refused, the child asked to call her mom.

Many parents are afraid to discuss problematic situations with their children. They think about sexual offenders, they worry about making their child feel unsafe in the world.

In reality, discussing safety skills is just as important as teaching children how to cross the street, how to wait for the light to change, how to use (and not use) tools and sharp objects, what to touch (and not). Preparing your children to manage unexpected situations is just as important. It gives them skills to be less helpless. Role play and practice these at home. Let them know it is okay to reach out and that you’ll figure out how to help … Reassure them they should tell you if they think they’d done something wrong … even if they worry you’d be mad: That you’d like to know and would help and love them anyhow.

As for the little boy: his mother had a good discussion with him (and his younger brother), and together they’d made some plans.

They talked about ‘listening to tummy messages’ (intuition) which let them know something was not okay. They talked about things they could do: Call mommy or grandma, call Auntie Nell (who lived nearby and was willing to be standby help), call 911 if they were really afraid or needed someone to come right away.  They talked about how it was okay to tell about things that didn’t feel right, and that they didn’t need to keep secrets they didn’t want to keep. That their bodies were theirs, and so were their feelings. That being scared is not bring a crybaby and they didn’t need to touch, go, see, try, say things they felt weren’t okay, went against the rules in their house, or felt ‘not right.’

And the little guy?

He learned his mother was there for him. That it was okay to let her know how he felt and he didn’t have to protect her or worry or figure out things on his own. That he was just as important to take care of as his younger brother. That he could listen to his gut. That it wasn’t okay for anyone to put him down or make him feel ashamed to tell. And … that the world can at times be uncomfortable but he did not have to manage it alone and knew what to do if he felt he needed help.

Do your children know what to do if something happens? If a caregiver doesn’t show up to pick them up? If they find themselves alone someplace? If they feel intruded upon? If they are told confusing things? If they are asked to break rules they don’t think should be broken? Do they know who they can call on if you’re not around?

Make a plan. Today is a good time!

action plan

*names changed to protect confidentiality

“It’s not a gift, it’s a mirror!”

Sharing this You Tube video for cuteness sake … and for the amazing little people kids are, and their language abilities, intonation, explanation, and social skills, even at that age.

She has it all figured out (though I do wonder if that mirror really did change hands come Mother’s Day …).

As for the title of the video–I disagree. I think you CAN very much trust a two-year-old! You can trust them to tell it like it is! Enjoy!

Name Protection, Preschool Style

“My mommy said not to write my name.”

“She did?”

I am easy pickings for leg pulling and the kids know it, but somehow this little tyke looks dead serious. None of the tell-tell signs of lip corners dying to lift in merriment. None of the twinkly eyes that let me know I have been had. Again.

I’ve been through all manner of stories that led to hilarity-about-my-gullibility: Believing that a child had gone to the circus instead of school, or that their grandma allowed ice-cream for dinner, that they went to the zoo on a rainy day and everyone got wet (in actuality, this one was wishful thinking, as the trip got cancelled…), or that their dad said they would get another iPad all their own (scratch that, this one ended up being true … the earlier version having lost its sheen, in the eyes of the child or father, I’m not sure …).

This no-writing-name business; however, that was new. No hidden grins, either.

“Your mommy said not to write your name?” Maybe I misheard. Happens.

Little-Tyke nods serenely.

“How come?”


Fair enough. We grownups should get a taste of our own medicine at times. Not that I do a lot of the “because” why-chain-question-closer, but I probably have said it once in a while when it became too clear that questions served to avoid work, and not for real curiosity or learning.

“Hmm. I’m curious, though …”

Little-Tyke gazes at me.

“Is it you who should not write your name, or is everyone not allowed?”

Frown. Tiny creases appear in the five-year-old’s forehead. Cute as a button, this one. Even perplexed. Maybe especially when perplexed.

“I think only me. Me not write it. You can because it is your job already.”

“Ah, okay. That’s good to know.”

Sage nod.

“Why do you think you can’t write your name?” I really want to know. This rings  of misunderstanding of adult-talk.

Throughout this all the nanny, her head buried in her cell phone, ear-buds plugged in, sits motionless by the far table she often chooses to wait by, rather than on the couch near us, where most caregivers sit. I have come to believe that the sessions are a time of rest for her, a calm refuge from having to constantly watch an active munchkin, and I know she has very long days.

“Because you’re not suppose to,” the kid brings me back to the topic. “You not suppose to write your name.”

Now I’m not supposed to, either? Is this a repeat of something he heard said, a glimpse into the bigger context of this misunderstanding?

“Why, though.”

“The bad people will steal it.” The boy’s expression is certainty reincarnate.


“Yeah, if you write your name then the bad people take it and steal it and take all your numbers and even all your money and then you don’t have a name anymore.”

Identity theft. Preschool style.

A few moments of discussion of private information and how one can still have a name even if they write it … and Little-Tyke is reassured that he ‘probably’ could add his name on the drawing he had made to take home. I leave it as an open option. No pressure … For extra measure of reassurance–and because I don’t want to put him in a bind of doing something I say is okay but that be believes his mom said was not–I send a text to his mom in his presence and following his approval of the query wording: “can LT write his name on the work he does here?”

The mom’s response is “??? of course he can! Is everything okay?”

“All fine.” I respond. “I’ll explain on phone. TTYL,”

The little boy’s eyes have been glued to the phone’s little screen. He sits up suddenly, part-admonishing, part-suspicious, part-gratified. “Aha! You see? You didn’t write your name, either!”


info use

A Father’s Day Quest

hand in hand

“Everyone has a father, right?”

The question came from a little boy. Age 7. A usually cheerful child. Subdued this time.

“What do you think?” (my standard response to children’s queries, figuring they have a working hypothesis already)

“I guess. Sort of. But not exactly.”

“Hmm … want to say more about it?”

Fidget, spin a top, twirl it, drop it, lean precariously out of the chair to get it, spin again. “I think you need one. To get born.”

“Yes, that’s generally true.” I pause. I sense there’s more.

“But I think you also need one to grow up better. Kind of. I’m not sure. Only if you have a good dad, though.”

“That makes sense.”

He looks up at me, tolerant of my very vague responses. I am certainly capable of being more verbose, and he knows it. However, my sense is that he is seeking an audience to bounce ideas off of, more than he wants my actual input. At least now.

He plays with the top another minute. Tries spinning it on the handle, upside down. It falls. He frowns. “I don’t like Father’s Day.”

“I hear you. I understand. It is a great day for many but it can also be a tough day for some. Can be confusing, too.”

He nods. “Yeah …”

Fidget, spin the top, drop it, pick it up. “My mom says that my dad is the kind of person people warn their kids about.”

I know … My heart breaks for him. It should not be reality for anyone.

“I’m so so sorry.”

Words don’t quite suffice, and yet I hope he feels it comes from true compassion, that he hears I get it (even if he doesn’t need to know how well I understand).

The father lost custody because of “serious issues” that led to the mother’s sole custody for “the child’s safety.” The boy’s dad spent time–or still may be–in jail. Something to do with child pornography. The mother got custody when the boy was still an infant and he doesn’t remember his dad. The mother reassures me that the boy had been “protected all along.” A warm and caring mother, she works hard to not vilify the boy’s father even as she tries to ensure he understands enough about why he does not see his dad and most of all that it does not have to do with him not being worthy of a father’s love.

He is a happy child overall, but not without a loss. Father’s Day can be tough.

He twirls the ornate wooden top between his fingers. “Sometimes I wish I had a better dad.” His voice is matter of fact.

“I know. I wish you did, too.”

“My mom says there are many kinds of father people. That they don’t even have to be your real dad to be a little like a dad.”

I love that mom! “She’s very right. I agree with that.”

His nod is reassured. He brightens some.

“My uncle is a little bit like my dad.” His mother’s younger brother. I’ve heard the boy wax poetic about this uncle before: He idolizes the man. His eyes light up.

“He’s already in my family, right? So maybe this makes him even more like he could be sort of my dad. I mean, not really really, but in my heart …”


You betcha’, little man.

Your heart is an excellent place to collect fathering. You deserve a dad as fully as anyone!

father and child


On this Father’s day:

To you who are plentifully fathered–may it be a Father’s Day to celebrate the gift of love. The miracle of true parenthood.

And to you who seek a father. Who lost theirs. Whose fathers lost their way or lost their lives or lost their soul–may you know a sense of fathering regardless. May you recognize its quality and accept its salve into your lives. Be someone’s prince or princess. May you find the fatherhood that grows within you: the knowledge of strength, the acknowledgement of protection, of strong arms, stronger heart.


lion and cub1

What Do Babies Think? An excellent Ted Talk

baby loved

An acquaintance once stunned me and a colleague when she noted she believes that, “babies are basically a lump of meat just lying there until they are 10 months old.”

After I collected my jaw from the floor, I went on a long winded explanation (okay, tirade …) about all the things that we know and that prove infants are anything but lumps of meat until they reach 10 months old. In fact, they are active learners and interactively relating beings from the very moment they are born. Babies are so visibly actively engaged that I recall my absolute incredulity at the very notion that anyone can think them “lumps of meat just lying there.”

Well, they are not “just lying there,” not one iota so. Don’t know how the notion got into this acquaintance’s head, but she was wrong.

This fabulous Ted Talk is a great (and I admit far less tirade-like) way of explaining some of how they are very much the opposite. It is well-worth listening to. In it Alison Gopnik describes some things you may not think babies can do, as well as how they might be doing them.

Oh, and don’t miss the adorable ‘little scientist thinker’ video embedded in her talk. He defines “cute”!

What Do Babies Think?

kid science1