The Books of Summer 2016

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Books of Summer-2016
Here is my annual roundup of my favorite reads of the summer.  I read some beautiful, heart rending, witty, funny, enlightening, and stunning sentences this summer.  I hope you find something to read!

1)  The True Story of Hansel and Gretel: A Novel of War and Survival by Lousise Murphy.    Although I found the title kind of cheesy, I really loved this book.  It takes place in occupied Poland in winter, where two children are forced to hide their Jewishness to survive.  The characters are rich and brave and beautiful.  The events are brutal.  I love historical fiction and I especially love stories about the resistance effort.  The courage that so many people displayed to defeat evil is the greatest story told.  I loved this book.

2)  That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo.  Richard Russo is a master of dialogue.  This novel is so funny and the characters are 3 dimensional and have so much depth...even the ones who are dead!  I love how Russo writes and this novel is a quick, exceptional read.

3)  Stella Bain by Anita Shreve.  Stella Bain is a novel that takes place during World War I and follows a woman who has lost her memory while working as an ambulance driver.  Although this is not Shreve's best novel, I personally think Fortune's Rocks is her best, it is still Anita Shreve so you know it is good.  It is different from her other novels and I loved the subject matter.  It is a beautifully written novel.

4)  The Lake House by Kate Morton.  The Secret Keeper by Morton is probably in my top 10 of greatest books so I do have a love for her writing.  This book is not as good but I still really enjoyed it.  One thing I love about her books is the movement between past and present.  Like all of her novels, this one has a mystery and a twist and moves along quickly.  It was the perfect summer read.

5)  Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave.  My favorite book of the summer and now one of my top 5 favorite books of all time.  This beautiful novel broke my heart a hundred times.  I loved every second.  The characters were so true and wonderfully human.  The dialogue was sublime.  How I wish I knew these people...they are my wittiest friends.  If you love historical fiction and lovely, rich themes, characters and symbolism, you will love this novel.  My favorite book of 2016.

Leave me a comment with your favorite books of summer!

Dying to be Happy

Monday, June 13, 2016

Dying to be Happy

Montana is currently the state that holds the third highest suicide rate in the nation. When we as a society try to reason with why the suicide rate is so high, we immediately think of the drug problem or the long and gloomy winters or even post traumatic stress disorder. However, it seems as though we are spending more time trying to figure out what is causing the epidemic rather than constructively trying to combat the problem. I am by no means a psychologist or a doctor but rather, I am a person who is just like you. I have been faced with the hardships of rejection, finances, failure, and illness. But my life still goes on, because I learned early on in life that there are three keys that open the door to happiness and success.

First key: vision. The learning process for happiness and success began with me battling anxiety and depression during the fourth grade. My teacher told me that I failed each subject and urged my parents to hold me back because there was no chance I could pass summer school. I spent that summer in classrooms and reading learning centers in order to learn what I had failed. I was able to pass summer school and moved onto the fifth grade because I envisioned what I would look like in twenty years. I saw myself being an officer in the United States Army. This has been my goal since I was ten years old and every time I wake up, every time I go to bed, every time I face a challenge I envision what I am dedicating my life towards. During the summer of my fourth grade year I wrote out my goals on a piece of paper which included my long term goal of being an officer in the Army and a short term goal of going onto the fifth grade. Each goal is realistic and what I truly wanted. Since that time, each year I write out my short term and long term goals on a piece of paper and place it on a wall in my room. Now, each time I leave or enter the room, go to bed, wake up, and studying I look at that piece of paper and think of what I can do today to work towards accomplishing those goals. Sight is a very special gift, but being able to see yourself in the future is something no one can take away from you. Envision what you truly desire to become and you will find happiness and success.  

Second key: faith. I do not mean faith in religion, even though faith in a higher being may increase mental health. I mean that you must have faith in yourself. This is one of the hardest keys to master in order to be happy and successful because every day we are told that we can’t do something or we face rejection or we fail in some way. I first learned to have faith in myself during my senior year of high school. After many years of working towards receiving the national scholarship for the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), I had been rejected. The reason I was rejected was because I had an SAT score of 1310 and an ACT score of 20. These scores are well below the national average and I was beginning to think I was not smart enough for college or to be an officer in the Army. However, I had a vision to be an officer and all I needed was faith that I could accomplish that goal. Aristotle’s philosophy to personal faith is used by the word, entelechy, which is defined as the moment one realizes they have potential. Soon after I received the rejection letter, I also found entelechy. I was determined to go to college and become an officer, even if I didn’t get the national Army ROTC scholarship, so by the end of my senior year I applied to nearly forty scholarship applications including one that offered a full ride scholarship. Before graduating high school I was humbled to be offered that full ride scholarship and attend Montana State University and pursue a career as an officer in the Army. You have more potential than you can even fathom all you need is faith in yourself and you will find happiness and success.

Third key: resiliency. Life is tough, we all have experienced our own demons and challenges but what you cannot do is quit. It’s during these dark moments that we develop our greatest traits and become stronger mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Many of the hardships we face may not be because of obesity, finances, or addiction but rather something we can’t control. Half way through my sophomore year of college the doctors noticed that I had bleeding in my intestines and discovered that I had been genetically predisposed to an autoimmune disease. The symptoms made it difficult for me to study while taking rigorous classes, prevented me from going to the gym, and medically revoked me from a month long Army training exercise in the Czech Republic. My ROTC cadre even told me the disease has potential to medically disqualify me from having the future career I have wanted since I was in the fourth grade. This was a challenge I had never faced before. I had been able to knock down every wall that had hindered me from accomplishing my goals but now this wall was knocking me down and I felt terribly hopeless and depressed. My medication was not working and I had no control over the disease, but there was still one thing in my life I could control: my academics. For the duration of the semester I tried to eat as healthy as possible in order to stop the painful symptoms so that I could study. It seemed to work well enough for me to study hard and finish the semester with a 4.0 GPA adding to my cumulative GPA of 3.94. Now, I have found medication that has calmed the symptoms down enough for me to go to the gym, fish, and work. Some battles you can’t win, but that does not mean you quit. You wake up each morning and conquer the obstacles that you can control. Dark times will come in your life but you must have resiliency to never quit and you will be significantly happier and more successful.

Although you may face challenges every day of your life, these three keys will lay the foundation for you to conquer the challenges you come across. Wake up each morning and look into the future and see where you want to be in the short term and the long term, but when you go to bed reflect on what you did that day to accomplish those goals. Once you envision your life, begin to realize that you have potential to accomplish anything you set forth for yourself; all you need is a little faith. However, along the road you are traveling you will face many bumps, mountains, detours, and construction that will make it seem like it is not worth the pain, but you cannot quit. You must have resiliency and patience to continue down that road because at the end of all the pain, the reward is worth it. Happiness and success have never been easy to obtain, but that challenge adds to the joy of life. If we as a society come together to make environments of active living, we may be able to increase mental health in those who are affected by depression.

                                                                                      Daniel Knuffke


Thursday, May 12, 2016

I am sometimes surprised and shocked by what teens and young adults believe they are entitled to have.  From cell phones to cars to college degrees there are a lot of kids who have grown up thinking that the world owes them something.  It has become a big shock to a lot of them when they realize that the world, in fact, owes them nothing and they will have to work for it like the rest of us.  Or their poor parents who raised them will have them living and mooching off of them until they are 30.
How do we raise kids who work hard, have character and integrity, and who do not feel they are entitled? 

The problem starts in early childhood with a parenting style that sets no limits.  Kids need limits on things that are not good for them, tv, internet, junk food, and much more.  When parents refuse to set limits in early childhood, older kids become even more demanding and things become much more expensive.

When you give in to giving your child a cell phone at 12 years old because everyone else has one, you are giving your child the idea that they deserve one.  If you really want your child to have a phone, which I think is a mistake before high school for many reasons, at least make them earn it. 
Our oldest 6 kids have all had to earn straight A’s for a full year before they can get one.  A lot of my friends think I am over the top mean.  However, all 6 of them have achieved it.  So, it seems to me that if you want something bad enough you will really work for it.  And that is the key.  The lesson is in working for something that you want or it means nothing to you.

If you want to raise kids who are hard-working, responsible adults, then start requiring that in early childhood.

Have your child earn privileges.  You can have them do chores to earn money for things they want or to earn time on video games or tv.  If they want a car, make them get a job.  

The number of kids who have wrecked the free car they got for doing nothing is significantly higher than the kids who worked 3 years to earn the money for one.   If your child is working his way through college, you can be sure he won’t fail a class because it is his own money he will waste.

We all want our kids to have better lives than us and to be happy.  But, giving them everything they want does not achieve that.  We only wind up with young adults who see themselves as victims and who are dependent on us.

Let’s raise a generation of responsible, accountable, hardworking, happy people who feel the joy in life because what they have, they earned!

Stop the fighting

There is little that is more annoying than your children fighting with one another.  We end up yelling and fighting with them as well just to try and get them to stop.  How can we diffuse fighting without losing our cool?

One effective approach for dealing with fighting children is to use the energy drain method. 
When the fighting begins, first speak with empathy saying, “Oh boy, you guys must be really tired or really frustrated to be fighting with one another like this.   I am so tired myself now that you guys have drained all my energy.”

At this point, calmly let them know that they need to lie down and rest for a little while so you can have some quiet.  When they are able to come back out, follow up and have them do something to give you your energy back.  Some things that give me energy are having kids mop my floors, clean a bathroom, pay me some of their allowance, etc. 

Don’t explain your decision to them; let them figure it out how they got that consequence.  The important thing with love and logic is not to waste your time with meaningless words.  Calmly and simply state what is going to happen and most importantly, follow through!

Empty threats and lectures do not teach children, but calm consequence does!

Cleaning up toys.

Around preschool age 4-5 is when picking up a child’s own toys moves from a community project to your child’s responsibility.  I teach preschool so I spend my days playing with kids and then cleaning up with them.  I have some very good clean uppers and some not so good clean uppers.

Invariably, when I ask a child who is less than enthusiastic about cleaning up, who cleans up his toys at home, he tells me his mom does.  Well, there you go.

If you are tired of toys lying all over the bedroom or worse your living room, here is an effective way to get your child to learn to clean up after himself.

Simply say to your child that there are a lot of toys on the floor.  Would he like to clean them up or would he like you to clean them up.  When he answers that he thinks you should, say “The advantage of you picking them up is that you get to keep them.  If I pick them up, I am going to keep them.  I will let you think on it for a minute.  If by lunchtime it is all still out, I will know your decision.”

The thing with love and logic is that you have to give choices you are willing to live with yourself.  If you don’t follow through with keeping his toys, then all you did was waste your breath and your child learned nothing.  Be sure that you can stick to your word.  And then let him feel the consequence.   If you want him to earn things back then the next time say “If you pick up all your toys today, you will earn back one that you lost yesterday.”

We want to put the problem on the child.  When their problem becomes our problem, we are not teaching responsibility.

Raising responsible kids.

As a teacher and a mom of a large family, I am often asked how to teach kids to be responsible.  I talk to many parents who are frustrated with their child's lack of skill in keeping track of things, remembering homework, and being accountable for their actions.  I think the most important aspect to look at first is what ways are you inadvertently contributing to your child's irresponsibility.   Too often we want our child to succeed and so we rescue them from learning opportunities.  

For instance, you know your child forgot his school project or his football cleats and he is going to suffer the consequences from his teacher or coach.  We don't want our child to get in trouble so we rescue them.  We run back and forth delivering forgotten items and making sure that our child doesn't fail. We call teachers to fix grades, we call coaches and complain about lack of playing time, we complain about unfairness when our child is not choosing for a team or group.  

This last week our school hosted a traveling theatre group and held auditions.  I had one child get a part and one child who didn't.  Whose fault was that?  I heard that many parents were complaining about the unfairness of it.  Who said anything in life was going to be fair.  

I know for a fact that my child learned more from not getting a part than from getting one.  She was probably goofing around and being silly.  

How would it have benefitted her or taught her anything about if I had gone to the director or school and complained?  Instead she learned that maybe she was the reason and it was her own actions that led to the consequence. 

She also learned at 10 years old that life isn't fair and you don't always get what you want.  It is a lot less painful at 10 than it will be at 19 when they are at college and you aren't there to rescue them or help them deal with feelings.

How are they to learn to be responsible if we constantly take the responsibility for them?  How are they to learn about life if we don't let them experience it?

Parents who try to ensure their child's success by rescuing them often end up with irresponsible kids. 

Responsibility has to be taught, and sometimes it is a little painful.  For example, your child forgets his practice uniform or his homework and he is not allowed to play in the game that week or receives a lower grade.  

Here is a significant learning opportunity for your child; you forget your stuff, you suffer the consequence.  

If you bring it to them, all you have taught is that you are responsible for your child's things.  It is not fun to watch your child struggle or suffer a consequence but so much better to experience consequences for actions when they pay out is relatively small.  

If you raise an irresponsible child who is not accountable for his own actions, the size of the consequence increases.  It is so much easier on parent and child to teach accountability when they are young.

Let your child learn about navigating friendships, school, teams, commitment and responsibility at a young age.  Don't rescue them from natural consequences of their actions.  Consult them on how they could have avoided suffering that consequence, but don't take away the consequence!

They learn so much from doing things themselves than they do with you stepping in a fixing things and making decisions for them.  When they are teens the cost of not learning these lessons earlier goes up significantly.  Now they are driving your car, dating someone else's child, making decisions about alcohol and drugs.  

Ensure that they are good decision makers by giving them practice as younger children.  

Let's raise responsible kids who succeed!

How to get kids to do chores

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Chores are one of the best learning experiences for our kids.  Kids who do chores feel like they are contributing to the success of the family and they learn to take care of things and to be accountable.  When children are young they love to do chores.  They want to help us do dishes and sweep floors and wash windows but as they grow, their love of chores diminishes and then the fight begins.  How can we enforce chores and avoid a battle over them every day?

Love and logic is all about gaining control through choices.  The fine line is letting kids have control on our terms.  We set the limits with our kids but they choose how to operate within those limits.  This gives children a sense of responsibility and independence as well as letting them practice their decision making skills.

Choices also allow us to avoid unnecessary battles over control.  

My favorite choice is allowing a child to pay me for chores they are unwilling to do.  I always give a time-frame by which chores must be done so then my child has the choice to do it now, do it later or pay me to do it for them (with either money or consequence).

When my oldest son was in high school, he had the choice to mop the floors anytime before Sunday.  He could do it now, do it Sunday night or I could turn his phone off.  Every week would find him mopping my floors at 11:30 pm....but, my floors were done.  When he chose not to, I did not speak of it, I just logged into t-mobile and shut off his service for the week.  The consequences spoke for themselves.  No battle, no fight.  He chose his own path.

Is your child's room perpetually a mess no matter how much you nag?  Attach a choice to that.  He can do it now, do it before the appointed time or he can pay you $5.00 to do it for him.  Another tactic is to attach it to something he places value on, for instance, when he wants to do something say "sure as soon as your room is clean to my standards."  And then be quiet.  Chores will miraculously be done. 

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