I’m Moving!

I’m moving!  Just the mention of this phrase can make some people break out in a cold sweat with anxiety.  Not me!  It’s an adventure and an opportunity.  Bring it on. 

I flew to San Francisco to visit my son and daughter in law over the Christmas break.  I treated myself to a book that I’ve been wanting for a while,  Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina.  I was struck by this sentence in the introduction.  “But what you do in your child’s first five years of life — not just the first year — profoundly influences how he or she will behave as an adult.”  

Now, I’ve always told the story of my parents moving frequently when I was young.  My father worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority and we moved four times in the first seven years of my life.  Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky are my states.  My mother was a genius at making it fun.   We would learn about the history of where we were moving.  She assured me that I would make new friends and that I could keep my old friends.  I learned how to say good-bye and how to say hello!  Now that’s a valuable skill to have. 

What I didn’t connect until I began to read John Medina’s book was that my parents formated the perception for me that moving was an adventure and an opportunity.  I was six months old when we first moved.  They literally wired my brain with the perception that moving was an adventure and opportunity so now I feel excited.  This literally dictates my behavior. 

What perceptions and beliefs do you have?  What are you passing to your children?  Thank you Jesse and Louise for the gift of adventure.  It is priceless.



Cool was the “word” that was popular when I was growing up.  I know that I am dating myself but it’s the truth.  Well I think that “really?” is the word of the day.  The inflection in your voice is imperative.  So here I go. . . .  Really?

I’m at Starbuck’s yesterday waiting to meet someone.  I enjoy arriving early so that I can people watch and listen to the exchanges between adult and child.  I was not disappointed with what I heard but I was surprised with my response.

A mom and her son around the age of six are exiting with their preferred drink and the young man opens the door for his mom and she declares proudly “good job.”  Typically I think, “now what’s so good about opening the door for your mom?”  But this time I thought to myself, “really????”  This slight shift in my response got me to thinking.  I wonder how can I eradicate this horrific phrase?  I mean really what was so good about opening the door?  I do believe that the mom had the best of intentions but “really?”

This kind of praise can actually discourage your child.  “Good job” is rampant out there.  Listen for it and you will hear it over and over and over again.   Good imparts judgement and that you are pleasing me.  Over time your child begins to crave praise.  Is this what you want?

I challenge parents to eliminate “good job” out of your vocabulary and replace it with words that notice and describe.  “You opened the door so we could get out safely.  That was helpful.”  You have noticed what your child did and then tagged it with a phrase like, “that was thoughtful, kind or helpful.”  This exchange actually stimulates your child’s frontal lobes.  You’re helping your child become aware of their actions.  You’re calling attention to their actions in a way that is meaningful and authentic.

You can do it!  You can change your vocabulary.  Make it priority and you won’t regret it.  REALLY!  No question about it!

Avoid Holiday Meltdowns

This holiday season I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with many parents and lend advice. The following is an article that is featured in this month’s edition of NewbyMom.com.

The holidays are a hectic time of year. Parents scurry around town buying gifts, prepping the house for guests and are in a constant state of hurry. Once the kids are on Christmas break, everyday routines fly out the window. There isn’t baseball practice or ballet class, no appointments to keep. At first, it seems like heaven, both the parents and the kids wear pajamas until lunchtime and there are no rules. It’s pure joy until boredom sets in and the trouble begins. So how do you avoid holiday meltdowns that can make your household not so merry?

Here are some helpful hints to keep your children from turning your holidays “Grinch-y”:

Children need routine. The structure of a routine is soothing to your child’s brain, keeping stress at bay. Also, children need to feel in control and safe. When children feel safe, they are more likely to be cooperative and respectful. Take the time to make a routine for the holidays, even if each day looks different.

Talk to your children in pictures, especially those eight years old and younger. Children have immature inner speech until about age eight, which means that children think in pictures without any sound, similar to a silent movie. Children younger than eight need to know what the day will look like, especially during a time when there seems to be no structure. Take pictures of what the new routine will look like and either post it in your home or make it into a “Holiday Book.” Have fun with it and involve your children, it will be a memorable keepsake as well.

Talk to your children like you would talk to your co-workers. Politely and assertive, of course. Children need to be told what to do. Also, young children retain information in their brains for roughly 20 seconds. So when talking to them, remain calm and speak with an assertive voice while focusing on what you want. Spend your time reminding and prompting wisely. When you give information, observe your tone of voice. Is it passive, “It’s time to leave, okay?” Is it aggressive, “Get in the car right now!” Is it assertive, “We’re leaving, get in the car.”

The assertive voice is the voice of knowing and children feel safe when they are with an adult that is composed and calm.

Children need sleep. Don’t forgo sleep for the joy. Children with sleep deprivation are emotional and exhibit defiant behavior and moodiness. Put a large chunk of time for sleep in your routine. This will also give you time to relax and decompress.

Start new family traditions. Children need to feel connected and the holidays are a perfect time to institute some rituals or traditions into your family. Rituals create connections and are the glue that holds the family together. So whether it’s baking cookies, decorating the tree, looking at the Christmas lights or ice skating, these types of family traditions build loving, emotionally healthy children. Make sure your rituals have touch, eye contact and playfulness. This will strengthen the dopamine in your child’s brain which helps them focus and connect. Children that feel connected are more likely to cooperate.

As a parent, we want to give our children the most magical Christmas possible. In the end, you are the best present you can give your child, so be the present with your presence. My grown sons’ best memories of Christmas are not the toys that they received; it was the anticipation and the surprise that they remember. So have fun with it and you’ll have a joyous holiday full of fond memories that will last a lifetime without all the meltdowns.

Thanksgiving Eve

"The next generation"
My great nephew is learning how to make Aunt Jessica's fresh cranberry orange relish.
It’s the eve of Thanksgiving and the house is quiet and the kitchen is dark. It’s the year that both of my sons have other commitments and my niece and her family are unable to travel. That’s what happens when they grow up. As Thanksgiving approached I kept telling myself that I was grateful that no one was coming. I have two workshops in Virginia next week and I need the time to prepare. Focus on the workshops. Pay no attention to Thanksgiving.

Then last night I received a text from my niece. She needed my dressing recipe. That simple text got my attention. I realized how I can still feel connected to my family even when they are not physically with me. I found the cookbook and began to e-mail her the recipe and was quickly transported back in time; 1972. I can close my eyes today and remember that moment. It was my first Thanksgiving as a married woman. My mom bought me a cook book and pointed to the dressing recipe. She then reviewed it and told how her mother made dressing. As a little girl I LOVED that dressing and I wanted to know how to make it. Mother was clear; make your own corn bread and biscuits. Her mother always included a sliced boiled egg; I’ll omit that. That page in the cook book is well-worn.

I then began to remember. I always made Minestrone soup on Wednesday before Thanksgiving. My Aunt Erma had given me a cookbook in 1978 from the Junior League of Jackson, Mississippi and it has the best recipes. I pulled the loved cookbook out, found the recipe and made my grocery list.

Today I will make Minestrone soup and be with my family through the smells in the house and the photographs that fill my home. I am thankful for the women in my family that pass the favorite recipes down to the next generation. I am thankful for my niece who caught my attention with one simple text message.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Celebrating 97 Years

This past November 11, 2010, was my mom’s 97th birthday.  That is not a typo.  She really turned 97 years old.  As a child, I don’t remember ever celebrating her birthday, ever!  We were not allowed to ask her age and she was highly insulted when anyone would ask her age.  I forgot to mention that she is from the Deep South and that just might explain some of this story.

Let me hasten to add that as a child I had the best birthday parties.  Those memories are locked in my brain; memories of slumber parties with my best friends.  I even received a phone call from an elementary school friend this past year.  She woke up on my birthday wondering why she was thinking of me and then realized it was my birthday.  I was 59 years old when she called so talk about long term memory.

But I have strayed from the original story!  My mom turned 97 years old and what do I get for someone that has it all and can’t even truly enjoy it?  She has dementia and is in a wheel chair.  She is in an unbelievable place that takes care of her every basic need; including safety.  So really what can I give someone that I have loved and do love but don’t feel that “special” connection?  I believe that what I give to others I strengthen in myself.  How can I reach out to her and intentionally connect to her and believe that she can and will feel my love and my connection to her even through the dementia.

So what did I do?

There is a fabulous book, I Love You Rituals by Dr. Becky Bailey.  It was written with the intent of making connections with young children and boosting their brain power.  I’ve implemented I Love You Rituals (ILYRS) with countless children and observed amazing connections, focus and concentration.  All ILYRS have eye contact, touch, presence and a bit of playfulness.  It takes maybe 15-20 seconds and it strengthens the dopamine which helps attention and concentration.  I wondered if there was a way to apply the same principle with a different look for my mom.  I decided to do the same I Love You Ritual but two different ways and see what happened.  I chose “Twinkle, Twinkle”.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

What a wonderful mom/granny you are!

With bright eyes and nice round cheeks,

Talented mom/granny from head to feet.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

What a wonderful mom/granny you are!

I arrived at my mom’s room.  I think that she recognized me just from the way she looked at me.  She never called me by name.  I began to sing“Twinkle Twinkle” and she began to sing with me.  She definitely was “with” me.  Later, I  gathered all four great-grandchildren.  We practiced “Twinkle” twice.  We put Granny in the center of the five of us and sang “Twinkle.”  We ended with a group hug around her.  For the rest of the day, my mom was alert and present with me and all of her great-grandchildren.  What a present from all of our hearts to her heart.  Our present was our presence.

Check out this great book that can transform relationships with eye contact, presence, touch and playfulness.



I Love You Rituals: Activities to Build Bonds and Strengthen Relationships with Children.

Did I mention that there are two music CD’s of I Love You Rituals that help establish the rituals?

Love or Fear ?

Do you ever wonder why you do certain things, like why do you reward yourself with a piece of cake or a new pair of shoes for being a responsible citizen?  Why did I just eat two pieces of chocolate cake for just making a good grade?  Well, today I got a glimpse of where it just might come from with some other insights along the way.

I went for a walk in my neighborhood this morning and ran into a neighbor with her three year old daughter.  I joined up with them and we began to catch up with each others lives.  Her daughter was on her tricycle having a great time.  Her stuffed animal dog was along for the ride.  Of course the dog slipped off the bike and none of us noticed for quite a distance.  The daughter was the first to notice and she gladly went back on her bike and picked up the dog.  Mom watched her safely go back and return.  Mom states loudly, “Good job!”  I immediately responded to my neighbor “what was so good about that?”  She looked at me puzzled.  I said “look at how responsible she was to go back happily and willingly to pick up her dog.  Notice and describe what she did and then add that was helpful.  When you notice and describe it stimulates her frontal lobes.  You’ve authentically noticed her being responsible.”  My neighbor immediately responded to her daughter and did a “high five.”  The daughter’s face lit up like a Christmas tree.  I looked at my neighbor and said “you have a choice.  You can say “good job” or you can notice and describe and get a lit up Christmas tree every time.”

On we go around the block and my neighbor raises her voice to her daughter to “STOP” at the street as a car was approaching the intersection.  The daughter stops and my neighbor rushes to her daughter’s side with anxiety and fear flowing through every cell of her body.  She begins to utter the usual remarks as every parent encounters a fearful moment.  I kept up with my neighbor and quickly and gently interrupted her remarks by saying to the daughter, “You heard your Mom scream “stop” and you stopped.  Mommy’s job is to keep you safe.  You stopped.  You did it.”  Again, her face lit up that she had indeed stopped.  She had listened.

We continued on our way and my neighbor said to her daughter, “you get five jelly beans when we get home.”  The daughter’s face looked a bit confused as to why but she wasn’t about to turn down jelly beans.  I asked “why?”  My neighbor answers as if I am from Mars.  “We give out jelly beans for good behavior.”  My brain is wondering why she is rewarding her daughter for just being responsible; for listening.

My brain raced ahead 20 years and I could see this preschooler as a young girl rewarding herself with chocolate cake when she was good.  And then I began to go deeper and wonder what compels parents to parent from a posture of fear; a fear that their child won’t be a responsible citizen unless they “reward” their child for just being good.  I believe that being in relationship with your child will motivate them to “behave.”  Children will more likely choose to behave if they feel noticed for kind acts; for listening.  Your words of noticing are the reward!  “You went back and picked up your dog.  That was helpful.”  Your reward is that your child will grow up to be a cooperative, loving and caring adult.

It’s your choice; love or fear.



Do You Know ?

Today I had the pleasure of being featured in the “Do You Know” profile in the Post & Courier.

Jessica Shields Flowers

BIRTH DATE and place: February 1951, Jackson, Miss.

RESIDENCE: Mount Pleasant.

OCCUPATION: Early childhood specialist and owner of Ripple Effect, where I provide tailored parenting workshops, coaching and classroom management coaching for teachers.

FAMILY: 2 sons, Jay Flowers, 36, and Jesse Flowers, 32; and 1 grandson, Ian Flowers, 6.

EDUCATION: Bachelor of Arts in biology from the University of Mississippi, Master of Education from George Mason University.

FIVE WORDS THAT BEST DESCRIBE ME: Passionate, determined, spunky, gracious and visionary.

LAST BOOK I READ: “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. I was born in Jackson, Miss., and graduated from Ole Miss. The book made me remember what it was like when I was growing up.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT MYSELF: I lived in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for two years. My oldest was born there.

SOMETHING IMPORTANT LIFE HAS TAUGHT ME: No matter what happens to me, I have choices and that I can do it. It’s not what I do but more importantly it is how I do it.

FAVORITE CHILDHOOD MEMORY: My father loved to hunt squirrels, rabbits and deer. He wore a hunting jacket. My sister and I loved to greet him on his return and pull the squirrels and rabbits out of the pockets to help him dress them. One day he came home early, and we ran to greet him and out of the big pocket peeked a cute Boston terrier puppy. Ginger was my first dog, and I still have the very best memories. Thanks, Daddy.