Claudia Quigg

Let's Talk Kids Host

Claudia Quigg is the Executive Director of Baby TALK and writes the Let's Talk Kids parenting segment and column that honor the expertise parents have about their own children and explores issues that are universal for families. From toilet training and sibling rivalry to establishing family values, Claudia Quigg provides thoughtful and accessible insights that are meaningful to families' needs.

When we become parents, we bring all the experiences of our prior lives into our work with our children.  These stories quietly influence our decisions and patterns of behavior as we raise our kids.

Some memories are of joyous occasions, but a few are of times of heartache or disappointment.  Dr. Selma Fraiberg, a 20th century psychologist, recognized those painful memories as “Ghosts in the Nursery,” and wrote about their power to negatively impact a parent’s experience of raising children.

Most parents will tell you that each of their children has a special gift that contributes to the health and wealth of the family. One offspring is the empathic one that senses when another family member is sad.  One is the conversationalist who brings lots of questions and reports to the family table.  Yet another is the life of the party who entertains the lot, keeping the mood (and noise level) high.

The conversation I recently enjoyed with a small group of mothers was like many I’ve experienced before.  Love shining in their eyes, they shared universal hopes for their children.

The first mother shared her hope that her child would be healthy.  The second shared her desire for her child to be safe.  The third spoke of wanting her child to do well in school. These hopes and dreams for children are on the lips and in the hearts of every parent I know.

Newborns gaze into their parents’ faces, seeking connection with those who care for them.  Older babies look at adults’ faces to try to understand how to read an uncertain situation.  Toddlers reference their parents’ faces to check in on how far they can push the limits.  

And for the rest of their lives, those children will continue to use this skill of gaining important information by reading the faces of others to figure out their world.  The messages we read on others’ faces convey more powerful meaning than the words we hear.  

Two-year-old Nick was deeply engrossed rolling his new cars along his race track when his dad called him to the table for supper.  Once seated, he played with his food and kicked his feet, all the while glancing over at the abandoned race track.

His parents, deeply concerned about his nutrition, kept encouraging him to eat something.  “Just two bites of your chicken,” implored his mom to no avail.  Nick was not having the chicken, nor anything else on his plate.

“Brave is the new pretty.”  I saw these words on a plaque for a girl’s bedroom recently, and it heartened me.  I’m grateful to think that parents value the courage their children (male and female) will need to bring to our culture.

Pretty early on, kids figure out that this world is often a cruel one.  They experience a bite from another child at play group. Soon they watch as one child taunts another, and when they go to school they see real bullying in action.

You can’t throw a stick at a group of parents without hitting one who’s actively pining for her children to be different from the way they are. While we love them the way they are (We do!  We really do!), we can’t help wishing they would change.

We want them to change because we love them so much and we want their lives to be perfect, as if that were even a possibility.  And so we try to change them when we see habits or natures that might trip them up down the road.

Comedian Ray Romano quips that “having children is like living in a frat house - nobody sleeps, everything's broken, and there's a lot of throwing up.”

A mother explained that she plans a tight schedule for her kids, allowing for little “down time.”  In her experience, when kids have time on their hands, trouble results.

And I get that.  Like the old adage that “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” I remember plenty of times in my own house when kids with not enough to do would stir up misbehavior for its own sake.  This parent has a good point, undoubtedly borne out by experience with her own three rowdy children.

My granddaughter recently delighted me with her recitation of a long poem about the American Presidents.  While it may not have been great literature, it contained important information, which I believe she will retain for a lifetime.  The mental discipline involved in her learning it inspired me to reflect on my own childhood attempts to memorize poetry.

The need for memorizing a poem has been challenged during these days when anything can be found with a few taps on a smartphone.  But there are those who recognize real benefits for the practice.

Family dinner conversations flow with the casserole to cement a family together like few other activities.

Meg Conley, a writer for the Huffington Post, focuses on topics related to raising children.  A recent article of hers inspired me.  In it, she shared a practice she and her husband have implemented around family dinners.

In an effort to reconnect each evening, they ask the same three questions at dinner:  How were you brave today?  How were you kind today?  And how did you fail today?

The extravagant generosity of family and friends results in a post-holiday embarrassment of riches for many American children.  Toy chests already bursting at the seams are now challenged by the influx of a new slew of toys.

New parents may be surprised to learn that Toy Management is a skill they’ll use for years to come.  Every family needs a system for making a child’s favorite toys easily accessible.

The week between Christmas and New Years has long been my favorite time of the year.  When I was a child, it was a chance to enjoy nonstop the toys I got from Santa before the demands of a school schedule got in the way of my uninterrupted playtime.

At this point in my life, I relish that “week between” as a chance to catch my breath before facing the demands of the New Year.  It’s a great time to reflect on lessons learned in the year just ending and to set goals for the year ahead.

It was a noisy scene with lots of folks around having a generally good time at a holiday event.  Wondering how such a little fellow would handle the chaos, I walked over to where two-month-old Jacob was propped in his bouncy seat near his mom.  What I saw in Jacob amazed me.  Instead of being overwhelmed by the party around him, he had a laser focus on his mom’s face.  He was relaxed and happy as he gazed adoringly at her face.

A dad shared his regret at not being home more when his children were tiny.  While he succeeded professionally, he thinks his relationships with his 4 and 6 year-old daughters are beyond repair.

A mother told me her 5 year-old won’t stay in his own bed.  Every night she runs a relay, returning him to his bed time and again.  It’s her own fault, she moans.  She loved cuddling him to sleep as an infant, and now he can’t sleep without her.  According to this mom, she’s ruined him for sleep for all time.

The 9-year-old towhead leaned into his airplane window watching the scurry of baggage handlers below.  His mom sat in the middle as I approached and asked if the aisle seat was available.

She quickly nodded yes with a smile, and then asked me an unexpected question:  “Excuse me, my son has a severe peanut allergy.  Are you planning to eat nuts on the flight?”  I assured her I wasn’t and sat beside her, asking her to tell me more about her son.

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Walk into most preschool classrooms in America, and you’re sure to see it:  that oversized calendar near the floor, accessible to four-year olds, where children are led through a recitation of the days of the week and the months of the year, as well as a counting of the dates in the month.

From an early age, especially in this country, we’re determined to understand and focus on the passage of time.  Many Europeans chuckle over our obsession with timeliness, and folks from South America and Africa often really don’t get it at all.

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You plan a lovely outing to an art museum, hoping to awaken the Michelangelo in their hearts.

A week later, you share the story of your field trip with a friend, feeling a bit smug about your family’s brilliant foray into the world of fine art.  Playing nearby, your enthusiastic eight-year old pipes up with a big grin: "You wouldn't believe how loud the toilets flushed in the bathroom there!"

Wow. So the one compelling memory of this carefully planned afternoon was of the plumbing volume. So much for your hopes for raising the next Renoir.

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Being a parent starts with our letting go of the baby from the womb in order to be able to hold onto him in our arms.  And that’s just the beginning. The journey of parenthood consists of learning when to hold on and when to let go of our children.

“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”  This adage has been confirmed by science demonstrating the power of the influence parents have on the development of their children.

Every day I see the truth of this notion, observing children who reflect the training of their parents.  Kids of thoughtful parents express their own thoughtfulness in the kindness they display on the playground.  The offspring of musicians sing with beautiful voices in a children’s choir.   

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Parents, if you watch television this evening with your children in the room, you’d best stand ready with your thumb on the remote, ready to hit the power button.  Am I expecting a scene of graphic horror or sordid pornography?  No, but I’m quite sure your television will carry a political attack advertisement.

Even as you daily teach him how to behave kindly and with respect, he will see our political leaders at their very worst.  He will listen as they vilify one another in a way that would never be allowed in his home or classroom.

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I’ve been noticing an increase in grandparents’ queries.  Much of the time, these loving grandparents express a concern about a choice the child’s parents are making, hoping I will weigh in on their “side” of the difference of opinions.

Grandparents are concerned about where their grandchildren sleep.  They agonize about two-year-olds still using a bottle or pacifier.  They worry about parents’ decisions to return to work following birth.

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Four-year olds Maria and Geoffrey were playing house in their preschool classroom.  She unloaded the grocery cart and he set the table.  Maria was carefully putting the food away on the shelves in their little play kitchen, but a few pretend cans of vegetables were left out on the counter top.

I inquired about those cans still sitting out.  Geoffrey spoke up quickly to set me straight.  “Oh, those are the cans we’re takin’ to the food pantry.  We have to give food to kids who don’t have enough to eat.”

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mattpenning.com / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

A charming fellow I know was referred for special services as his development had fallen off track.  Damien was losing pace with his peers and his teachers were worried that something was wrong.

I’m glad when grownups notice that a child’s development lags behind.  Sometimes, there may be a serious problem which—if identified early—has the best chance for remediation.  

But other times, there’s a benign cause related to his external life circumstances.  In Damien’s case, I wondered about this possibility.

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Sweet granddaughter Jane has begun the predictable passage common to most folks her age.  She is gradually losing her baby teeth, each time proudly displaying her most recent gap as a badge of honor.

And while I adore that scarecrow grin, I feel some sorrow that I’ll never again see that sweet baby tooth smile I knew since she was a toddler.  I wish I’d had enough forethought to appreciate that baby smile the last time I saw it.

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mattpenning.com / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

“Steadiness.”  It’s an old-fashioned word like “duty” or “diligence.” It can’t compete with more modern terms like “efficiency,” “speed,” or “multi-tasking.”  If we think to honor “steadiness” at all these days, it’s in reference to those with superb fine motor control, like brain surgeons and bomb detonators, whose steadiness has life-altering implications.

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The shadows under their eyes told the story.

Recently I listened to new parents share lifestyle changes they’ve experienced since their baby girl was born.  While their devotion to their daughter is obvious, their exhaustion was equally apparent. The increased accountability of parenting duty involves feeding, changing, rocking to sleep, leaping out of bed at night to attend to frantic cries, loads of laundry, and more.  

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Between my 18th and 22nd birthdays, I changed my major six times, transferred universities, tried out a variety of jobs and several philosophies, fell in love, got married, and began my career.  Those years were a period of incredibly rapid growth and change in me.

It occurs to me that most lives are like that.  We experience plateaus in which life remains fairly steady, but those plateaus are punctuated by events—like graduations—that create rapid growth and change.

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mattpenning.com / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers have been underestimated since the beginning of time, rarely getting credit for the very real work they do each day.  To think of young children as simply “cute” is to objectify them rather than recognizing them as real people who are working to develop skills and understand the world.  

Claudia Quigg headshot
mattpenning.com / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Refilling my red feeder with sugar water, I chuckled to be reminded of the new parental stereotype in the blogosphere.  “Hummingbird Parents” are now on the scene.

Judgment has been heaped on “Helicopter Parents” recently—those parents who control and interfere. They’re afraid of allowing their children to fail, feeling such responsibility for their kids’ futures.  And they fear the judgment of a society that has come to be pretty hard on parents.

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