Why Studying the Past Helps Children, Teens View the Future

By Gail Kittleson

It goes without saying that war changes people. I would add that studying war can change a person, too. I’ve experienced this myself, and shudder to think of the real facts of our historical record being altered or whitewashed for students. How can they ever come to appreciate the common humanity we all share if they’re sheltered from the veracity of history, including the cruelty humankind afflicts on its own?

As an historical fiction author, I focus on the World War II era, where individuals learned about evil by surviving when that maliciousness was unleashed upon them. Those who lived to tell the story longed for justice and peace, and to put the hatred behind them.

One brief example of this transformation is memorialized not far from my Iowa home. Camp Algona, in a town by the same name, was built on farmland to house German troops captured in North Africa and Normandy. The citizens of Algona, as anti-Nazi as any other normal Americans of the time, had no choice but to accept the presence of the enemy in their area.

Thousands of German troops were processed at this main camp, and some were sent to smaller branch camps across the Midwest. But some of the most virulent devotees of Adolph Hitler, including officers from his North Afrika Korps, remained at Camp Algona for an extended time.

The army assigned a commander and guards from various parts of the United States, MPs and others who could not deploy for one reason or another. But a large share of the workers came from civilians, ordinary people from Algona and the surrounding area.

What transpired fascinates me—the prisoners worked in crews to help farmers plant and harvest, make hay and weed their fields. They saved Minnesota’s 1944 pea crop. Because Camp Algona treated the prisoners according to the Geneva Convention, many of them experienced deep gratitude—enough to fashion a three-quarters size nativity scene as a gift to the city of Algona before they were sent back to Europe.

In business interactions, friendships were formed. Some prisoners kept in touch with Iowans after they returned home. A few, facing utter devastation in Germany, worked hard to return to Iowa and start over.

This is just one side-story from a horribly cruel war. And here’s the irony—I grew up about an hour and a half from Algona. A couple of branch camps were about half an hour away from our family farm, but I never heard about the POW camps until the last decade. When I share about Camp Algona with book clubs, most people are not aware of this unique thread from the war here in Iowa.

As parents, we can help our youth learn from history and recognize themselves in stories like Camp Algona. Through research and proactive interaction with our school systems or home school organizations, we can help bring history alive to our children and teens—and bring home the thread of humanity that runs through us all. But one thing is sure, if we sweep the past under the rug, vital lessons about our common humanity will be lost.

About Gail Kittleson
When Gail’s not steeped in World War II research or drafting scenes, she does a limited amount of editing for other authors. She also facilitates writing workshops and classes, both in Iowa and Arizona, where winters find her enjoying the incredibly gorgeous Ponderosa forest under the Mogollon Rim. Favorites: Walking, reading, meeting new people, and hearing from readers who fall in love with her characters. Visit Gail at http://www.gailkittleson.com/ and www.facebook.com/GailKittlesonAut.

Mom Says Kids Exhaust Me!

For a video version of this blog, visit https://youtu.be/YuPOFPMNYeE.

Q: I am a homeschooling mother of three girls ages 9, 7 and 3. I frequently feel so exhausted around my kids. I know there is a better way, and I keep trying to get there, but I never quite make it. Let me explain what today felt like, and how I just feel I am not doing this job right.

We went to the bank to open a bank account. The process was lengthy and took about 30 minutes. My kids were not listening to me and being loud. I tried to get them to play telephone games and such, but it was to no avail. So trying to focus on opening the account, then all of them making noise was not fun. A lady finally brought out some crayons but that activity lasted for about 5 minutes before my youngest was tired of that and started running around. I had one stand against the wall (the little one) for a while. Then had one stand at the opposite wall to just separate them.

I feel I should be able to do something like open a bank account and have the girls be well-behaved. Are my expectations far from the truth? Is what I experienced how it should be? I feel broken that I am not attaining this. And I have been struggling with this concept for 9 years.

Also, now that this has happened, what is my next step after the bank incident? Should I take away all their belongings? I have spoken about respect and taken plenty of things away ( this whole week they missed out on karate because they would not pick up their things). I guess I am just feeling powerless and broken (this is not my usual self)!

I would be so happy to hear your expert advice!

A: Please know that you are not alone in your feelings of exhaustion when it comes to raising kids. You are homeschooling and have three active kids, so that means you have a lot of time with them.

First of all, please make time for you a priority. I’m serious—you are running on empty and that’s not good for anyone. If you need to cut back on expectations in regard to schooling, do that to find at least half an hour a day when you are just you, not a mom or a wife or a teacher, just plain old you. Use that time not to do housework or run errands, but to rest however that looks like for you. It might be a job or walk, it might be sitting in your car by yourself just to regroup or reading a book or browsing Facebook. But make time for you happen daily. For example, when my kids were younger, I used to slip outside for 15 minutes each day when my kids were resting or napping—just to sit in the sunshine and let my mind rest.

Second, use some of your homeschooling time to teach and train your kids how to behave. We often simply expect kids will know what to do when out in public, so make sure you go over scenarios of how to entertain themselves appropriately when out. We have our kids bring something to do, like their church bags, which have “quiet” activities, such as coloring books/pencils/crayons, lace-ups, activity books with mazes or word searches, books, etc. Get your own go-bags, one for each child, then start having practice runs of short duration (5 minutes of sitting quietly, working up to 30 minutes or more). If you’re unsure of the wait time, bring snacks to help as well.

As for your expectations, yes, you should be able to have your kids wait quietly, but again, this takes training and teaching and preparation ahead of time. Some kids can just sit, but others need to know “how” to sit still—that’s where training comes in, as I’ve outlined above.

I would let the bank incident go for now and start fresh. You’re not powerless and you’re not broken. You can start 2018 on the right path to calm, confident parenting.

The Friend Question

For a video version of this question, go to https://youtu.be/C0EsCSnbCwg.

Q: My daughter is in third grade and is very different from her peers. She loves to play by herself at school and plays imaginatively in her room at home after school. I embrace her unique qualities, as does she. I assure her that God made her exactly the way she is supposed to be and she doesn’t need to change to fit in.

However, she is sad because she does not have any friends. There are none nearby for her to play with, and I have considered moving. I know she needs some down time after school, so I don’t schedule many playdates, maybe one a month. She’s so awkward around other kids that it is harder on me to have the playdate but I keep trying. She is in Brownies, which helps a little. She and I have been through a friendship devotional series and have read the American Girl book, Friends: Making Them and Keeping Them. When she has playdates, they are never reciprocated. She has never been invited to anyone’s home, even after multiple playdates at our house.

So I’m not sure what my question is exactly, other than do you mind telling me what you would do in this situation? I am struggling between just leaving her to make her own friends and working hard myself to try and find her a friend. Maybe I should invite friends from church over instead of school…I just don’t know what to do!

A: It’s always hard on the parent when we see our child ostracized or seemingly alone in the world, isn’t it? My second daughter (Second) was much like yours at that age—more comfortable being by herself than with others, making up stories in her head and spending time by herself. Now my daughter did have an older sister to pal around with, but Second did a lot by herself most of the time. I well remember several teary conversations with Second around third grade/fourth grade about her not having any friends.

A couple of things come to mind to help your situation, which I did with Second. It’s great that you’re talking with her and encouraging her on how to be a good friend. That’s important, even when there’s no one with which to practice.

I would sit down with Daughter and ask her what she wants to do about this friend thing. So far, it sounds like you’ve made all the efforts—arranging playdates, reading books together, etc. And that’s good because we have to take the initial lead in these things. But since it’s your daughter’s life, she ought to have a say in how to go about it. Ask her if she wants to continue with the once-a-month play dates or try something else.

One thing our family enjoys doing to help with the friend thing is to have “just because” parties. For example, one year, Second daughter invited six or seven girls from her class to come over after school to make chocolate-dipped pretzels for the holidays. That took the pressure off to invite just one girl, provided something fun to do, and allowed Second to shine in a different situation than a normal playdate.

I also gave Second permission to not do anything for a while. Trying too hard can be exhausting and discouraging, so sometimes just letting life flow by naturally without making playdates, etc., could be a welcome break.

It could just be that she hasn’t clicked with anyone in her class, and in third grade, she pretty much spends time with the same group of kids all the time, rather than switching classrooms like upper elementary classes start to do. I encouraged Second to seek out other kids who looked lonely or that they needed a friend—compassion is never wasted, and sometimes, thinking of how to help someone else can be the best antidote to overcoming one’s own problem or circumstance.

There’s not a magic bullet to get our kids to have friends (or even one friend), but helping them to see that there are options, that their current status isn’t permanent, and that they can decide what to do about it can help them navigate these friendship waters. And Second? She’s an eighth grader now who has started to spread her wings…and she has friends. Not a lot, but just enough.

January Parenting Thought of the Month: Kids Do Weird Things

As we start a fresh year with no mistakes (yet!), it’s good for parents to remember that their children are perfectly capable on any given day to do something totally off the wall, mean or downright illegal. Parents can do everything right and their kids can still choose to do the wrong thing.

For example, one of our kids used to walk down the hallway with tongue out, licking the wall. Another child spit at a classmate in anger during lunch (the classmate then stabbed my child in the hand with a plastic fork—yikes, good thing they were both first graders at the time, so no harm done). This is just a sampling of how strange our kids can be…and how unpredictable their behavior, even when said kids “know” the right thing to do or not to do.

Many times, a child acting in an unpredictable way can trigger a corresponding paralysis in the parent, especially the mother. The parent tries to decipher why the child did what he or she did, often wondering if the behavior was the result of some parenting misstep. More time and energy is spent on trying to figure out the why behind the behavior than addressing the behavior, and confusion often reigns in the wake of such incidents.

Since every parent will encounter something strange, weird, despicable or downright bad behavior in their child at some point along their parenting journey, what should a parent do in these situations? Here’s what I keep in mind when my kids go off the rails—or simply act according to their kid-nature.

  • Ignore the kid stuff. From licking a wall to drawing with spit on a window, we should learn to let go of the weird things kids do without overreacting. Sure, tell them to stop if it’s really annoying you, but if it’s simply that you find it strange that they want to do that (like jumping in mud puddles after a rain or only wanting to wear a princess crown instead of hair bows), you should probably let them enjoy being a kid. After all, there’s enough time for them to adhere to adult conventions.
  • Remind the child that you still love her despite her actions, but that there are consequences for what she did. Be prepared to level appropriate punishments so that there’s hopefully not a repeat of the behavior. In other words, love the child but still punish her if appropriate (or follow through if a school suggests consequences at home in addition to school).
  • Help the child take responsibility. This means the parent doesn’t step in and shield the child from his actions, but step alongside the child and, depending on the age of the kid, show him what he needs to do to make it right. This should include sincere apologies, preferably both written and verbal, and an offer of restitution.
  • Make the child assume full restitution for any damage. For a teenager, this could mean you front the money to pay for the broken window or defaced property, then he works odd jobs or a part-time job until the debt is paid. For a younger child who has little earning potential, this could mean that he pays on a sliding scale and perhaps does extra work for the person or place (such as weeding a garden at school or helping to clean up after an event) until the debt has been paid. In both cases, be clear what it will take to wipe the slate clean, such as a specific dollar amount for older kids or a certain number of extra chores that specifically benefit the person or place that was harmed (such as a school that the child defaced with graffiti, for example).