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Holiday Activities


Holidat Tradition OrnamentSomewhere between Pinterest idyllic and reality, there is what we hope to establish in our home during the holidays.  For many, it is a time of increased togetherness.  The children are off from school and perhaps you are off from work for an extended period of time.  Perhaps you are a stay at home parent and you are always “off.”  Or perhaps, no such luck, you have to work increased hours over the holidays because of the kind of work you do.  Regardless of your exact situation, I am sure that some of what you are hoping for during the holidays is a sense of familial togetherness, fun, new memories; and meaningfulness. –More on that in a moment.

Rest assured, even the plans and holiday idylls that do not go as planned can be of lasting memory.  We still talk of the “Pink Eye Christmas” when we recall memories of Christmas past.  Our daughters had an awesome case of conjunctivitis, that was worsened by an allergic reaction our youngest girl had to eye drops.  She had a distinct resemblance to Rocky Balboa after a hard fight, that Christmas!  We still laugh at the Christmas mouse, from growing up.  As teenagers, my siblings and I had a mouse run across the floor during our Christmas meal.  A fond new memory is from a few years back when our girls received a package of pacifiers or “bobos” from Santa and the Bobo Fairy.  She had come about a year prior, when our daughter gave up her bobo.  This is how they found out their mother was expecting their little brother.

Somewhere between your holiday idylls and the bickering that arises when all the children are home together for an extended period of time; the pulls and demands of time, money, and limited energy reserves; and the unexpected that is all but a guarantee in life, is a chance for some great times together.  The folks at the great website “Parent map” offer 15 great ideas for making the most of your time together during the holidays.  From game nights by the Christmas tree and volunteering as a family to great craft ideas and journaling suggestions for recording the year’s highlights, there are some fantastic suggestions here.  Wishing you togetherness, laughter, fun, new found memories, and meaning this holiday season! Happy Holidays!

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


Sports BanquetA few weekends ago “The New York Times” re ran a great column in their “Motherlode” feature.  In Lisa Hefferman’s column “Our Push for ‘Passion’, and Why It Harms Kids,” Hefferman discusses one of today’s parenting trends, finding your child’s passion.  While best intentions may drive this and it may seem innocent, this modern parenting quest has many potential negative consequences.

Are parents charged with finding their child’s passion?  The best intentioned parent wants their child to find things they are good at and enjoy.  From cheer and hockey, to soccer and dance, we all like seeing our kids do things they enjoy.  We feel pride over their routines, goals, recitals, etc.  This is all so very good and normal.  Yet like many things in childhood and society today, this normal event has become supercharged.  While childhood is a time of exploration, many of today’s parents are looking for a hobby, an instrument, a sport to define their child and give both their child and them purpose, status, etc.  It seems this goes right with the adult sense of being overly busy, as the definition of normal, purposeful, and routine.

As adults, it seem like our “crazy busy” is lamentable, but a crutch that makes us okay in our peers eyes.  If our children aren’t into 25 activities and are allowed to enjoy a slow childhood at home, they are more the exception and sadly the oddball for many.  It also seems like we are often hoping to help our children through their childhood, by defining a piece of who they are early in life.  There’s no doubt that a sense of self, talent, efficacy helps one thrive, but are we the ones who should define this or should it be our children?  While society at large may drive this force, there’s no doubt that visions of college applications years down the road are also part of this phenomenon.  We are told colleges accept students with “passion”.  If they begin at four years-old, we may think we are helping them and ourselves with their collegiate future.

The columnist’s stance and mine are that this is harmful more than helpful for several reasons.  When children work at their “passion” six days a week after school, what about other interests that go undiscovered?  If we have decide soccer is it for them, what about their natural curiosity in bugs, guitar, designing costumes, doing art, etc. etc?  Their time is spoken for because of their “passion,” leaving little room or time for what may be other interests and life’s truer passions.  This drive for passion is expensive and consumes time.  Children naturally have interest in many different things.  If we are to get all the equipment, pay for all the lessons, send them to all the camps for their “passion,” we spend whole lot money on things that can be better spent.  How about saving for college, their future, and our future with some of this money?

There is the other side of the time piece.  Not only are they losing time to find out what truly interests them, they may be losing their childhood.  Children today are overscheduled, overcommitted, and over involved.  There are so many great things that come from unstructured play and more peaceful family time.  As parents, let’s help our children explore their interests.  Yes, passion may come from some of these interests.  But let’s let it be defined by them, instead of us.  Money, time, and childhood are at stake……

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


It’s not easy being a child today.  While this may always have been the case, today’s children live in a hyperactive world.  Between meeting the demands of Common Core and the umpteen activities they do, children can face a great amount of stress.  A normally docile acts out.  An energetic child is sluggish and out of sorts.  These are all ways children show stress.  Fortunately, parents can help their children combat stress in many different ways.

The article “Helping Kids Cope With Stress,” from the “Kids Health” website  offers some great tips to parents.

The first tip is to “notice out loud” when a child seems stressed.  for example, when Johnny seems stressed, put it to words. “Johnny, you seem mad about what happened in gym yesterday” or “Susie, you seem like something is bothering you.”  When parents do this, their concern goes far in helping children feel armored to fight stress.  Children often feel alone and consumed by their stress and worries.  Show them they are not alone and you are there with them.

Along with this, parents should actively listen to their children when they tell us what is wrong, without adding judgment or without rushing them along.  Ask open ended questions to get them talking about their worries.  “Jilly, what is stressing you out?” “Tell me what happened in class.” “What did you do after your coach said that to you?” It then helps to dose them with a great deal of empathy.  This sounds like a no brainer, but in the heat of the moment parents are often at their wits end or flooded with their own feelings-anger, stress, distraction.  Feeling understood and listened to, helps your child feel supported by you.

Parents can also help our children put a label on their feelings and help them think of things to do. Children, especially small children, may lack the words to express their feelings.  This is probably why they start with I have a headache or stomachache, instead of I feel overwhelmed by homework; I am tired; I am upset by all the attention Baby Sammy is getting instead of me, etc.. Early on, children are able to describe a belly ache or a head ache. By helping children identify and label their feelings, parents help them increase their emotional awareness. “Susie, you feel overwhelmed by all the homework you have this year. You’d like more time to play.” “Joey, you are saying you are sad because you miss spending time with me, now that the baby is here.”

After having increased emotional awareness with your child, help them develop an action plan.  Help your child think of what to do when stress arises.  Parents may need to start the brainstorming session, but ask them for their ideas. – When Johnny comes up with ways to deal with not forgetting his homework, that’s pretty powerful stuff. Help him follow through.  Maybe he isolates the problem. His folder never comes off his desk once homework is completed.  He tells you he needs to place it right in the bag, after you check it Of course, right.  When children come up with the solution, they gain confidence and feel empowered.

In the article, parents are reminded that sometimes they just need to listen and help them move on. Sometime, it only takes a sense of being heard, to feel better. Listen and help your child find something fun and relaxing to do.  Do not give a problem more attention than it deserves.  Also, a child may not need to talk about it or want to talk about it.  They just need parent to be there for them and ready to listen if they want to talk to us about it.  Be loving, patient, and present to them.

Lastly, parents may need to actively step in and minimize stress in their children’s lives.  If the morning is pure chaos, what is our role in reducing it?  Does everyone have enough time to get ready? What can be done the night before to make for a smooth morning routine?  Did everyone have a healthy breakfast, to provide them the right nutrition to start the day? Are your children getting enough exercise at home? How about activities? Today’s children need more downtime and less scheduled time.  It will not wreck their college application for them to forgo competitive swimming at seven years-old or five day a week, travel soccer.  Childhood is brief.  By teaching health stress management skills now, parents are helping their children for a lifetime.

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


friendshipEarly friendships are a trademark of childhood.  While they can bring great joy, they can also bring challenge and even great sorrow. In childhood we learn to negotiate this process.  The article “Helping Elementary Schoolers Deal With Social Conflict,” from the PBS Parents website, offers some great tips for children and parents alike.

The experts from this article say that parents should teach their children how to handle social conflicts, rather than solving their problems for them. Here is a brief recap

  1. Expect your child to respect everyone and treat them with non-hurtful behavior, but respect their right to not necessarily like everyone or want to be their best friend.  Respectful behavior means treated classmates civilly.  If a classmate, rather than a friend, comes to your child’s lunch table and says hello or asks a question, civil means your child is expected to say hello back and answer their question.  Civil means no meanness.
  2. Role model the behavior you want to see in your child.  If you want your child to be inclusive, you need to exemplify that by who you talk to at their school or in your life.  If you do not want them to gossip, refrain from this yourself.
  3. Don’t get over invested in their social life or as the article puts it, “dig for pain,” if something bad happens to them socially. Parents often experience two simultaneous things when their child is hurting or in trouble.  It can be very painful to see your child experience pain like this for the first time or to see them inflict pain like this for the first time.  It may also bring up their own pain or bad memories of school.  Additionally, it may put a parent into Mama and Papa Bear form.  This article encourages parents to focus on teaching their children how to handle the issue in a proactive way, to not over analyze it, and not become overly involved.
  4. What can you do then? You can teach them to learn to speak directly.  “Emma, you hurt my feelings when you would not let me sit with you.”  “ Hunter, I am sorry I hurt your feelings when I did not pick you for the game.”  Even at this early stage in the game, you can begin to realize their goals are not necessarily your goals, when it comes to friendships and so many things. Accepting this is important and helping them capitalize on making and reaching good goals on the social front and other fronts -so important. Yet with this, it is important to be open about what you see in friendship dynamics (and your rights as a parent). You can congratulate a behavior in them or a friend or criticize a behavior in them or a friend, without criticizing a friend or them.  For example, it is okay to express disappointment that Suzie did not give out invitations to everyone for her party, but only a select few.  This will help them begin to analyze dicey and good friendship dynamics, by seeing you model this for them. This is different than saying Suzie was so selfish and inconsiderate to not give everyone at school an invitation for her party.
  5. Teaching them to solve problems independently is the ultimate emphasis, and something that can be considered separately.  If your child comes home upset from school or a play date, you can ask them what happened and the following questions: “What did you try?”; “How did it work?”; and “What else could you try?” Give them time to respond to help the answer come from them.  When you do this, it helps parents get out of the routine of always telling their children what to do.

Let’s face it.  We are not always around to tell our children what to do.  We need to equip them with the skills to make good decisions on every front.  When they are equipped, a new behavior takes a hold, along with a sense of confidence and pride.

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


Children are all different when it comes to how they learning, studying styles, and the way they approach homework.  In our household, we have a self-starter, a child who needs a little prodding, and a non- homework “doer,” in the throes of preschool.  One of the most challenging times of the day, can be homework time.  The article “Homework Help for the Distractible Child,” at the Education.com website, briefly looks at common reasons for distractibility and offers some ways in which a parent can encourage their daydreamer with the homework process.

Children can be distracted for many reasons.  While people often think of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) a neurological disorder that impacts a child’s ability to focus and learn, children can also be distracted for other reasons. They include: stress, anxiety, depression, or a learning disability.  For purposes of this article, we will consider general ways to help any child who is distracted.

The article pulls tips from the book 10 Days to a Less Distracted Child, by Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D.  He states that parents need to firm, calm, and non-controlling.  If a child is melting down about homework and having great difficulty focusing, a parent needs to be an anchor and calmly steer the ship.  We all have probably seen it or “been there,” -where our responses escalates with our child’s, to no avail.  It is important to empathize, give space to vent, but not get involved in a power struggle.

Dr. Bernstein advises parents to help their children get past the “I can’ts.”  His first suggestion is for parents to suggest to their children to go with the thought “they can.”  He says that parents should establish this mood/mode, leave the room, and see what happens. He also suggests some helpful probes when the “I can’t’s,” start.  You can say “Can you tell me how and where you are getting stuck?  Or perhaps “What part of the instructions are unclear?”  Or even maybe “Tell me what you think the answer is.”

Some of Dr. Bernstein’s suggestions are the tried and true.  He is a big believer in a set time to do homework.  While some kids can do homework right away, he states that many distractible children need downtime to decompress and relax, before they can go back at it.  He underlines the value of knowing your child’s learning style to best help her through the homework process. For example, if they are an auditory learner, answering questions about a reading passage, may be best done by reading out loud (you or your child) and helping them process the passage and questions this way.  Visual learners might best get spatial relationships by a piece of cut fruit or a group of pasta, coins, candy, etc to process a problem. Or perhaps they can draw a diagram, a picture, a make a writing web to best sort out their ideas.

Prioritizing the homework load can go miles according to the author, as can praise, support, and guidance.  Asking questions like “Do you know what you should do?”; “Do you have everything you need to complete the task?” can do wonders to move a distracted child into action.  Encouraging them to break down projects, problems into bite size pieces, huge.  He also points out the value of obtaining extra text books for home.  A distractible child may be prone to forgetting hers.  With Common Core standards today, it might be a helpful guide to the parent who is trying to instruct, guide, and reinforce children through new math, etc. Homework may always be a struggle. But it is a necessary part of learning and reinforcing what is taught at school.  While distractible children may find homework more formidable, a calm, knowledgeable, and positive parent can help the process be more bearable, fruitful, and productive for child and parent alike.

 

 

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


As the new school year gets into gear, perhaps you would like to spice up and “health up” the lunch you pack for your child.  I know that I sometimes feel like I get in a school lunch rut with our kids.  While giving them nearly the same thing everyday works, I would not consider making the same dinner every night.  Good food is just too exciting and important for that type of resignation.  I think I stay with the tried and true out of habit and the need to meet the tastes of three children.

I am ready to branch out!  At the “Eat Well,” website, there are some great ideas that can turn boredom on its sorry head.  From the “Pizza Roll- Up Bento Lunch” to the “Broccoli Cheese Pie” that brilliantly features the fifth food group -bacon (and can easily become a vegetarian entrée by skipping the bacon), there are great and delicious ideas here for lunch.  Even the most fickle pickle of children could find these offerings, many which have kid friendly fruits and vegetables on the side, appealing and desirable.  Think star shaped watermelon slices, and rainbow colored plates of fruits and vegetables!  These unique offerings go far to deliver a very “whole food” lunchtime meal.

Gone are the days of plain peanut butter sandwiches and hello to the days of healthier, and more interesting yum!  However, remember to throw in that old favorite once in a while.

 

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


We are at that point. The school supply list has been fulfilled and a week or two of school is done.  If not, it will be done shortly.  It got me thinking about the other ways in which I would like to be prepared for the school.  I am thinking of this as a different type of school supply list.  It is really one about emotional reserves and the essence of parenting and supporting a school aged child.

May the kids have sharpened pencils, instead of sharp words in the morning or in the evening, at homework and dinner time.  With their folders, may we enfold them in enough hugs on a daily basis.  With their lunch boxes, may they be nourished by the time we have as a family and the time they have with their extended family and friends.  Along with their books for school, may they have a great book that they picked and love reading.

May Math be fun and not dreaded.  May someone explain it to them well so it is so.  In their new school shoes, may they know they never walk alone and know that there aren’t any mountains too steep to climb.  On their long bus ride or walk to school, may they know they are fortunate to have the privilege of going to school, and that not all children in the world have the same privileges.  Alongside their notes from class, may there be affirming notes from us.

May each requirement that they are facing under Common Core, be met with equal parts courage, resiliency, and understanding.  May they know when these supplies feel or truly are in short supply, there are some other loving and caring adults in their lives that are also there for them, they are called teachers and school administrators.

May their dreams never be in short supply.  If assignments are missing or certain requirements are not met, may we make sure it is not something missing on our part or behalf.  When they are scared, feeling down, or overwhelmed, may it met be with a large supply of love and a healthy dose of laughter.  This school year, may both of their school supply lists not be in short supply….

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