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From the Editor - Welcome Letter Archives

Family EditorsBelow you'll find some of our favorite From the Editor archive of welcome letters that have appeared on the Raising a Family stage of life home page.  Take some time to read the stories, advice and information passed along about their experiences raising children.

Previously from our StageofLife.com Editors...

Family Editor's Welcome

Enduring Cheap Entertainment

By Nicole Mullis, Raising a Family Editor

I have a place in my house for annoying toys – the dusty top of the refrigerator. My kids know if I put something there, it is dead to us. This shouldn’t work, but it does.

Current top-of-the-fridge residents include a cap gun, a megaphone that makes your voice sound like a robot, a light saber, the cooking implements for the Easy Bake Oven, and a harmonica. They are up there because they’ve been dangerous or annoying or fought over to the point of bodily harm.

My kids are older and I haven’t added to the fridge collection in some time. A couple months ago, a stray balloon turned up in our yard. Simple, blue, filled with nothing but carbon dioxide. My son picked it up and proceeded to drive me bonkers with it.

Together with my youngest, they invented a volleyball-type game. They pushed back my coffee table. They took an old stuffed snake from the chest of forgotten toys and made a centerline in my living room. This was where the banging and sliding and shoving took place.

Every slap, tap and smack of this balloon echoed through the house, along with the screams, bangs and shouts of kids competing. I hate the squeal made by pinching a balloon. I wanted to confiscate the thing but they were entertaining themselves. And, judging by the violence of their entertainment, the balloon wouldn’t last long.

The next morning, my son came to breakfast with the balloon. He prodded my youngest through her cereal and the game resumed. Arguments erupted every few minutes as the rules grew more complicated. It was now part hockey, part congressional hearing, and all annoying.

The next day a pink balloon showed up in our yard. It was cupped near the door in a purposeful way. I started thinking someone was playing a joke on me – maybe a neighbor or a bored circus clown. Turns out, my kids found it floating in the neighborhood and left it there for later.

This was when my oldest got in on the action. Initially, she was irritated. Now she wanted to improve the game. She suggested a “double-tap” rule and demanded they be able to spike the balloons over the coffee table.

This resulted in the overturning of my rocking chair, the stubbing of several toes, the fleeing of the dog to the laundry room and, once, the near-fiery end of my house.

I keep candles in the living room because I like them and it’s a living room, not a gym. One of the balloons drifted over the fireplace, where I had three candles burning. My son barreled into the mantle to prevent losing his double-tap while my youngest shrieked, “IT DOESN’T COUNT!”

I was done.

I tried hiding the balloons at night but they were too floaty to stay hidden. Why couldn’t I bring myself to banish them to the fridge? True, they were dangerous, annoying and being fought over to the point of bodily harm. But my kids were playing happily for days. Together.

Eventually, the balloons popped and my kids moved on to driving each other up the wall, plugging into the computer, dying of boredom, and begging to go places.

As their summer vacation drags on, I find myself checking the yard for stray balloons.

And don't forget to check out the current Raising a Family Writing Contest.

Family Editor's Welcome

The Beauty of Because I Said So

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

Are you comfortable with saying those four words, “Because I said so,” to your child? Most parents would answer no, that those words can damage a child’s self-esteem and the parental relationship with the child.

That much-maligned phrase has become the pariah of parenting, the one thing you never want to be caught uttering to your children. Rest assured, dear reader, that I have uttered those words many times to my children and the sky hasn’t fallen.

But I will lay out my case for making “Because I said so” part of every parent’s vocabulary. Here are four excellent reasons why sometimes, it’s the only answer to a child’s question or comment.

  1. “Because I said so” reaffirms parental authority. Parents shouldn’t have to explain themselves constantly to their children. Let’s face it, our explanations are not going to be acceptable anyway because children aren’t logical beings, so we save ourselves—and them, too—from fruitless conversations or arguments.
  2. “Because I said so” gives a child an honest answer. Sometimes, the reason is only because you, the parent, want something done a certain way. That’s all there is to it, and using those four words conveys that to the child.
  3. “Because I said so” eliminates needless arguments between parent and child. Children are not going to understand our reasons for most things we do until they are parents themselves.
  4. “Because I said so” says the parent knows best for the child. Children have no concept of what’s in their best interest, so parents have to step in and guide them until the child reaches adulthood.

Keep in mind that “Because I said so” should never be shouted at a child, only delivered in a warm, resolute voice. The words are essentially asking the child to trust the parent to do the right thing. Kids don’t know what is the best thing for them—they are governed by emotions and wants.

As with any child-rearing method, use “Because I said so” sparingly, as it’s not right for every situation. Having a stock phrase like “Because I said so” will benefit both parent and child when it’s used judiciously, appropriately and lovingly. I encourage you to add it to your repertoire today.

And don't forget to check out the current Raising a Family Writing Contest.

Family Editor's Welcome

Cutting Back on Kid Commutes

By Nicole Mullis, Raising a Family Editor

I’d like to propose a law. 

Minors who cannot drive themselves will be limited to one extra-curricular activity per week. Fines for offenders will double during the months of May and June.

I know. It sounds a little unconstitutional, but hear me out.

As any parent will tell you, May and June is when a child’s school activities and summer activities converge like two opposing storm fronts, creating a great funnel cloud of chaos. Classes, rehearsals, recitals, tournaments, practices, lessons, sessions, fittings, field days, field trips, double-headers, etc. At the eye of that cloud is a car. And driving that car is a sleep-deprived adult.

And we all know what happens when funnel clouds move.

Between rush hour, construction crews, and unpredictable weather systems, we are perpetually late for something. Every red light, every orange barrel, every grey cloud stirs our anxiety. Main roads or back roads? Chance the train or backtrack to the bridge? Stop for a Big Mac or make due with Tic-Tacs? One wrong guess and you have a disappointed and possibly malnourished child.

And I don’t want that. No parent does. It’s our job to make sure our kids are well-rounded, which culturally means running around, changing lanes and parking badly. We’re a well-intentioned but scary bunch of people and we’re all on the road between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.  

If we pass my law, all those parents could go home and take a nap, reducing traffic volume, childhood obesity and our dependence on foreign oil.

Plus, my house could have toilet paper.

I’m not kidding. One morning, while reviewing the day’s events with my semi-conscious offspring, my oldest announced, “There’s no toilet paper in our bathroom.”

The other two perked up over their Fruit Loops and chimed in that my bathroom was also out of toilet paper.

I stopped reviewing.

I picked up my grocery list, which had nothing on it, and wrote toilet paper. My eyes strayed to all the to-dos, which were basically the same: run, Run, RUN! Panic hummed like caffeine through my brain. Unless TP was in my glove box, I was doomed.

And that’s when it hit me. One person cannot effectively be the driver, the cook, the tutor, the counselor, the errand girl, the finder-of-lost things and the replenisher-of-toilet-paper. It’s too many hats and not enough driver’s licenses.

I’m not saying I want my kids to drive sooner. My son’s been pretending to race cars since he was two and my oldest shrieks horror-film style whenever we have to merge on the highway and there’s a truck. Just imagining them behind the wheel makes my auto insurance premiums rise.

Still, I can understand why my parents were as keen for me to drive at sixteen as I was. They needed boots on the ground, well, in the car. They needed someone to buy milk and get my brother from karate and drive my sisters to dance. And who better than an eager teen who was clutching her cassette tapes to her chest just dying to get in the car and DRIVE.

I would love to have such a person right now. Better yet, I’d like my law to pass. I could whittle down my kids’ calendar without guilt and buy toilet paper in peace. No insurance hikes required.

And don't forget to check out the current Raising a Family Writing Contest.

Family Editor's Welcome

The Creativity of Boredom

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

Can anything good come out of being bored? The answer may surprise you.

With summer right around the corner, parents will soon hear cries of “I’m bored” from their children. But is being bored such a terrible thing?

Boredom is a relatively new thing, as children of previous centuries had not free time in which to be bored. In fact, if a medieval times child had displayed boredom symptoms, the person would be charged with committing “acedia, a ‘dangerous form of spiritual alienation’—a devaluing of the world and its creator.” Acedia was labeled as sin, what with all the things a family had to do for mere survival during that time period.

With the many labor-saving devices of our American households, most U.S. children have the luxury of free time, which they tend to fill with electronics. However, that constant stream of electronic stimuli has breed a new boredom epidemic, one that’s fueled by an ever-growing need of kids for constant electronic amusement, from video games to television and movies to Angry Birds to iPads and computers.

Parents are partly to blame for this new, negative form of a numbed mind because of their lack of tolerance for any whining from their children. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen toddlers in a grocery cart, their eyes fixed on the screen of their mom’s smartphone, oblivious to the world around them. At the first peep from a young child at the doctor’s office, out comes the smartphone and into the little hands goes the electronic babysitter.

Of course, we as parents are no different, are we? We numb our own minds with electronic stimuli all day long, from constant Facebook and Twitter checks, to texting while walking, driving, sitting at a traffic light, at the table, at the store, etc. It’s starting to be the exception when you see a grown-up in public who’s not tethered to a phone or tablet (that would be me!).

When our kids see us always being “entertained” and plugged in with electronic devices, it’s no wonder they beg for the same pacifier. We’ve forgotten how important the right kind of boredom can be to stimulate creativity and spurts of pure fun and genius.

There’s “an important distinction between a constructively bored mind and a negatively numbed mind. Constructively bored kids eventually turn to a book or build a fort or pull out the paints … and create or come home sweaty from a game of neighborhood basketball,” writes Richard Louv in his excellent call for kids to be outdoors, Last Child in the Woods.

This summer, I challenge you to unplug your kids for a week. No TV, no video games, no movies, no smartphones or computers or tablets. Just them and their world. Sure, the first day will be spent with them saying they have nothing to do, but if you persevere and don’t give in, soon they will find their imaginations again, and that will be a beautiful thing.

For non-electronic ideas, check out my ebook Boredom Busters. Only 99 cents on Kindle and iPad, Nook and other devices.

And don't forget to check out the current Raising a Family Writing Contest.

Family Editor's Welcome

Nobility and Cupcakes

By Nicole Mullis, Raising a Family Editor

Grade-schoolers love to party. Every holiday, every class event, every birthday requires a celebration. And celebrations require food. And food requires parents.

There was a time I embraced this call to the kitchen on my children’s behalf. Not to brag, but baking is in my blood. The first recipe I mastered was for chocolate chip cookies. Then I moved onto pies, cakes, muffins, brownies and eventually dabbled in the “official” food groups one has to eat to get to dessert. I was ready for my oldest to party at school.

Or so I thought.

I baked all day, pouring batter into cute little cupcake wrappers purchased just for the occasion. I frosted the cupcakes a kid-friendly pink and dusted them with sprinkles purchased just for the occasion. And when my recipe that promised to make 24 cupcakes made only 21, I returned to the store. And when I dropped one of the cupcakes, needing a 25th cute little cupcake wrapper, I returned to the store.

I was done around midnight – hating all things cute and cake.

The next morning, I had to transport my masterpieces to school. Moving 24 top-heavy, frosted pastries wasn’t simple. I scrubbed out my muffin tins and reinserted the cupcakes as if they were enriched and slightly unstable uranium. I laid protective cellophane over the top, which clung to everything but the pan and gouged a cupcake. I remedied this by dipping it in sprinkles. Sprinkles cover all sins.

The cupcakes needed babysitters to survive the car ride and my babysitters were all babies. Fortunately, I’m a resourceful control freak. I drove 20 miles under the speed limit with a cupcake tin balanced on my lap, another wedged in the passenger seat, and an angry commuting mob riding my bumper. It wasn’t safe but I was no longer rational. Those cupcakes were my calorie-laden children.

Getting to school was one thing. Getting the cupcakes into the building was another. Both my kids and my baked goods required me to ferry them across the parking lot. I decided to take my kids across first. Barely. After conscripting the school secretary to watch them, I delivered the cupcakes to the classroom. I went home exhausted, coated in frosting and splattered with sprinkles.

Repeat this about eight dozen times and you get the last eight years of my mommyhood. Always midnight, always frustrated, always leaving in a powdered-sugar huff.

I remember the first time I saw a mother dropping off a box of purchased cupcakes professionally sprinkled according to the occasion. She looked relaxed – like she had slept, showered and drove the speed limit. I couldn’t help thinking, CHEATER. Now I think, SMART!

I’ve discovered kids only care about three things when it comes to party treats:  I want one, I want the best one, I want another one. They don’t care if you or the Keebler Elves made them. Besides, after extra mixes, extra eggs, extra tins, extra frosting, extra sprinkles (which are the price per ounce of gold), and extra-strength Tylenol, the elves beat you on price every time.

Baking is noble, but the only thing required for a successful grade school celebration is enough identical goodies for every kid in the class. Nobility has its line. And for class parties, that line starts at the bakery.

And don't forget to check out the current Raising a Family Writing Contest.

Family Editor's Welcome

Parental Vision

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

How would you describe your child at age 30? How you answer that question tells about your parenting vision for your children.

I can almost guarantee not one of you reading this blog said:

  • Graduate at the top of his high school or college class
  • Get into an Ivy league school
  • Play a professional sport
  • Have a fancy house or a high-paying job.

I’ll bet you listed things like:

  • Honest
  • Hard working
  • Responsible
  • Respectful
  • Loving
  • Godly
  • Truthful.

All those are characteristics. These are character traits, not achievements.

Think about the vision you have for your children and then think about how you are parenting. Do your decisions as a parent reflect the vision you have for your kids? Do the things you encourage your children to accomplish build toward the vision you have for them as adults?

When you have a clear vision for your children, then your parenting decisions will come easier. Taking the long view of raising kids will help you in the short term.

I encourage you to talk with your spouse and write down the vision you have for your child as a 30-year-old. Then post it somewhere in the house for you and your spouse to look at on a regular basis.

Now whenever you wonder what to do about discipline, consequences, addressing behavior, and virtually any parental decision, think about that vision. For example, if your child shirks his chores, remember that you want him to be hard working and responsible. That should assist you in your correction of his behavior.

If your child is being mean to her sibling, keep in mind you want her to grow up to be loving and act accordingly. If you aim the parental arrow of discipline to the bulls eye of that vision and shoot, even if you miss the center, you’ll still be shooting within the range of your vision.

Having a vision for your kids and keeping that vision in mind as you parent will get you over both the rough and smooth patches of child-rearing. What is your vision?

Do you have a parenting question you would like to see answered on this blog? Email Sarah with Parenting Question in the subject line. Sign up for Practical Parenting, Sarah’s a free, monthly e-newsletter with commonsense advice on child rearing, by visiting www.parentcoachnova.com and clicking on the newsletter tab.

Sarah Hamaker is a certified Leadership Parenting Coach™ through the Rosemond Leadership Parenting Coach Institute. She’s also a freelance writer and editor. Sarah lives in Fairfax, Va., with her husband and four children. Visit her online at www.parentcoachnova.com and follow her on Twitter @novaparentcoach.

And don't forget to check out the current Raising a Family Writing Contest.

Family Editor's Welcome

Being a Mom Practitioner

By Nicole Mullis, Raising a Family Editor

My son awoke with a 102.6 fever, dizziness and no appetite. I took one look at his throat and called the doctor.

“What’s he coming in for?” the nurse asked.

“He has Strep Throat.”

Not “I think he has it.”  I know he has it. He needed antibiotics, probably Keflex, or my whole house was going down.

Sure enough, three hours later, the doctor called it a “textbook Strep case” and some time after lunch, my son was grimacing down “the pink stuff”.

Look, I’m not a doctor, but I am what I like to call a Mom Practitioner. I never went to medical school but after a dozen years of nursing my kiddies through sore throats, bad coughs, troubled tummies, itchy rashes and Spring Fever, I can triage like a pro.

Pink Eye? First try. Stomach Flu? Know what to do. Influenza? No problema.

My fellow Mom Practitioners and I know how to clean a wound, clean an ear, clean a nose. We know what to feed a kid to get them to go, to stop them from going and to regulate their going. We can take a temperature in three different places on the body and dose Tylenol to weight. We know when to check for fever and how to tell the difference between a viral rash and an allergic one. We know the loose cough, the tight cough and which one requires a doctor’s trip.

I didn’t always know these things. When my eldest was born I was both clueless and squeamish. My hands shook when I tried to trim her fingernails and I fretted when a hic-cup spell lasted longer than an hour.

My medical training came through the school of mistakes and overreactions—unnecessary doctor visits, frantic phone calls to after-hour hotlines, ill-advised trips to the ER, being told 912 times, “It’s a virus.”  I paid my dues in wasted co-payments.

I’ve been hood-winked by bad doctors, educated by great ones, and enlightened by dozens of nurses. I’ve done my rounds in the sleep-deprived fields of parenthood, learning to read my children’s eyes and attitudes as well as their temperatures.

I discovered kids become asymptomatic in front of a doctor, so I take good notes. I know my oldest can run a 103 fever without blinking an eye but if my son runs the same fever he is on the verge of death.

More times than not, I know who to see, when to see them and, most of all, what can be handled at home.

This means I go to the pediatrician less now than ever. If I’m in the waiting room, you know it’s way beyond a humidifier and a Tylenol.

As I waited for my son’s positive Strep results, I started thinking. What if they gave us Mom Practitioners a Commonsense Antibiotic Pass?

If we know what it is, let us call it in. If we have one kid down with Strep or Pink Eye, trust us to know when the other kids have it. Why come in the office, take up precious appointments, and PAY for what we already know? This way there would be more time for the doctors to deal with the really scary stuff.

And less time my poor kid would have to wait for the pink stuff.

How do you handle TV viewing in your home? And don't forget to check out the current Raising a Family Writing Contest.

Family Editor's Welcome

Taking a Hard Look at TV

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

I’ve always been amazed by how so many parents get so defensive about their children’s television viewing habits. I’ve heard impassioned speeches of why watching Sesame Street is okay (“He learned his numbers!”), why Animal Kingdom is fine (“Last night was all about lions!”), and why Dora the Explorer is good (“She heard about why sharing is important!”).

Then there’s the parents who can’t imagine how anyone with a toddler or infant got anything done around the house without TV. “I had to take a shower,” or “I needed to cook dinner” have been frequent reasons for why said child is parked in front of the television.

Now research is catching up to what our grandmothers know instinctively: TV viewing should be a treat, not a daily occurrence. (And before you ask, yes, the TV in our house stays off for the entire day most days—even in the evening when the kids are in bed). Here are some highlights to get you thinking about your own TV viewing—and that of your children.

Early childhood viewing has been linked to later attention problems, including ADHD, while the American Academy of Pediatrics gets it right when it advises no TV viewing at all for kids under 2. Television often replaces reading. The University of Michigan Health reports that “Kids from families that have the TV on a lot spend less time reading and being read to, and are less likely to be able to read.”

TV viewing’s impact on school performance has long-term effects, such as increasing the chances of dropping out of school and declining chances of graduating from college. As one study put it, “All television shows, even educational non-commercial shows, replace physical activity in your child's life.”

A December 2012 Science Daily report found that the average American child between the ages of 8 and 18 sat in front of the television around 4.5 hours a day. Four and a half hours daily. “There was a stronger association between having a TV in the bedroom versus TV viewing time, with the adiposity and health outcomes,” wrote study co-author Dr. Amanda Staiano.

“A bedroom TV may create additional disruptions to healthy habits, above and beyond regular TV viewing. For instance, having a bedroom TV is related to lower amounts of sleep and lower prevalence of regular family meals, independent of total TV viewing time. Both short sleep duration and lack of regular family meals have been related to weight gain and obesity,” noted Dr. Staiano.

Another 2012 study reported in The Huffington Post found that children have exposure to background TV close to four hours daily, which expert say would likely hinder their development. “The sheer amount of exposure is startling,” said study author Jessica Taylor Piotrowski, an assistant professor with the Amsterdam School of Communication Research at the University of Amsterdam.

Even more troubling, children under the age of 2 had more exposure to background TV daily: five and a half hours. “Experimental studies have shown that background TV exposure has been linked to lower attention when kids are playing and weaker parent-child interactions,” said Piotrowski in The Huffington Post.

Dr. Michael Rich, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center on Media and Child Health, noted that background TV effects both parents and kids. “We do know that when parents have a TV on, the level of communication drops dramatically,” he said. “We can't just say, 'Oh, it's nothing. It's just background [TV].’ It's in our field, and it's designed to grab and keep re-grabbing [children’s] attention.”

What do these studies mean for parents? At the very least, I think we should all take a good, hard look at all TV viewing—educational, recreational and background—and curtail the amount of time our kids are exposed to television.

How do you handle TV viewing in your home? And don't forget to check out the current Raising a Family Writing Contest.

Family Editor's Welcome

Bracing for Braces

By Nicole Mullis, Raising a Family Editor

I heard the words every parent dreads.

“Your child needs braces.”

I knew it was coming. I don’t know a parent who, after playing Tooth Fairy for years, doesn’t think their child has messed up teeth.

Fortunately, our dentist is a practical man. The one time I dared ask about the crooked smile on my sweet child, he told me he would keep an eye on it. Jaws grow and it takes a while to know.

Well, guess what? This winter, he knew.

I’ve never had braces, which is as close as I’ve come to winning the lottery. My baby brother and I had naturally straight teeth and spot-on bites. My other five siblings, however, had braces, retainers, palette spreaders, headgears and all sorts of medieval-looking devices.

Although I didn’t experience it firsthand, I helped with the dumpster diving that went into recovering retainers left at restaurants, waited hours at the orthodontist, and took advantage of my siblings being in too much pain to play with their sorry-you-had-four-teeth-pulled Rubik’s Snake.

The truth was I felt bad for my kid.

We met with the orthodontist. He said if we didn’t correct the problem, the teeth would continue to shift, causing bite problems, health problems and eventually tooth loss. He laid out his game plan. It wasn’t too awful. No oral surgery or headgears or spreaders. Just 18 months of braces and a lifetime of retainer wear.

He stressed to my son that wearing his retainer would be key, otherwise all the work would be for nothing. True. My brace-wearing siblings who were not retainer-wearing adults all experienced this shift.

So far, this sounded like a solid plan. The orthodontist left the room and his cheerful assistant sat down to discuss the cost.

This is where I blacked out momentarily.

She laid out an 18-month plan of lumps sums, monthly payments, penalties and paperwork. I nodded absently, thinking of my parents.

How did they do this five times over? No wonder my father hasn’t retired yet. And why are all my siblings still alive? Because I would have murdered the child who didn’t wear her retainer after I plunked down that much cash.

The lady gave my hand a little squeeze, a sympathetic smile on her face.

“I know. It’s a lot.”

Then she asked when I wanted to schedule an appointment.

I looked at my son, whose face held enough little boy to pull my heartstrings. Of course, I didn’t want him to lose his teeth. If only there was an Orthodontist Fairy who left C-notes under the parents' pillow.

I went home and broke the news to my husband. We talked about things that would have to wait – like saving for a cottage or screening in the back deck. Depressing.

That weekend, we celebrated my father-in-law’s birthday. My son was enjoying his last hours of unrestricted eating. My father-in-law watched his grandson consuming tortilla chips, recalling the day he found out both his sons needed braces.

“I called it my bass boat.”

My husband’s grandfather called his sons’ braces the second car.

For some reason, this made me feel better. We’re not the first parents wrestling tight budgets, simple dreams and crooked teeth. Like them, our kids come first, which means putting our money where our…well, our kid’s mouth is.

Family Editor's Welcome

Parent Watch

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

Whenever we go to the indoor playground at my local mall, I find myself watching the parents more than the kids. During a recent visit with my four-year-old son, I saw at least six different types of parents.

The Follower. This is the parent who hovers a step or two behind their child. The Follower is quick to help the child overcome any obstacle. This parent is quick to lift him to the top of the climbing structure rather than letting the child try to do it by himself.

The Documenter. This parent sticks close by the child with the intent to record the child’s every “accomplishment” no matter how minor. The click of a camera follows the child’s every move, like the child has her own entourage of paparazzi.

The Commentator. Similar to the Follower, this parent keeps up a running patter to accompany the child’s circuit of the play area. The one-sided conversation sounds like a radio sports broadcaster describing a game on the field: “Oh, you’re going to the train. What sound does a train make? Wooh, wooh. Are you a conductor or a passenger?”

The Player. This is the parent who gets down on his knees to play with his child. The Player interacts with the child constantly, doing ever sillier things and directing the child’s play, forgetting that the parent is not the child’s peer.

The Referee. This parent jumps in whenever there’s the tiniest conflict between her child and another. The Referee rarely allows the children to figure out things on their own. She orchestrates the makeup and will usually make the children play according to her rules.

The Relaxer. This parent sits on the sidelines, checking on her child every once in a while, but trusting that the child can solve his problems on his own. She prefers to let the kid do the playing, while she reads a book.

Which type of parent are you?

Family Editor's Welcome

The Reward of Harder Math

By Nicole Mullis, Raising a Family Editor

My son loses interest in school around February. It’s been happening since kindergarten. I call it the Second Semester Slump. Usually, by March, his teachers are talking to me about his declining grades and I’m talking to him about his declining effort. And, every year, he gives me the same reason:  I’m bored.

I believe him. This January, he read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. In February, he started teaching himself HTML. In March, he took apart, fixed and reassembled the vacuum. I know he’s a smart kid but he rarely shows it in school. Most of his teachers see a quiet kid who doesn’t finish his assignments and forgets to sign his name on tests.

This year, instead of lecturing, I decided to empower the kid. Let him take charge of his own academic destiny. I sat him down, told him I loved him and reminded him he had my full support. Then, I asked him for a plan.

He shrugged. Then, he asked me what was for dinner.

No problem. I implemented an interim plan until he came up with something. I began micromanaging his homework – making sure it came home, was done and turned in on time. He hated this and I hated it more. After two days of passive-resistance and passive-insistence, we were both fried. I asked if he had a plan yet because the interim plan stunk.

“Maybe I would do better if I had a reward to look forward to.”

A reward? Well, it wasn’t a great plan, but it was a start.

I thought of all the things kids liked to be bribed with – money, movies, music, clothes, video games. What would be worth his passing the seventh grade? And should I really be bribing him to pass the seventh grade?

I asked what he had in mind.

“Could you give me harder math?”

Harder math?

“And grammar. Could you, like, give me harder things to learn?”

He wanted tougher homework to “reward” him for doing his required homework? I must have been confused, because the next words out of my mouth didn’t sound like me.

“I don’t know. Preparing all that extra work will take a lot of my time – time I’m currently spending checking your assignments.”

My son became animated. “I’ll do my school work first. Promise.”

Then, he took down the calendar and sketched out a tentative schedule of alternating math and grammar nights. It was more than a plan; it was a parental fantasy.

Of course, I agreed. What parent wouldn’t?

The next night he came home, went to practice, did his regular homework and waited for his “harder math”. The night after that, it was the same. The next night, he skipped watching television before bed to diagram sentences.

My husband was dumbfounded. As was I.

We waited for him to get bored, but it’s been a month and he’s still going strong. I have to scramble to prepare for his earnest face and sharpened pencil.

Recently, he brought home his progress report. His grades were up and his teachers were happy. My son kept his part of the bargain – passing the seventh grade in exchange for eighth grade work.

This got me thinking. Maybe if I gave him “harder” chores, he’d actually make his bed.

Family Editor's Welcome

Counteracting the Dark Side of Self-Esteem

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

High self-esteem has been the Holy Grail of childhood achievement for years, with many parents, educators, and child-rearing experts proclaiming its ability to heal all the ills of society. Children were heaped with lots of praise, even for mediocre or failing efforts, and all that positive reinforcement has created a generation of kids who think only of themselves. After all, everyone has told them their entire lives that they are wonderful, practically perfect people.

Even adults have jumped on the high self-esteem bandwagon, with employers doling out kudos for doing the basics on a job, and employees expecting a pat on the back for showing up every day at work. What nobody stopped to think about is how high self-esteem would impact the society as a whole.

When everybody thinks he or she is more important than anyone else—and that’s the result of being fed a steady diet of praise for anything and everything—then the culture suffers. A prime example is the way drivers treat funeral possessions these days.

The Washington Post ran a front-page article today about how motorists cut into the lines of cars with funeral placards, honk at the delay when a possession goes by, and other impatient, I’m-more-important-than-you actions. To me, this shows the low regard others have for being even slightly inconvenienced by waiting for a funeral possession to pass.

How we act when we’re inconvenienced says a lot about how we value others. Are we tapping our foot when the cashier makes a mistake checking us out? Do we roll our eyes and mutter under our breath when someone cuts us off at a light? Have we been guilty of expressing our displeasure when our late arrival to an appointment means we have to wait longer? Do we treat customer service personnel—in person, on the phone or on live chats—with respect and courtesy, no matter the interaction?

When these incidents happen in front of our kids, what does that show them? That we’re the most important people in the world, and therefore deserve special treatment from others. And if everyone believes that, lives their lives that way, we will soon have a society filled with rude, demanding and awful people.

With the New Year, let us all make a commitment to leave behind the babble of high self-esteem, and focus instead on being the best spouse, parent, neighbor, resident and citizen we can possibly be.

Let’s show our children that serving others brings joy and happiness, not just to the person being served, but to the those doing the serving.

Let’s commit to being more concerned with humbleness and respect for others than feeling good about ourselves at all costs.

Let’s live the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—each day, and encourage our children to do the same.

Let’s all make a commitment to make this holiday season one that not all about what we will receive and what others can do for us, but about what we can give and do for others.

Let’s take the focus off of us and our wants, needs, desires, feelings, and put it on others, showering our families, friends, co-workers, teachers, neighbors and fellow Americans of all shapes, sizes and color.

Light the light of humbleness and respect for others in your own hearts, and watch as your light glows in the lives of those with which you come in contact.

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Just a Kind Word, Please

By Buffy Lael, Raising a Family Editor

My daughter was diagnosed with Autism in August of this year.  To say it’s been a roller coaster ride would be like saying The Beatles were a “nice little band.”  It just doesn’t compute.  To be on the spectrum of Autism means that there are a few things that are out of sort for her.  She has sensory issues.  For her that means she doesn’t get enough information from her sensory system, but that’s not true for every Autistic kid.  There is also a social component to it as well.  It doesn’t mean that our kiddos are anti-social, what it means is that understanding social nuances do not come second nature. 

Think about it.  You learned social “rules” at a very early age.  Your mom would give you that “look” which either meant, “Put your brother down” or “stop asking Grandma for money” (sometimes it was hard to tell the difference).  That look was etched in your memory and when you saw something similar from a classmate or teacher, you began to understand that people’s faces tell a big part of the story.  Many autistic kids do not have that skill and it’s something that’s not easily taught.  For my daughter, it’s something we work on constantly.

I try to point out when I see a child crying, “Look, he’s sad” or I see someone laughing, “Look, she’s happy!”  so that she begins to understand that she’s going to have to look at faces.  Eye contact is a tough one for my girl, so we work on that as well.

This means when I’m out grocery shopping and my little “avoid looking at people, close my eyes and pretend they are not there” girl musters up the courage to look at you and say “Hi!”, that you must respond back!  It’s really not too much to ask.  A simple, “Hi there” will do.  I’m not asking you to recite the Preamble for her.  I just want your help, if only briefly, to get the point across to her that communication is important.  You may just be a passer-by, but you are integral in the process!

I’ve been shocked at the number of folks who just fly right past her, don’t look look at her, acknowledge her or toss her a smile.   In fact, I think that it should be everyone’s social rule that when a child, ANY child, says hello to a grown-up we should have the decency to say hello back! 

It’s just a simple, kind word.  Please.

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Winter and a Mother's Love

By Nicole Mullis, Raising a Family Editor

As a kid, I loved winter. As a mother, I’m not so fond of it. I don't mind lazy Saturdays building snowmen, but I detest the daily grind of school recess.

Getting kids to school is enough of a challenge during September’s sun-drenched mornings. Add ten pounds of outerwear and the dark, bitter cold of January, and you get chaos.

It’s not that I’m against winter recess. I understand you can only keep kids indoors with long division so long before they melt down. However, that half-hour of playtime adds dozens of man-hours to my work week.

The problem is two-fold. First, my kids suffer from Minute Amnesia – the minute they put something down, they forget about it. Second, they built up an incredible tolerance to nagging. When I ask, “Are you sure you have your coat?”, they hear, “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?”  As such, it takes hours to find their winter accessories and more hours to put them on properly.

Velcro is the only fastening system that doesn’t regularly befuddle my youngest. This means I spend most of my morning on my knees zipping, snapping and strapping. It’s not that big of a deal, unless my oldest chooses this time to recite the pre-teen None of my Friends Litany.

“None of my friends wear a hat!”

“None of my friends wear boots!”

“None of my friends wear snow pants!”

It’s amazing none of her friends have walking pneumonia. It’s amazing I’m still sane.

Preparing for departure rivals only the departure itself. My kids buffalo to the mini-van, clutter the floorboards with bags, and beg me to turn up the heat. Fifteen minutes later, they beg me to turn on the air conditioning. When I refuse, they shed half their gear. This means ten claustrophobic minutes of reassembling their ensembles in a wet, metal box.

Finally, I get the satisfaction of watching them lumber to the playground, each thermal layer a testament to their mother’s love. A mother’s love, however, is no match for Minute Amnesia. I may send them off abominable snowmen but they always return spring chickens - hatless, gloveless, bootless, bagless.

I try to prepare for this. I have backup clothes for my backup clothes but, inevitably, they will clean me out by January. My weekly pilgrimage to the school’s Lost and Found tells me I’m not alone. Still, I wish they sold kids’ outerwear in six-packs or created one-piece thermal jumpsuits that zip themselves and have global positioning systems.

At least items in the Lost and Found are dry. My children play hard and their clothes are often soggy and filthy. There is nothing like the stinky, pulpy mess that results from wet snow pants and homework sharing a backpack until dinner. Every evening I repeatedly ask what needs to be dried and they just stare at me with that Squarepants Look in their eyes. Then the next morning, with ten minutes to launch, they inundate me with wet, stinky gloves.

Normally I would make them deal with the consequences of their irresponsibility. However, when punishment means pneumonia, I’d rather just dry the gloves. Fifteen minutes with a Downy sheet on high provides enough April Freshness to get them to school and remind me the real April is just around the corner.

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Reviving the Lost Art of Writing Thank You

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

As a child, Christmas meant the smell of a fresh pine tree, glittering with lights and ornaments. There was the thrill of anticipation when awakening Christmas morning and heading downstairs to see the pile of presents nestled underneath the tree. Then reality crashed down the day after when my mother handed me a stack of notepaper and envelopes, and sent me to my room to write thank you letters.

She didn’t send me in ill-prepared, as from an early age—as soon as I could write—she taught me what to say in the notes. The basic components haven’t changed, and I’ve been teaching my children how to properly write thank you notes.

·         Start out with a greeting (Dear Aunt Jan)

·         Open with general thanks for the gift (Thank you for the book on knitting)

·         Say a little something about the gift or how you’ll use it (I can’t wait to start knitting a scarf for my doll)

·         Close with gratitude for the present (I appreciate your taking the time to send me such a lovely gift or Thanks again for the knitting book).

For monetary gifts, the only thing that changes is mentioning how you’ll use the funds (and you don’t mention the specific amount).

In our household, I make sure the gifts are thanked with a handwritten note from the older children and a drawing with signature from the younger ones. Thank yous must be written within days of opening the gifts.

And how do I handle the inevitable complaints? With raised eyebrows and saying, “If you can’t write the note, you don’t get the gift.” The kids know I say what I mean and mean what I say, so that’s usually the last peep on the subject.

It might seem old-fashioned in today’s increasingly electronic world to push children to hand-write thank yous, but consider what they learn while doing so:

  • Appreciation for the gift and giver
  • Legible penmanship
  • Letter composition.
  • Common courtesy.

I encourage you this holiday season to start a new tradition of writing thank-you notes—and it wouldn’t hurt for Mom and Dad to set the example by writing notes yourself.

Do you make your children write thank you notes after tearing open their holiday gifts?

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Christmas Lists

By Nicole Mullis, Raising a Family Editor

Christmas is the ultimate to-do list with the ultimate deadline.

Even Santa has a list, which he allegedly checks twice. This makes sense. He’s only got one decision:  Naughty or Nice. My list is a little more complicated, requiring slightly more checking. There are kid gifts, family gifts, teacher gifts, school recitals, dance recitals, piano recitals, Christmas cards, Christmas cookies, Christmas parties and toy instruction booklets written entirely in hieroglyphics.

Santa gets a team of elves. I get a roll of Tums.  Which is why, at some point during the holiday season, I am D-O-N-E done with the holiday season. And I start thinking about dumping some of it. The question is “what?”

It can’t be gifts. Yes, presents have that holiday hijacker feel. We might as well wish each other a “Merry Winter Solstice Gift Exchange”. But I’ve got kids who believe their behavior is graded with Barbie shoes and lumps of coal. They have no idea that Santa’s elves are rather lazy about “some assembly required” and the North Pole is suffering a perpetual battery shortage. Besides, when you see a kid—or anyone for that matter—get what they really want for Christmas it’s like splitting atoms in your living room. KA-BAM!  Worth every miserable minute in line and on-line.

It can’t be cards. I was born into a big family, married into a big family, and am blessed with a large network of friends. These are the people in the snapshots that mean something—my graduation, my wedding, my children’s baptisms. Some of them I haven’t seen in years and most of them I will not see during the holiday hubbub. Cards bridge this gap. They come to my house with letters and pictures and, best of all, familiar penmanship. Each signature, no matter how illegible, is an inky hug. The least I can do in return is write their names, add a few lines, and purchase a stamp.

It can’t be recitals. Opting out of your child’s Christmas recital, no matter how many there are, is a no-no. I admit the whole recital pre-game show is tedious—the rehearsals, the driving, the logistics, the bang-bang-bang and the squeak-squeak-squeak of grade-school musicians trying to find the high note in Jingle Bells. However, when I’m sitting in the audience watching them, it makes me emotional. It feels like what Christmas is supposed to feel like.

It can’t be food. Period. Christmas food is the best kind of food. And the Christmas season is the best time to eat. Nobody, not even health-nuts, are on a diet. It’s all gingerbread men and no guilt. So bring us the figgy pudding.

It can’t be decorations. Yes, I loathe decorating. I can’t think of one person who wants to scale an icy roof in December with an inflatable snowman and a snarling mess of lights. Filling your house with delicate things and lit candles and live trees and two dozen extension cords isn’t simple or fun. But it looks so cool. For a couple weeks, no matter where you go, the whole world is magic.

In short, the only thing I can afford to lose is my inner Grinch. Christmas may demand a lot of us, but it’s an investment in a good thing—a whole list of good things.

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Who's Sorry Now?

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

Apologizing has become an art form these days, with politicians, celebrities and CEOs saying “I’m sorry” in the public arena for misdeeds. Many times, the sincerity of such apologies are questions, with good cause in some cases. I sometimes shudder to think how all those public mea culpas look to children.

We want our children to apologize when they do something wrong. Usually, they can see—even if they don’t acknowledge—that their actions were not right and therefore an “I’m sorry” is needed.

But what about when the action was an accident, totally unintentional? Then it’s harder for the child to make the connection as to the apology’s necessary, but it doesn’t negate the fact that the apology should still be made.

One way we raise our children to be good citizens is to ensure they take responsibility for both their intentional and accidental actions. Whether they mean to hurt someone—with words or deeds—is not the point, and so many times we as parents get bogged down with the intent of the action. Instead, we should focus on the action’s outcome—hurt feelings or hurt bodies. If our child caused such hurt, whether it’s legitimate or not, whether it was on purpose or not, then the child should apologize.

In our family, we’ve tried to teach our children how to apologize. For instance, “I’m sorry,” isn’t enough. The child must say what he’s apologizing for. The child to whom the apology is given also needs to acknowledge the apology and tender forgiveness—at least verbally—by saying “I forgive you.”

Some wrongs might need more than a verbal apology. I’ve had my girls write letters of apology when they’ve hurt the feelings of a friend. The very act of putting down on paper why they are sorry can help them feel more remorse and also shows the other child their sincerity in the apology.

Children often don’t think to say they’re sorry because they’re still learning not to be self-centered. Helping them follow the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—is key to them realizing their need to apologize.

It’s difficult to apologize, because we don’t like to be in the wrong. We should remember that our children are watching us as we do—or don’t, as the case may be—apologize for our own wrongdoings. The more sincere and quick we are to say we’re sorry, the better example we’ll be for our children to follow.

How do you handle it when your child needs to say he’s sorry?

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Going Green

By Nicole Mullis, Raising a Family Editor

Gas isn’t getting cheaper, so my husband and I assessed our current car arrangement.

He drives an eleven-year-old compact to and from work every day.  I drive a five-year-old mini-van to and from a dozen kid spots a dozen times a day.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out who had the bigger carbon footprint.  Since I’m the children’s chauffer, we decided to switch vehicles.

This was rather humbling for me.  My mini-van is no prize but it looks nice once you get past the dings from those pesky parking blocks.  Our compact looks like we jump-started it in a salvage yard.  Everything about it screams “fuel-efficient” from the itty bitty body to the eco-friendly green color.  My first day in the school pick-up line, surrounded by lofty vans, one of my friends shouted out the window, “Going Green this week?”

Yep, that’s me.

There are no automatic locks, no automatic windows and no automatic window locks.  The car vibrates when one window is open and the other is not and between my three children one window is always open and the other is not.  In fact, they can’t leave the windows alone and have already lost several items to the ensuing wind tunnel.

The car has a manual transmission.  Many moons ago, driving a manual made me feel like a racecar driver.  Carting kids around makes me feel like a bus driver and shifting requires appendages I can’t spare.  I can’t shift and drink coffee.  I can’t shift and break up backseat fights.  I can’t shift and drive with my knee while looking for my cell phone.

I also forgot how low the car rides.  I feel like I’m driving under the pavement.  I no longer plow over train tracks and potholes for fear the bottom will fall out, forcing me to stop the car Flintstone-style.

Size is also an issue.  There is nothing mini about my mini-van.  The back seat is in a galaxy far, far away and there’s room for backpacks, friends and groceries.  Everything in a compact is compacted.  My children’s feet are compacted in my back, under my chair and over the emergency brake.  When they get rowdy, the whole car sways.  The first time my youngest popped her head next to mine, I nearly wrecked.

“Get back in your seat!” I yelled.

“I am in my seat, Mama,” she said cheerfully.

The only storage space is in the trunk, which regrettably is accessible from the backseat.  My children discovered this design flaw a couple weeks ago and now pop the seats up and down like the whack-a-mole game at a carnival.  I would stop them, but I’m too busy shifting.

Last week a friend and her son needed a ride after school.  Normally this isn’t an issue.  However, after squeezing in four kids, two adults, six bags, two coffee cups and a science project, I was literally shifting with my fingertips.  Our kids thought it was hilarious and, if I wasn’t the driver, I would agree.

It’s funny how life turns.  A year ago, we nearly gave this car to my little brother as payment for a babysitting job, now it’s my mini mini-van.  I know I’m saving us money and I’m possibly saving the planet but I might be losing my mind.

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Friend Me (Not)

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

To be your child’s friend or not to be, that is one of the biggest modern parenting questions. Many parents use the framework “Will my child still like me if I do X?” before making any decision, whether consciously or unconsciously. And having a child scream at you, “I hate you,” and run off crying to her room can devastate most parents.

Fifty years ago, parents didn’t worry about whether or not their children liked them. Fifty years ago, parents realized that being a good parent wasn’t going to be popular with the kids. Fifty years ago, parents knew that when a child yelled “I hate you,” it generally meant they were doing the right thing.

We need to realize that we shouldn’t worry so much about having our children’s approval. Keep in mind that by not concerning yourself with being liked by your kids, you will be a much more effective leader in your home. Someone needs to do the heavy lifting when it comes to the discipline and decision-making that is part of the growing-up process.  

Remember, the right decisions are not going to be popular. Who ever heard of a child protesting vehemently when you told him he was going out for ice cream? Children only protest when they don’t like the decision.

You as a parent should expect that one day, your child will shout to you the heart-rending words “I hate you”—because that’s what all kids do at some point. Children may say they don’t like you, but if you think about when they utter those words, it’s usually because they disagree with whatever decision (or consequence) you’ve just delivered. The reality is, you are giving them what they need, even though they can’t express it (and probably won’t appreciate it) until they are parents themselves.

Whenever the need to be liked by your children hits you, think about the future. Doing our job as leaders when our kids are under 18 lays the foundation for a lifetime of friendship. We only have a mere 18 years to train and mentor our kids, but many times over to be their friend when they become adults.

My mother and I clashed some during the teen years, and there were times when I—much to my embarrassment now—hollered that I hated her. Today, I’m grateful for the many years we’ve had of sweet friendship, of sharing and laughing and praying together, of being mother and daughter, yet friends as well. Years that I hope will continue well into the future.

So preserve in your calling as a parent, the authority in the home, by fixing your eyes on the long term goal instead of a short-term gain of being liked by your kids all the time. If we focus on raising responsible, caring, emancipated adults, we will have done our job well—and found a new friend in our grown children.

How do you handle unpopular decisions with your children?

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The One-Liner Special

By Nicole Mullis, Raising a Family Editor

There are two types of teens in the world – the ones that talk and the ones that don’t. I have one of each, and trust me, the chatty one is easy. The silent one keeps me up at night.

Granted, my son has always been quiet. He would make a great prisoner of war. If he doesn’t want to divulge information, he won’t. As a child, this wasn’t insurmountable. His whole life was in my face. A teen is a different animal. Even the chatty one has her secrets.

I can handle backtalk, rolled eyes, slammed doors and crying jags, but nothing gets my goat like silence. Unfortunately, you can’t make a sulky kid talk. My son had driven me up the wall for nearly a decade before I ceded that point.

Since I like the kid, I’ve done some research, talked with some creative folks and learned some new tricks. And it’s paid off, too. I no longer get the silent treatment; I get the One-Liner Special.

Did you do your homework? I don’t know.

Did you finish your chores? I don’t know.

Would you like to be grounded for the rest of your life? I don’t know.

Ah, communication.

My son, by his own admission, uses “I don’t know” as a verbal catchall when he’s feeling secretive. Sometimes “I don’t know” is an honest “I don’t know”. My job is to look at the delivery. If there’s no eye contact, poor posture and his lips are barely moving, “I don’t know” probably means, “I DO know but I’m not talking.”

Over time, my son has given me the opportunity to decipher a whole list of auto-responses. I’ve compiled the top 25 one-liners I hear on a regular basis. Perhaps, if you have a quiet teen in your life, these sound familiar.

  1. “It’s nothing.” Oh, it’s something – but you won’t like it.
  2. “I’ll do it later.” Not doing it.
  3. “No one told me.” Wasn’t listening.
  4. “I left it at school/home.” On purpose.
  5. “Me?” Busted.
  6. “What?” Busted and scrambling for a good excuse.
  7. “Huh?” Still scrambling.
  8. “What do you mean?” Still scrambling.
  9. “You didn’t tell me.” You did, but I won’t admit it.
  10. “Dad said it was fine.” Dad didn’t know you said no.
  11. “Okay.” Thinking about something else. Please stop bothering me.
  12. “Don’t worry.” Worry. A lot.
  13. “My teacher forgot.” I forgot.
  14. “My class didn’t get one.” I forgot.
  15. “We only had a day to turn it in.” I forgot.
  16. “I wasn’t watching TV.” I was watching things you hate on TV.
  17. “I needed the computer for homework.” I was checking my email.
  18. “It’s not cold.” I lost/damaged/was too cool for my coat.
  19. “You want me to do it again?” Never did it the first time.
  20. “I cleaned my room.” Don’t open the closet.
  21. “I don’t have any homework.” That I’m willing to do.
  22. “My friend wants to know.” I want to know.
  23. “What are you doing?” I need a favor.
  24. “Just wondering.” Dying to find out.
  25.  “It wasn’t me.” Totally me.

And the list grows every day. My son may be talking more but I’m not sure he has anything new to say.

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Throwing in the Towel

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

Sometimes, the solution to a parenting problem can be as easy as looking at the problem from a different angle. As parents, we often get hung up on enforcing a solution that causes angst to both child and parent when there might be a better way of accomplishing the same thing. Here’s a personal example:

Every time I passed the hall bathroom, which served both our guests and our children, a hand towel would be on the floor. This drove me crazy with a capital C. The kids—being only in the beginning of the civilizing process—would simply yank the towel off to dry hands and then toss it in the direction of the towel rack.

The two youngest children simply couldn’t reach the towel rack, so I told them to put the towel on the sink and I would come by later and re-hang it. No amount of correction made a lasting change. It seemed that I was destined to lose this battle, one that was increasingly grating on my nerves.

Then I had an epiphany while looking at the kitchen towel hanging so neatly on the fridge handle: What if I made the hall bath hand towels the same way? An hour or so of sewing transformed the hand towels.

Now, the towels hang nice and neat on the towel rack, and my blood pressure doesn’t rise every time I walk by the bathroom. The children can reach the towels and, after nearly a year of use, have yet to yank the rack off the wall by pulling too roughly on the hanging towels.

Best of all, it was a solution that solved a problem in a unique way. (Please note that I’m not recommending this approach for behavior problems.)

However, for those occasional problems that come our way as parents—such as hanging up coats after school (consider bins for the coats, mittens and hats) or keeping library books in one place (perhaps a basket for each child’s books that’s stationed near the front door)—thinking of a solution that makes it easier for the child to comply with your request might just be the ticket to a little less stress in your house.

What are some ways you have solved a similar problem?

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Second Helping

By Nicole Mullis, Raising a Family Editor

Something is missing in our lives. It took me a while to notice. It slipped away quietly but its absence is deafening. It’s our family dinner.

When I was first married, dinner was whenever the two of us got home at night. Could be four o’clock, could be eight. It was usually spaghetti or some poorly prepared Hamburger Helper. Maybe a beer split down the middle or tap water with ice. It didn’t matter. Dinner wasn’t about the food; it was about the company.

When our babies came, dinner was our nightly three-ring circus. High chairs, mashed peas, mac’n’cheese slipping off plates, sippy cups splurting milk, negotiations over dessert, dog eyeing the floor. It was more exercise than eating, but, still, we were together.

Eventually there was more conversation in the air and less food on the floor. We lingered over dessert, some nights nearly to bedtime. Since breakfast was staggered and lunch was off-site, dinner became our unspoken and rarely broken date.

It was the last meal standing and we acted like it would stand forever.

Our kids got older. Every grade brought more homework. Every night brought more activity. Dinner started shifting. Sometimes we broke bread right after school, sometimes right before bed. I messed with crock-pots, cold cuts, salads with pre-grilled chicken, anything to preserve our sacred hour even for a sacred twenty minutes.

Then there were nights when overtime, extra innings, dress rehearsals and make-up lessons made that twenty minutes impossible.

In this do-more-with-less economy, we work longer and later. My husband used to slip home for supper before a late meeting. Now he slips home to take a kid to practice.

These are the chauffer years, when our kids are old enough to have convoluted schedules but not driver’s licenses. When school lets out, I grab my car keys and start making the rounds – bringing one to ballet class, another to music lessons, the third to ball practice, then returning for the one at ballet class, the one at music lessons, the one at ball practice.

I throw food out of the fridge whenever there are mouths to receive it. If we’re lucky, two or three might share a pizza or a bowl of chili together. Often it’s in the backseat of the car.

Sometimes we have The Dinner, like on someone’s birthday. This is okay, except The Dinner is involved. Holiday-level involved. Lots of planning, lots of shopping, lots of dishes. It’s a good meal but I worry about things like whether the pork is done in the middle or the pie is crisp on the bottom. I set timers.

What I miss happens around the kitchen table on a Tuesday, not the dining room table on a Sunday.

I miss sloppy joes and potato chips and three cans of Coke split between five everyday glasses. I miss loitering around the table, laughing and teasing each other. I miss leftovers and the last of the ice cream and the conversations that go off on tangents. I miss the Meatloaf Moments that bond a family in a way the Thanksgiving Turkey never could.

I know it was inevitable. Kids grow and families change and things like nightly suppers become memories. I’m lucky those memories are good. So good, in fact, I’d like a second helping.

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Chores, or How I’ve Stopped Cleaning the House

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

This summer, I revamped our household chores, realizing that it’s high time I stopped doing most of the cleaning around here. With four kids between the ages of 4 and 9, I had a ready and able army of helpers.

I sat down and wrote out all the chores I knew my kids were capable of handling. Then I wrote up specific instructions as to how those chores should be done, leaving nothing to the imagination. Finally, I mapped out who would do which chores on what days, putting in what time said chores must be accomplished. (It’s best to be as specific as possible to avoid “misunderstanding” when kids are involved.)

Reviewing the list, I realized nearly every household cleaning task could be assigned to the children, from washing the kitchen floor to vacuuming, from taking out the trash to doing the dishes. Once everything was in place, I called a family meeting and informed the children of the new chores.

While not exactly excited about the prospect—although my five-year-old did do a fist-pump upon being told his job would be setting the table for dinner—the kids have proved to be fairly proficient at cleaning. Not perfect, but with gentle instruction and encouragement, they will soon be doing it as well as any grownup.

Some parents balk at the thought of having their children “work” around the house. To that, I say, aren’t your children consumers in the family? Are they not part of the family? Then they should contribute to the upkeep of the family.

If you need more convincing, here are some positive benefits of chores.

Chores build confidence. Just listen to my oldest brag to her friend that she’s “old enough to do the dishes.” She has discovered that she’s capable of doing something without assistance, something that contributes to the family.

Chores build character, specifically a good work ethic. Being a good employee when they grow up is started by teaching them how to be a good member of the family through chores. Believe me, your child’s future employer will thank you.

Chores build responsibility. Giving your children the opportunity to serve within your family shapes their sense of responsibility.

One final note about chores and compensation: Well-meaning parents tie chores to allowances, and that can create a world of problems. To wit, if a child doesn’t want the money, then he doesn’t have to do the chore, right? Chores are service to the family—if you pay for the chore, then it’s no longer an act of service. So separate chores from allowances.

So start handing over more of the housework to your children and watch their character, confidence and responsibility grow.

How does your family handle chores?

Family Editor's Welcome

Bad to the Bone

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

Babies exude innocence. After all, they are quite helpless, needing someone to feed, change, dress and do a host of other things for them.

But contrary to popular wisdom, babies are not all sweetness and light—they are, frankly, bad. They can’t help it because they—and everyone else—are born that way. It’s hard to look at your baby and think of him as a heathen in every since of the world.

Especially as mothers, we learn early on how to differentiate our baby’s cry, classifying it as hungry, sleepy, unhappy and angry. And boy, do babies get angry sometimes. They might not have words to express their angst, but they certainly have a good set of lungs and can fill the air with their angry cries.

I’ve always been amazed by parents who persist in viewing their children as angels who have to be taught to be disobedient, to steal, to lie, to cheat, to do bad things.

If you’re still not convinced, just think about your children when they were toddlers. Did you go around teaching them to scream and throw things when they didn’t get their way? Did you teach them to smack you in the face when they were angry? Did someone teach them to take toys away from other children and hit those kids over the head when they protested?

No one has to teach children to be bad—their sinful hearts can handle that task just fine. It’s our job as parents to teach them how to overcome their bad tendencies. In other words, to civilize them.

As parents, it’s much easier to get past our children’s misbehaviors and to the correction, or civilizing, if we cease to be shocked that they are behaving badly. Nothing our children do should ever surprise us—everything that’s in our own hearts are in theirs as well, and they generally lack the filters that we wear.

If we start every day reminding ourselves that our children are sinners just like we are, we will be able to react to misbehaviors in a more godly manner, and less feeling that we’re to blame for their badness.

Knowing that our children suffer from the same forms of heart sickness that we do goes a long way in helping us understand them. It also can help us stay the course in correcting their misbehaviors as we help them learn self control and to get along with others.

Our children might have been born bad to the bone, but the good news is they don’t have to stay that way.

Family Editor's Welcome

Help! Won't You Please, Please Help?

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Recently, I attended a fitness class that was a bit out of my comfort zone. Okay, a lot out of my zone. It’s very trendy, with a reputation for being very tough, and is well-attended by regulars. Within minutes, the instructor had her eye on me, The Newbie.  Fortunately, I laugh easily at myself, especially while working out,. However, I am more accustomed to the “listen to your body” and “work right up to the edge of what your are comfortable doing” philosophy than this strict, authoritarian workout. I began to wonder if other people noticed how often she whisked past me and “adjusted” how I was moving, punctuated with terse directions and stern looks.  Then I  noticed in the mirror I was wearing my scowly face. I looked away at the clock. Thank goodness, 34 minutes past the hour. If I was lucky, a 7 minute cool down meant only 17 minutes left of this torture session.  Wasn’t I just enjoying myself?  Clearly, I needed help, but it didn’t feel like I was getting it.

But then, “Oh, that’s IT, Lisa! You’ve GOT IT on this side! It just takes some getting used to…”

“Me? Got it?” I exhaled and pressed on, feeling less like the giant elephant in the room, even if I was seemingly unable to command my body into the correct bend with any semblance of correct form.  Nothing like a bit of role-reversal to make you take a critical look at the words you use with students. It also made me hum “Help!” as I wobbled through the second half of the class!

Granted, this teacher’s job was to push us, not necessarily to build safe and caring community of learners (thought she obviously had and I was just a bit slow on to catch on).  But that  is our job in classrooms – to establish a safe learning environment where children feel known, recognized, and valued so they take academic and social risks.  Teachers need to be diligent  about the words we choose, and how they are perceived. Even when we think we do a good job with our choice of words, we’re all human and we’re all capable of choosing our words with a bit more precision and care.

No matter if our interactions with kids are in a classroom, a temporary relationship (like summer camp) or as parents. Our words, the tone, and our nonverbal language speak volumes. But how easy it is to forget their power.  The repetitive corrections I heard, though well-intentioned, gave me pause to reflect and recalibrate my choice of words with children.

Responsive Classroom outlines three types of teacher language, each with its own purpose and each adaptable to the age and situation of children. Here’s a quick overview:

Reinforcing language is effective when adults notice a child’s effort at self-discipline or skills.

Reminding language – is used proactively or just as inappropriate behavior emerges.

Redirecting language – is used when children are clearly off track and need your help to regain self-control.

While working with at-risk youth at a community arts camp,  I was struck by how effective reinforcing and reminding language can be.  Even with kids for whom this type of dialogue, environment and peers were new, a few simple words executed in a positive tone and paired with sincere acknowledgment for an individual’s strengths or efforts, produced a smile. Then small talk. Then greater effort. And soon, we were building relationships and a community. More than fifty kids came together to work with artists-in-residence, to paint, dance, drum, and sing for one week this summer.  Each session was full of affirmation, laughter, clearly articulated boundaries and logical consequences.  Conversations revealed a consistent use of this type of language, without any formal training, but with positive results and a remarkable ability to see and inspire the best in children.

Simple redirection such as, “show me where your name tag needs to be” delivers compliance with the rule about respecting each other and using first names.

Redirection when behavior goes off course.

Reminding a student to maintain eye contact when a classmate shares  allows teen age boys to more fully participate in a dance class, rather than engaging in side conversations.

Reminders help children get back on track.

Affirming a child’s choice to begin painting and drawing on reflections from a meditation session comes from the use of reinforcing language such as “I see you chose words from the list we made” or “I see you’re working carefully to sketch before you paint.”  Each of these brief statements help maintain a feeling of mutual respect, without judgment or personal criticism.

Reinforcing words facilitate the creation of an affirmation mirror.

At home with teens, it’s often more effective to stick with  reminding and  redirecting language.  Savvy teens, who are working toward individualization, often don’t see the value in reinforcing language.  Nonetheless, they need to hear that we see them doing what’s expected and their steps forward, even if it’s acknowledged with a sarcastic remark or sheepish grin.   “Tell me again what your plan is for cutting the grass this week?” puts the onus on them to set the timetable, but still hold them accountable for a job they are responsible for completing.  A simple, “stop and come back to talk when you can use a calm tone of voice” is the redirecting language that can quell an emotional outburst (often in conjunction with some time alone for both!).

There are countless applications of reinforcing, reminding and redirecting language in the classroom.  The differences can be subtle and need practice to hone. This Youtube video gives an overview or check out the Responsive Classroom website for more resources and suggestions.

What are some ways you can help build a child’s confidence and self-discipline by the language you choose to use?

Family Editor's Welcome

Boredom Blues

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

School is ending across the country, and with it, wails of distress from parents as they scramble for ways to fill their children’s time during the hot, sticky days of summer. I’ve heard numerous parents express dismay at the end of school, and have felt in the minority that I don’t feel as miserable as they do about having my children around all the time.

For families with both parents working, or for single parent households, I can well understand the need to find adequate childcare or camps in the summer. But for families that have one parent at home, summer is a wonderful opportunity for you and your children—and it doesn’t have to mean you are responsible for entertaining them day in and day out.

Fighting chants of “I’m bored,” or “I don’t know what to do,” or “I have nothing to do,” can be downright exhausting if you hear those or similar phrases as soon as your little darlings wake in the morning. But do not despair! I have a solution that, if followed to the letter, will ensure a summer filled with innovation and inspiration, all with just a little bit of work on your part.

First, draw up a list of things your child or children can do on their own. This can be as simple as play with a certain toy or read a book. Tailor it to the age of your child. Write down as many things as you can think of that require a minimum (read barely any) assistance from you. Type it up and label it “Things to Do When You’re Bored” or something equally catchy.

Note: Your summer will go smoother if you limit electronic screen time (TV and video/DVD watching, computer, and hand-held electronic games, etc.). Studies have shown—and, if you have ever interrupted a child involved in one of those activities—that screen time is highly addictive. Better to encourage your children in other pursuits in their leisure time. This is not a popular view, I know, but I think you’ll find it’s worth the hassle to get your kids disconnected for most of the summer.

Second, write down a list of extra chores not included in the daily or weekly list for your children. Cut into slips of paper with one chore on each slip, fold and place into a jar or other container and label “Chore Jar.”

Third, on the first day of summer vacation, sit down your kids after breakfast and hand them the “Things to Do When You’re Bored” list. Tell them that this is what they can do when they’re feeling bored or have nothing to do. Inform them that if anyone utters the words “I’m bored,” or “I have nothing to do,” or any variation thereof, that child picks a chore to do from the Chore Jar. That chore must be completed immediately to the parent’s satisfaction. Failure to do so will result in being confined to his or her room for the rest of the day and to bed after supper. This is called “making them an offer they can’t refuse.”

Fourth, follow through. When I introduced this last summer to my two older girls, they immediately said they were bored to see what kind of chores were in the Chore Jar. After completing a particular onerous task, I didn’t hear “I’m bored,” the entire summer.

For those of you who need ideas, my booklet Boredom Busters has dozens of ideas for children, as well as some chore ideas for the Chore Jar. Boredom Busters is available on Kindle and Smashwords (for the Nook, iPad, and other e-reader devices, as well as in a PDF) for only 99 cents.

Family Editor's Welcome

Do Not Disturb the Family Peace

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

As I sat down at my computer to write a blog post for this site, I heard a ruckus upstairs. Sounds of screaming that didn’t sound quite so happy. With four children between the ages of 3 and 9, one gets used to a certain amount of loudness, but my mother’s radar detected something different in these sounds.

I followed the source to my girls’ room, where the 9-year-old was attempting to drag the 7-year-old out of the room because she “wanted her room to herself.” Never mind that the room was both of theirs, she wanted to be alone. I separated the pair for a cooling off period, thinking that a 9-year-old was a little too young to pull a Greta Garbo.

Sibling conflict can be overwhelming, especially when you have a mix of ages and genders. Most of the time, my children do play well together with a minimum of fuss. But it’s inevitable that conflict will raise its ugly head at times.

The way you as a parent handle sibling clashes can help—or hinder—how your children interact with each other. Here’s how we handle sibling clashes.

We decided that we would not play referee. It was not our job to intervene when the wailing started out of sight. We would not judge who was right and who was wrong. No assigning roles of victim or villain for us. If we happened to actually see the wrongdoing, that was another thing. But we would not participate after the fact in their disagreements. We would give kisses, but would not encourage tattling.

To enforce this, we created a chart and stuck it to the refrigerator. Titled “Do Not Disturb the Family Peace,” the chart outlined what would earn every child a ticket:

  1. Keep it down. (Do not become too boisterous or noisy.)
  2. No hurting each other. (Do not hit, punch, push or otherwise maim your siblings.)
  3. No tattling. (Do not become a snitch on your siblings.)

Clipped to the fridge beside this chart are three tickets, pieces of laminated paper. For each infraction, the entire group loses one ticket. If all three tickets are lost, the entire group goes directly to their rooms for the rest of the day and directly to bed after supper.

This eliminates the problem of trying to figure out what happened. It doesn’t really matter who was at fault, does it? What this system is doing is putting the resolution of conflict onto the children, where it belongs.

When I heard my two girls going at it, I simply walked in, said they were disturbing the family peace and directed one to get a ticket. No arguing, no drama. Then I walked out.

So far, in the two months we’ve had this system in place, they have yet to lose all three tickets. And if they do, I’ll enjoy a nice day without kids underfoot, and a more relaxing evening with my husband.

Now, would it be terrible of me to wish they would lose all three tickets one day….?

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of [email protected], a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children. Visit her online at www.sarahhamaker.com, where she blogs about working from home.

Family Editor's Welcome

Just Breathe

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

breathe

There’s plenty to fill my  “urgent and important” box these days. Wonder of Children has been put in the “important but not urgent” quadrant, which I wrestled with, but knew was temporarily necessary.  As I watched a four-year-old on the playground recently, I realized I needed to shift gears. (It was also a convenient way to procrastinate last-minute studying for my yoga final exam!)

Throughout the year in preschool, we’ve worked proactively on social skills.  Much of this is rooted in Responsive Classroom approach which focuses on children from kindergarten through sixth grade. For years, I’ve adapted much of this approach to meet the needs of the under-six crowd.  As we worked with 18 preschoolers, most of whom came to school for the first time, it was critical that we focused proactively on social skills.  Milestones resulting from RC practices this year include:

  • sharing and asking germane questions by April (that’s a whole other post)
  • three-year olds responding to peers with, “when you tagged me like dat, I didn’t like it…ya gotta member that it’s TWO fingas…”)
  • a generally amazing transformation with self-help skills

While each of this will leave a lasting impression, and social skills will continue to develop in one form or another.  The teaching breath work and relaxation strategies have made an indelible mark, too.  Several weeks back, we set up our “Meditation Station” and I blogged about that in  6 Easy Things to Teach and Practice Focus.  Since that post, nearly every day, there’s a line to sit there. Seriously. Three- and four-year old boys (and the few girls in our class) wait to take turns gazing into a mirror, holding an object and to just be.  Breath work, or pranayama, has also become a common practice in our class.  I’m sure our Admissions Director, visitors and most other adults who walk in were startled at first, but seeing my preschoolers breathing silently (or loudly doing “lion’s breath“) or in various asanas, but both have simply  become part of our day.

LIke many of the Responsive Classroom practices, our  breath work is proactive – as we settle into morning meeting or gather for a story. It’s grounding, calming, restorative, and fairly quick. The pay-offs are huge – children find their place on the carpet, channel or stir energy needed for brief group time, and learn (consciously and subconsciously) that they can control their bodies in positive ways.  On the other side, we also use pranayama as a tool to help children react or respond when they are feeling out of control.

Meditation Station

The “Meditation Station” is one of those vehicles used to help gain control.  It’s a place to go to when you feel like you need some time alone. It’s a choice a child can make when they begin (or are fully) losing control.  If it’s not available, the breath work we do as a group can be easily done on our own, no matter where you might be.  And they do.

Last week, on one of our “small class” days, I took my children to the hall with pillows, so that I could show them “Legs Up Wall” or Viparita Karani.  We managed to line up, heads on pillows and 18″ legs stretched upward.  When I suggested hands on bellies to feel the air rising, one response was, “hey….just like we do with da duckies!”  (Earlier in the year, we practiced deep breathing by trying to rise and lower rubber ducks on our bellies.)

As we sat on the floor and focused quietly (with giggles) on our breath, we talked about how this really calms our bodies and lets our legs and backs rest.  A few adults walked by and chuckled, and we continued sitting with our legs against the wall as if it was perfectly normal.

Legs-Up-the-Wall

Demands on my personal and professional life have been running high over the past several weeks.  It’s been my own yoga practice and the gift of laughter and love of these preschoolers that has helped keep me focused and breathing deeply when I start to feel overwhelmed.  I know much of what we do in the room is sticking. When I spotted that four-year-old walking around the playground, deliberately tapping each finger once to his thumb as he exhaled, “sa-ta-na-ma,” I smiled, witnessing one of our meditations in action.  Last week, a parent shared a story about how her older child tends to bottle his frustration and then explode.  The younger sib, a preschooler noted, “he needs to just do some breathing and he’ll feel better.”   Wow.

So while teaching children how to identify feelings, express their needs and desires, make and sustain friendship and a whole host of other social skills are utterly necessary, we owe children a smidge more.  In this age of 24/7 information, Tiger Parenting, multiple video and audio inputs,  and over-scheduled calendars are the norm.  Adults are in the unique and necessary position to teach children how to slow down; the barrage of information and demands for attention only increase with age, and we must help equip our children to manage these layers.

Modeling and practicing strategies to proactively and reactively develop greater self-awareness and self-regulation are easy to over look – especially when we are challenged to call upon these skills ourselves. Whether it’s showing them the beauty, wonder and quiet of the outdoors,  how to breathe, or how to let go of the little things, they need us to do that, and we need to do that for ourselves.

Children need to see a range of emotions from adults and positive, healthy ways we manage the emotions,  joys and stresses in life. I’m grateful to share each morning with my wee-ones, and even more grateful when I see them taking these tiny but hugely significant steps that help them navigate the challenges of the present moment and what lies ahead.

Family Editor's Welcome

Just Breathe

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

breathe

There’s plenty to fill my  “urgent and important” box these days. Wonder of Children has been put in the “important but not urgent” quadrant, which I wrestled with, but knew was temporarily necessary.  As I watched a four-year-old on the playground recently, I realized I needed to shift gears. (It was also a convenient way to procrastinate last-minute studying for my yoga final exam!)

Throughout the year in preschool, we’ve worked proactively on social skills.  Much of this is rooted in Responsive Classroom approach which focuses on children from kindergarten through sixth grade. For years, I’ve adapted much of this approach to meet the needs of the under-six crowd.  As we worked with 18 preschoolers, most of whom came to school for the first time, it was critical that we focused proactively on social skills.  Milestones resulting from RC practices this year include:

  • sharing and asking germane questions by April (that’s a whole other post)
  • three-year olds responding to peers with, “when you tagged me like dat, I didn’t like it…ya gotta member that it’s TWO fingas…”)
  • a generally amazing transformation with self-help skills

While each of this will leave a lasting impression, and social skills will continue to develop in one form or another.  The teaching breath work and relaxation strategies have made an indelible mark, too.  Several weeks back, we set up our “Meditation Station” and I blogged about that in  6 Easy Things to Teach and Practice Focus.  Since that post, nearly every day, there’s a line to sit there. Seriously. Three- and four-year old boys (and the few girls in our class) wait to take turns gazing into a mirror, holding an object and to just be.  Breath work, or pranayama, has also become a common practice in our class.  I’m sure our Admissions Director, visitors and most other adults who walk in were startled at first, but seeing my preschoolers breathing silently (or loudly doing “lion’s breath“) or in various asanas, but both have simply  become part of our day.

LIke many of the Responsive Classroom practices, our  breath work is proactive – as we settle into morning meeting or gather for a story. It’s grounding, calming, restorative, and fairly quick. The pay-offs are huge – children find their place on the carpet, channel or stir energy needed for brief group time, and learn (consciously and subconsciously) that they can control their bodies in positive ways.  On the other side, we also use pranayama as a tool to help children react or respond when they are feeling out of control.

Meditation Station

The “Meditation Station” is one of those vehicles used to help gain control.  It’s a place to go to when you feel like you need some time alone. It’s a choice a child can make when they begin (or are fully) losing control.  If it’s not available, the breath work we do as a group can be easily done on our own, no matter where you might be.  And they do.

Last week, on one of our “small class” days, I took my children to the hall with pillows, so that I could show them “Legs Up Wall” or Viparita Karani.  We managed to line up, heads on pillows and 18″ legs stretched upward.  When I suggested hands on bellies to feel the air rising, one response was, “hey….just like we do with da duckies!”  (Earlier in the year, we practiced deep breathing by trying to rise and lower rubber ducks on our bellies.)

As we sat on the floor and focused quietly (with giggles) on our breath, we talked about how this really calms our bodies and lets our legs and backs rest.  A few adults walked by and chuckled, and we continued sitting with our legs against the wall as if it was perfectly normal.

Legs-Up-the-Wall

Demands on my personal and professional life have been running high over the past several weeks.  It’s been my own yoga practice and the gift of laughter and love of these preschoolers that has helped keep me focused and breathing deeply when I start to feel overwhelmed.  I know much of what we do in the room is sticking. When I spotted that four-year-old walking around the playground, deliberately tapping each finger once to his thumb as he exhaled, “sa-ta-na-ma,” I smiled, witnessing one of our meditations in action.  Last week, a parent shared a story about how her older child tends to bottle his frustration and then explode.  The younger sib, a preschooler noted, “he needs to just do some breathing and he’ll feel better.”   Wow.

So while teaching children how to identify feelings, express their needs and desires, make and sustain friendship and a whole host of other social skills are utterly necessary, we owe children a smidge more.  In this age of 24/7 information, Tiger Parenting, multiple video and audio inputs,  and over-scheduled calendars are the norm.  Adults are in the unique and necessary position to teach children how to slow down; the barrage of information and demands for attention only increase with age, and we must help equip our children to manage these layers.

Modeling and practicing strategies to proactively and reactively develop greater self-awareness and self-regulation are easy to over look – especially when we are challenged to call upon these skills ourselves. Whether it’s showing them the beauty, wonder and quiet of the outdoors,  how to breathe, or how to let go of the little things, they need us to do that, and we need to do that for ourselves.

Children need to see a range of emotions from adults and positive, healthy ways we manage the emotions,  joys and stresses in life. I’m grateful to share each morning with my wee-ones, and even more grateful when I see them taking these tiny but hugely significant steps that help them navigate the challenges of the present moment and what lies ahead.

Family Editor's Welcome

The Myth of Free Time

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

In the fall, all four of my children will be in school, albeit not all full-time (my youngest will be in a three-day preschool program). Whenever this comes up in conversation, the enviable response is, “What will you do with all of your free time?”

Ah, free time—that mythical land to which every mother longs to go. As someone who currently works part-time from home, I rarely have free time now, and I don’t anticipate that changing once the children are in school.

I think the bigger question is what does this say about the current view of mothering. My mother stayed at home, but her time wasn’t consumed by doing for—or entertaining—me. Sure, household chores ate up some time, but once we were older than three, time spent in childcare dropped considerably for women of my mother’s generation.

That kind of mothering has fallen out of favor, and with it the rise of no time, free or otherwise. I am grateful for my mother’s example, for it gives me the fortitude to follow in her footsteps. Direct care of my children has lessened as they age; correspondingly, time I spend taking care of the household has also dropped as the children have picked up more of the cleaning chores.

In turn, that has allowed me to pick up some of the things that I put on hold when the children first arrived: reading, writing, knitting and sewing, for example.

While I’m looking forward to a quieter house next fall, I won’t have to worry about how to fill my suddenly “free time” since my time has always been mine to fill. I’ll take the 24 hours given to us each day and try to use it wisely—just like I do now.

Family Editor's Welcome

Observe and Imagine, Part Two: Super Heroes and Powers

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

exploring super powers

In the last post,  Observe and Imagine, Part 1, the idea of imaginary play and super heroes revealed  the often blurry line between fantasy and real life in the minds of preschoolers.  But there’s more to the story.

Once I determined that not everyone was clear that while pretending to be somebody else, our class guidelines and expectations were suppose to guide us, we were able to more deeply explore those guidelines.  It wasn’t an easy path to travel, but once we did,  got to do some  truly interactive imaginary play.  And grapple with the super powers we’re all possessed with, but often fail to recognize.

(There were some history lessons in there, too! This part dates me, and probably many of you, because really, how many kids out there know what a phone booth is?)

original Superman...a far cry from cartoons of today

We began with talking about ways superheros from today’s media use their powers.  Having not spent much time in the past several years watching children’s tv (nor did I ever watch much…but I knew enough to know what I did NOT want my kids watching), I was a bit surprised.  Much of the Buzz Lightyear story line was the same, but was it somehow blurred with Cars in the minds of these preschoolers?  Or did Pixar really overlap some of the plots and characters?  I couldn’t answer that one, but it became clear that the basic mission of superheroes seemed be consistent both historically and with what is generally accepted:

"What are Superheroes?"

"Ways Superheroes Use their Powers"

However, what was striking was the ways in which superheroes act.  Whether it’s “really” what is seen on tv or whether it is the way those images are perceived in a preschooler’s mind, the connotations that “good guys” can do what they want and disregard the rules, can be the source of conflict and undesirable social behaviors, particularly in young children who are just learning to internalize the rules and self-regulate.  What I was hearing (and heard from dozens of other kids over the years) is that it was “okay” for superheroes to hurt others in the name of saving someone. Or just ‘cuz they are Superheroes (proper noun).  Which begs the bigger question of whether or not it’s okay to harm someone because you hold the power and/or authority.  I wasn’t going there. Not yet. Maybe ever. Just listen to what some experts think on this juicy topic by clicking here.

In a 2003 article, Beyond Banning War and Superhero Play: Meeting Children’s Needs in Violent Times,  Diane Levin asserts that preschoolers use war play to “work out an understanding of experience, including the violence to which they are exposed.”  This can lead to both therapeutic and cognitive growth as they struggle to work out and understand conflicting ideas – another good reason to establish a climate for imaginary play.  Children also have a need to feel powerful – whether it’s in the words they use, their own physical skills or in they way they engage in imaginary play.  Levin continues, and the research supports, the idea that children use  “war play to help them feel powerful and safe” and often these  are “the children who feel the most powerless and vulnerable.”

Knowing these children as I do,  I am confident the kids most interested in acting out war play are not personally exposed to dangerous situations or people, but rather are those who are exposed to media violence (cartoons, movies, digital media, etc.).   But watching tv is not child’s play. It requires some carefully thought and even a little soul-searching as to what you want for your child.  Consider these two reports:

  • A 1994 National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) report stated that “much of what children watch on television is not specifically intended for children” – as much as 90% of what they watch.  Read the entire Position Statement on Media Violence in Children’s Lives.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics  recommends that preschoolers need to participate in nonscreen media experiences that promote language development, socialization, imagination, and physical activity.”

Read the studies. Consider what you want for your child. Then make your choice and stand by it.  I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s simply  not.  But the choices you make today have a lasting impact. More immediately, their daily play reveals what they see and what they are sorting out.

After a couple more days discussing super heroes and their powers, I happen to mention  that in “the old days” superheroes did take care of people, but that the superheros I knew when I was a kid, saved people and did far less hurting of others. Heads turned. Hands went over mouths. And one small, skeptical voice said, “So what’s so super about that?”

“Well, ” I began, “each of us has our own super powers. It’s how we choose to use them that makes us super or someone who hurts other or something in between.”  The ensuing conversation gave me a sense of relief that those who previously didn’t think “bad guys” had feelings and/or that they deserved to be hurt, were starting to see people as people.  I went on to tell them that the “original” Superman was  a regular guy who went to work in a suit and hat. When he needed his superpowers, he went into a phone booth and changed into his Super Man suit.  Adults old enough to remember this giggled as the passed by our room, particularly when I attempted to explain the whole phone booth part.

To help illustrate my point that we can all call upon on super powers, and to provide us with the feel of a phone booth, we set to work planning how to build one.

Next week, I’ll tell you how these:

Superman's Phone Booth

…became Superman’s phone booth and let us harness our own super powers.

Family Editor's Welcome

Observe and Imagine, Part One

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

One of the qualities of good teaching is solid and honest observational skills. When we suspend judgment and simply watch children, they reveal so much to us. Their emotions and ideas are revealed in raw and authentic ways, particularly when the established environment and relationships lend themselves to a sense of belonging and significance within the group. With this back drop in place, young children are freed to deepen relationships, explore, and grow.

A quick peek into a classroom may look like simple play, but there is a complex infrastructure set up to foster that sense of belonging and significance and to beckon children to explore materials and ideas. Such provocations arise from listening to and observing children. As this work unfolds, both adults and children are poised to gain new knowledge and closer relationships within their community.

Recently, a pattern in imaginative play became apparent as observed a group of children and reflected on a series of notes. Much like other groups of three- and four-year olds, I noticed a growing interest in and propensity for super hero play. At first, it was simple dialogues- short queries that kept me up to date on Buzz Lightyear and Transformer trivia. It was apparent that this group shares a certain history in watching these videos, and a collective depth of knowledge. Little by little, the conversations with me expanded to peer-to-peer dialogue. And then were disagreements over seminal facts that often stumped me (Is Bumblebee a vehicle from Cars or part of Transformers? Depends on who you ask.). In the tradition of oral story telling, these stories were exaggerated, dramatized or expanded upon by the narrator, and seemed to change slightly with each iteration. While this was intriguing to me, it sparked passionate discourse among preschoolers. In an effort to quell the debate, I suggested some illustrations might let everyone share their ideas of this particular storyline.  (Photos to follow in a subsequent post…limited Internet service is causing some technical difficulties.)

sketching Batman

Research tells us this imitative imaginative play is one of the early stages in play scenarios and social play. By age 3-4, children have experience using materials in ways that represent what they have experienced – feeding a doll, push a fire truck, roaring like a lion. Using these external themes, Children can act out short themes by themselves or alongside a peer. There may be a clear, concrete plan, but as children get deeply engaged, they also become hyper-focused. Their ideas are their own and it’s hard to see the point of view of others. (e.g. The debate prior to sketching Buzz Lightyear). Nancy Carlsson Paige and Diane Levin, in their book, Who’s Calling the Shots describe this play as “more like static slides than a movie.”  Children are engaged in their play and not the real world. Things are black and white, Good guys and bad guys exist and it’s just that cut-and-dry.

By observing the content and progression of this type of play, it was clear that a critical mass of children were exploring those typical aspects of play – good versus evil, power, and social interaction. This play is rich with learning  opportunities. While it’s important for children to learn to navigate play together, it is still essential to keep a close eye and ear to what was going on behind the scenes. And the more I did that, the clearer it was that we had a dilemma brewing: how can we explore these seminal issues of power, use if imagination, and social justice themes while still abiding by our class guidelines that keep everyone safe and having fun?

Soon thereafter, we revisited our class guidelines at Morning Meeting. I asked, what’s one way you take care of friends when you play?”  Responses were spot-on:

Be nice
Share stuff
Ask ‘em to play

I pushed further:  How can you take care of friends when you’re imagining to be someone else?

Silence.

Whoops. This was over their heads. At three and four, applying conventional rules to pretend roles didn’t compute. I had to back up.

The next day, I started with small group conversations comparing pretend and real life. Some children did seem to understand that pretend is imaginary but we still have to take care, be safe, be respectful. Others seemed to think that pretending to be a dog, a mom, a superhero meant you transcends the rules of everyday humans. For the most part, chronological age correlated with how children saw the intersection of pretend and our rules. Those closer to four could see the connection, with some help; the younger ones were adamant that imaginary play offered them amnesty from rules.

Clearly, my language and strategies had to shift.

I began to phrase things like, “animals in the wild might fight and scratch, but in school, when we are pretending to be animals, we need to be safe.”Many days passed with this kind of direct identification, and I began to see and hear how more children understood that pretend isn’t a get out of jail card in the rules of life.

Stop back next week for the follow-up on how this story unfolds to include our own super heroes.

Meanwhile, if you want to read more, see Who’s Calling the Shots? How to,Respond Effectively to Children’s Fascination with War Play and War Toys

Family Editor's Welcome

Merry-Go-Round: Old Fashioned Fun

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

With March proving to be delightful in the weather department, we’ve been visiting playgrounds recently. On one visit, for nearly the entire half hour or so we were there, my three oldest children played on one piece of equipment: the merry-go-round. Laughter, squeals of pretend terror, sheer joy on the faces of the children hanging on for dear life as other kids ran as fast as they could in the grooved circle—what could be a better picture of childhood?

Nearly every non-preschooler who came to the playground made a beeline directly for the merry-go-round. I sat on a nearby bench and watched the interplay between the kids, and was heartened to see everyone getting along. Chants of “Push us, push us,” were answered by someone leaping off and racing around. When my youngest son (age 3) got on and then decided he wanted off shortly after the rotations began, a kid yelled, “Stop, someone wants to get off,” and they slowed to allow my son to slid off.

What other piece of equipment can teach children how to get along with one another better than a merry-go-round? There’s so many life lessons to be learned while spinning until you’re dizzy.

But we adults have over-reacted to the merry-go-round’s potential harm by suing playground equipment manufacturers, and cities and schools that had parks with merry-go-rounds installed. Sure some kids have gotten hurt on merry-go-rounds, but what I find more disturbing is our increasing desire to wrap our children in cotton wool to avoid any booboos or skinned knees (hence the tendency to make them wear knee and elbow pads while bike riding or rollerblading).

No one wants our children to get hurt psychically, and we should put a stop to obviously dangerous things. On the other hand, giving children the freedom to spread their wings and fly around the world on a merry-go-round can be wonderful to their own development.

Let them see the world outside is to be explored and conquered, not feared and avoided. Let them experience the joys and pains of mastering things like bike riding and monkey bars. Let them view the world from a different perspective by climbing trees or hanging upside from the swing set.

Sure, you might have to stock up on band-aids and kiss a few more hurts, but if you can resist the urge to place your children inside a bubble, you might just find out that they are tougher than you think. Hearing your children describe their outdoor adventures can be a priceless experience in itself.

So keep the cotton wool safely tucked away, and go find a park with a merry-go-round, but I’d avoid jumping on board unless you have a stomach of iron. Some things are better left to the kids.

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of [email protected], a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children. Visit her online at www.sarahhamaker.com, where she blogs about working from home.

Family Editor's Welcome

6 Easy Things to Teach and Practice Focus

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Last week’s blog, Focus,  offered some background on focus, mindfulness and executive function.  This week’s blog focuses (bad play on words, I know!) on a few quick activities that can be easily used to help build focus in young children.  With some minor tweaking and creativity, they can also be adapted with older children.

It’s easy to bring more focus into your day with young children with just a bit of planning and thought.  The first step is to ready yourself to be  focused. Be clear on your priorities, both long- and short-term.  Be mindful of the values, rituals and goals you have for your child. Keeping in mind your  beliefs and hopes, as well as what is developmentally appropriate for children at any given age.  Of course, you also need to take an honest look at your unique child.  Not every child is born to be a soccer player, to read at age five, to play an instrument with grace and skill, nor be destined for an ivy league college.  But each child has his own gifts and talents, ready to be acknowledged and celebrated, as well as growing edges and needs that require your nurturing support.  Read the literature on what to expect at each age and stage; suggestion can be found on the Book Shelf and below and think about the path you and your child are taking.

Hopefully, you can carve out time everyday to be focused and present with your child, or others. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said,

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”

Children watch, learn and develop their own habits and outlook by watching those closest to them.  Do they have the opportunity to see you focused and calm?

One you’ve got yourself focused, here are six things you can do to help develop focus in young children:

1. Give ‘Em Jobs – Putting on coats independently, sorting laundry by color, finishing what’s on their plate before getting more (or desert), walking the dog, putting groceries away.  Raise the bar, give them some time and encouragement – see what they can accomplish. Don’t expect perfect, just approximation!

2. Stop and Start – With little guys, try Stop/Start – Old fashion games like “Red Light/Green Light” or Freeze Dance or “What time is it Mr. Fox?” let children practice moving and stopping.  Sometimes inhibiting action is a tough, but making it fun helps secretly develop the mental wiring that leads to self-control. With older children, give them the space and expectation to mono-task – a puzzle, a walk, a game, setting the table.  No screens, no music, no distractions.

3. Speaking and Listening – Practice taking turns listening and speaking. Tough task with kids, for sure!  One of the most easily accessible activities in Tools of the Mind is modeling what a reader and a listener both do. By providing a photo of an ear and a mouth, children have a concrete visual reminder of what their task is – and have a greater likelihood of inhibiting the impulse to talk when they are the listener and to “reading” the pictures or words when it is their turn.

4. Play – Yes, play. Old-fashion play with puzzles, sorting games, imaginary play that lets kids develop their own story line (not the latest Disney movie story line).  Nothing fancy, but if you are looking for flash, test drive computer games ahead of time to see what it really asks of a child. Ditto for TV.  It’s not always all bad, so look for content that is age-appropriate and meaningful. Preview or watch with your child to discuss elements of the show – can s/he recall characters’ names? Sequence events? Both require activation of working memory.

5. Breathe – Sounds simple enough, but taking a few minutes throughout the day to get grounded and breath deeply goes a long way.  I see this every day with children – whether they are physically worn out, emotionally drained or exuding energy at a time they need focus, working with them to breathe deeply and fully enables them to focus on what is immediately ahead. This works wonders for adults, too!

6. Look in the Mirror (or smart phone) - Gallinsky cites a “time famine” wherein we are all strapped for time, energy and resources.  Take a critical look at your own time and how you use it. Can you model for your children being more fully present? To stop when you say you’re stopping (years ago my kids figured out that “five minutes” in Mom Speak is “more like a half hour!”)  Consider disconnecting for a period of time every night so you can give your full attention and focus to your family. Your kids will appreciate it, and you might even find some of what comes in can sit untouched in your in box!
Family Editor's Welcome

Focus

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.
-Thich Nhat Hanh


Focus. Mindfulness.

Often hard to establish.

Often hard to maintain.

But how do we teach focus to children if we have trouble ourselves? How do we embrace them with mindfulness with others if we cannot obtain that ourselves?

I’ve been thinking loads about how to foster this behavior in children, but ironically, found myself having greater difficulty staying focused on teaching, writing, homework, and a handful of other duties.  I tried to bring my mind back to the task at hand, it occurred to me that one of the most obvious similarities between yoga and teaching young children,  is the teaching and practicing focus and mindfulness.

The trick is, most of us are challenged every day by a flood by multiple sources of information nearly 24 hours a day.  Despite all the benefits technology brings, our collective ability to mono-task is easily impaired.  Don’t believe me? Google “mono task” “digital age” “focus”.  Spare yourself the distraction and read  ”Attached to Technology and Paying a Price.”

We’re all doing it – losing focus in an effort to do more.  For folks like me, it might be time to stop doing it – all of it – for ourselves and for the ones who are watching us on a more regular basis. Perhaps we need to practice those Executive Function skills related to focus and self-control so that what we model for young children serves them, and us.

(What the heck is Executive Function?  It’s set of skills your brain uses to do all the other stuff you do. The prefrontal cortex and frontal lobe tells all the other parts of the brain what to do – things you do every day like – memory, attention, focus, inhibition, problem solving,multi-tasking, monitoring of action.

Science tells us that the maturation of the prefrontal cortex and frontal lobe occurs at age of 25 or later.  It’s also is a vivid reminder that we cannot expect our children to act rationally or logically nor even with much self-control.  But we can – and must – help them develop those skills beginning early on.

One of the best resources on this topic is Ellen Galinsky’s Mind in the Making.  This is a research-rich book that reads much like a conversation with a trusted friend unfolds. Gallinsky’s research outlines seven “essential life skills” ranging from focus to engaged learning.   The book also supports the work of Tools of the Mind – a Vygotskian approach to early childhood rooted in provided children with the tools and practice they need to develop self-regulation and greater autonomy.  Both books offer ways to explore young children’s capacity to focus. Either are worth a read if the topic is on your mind, too.

Check back next week for 6 easy things you can do to teach and practice focus in young children, as well as more resources.
Family Editor's Welcome

Stepping Back, Not Forward

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

You’re on the playground and your five-year-old son pushes another boy down while playing a game of tag. You see children being children, no harm done; the other mother sees a playground bully preying on her child.

As any mother can attest, situations like the one above are fraught with drama. If you’re the mother of the pusher, you can feel judged and embarrassed. If you’re the mother of the pushee, you can feel angry and scared for your child’s wellbeing.

That scenario happened to me earlier this week, with my son being the one who pushed another child down while playing a game with a group of boys, all around the same age. Boys of a certain age tend to be play a bit rough. None of the boys were being mean or vicious—and I keep a close eye on my two boys to ensure their play does not stray into that territory. I know my oldest son can get carried away with his play and become too rough, and I try to nip that tendency in the bud.

I feel in general that we as parents, and particularly as mothers, have become oversensitive about our expectations for our children’s behavior and the behavior of other children. With the pushing incident, I felt the other mother wanted me to discipline my child for something I wasn’t even sure he had done. The other mother was visibly upset and angry, even though her son was back playing as if nothing had happened.

Sometimes, we strive too hard to please everyone with our parenting—and that can lead to us to make mistakes and not parent effectively. Sometimes, it’s harder to let children be children, and to let them work through their own squabbles without interfering.

My goal with my children has been to be as hands-off as possible, to let them figure things out on their own whenever possible, to train them how to resolve conflicts as they grow (and with siblings, there’s plenty of opportunity for that!), and to just be kids. Allowing our kids the chance to grow in their own can be a beautiful thing. That doesn’t mean we turn them completely loose, or that we ignore bad behavior, but that we step back from them more often than we step forward into their lives.

And keeping a little perspective on the playground, helps, too.

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of [email protected], a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children. Visit her online at www.sarahhamaker.com, where she blogs about working from home.
Family Editor's Welcome

You Live, You Learn

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Alanis Morissette sings,

You live you learn
You love you learn
You cry you learn
You lose you learn
You bleed you learn
You scream you learn

You grieve you learn
You choke you learn
You laugh you learn
You choose you learn
You pray you learn
You ask you learn
You live you learn


And when you really, really want to learn, you'll do any of these things. Or more.  Sometimes it's finding what you want to learn that's the hardest part.

Belonging. Significance. Fun.  Three essential elements for learning and growth articulated  by Abraham Maslow in his work to explain mental health and the human potential in the field of humanistic psychology.  I wrote about how these three words are seminal foundation for learning in Persistence, Mastery and Confidence and Take a Leap and Trait #3: Self-Reliance and Confidence.  Since those posts, I've come across a book that give more anecdotes and observations that support how adults can learn from kids what motivates them to do their best.

Education Week featured  Kathleen Cushman's Fires in the Mind and hosted a book discussion, both of which caught my eye.  Cushman is a skilled writer whose voice and passion for the topic engages readers, but it's the genuine and thoughtful words of the teens she interviews that makes this book so compelling.  These teens rise to the challenge of self-reflection and teach us (teachers and parents) what it takes to help kids find, pursue and gain mastery in their chosen fields.

As many teachers of young children know, it's often easy to ignite the passion for learning early in a child's life. Little folks are wired to ask questions and explore.  As children move into elementary years, skilled teachers and parents can sustain that excitement while teaching children the importance of balancing (and tackling) self-selected inquiry with the "other stuff" you have to do in life.  Ideally, we learn to take care of the "have tos" so we can get to the "want tos." 

Or, we find ways to make the "have tos" intriguing, interesting, and meaningful which blurs the line between "have to" and "want to."  As children move into adolescence, their bodies and minds explode with changes that lead them to question their abilities, challenge the rules, push boundaries and often, fail to recognize (or at least doubt) their strengths.  Adults who understand both child development and what it takes to identify and support teens interest can help smooth this rocky road and develop life-long habits of work and passion.

Cushman's book is worth picking up if you're interested in supporting teens in what excites them - or if you need a few reminders yourself about tapping your talents and interests. Know a tween/teen who is tapping his or her talents? Post a comment to share their story!

Like what you read?  Read more at www.wonderofchildren.wordpress.com or give it a like on Facebook (Wonder of Children).
Family Editor's Welcome

Good Intentions

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

During a recent visit with my parents, we all went out to our favorite pizza buffet restaurant, and our four children asked to sit at their own table. We picked a table right beside ours and my husband and I sat with our backs to our children, in order to keep an eye on them.

Near the end of the meal, a woman stopped by our table, obviously upset, to say that, “Someone should tell those girls that it’s not polite to point, make faces and laugh at people.” Somewhat taken aback, I stammered out an apology and then turned to ask the girls what had happened.

The girls in question—ages 9 and 7—vehemently denied having done such a thing, the older one beginning to cry at the accusations. Upon further questioning, it came out that the pair had been engaged in their own storytelling that involved making funny faces and gesturing to the opposite wall, which would have meant those sitting in their path could have misconstrued the situation. Added to their explanation was the fact that we have never seen them behave in such a way toward anyone, we were inclined to believe them. The girls themselves were suitably chastised by the encounter.

But it presented an excellent opportunity to discuss our intentions and how those can be mistaken by others as not good. Their making faces and pointing in public had been misinterpreted by someone as directed at them—and it didn’t paint a flattering picture of the girls’ behavior or character.

We also talked about how the woman must have felt to think they were making fun of her appearance, and how devastated the girls would have felt had they seen someone doing similar things ostensibly about them. Too many times, we forget to talk to our children about trying to avoid the “appearance of evil” in their actions, especially in public or school. While some people will find fault in everything, many times situations like the one discussed in this post could have been avoided if we had curbed our own actions.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, but a vital one that good intentions are not the only thing we need to keep in mind—that we need to have a thought for our fellow man and how our actions might impact him.
Family Editor's Welcome

The Gift

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

As we approach Christmas, my children are bursting with excitement about what will be wrapped under the tree for them. The list ranges from the reasonable (a toy cement mixer) to the wishful (another American Girl doll).

Each year, partly as an antidote to greed and partly to give back to our community, we adopt a family or two that need some assistance in buying gifts and food for the holidays. A local organization matches up donors with clients in the area, so we can visit their homes and interact with them on a personal level.

This year, we were matched with a single, elderly man who didn’t use a stove or oven at all, and needed prepared food and grocery store cards. I took all four children with me to deliver his fully prepared Thanksgiving meal and a grocery gift card. He lived in a house with several other single men. The paint was peeling from the front door and the living and dining rooms were crowded with lots of furniture and an extra refrigerator. But despite the outward signs, the kitchen was fairly clean and the overall house wasn’t too neglected. I chatted with him for a bit while the children milled around the kitchen and answered his questions politely.

Later, I found out from his social worker that he had really enjoyed our visit, calling it “the best Thanksgiving ever.” Such a simple thing on our part—spending a few minutes with an old man who had so little—but it made such a big impact on his life.

We’re preparing for our Christmas visit and my two older children are going to spend some of their allowance at the dollar store picking up little necessities for him (I read somewhere that older folks appreciate travel size shampoos, etc., because they are easier to open, store and use).

It’s good to help children to think beyond themselves, to see that there are those who need assistance right in our areas, and to realize that they are indeed blessed—even if they don’t get exactly what they wished for on Christmas. But children do need to be taught compassion and the best way to do so is to lead by example.

So look around and see what you can do to make a difference this holiday season. It’s not too late to make someone’s Christmas the “best ever.”

Family Editor's Welcome

Painting, Chatting and Child Development

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Between the ages of three and six, children are “egocentric.”  In the truest sense, they  interpret the world from their own point of view.  Their  world revolves around them.   As Piaget’s research showed, they tend to think everyone else  thinks or sees the same things they do.

Around the same time, the are also entering the early stages of cooperative play.  As Nancy Carlsson Paige writes in Taking Back Childhood, “..children this age often love to play together, and they usually play best when their interest coincide – that is, when they like to do or play the same things.”  As this interaction between two three-and-a-half year old  painters illustrates, children are just reaching out to others, but are still firmly rooted in their own world.

Elle and James
(pseudonyms, of course)  are using craypas, liquid water-color paint and books with photos of leaves to paint leaves.  The only guideline was to one color paint at a time.

James
(looking at Elle’s work):  I have green. Now I am going to out some yellow in mine.  (Dips in yellow jar).

Elle (looking sideways but not turning head):  I am going to put some green on MINE.  That okay with you?

James:
  Yeah.

Elle: It’s good to share.

James: I know, I know.

The pair resumes working  and they  share amicably and then begin quietly discussing the colors on their leaves.

James: Look at my beautiful side, Um… look at mine!

Elle:  Look at MINE!

James: Ah, mine is beautiful, MINE IS BEAUTIFUL!

Elle:   This is how we make beautiful colors! I  have green now! LOOK!

James: No it WAS green!

Elle: Look Miss Lisa! We made green.

James: No, I tell ya, it WAS green.

Elle: Well, that’s how I made it!

James: That’s how I made it.

Elle: I made it!

After experimenting with splatter painting, the two quietly and  independently bring  their paint jars to the sink to clean up their brushes and jars (but not necessarily the collateral splatters, until they were pointed out!)

To the casual observer, this interaction is simply child’s play. After years of teaching, Chip Wood’s workshop on Child Development Matters, provided some recalibrating of my teacher’s eyes.  Chip spoke so eloquently about the characteristics of development from ages 4 through 14 and how teachers and parents can capitalize on the strengths of each stage. 

So while these two nearly -fours were beginning to talk to each other in meaningful, interactive ways, the conversation would slowly creep into a near-conflict as each child’s perspective began to take precedence.  Then as  their egocentric nature bubbled up, the ensuing silence allowed them to refocus on painting and the conversation would pick up again. 

Other times, a seemingly small disagreement heated up and a simple question like, “what else could you do with the paint?” or “is there another way you could share?” helped these two painters quickly re-engage in a more calm manner.  As a result of reflective questions, these children were given the space to develop their interactions without the pressure to comply with absolute rules. These small conversations about paint and their work are practice for the give and take of cooperative problem solving that comes regularly in upper grades and throughout life.

Stages of development are cyclical, typically lasting about 6 months.  Checking  in on where your child is and how you can support him is  something you can schedule for around birthdays and half birthdays.

Whether you’re a teacher or a parent, taking time to reflect on developmental hallmarks and growth patterns periodically can help bring out the best in children.  It also lets you to see their world better through their eyes and perhaps even get a chuckle or two along the way!

Family Editor's Welcome

And the Relatives Came

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

When I was a child, my parents hauled me to all kinds of grown-up events, such as big family dinners, neighborly visits, visits to friends, etc. My memories of these decidedly un-kid-friendly events vacillates between boredom and fascination. At some events, there was absolutely nothing for me to do but wait quietly for my parents to finish their visit. Sometimes I was allowed to bring a book to entertain myself, but mostly, I was expected to not leave a chair in the corner of the room and just be quiet.

Before you think this was a cruel punishment, I posit that it did me a world of good. I learned how to behave among adults, to be respectful of their conversation. I learned that my parents had a life outside of our home. I learned I was not the center of their universe. I also learned how to talk to adults with whom I was not related or had any other relationship, such as teacher, etc.

We used to visit several elderly neighbors who lived near our house. One was a widow and my father did some yard work for her, like cutting her grass and raking leaves. My mother and I would frequently visit, sitting in her living room. I was expected to talk with her some during these visits, answering her questions politely and with more than a one-word answer.

I interviewed Mrs. Whitmore for a grade-school paper where we had to talk with someone about their life. I learned all sorts of interesting things, such as how she and her husband had moved into their house right after they got married in the early 1930s, how their only child, a daughter, died around age 8 from leukemia. Hearing her story, briefly told to a fourth- or fifth-grader, helped to develop a friendship that lasted until her death.

So many times, we would rather believe that our children cannot behave well enough to take them on such visits, instead of helping them to know how to behave. We believe that their being bored is the worst thing to happen to them, and must be avoided at all costs. So we leave them home when we go to see relatives or neighbors without children their age. We don’t make them sit at the table when we have company over for dinner.

This Thanksgiving, let’s all make a concerted effort to ensure that our children know their place in our family and in our family’s history by interacting with relatives they might scarcely know. Have the kids write down a few questions they can ask Aunt Jane or Uncle Henry, such as what foods did they like as a kid, how were Thanksgiving dinners done when they were little, etc. Children find it fascinating to hear about when a grown-up was young.

For older children, such as teens, have them interview one of the relatives, asking them questions about what their parents were like as a child, etc. Many genealogy sites have lists of family history questions that can be a good starting point. Getting your children involved in communicating with relatives or other older friends and neighbors is a great way to help them polish their listening skills.

What are your ideas for helping children interact appropriately with relatives?

Family Editor's Welcome

Trick or Treat

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Chilly and dark evenings are upon us. The transition to shorter days is slowly settling in with us.  Since it's harder to play outside in the dark, this could mean that the tv or video games come on.  It's also a good time to extend before-bed reading, talk books, and read together.

I started putting my thoughts on reading, especially with reluctant or diffident readers, but my thoughts were not coming together as smoothly and coherently as I hoped.  So instead of writing, I poured more coffee and started reading.  In my overflowing in box,  I opened a very old post from   LD Online newsletter caught my eye.  As I read last week's weekly digest, I first read the article on using e-readers. Good stuff in there for our tech-savvy kids that's worth checking out.  But what really drew me in was an article by Rick Riordan. Yes, THE guy that most of the male reader ages 8-14 I know, are talking about.

I've read bits and pieces of all his books and love that he ties all the greatest stuff of mythology into such compelling books.  I love that so many authors and publishers give readers more info on the person who is behind the book - their craft, their childhood experiences, their interests outside writing, the points worth discussing as you read the book.  It's another added bonus of the internet - ways to make reading, books and authors come alive to young readers.

I learned so much about Rick this morning.  He's a teacher too! He plays video games with his kids. Grover is his favorite character.  His kids write, too.  I've learned enough that's it's motivated me to actually finish the Percy series. Isn't that what a love of reading is about? Enticing, sustaining attention, wanting more? Rick's got it all going!

Read Rick's  Four Ways to get ADHD Kids to Read in the October 15, 2010  Wall Street Journal. I humbly confess that he more eloquently and succinctly put into words what I aspired to share.  Even if your young reader is not ADHD, Rick sums up the key tips reading teachers and bibliophiles  know help turn kids on to a life of reading.

Now, back to Percy before the Trick-or-Treaters arrive!
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Trick or Treat

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

If you haven’t noticed, Halloween is right around the corner. While it annoys me that retailers can’t seem to help themselves and rush the holiday by putting up decorations right after Labor Day, we love this time of year. The crisp fall air, fresh apples galore, the brilliant colors of the leaves, and, of course, the joy of our children in dressing up for trick-or-treating.

Halloween also can be a great way to meet neighbors and to show hospitality to our neighborhood. We often use trick-or-treating to teach our children not to be greedy and to mind their manners (saying “please” and “thank you,” looking adults in the eye and telling them what they’re dressed as, etc.).

Follow these tips to have a safe and fun Halloween:

  • Make sure any costume allows for easy walking and seeing. No blind bats, please, or dresses or capes with too long a hemline.
  • Bring a flashlight or other outdoor lamp to illuminate the walk around the neighborhood.
  • Inspect all candy before eating to ensure it’s wrapped tight. Don’t be paranoid, but use commonsense.
  • Have a well-lit house. Leave your porch light on if you’re handing out candy and make sure your carved pumpkins are not in the path to your door.
  • Introduce yourself to neighbors. Don’t pass up this opportunity to get to know those who live nearby. So many times, we insulate ourselves in our own little worlds, but by being friendly on an evening when everyone’s outside can help create a feeling of neighborliness.

So get out there and enjoy this Halloween. And for you grown-ups, how about revealing to the readers of Stage of Life what was your favorite Halloween costume of yesteryear?

I’ll go first: Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Blue-checked dress and ruby-red slippers. Too bad it’s too small for me now…

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Patience, Grasshopper. 6 Tips to Help Settle Into the New School Year Routine

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Honeymoon is over.

If you’ve been in any long-term relationship, you know that feeling.  The initial adrenaline and excitement begins to wane.  Now things just feel off. Unsettled. Different. Change, no matter how much we crave it, can make us tighten our shoulders, deplete our patience, and may even trigger feelings of frustration or loss.  When the excitement wears off, the new normal doesn’t quite feel normal at first.

Patience, Grasshopper.

The new normal will prevail. If you are patient. If you are committed. If you can remember to  inhale.  If you can pause at that quiet space (you know, that one that calls you just before you exhale) and reflect.  If you can then really exhale as you accept the new normal with patience, faith and determination.

I am talking to you – teachers, parents, kids – and me.  For most of us, we’re hitting the third or fourth week of school.  The honeymoon is o-v-e-r. The new reality might feel uncomfortable. Unfamiliar. Unsteady. But with patience and resolve, you will settle in and probably even thrive.

To get down and dirty, folks are getting tired, sick, overwhelmed. As a parent, it is easy to give in and cave to the whining for help (when they’ve been learning to be more independent) or to let them sleep in or stay up late (because they are mentally and physically spent from all this adjusting). It’s easy to do homework for them when it feels hard. It’s tempting to blame new, undesirable behaviors on other kids, the teacher, or the school when it might just be that your child has moved into a less-smooth phase of development. Or maybe they’re acting different out of fear or worry about the new school year.

As a teacher, it’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough in the classroom and become gripped by that overwhelming sense of how much you’re not doing.  But really, you’re doing so much for so many. Maybe you’re reaching for some Advil by 3:30 because you’ve been using so much redirecting language your neurons need their own redirecting. It’s a good thing that you invested the time in modeling how to take a break and benefit from quiet time, because they each need it. In addition to teaching, you’re also writing newsletters, calling parents, preparing curriculum, attending meetings, skipping lunch, a workout or just making your own bed.  Your to-do,list(s) haunt you at night and keep you on the move all day. It’s the end of September.

“Chirp, chirp,” cries the grasshopper.  “Patience.”

Learning a new routine, getting to know new people and/or a settle into a new grade takes patience and time.  Rome wasn’t built in a day. A class community or a year of learning is not established in a week or a month.  So if you feel like you can’t get a handle on things, or even if you’re just trying to figure out what’s next, here are 6 ways to settle into the new routine and enjoy the ride.

Think Positive – Make a list of what’s working. There are things that are working. Re-read it often. Mine’s over my desk and on my phone as a way to combat those self-doubting gremlins. Not sure if your family routines are working? Read Are Your Family Routines Working for tips on evaluating what works and what could smooth things out at home.

Chunk It – Set small mini-goals for the week. Mine this week included “yoga once, run twice,” and “Have a spontaneous chat about life, not school, with colleagues.”

Commit It – Take a critical look at your calendar. Plan to be busy and plan to slow down. Commit it in your planner or PDA. We all get 24 hours a day, use them to your benefit.
View the forest. Set aside an hour to look at and plan for the next 2-3 weeks at school. Carve out time to look at the forest and then smaller blocks to plan the details.   Dedicate a period of time to look at the big picture, so that when the time comes for the details, you can chunk projects, tasks and assignment in the context of your goals, philosophy and values.

Check It Off – Make a short list of things that do not need to be done. Your list should include identifying Whose Urgency you need to attend to and whose you do not. Or perhaps you let go of a few chores at home that can slide or that you can delegate. Or maybe, you make it through a week of meetings without volunteering to do even one more teeny tiny task.

Be Happy – Make a list of what makes you happy and do at least one a day. Simple. Actionable. Life’s really too short not to have some fun each day.  If you spend your days with kids, there are so many ways to have fun if you don’t take yourself too seriously. Be sure to find things outside of school that bring a smile to your face, too!

At the end of the day, we all have things on our to-do list.  Chances are you can go home, relax, sleep and when you return, tackle it with fresh eyes tomorrow.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, peel off the layers that have become roadblocks. Simplify. Enjoy.  This not only helps you maintain a sense of control with your new schedule, but it also sends a powerful message to the little people in your life. Change is apart of life, and we’ve got to adapt and ease into change so we can enjoy the ride, Grasshopper.
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The Death of Punctuality?

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

I’m a punctual person. I hate to be late and often will arrive a few minutes early. My friends have often commented that they know something’s wrong if I’m late.

With children, I’ve had to make adjustments to my expectations on timeliness, especially when the children were babies. At times, the best-laid plans go out the window when you have to change your clothes at the last minute because of spit up down your front.

But I’ve come to realize that more and more people are not even trying to be on time anymore. For example, my second daughter received an invitation to a birthday party with a start time of noon.

We arrived a minute after 12 p.m. and were the first partygoers. I chatted with the mom while the kids started playing together. After a bit, I checked my watch and saw that it was 12:15 and still no one else had come. Four or five other girls were expected, but none had showed up by the time we left at 12:25 p.m.

Upon picking up my daughter later that afternoon, I learned that two of the girls had not even showed up and that two others had straggled in after we had gone, a full half hour after the party’s start time. Since we live just outside a large metropolitan area, some tardiness is expected because of traffic snarls and delays that can derail timeliness even with forethought and careful planning.

However, I wonder what we’re teaching our children if we make it a habit to be chronically late. Doesn’t that show we think other people are not important? That we can’t be bothered to think beyond the moment to plan ahead enough to be on time?

Let’s not let punctuality fall completely out of favor by instilling in our children the importance of being on time, the respect timeliness shows others, and the way we honor others by taking care to arrive when expected.

What are some ways we can help our children to be on time?

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Listen and Learn

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Despite Mother Nature’s efforts to disrupt the start of school this past week, we are off and running!  There was a smidge of disruption  behind the scenes – a few more plants in the classroom would have been nice, a few more library books keenly displayed in the room, uniforms would have been ironed if we had power, staff meetings were condensed or postponed – but we made it through earthquake and hurricane.  The attitude of doing the best with what you’ve got certainly prevailed.  The forces beyond our control also served as a solid reminder that while a lot of the scurrying, prepping and planning one might do for the start of school is valuable, what really counts is establishing a positive and satisfying relationships with the children and families with whom we’ll spend this year.

In preschool, we start the year with a letter to each  child and family, followed up by short conferences and an abbreviated visit  in our room.  This meet-and-greet format may seem simple, but the true purpose is for each of us to listen and learn and to set the tone for on-going dialogue.   As teachers, we have the experiences and perspectives on child development and curriculum.  Parents and grandparents are a child’s first teacher and know that individual child far better than we do at this time.  Just like with students, parents need to have basic needs met before they can take risks (i.e. send their child off to school relatively stress-free).

 Adults need a sense of belonging, a feeling that they are significant and an understanding that this new envirnoment will be fun and engaging. Most families also come to preschool with a long list of thoughtful questions ranging from the mundane (“Does my child need a folder?”) to philosophical questions (“How do you handle discipline?”), so this meeting also serves an important need to cover the nuts and bolts that allow busy parents to check a few tasks off their lists.

Once we answer the important mechanical questions, it’s time for me to do more listening and learning.  I love asking parents to share the first three words that come to mind when they think of their child. Some chuckle, some break into a smile, others pause and think for a bit.  The follow-up question is “What are some of your child’s strengths?”  There’s often a longer pause or a larger smile.  After just three years together, parents often recognize traits that will stay with a child a life time  such as “thoughtful,” “playful,” “inquisitive.”  

Other times, the adult comments reflect the classic hallmarks of a three-year-old  like “wants my attention or approval,” “loves stories,” or  “attached to…(specific everyday items).”  These observations not only provide keen insights as to who the child is at this moment in his/her life, but also help me gauge how much information the family will need and/or want  in terms of child development and parenting.  I love hearing parents talk about their children, whether it’s a slow metamorphosis from reserved dialogue to a relaxed, proud sharing of this little person they love so dearly or an enthusiastic and unequivocal campaign speech of their child’s personality, strengths and life outside of school. 

I learn so much from these meetings about the child’s interests, the parents engagement with school, and how we can best work together to support individual children, families and our program.  Just as these parents expect that their children will learn from their teachers and school, I expect to learn from these families and their children. Already, I’ve learned these four of these children are bilingual in three different languages.  Some have traveled or lived overseas. Some are raised by nontraditional families or  live in diverse cultures, while others are first or fourth in a family.  Each and every one of these wee ones came into the classroom with a certain level of comfort, but in just a few short hours became more engaged in the environment and with adults and peers.  It’s a slow unfolding that I am fortunate enough to help facilitate, yet respect that much of their development and growth will unfold precisely when each child is ready. 

To best serve the child’s needs and to honor the unique personality of each,  all the adults in each child’s life will need a strong partnership.  This is just the beginning.   Like standing on the high on a mountain or along the shore of the beach, the first days of school offers so many lessons and provocations when you take the time to listen and learn before embarking on a long, fulfilling  journey together.
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A Crazy American Girl Experience

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

This morning, I did a very brave thing. I, along with a friend and her three girls, took my two daughters to the new American Girl Doll store in Tysons Corner, Va., which opened just a few months ago to mobs of girls and their American Girl dolls.

Two magnificent floors with every imaginable accessory and clothes for the historical and contemporary American Girl dolls and Bitty Baby. Gorgeous displays showcased the dolls in various outfits and accessories. Need a sled dog and sled? No problem. What about a yoga outfit? Check. Horses and saddles? Aplenty.

Hungry? Stop by the bistro for some refreshment for you and your doll—if you can get a table, that is. Reservations highly recommended unless you want to settle in for a long wait.

Is your doll having a bad hair day? A visit to the doll hair salon can put it to rights. Does your doll not have her ears pierced? That can be done as well.

We spent two glorious hours flitting from doll to doll, watching dolls in the salon, reading new books, oohhing and aahhing over the accessories and furniture. My daughters, ages 7 and nearly 9, were in heaven, eyes sparkling, as they rushed from display to display.

Part of the fun was watching my seven-year-old choose a doll outfit as part of her birthday present. Her grandmother is taking both girls back next week so the birthday girl can have Elizabeth’s hair fixed in the salon as another birthday treat.

Both girls had saved up their allowance and were scoping out things they could buy with their cash. The birthday girl decided on some earrings, while her older sister wanted to get Felicity’s ears pierced (some of the dolls came with ears already pierced, like Elizabeth, and others didn’t, like Felicity).

But when we got home and the girls started counting their money, my oldest daughter realized she would have to spend all of her money to get the ear piercing done. A hard dose of reality after a morning spent in fantasy land.

Now she’s weighing whether to wait to save more of her allowance, spend all her money or ask for the ear piercing for her upcoming birthday. I wasn’t looking for a life lesson when I took the girls to the store, but think that sometimes delayed gratification (waiting for a birthday) and saving up money for something special can be helpful to developing their character.
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Just (NOT) Do It

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Most of us who work with children know that we need to vary the structure of the day to include high activity, whole group, small group, individual work and downtime.  At different ages and stages, kids need different concoctions of  activities and pacing.  Finding that pacing can be one of the challenges of parenting or teaching, but it also provides some variety that keeps things fresh!

Children of all ages benefit from time outdoors and time for free exploration.  Most of us are pretty good at planning and/or facilitating activities. We can even plan less-structured time for kids. What strikes me, in my own teaching and in my observations of others, is how hard it is to be a role model for doing nothing for short periods of time.

During the course of the school day, quiet time is a part of our routine, from the earliest grades right up through upper elementary.  Often it takes the form of  reading, listening to quiet music or sketching. The children I know look forward to this part of our day.  Some even catch a catnap – a clear sign that their bodies need the rest! Personally, I have to work pretty hard to make sure I honor the intention of this part of our day.  It’s a challenge not  to check email, confer with a student or review plans or papers. Kids watch and learn by example, and what example do I show by multi-tasking during quiet time?  (Probably a similar example as they see in other adults!)

My brain, like others, really needs that downtime to consolidate and prepare for the next stages of the day, but more often than not, I cave to the pressure (and often, desire) to do more. It’s a deliberate effort to focus on doing nothing, even briefly.  But it’s the “nothing” that restores us and enables us to forge ahead with the best that we’ve got.  In college, a friend slipped a note in my study carrel that said:

"…it’s time to relax. Put down those lists, slow down your heartbeat, light a fire. Let the quiet soothe the productive beast within you… You are much more than the sum of what you produce.”

Twenty-something years later, that wrinkled, gray paper still hangs over my desk. Some days, I actually get it.

Folks who can incorporate some form of downtime at the end of the work day (whether it’s a quiet drive home, a walk, or a few minutes alone) find they are often more refreshed and ready to tackle the next chapter of the day.  We know that our brains need quiet periods for consolidation and rest. Want to know more? Read   The Power of Rest for eight tips that give you permission to rest.  Or read why The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends more unstructured play time for kids and less pressure to do so much, so well.

But how to stop all the noise and chatter going on in our lives?  It’s really not a  trick. As the Nike ad says, “just do it.”  Or rather, not do it.  Some ways to not do so much  for a short period of time include:

  • Turn off the phone. Or even silence it.
  • Work without an email or internet browser open.
  • Don’t open the mail right away.
  • Breathe. Really expand your belly and fill up on some 02.
  • Ask for a few minutes of quiet or a half hour to walk.

Then come back to the real priorities in your life, like say, your nine-year-old who really wants to tell you about his day at camp. Or your three-year old who can pump herself on a swing. Or go whole-hog at that to-do list for a set period of time, and be done with it for the day.

A bit of quiet often lets you be fully present, more engaged, and ready to tackle any challenge.  It often means you need to just (N-O-T) do it.

NOTE:  I’m taking my own advice and will be NOT doing the work-thing next week so I can enjoy a bit of downtime with my family. Watch for a re-posting of a well-read blog thanks to the wonder of WordPress’s Scheduler.

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Do We Owe Our Kids Happiness?

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

The cover story in the July-August issue of The Atlantic struck a chord with parents around the country. Entitled, “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy,” author Lori Gottlieb explored how the cult of self-esteem is ruining our kids. She questioned how “the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods.”

Which took me aback a bit. In our parenting, my husband and I never really thought we were responsible for our children’s happiness, much in the same way I don’t think I’m responsible for my husband’s happiness, and he for mine.

Apparently we’re in the minority of parents today, who want to ensure—through tons of activities, enrichment opportunities, material possessions, and the right schooling—that their children have a bump-free ride to adulthood and thus happiness. Because isn’t happiness never being frustrated or failing or not making the team?

Raising a FamilyHappiness is not something we can bestow on another. It’s something that we have to attain for ourselves, by working through the hard stuff and, yes, failing and picking ourselves up again and again. Happiness has at its foundation contentment, an old-fashioned concept that has fallen out of favor.

Contentment says, “No matter the circumstances, I will be satisfied.” Contentment doesn’t mean you stop striving for achievement or no longer try your very best. Contentment does mean that on the inside you’re not constantly fretting about life’s what-ifs and always desiring the next thing.

Teaching our children how to be content can look like we don’t care about their happiness because it means delayed gratification, putting others first, doing things that benefit the family instead of one member, sharing instead of hoarding, and so on. All these things can frustrate a child and cause him not to feel very “happy.” But learning how to deal with disappointments and frustrations, how to be a part of the family instead of the center of the family, and how to give more of yourself to others instead of taking leads ultimately to happiness.

As I remind my children, happiness is a fleeting feeling that comes and goes, but contentment soothes the soul and nourishes the heart. Which would you rather instill in your child?

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Wordless Wednesday Has Become Speculative Sunday

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Many of us have thousands of words to describe what this picture represents, but we’re struggling to get some of these words up and out of our hearts and minds. And simply posting a photo didn’t do justice to what happened.

Good writers know that journaling and blogging are not synonymous, but that many excellent pieces of writing begin as journal entries.  I wrote often last week and thought I had a blog post about the events on the water.  I’m not actually a sailor, so I thought about things from a child development perspective – about these kids, their team and a smattering of  the ramifications for families and teens.  But that voice in the back of my head told me there was something was still amiss. So I turned to my writing gurus, Michele Woodward and Laurie Foley who provided the sage advice, which meant back to the Ipad and writing the prologue to the original blog entry.

Prologue – June 24, 2011
As a teacher and a mom, I rarely – if ever – believe that what my kids tell me is 100% accurate. It’s not that they are untrustworthy.  I’ve heard enough to know that many variables go into retelling events, especially when there is a compelling drama at the core.  So when my daughter gave me the very rough outline of sailing practice yesterday, I never for a moment considered it to be accurate.  But deep down, I was scared to death she was right.   After she ate dinner in silence, checked her email, and actually took my advice to just shut her phone off for the night, she went to bed at 8 p.m.  An hour later, I had phone calls which confirmed every last detail she told me. I was stunned.

A rarity happened in junior sailing. Some veteran sailors call it a “genuine freak accident” that  is “mercifully rare.”  It’s something that doesn’t happen but did, taking the life a 14-year-old.  Olivia Constants  drowned after her boat capsized and “turtled” – meaning it had inverted so that the mast of her two-man, 13 foot boat, pointed down with Olivia underneath.  Both skipper and coach worked to free her from the entanglement of lines and her life jacket (which generally does the job of “saving,” but complicates things when the wearer is trapped under a boat). 

Coaches performed CPR in accordance with safety protocol while the rest of the team watched in close range, sails dropped.  Within minutes Olivia was carried onto the closet point of land (the U.S. Naval Academy)  where they met the emergency response team.  The sailors retreated to shore where they de-rigged in silence, knowing that their team was now an odd-number.  Other junior sailors watched from a distance as this tragedy unfolded, unaware of the magnitude of the accident.

Within days, the “R.I.P. Olivia Constants We Love You and Miss You Very Much“  Facebook page had over 5000 likes. Many spoke to the joy and love Olivia showed each day and others who didn’t know her, but are inspired by the anecdotes.  As  family and friends said a tearful, yet uplifting good-bye to Olivia, the team of 13 teenagers clung to each other, literally and electronically.  They are bound to be close allies for years to come, as no one besides the team and coaches will fully understand what they experienced.   More importantly, they have come together to support each other and the Constants family, to re-dedicate themselves to sailing and safety, and to enjoy as many minutes of each day that they can.   Classmates, fellow sailors, and friends are expressing similar sentiments.  It’s going to be a long haul, but I believe they’re off on a steady course. This is tough stuff at any age, but is especially vexing for teens who are going through the normal individualization process, yet still need adults are on their side, so that’s where we’ll be when they need us.

If you have sailors, or children in any sport,  be certain they are equipped with the most appropriate safety gear, training, and supervision. But as with most sports, accidents do  happen even under ideal conditions and with the keenest attention to detail, so hug them tight each day!

NOTE: The Commodore’s statement,  “SSA Encouraged by Support in Wake of Death” was published in Hometown Annapolis.

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12 Commandments Of Summer

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Here are some great tips to make your summer even more enjoyable!

1. Go barefoot as much as possible. Wear socks only when hiking or running.
2. Catch fire flies before bed. Release after breakfast.
3.Read and write outside.
4. Try something you are not fully comfortable with- a new sport, swimming in the surf, a roller coaster.
Raising a Family5.Pick fresh berries  in your garden or someone else's.
6.Eat ice cream at least once a week.
7. Find a silent place outdoors and just be.
8. Wear sunscreen and a helmet.
9. Get on something  that let's your hair blow (even with a helmet).
10. Get sand or dirt in your toes.
11. Take off your watch. Or phone. Or both.
12. Capture part of summer to keep for a dark, dreary winter's day that keeps the essence of summer fun in your spirit!

Tell us what your up to this summer.

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The Gift of Quiet Time.

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

Earlier this year, I had to stop my youngest from taking naps because he would stay up too late at night and keep his older brother up, too, because they shared a room. So I would have to cranky preschoolers the next day, which wasn’t fun for any of us.

Now the boys have quiet time each afternoon. I put them together in their room for at least an hour. I’m a firm believer in having time apart from the children and their having time apart from their mother. But lately it hasn’t been going so well.

Raising a FamilyFive minutes into the hour, the door opens and someone is wailing, crying, because of something his brother did or he did to himself, who knows? But he needs a kiss. Ten minutes later, the sound of running feet above my head alert me to the fact that they have broken out again without permission.

I’ve set an egg timer to let them know when rest time is over, but that hasn’t stopped the at times near constant opening and closing of the door. I’ve locked their door—easy to do since I reversed the lock last fall because of some bed-time issues—and that works to keep them contained. Usually, they dump all the books off their little bookshelf and their room’s a mess at the end.

Sometimes quiet time becomes more work than if they’d just stayed up. But I’ll preserve, because it’s in their best interest and their mother’s sanity. And on the days when they play nicely in their room, those are the days when the home has more harmony and I think to myself, what a wonderful life.

Tell us what your kids do for quiet time.

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Perseverance. Determination. Stick-to-itiveness.

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

The first two bring to mind motivational posters seen in the cubicles of the NBC comedy, The Office. The third is one of those pesky-words from a basal text-book I read in fifth grade.  Neither of which call to mind young children. But I know (because I see it every day) that children are persistent and determined, especially with the careful guidance of adults.

As I reflect on the year I’ve had, on all of my wee ones and many of the older children I know in our school and elsewhere, they do exhibit the kind of perseverance that manifests itself in later life on the playing field, in the board room and in personal relationships. I bet you know kids like this, too.

Preschoolers and Prek children have left the comfortable and safe nest called home all year to take those first steps towards independence at school and beyond.  By now, they’ve acquired the skills and courage to hop out of the car, mosey onto the playground and care for belongings with very little assistance from adults. They are articulating their wishes and needs and have the neophyte skills for basic conflict resolution.  The feed themselves snack and clean up. They’ve learned hopscotch, one-to-one correspondence, to predict what might happen in a book and to try new things with music and art.  Life might be easier to hanging out at home, but through the year, they have showed up ready to take on new challenges and gain new skills. They’ve tried and tried again. They’ve made dozens of baby steps for which the sum total is a magnificent step in their growth and development.  The same sort of recap could be made for most children at any grade level.

How to foster and develop persistence in young children? Same basic steps as in other traits to foster in kids.

1. Name it.
Perseverance  As Jamie Lee Curtis says in Big Words for Little People, “PERSEVERANCE is to try and to try, even though you might want to give up and cry. When doing a puzzle that puzzles your mind, you persevere till the right piece you find.”  When you notice your child sticking to a task, point it out. “Hey, I see you turned that puzzle piece around and around until it fit. That’s perseverance!” Or with older children, “I notice that you made some changes to your essay that really support your topic sentence.” Clear, specific, honest.

2. Teach self-talk
What does perseverance sound like or feel like inside? It’s often hard to recognize and even harder to develop without coaching.  What phrases resonate for you? For your child? How about:

  • “I think I can, I think I can.”
  • “Don’t give up the ship!”
  • “Try, try again!”

With older kids (9-10) surf the net together to find quotes or biographies of folks your child admires – politicians, athletes, philanthropist. There is much written about such persevering people like Michael Jordan, Helen Keller, Gary Paulson, Amelia Earhart and dozens of others.

3. Help Set a Goal
This is a learned skill many adults still struggle with.  Sit down and talk about goals your child has or ones you share.
establish baby steps so that by starting small, they are attainable
build autonomy by having your child put for the effort, record progress, or solve new problems which arise.
be open to possibilities or to see things differently; let your child take the lead and don’t be wedded to an outcome you are seeking
be the reality check for your child. Children are notorious for seeing things larger than they are and need help keeping things in perspective. If they want to raise $1,000 for the Red Cross, lay some ground work to explain what a large undertaking that is and help pare down the project and goals to a more attainable scale.

Applaud effort – not perfection. ‘Nuf said.

4. Positive Spin – “Believe and  you can achieve”
If a child is to believe they have the capacity, skills and the confidence to meet goal, they need to see, hear and feel that you believe that they can accomplish that goal – especially when their confidence is wavering. Be watchful. Listen. Notice. Share clear, specific and positive ways that you observe them putting forth effort and accomplishing small steps toward the larger goal.  This will likely fuel them into taking the next step, too.

5. Provide Reminders
It’s no news that children have short memories. And if they’re tweens/teens, remember their brain is rewiring itself for adult life and at times, they are neurologically younger than they appear.   What seems like a fabulous and extensive project one day, could easy be cast aside or forgotten about in a day or a week. By breaking big projects into small steps, they can work little by little and day by day. Provide reminders about the big goal and prompts to ignite their interest in the small steps. And it’s okay to take a breather from a bigger project; in fact, scheduled breaks help children learn to sustain the energy to engage in long term projects and learning.

6. Set Up Supports
Rome wasn’t built in a day. We all have set backs.  Remind your child that once a task has begun, it’s important to see it through completion (there are always exceptions, but be sure to make abandoning a goal the exception and not the habit or rule). Use tips 1-5 to talk about the smaller steps that lead to a larger goal. Use examples from your own life where you’ve felt like giving up but persevered. Or call on those characters from the good books you’ve found.  There’s an old Chinese proverb, repeated often by Lance Armstrong, reminds us, “fall down 7 times to get up 8.”   Resilience is another skill to foster (see earlier blog).

All kids have passions. Determining what that passion is and how to authentically support it can be the rub for parents. Ask, talk, listen to what your child is passionate about and find out what has deep meaning for them. Find a project for them to pursue this summer and practice these steps to fostering perseverance.  Summer perfect time to tap their passions, scaffold learning of new skill and let kids show their ability to persevere.

How do help foster your child's passions?

Family Editor's Welcome

The Great Outdoors

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

With the arrival of consist warmer weather here in Northern Virginia, my four children have been playing outside nearly every waking moment. And I’m loving it. I enjoy it when the house is not overcome with noise and toys aren’t scattered over every available surface and floor space.

Raising a Family blogThe only downside is the near-constant opening and closing of the screen door, but that can be fixed with a judicious locking of said door on occasion. Of course, I let the children in when they need to use the facilities or desperately need a drink of water. But most of the in-and-out has nothing to do with those two things. More along the lines of, “But Mommy, so-and-so pushed me,” or “A bug keeps following me.” You know, typical kid stuff that doesn’t need a Mommy intervention.

I also admit to pushing the children outside on a nice day when they think they don’t want to be outside. I’ve sent my two older children out with books to read on the front porch and the two younger ones out with a few trucks or trains to play on the porch if they fuss about being outside.

And no, I don’t sit outside with them. I don’t constantly watch them. I check on them periodically and remind them of the rules, such as where they can play, how far down the sidewalk they can go, and not to throw rocks, sticks, or pick flowers without permission.

My two older girls can ride their bikes or scooters on a sidewalk loop around the corner from our house on their own, which is rather thrilling for them to have that freedom. What’s even more fun is teaching them some of the games I played as a child, such as Ghost in the Graveyard, Russia Ball* and Spud*. My father recently made my kids a pair of stilts, and it’s been fun to show off my stilt skills to the amazement of my kids.

* If you are interested in instructions on how to play Russia Ball or Spud, two of the best outdoor games I’ve every played, email me through my website, www.sarahhamaker.com.

How do your kids enjoy the great outdoors?

Family Editor's Welcome

Children's Book Week - Reason to Read

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

This week is Children’s Book week sponsored by the Children's Book Council (who have celebrated children books and reading since 1919).  Every week should include a celebration of great literature and reading with your children, but this week a chance to really step up and share the tremendous joys derived from reading to and with children.

Raising a FamilyWe all know reading is important, but do you ever wonder why they are important early on?  Early literacy skills have an indisputable relationship with later, conventional literacy skills such as:

  • decoding (what letters and chunks sound like)

  • oral reading

  • fluency (smoothness and accuracy)

  • reading comprehension (knowing what text means)

  • writing

  • spelling

Long before children start school, they begin to develop an awareness of the systematic patterns of sounds in the spoken language (no matter what the language). They also learn to manipulate sounds (rhymes, silly songs build these skills), learn the relationship between letters and sounds and build their oral language and vocabulary skills.  Once in school,  the reinforcement of these skills and the synthesis of skills is set in motion by quality teaching, frequent reading, and the unwavering attitude, modeled by adults and peers, that books bring joy and richness to life.

As children learn to read their growth generally follows predictable patterns and hallmarks.  Letter sound relationship, sight word identification, chunking (reading clusters of letters vs. sounding out each little piece), comprehending simple texts with familiar story lines.  This is by no means an easy or painless process for all children, but no matter how smooth reading is for children, frequent reading (to, with or independent) is essential.  Whatever children read on their own is likely to be easier than what they can read in guided reading with a skilled teacher, but allows them to solidify knowledge, feel confident and focus on comprehension strategies. 

As a teacher and a parent, excitement felt by both reader and observer when the lightbulb goes off and a child truly views herself as a reader is always cause for celebration (and often tears of joy!).  It’s a remarkable process that once it clicks, opens the door to so much more.  Author Patricia Polacco writes eloquently about the significance of “chasing adventure, knowledge and wisdom in a book” in her story The Bee Tree, available through Amazon.com.

One of the most important messages we can give children is that reading is essential. We also need to convey to them what we notice and know they do as readers - simple things like choose books, open and flip pages (even if they are not “reading”), enjoying pictures, connecting pictures and text, talking about literature, sharing great stories. 

Readers who comprehend what they read also make connections. Talk about the connections you make to literature  - connections to other books (in teacher speak, “text-to-text”), your own life (“text-to-self”) or the world (“text-to-world”). 

It’s often easier for children to make these rich connections when they listen to stories, so as you read aloud to children, stop often to discuss those connections and ask your child what connections they can make. And remember to help kids find books they can identify connections to - who likes to read stuff that feels irrelevant? With so many books to choose from (and reading lists galore - see below) there is no excuse to read a book that doesn’t stir some passion or wonder.  Later in life, there will be required texts that hold little significance or relevance - so grow avid readers by finding literature they love!

Research abounds on how children learn to read.  But the bottom line is that reading aloud to and modeling reading at home are two sure-fire ways to give your child a strong foundation for success in reading and a life-long love of reading and learning.  Pick up a couple of good book from your shelves or hit the library armed with a reading list from one of the sources below, and read aloud to a child this week!

Resources:

A couple of blogs worth mentioning:

  • Share a Story, Shape a Future - building a community of readers, one person at a time
  • Teach mama - a blog rich with ideas and thoughts on making learning a way of life, written by a reading specialist/English Teacher/mother of three
  • Literacy Connections - an extensive collection of reading mechanics and research with contributors from a wide-array of institutions

What are your favorite children's books and why?

Family Editor's Welcome

Do We Owe Our Kids Happiness?

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

The cover story in the July-August issue of The Atlantic struck a chord with parents around the country. Entitled, “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy,” author Lori Gottlieb explored how the cult of self-esteem is ruining our kids. She questioned how “the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods.”

Which took me aback a bit. In our parenting, my husband and I never really thought we were responsible for our children’s happiness, much in the same way I don’t think I’m responsible for my husband’s happiness, and he for mine.

Apparently we’re in the minority of parents today, who want to ensure—through tons of activities, enrichment opportunities, material possessions, and the right schooling—that their children have a bump-free ride to adulthood and thus happiness. Because isn’t happiness never being frustrated or failing or not making the team?

Raising a FamilyHappiness is not something we can bestow on another. It’s something that we have to attain for ourselves, by working through the hard stuff and, yes, failing and picking ourselves up again and again. Happiness has at its foundation contentment, an old-fashioned concept that has fallen out of favor.

Contentment says, “No matter the circumstances, I will be satisfied.” Contentment doesn’t mean you stop striving for achievement or no longer try your very best. Contentment does mean that on the inside you’re not constantly fretting about life’s what-ifs and always desiring the next thing.

Teaching our children how to be content can look like we don’t care about their happiness because it means delayed gratification, putting others first, doing things that benefit the family instead of one member, sharing instead of hoarding, and so on. All these things can frustrate a child and cause him not to feel very “happy.” But learning how to deal with disappointments and frustrations, how to be a part of the family instead of the center of the family, and how to give more of yourself to others instead of taking leads ultimately to happiness.

As I remind my children, happiness is a fleeting feeling that comes and goes, but contentment soothes the soul and nourishes the heart. Which would you rather instill in your child?

Family Editor's Welcome

Wordless Wednesday Has Become Speculative Sunday

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Many of us have thousands of words to describe what this picture represents, but we’re struggling to get some of these words up and out of our hearts and minds. And simply posting a photo didn’t do justice to what happened.

Good writers know that journaling and blogging are not synonymous, but that many excellent pieces of writing begin as journal entries.  I wrote often last week and thought I had a blog post about the events on the water.  I’m not actually a sailor, so I thought about things from a child development perspective – about these kids, their team and a smattering of  the ramifications for families and teens.  But that voice in the back of my head told me there was something was still amiss. So I turned to my writing gurus, Michele Woodward and Laurie Foley who provided the sage advice, which meant back to the Ipad and writing the prologue to the original blog entry.

Prologue – June 24, 2011
As a teacher and a mom, I rarely – if ever – believe that what my kids tell me is 100% accurate. It’s not that they are untrustworthy.  I’ve heard enough to know that many variables go into retelling events, especially when there is a compelling drama at the core.  So when my daughter gave me the very rough outline of sailing practice yesterday, I never for a moment considered it to be accurate.  But deep down, I was scared to death she was right.   After she ate dinner in silence, checked her email, and actually took my advice to just shut her phone off for the night, she went to bed at 8 p.m.  An hour later, I had phone calls which confirmed every last detail she told me. I was stunned.

Raising a Family

A rarity happened in junior sailing. Some veteran sailors call it a “genuine freak accident” that  is “mercifully rare.”  It’s something that doesn’t happen but did, taking the life a 14-year-old.  Olivia Constants  drowned after her boat capsized and “turtled” – meaning it had inverted so that the mast of her two-man, 13 foot boat, pointed down with Olivia underneath.  Both skipper and coach worked to free her from the entanglement of lines and her life jacket (which generally does the job of “saving,” but complicates things when the wearer is trapped under a boat). 

Coaches performed CPR in accordance with safety protocol while the rest of the team watched in close range, sails dropped.  Within minutes Olivia was carried onto the closet point of land (the U.S. Naval Academy)  where they met the emergency response team.  The sailors retreated to shore where they de-rigged in silence, knowing that their team was now an odd-number.  Other junior sailors watched from a distance as this tragedy unfolded, unaware of the magnitude of the accident.

Within days, the “R.I.P. Olivia Constants We Love You and Miss You Very Much“  Facebook page had over 5000 likes. Many spoke to the joy and love Olivia showed each day and others who didn’t know her, but are inspired by the anecdotes.  As  family and friends said a tearful, yet uplifting good-bye to Olivia, the team of 13 teenagers clung to each other, literally and electronically.  They are bound to be close allies for years to come, as no one besides the team and coaches will fully understand what they experienced.   More importantly, they have come together to support each other and the Constants family, to re-dedicate themselves to sailing and safety, and to enjoy as many minutes of each day that they can.   Classmates, fellow sailors, and friends are expressing similar sentiments.  It’s going to be a long haul, but I believe they’re off on a steady course. This is tough stuff at any age, but is especially vexing for teens who are going through the normal individualization process, yet still need adults are on their side, so that’s where we’ll be when they need us.

If you have sailors, or children in any sport,  be certain they are equipped with the most appropriate safety gear, training, and supervision. But as with most sports, accidents do  happen even under ideal conditions and with the keenest attention to detail, so hug them tight each day!

NOTE: The Commodore’s statement,  “SSA Encouraged by Support in Wake of Death” was published in Hometown Annapolis.

Family Editor's Welcome

12 Commandments Of Summer

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Here are some great tips to make your summer even more enjoyable!

1. Go barefoot as much as possible. Wear socks only when hiking or running.
2. Catch fire flies before bed. Release after breakfast.
3.Read and write outside.
4. Try something you are not fully comfortable with- a new sport, swimming in the surf, a roller coaster.
Raising a Family5.Pick fresh berries  in your garden or someone else's.
6.Eat ice cream at least once a week.
7. Find a silent place outdoors and just be.
8. Wear sunscreen and a helmet.
9. Get on something  that let's your hair blow (even with a helmet).
10. Get sand or dirt in your toes.
11. Take off your watch. Or phone. Or both.
12. Capture part of summer to keep for a dark, dreary winter's day that keeps the essence of summer fun in your spirit!

Tell us what your up to this summer.

Family Editor's Welcome

The Gift of Quiet Time.

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

Earlier this year, I had to stop my youngest from taking naps because he would stay up too late at night and keep his older brother up, too, because they shared a room. So I would have to cranky preschoolers the next day, which wasn’t fun for any of us.

Now the boys have quiet time each afternoon. I put them together in their room for at least an hour. I’m a firm believer in having time apart from the children and their having time apart from their mother. But lately it hasn’t been going so well.

Raising a FamilyFive minutes into the hour, the door opens and someone is wailing, crying, because of something his brother did or he did to himself, who knows? But he needs a kiss. Ten minutes later, the sound of running feet above my head alert me to the fact that they have broken out again without permission.

I’ve set an egg timer to let them know when rest time is over, but that hasn’t stopped the at times near constant opening and closing of the door. I’ve locked their door—easy to do since I reversed the lock last fall because of some bed-time issues—and that works to keep them contained. Usually, they dump all the books off their little bookshelf and their room’s a mess at the end.

Sometimes quiet time becomes more work than if they’d just stayed up. But I’ll preserve, because it’s in their best interest and their mother’s sanity. And on the days when they play nicely in their room, those are the days when the home has more harmony and I think to myself, what a wonderful life.

Tell us what your kids do for quiet time.

Family Editor's Welcome

Perseverance. Determination. Stick-to-itiveness.

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

The first two bring to mind motivational posters seen in the cubicles of the NBC comedy, The Office. The third is one of those pesky-words from a basal text-book I read in fifth grade.  Neither of which call to mind young children. But I know (because I see it every day) that children are persistent and determined, especially with the careful guidance of adults.

Raising a Family blogAs I reflect on the year I’ve had, on all of my wee ones and many of the older children I know in our school and elsewhere, they do exhibit the kind of perseverance that manifests itself in later life on the playing field, in the board room and in personal relationships. I bet you know kids like this, too.

Preschoolers and Prek children have left the comfortable and safe nest called home all year to take those first steps towards independence at school and beyond.  By now, they’ve acquired the skills and courage to hop out of the car, mosey onto the playground and care for belongings with very little assistance from adults. They are articulating their wishes and needs and have the neophyte skills for basic conflict resolution.  The feed themselves snack and clean up. They’ve learned hopscotch, one-to-one correspondence, to predict what might happen in a book and to try new things with music and art.  Life might be easier to hanging out at home, but through the year, they have showed up ready to take on new challenges and gain new skills. They’ve tried and tried again. They’ve made dozens of baby steps for which the sum total is a magnificent step in their growth and development.  The same sort of recap could be made for most children at any grade level.

How to foster and develop persistence in young children? Same basic steps as in other traits to foster in kids.

1. Name it.
Perseverance  As Jamie Lee Curtis says in Big Words for Little People, “PERSEVERANCE is to try and to try, even though you might want to give up and cry. When doing a puzzle that puzzles your mind, you persevere till the right piece you find.”  When you notice your child sticking to a task, point it out. “Hey, I see you turned that puzzle piece around and around until it fit. That’s perseverance!” Or with older children, “I notice that you made some changes to your essay that really support your topic sentence.” Clear, specific, honest.

2. Teach self-talk
What does perseverance sound like or feel like inside? It’s often hard to recognize and even harder to develop without coaching.  What phrases resonate for you? For your child? How about:

  • “I think I can, I think I can.”
  • “Don’t give up the ship!”
  • “Try, try again!”

With older kids (9-10) surf the net together to find quotes or biographies of folks your child admires – politicians, athletes, philanthropist. There is much written about such persevering people like Michael Jordan, Helen Keller, Gary Paulson, Amelia Earhart and dozens of others.

3. Help Set a Goal
This is a learned skill many adults still struggle with.  Sit down and talk about goals your child has or ones you share.
establish baby steps so that by starting small, they are attainable
build autonomy by having your child put for the effort, record progress, or solve new problems which arise.
be open to possibilities or to see things differently; let your child take the lead and don’t be wedded to an outcome you are seeking
be the reality check for your child. Children are notorious for seeing things larger than they are and need help keeping things in perspective. If they want to raise $1,000 for the Red Cross, lay some ground work to explain what a large undertaking that is and help pare down the project and goals to a more attainable scale.

Applaud effort – not perfection. ‘Nuf said.

4. Positive Spin – “Believe and  you can achieve”
If a child is to believe they have the capacity, skills and the confidence to meet goal, they need to see, hear and feel that you believe that they can accomplish that goal – especially when their confidence is wavering. Be watchful. Listen. Notice. Share clear, specific and positive ways that you observe them putting forth effort and accomplishing small steps toward the larger goal.  This will likely fuel them into taking the next step, too.

5. Provide Reminders
It’s no news that children have short memories. And if they’re tweens/teens, remember their brain is rewiring itself for adult life and at times, they are neurologically younger than they appear.   What seems like a fabulous and extensive project one day, could easy be cast aside or forgotten about in a day or a week. By breaking big projects into small steps, they can work little by little and day by day. Provide reminders about the big goal and prompts to ignite their interest in the small steps. And it’s okay to take a breather from a bigger project; in fact, scheduled breaks help children learn to sustain the energy to engage in long term projects and learning.

6. Set Up Supports
Rome wasn’t built in a day. We all have set backs.  Remind your child that once a task has begun, it’s important to see it through completion (there are always exceptions, but be sure to make abandoning a goal the exception and not the habit or rule). Use tips 1-5 to talk about the smaller steps that lead to a larger goal. Use examples from your own life where you’ve felt like giving up but persevered. Or call on those characters from the good books you’ve found.  There’s an old Chinese proverb, repeated often by Lance Armstrong, reminds us, “fall down 7 times to get up 8.”   Resilience is another skill to foster (see earlier blog).

All kids have passions. Determining what that passion is and how to authentically support it can be the rub for parents. Ask, talk, listen to what your child is passionate about and find out what has deep meaning for them. Find a project for them to pursue this summer and practice these steps to fostering perseverance.  Summer perfect time to tap their passions, scaffold learning of new skill and let kids show their ability to persevere.

How do help foster your child's passions?

Family Editor's Welcome

The Great Outdoors

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

With the arrival of consist warmer weather here in Northern Virginia, my four children have been playing outside nearly every waking moment. And I’m loving it. I enjoy it when the house is not overcome with noise and toys aren’t scattered over every available surface and floor space.

Raising a Family blogThe only downside is the near-constant opening and closing of the screen door, but that can be fixed with a judicious locking of said door on occasion. Of course, I let the children in when they need to use the facilities or desperately need a drink of water. But most of the in-and-out has nothing to do with those two things. More along the lines of, “But Mommy, so-and-so pushed me,” or “A bug keeps following me.” You know, typical kid stuff that doesn’t need a Mommy intervention.

I also admit to pushing the children outside on a nice day when they think they don’t want to be outside. I’ve sent my two older children out with books to read on the front porch and the two younger ones out with a few trucks or trains to play on the porch if they fuss about being outside.

And no, I don’t sit outside with them. I don’t constantly watch them. I check on them periodically and remind them of the rules, such as where they can play, how far down the sidewalk they can go, and not to throw rocks, sticks, or pick flowers without permission.

My two older girls can ride their bikes or scooters on a sidewalk loop around the corner from our house on their own, which is rather thrilling for them to have that freedom. What’s even more fun is teaching them some of the games I played as a child, such as Ghost in the Graveyard, Russia Ball* and Spud*. My father recently made my kids a pair of stilts, and it’s been fun to show off my stilt skills to the amazement of my kids.

* If you are interested in instructions on how to play Russia Ball or Spud, two of the best outdoor games I’ve every played, email me through my website, www.sarahhamaker.com.

How do your kids enjoy the great outdoors?

Family Editor's Welcome

Children's Book Week - Reason to Read

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

This week is Children’s Book week sponsored by the Children's Book Council (who have celebrated children books and reading since 1919).  Every week should include a celebration of great literature and reading with your children, but this week a chance to really step up and share the tremendous joys derived from reading to and with children.

Raising a FamilyWe all know reading is important, but do you ever wonder why they are important early on?  Early literacy skills have an indisputable relationship with later, conventional literacy skills such as:

  • decoding (what letters and chunks sound like)

  • oral reading

  • fluency (smoothness and accuracy)

  • reading comprehension (knowing what text means)

  • writing

  • spelling

Long before children start school, they begin to develop an awareness of the systematic patterns of sounds in the spoken language (no matter what the language). They also learn to manipulate sounds (rhymes, silly songs build these skills), learn the relationship between letters and sounds and build their oral language and vocabulary skills.  Once in school,  the reinforcement of these skills and the synthesis of skills is set in motion by quality teaching, frequent reading, and the unwavering attitude, modeled by adults and peers, that books bring joy and richness to life.

As children learn to read their growth generally follows predictable patterns and hallmarks.  Letter sound relationship, sight word identification, chunking (reading clusters of letters vs. sounding out each little piece), comprehending simple texts with familiar story lines.  This is by no means an easy or painless process for all children, but no matter how smooth reading is for children, frequent reading (to, with or independent) is essential.  Whatever children read on their own is likely to be easier than what they can read in guided reading with a skilled teacher, but allows them to solidify knowledge, feel confident and focus on comprehension strategies. 

As a teacher and a parent, excitement felt by both reader and observer when the lightbulb goes off and a child truly views herself as a reader is always cause for celebration (and often tears of joy!).  It’s a remarkable process that once it clicks, opens the door to so much more.  Author Patricia Polacco writes eloquently about the significance of “chasing adventure, knowledge and wisdom in a book” in her story The Bee Tree, available through Amazon.com.

One of the most important messages we can give children is that reading is essential. We also need to convey to them what we notice and know they do as readers - simple things like choose books, open and flip pages (even if they are not “reading”), enjoying pictures, connecting pictures and text, talking about literature, sharing great stories. 

Readers who comprehend what they read also make connections. Talk about the connections you make to literature  - connections to other books (in teacher speak, “text-to-text”), your own life (“text-to-self”) or the world (“text-to-world”). 

It’s often easier for children to make these rich connections when they listen to stories, so as you read aloud to children, stop often to discuss those connections and ask your child what connections they can make. And remember to help kids find books they can identify connections to - who likes to read stuff that feels irrelevant? With so many books to choose from (and reading lists galore - see below) there is no excuse to read a book that doesn’t stir some passion or wonder.  Later in life, there will be required texts that hold little significance or relevance - so grow avid readers by finding literature they love!

Research abounds on how children learn to read.  But the bottom line is that reading aloud to and modeling reading at home are two sure-fire ways to give your child a strong foundation for success in reading and a life-long love of reading and learning.  Pick up a couple of good book from your shelves or hit the library armed with a reading list from one of the sources below, and read aloud to a child this week!

Resources:

A couple of blogs worth mentioning:

  • Share a Story, Shape a Future - building a community of readers, one person at a time
  • Teach mama - a blog rich with ideas and thoughts on making learning a way of life, written by a reading specialist/English Teacher/mother of three
  • Literacy Connections - an extensive collection of reading mechanics and research with contributors from a wide-array of institutions

What are your favorite children's books and why?

Editor's Welcome

Ah, Spring, When Thoughts Turn to Gardening

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

This is the year of our first vegetable garden. Now for most folks, that would be a relatively easy thing to accomplish. But with our back yard kind of sloping downward and trees shading the more even spots—not to mention a rock garden along one side and back of the yard—finding an ideal spot for said garden was only my first challenge.

Once the spots had been determined, I then had to calculate how many 4X4s were needed and in what sizes to build raised beds. A trip with my two boys to the hardware store proved to be not as exhausting as I had anticipated. I had enough wood, cut into the sizes I needed, for two garden beds. I even found half-barrel containers for growing tomatoes.

Raising a FamilyAfter staining the wood to help keep the water out, I waited for the next nice day and started construction. To my surprise, the gardens took shape rather quickly and I even had time to return to the store for top soil and Miracle Grow.

I’ve ordered the seeds and plants for the garden and the children are excited to help me plant them. I only hope that they will stay out of the gardens and not dig up the seeds or plants before they have time to sprout.

I’m hoping that working in the garden and watching the vegetables grow will be fun for all of us. It will be a good connection to the cycle of life and I’m sure the kids will enjoy getting their hands dirty.

But I’m also a bit nervous about actually having the seeds become veggies, given my tendency to kill house plants (which is why we have exactly one, and that only because it was a gift). For right now, though, the spring holds all the promise and none of the heartache. I suppose if we utterly fail, that will be a good lesson, too.

How do you use nature to teach your children?

Editor's Welcome

Life is about finding our joy

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

An acupuncturist said this to me over ten years ago and I actually laughed.  Maybe it was  my needle anxiety, but I really did laugh.  I thought she was nutty.    Life about finding joy? No, no, no. Life (for me),  was about work. Responsibility. Working hard. Wasn’t that the deal for everyone?

Raising a FamilyI was doing a brief stint as a stay-at-home mom, eagerly looking to teach after we relocated. I was constantly working. I was the one a bit nutty. Some would stay I still am, but my perceptive has taken a gigantic shift.

Seeking joy is not inherently in me. It takes effort. It’s penciled in lightly on every to-do list. Without that reminder, I’d forget. Luckily, I spend every day of my life with at least two fantastic kids, often several dozen kids who remind me - and sucks me right into their joy.  It's a constant reminder that joy is all around us if we simply open our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts to it.

Life is changeable. It might be short. It’s fluid and can be interrupted at any point. Happiness is a gift and a choice.  That’s the compelling reasons to find the joy in each day.  Tomorrow might not bring the same opportunities for joy and laughter, so grab it while you can!

Fortunately, most children are blissfully unaware of how vulnerable we all are. Most live for the moment and when given the opportunity, they will thrive in the moment - taking in  as much as they can, asking questions, making connections, laughing, moving and living richly.

To read more, check out Lisa's full blog, Joy is You (We Want You to Be Happy)  or find Wonder of Children on Facebook

How are you taking joy each day, for yourself or with your children?  And check out the Raising a Family Writing Contest.

Editor's Welcome

Parenting Finances 101

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

Earlier this month, CNNMoney reported on a new report that listed the top 25 U.S. cities in terms of credit-card debt. The story recounted that the average American consumer had more than $4,200 in credit card debt by Dec. 31, 2010. That number had dropped 4 percent from the previous year, but still, that’s a lot of debt.

Raising a FamilyConsumers in the top five cities owed more than that number. San Antonio ranked number one, with an average credit card debt of $5,177, followed by Jacksonville, Fla., with $5,115. Atlanta, Honolulu and Dallas-Fort Worth finished out the top five.

What has that to do with parenting?  More than you think.

I wondered on reading that how many of those people had parents who never talked about money or how to handle their finances. Or how many of them had parents who routinely overspent or misused their
own money.

One of the best educations we can give our children is how to properly handle money.  We can do that by modeling a life of financial freedom, such as living below our means, saving on a regular basis and giving money frequently to charity.

How we talk about money in front of our children also impacts how they will view dollars and cents. Do we say “We can’t afford that” instead of “We choose to not to spend our money on that particular item”? The former connotes that we don’t have enough money, while the latter statement shows that we are thoughtful in our spending choices.

Giving our children age-appropriate allowances can help teach them how to handle money, too. We start allowances in the first grade, which is helpful because in the fall, that grade begins a monetary study. Our first grader receives 50 cents a week, while our second grader gets 75 cents a week. The allowance is given every Saturday and is not tied to chores (but that’s a topic for another column).

We require that our girls give some of their allowance away in church each Sunday without dictating how much. We encourage them to save their allowance and spend it on things like books at the school book sales. During the spring and summer months, we go to yard sales, where they learn the fine art of haggling.

As they grow, we will have more formalized discussions of money and how to treat it, so that when they finally are grown enough to leave our home, they will have a firm foundation on which to start their financially independent lives.

How are you teaching your children about money?

Editor's Welcome

15 Things That Show Your Love for Family

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Here is a list of 15 ways to show your love for family and kids.

Raising a Family15. Cook healthy, fun and nutritious food that, on a good day, half the crew appreciates and actually eats.

14. Model and establish routines for daily chores. Provide encouragement, incentives and directives to make sure everyone learns to pitch in. After the fifth attempt, bend over to pick up dirty laundry off the floor (feed the door, set the table, etc.) yourself and then repeat the conversations as if you have never had it before.

13. Instill a work ethic that learn more toward the Puritans than it does toward the Kardashians

12. Expose your kids to a range of activities that spark their interest, not just resurrect your own aspirations. Encourage them to try new things and find ways to help them pursue those that they develop a passion.

11. Give them the gift of caring and doing for others in meaningful ways. Let them figure out it's better to give than get.

10. Express your faith in their efforts, not simply praise for their accomplishments. Notice as they begin to do the same for others.

9. Patiently wait while your eight-year- old ponders the possibility of spending her riches ($6.05) at Five Below, Target or the toy section opposite cereal in the grocery store.  Knowing what you value before spending your hard-earned cash is a life lesson.

8. Consume Starbucks at 8 pm so you're awake to pick up the teens from a movie at 11:15pm. Better to be the driver than to wonder whom else might be.

7. Say no to the third weekend in a row of birthday parties so you can have family movie night. What they really want and need is to be nestled home with all of you.

6. Read every day, alone, with and to your children.

5. Offer TLC, bandages and ice to injuries legitimate or not.

4. Watch the Wiggles, Dora, Sponge Bob, I Carly or American idol with you child for enjoyment, enlightenment and insights. There are teachable moments and a few chuckles, to be found when you do these (occasionally) together.

3. Laugh, listen, hug, be silent or counsel when appropriate, and somehow posses the wisdom to know which to invoke.

2. Model a sense of purpose and integrity through your intentions and actions- they're watching and learning from what you do, not just what you tell them to do.

1. Strive to be fully present and appreciate each and every day with those you love.

What would you add to this list?

Editor's Welcome

Making Our Kids Sick

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

About a month ago, I deliberately tried to get my four kids sick. Now some of you probably think that’s crazy talk, but I was chasing chicken pox. We did not get our children vaccinated for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the varicella zoster virus vaccine does not guarantee the recipient would not get chicken pox anyway.

Raising a FamilySo I found myself encouraging my kids to eat pieces of candy cane an infected child had sucked on. Gross, yes. Effective, you betcha. Sixteen days later, my 2-year-old had his first pox to much rejoicing by his parents. He weathered the illness just fine, a bit of a fever and no reaction at all to the pustules covering his body.

I examined the other children for days afterwards, hoping each tiny red spot would indeed blossom into chicken pox. Finally, 14 days after my youngest started his round, the other children have fallen victim to the disease. Now my children are covered in spots and feeling somewhat miserable.

You might ask why would we subject our children to sickness and missed school for the older ones. The answer is quite simple: We feel that it’s in their best interest for them to be sick now in order to develop an immunity to this illness for the rest of their lives.

Now that I have a houseful of chicken poxed children, I’ve occasionally rethought my strategy as the whining and the complaining have escalated at times to nearly unbearable levels. But the reality is, I wouldn’t change our decision because I know that in the end, I’ve given my children something invaluable: a lifelong immunity and the character-building perseverance of weathering a week-long illness.

What are some of your tough parenting decisions?

Editor's Welcome

Know Who You're Dealing With

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

I’ve spent the better part of 20 years with children – a couple of my own and hundreds of other people’s children. Along the way I’ve also met dozen of true experts in child development and education. Before one can truly understand the theory, philosophy or pedagogy behind teaching or parenting, I’ve learned that you’ve got to really understand and know who you’re dealing with before you can employ any other
approach or theory.

It’s not just in what they like to eat or how exactly the pjs need to be put on each night. Or how they like their backs rubbed or what author’s they cannot get enough of.

Raising a FamilySure, knowing the precise intricacies of how your child operates and what soothes them is essential. Recognizing what upsets them and what makes them most joyful are also important. But in a larger sense, it’s crucial that you understand what lays the root of their behavior and what are the underpinnings of each stage of development. Once you understand where they are coming from, you can more readily make sense of what they’re doing, what they need, how they feel and how you feel.

Trust me. Because I forget this seminal fact semi-annually as large shifts in development occur. Then something happens that slaps me upside the ahead so that I say, “ah-ha!  We’re now squarely 13 and thirteen year olds are just plan argumentative as they begin to realize who and what they are…” As a teacher, I am constantly comparing where my kids are chronologically to developmentally. Chip Wood, educator, writer and expert in child development, writes a series on “Positive Attributes” of each age, four through fourteen. If you’re feeling uneasy about where your child is, or need a reminder of all the wonderful aspects of any age, check out his blog (listed on resources below).

Good news is that you don’t need a career worth of experience on top of graduate degrees to decipher what’s going on. There are so key resources for you to pull out from time to time, spend an hour or less mulling over, and then have a keener understanding of where your child is in his developmental landscape.

Some of my favorite resources are:
It's a Baby Girl!: The Unique Wonder and Special Nature of Your Daughter From Pregnancy to Two Years By Stacie Berlng and Adie Goldberg (good primer, birth to age 2)
Nurture the Nature: Understanding and Supporting Your Child's Unique Core Personality by Michael Gurian
Your Four-Year-Old: Wild and Wonderful (series year by year, 2 through 14) by Gessel Institute
researchers Louse Bates Ames et. Al.
• Yardsticks (www.yardsticks4-14.com)
Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14 (3rd ed.) by Chip Wood
Annie Fox’s Blog - Thoughts about teens, tweens and parenting

Take a few minutes getting to know your child is this stage and what the hallmarks, effective strategies; trends in play and learning are evident at this stage. It helps give some perspective to what you’re experiencing (the good, the bad, the in between) and most of all, it reminds you that child development is cyclical. Those phases of “disequilibrium” that Gesell identified give way to “smooth” periods where learning and growth consolidate. Enjoy those smooth phases and look for ways to facilitate growth with a sense of humor and perspective...

What are or have been your favorite parenting resources?

Editor's Welcome

A Pussy Willow for Jet

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

I should have known when Jet didn’t make her usual loud appearance when I was resting on the couch that winter afternoon in early January three years ago that something was wrong.  How many times in the seven years she had lived with us did she miss an opportunity for some lap time?  But, with three young children to keep an eye on, I didn’t recall her absence until after the children were in bed. 

I found Jet curled up in a little black ball in her cat hut, a triangular cave lined with soft cushions. When I called her name, no meow was forthcoming, another sign that something was not right.  For Jet, an Oriental Short Hair, always meowed for attention quite loudly. I gingerly picked her up and sat her on my lap, knowing as I stroked her soft fur that something was not quite right. Deep down, I knew she was probably dying, as there had been signs of failing health in the last six months even though trips to the vet had resulted in no diagnosis. 

I realized I was not ready to say goodbye to Jet, to help my children say goodbye to a cat they had known their whole lives. While I had experienced the loss of pets before, this was the first time for me as a mother.

Our other cat, Goliath, stayed close by me as I held Jet, as if knowing his companion was slipping away. I thought back to the day when we had adopted both cats from a rescue center.  How they had bonded with us and each other. How they played together and slept together. How our children loved them.

The next day, my husband dropped Jet off at the vet’s on his way to work, as I had to take our eldest child to school. About mid-morning, after running some blood work and examining her, the vet called with the somber news: Jet was dehydrated and dying, although the tests were inconclusive as to the exact cause. Given those facts, Jet’s age of 14, and the vet’s concurring opinion, we made the painful decision to put her to sleep rather than prolong her agony.

We didn’t want to the children to witness her death—and since I was four months pregnant at the time, I would not be able to make it through such an ordeal without completely breaking down. My husband held Jet while she died at the vet’s. I was left at home to break the news to the children that Jet was not coming home.

Pussy WillowI gently explained the circumstances, that Jet had gotten too sick and had simply gone to sleep and died. My eldest cried at the news, while the two other children were too little to comprehend what death meant.

To ease our distress, we read Margaret Wise Brown’s Pussy Willow (Little Golden Storybook), about a cat who searches far and wide for his missing pussy willow tree, only to find it where he’d left it in the spring. Drawing on the book for inspiration, we recently planted a pussy willow tree in memory of Jet.

How have you handled the death of a family pet?

Editor's Welcome

Winter Winds...This Life if Most Jolly, So Enjoy It

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Act II, Scene 7 from As You Like It by William Shakespeare (1600)

Blow, blow, thou winter wind.
Thou art not so unkind
As man’ s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.
Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remember’ d not.
Heigh-ho! sing, & c.

For most of us, the winter wind has been blowing. And the snow has been coming down. You might even have a touch of cabin fever or the post-holiday blues. And your kids have been home. Enjoyment of life may not be the dominating emotion for you right now, but as a taskmaster myself, I’ m here to remind all of us, it should be. Just as Rosalind ends “ As You Like It,” we all should be enjoying the quiet or bustling activity of this time as year as much as we please, not more, not less.

Sure, there’s pressure to do the biggest spread or gift-giving or to appear Martha Stewart-ish. But if that’s not your thing, then abandon that ideal that really belongs to someone else. Enjoy what you’ve got, make the most of what’s right in front of you. It’s likely to involve your kids, your cozy home, your traditions, your values and priorities.

It’s been a bit hard for me to truly be present the past couple of days since the relatives left and the anticipation turned excitement and joy. The urge to clean up and pack up seemed to hit me by mid-day on December 26, but then I remember how long it took me to get things staged and I begin to ease up. It certainly will take more than a day. My mother reminded me that conventional wisdom used to dictate Christmas being put away by the Epiphany. I chuckled at that saying, “ Well, sure, if you’re not back to work on January 3....”

Then my 13-year-old said he liked coming into the living room every day after Christmas to look at everything again because “You see stuff you didn’t really see Christmas morning and it’s like it happens again and again...”

Hold the phones, hold the vacuum cleaner, hold the plastic storage bins. Christmas is lingering in our house if for no other reason that that remark right there.

Most of the time, enjoyment can be found in the simple pleasures; with everyone home this week, I needed to remind myself of that. Things like curling up with books in front of the fire, playing a new board game that Santa left, lingering as we made gift exchanges rather than zipping in and out of stores, making and writing
thank you cards to those who cared enough to send gifts to us.

As we watched Adam Sandler and friends in the movie Grown Ups, I was struck by how Sandler’s character (a big LA agent with two teens) is dismayed that his kids have come to rely upon their nanny and electronics to amuse themselves. Sandler and his pals take their pack of kids on a hike and magically, in the course of the 2 hour movie, turn these two spoiled Hollywood kids into regular, stone-skipping, cup-phone
talking kids.

It’s a bit of a stretch, but I think the idea of kids being kids hits home with many of us. It’s easy to let our kids get on line to play a game or look up something puzzling them or be on Facebook to connect with friends. What’s proving to be harder, but not impossible for our kids and our families, is to just be together. Whether it’s to read, play a game or build a Lego, make a snowman or have a snowball fight, back decorations or bake cookies, go for a run or a swim - enjoy those as you like them, no more, no less.

I’ve written more on the importance of play in my blog post Nature Rocks, Nature Soothes, Play is the Stuff, and Play, More than Child’s Work. Play is essential to children and to our relationship with children. It’s worth your time to make that investment. At every age and stage, our kids need us to be both present in the moment and to be living-breathing role models for how to sustain relationships and enjoy a healthy, productive and joyful life.

If you’re a New Year’s resolution kind of person, consider making some specific, concrete resolutions that will allow you to enjoy your kids, your work, your hobbies, your marvelous life as you like it in 2011.

If you're looking for ideas on places to start your thinking on New Year's Resolutions, explore completing Stage of Life's goal setting worksheet together as a family.

Editor's Welcome

Saving Christmas

A true story that happened to my family last year

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

You wouldn’t think a can of lice treatment bedding and furniture spray could save Christmas, but it sure saved ours.

Early in December, our eldest child came home from school with head lice. We quickly began dealing with the infestation, but ended up calling in a professional for reinforcements as things got out of hand. After no one else in our six-person family turned up with the critters, we deemed ourselves lucky and life went on.

Until the evening before Christmas Eve, when I discovered our youngest had lice—and so did I. We spent Christmas Eve day being examined by another professional lice remover, who once again went over the strategy for banishing the bugs.

Unfortunately, one of the things we had to do was place my two daughters’ dolls outside in a plastic bag for two weeks. That’s when Christmas almost became a disaster.

Never mind the loads of laundry that were overwhelming me or the fact that everyone’s hair was oily from the lice treatment. Christmas might not be coming to our house because the dolls had to stay outside.

Why? Because as a special surprise, I had introduced the dolls to the girls, ages 5 and 7, nine days before Christmas. Each girl had her own doll, who appeared every morning dressed in a new outfit and accompanied by a story I wrote for that particular day’s adventure.

So for eight days, they had been greeting the mornings with happy smiles and squeals of joy. Christmas Day was to be the culmination of this surprise, with the dolls dressed in gloriously frilly wedding-type attire. To boot, most of the gifts for the girls from us centered around the dolls. With the dolls banished from the house, Christmas was in danger.

Both girls cried when told their dolls and all their clothes had to be put in a plastic bag and set outside for a couple of weeks. As we drove later that evening to the grandparents’ house for a Christmas Eve dinner, I kept thinking of how we might reconfigure Christmas.

Right before we arrived at the grandparents’ house, I saw a drugstore. My mind flashed on what the lice lady had told us: We could use the furniture and bedding lice treatment spray on the dolls, but we hadn’t had any in the house and she didn’t have any to sell us, either. The drugstore, however, turned out to be well-stocked.

Later that night, after returning home and putting the sleepy children to bed, I snuck outside to grab the dolls for a good spraying. Leaving the dolls to dry overnight, I woke before the children—no small feet on Christmas morning!—and dressed the dolls in their finery. The look of amazement and happiness on the faces of the two girls was wonderful to behold.

Christmas indeed had been saved—thanks to a six-dollar can of lice treatment bedding and furniture spray.

Share your holiday story, either funny, sad or happy, with us this season.

Share your holiday story, either funny, sad or happy, with us this season!

Editor's Welcome

We have many stories, blogs and posts about Raising a Family.  After the Editor's weekly welcome message (below), please keep scrolling down to find the stories from both our Featured Family Writers and Members.  We encourage Share Your Raising a Family Storyeveryone to share their story, wisdom, news, or advice about Raising a Family. 

On Parenting Teens...

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Last week, my co-editor Sarah Haymaker wrote about borrowing expectations and how that seemingly innocent act can make us crazy. We’ve all done it. Most of us will continue, to some extent, to do it (even if we won’t admit it). Funny how the holidays can make you both borrow and relinquish expectations in a yin-yang, good-karma kinda way.

Parenting teensThis past week, we passed on our almost-traditional trip to the mountains for opening day at our favorite east coast ski resort. Even before the lack of snow was imminent, we decided we needed some downtime and five days at home was just the ticket. No real expectations, except to manage the day-to-day activities of two teens and two septuagenarian parents who recently moved to town, along with some extended family in town from the Midwest. Our usual yang replaced with some restorative yin.

I enjoy planning and preparing meals as well as the whole host of tasks that allow both to unfold smoothly. I’m no Martha Stewart, but I do like amusing myself and making an attempt every now and then. It didn’t start off feeling like a daunting task, but layered on the myriad of other obligations, the festive preparations began to feel Sisyphean. Nobody else seemed to share my enthusiasm for cooking, and cleaning, and I was characteristically overly ambitious about how much I could accomplish on a single day off school. And then I remembered I had to let go. Again, yin overtook the yang. The only expectation was that we’d be together and there’d be food and good company. That I could do, no sweat.

My expectation of teens hanging out with us, cheerfully completing whatever task I assigned, or perhaps one they initiated on their own, had to be released. My (crazy) expectation of four of us playing Scrabble in front of the fire went out the window.  Later in the weekend, the over 40 crowd scored 95% in expert mode of Beatles Rock Band. In our sandwiched lives, the de facto division of labor is that one of us manages the kids, the majority of the household stuff and the nitty-gritty details of life. The other manages the parents, transportation of kids, and global issues. This past week, there was actually some time to collaborate on these tasks and reflect on what was actually working well. There was a momentary return of balance and sanity, which I’ve certainly vexed by naming it here.

Life moves at break-neck speed. Last week it hit me that with a high school freshman, we have three (t-h-r-e-e-!) years left with her at home (God willing). And five years with Number Two. The urge to co-mingle our own expectations with those of our peers that began in toddler-hood, doesn’t seem to dissipate as our kids grow older. But our understanding of how vitally important it is to give our kids what they (and we) need, and not what others have or do, is certainly stronger.

Our expectations now include being the taxi driver, ATM, taskmaster, host for gatherings of kids, and listener. And as much as I’d like to believe we are slowing turning over the reigns of their lives into their own hands, the teacher in me is fully aware that at this point in our teens’ development, their neurons are breaking off daily and re-wiring nearly as fast as they when they were babies. So our expectations now also include being their frontal lobe, moral compass, and mirror, all while trying maintain a sense of humor and perspective on life. Those expectations and needs are more than enough to keep us focused and on the job.

And the good karma? I see it every day in the kids we are raising. The ones who patiently wait on a grandparent with the empathy and nurturing usually evident in someone twice their age or the willingness to take a morning during Thanksgiving break to volunteer at the homeless shelter. I still get the sarcastic comments and the eye-roll several days a week, believe me. But more often that not, I see that maintaining a clear vision of what is best for our family is paying off in deep and lasting ways..

What's living with your teenager like?

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Editor's Welcome

We have many stories, blogs and posts about Raising a Family.  After the Editor's weekly welcome message (below), please keep scrolling down to find the stories from both our Featured Family Writers and Members.  We encourage Share Your Raising a Family Storyeveryone to share their story, wisdom, news, or advice about Raising a Family. 

Great Expectations...

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

At a recent party, another mom and I were talking about our children. When I happened to mention my 28-month-old was potty trained (other than naps and bedtime), I could see that she was disconcerted, given that she had a son a month older than mine.

This reminded me of how we can so easily slip into the trap of setting for ourselves expectations based on what we see in others. Our expectations for our families should not be lined up with what another family has accomplished, etc. We each have our own set of unique circumstances that should govern the decision made in our family’s life.

We all borrow expectations. Maybe it’s from the mom who whips out the organic, wholesome carrots and hummus for a snack at the playground while you feed the kids Cheetos. Or perhaps it’s the dad who plays catch with his kids every Saturday morning.  Maybe it’s the parent who organizes consistent play dates for her children. Perhaps you’re feeling the pressure to put on a Thanksgiving Day spread worthy of Martha Stewart.

Whatever it is, pulling on expectations that don’t realistically fit our family at this point in time can drive us crazy. It also can make us miss out on some of the fun of parenting.  It’s not wrong to want things to be perfect or different or like how someone else does it, but it can be wrong for us to take on those expectations for our family when the fit isn’t right.

One day, you may have the time and inclination to have that wonderful garden you always dreamed about, but it probably won’t happen while your children are toddlers.  And that Thanksgiving meal with all the little decorative touches might have to wait until little hands are big enough to be a help and not pull apart your hard work.

As we enter into the holiday season of great expectations—of the perfect meal, the perfect presents, the perfect decorations, the perfect house, the perfect family photo, etc.—take a few minutes to think about what your expectations are and what they should be. I think you’ll find that by adjusting your expectations to fit your family will be the best gift you can give yourself and your family this year.

Have you had to adjust your expectations about something recently?

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Editor's Welcome

We have many stories, blogs and posts about Raising a Family.  After the Editor's weekly welcome message (below), please keep scrolling down to find the stories from both our Featured Family Writers and Members.  We encourage Share Your Raising a Family Storyeveryone to share their story, wisdom, news, or advice about Raising a Family. 

Reading Resources...

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Last week, I wrote about building more reading into their busy lives, especially with and for children. That was the cheerleading post, meant to encourage and motivate. This week, I’ve got some more practice tips on just how to do that, as well as some resources to turn to if your looking for a few good reads.

How and where to put more reading into your family’s life? It’s an attitude, habit, and function of accessibility:

  • Make it a priority to have fun with reading.  Remember, reading doesn’t always mean holding a book. Magazines, e-books, audio books, direction, games like Bananagrams, Scrabble, Boggle. Reading takes many shapes and forms. Embrace as many as you can.
  • Build it into your day. Before or after a meal. During afternoon (nap or quiet time). On the way to the shopping, school, day care, sports. Schedule a weekly library trip. Whatever works in your home, for your kids, for yourself.
  • Add some drama! Act out stories, dress up, make a stage, read into a microphone, video tape read aloud (share with far-away relatives), write stories and act them out.
  • Make a list of topics, genres, authors your kid like. Work together to find those titles at the library or book store (bonus: search on-line and that’s reading, too!)
  • Ask friends what they are reading and share.
  • Keep books handy – beach bags, sports bags, bathroom, porch, tree house, car, backpacks, kitchen table.
  • Drop the DVD plaer.  Pass on the traveling DVD player and opt for books on cd (or down load the mp3 files from a site like Tales2go.com, who offers a free 30 day trial.
  • Make a paper chain.  With little ones, make a paper chain for each book read. Or log in a journal, on a popsicle stick or other ways to see the cumulative effect.
  • Video games.  Trade off 30 minutes of video games/screens for 30 minutes of tv. (This raises the bar in my house some days… but worth the effort!)
  • Read outside.  Take a flashlight and read under the stars or listen to a story outdoors.

Once your child has learned to read, continue reading aloud together. Research shows that even high schoolers benefit from reading aloud and being read aloud to!

Resources:

Scholastic Parents recently ran a series of articles under the heading “You Are What You Read.” They’ve got a great feature on their site where folks list their “Book Print” – the books that are most important to you and live on as your faves. Readers from Taylor Swift to RL Stein share their favorite books and Scholastic lists favorites by age, gender, interest.

  • Raising Life Long Learners by Lucy Calkins
  • Tell Me: Children, Reading, and Talking, by Mem Fox.
  • Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever Mem Fox and J. Horacek.
  • Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Children’s Literature. E.L. Wilson, and S.S. Macaulay

For more resources on literacy and reading, check out  6 Steps to Foster a Love of Literature

What reading resources do you use or suggest?

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We have many stories, blogs and posts about Raising a Family.  After the Editor's weekly welcome message (below), please keep scrolling down to find the stories from both our Featured Family Writers and Members.  We encourage Share Your Raising a Family Storyeveryone to share their story, wisdom, news, or advice about Raising a Family. 

Reading Tips for Chilly and Dark Autumn Nights...

By Lisa Dewey Wells, Raising a Family Editor

Our tummies started rumbling for dinner earlier this past week. Days are shorter and we have more time inside before bedtime.  While it’s tempting to turn to video or tv, it’s also easy to capitalize on reading during these chilly autumn evenings.  So find a cozy spot and grab a stack of books to read with your family!

Instilling a love of literature is one of my favorite parts of parenting and teaching. The world offers us so many things - and formats - to read.  Children’s author Robert Munsch (of Love Your Forever fame) said, “Children learn from adults. If you don't read for fun, why would your kids?"  Isn’t that the truth?

Tips to Improve Your Child's ReadingWhen we offer kids an abundance of books in every imaginable setting, and show them what reading looks and feels like, they’ll soon learn that they can find books the love.  Reading needs to involve the head and heart.  Readers are intrinsically motivated to read about topics and characters they love.  Reading also builds on skills such as phonemic awareness, letter recognition, decoding and comprehension.  Young readers need the opportunity to build on the skills their teachers and families practice and support in order to use those skills to read what stirs their passions and curiosity. Reading on a dark and chilly night is one of our favorites ways to practice skills and pursue our passions.

Here six steps you can take to help your child develop good reading habits that will lead to a life-long love of literature.

1.  Be a Reader - Let them see you read. Every day. Read for pleasure, read for work, read for information. Talk about a book you love or a book that makes you wonder. Point out when you read for work or read a recipe to make dinner. Chances are, they’ll follow along, try to join you, or just make a mental note.

2.  Keep Books Around - Everywhere. Neat stacks, messy piles, copious bookshelves, stuffed in seat pockets, baskets, bags. Paperback. Hard cover. Print books. Magazines. Electronic books.  Keep ‘em visible and they’ll get noticed. 

3.  Visit Places Where Folks Read - Libraries, bookstores, stores, coffee shops, classes, other people’s houses, offices, train stations. Print is everywhere and everyone reads.  Visit old favorite places or find new favorite spots. Notice and talk about all the new places you see readers!

4.  Talk it Up - Language and vocabulary represent the very foundation of learning to read and write. Talk, sing, make up silly rhymes. Quote funny lines from a favorite book. Make of voices for characters.

5.   Keep it Creative -  Do you have a wee one who like to draw, sculpt or build? Let them retell the story while you type and then they illustrate.  Or let them write the words to accompany their creation. 

6.  Know Your Reader - Talk with your child’s teacher and keep current with what skills and strategies your child both has under his belt and the reading goals his teacher has.  Remember that fluid reading is reading that is smooth and easy - so books your child reads independently will be books that he has read before or finds a bit easy, but that build confidence, smooth oral reading, and deeper comprehension. 

For more resources on literacy and reading, check out  6 Steps to Foster a Love of Literature

How do you help your children read?

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Editor's Welcome

We have many stories, blogs and posts about Raising a Family.  After the Editor's weekly welcome message (below), please keep scrolling down to find the stories from both our Featured Family Writers and Members.  We encourage Share Your Raising a Family Storyeveryone to share their story, wisdom, news, or advice about Raising a Family. 

Sleepy time blues...

By Sarah Hamaker, Raising a Family Editor

If you talk with parents of infants, one topic comes up frequently: sleep. As in, are you getting any sleep? How’s the baby sleeping?

The obsession with sleep might seem strange to people without children, but, as parents know, lack of sleep makes for cranky babies and children and teenagers. As the children grow, getting them to go to sleep at bedtimes can be another challenge.

We were blessed with fairly good sleepers, although our first two children took a while to settle into nighttime sleep. The older three stayed in their beds and rooms when put to bed for the night. Not that they necessarily went right to sleep, but our evening was not interrupted by the pitter-patter of little feet escaping from their rooms.

Not so with our fourth child, a two-year-old boy who shares a room with his soon-to-be four-year-old brother. The youngest has a hard time staying in his toddler bed and in his room at night. For some strange reason, he doesn’t open his door during his afternoon naps, only at night.

Apparently this is payback for me, as my mother informed with a smile in her voice, that I came out of my room as a two-year-old to wander about the house. Of course, I can’t remember my misbehavior, but still, it looks like our youngest takes after his mother in at least one respect.

Lack of SleepI tried barricading the boys’ door with a baby gate, but the youngest still opened the door and came out at night. One recent night, I’d finally had enough of the door opening and closing and giggles way past time for sleep.

The next morning, I took drastic measures. I reserved the lock on the door. Yep, my boys can now be locked into their room at night. When my husband and I go to bed at night, I unlock the door. But at least there will be more peace and quiet around bedtime—that is after the youngest stops crying because his will has been thwarted.

Parenting often takes on different hues, as what works for one child doesn’t work for another, and what one family does sometimes doesn’t make sense for another family. My hope is that we can all share our experiences and thoughts as we explore what raising a family means—and we’ll all be the gainers as we help each other in this little village called Stage of Life.

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