Painful feelings (theirs and yours)

sad feelings david castillo dominici freedigitalphotos 199x300 Painful feelings (theirs and yours)Of all the developmental tasks that we hope our growing child will successfully master, none is more demanding on the growing parent than the child’s learning to express his feelings. We tell ourselves that we want him to feel free to tell us when he is angry, or sad, or frustrated, or annoyed. We are hopeful that if he acquires a complete feelings vocabulary, he will be able to cope with these emotions. We want this so much that we even have a chart of them posted on our refrigerator, stuck with a magnet at his eye level, illustrated with cartoon faces. The cartoon labeled SURPRISED has eyes as round as and two-thirds the size of its circular face; the cartoon expressing FURIOUS has gritted teeth and eyes reduced to slits; the one designated EXHAUSTED has its tongue hanging out one corner of its mouth, and more.

Feelings on the Fly

We faithfully practice using these words ourselves. When our child has a temper tantrum in the grocery store, we hold our own emotions in check while we intone, “Are you feeling ANGRY that Mommy won’t buy you the cereal with the chocolate chips and marshmallows in it? But you see, Mommy is feeling WORRIED that if you eat that kind of cereal, you won’t grow up to be healthy and strong.”

Coming to Grips with Feelings

But then comes the inevitable day when our child breaks our heart with her grief over her goldfish dying, or her best friend abandoning her, or her inability to stay vertical on a pair of roller skates no matter how hard she tries. And we want to instantly rush in and fix it, wipe away the tears, offer a new goldfish, a different friend, an ice cream cone, whatever it takes to make her stop telling us how sad she is. Even worse is when the grief, or fear, or a combination, has been caused by something we ourselves have done that’s a little more significant than denying her a particular brand of breakfast cereal: leaving her all day in a day care center, perhaps, or moving the family to another house, or presenting her with a baby brother. Then we want to tell her how to feel, to move quickly to the other side of the feelings chart, to JOYFUL and PROUD and EXCITED.

We Just Want Him to be Happy

At least we want the experts to keep their promise, that if we approach potentially stressful events such as a new baby or a move with lots of talk about how the child might feel sad or angry, then the child will immediately start feeling better. Our instinct is to protect him from all harm, from all pain. We cannot bear to watch him suffer, certainly not for a protracted period of time. So we become frustrated when all our talk about emotions doesn’t seem to “work.” The baby is six weeks old already, and big brother is still uncharacteristically moody. We moved a month ago, and he’s still bursting into tears at nothing. Our child’s painful emotions can sometimes be harder for us to endure than our own.

Words Won’t Make the Feelings Disappear

The developmental stage we’re talking about here is, in fact, not our child’s, but ours. As parents, we need to learn to tolerate the emotions that our child’s feelings evoke in us. First of all we need to realize that expressing and managing feelings is not the same thing as eradicating them. Painful feelings will remain painful no matter what we say, no matter how we encourage our child to talk about them. They are his feelings for him to own and live with, and we cannot get rid of them for him, nor should we try. The point of our child learning to use the words on the feelings chart is not to overcome them, but to express them more exactly and satisfyingly than he might otherwise. If he can tell us how much he misses his old house, he might not need to crayon all over the freshly painted walls in his new bedroom. If he can express his jealousy verbally, he might not be as likely to pinch his baby brother when we’re not looking. But he still will feel bewilderment or loneliness or discouragement or rage. It’s still going to hurt.

We Can’t Feel For, But We Can Feel With

Second of all, as difficult as it might be for us, we need to give our child time to grieve, to cry, to express his anger and disappointment, without rushing in with solutions. Careful listening and questioning may help if the source of his unhappiness is not altogether clear. If we can outgrow our desire to fix everything for him and instead be so in tune with his feelings that we can help him identify them, he will have a clearer idea of what he’s feeling than any cartoon face could possibly illustrate. He most needs from us what we as adults most need when we are despondent or anxious: a willing ear, some empathic understanding, an arm around the shoulder, a hug. Being felt with can make all the difference.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/Freedigitalphotos.net

Whining and Complaining

“Stop that right now!”

“If you don’t stop that whining, I’ll give you something real to whine about!”

“If you complain about one more thing, you’ll go to your room!”

Listening to a child’s persistent moaning and crying can make the most patient parents feel frenzied and helpless. They want it to stop — now!

grumpy ballerina freedigitalphotos.net david castillo dominici 199x300 Whining and Complaining

They want to exert their authority – make the child change and feel their power and control over him. After all, they are the adults! If they are in public, they feel embarrassed, inadequate and speak through clenched teeth: “Just wait ’til we get home!”

It helps to understand what causes this behavior. Something as simple as being tired and staying up past his normal bedtime can make a child cranky and whiny.

However, chronic whining and complaining usually comes from an accumulation of circumstances that leave the child dissatisfied and unable to comfort himself.

We sometimes chalk up his whininess to “wanting attention,” but it’s usually more. A pestering child can be in the parent’s presence with his physical needs being met, yet still feel that his parent has left him.

Whining is often an attempt to reclaim a parent’s focus and support.

When whining is a reaction to the helpless “little” feeling that overtakes the child when he feels left out, he is letting you know how miserable he is. Even though the child’s behavior at this point makes even the most laid-back parent frustrated and miserable too, we can be sure that the child’s frustration with himself is many times greater.

He can’t like himself when he behaves this way and is at a complete loss as to how to make things better.

Ironically, just when you least feel like giving it, he needs his parents’ love and support now more than ever.

How to help

Helping a child overcome this miserable state will not be accomplished easily or quickly.

No matter what the cause of the present struggle, the first step is to re-establish connection with the child. The most immediate and effective method is a hug or a protective arm around him. Tell him you do get angry with him when he whines and complains, but you still love him.

At the same time, tell your child that you know he is unhappy and that you will help him figure out how both of you can feel better in a loving, happy way.

You also need to point out firmly that talking in a whiny voice will not get him what he thinks he wants. He needs to know that you’ll stick to your word but that you will talk with him when he can use his “bigger boy” voice.

Give him a chance to take this in, but stop him if he goes back to the same old behavior. It’s a hard job for him, so try to be patient. Saying “No!” firmly and not giving in will help stop what could become a nasty habit.

Breaking the habit 

Later, if you can pinpoint some of the circumstances that seem to bring on whininess, point them out to your child. “It seems you get cranky whenever I’m on the phone,” or “…when it’s time to stop something you’re doing,” or “…when you want something we say you cannot have,” etc.

Make a simple plan of what the child can do for himself when one of these times occurs – something that would help him feel close to you without interrupting or interfering, or that he could do until he can have your full attention or help.

Try to be observant of those times when your child can wait to do or have something he wants, and when he can overcome frustration without complaining.

Express your appreciation for his figuring out things for himself. Let him know how that makes both of you feel better, and how nice it is to be able to have fun together instead of fighting.

Note the times when your responsibilities and needs may make your child feel left out or disconnected from you. Show him that even though you may have to be doing other things or be in other places, you can know what he is doing and you’re thinking of him.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Quietly observing the Winter Honeymoon

calminschool stuartmiles freedigitalphotos 239x300 Quietly observing the Winter HoneymoonFor the under-5 set and their families, getting used to the academic calendar comes with growing pains. Just the concept of an academic year “ending” has undone many a young child who thought school would go on forever with this teacher in this room.

From the perspective of young children, summer becomes a time of missing what we used to have, and worrying about what comes next. August is anxious as we ready for new things in September.

September is a time of newness, separation and adjustment. There is a tiny window in October when the routine has been mastered and teachers feel familiar. Then comes Halloween – which absorbs a good five weeks between anticipation, doing or avoiding, and debriefing.

Then, we’re in the midst of the winter holidays, which pretty much disrupt all mastered things. Throw in the long winter break (let’s admit that it does feel too long in many young families), an optional polar vortex and Martin Luther King day, and January is a long, drawn-out return to routine. For the under-5 child, that actually feels like a new routine because four months is such a statistically significant percentage of his or her lifespan.

So somewhere in late January or early February, the sweet spot begins – the Winter Honeymoon. It’s one of those hidden gems that most adults don’t notice.

Routines feel familiar. The only major holiday that causes disruption – Valentine’s Day – celebrates friendship, kindness and shapes. Spring break is far enough away that we’re actually living in the moment.

This is the tiny window of time each year that has fewer excitements and dramatic changes. Young children make developmental leaps because the world around them has become a little quieter.

Teachers know this; you can tell because this is when they roll out favorite stations and projects – confident they can rely on the continuity of the season. This is that moment. No major changes on the immediate horizon. Excitements lulled. It’s a special time.

As a parent, how do you use this time?

Soak it up. Share with your child how nice it feels to have the calm of routine; how good it must feel to know where everything is in her classroom; how comfortable she now seems with her teacher.

Savor the mastery. Notice out loud all the things your child can do that were new, intimidating or unfamiliar in September. Stand by and admire how your child needs you a little bit less than when school started. The act of standing by and admiring mastery is a critical part of parenting – a job and also a pleasure.

Look at your little one hanging his coat on his hook, knowing where to find supplies when he wants to draw you a picture, getting started at a favorite place in the classroom where he previously stayed close to you.

Enjoy the trust. Take pleasure in the relationship with your child’s teacher. Once new to your family, this person is now a safe and trusted grown-up, the template for your child’s future learning and personal relationships. Enjoying a trusting relationship is something that you get to teach your child too. It is enriching for you and your child together.

Notice the special (not always perfect, but special) connections you have, and show your child that you value and are grateful for the three-way partnership of parent-child-teacher. This step is important; in just a few more months, the cycle of changing teachers will begin again. Having a memory of this good feeling will help everyone in the transition.

Take a deep breath. This is just for you. Notice how time has been moving fast or slow for you and your family. Breathe in the feeling of being in the moment. Keep life simple; don’t overfill your time just because the holiday craziness is over and you got used to massive to-do lists. Do the comforting things that make you feel grateful and refreshed – even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Find satisfaction in simple things; as with our kids, this the sweet spot where creativity and growth take seed.

Notice how good this can feel. Time moves fast. Raising children is taxing, and the stress-to-reward ratio often feels like it’s not in the caregiving parent’s favor. Noticing the good feelings helps to buoy us through the tough patches.

Is your child excited to return to school to see a friend? Does your child enjoy giving you art from school and look forward to you putting it on display at home? Is your child trying new things every once in awhile? Is something, anything, going easier than it was in September?

See these gems and hold them in your mind as best you can. They are your anchor for the many strenuous parenting moments, April through January. You get to keep this calm and confident time in your back pocket as an amulet for all the other taxing, crazy and extraordinarily special months of the year.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Coaching and Modeling Good Behavior

Promoting civil behavior in children

grandpa imagerymajestic freedigitalphotos Coaching and Modeling Good Behavior“We’d love to have you visit us but whatever you do don’t bring any preschoolers with you,” a grandfather remarked at a dinner party one evening.

It seems he had been visited by his children and grandchildren and was still reeling from the event. “They never listened, didn’t want to do anything, were picky about the food and got into arguments about toys,” he continued. “Kids today are like that.”

How agonizing it must be for loving parents, so invested in their children’s well being to feel as though friends or relatives are not enthusiastic about an upcoming visit.

How very puzzling and sad it must be for a preschool child to get the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) message that he is a nuisance or, heaven forbid, not liked very much.

So what is causing the grandparent mentioned above to express such negative reactions? What is missing in the wealth of rich opportunities we are now able to provide our children. How can we include thoughtfulness about and respect for others? Where can we find the balance between encouraging our children to become confident and assertive and, at the same time, sensitive and respectful of others?

Parents today are very aware of children’s needs and often bend over backwards to understand and pay attention to them. This generation of parents sacrifices itself to be sure children have opportunities for many and varied experiences.

Participation in their children’s activities is taken for granted and children are always included in family events. The idea that children should be seen and not heard has been dispatched to the trash bin of yesteryear’s unenlightened parenting.

However, while working hard to make the world a child-friendly place we have often allowed it to become child dominated.

Good behavior is learned behavior

We all know that one learns to love by being loved. It could also be said that a child learns respect and appreciation for others by having those responsible for him appreciate and respect him. Not only does he absorb these characteristics from the behavior of those around him but also through the coaching he experiences from toddlerhood on through preschool.

But how then, do we model appreciation and respect and what are some of the ways we can coach our toddlers and preschoolers to be civil? How can we prepare them to behave in age appropriate ways outside the home and when do we begin?

An example of modeling might be this story of a young mother visiting friends. As lunch was put on the table, two and a half year old Sarah loudly exclaimed, “I don’t like chunky peanut butter. I only like creamy peanut butter!”

To some, such assertiveness seems rude. To others, the assertiveness is admirable. How wonderful if the mother can quietly coach Sarah by gently saying, “Mrs. Smith made these sandwiches especially for this lunch. Could you try one?”

Should Sarah object, a glass of milk will be just fine. A missed lunch won’t harm her and she can be reassured they will have a little lunch when they are back home. Here, Sarah can observe her mother’s behavior, hear her words and the tone she uses, feel her respect for their hostess and at the same time experience Mom’s acknowledgement that she prefers smooth peanut butter to chunky.

Preparation for difficult situations

Since young children change significantly as they grow from toddlers to preschoolers we can think about the challenge of sharing and the importance of preparation. We can also consider what words and actions might avoid unnecessary confrontations. Preparation doesn’t necessarily hold up with toddlers because when the “chips are down” and a friend grabs his favorite toy he will react.

But this shouldn’t discourage us from saying a few preparatory words. They might go something like this, “Jason is coming. He likes trucks. Let’s make sure there are trucks to play with.”

Now, when the upset occurs, and it will, we can move in calmly, acknowledge that they both like trucks and then distract them with things to put in the trucks or with boxes into which they can park them. This is respectful of the fact they are only 2 years old.

Since our toddler is egocentric and able to think of things only from his own point of view, the abstract idea that Jason has feelings is not yet within his understanding. Our approach to the situation gives a clear message of respect and benevolence. He is absorbing our demeanor, and this is the beginning of helping him think of others.

As our toddler gets older and he can now keep in his head other times when he has played with his friend Jason, we can begin to help him share.

For starters we can prepare our 3- or 4-year-old for an upcoming visit and help him think ahead. Recognizing his attachment to certain toys and respecting that, we might say, “Jason and his Mom are coming over this afternoon. I know it’s sometimes hard for you to let him play with some of your toys. Last time he really wanted to play with your dump truck. Can you let him play this time or should we put it away?”

This is not only knowing about your child and his developmental level but respects how attached he is to his special toys. It is also giving him some control over what will happen.

Showing respect

Important also is how we listen to our children if we expect them to listen to and respect us.

One of the examples of how we might model expected behaviors might be the way in which we use the phone. We might forego answering our phones if our child is in the middle of a serious conversation with us. Calls can be returned later but concentrating on our child now gives him the message that we think what he’s saying is important. Also, answering our phones when we are on the phone with someone else should be avoided. Children watch.

Another opportunity is when we are in a group of guests and our young children burst into the room in the full bloom of an argument demanding that it be settled. It helps everyone to quietly excuse ourselves and find a private place to talk, rather than embarrassing everyone by flooding the room with anger and demeaning words.

It is respectful of the guests and of the children. It models for the children how and when to talk about conflicts and where to do it in the most appropriate ways. We can gently coach children not to interrupt or at least to say, “Excuse me,” when something can’t wait. Gradually, it is our hope that the kids will learn to wait when we are in conversations with other adults just as we, in turn, will wait until after their friends have left to discuss potentially embarrassing issues with them.

All this is not easy given the current themes on TV, the computer games and in the movies where being assertive, interrupting one another and rudeness appear acceptable.

Often the popular movies include kids with quick, smart-sounding back-talk, which is not limited to their peers but includes adults. As with other themes in movies and on TV, we can watch with our young children and point out that what is done in the movies isn’t always the kind of thing that shows respect and thoughtfulness of others. We can talk about how we might all feel if someone talked to us in those words.

If we begin the process of coaching our children in toddlerhood perhaps, in adulthood they might be able to listen when people are talking before talking themselves. Perhaps they will begin to be more aware of the needs of the people around them.

Perhaps then grandfather will say, “Do come visit, and be sure you bring your wonderful preschoolers with you.” And perhaps these children will contribute to a more civil society as they grow.

Handling holiday disappointments

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” sings Andy Williams over the PA system in Walmart – and as we pile gifts in our shopping cart we halfway believe it.

grumpy ballerina freedigitalphotos.net david castillo dominici 199x300 Handling holiday disappointments

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The kid riding in the cart, eyeing the decorated artificial trees and the life-sized cardboard Santas and the aisles and aisles of toys sincerely believes it.

His favorite TV shows, his nursery school teachers, the Santa on whose lap he sat last week at the shopping mall, his older siblings and playmates have all convinced him of it. Everyone is as happy as happy can be during holiday time because they’re all going to be given exactly what they want, and a few things they never even imagined, besides.

And then the crash comes. Maybe it’s because her divorced mom and dad didn’t get back together as she had hoped they would after all.  In fact, dad didn’t even show up;  he just left a gift under the tree. Maybe it’s because she got the flu and spent most of Christmas throwing up.

Maybe it’s because she got in a fight with her brother over a toy they both wanted and got put in “time out” by an unusually crabby mother. Maybe she didn’t get that puppy she had asked Santa to bring her. Maybe it looked to her like her sister got way more presents than she did.

Whatever the cause, if she knew the words, she would tell us that she is terribly disappointed. And if she did, we her parents would be terribly disappointed.

Feelings on the fridge

Of all the developmental tasks that we hope our growing child will successfully master, none is more demanding on the growing parent than the child’s learning to express his feelings. We tell ourselves that we want him to feel free to tell us when he is angry, or sad, or frustrated, or annoyed. We are hopeful that if he acquires a complete feelings vocabulary, he will be able to cope with these emotions.

We want this so much that we even have a chart of them posted on our refrigerator, stuck with a magnet at his eye level, illustrated with cartoon faces. The cartoon labeled surprised has eyes as round as and two-thirds the size of its circular face; the cartoon expressing furious has gritted teeth and eyes reduced to slits; the one designated exhausted has its tongue hanging out one corner of its mouth, and more.

Feelings on the fly 

We faithfully practice using these words ourselves. When our child has a temper tantrum in the grocery store, we hold our own emotions in check while we intone, “Are you feeling angry that Mommy won’t buy you the cereal with the chocolate chips and marshmallows in it?  But you see, Mommy is feeling worried that if you eat that kind of cereal, you won’t grow up to be healthy and strong.”

Coming to grips with feelings

But then comes the inevitable day when our child breaks our heart with her grief over her goldfish dying, or her best friend abandoning her, or Christmas not turning into the golden day it was supposed to be.

And we want to instantly rush in and fix it, wipe away the tears, offer a new goldfish, a different friend, a candy cane, whatever it takes to make her stop telling us how sad she is.

Even worse is when something we have done – or haven’t done – is the cause of her unhappiness. Or when after all our efforts and accumulation of bills she isn’t appreciative of what we have bought and wrapped and put under the tree. Then we want to tell her how to feel, to move quickly to the other side of the feelings chart, to joyful and proud and excited, not to mention grateful.

And then there’s the matter of her missing the daddy we sent away without consulting her.

Words won’t make the feelings disappear

The developmental stage we’re talking about here is, in fact, not our child’s, but ours.

As parents, we need to learn to tolerate the emotions that our child’s feelings evoke in us. First we need to realize two things:

  1. Expressing and managing feelings is not the same thing as eradicating them.
  2. If we encourage our children to express their feelings, we’d better be prepared to listen to some feelings that we didn’t really want to hear.

Painful feelings will remain painful no matter what we say, no matter how we encourage our child to talk about them. They are his feelings for him to own and live with, and we cannot get rid of them for him – nor should we try.

The point of our child learning to use the words on the feelings chart is not to overcome them, but to express them more exactly and satisfyingly than he might otherwise.

Preparation helps

This holiday season we don’t want to sound like Scrooge, but we can at least prepare our children for the inevitable disappointments.  One way to do this would be to ask our son or daughter what they are anticipating, and then explain, if necessary, that some of their more extravagant expectations just aren’t likely to be realized.

Then we need to work on our own unrealistic expectations for the holiday season and be prepared for not only our own disappointments, but our children’s.  We’ll be able to listen and empathize, and offer our understanding along with a consoling hug – then return to the family celebration as if disappointments were a natural part of life. Because they are.

Even at holiday time.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A collection of holiday wisdom: All the Grandmothers’ seasonal writings in one location

Winter framed medres canstockphoto paid license A collection of holiday wisdom: All the Grandmothers seasonal writings in one locationThe holidays are a wonderful time of year, but all the excitement and traditions of the season can create stress in young children that grownups, in their own enthusiasm, can easily overlook.

Here is a collection of previously published articles by the Hanna Perkins Grandmothers that may help you see the holidays as they really look through a child’s eyes – so you can create the best kind of memories for the young people in your life.

  • Handling holiday disappointments grumpy ballerina freedigitalphotos.net david castillo dominici 199x300 150x150 A collection of holiday wisdom: All the Grandmothers seasonal writings in one location“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” sings Andy Williams over the PA system in Walmart – and as we pile gifts in our shopping cart we halfway believe it. The kid riding in the cart, eyeing the decorated artificial trees and ... Read more
  • The Santa Question santa ron bird freedigitalphotos 150x150 A collection of holiday wisdom: All the Grandmothers seasonal writings in one locationThis is a controversial subject, so we’re going to work up to our main point gradually. The Tooth Fairy No parent that we’re aware of takes great pains to protect the true identity of the Tooth Fairy. Maybe that’s because by the time a ... Read more
  • The spirit of giving: How children’s gifts are recieved presents stacked stuart miles freedigitalphotos 150x150 A collection of holiday wisdom: All the Grandmothers seasonal writings in one locationIt was Christmas morning. As the family sat around the little tree, under which was a modest pile of wrapped gifts, Nina could not contain herself. She ran to the tree, pulled her gifts away from the others and distributed them; one for ... Read more
  • How little ones learn to love giving candycane playdough1 150x150 A collection of holiday wisdom: All the Grandmothers seasonal writings in one locationWe Grandmothers are certainly aware that today’s families live in times of “Hurry Up” – that mothers and fathers both work and have to deal with malls filled with gifts of every shape and color. We recognize time is a precious commodity, so ... Read more
  • Excitement vs. Fun excitement v fun David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos 150x150 A collection of holiday wisdom: All the Grandmothers seasonal writings in one locationIn most circles excitement is a positive word – often considered synonymous with fun. A movie, a television program, even an activity for young children, is praised for being exciting. Using the common definition, the opposite of exciting is boring, and boring is ... Read more
  • Keeping holidays focused on the children holiday girl and dad freedigitalphotos imagerymajestic 150x150 A collection of holiday wisdom: All the Grandmothers seasonal writings in one locationIt’s happening again. We’ve all seen it before: A mother rushing along the sidewalk or through the mall, pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a 3-year-old who is pasted along her thigh, half-walking half-trotting in an effort to keep up. The ... Read more
  • A holiday wish: Simple delight in your children happy family David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos 150x150 A collection of holiday wisdom: All the Grandmothers seasonal writings in one locationWhat quality would we Grandmothers most ardently wish for you parents of young children as 2012 fades away, you ask? Well OK, you didn’t ask, but we’re going to tell you anyway. Not patience, not insight, not mediation skills, not tolerance for mud ... Read more

The Santa Question

santa ron bird freedigitalphotos 300x225 The Santa QuestionThis is a controversial subject, so we’re going to work up to our main point gradually.

The Tooth Fairy

No parent that we’re aware of takes great pains to protect the true identity of the Tooth Fairy. Maybe that’s because by the time a child starts losing teeth – at about 6 – he’s already well aware that there’s no good reason for someone in a tutu with wings and a wand to go flitting from bedroom to bedroom gathering up the baby teeth from the world’s first-graders. What could she possibly do with them all?

Then to confirm his suspicions that some hoax is involved, you wake him up in the middle of the night feeling around under his pillow, or you fall asleep before he does and neglect to switch the lost tooth for a silver dollar until he reminds you. But he doesn’t complain; he’s happy for the extra cash and he enjoys the game.

The Easter Bunny

That a rabbit would hop about carrying a basket, hiding eggs and delivering jelly beans is a story so silly that a very small child could see through it. She loves the fantasy of it, however, as well as all that candy that she’s actually allowed to eat before breakfast on Easter morning.

But it wouldn’t ruin her day at all if she were to catch you hiding the eggs. She understands imaginative play full well and would know right away that you’re just pretending.

Superman and Wonder Woman

Children enjoy pretending they are these all-powerful characters, and we adults can easily understand why they would: Children are small and comparatively weak, while these superheroes are neither.

You let them wear bath towels as capes around their shoulders and fly about the house saving captive dolls and rescuing endangered teddy bears. You only intervene if the furniture seems threatened, or if the children appear to actually believe that they could safely leap out of windows.

But they don’t. They understand it’s all fantasy play and so do you.

Hannukah Charlie

For some reason he never did make it to the big time, maybe because he was just thought up as a Santa Claus substitute. Which brings us to …

Santa Claus

On the one hand there are those who, for religious, moral or psychological reasons, want him done away with:

He represents greed, they say, not the true spirit of Christmas; parents who demonstrate their love by making or buying elaborate gifts for their children should not give that overweight, bearded virtual stranger the credit. Parents should not tell lie after lie to their children about how he gets into their house even though they don’t have a fireplace – or why he appears in every store and on every street corner even though there’s only one of him. Or how he can manage to get to the millions of children in the world in only one night, etc. He doesn’t really exist and we should tell our children, so they say – and the earlier the better.

On the other hand are those parents who still half-believe in Santa themselves:

They tell their kids that Santa “sees them when they’re sleeping and knows when they’re awake” so they’d better behave or Santa won’t leave them any presents. They start decorating the house with red-suited icons shortly after Halloween, insist that their kids visit a department store Santa and sit on his lap even if they scream in protest, and maintain the Santa myth until their kids are well into their teens.

Which way to lean on the issue of Santa is up to the individual family, of course. But our recommendation would be for moderation. The fun about believing in Santa is not lost when the pretend aspect of it is acknowledged. It’s probably a good idea not to frighten your children with Santa – either with his all-knowing ability to know if they ate all their peas or fed them to the dog; or with forcing your little one to sit on the lap of someone she never met and doesn’t care to. But go ahead and play the game.

Pretend along with your child that there really is a sleigh pulled with reindeer and a North Pole where elves create shiny toys. But you needn’t lie and connive to perpetuate the myth. Pretend that Santa brings gifts to your house on Christmas Eve, but if you’ve spent many hours building a dollhouse or saved up for months in order to buy that special bicycle, let your child know that those gifts are from you.

Speculate with your children about how Santa manages to do all those miraculous things, but don’t be afraid to explain that it’s all magical make-believe, pretend. Just like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Wonder Woman and Superman are pretend. Very real, but still pretend. Who knows better than your child about pretending?

And don’t keep all the fun for yourself. Let him pretend to be Santa too.

Image courtesy of Ron Bird/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

The spirit of giving: How children’s gifts are recieved

presents stacked stuart miles freedigitalphotos 300x300 The spirit of giving: How childrens gifts are recievedIt was Christmas morning. As the family sat around the little tree, under which was a modest pile of wrapped gifts, Nina could not contain herself.

She ran to the tree, pulled her gifts away from the others and distributed them; one for Poppa, a couple for Mommy and Daddy, and one for Grandma.

She then stood by and watched, wriggling and grinning as they were opened. She was almost 4 and her babysitter had helped her make a card for each person by patiently spelling out “ I Love You” for her to write.

She decorated each one with colorful squiggles, which she encased in wrapping paper and lots of Scotch tape.

It brought to mind the time when I was 7 and had been given a little money for Christmas shopping. I searched and searched for the perfect gift for my grandmother. I finally found it at the Five and Ten Cent store: a large cross on a long chain.

I clearly remember the feeling of not being able to wait two more days, insisting that she open it early even though she was urging me to wait until Christmas morning. She loved that cross; I knew it, because she wore it on Christmas Day.

I mention these two incidents because of the differences in the ages of the children. Nina probably won’t remember her excitement about giving her gifts because she was so young. But she will have good feelings about giving that will build if she continues to be given the time and materials to create or purchase her gifts.

A 7-year-old almost always remembers the minute details and the feelings that accompany the giving of a gift.

Both these stories glow with the Spirit of Giving. Both speak to the making or the selection of the gift, and both illuminate feelings that are so powerful they temporarily outweigh any thought of “What am I getting?”

The ways in which children’s gifts are accepted will be emotionally felt and remembered for a lifetime. Will the recipient value the gifts in genuine ways, such as displaying Nina’s card on a dresser, or wearing the cross?

Good feelings about giving will be discouraged if children find their special drawings thrown out with the wrapping paper or ignored and out of sight.

Saying lovely things about a present and never again looking at or referring to it suggests the praise was insincere and the thanks empty of feeling.

When children have spent special time getting their presents ready, they are particularly sensitive to adult reactions and will track them. “Where is it now?” “Is Mommy going to wear it?” “Did he like the cookies I made with Mommy?”

These behaviors and good feelings about giving are the ones we love to see in our children and are eager to nurture.

 Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How little ones learn to love giving

candycane playdough1 300x224 How little ones learn to love giving

Loads of ideas at Artfulparent.com

We Grandmothers are certainly aware that today’s families live in times of “Hurry Up” – that mothers and fathers both work and have to deal with malls filled with gifts of every shape and color.

We recognize time is a precious commodity, so it’s often quicker and easier to suggest or even buy something for Aunt Mable during lunch hour, have it wrapped and then simply hand it to the child give it to her.

Your child’s psyche won’t be damaged for life by this practice. But whatever feelings your child has about this gift aren’t likely to foster a lifelong love of giving.

An alternative to going to mall or shopping online is to set aside time for her to make something. Two things will happen: Your child will value the time with you in ways you’ll never realize; and putting herself into the gift will make it all the more fun to give.

Resolve in advance that this is going to take time – so close the laptop and ignore the ringing smartphone. Decide that this will be the child’s gift and the more he or she puts into it the more valuable it will be.

A little help is invaluable, but try to resist the overpowering temptation to do it for her. Talking a little about who will get the gift can be fun.

“Daddy can never find his keys – what can we make that would help him?” A nail in a piece of decorated wood could hang by the back door.

“Grandpa is always reading – you could tell me a story, I’ll write it down and you can draw pictures on the cover.”

“Aunt Elizabeth loves flowers.” A wide-mouthed jar covered with masking tape and rubbed with shoe polish makes a very nice vase that looks like leather.

It’s almost impossible for a toddler to think about what another person likes, but making cookies together and packing them in small boxes; sticking cloves in oranges to be hung in closets; coloring a popsicle stick frame (before you put the photo in it) could all be done by your toddler with your help.

Preschoolers can set paperwhite bulbs in small dishes for early blooming, or plant a rooted sprig from your jade plant in a hand-painted terra cotta flowerpot.

The nicest cards can be made by ironing different bits of left-over crayons between two sheets of white shelf paper, peeling them apart and cutting the cooled shelf paper into squares – which can be glued to a folded sheet of paper.

Older relatives, or those who live in faraway places, will cherish recordings of children’s voices, or pictures of kids standing by things they’ve made such as a snowman or a tall block building.

Older children can make up a play, prepare a song to sing or write a poem.

Regardless of what you decide to do, please remember that your time with your child is valued. Most of the time your child’s gifts will be cherished and you will have been spared the angst of going from store to store, agonizing over what presents your child should give.

The the only one left on the list is you!

Image courtesy of Artfulparent.com 

 

 

 

 

Excitement vs. Fun

excitement v fun David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos Excitement vs. FunIn most circles excitement is a positive word – often considered synonymous with fun.

A movie, a television program, even an activity for young children, is praised for being exciting. Using the common definition, the opposite of exciting is boring, and boring is to be avoided at all costs.

Excitement, however, can also refer to agitation, over-stimulation and loss of control – the opposite of calm.

Parents, observing their over-excited children running around in circles – coming close to knocking over the birthday cake, Christmas tree or each other – exhort them to stop and calm down. These moments are definitely not fun – especially when a child, in addition to the cake or the tree, suffers some damage.

The term fun can also refer to activities that are not necessarily exciting. Reading a book, even a quiet one like Goodnight Moon, for example, can be fun but not exciting. Reading one of those books with all the built-in computerized quacks and sirens, on the other hand, can be exciting but not much fun after the novelty has worn off.

Clarification and perspective

We find that clarification of the difference between fun and excitement can help assess which activities are and aren’t helpful to our children in the process of growing up; which activities bring pleasure and mastery and which activities lead to distress and loss of control.

This clarification seems particularly helpful to address during times of celebration, holidays and birthdays, when the media and family customs tend to promote excitement as if it were fun, when it isn’t always.

Is it really fun to be bombarded with advertisements and floor-to-ceiling rows of toys – the majority of which you are told you can’t have?

Is it really fun to have your home invaded by dozens of children you don’t know very well who want to play with your most precious belongings and eat up all that beautiful cake, including the part with your name on it, and then smash with a stick that lovely piñata your mom bought for you only yesterday?

Is it really fun to put on a costume with a mask you can’t see out of and walk up and down the streets with terrifying-looking creatures who shove you out of the way if you can’t say “trick or treat” fast enough?

Is it really fun to be at a party with 40 other adults and children where so many things are going on that you can’t make sense of anything and you end up racing some other child up and down the stairs over and over until you slip, fall down, and end up with a bleeding lip?

And what if, in the midst of one of these “fun” activities, you lose control in your over-excitement, hit somebody and get yelled at? How much fun is that?

Stimulation and agitation

Excitement is a physical/emotional state that occurs in response to stimulation.

Some call excitement an impulse. It can be pleasurable when the degree of stimulation is manageable. But it stops being fun when the stimulation becomes bigger than a person can manage – that is, when the excited impulse takes over and propels a person into doing something he or she wouldn’t otherwise want to do.

On the adult level, as an example, a person can sincerely regret a sexual escapade, remarking, “I don’t know what came over me – it was just so exciting!” Similarly, a child might say, if he could find the words, “I really didn’t mean to bite him! We were just having fun wrestling and it happened.”

You’ve already learned to spot the signs that your child is getting over-stimulated. His voice raises both in pitch and volume, his eyes narrow and his teeth clench with aggression. Or if he is the victim of some other overexcited child, his eyes widen with fear and approaching tears.

You feel the need to jump in and stop the running, the wrestling, the tickling, before the loud laughter turns to loud sobs.

You can hear your mother’s words from your own childhood coming out of your mouth: “Now, just stop before someone gets hurt!” But part of you may want to squelch that impulse because you don’t want to spoil the “fun.”

Go with your first reaction and stop the escalation of excitement before it takes over and the “fun” ends in Band-Aids or broken table lamps or worse.

Your child may even protest that he and his friends were just playing, that no one will get hurt. But he in fact is not enjoying this scary excitement and will quickly accept a substitute activity that you suggest.

Providing a sense of control

Your child will enjoy holiday and other special celebrations the most when he feels sufficiently in control of his experiences. You can help in this by providing ways to be an active participant in as many parts of the celebration as possible. He can help make the decorations and set the table for the guests. He can be told ahead of time exactly what will happen and when (no surprises) and be allowed to make choices where possible.

You can protect him from becoming over-stimulated by pacing the activities and choosing ones appropriate to his age level.

Have fun having fun together.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net