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.
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.
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 …
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
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
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
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
The holidays can be such a wonderful family experience, but they also bring many moments that present emotional challenges for young children.
Here is a series of essays from The Grandmothers that address a range of situations and thoughts to make the holidays special and memorable for everyone in the family.
- The Santa Question This 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 ...
- The spirit of giving: How children’s gifts are recieved It 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 ...
- How little ones learn to love giving 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 ...
- Excitement vs. Fun In 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, ...
- Keeping holidays focused on the children It’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 holidays are coming. The media is ratcheting up the excitement and the stores ...
- A holiday wish: Simple delight in your children What 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 and messes, not the ability to survive your busy day on three hours ...
- 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. 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 ...
Image courtesy of Imagery Majestic/Freedigitalphotos.net
It’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 holidays are coming. The media is ratcheting up the excitement and the stores are inviting us in with glorious decorations, repetitive holiday music and store shelves overburdened with things to buy.
We are beginning to feel a little overwhelmed and as though we couldn’t keep up either. We wonder how the dictionary could ever have defined “holiday” as “That period of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”
In the rush of it all, what can we do to keep the children – particularly the preschoolers – in mind over the next few weeks?
“Oh for goodness sakes” you might object. “We constantly keep them in mind. We rush about buying them toys so they will have plenty of gifts. We make sure they have special clothes to wear and we hurry to get their pictures taken with Santa. We push our time limits to take them to see the big-headed characters in the downtown shopping center. What more do you want us to do?”
Perhaps we should all take a minute to try to see things from young children’s perspective, since we insist “These holidays are for children.”
Doing so might result in fewer frantic moments and less exhaustion for everyone.
Perhaps your children really aren’t so keen on having a picture taken with Santa. This you may observe if you stand watching one preschoolers after another scream while being hoisted onto the bearded man’s lap.
Perhaps being pulled along through the mall trying to avoid the oncoming legs is not something that is fun. Perhaps a mound of toys, to be opened in a few hours is, in truth, overwhelming.
“Yes,” you agree, “each year we do resolve to calm it down – next time But each year we get caught up in the excitement and the guilt we know we’ll feel if we let someone down.”
We Grandmothers got together and, after admitting that we too get caught up in holiday excitement, decided to suggest the following ideas to young parents. It might help.
1. Let your preschoolers help you
Decide whether a picture with Santa or the trip to the mall to see the big-heads is worth the trip, the wait and the anxiety it often causes for young children.
Set up a place at home where things can be made by your preschoolers and wrapped as gifts.
Kids love to help in making cookies or decorating butcher paper with handprints or potato prints to use as wrapping paper.
Any mess can be cleaned up faster than you can go to a mall, find a parking space, lift your preschooler out of his car seat and keep track of him as you run from store to store.
More important, the times you are quietly spending with your child – and the inner pleasure she gets as she makes the gift, gives it and is showered with appreciation – far outweighs the time it takes to clean up.
2. Prepare them for what’s happening
When your holiday involves travel to visit a friend or relative, prepare your children for what will happen. We take so many things for granted and forget it is all new to them. They may erroneously think, as one o four own grandchildren once did, that they won’t be returning home.
Young children fill in missing information with their own private assumptions that often never get voiced because they are afraid of what they may hear.
“Where will I sleep? Will there be a bathroom there? What’s a kennel and what will happen to Spot? Will someone feed him? Will we ever see him again?” There are reasonable questions for a young child who has little experience with such holiday hubbub.
Often people come to visit and household members are shifted to other rooms to make room for grandparents or friends. If this is a surprise to your preschooler be prepared for embarrassing tears of objection.
A discussion ahead of time about the change – about how hard it can be to give up a room for a few days, with a concrete description of exactly where everyone will sleep – often helps alleviate any showdown.
Being a part of the alternative plan and feeling the welcoming attitude of a mother and father beforehand enriches the experience in ways that live well beyond these holidays
3. Reduce the burden on yourself
We can take a cue from the breaking news each year that the “Black Friday” shopping rush has overtaken a little bit more of Thanksgiving Day, as employees implore management to “please respect our families and allow these rare times when we can be together.”
The times children remember as most special are those when parents themselves are able to relax and enjoy special time together.
Though it may be difficult at first, mothers and fathers can reduce the times when they are feeling they have to rush along with young children plastered to their sides to get it all done. Make these holidays “those periods of time when one does not work and does things for pleasure instead.”
Image courtesy of ImageryMajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Joel and Andrew, 4-year old friends, were playing with Lego when suddenly, Andrew howled, “I was just going to use that—it’s mine!”
Joel had snatched one of the pieces Andrew had in his pile beside him. When Andrew protested, Joel knocked down his building and Andrew began to cry. Joel looked at his mother wide-eyed.
What To Do?
“Oh, no,” thought Joel’s mother. Normally, he was not a selfish boy, but lately he’d done some very unkind things. What should she do this time – demand that he immediately tell Andrew he is sorry, make him have a time-out in his room, take away his Lego set for a week, tell him he couldn’t have anyone over to play until he could manage better?
On other occasions, she had tried one or more of these options but unhappy situations were still occurring. Besides, she was realizing that a parroted, “I‟m sorry,” was just that – saying the words with no feeling behind them. When she had made him go to his room, there was usually a fight with Joel in tears, yelling and acting as though he were the victim. When he had to put a toy or game away for a period of time, it didn’t bother him very much because he could soon begin to play with another toy and seem to forget about the stored one.
What could make a difference, make him want to change his behavior? Make him feel truly sorry when he transgressed?
Sincere, With Compassion?
How does a child get to the point of sincerely apologizing – in other words, with feeling and compassion?
Joel’s mother might begin by saying, “I know that Andrew is your friend and you like to play with him. When you take something he’s using and knock down his building, he feels bad and doesn’t want to play with you anymore.”
She could remind Joel, “Remember when you and Sue were playing and she wouldn’t let you have a turn? You felt picked on and angry. Mother comforted and talked with him, he had stayed angry with Sue and called her “mean.”
She could ask him, “Is that how you want your friend to feel about you?” Joel would be better able to feel compassion when connecting Andrew’s feelings with ones he has experienced; he could be sensitive to the way he made Andrew feel. This will make his words, “I’m sorry,” much more healing for Andrew and for Joel himself.
Remorse and Repair
Mother’s help in realizing another’s bad feeling or hurt and knowing that he caused it will also lead the way to a feeling of remorse on Joel’s part. He will wish he hadn’t been so unkind. He will wish that Andrew wasn’t so angry with him and would still be his friend.
He will want to do something to make things better. He will like the adults’ approval when he does the kind thing instead of causing their disappointment and anger.
This can open the way for Mother to help him think about what he might do to repair what he has caused. In this case, it might be to gather the pieces of Lego that fell and, if Andrew wishes, help him re-build his building.
Sometimes repairing might mean doing some other act of kindness –drawing an “I’m sorry” picture, getting a tissue for a crying playmate, getting tape to repair something that was torn, etc.
Doing something kind will help restore Joel’s good feelings about himself instead of getting stuck in the misery of being the “bad guy.” He will feel better when he can sympathize with others and help them feel better, too.
Each time Joel is helped to realize how his actions have affected someone else or have turned a pleasant time into an unhappy one, he is forming convictions of what he wants for himself and how he wants to be thought of.
Does he want to be a bully who snatches whatever he wants, who destroys other people’s things, who spoils a nice time with a friend by his unkind behavior?
Or does he choose not to do those things he knows will hurt his playmate and end a fun playtime?
He will need help from the adults around him to think about what kind of boy he wants to be and to realize that only he can make that choice for himself. Four- and 5-year-olds are beginning to struggle with their developing consciences and the increasing capacity to empathize with others’ feelings.
They feel better when they learn their mistakes can be corrected, and then they are able to move on.
Image courtesy of Arvind-Balaraman_freedigitalphotos
It’s amazing how routine it’s become to hear news of violence that affects children. Does news of yet another school shooting still affect you quite the same way it did when we heard about Sandy Hook?
If so, our first reaction on hearing the latest is to hug our children tightly. If not, if you’ve grown numb, keep in mind that young children who hear about it are learning of such things for the first time. And it’s hard to think they won’t learn about it without some extra consciousness on your part.
Because in the days and weeks that ahead, children will be exposed again and again to replays of the scary images from the original event. They will seek to understand what they see and hear, trying to put it into the context of what they know about the normal and expected.
The amount of information children need from parents in such situations differs depending on the child and, of course, his or her age. Here are a few resources to help talk with your children about recent news of school violence.
Blog post from The Hanna Perkins Grandmothers: Some insight into the questions children really have – though they may have trouble finding the right words. And how to answer those questions simply and lovingly.
Another perspective by Shari Nascon on talking to your kids when they hear of tragic news that in some way hits close to home.
Article from the Lucy Daniels Center for Early Childhood: A three-part approach to talking with children about school violence …
- Protecting and supporting
… and how to put it into practical use.
Fred Rogers’ advice on how to talk about tragic events in the news: An excerpt from Mr. Rogers’ last book before his 2003 death, offering practical suggestions for helping your children navigate news of the tragedy.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
An article published Oct. 21, 2014 in The Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com cited Hanna Perkins Education Director Barbara Streeter in explaining why children who are victims of violence have such varied reactions.
The article noted: “A child’s reaction to violence is difficult to predict and depends on a number of variables, Streeter said. But it’s where the child’s brain is in terms of its development that plays a larger role in how such trauma will impact children later in life.”
The article’s launching point was a news story from the previous week, in which three boys were robbed at gunpoint of snacks and ice cream. The article, available here, indicated violent crime against children seems to be on the rise in Northeast Ohio.
Recognizing the limitations of a brief news article to address such a topic fully, Streeter also offers this elaboration:
Victims of violence have been subjected to an overwhelming experience of terror and helplessness. Generally speaking, younger children have fewer coping skills and less ability to make realistic sense of what has happened to them than older children.
Younger children have trouble differentiating fantasy from reality and rely on magical thinking in order to cope. They may resort to directing their anger at their parent for not being there to protect them, or to only being able to be with others when cloaked in the fantasy that they are a superhero.
Somewhat older children may worry that they did something wrong which caused the event to occur; and if they could identify what they did wrong, then maybe they could make it right. This idea may seem more comforting to some than trying to come to terms with the fact they were helpless to prevent what happened.
Others resort to warding off the helpless feeling by turning the situation around and terrorizing others – being the perpetrator instead of the victim. Some become crippled by their anxiety, afraid to venture out and try new things.
But what is most common among crime victims of any age is that the feelings of terror and helplessness don’t go away.
Children need the support of family – and often that of professionals – to come to terms with the experience and learn to cope with the feelings in a more realistic way. Otherwise, they may be unable to give up their initial, less-than-adequate modes of coping. This, in turn, impacts their lives well into adulthood – and in some instances results in a pattern of warding off the feelings associated with the victimization by becoming a perpetrator.