Picky Eating

Dear Grandmothers: When we were kids, we had to eat whatever was on our plates without complaint, or we didn’t eat at all. My sister brings her children over for dinner and as soon as she sees what I’m serving tells me her kids won’t eat it, and starts making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for them. Why are kids today so picky?

eating happily  stockimages freedigitalphotos Picky EatingKids today are probably not any pickier than those of previous generations. Don’t you remember slipping your mystery meat under the table to the dog, or asking to be excused and then flushing the brussel sprouts you had hidden in your napkin down the toilet?

But it does seem that children today are more outspoken about what they don’t like, and their parents somehow more willing to become short order cooks for them. Let’s assume that your sister – and other mothers like her – are not happy with this situation, and would prefer it if their children displayed an enjoyment of almost all foods, a willingness to try new flavors and combinations of ingredients, and an appropriate social pleasantness at the table as the family sits down together to discuss their days activities, rather than to have mealtime become an exchange whines and threats over the meal that has been served.

WHAT CAUSES PICKY EATING: Many children appear to be naturally suspicious of food that looks different and strange to them. One of the few areas in which they can exert their autonomy is in the area of eating – you can put it in front of them, but you can’t make them eat it! – and so they may be most insistent on their right to refuse what is being offered.

And with their smaller bodies, appetites, and stomachs, some children may just not be very hungry – especially when they’ve reached a plateau between growth spurts, and most especially when someone places before them a mountainous adult-sized portion of food and insists they eat it. All of it. Because it’s good for them.

HOW PARENTS (AND AUNTS) OF PICKY EATERS FEEL: Frustrated, even panicky, because there are few instincts more basic than the one to feed our young. We want to see our child nourished and healthy, and instead he sits there (look how skinny he is!) listlessly pushing the food around his plate or out-and-out refusing to eat it. We alternate between wanting to force feed him and offering to get him something else, anything else, on the off chance that he might actually consume a few calories.

WHAT TO UNDERSTAND: The more we beg, cajole, or insist, the more determined the child becomes not to eat.

WHAT TO DO: Make a new family rule: absolutely no arguing about food. Food is not to be mentioned at mealtime, except to ask that something be passed or to compliment the cook or to say how delicious the asparagus is this time of year.

Mealtime is to be a pleasant time of sharing ideas and observations. Pretend not to notice what someone eats or doesn’t eat, but certainly evidence enjoyment in your own eating. Absolutely do not offer any alternative menu choices. Let the child serve his own plate, if he is able, so that the portion will be one of his choosing. Then at the end of the meal if he has eaten little to nothing, so be it.

It’s OK because you have made another family rule that is a corollary to the first: there are healthy snacks available in the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator and in the bottom shelf of the cupboard that anyone is welcome to help him/herself to at any time, should s/he still be hungry.

WHAT TO SAY: “What was your favorite part of today?” “Guess what I saw on my way to work this morning?” “Please pass the broccoli.”

WHAT NOT TO SAY: “Good job, Seymour! You ate your cauliflower! You’ve made me so proud!” “Don’t bother offering Seymour any cauliflower. He hates vegetables.” (The first sort of comment could give the child the impression that he should eat to please you, not himself; and the second could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

NEXT TIME: Your sister might try to engage her children’s interest and assistance in menu-planning, grocery shopping, and cooking. And we certainly hope that your house isn’t the only place where there IS a family mealtime, a time that everyone sits down to eat at once to enjoy the conversation and togetherness. With everyone’s busy schedule this may be difficult to arrange every day, but parents can make that their goal rather than somehow getting some food down the “picky” eater’s throat.

Clip out this article to show to your sister, and plan to discuss the “no arguing about food” rule with her before the next time she and her children come to dinner. If she doesn’t agree with that idea, then put yourself out of your misery: Order a pizza.

Image courtesy of Stockimages/Freedigitalphotos.net

The other thing about Easter: Scary church stories

easter egg Grant Cochrane freedigitalphotos 300x199 The other thing about Easter: Scary church storiesIn a previous Easter season, a worried mother sent this note:

One of the kids at my son’s preschool told him about the crucifixion, and what happened, with all the exact details and he was horrified. Telling him about Easter Sunday did not make him feel better. He has been crying about this at night and is afraid of regular pictures of Jesus in a book. I hope it’s OK to ask this question because it’s about religion and everybody has their own opinion. I just wanted to know if any of you grandmas ever ran into a situation like this and what you did.

You know what they say about avoiding the topics of politics and religion. But that rule doesn’t apply to the Grandmothers.

We have two side observations on the subject of friends who tell our children frightening things:

  1. The friends are scared themselves, and try to relieve their fear by scaring someone else.
  2. It can be very difficult to protect our children from terrifying stories. Even if our children don’t see the scary movie/television program/book themselves, one of their friends is sure to tell them about it.

But what to do about your child who is having nightmares about Jesus? Already you have done the most important thing: You took your child seriously; you didn’t try to make him feel better with platitudes; you listened, you empathized. You didn’t burden him with theological concepts that he wouldn’t understand and that would trouble him further.

Crucifixion is indeed a hideously cruel fate to contemplate. We adults who have been looking at paintings, carvings and other reproductions of the crucifixion all our lives have become somewhat accustomed to the idea, not allowing ourselves to think about the cruelty in detail. But a sensitive child learning about it for the first time might understandably be horrified. You have probably already told him that the picture of Jesus on the cross is hard for all of us to look at and think about, and that you are not surprised the story makes him scared and sad.

So, first you listen, realizing that preschool children think egocentrically, hearing things in the context of “if it happened once, then it could happen to me or my family.” Perhaps he will have trouble articulating his fear, and you will have to listen carefully to hear his very concrete interpretation of what his friend told him. You might ask him what he thinks might happen because of this story. Then, when you are sure you have heard him and that he feels understood, you might try comforting and reassuring him with whichever of the following seem most applicable, or a combination:

  • Jesus lived far, far away and a long, long time ago. What happened to him won’t happen now to you or anybody you know. We will keep you safe at home and your teachers and the people who are in charge of our city will keep our neighborhood safe.
  • The picture of Jesus on the cross can be very scary and you don’t need to look at it or be worried by it. When you are older you may be ready to understand more about Jesus and the worry won’t feel so big.
  • Jesus was someone who wanted to help people talk to one another, to use words, instead of hurting. Unfortunately, there were some bad guys who hadn’t gotten help to use words and they were mean to him. That was long ago before people had TV and cars and a lot of the safety rules we have now. Now, people work very hard to help one another to use words. They can even help bad guys learn to use words.

You didn’t mention if church attendance has become a problem, but we can certainly imagine it becoming one.

Children can be introduced to religion gradually, starting simply with messages about how to be kind and loving to our family and friends. If it is a family tradition to go to church and the figure of Jesus on the cross is unavoidable, do lots of planning with your child ahead of time. Perhaps the child can bring a coloring book and focus on that during the service, or perhaps the adults can take turns staying outside with the child. It wouldn’t be helpful to contaminate his introduction to religion by forcing situations that frighten him.

With that kind of loving attention and acceptance of his fear as very real, the fear will slowly fade.

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Shopping for preschool: 19 things your child needs to learn

fingerpainting girl  David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos 300x199 Shopping for preschool: 19 things your child needs to learnWhen you begin to look at preschools for your children, it’s easy to be wowed by some of the exciting things many of them will offer to compete for your business, such as big muscle rooms, regular field trips, strenuous academic curricula, and name-brand extracurricular activities taught by outside instructors.

This splendid collection of  activities raises a question: How can parents figure out the best pre-school environment for their child?

It helps to think for a minute about who children are at this age and stage; then it becomes much easier to figure out an environment that matches their development level and abilities.

Two- to 5-year-olds are evolving people – not totally developed. Their personalities and sense of the world are still getting organized.

That’s what we mean when we talk about developmental stages: Children are continually organizing and reorganizing as their abilities evolve for moving around in – and understanding – the world. So we are looking for an environment that promotes this process of organization, that encourages children to feel safe in the world, in charge of themselves, and zestful about new experiences and learning.

What this means is that some of the best preschools may be the least exciting to visit. Or more accurately – they won’t be overexciting.

They tend to be quiet places that emphasize a daily routine. That allows children to know what’s going to be happening and to predict their experience. Such an environment helps them to learn about the world and themselves in a way that encourages mastery.

Activities are designed to stimulate, not over-stimulate.  At this age children don’t need so much outside stimulation; they need to process experience in little bites rather than bug gulps. Otherwise they get overwhelmed, which gets in the way of their feeling safe and organized inside.

In other words, the purpose of preschool is to help a child become a learner – someone invested in learning, with the skills to be able to learn, and who enjoys mastery and work.

Or still another way: It isn’t a matter of how much a child knows, as gratifying as that might be; It is a matter of how the child learns and how he or she feels about learning. By becoming learners in these early years, children will have the skills they need to succeed in any academic environment in the future.

Here are 19 specific tasks that are prerequisites to becoming a learner. Mastering them requires a gradual process that evolves from the ages of 2½ to 5.

Once mastered, these tasks will allow a child to learn anything when the time is right. But if a child hasn’t succeeded in mastering these tasks by early elementary school (more or less), he or she will be compromised in learning, which can interfere with their future educational investment and success.

Mastery Tasks for Becoming a Learner

Listed below are 19 specific tasks children need to master in order to become learners. A strong preschool curriculum is organized to help children attain these skills:

  1. Be able to take care of the self – their bodies and their things – in an appropriate way.
  2. Be able to separate from their parents/caregivers in such a way that they maintain energy, zest, interest and spectrum of affect in the new environment.
  3. Be able to see the teacher as a teacher, not just a substitute caregiver. Be able to trust so they can later learn from different people.
  4. Be able to use language for communication; be able to ask questions.
  5. Be able to listen and hear communications; be able to hear answers to questions.
  6. Be able to take in and express (a corollary to No. 5).
  7. Be able to sit still and be in their own space.
  8. Be able to delay gratification (i.e. wait).
  9. Be able to tolerate frustration; try, try again!
  10. Be able to relate to peers as people, rather than as conveniences or inconveniences.
  11. Be able to function in a group while maintaining autonomy and without feeling lost.
  12. Be able to make transitions.
  13. Be able to follow directions.
  14. Be able to risk.
  15. Be able to be wrong.
  16. Be able to have pleasure in learning and mastery.
  17. Be able to be curious in a neutral and productive way.
  18. Be able to assert themselves in socially acceptable ways.
  19. Be able to remain neutral in the classroom – that is, be a schoolboy or schoolgirl.

As adults and parents – because we can’t remember routine events from our own toddler years – it’s easy to forget that these skills are neither intuitive nor self-learned. They need to be taught and reinforced through patience, understanding, kindness and quiet dedication.

When evaluating preschools, this is what I recommend parents seek.

Image courtesy of  David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Spring ahead, fall back … just don’t fall apart

clockforward digitalart freedigitalphotos 300x300 Spring ahead, fall back ... just dont fall apartIt’s time again to change the clocks – and suffer a week or more of family discombobulation. “There’s got to be a better way,” we all think, as the early-waking child seems to wake even earlier; or the cranky-before-dinner child seems to spend even more time in that unpleasant state.

Know two things:

  1. You’re not alone in your clock-changing dread; and
  2. There are ways to make it all go a little smoother.

Here are some tips to get you through the transition:

Change the clock on your own terms. Don’t wait until 2 a.m. Sunday. That barely works for grown-ups; it’s a lousy trick on a kid’s body clock. Change as early in the weekend as you can. This gives you time to reinforce the new timing of things before anyone has to show up to school or work on Monday.

We highly recommend changing the clock as early as Friday night, so you can wake up on Saturday with the “new” time.

This is a great life lesson. Kids need to know how to follow society’s rules (the clock must change) while being true to themselves (we change it this weekend, when it works best for our family).

Change all your clocks/watches at once. This helps you believe the time has changed, so you can be consistent for your young child. If you have somewhere to be on Saturday, try to use the “new” time to keep oriented,

Adjust all meal times to the new clock. Kids like routine; they rely on it. So pace the whole routine as normal; if dinner is usually at 6 , then continue to have it at 6 – even though it may feel like it’s coming earlier or later than usual. The children will adjust. If they react poorly to it on Saturday, you still have Sunday to get things settled before the school/work week begins.

Remember that a child’s wake-up time predicts his or her nap and bed times. If you have a child who is sensitive to change, he or she may have trouble going to sleep at their “regular” time when the clock has just moved. To the internal body clock, it feels like an hour early or late, depending on the time of year and the direction of the time change.

Reinforce weekday wake-up, nap, and bed times to help your child adjust. Be prepared for being a little off-kilter the first few days; naps may be shorter or harder to achieve altogether, but they will come back.

Acknowledge that the weekend feels a little funny, but don’t go into long explanations. Young children take our words literally. They will wonder why you got a different clock, or will argue that the clock hasn’t been “changed” at all.

The concept of time being adjustable may become confusing or distracting. Don’t bog the kids down with this. Your goal is to have a fun family weekend where the new times just blend into your life.

Make lemonade out of lemons. If you are concerned that your young child will have a bumpy adjustment, this is a great weekend to take the big outing you’ve been avoiding because it will mess up the nap schedule.

Sometimes the curveballs of life can actually help. A big outing throws your child’s body clock off, in which case he or she will gladly embrace the post-outing routine that you offer (with the new & improved clock time). Get up and out with a planned outing early Saturday or, better still, Sunday. Then your little one will be more likely to fall asleep at a decent time come Sunday night. And so will you.

Image courtesy of Digital Art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Helping children learn about death

Dear Grandmothers:

My 3-year-old son Billy’s hamster is looking sickly and I don’t know what to do if it dies. Should I run out and get another one so Billy won’t know what happened? I don’t want him to be sad and upset, so I want to be prepared for this situation.

Worried Mother


hamster james barker freedigitalphotos 300x199 Helping children learn about deathDear Worried Mother:

This may sound odd, but you should be grateful Billy has this opportunity to experience death in a relatively simple way, rather than with the death of a loved person. It is a chance for him to see what death is, what is done with a dead body, and how we grieve the loss rather than ignore it.

This basic understanding of death can begin when a child is as young as 2 – when he notices dead things like insects or worms. If we use the word “dead” and explain that the bug will never move again because it is dead, we are helping him to have a concrete understanding of death in a situation that is not so emotionally charged as the death of a person he knows.

Knowing what is done with a dead body can be learned through the death of a pet. A child may want to hold the dead pet, even want to keep it. We must let him know that it will begin to smell, so we have to bury it. Putting Billy’s hamster in a box with a soft cloth around it and burying it in a protected spot in the back yard, with a flower planted on the grave, allows everyone to show their feelings of sadness at a death – even of a pet.

Allowing time to feel sad and miss his little furry companion without rushing out to buy a replacement gives Billy an opportunity to learn to cope with these feelings. Of course he misses his pet; of course it is sad when someone dies.

These are feelings he can bear – in fact, they are feelings he should be allowed to have, not denied by a well-meaning parent who wants him to be happy always. If a child is allowed to have these sad feelings and gradually learn to live with them, he builds emotional muscle.

We grandmothers certainly understand a parent’s wish to spare children any distress. We also know that it’s often because the parent doesn’t want to have those sad feelings – it’s just too hard – so they try to avoid them for the child and for themselves. But we are doing the child a disservice if we do not allow him to learn that he can bear even distressing feelings.

When there is a death in the family, or the family of a friend or classmate, Billy will at least have an idea of the answer to one of the inevitable questions: What is dead? The other questions that all children have are: Can it happen to me, and can it happen to you, Mommy and Daddy?

Here, you can be truthful but still reassure Billy that, “No, I won’t die for a long time; I’m healthy and I take care of myself. You’ll be a grown-up; I’ll be a grandmother for many years.”

Parents may think they should be totally truthful and acknowledge that, “Yes, I will die,” because, of course, they will. But to a child, that means it could happen tomorrow or next week, because children have such an undeveloped understanding of time.

What about spiritual answers to the question of death? Here again, children’s lack of development in the area of abstract thinking means the best thing is not to give religious explanations about death to children under the age of 7; until then, such explanations are only confusing and unhelpful.

Think of how confused a child is when he hears that Grammy’s in heaven. “Why wouldn’t she come down from there and play with me?” the child thinks. And imagine how scary it is for a child to hear that Grandpa “went to sleep.” How can he close his eyes at night when he imagines that death is what happens when you go to bed?

If the child hears others talking about heaven or God taking people away, you can answer, “Many people believe that. Many people believe other things too, and as you get older you will learn about them and will understand them better. Everybody has such a hard time understanding death. It’s hard to believe that someone is never coming back, so some people talk about heaven and god. But I like to remember the person who died and think about things we did with her when she was alive.”

So, Worried Mother, I know we’ve told you much more about young children and their understanding of death than you were asking in your question. But we couldn’t resist this opportunity to talk about such an important issue for all parents of young children.

Thank you for bringing it up. And good luck to you as you help Billy deal with the many issues of growing up and help him build the emotional muscle that he will need throughout his life – starting with the death of a pet.

 Image courtesy James Barker/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

Toilet Mastery

When are Children Ready for Toilet Mastery?

potty John Kasawa freedigitalphotos 300x275 Toilet MasteryWhen a child’s needs have been adequately met during his first year (fed when he is hungry, provided a regular sleep schedule, cleaned up when his diaper is dirty), he is then ready to take on more of this self-care himself.

Therefore, in their child’s second year, parents should be alert to signs that he is moving in this direction and help him as he takes the steps towards mastery of eating, sleeping, and toileting.

Evidence that he is ready to feed himself is hard to miss: He grabs for the spoon, he puts things in his mouth, and Mom is ready with Cheerios and easily-managed finger foods to help him move ahead in this progression toward self care.

And so it goes for toileting: Near the end of the second year, parents should start watching for signs that the child knows when he is urinating or having a bowel movement and help him accomplish toilet mastery.

Why Do Parents Miss the Signals that the Child is Ready for the Potty?

Two things cause parents problems these days. First is the recent trend toward putting infants on the potty whenever the caregiver sees signs that the baby is about to urinate or have a bowel movement. Of course, this is ecologically correct (less waste in landfills) and saves money in diapers, but exactly who is mastering what?

Parents are the ones who are trained and must be constantly vigilant. No mastery has actually come from the child.

A second problem is the phenomenon of larger and larger (and more and more absorbent) disposable diapers and pull-ups on store shelves.

Seeing these lulls parents into assuming that toilet mastery comes much later than the latter part of the second year. So they are not on the lookout for signs that their child is ready to take this step toward using the potty instead of pull-ups.

What’s Wrong With Waiting Until the Child is 3?

When a child is not helped to move along in this phase of meeting his own needs at the developmentally correct time, the accomplishment of this step when the child is older will be much more difficult.

By the time a child is 3, he is aware that there are other children even younger than he who are using the bathroom, and may wonder if there is something wrong with him when he has not achieved this mastery. Then he may not even want to try, for fear of having this suspicion verified — that there really is something wrong with him.

Another issue here is a child’s pride of mastery. We all recognize the toddler’s movement towards independence – that wonderful demand of “me do it” that signals his growing feeling of being a separate person.

Taking away the opportunity for this big developmental step of toilet mastery is stealing a vital feeling of accomplishment. A child who has experienced this sense of competence as a toddler will have the confidence to try new things and expect success in the many tasks he will face throughout his school career and after.

What are the Signs that the Child is Ready for Toilet Mastery?

Just as parents recognize the child’s behavior that alerts them to stop spoon-feeding and let the child eat independently and enthusiastically, now is the time to look for signs that he is ready for the potty.

Does he know when he is urinating and having a BM? Is he asking to be changed? Is he beginning to identify with the parents’ pleasure of seeing him clean and dry? Does he dislike getting his hands messy? Does he want to be a big boy and do everything the big people do? And does he resist passively lying down for diaper changes?

These are all signs that it’s time for the training pants (not pull-ups; they absorb the urine and deprive the child of that uncomfortable feeling that we want him to reject).

What gets in the way of parents helping with this?

Helping a child achieve these all-important self-masteries can take time and effort as well as provoke feelings of frustration and even anger at the inevitable messes that occur. Parents can sometimes ignore signals, delay helping their child take this step in self-care, reassuring themselves that “no child ever graduated from high school wearing diapers.”

But perhaps they are avoiding what they fear could be occasions for conflict. Maybe they need to keep their child dependent on them, dreading this ultimate step towards independence and the loss of the closeness they had with their baby.

Another more practical problem is parents’ busy schedules. It is so much quicker to get to work in the morning or to get in and out of the grocery store if you don’t have to stop whatever you are doing to find the restroom for your toddler.

What Difference Does it Make When He is Trained?

First, it is so much easier when he is ready and eager to become a big boy who doesn’t need diapers anymore. Then he will be proud to be doing something on his own and it will be his accomplishment.

As he gets older, there can be battles of will with parents and it can become more about the battle than the toileting. Parents need to find the part of the child that wants to grow and be partners with his efforts – not take it on as their job.

When the time is right for him, not just when it’s convenient for the parents, accomplishing these steps towards self-care promote a child’s self-esteem immeasurably; they contribute to his growing sense of competence which will stand him in good stead in all his school years and throughout life.

Image courtesy of John Kasawa/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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?happy family David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos 300x199 A holiday wish: Simple delight in your children

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 of sleep, not immunity to childhood illnesses, but delight. Delight in your children.

At this time of year you’ve doubtless had many opportunities to observe Scrooge as he emerges, thrilled to be alive after his visits from the three ghosts. Remember how he gleefully greets the boy whom he sends to get the turkey for the Cratchit family? “An intelligent boy! A remarkable boy!” he says. “What a delightful boy! It’s a pleasure to talk to him.” When, in fact, the boy hasn’t done a thing remarkable.

This is the kind of delight we would like you to be finding in your children during this holiday season and into the New Year.

Easy to dismiss that with a Bah, humbug, or some 21st-century expression that comes more quickly to mind, we’ll grant you. But hear us out.

Yes, they wear you out, both physically and mentally. Their needs are constant and usually come at inconvenient times. They whine, they fight, they demand, they spill their red drinks on your white carpet. But the fact that they exist, these miniature people, and grow and change so fast and miraculously, is truly delightful.

Look at how much they learn in a month, let alone a year. Wasn’t he struggling to stand up only a few months ago, and now he can run? Wasn’t she speaking in one-word sentences last spring, and now she talks in paragraphs? Scrooge was right: It’s altogether remarkable.

If you’re having trouble working up some delight in the kid who just gave himself a training-scissors haircut the day before his  preschool photo, picture yourself leaning over his bed when he’s asleep and the little twinge you get in the area of the heart as you contemplate how beautiful he is, how infinitely precious.

Remember – and maybe you don’t have to go so far back in history for such a memory, this being the season – how teary you got when she and her classmates stood up at the daycare holiday party and sang Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer? Most of the rest of the kids were standing there scratching their behinds or singing off-key, but your daughter was singing right on pitch, every word, louder than all the others. Or maybe your kid was one of those doing the scratching, but wasn’t she absolutely adorable?

And think of the cute things he’s said, the antics that you’ve described to your co-workers or called up your mom on the phone to share. What about when you asked him to pick up his toys and he said, “But I just can’t want to do that right now!”

Remember the time that you were so sick you couldn’t get out of bed, but somehow she climbed up on the kitchen counter without breaking her neck, got out the peanut butter and jelly, and made you a sandwich?

Remember how delightful the way he looks at the world because to him it’s fresh and new, and how unexpected but understandable the way he interprets what we say because he finds our adult vocabulary puzzling. Ten years ago, one of the Grandmothers’ grandsons, when told that Aunt Irene’s body was in the closed casket at her funeral, asked, after a long pause, “But where’s her head?” and we’re still laughing about it.

You have your own stories to tell, your own cute things your children have said to share. Please send them to us. And this holiday season and beyond, try to look at your children through Scrooge’s eyes – the transformed Scrooge, that is.

Your child is without doubt the most remarkable, delightful creature on Earth. Even when he’s just standing there, plastic scissors in hand, hair sticking up in six directions.

 Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/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 





Keeping holidays focused on the children

holiday girl and dad freedigitalphotos imagerymajestic 300x198 Keeping holidays focused on the childrenIt’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