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 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 

 

 

When the little one is acting sneaky

A while ago I visited a friend and her family. One afternoon I found myself in the kitchen with Janine, her lively little 4-year- old. She was playing with a puzzle and I was helping prepare dinner and her mother had gone into the garden. She suddenly looked around and pushed a small stool against the cupboards. She glanced behind, climbed up and reached to the back of the shelf from which she pulled a chocolate.

Holding it tightly, she jumped back on to the floor, pushed the stool back to its proper position and hurried over to her play area. The chocolate was hastily unwrapped and devoured and the wrapper was immediately buried in the garbage can. She returned to her puzzle.

I was a visitor and knew full well by the look on her face and her hurried and furtive movements that the hidden candy was out of bounds and this little girl knew it. I neither said nor did anything.

In retrospect I should have immediately wondered with her if she was into something she should not have been, and that maybe Mommy had warned her not to eat the candy. I should have suggested that she’d feel bad if she did something she knew Mommy wouldn’t like.

Instead I watched with fascination as she found an inventive, rather athletic way to reach the forbidden candy. The truth of the matter was that now we both felt guilty – Janine for breaking a rule even if she didn’t get caught, and I for allowing it to happen without some gentle, adult intervention.

Who among us can honestly claim to have never been sneaky about anything – particularly if we define it as doing something forbidden, on the sly?

Sneakiness and lying in young children often infuriates parents and teachers. It’s interesting that in adulthood our own sneaky histories are not only remembered in great detail but often humorously shared with friends. We remember exactly what we did and whether we were caught or got away with it. It was the guilt that imprinted these memories.

It’s unwise to accuse a 4-year old of being a sneak or if, when caught and she denies it, a liar. These are strong words to use and aren’t any more help than looking away – as did I.

Adults rightly feel an obligation to discourage children from being sneaky or telling lies, and there are lessons to be taught about rules and the truth. But nothing is to be gained by severely punishing them when they transgress.

Severe admonitions simply result in a small child’s trying to survive the fear of a parent’s anger or the possibility of being spanked – rather than feeling bad about what they had done and regretting it. Terrifying children with angry words and punishment might well drive them further into more inventive sneakiness and lying and more creative ways to avoid being caught.

Young children’s sneakiness can be attributed to wanting something that is missing or forbidden, an urge they have that can’t be satisfied. Their wishes are very strong at this young age; having those wishes denied results in angry feelings. They feel they haven’t been able to get enough when being aboveboard with Mom and Dad, so the impulse to get what they want trumps the newly learned rules and all other feelings.

When caught, young children often lie. It’s an indication that they wish they had done the right thing and, rather than feeling uncomfortable about what they have done, they invent a new reality that would seem to make things better: they lie. They really don’t want to deliberately deceive others in order to “get away” with their forbidden acts.

Believe it or not, this lie can often be a confession, because the discomfort of a sneaky act or the lie that follows is almost more than they can bear.

By 4 years of age Janine already knew many of the family “rules” and knew the candy was not to be taken without permission. She knew her mother would be angry and would certainly scold her had she been caught mid-theft. She also predicted that if she had asked, she would have been denied the candy.

So how to approach your young child when you’re sure this sneaky behavior will land her in prison one day? Contrary to the way I reacted to Janine’s behavior, it would have been far more helpful for me to talk to her about taking something forbidden and about how bad she would feel inside if she did.

Recognizing with her how much she wanted the forbidden candy, for example, and how hard it was not to grab that piece when no one was looking might have helped her hear me. Suggesting we talk to Mom about a time when she might have one would be important or if she can’t, making that clear and finding a substitute food or activity.

Approval by parents is very powerful in young children. So much depends on this strong relationship and a child’s wish to keep it close. It often leads to children denying themselves something they badly want just to maintain it. At first it works when the parents are nearby, but not when they are absent. It’s for this reason baby sitters can have difficulty with a child’s behavior. Eventually it becomes the child’s job to keep the rules in mind even in the absence of  parents. But that is a skill that takes time to learn.

So take heart and don’t fret if your preschooler takes a wrapped chocolate from the shelf when she thinks you’re not watching, or if she denies it when caught. Try not to accuse her or jump to conclusions. Also be aware that nighttime fears often show up as a sign of your child’s inner worries about naughtiness or temptations. Alone in bed, these forbidden acts surface and she fears punishment. As hard as it is, allow her to let you know when she has been sneaky or has lied, and do your best to keep the communication open.

With your help, as your child gets older, the rules will be remembered and her behavior will be modified. If all goes well, by around 5 years or 6 years of age her conscience will be all-powerful and she will be consumed with rules and whether things are fair.

It’s a big developmental step for your child and you can take pride in how she then begins to manage these temptations and any need to be sneaky or to lie when caught will eventually diminish or disappear.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Preparing your child for kindergarten

At one time, being ready for kindergarten meant knowing your name, address and phone number, being able to print your name, counting up to a certain number, reciting the alphabet in order and even tying your shoes.

These are helpful accomplishments, but in reality they have little to do with “readiness” for learning in a school setting.

Parents are a child’s first teachers, and they have all the tools needed to have him ready and eager to learn in an environment away from home, and from a teacher who isn’t also a caregiver. No special kits, flashcards or materials as-seen-on-TV are necessary.

In the everyday life of a family, parents guide children through many milestones that are part of being school-ready. These include:

Self-care: You won’t be with him, so his bodily needs (eating, using the toilet, dressing, wanting to be clean) will be up to him. So take advantage as he shows signs of wanting to “do it myself.” As he tries to be more independent, you can encourage each small step and admire his efforts. A child who can do for himself in a new environment can be less dependent on others – and is freer to focus on taking in and using new concepts.

Communication: Your child will be ready for school when he can tell others what he needs, when he needs help and what he doesn’t understand. Encourage him to use words at home to let you know what he wants and how he feels. Help him put into words how he feels when he looks sad or acts angry.

When he is curious about his world and asks questions, try to take the time to answer him simply. His “Why?” and “What’s a …?” curiosity will make him an eager learner at school. The ability to communicate at school will keep the learning tasks focused. It will help him avoid getting sidetracked with interfering behaviors of acting out or shutting down from the frustration of not understanding or not being understood.

Being part of a group: Being able to play comfortably with others his age will help greatly when he is at school. As you observe your child playing with others, watch for his ability to wait for a turn and share materials. If he has difficulty with this, help him see how the fun he’d been having was spoiled because he made his playmate feel bad by grabbing, pushing in front or not sharing.

Help him want to be liked and to see his role in whether things go well and if he and his friends are having fun. When he can use more inner controls to behave in a friendly way – rather than always needing outer discipline – he will feel good about himself and have more positive energy for learning and making good relationships.

“Missing” feelings: It’s normal to miss Dad, Mom and home, but these feelings do not need to overwhelm your child. Point out to him all of the things he can do already because he worked hard and practiced. Tell him how proud you are of all the ways he shows you that he is growing up. Let him know that you will be missing him, too; that his school is a place you know about and like. Hopefully, you and he will be able to visit the school, his room and teacher before the first day. If he has seen his room and met his teacher with you, it serves to put your “stamp of approval” on it and he can feel that he is “safe.”

If you do visit his room, you can point out some of the activities he is already familiar with, such as the blocks, puzzles and some of the art materials. Remembering doing some of them at home with you will help him be able to do things at school when you’re not with him.

There may be set-backs. He may have been in other programs where there were extended separations, but this is different and it may bring up those “missing” feelings again. At home, be prepared to listen and give your child the opportunity to express the worries and frustrations he may have.

Admire the way he could tell you and let you help with his feelings. Let him know you have missed him, too, but feel so proud of all the good growing up he’s shown he can do. The more confidence you have in him, the more confident he can be.

Image courtesy of Photostock/FreeDitigalPhotos.net

Leaving children for the weekend

No matter how laid-back the parents of young children are, they sometimes need a weekend get-away to take a break, tend to out-of-town family matters, attend a function where spouses are invited, etc.

When this need arises for the first time, they might have some concerns – especially if their child already fusses when a sitter comes for just the evening.

If the sitter can be someone your child already knows, such as an extended family member or good friend, so much the better.  There is already a relationship forming and the sitter knows some of the family routines and where to find things.

However, if none of these options is available you may have to choose a sitter your child has never met, but has good references and is recommended by someone whose judgment you trust. As parents, you will want to meet her and interview her before she comes to your house to meet your child.

Preparing for departure

Not too far ahead of the time you leave, you will want to tell your child of your upcoming plans and who will be staying with him/her while you’re away.

Your child will probably protest and won’t understand why she cannot go with you.  She will feel angry and left out.  The best way to get over left-out feelings is to have your child be a part of the planning. For example:

  • She can help you pick out the clothing she will wear while you’re gone and put it in a special place.
  • She can be a part of planning the menus for the meals she and the sitter will have together.
  •  She can pick out the games she might like to play with the sitter.
  •  You could take her to the library to pick out some new books they can read together.
  •  She could help make a plan for an outing while Mom and Dad are gone – the park/playground, the zoo, a movie suitable for young children.

As for you, Parents:  Even though there may be protesting that makes you feel guilty about leaving your unhappy child, don’t be tempted to try to sugarcoat the feeling by telling her about all the fun things she’ll be doing with the sitter while you’re gone. Instead sympathize with her and tell her the things you’ll do to help take the sting out of her missing feelings. For instance:

  • It would be very helpful if you would leave short notes for your child to read – one for each morning you’re gone and one for each evening.
  • Making a plan for a telephone call each day you’re gone will reassure her that you’re thinking of her.
  • Suggest that she draw some new pictures for the refrigerator to show Mom and Dad when you come home.
  • Leave a picture of the family together for her to look at so that she will have a tangible connection when she feels the “missing” the most.

When she can still feel “connected” she is less likely to be sad and angry because of a left-out feeling.

Time to leave

When the leaving day arrives, you as parents hope you’ve thought of everything – notes for the sitter, the name, number and address of where you’ll be beside the telephone. The bags are packed and in the car. The sitter has come and already has your child engaged in the game or book you suggested. You look at each other and are tempted to sneak out without saying “goodbye” and risking an upset.

Don’t you dare! When your child finds that you have gone without a hug or goodbye, she will really feel abandoned. It’s better to go to her, tell her you are leaving and give her your hugs. Tell her you will call her at the time that was arranged and now she and the sitter can finish the story or game. There will probably be tears, but you know that you and she will live through them.

Let me tell you a true story that one of our Grannies told about when she stayed with her 4 1/2-year-old granddaughter while her parents were on a trip.

It was bedtime. They had called and after they hung up, she was crying on her bed. I said, “Oh, Jadey, I know how hard it is to have Mommy and Daddy away. Would you like me to read to you before you go to sleep?” She raised herself up on her elbows and cried out, “NO – I just want to lie here and miss my Mommy and Daddy!” and she again flopped down on her tummy.  Jadey’s Granny reminds us that “We all want to do that at different times in our lives – well beyond 4 or 5 years of age.

Coming home

So, you did it.  You spent a weekend away and feel refreshed for it even though the planning felt endless. Don’t be surprised if, after the first hugs and kisses when you return home, they are followed by signs of your child ignoring you. She might even find a reason to become angry with you about something. Maybe the gift you brought her was “dumb.”  Maybe what you’re preparing for dinner smells “yucky.” She might fuss about going to bed because “it’s not fair” that you get to stay up later.

This reaction is pretty normal for a young child who has had to “suck it up” and stay with a sitter overnight for the first time. She felt left out then, now it’s your turn.

All of the careful planning and good preparation in the world can’t make up for the fact that you left her behind and had fun without her.

Image courtesy of Rawitch/FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Birthday parties – a little bit of sanity please

“Happy Birthday, dear Billy…” oh no…the candles are burning and everyone is singing, but Billy is definitely not a happy birthday boy.  In fact, tears are rolling down his cheeks and the wish he’s making as he blows out the candles is for everyone to just go away and let him play with that cool truck in the pile of presents.

How could it be that this perfectly planned event was not a wonderful experience for the honoree?  It was held at a special location, which specializes in kids’ parties.  All fifteen children from Billy’s preschool class plus his 10 cousins were invited and there were lots of exciting things for kids to run around and do.   There was a magician to entertain them, pizza, a special cake, and a piñata to whack away at.  What more could a child possibly want?  Well, yes, maybe a pony for everyone to ride—but that’s for next year.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? In our modern, competitive world, many birthday parties for young children have become occasions for keeping up with—or even outdoing—other parents. “Ashley’s party was so lovely; the girls and their mothers went to a fancy hotel for a fashion show—whatever can we do to compare with that?”

Children’s parties can also become social events for the adults, either as a way to entertain friends or to gather the extended family for a reunion.  In both of these instances, the focus is on the adults and the children may get lost in the shuffle, either to run amok unsupervised or to have too much attention showered upon them when they are unsure of what they are expected to do.

Perhaps parents want to feel that they have done everything to make their children’s lives as perfect as possible.  In our fast-paced world, parents may feel guilty that they are not giving their children the time and attention they should and so try to make it up to them by throwing a grand and glorious birthday party.

Similarly, in the hurried world of two working parents, Mom may think, “why should I have all these kids running through my house making a big mess to clean up?  If we have the party at Chuck E. Cheese, I can have the rest of the weekend to get other chores done.”

All these are possible explanations for the overdone, inappropriate, chaotic birthday parties we see.  If only parents would examine their motives as they plan for this important milestone in their child’s life, perhaps the scenario would be a different one.

WHAT TO DO? First of all, think of everything from your child’s perspective.  How old is she?  One easy rule of thumb is to invite the same number of children as the age of the child, so three guests are perfect for your three year old’s party.  Send cupcakes to the pre-school to celebrate with all the classmates; let the actual party be a private one which will be a pleasure for your child only if it is kept at a size which she can manage.  Similarly, plan on a manageable length of time, two hours is plenty.   Be sure to state the hours on the invitation so everyone knows just what to expect.

Second, remember that the simplest things are new and wonderful to young children.  Think of what your child loves to do.  If he is a nature lover, go to the nearby park and have a simple scavenger hunt for acorns, bird feathers, and yes, even a piece of litter (can’t start too early with cleaning up the environment—and, of course, you brought hand-wipes to clean them up afterwards).  If it’s a nice day, spread a cloth on a picnic table and ice some cupcakes, have some lemonade, play a few games, and go home.  Oh yes, the goody bag: a little ladybug toy and a few pieces of your child’s favorite candy are a nice souvenir of the day.

If she would love to have a tea party, invite the guests to bring their dolls and provide all the makings of a pretend tea party at home.  The children could make the sandwiches and, of course, pour the pretend tea (lemonade with a touch of tea for color) for themselves and their dolls.  A fun craft activity, such as a picture frame, for the photo you take of each girl with her doll, would be a nice favor for guests to take home.

What to do with those boys when it’s bad weather?  How about the scavenger hunt indoors?  Hide items, which go along with your party theme, around the house.  Play a beanbag toss game or rig up a balance beam for the junior Olympians to walk across.  Get some scraps of wood for them to glue together and paint or show the DVD of some old (short) cartoons that you loved as a child.  Let the boys make their own pizzas or string cubes of fruit on bamboo sticks for kabobs.

When there are fewer children and the activities are based on reality rather than overly stimulating fantasy, there is less random running around and everyone is calmly involved. When you think of themes for the party for children who might become over-excited, choose the real vs. fantasy, for example:  astronauts, the circus  (without the wild lion), the Olympics, or explorers digging for hidden treasure but nothing about ferocious, scary things. When parents don’t take on too much and the party is planned with the child’s best interests in mind, it will be just as pleasant for them as it is for the child.  Not to mention the easier cleanup when there are not hordes of kids running rampant through the house.

The planning and preparation are as much fun for the birthday child as the party itself, so involve her as much as possible.  Picking out the invitations and decorations at the dollar store or making them yourselves, making the cake, setting the table and filling the goody bags are all major ingredients of a memorable occasion for a child.

Some kids can take being a party host in stride, but others may need you to go over the entire scenario before the event so they know exactly what will happen when and pretty much what they will be expected to do and say.  When you plan the Birthday Party taking into account your child his age and interests you will find its economically sane and results in less clean up and a happy child.  Save the elaborate party for the wedding reception.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mom works and the kids don’t like it

Dear Grandmothers,

Until recently I have been a stay-at-home mom with several small project-based jobs I could do online for extra money during early morning hours. A few months ago, I took on a real online part-time job because our family needs the money. I now work on my laptop at the kitchen table while I cook, while the kids do homework, etc. and time with my 6- and 8-year-old children has been severely cut. My kids are unhappy – “hating mommy’s job,” acting out, making it hard to concentrate when I have to. I feel bad for them and want things to be better but I have to keep this job. Any advice?”

Samantha R., Lakeshore Blvd.

 

Dear Samantha,

We grandmothers claim to know almost all there is to know about raising kids, but your question leads us first to a confession: When we were young mothers we didn’t have to deal with your problem.

Remember the 50s? Well, probably you don’t, but you’ve seen it on TV. Very few moms worked; they were at home baking cookies and playing with the kids. Except the truth of the matter is, we didn’t play with the kids all that much; the kids entertained themselves for the most part. And some of us got tired of baking cookies and wished we had jobs so we’d have our own bank accounts. The good old days.

But your children won’t be comforted much by watching re-runs of Leave it to Beaver. They expect to have as much of your attention as they ever did, and they resent having to share you with your job.

Being a modern mom you probably did frequently bake cookies and play with your kids, and now you can’t do that as often. What many parents feel in this situation is guilt, and it comes out when they say things like: “I have to work so we can buy [brand name] video games and [brand name] tennis shoes and eat out regularly at the [brand name] hamburger emporium. And won’t we have fun at Disneyland this summer?”

Parents don’t like to disappoint their children and they don’t want to hear about their children’s unhappiness. So they try to jolly the kids out of it.

In a word, don’t. Instead, acknowledge in full their anger.

Try to find out all the specifics of their resentment, and don’t try to convince them that they’re exaggerating and it isn’t so bad as all that. You don’t have to agree – just listen and nod understanding.

Tell them that you miss having things the way they were, too. Swallow your guilt and listen to their sadness. Just feeling “heard” by you will make them feel better, the same way you feel better after having confided your problems to a friend who is a good listener.

Then start talking about ways you all might adjust to this new reality. They don’t need to hear the details of the electric bill being overdue and the car needing a new transmission, but you can talk about being a family and working together differently now.

Recognize your children for managing to solve a problem or do a task without your help that, in the past, they might have asked you to do. Emphasize how capable they have become; tell them that, in fact, their help would be appreciated with some of the household tasks that you used to do all by yourself.

Explain how you could be spending more time with them if you were doing some of these tasks together; while you’re working at the kitchen laptop, for example, they could be helping you get dinner on the table. They could certainly learn to help with the laundry, and assist in clean-up after dinner.

They might complain from time to time about their newly assigned chores. Bbut you could end up feeling less pressured; they more competent and needed; and all of you important members of the family team.

Be sure to schedule some family play times as well, and strictly adhere to that schedule. Don’t make these costly outings that you can’t really afford, but research some inexpensive or even free activities: ice skating at Wade Oval costs nothing more than $3 skate rental; the zoo charges no admission on Mondays; a favorite family board or card game is free. So are hikes in the woods.

During one of those hikes you might tell your kids about that job of yours and how sometimes you don’t like it but often you do, just like sometimes they hate school but often they actually have fun there.

Tell them in words they can understand what exactly your work entails, and what you had to learn to be able to do it – and branch off to a discussion of the kind of work they might want to do some day. We want them, after all, to appreciate the world of work, and look forward to it.

You don’t have to tell your kids this next part, but you could help yourself feel less guilty by realizing that you’re actually teaching your children some valuable lifelong lessons here.

Although life can be hard we can usually find ways to cope, and children need to learn this as they grow up; they will be better prepared for the challenges they meet later on.

And you and your husband are setting a wonderful example for your children by working hard together to do what needs to be done, without resentment or blaming anyone. (Of course, there are sure to be times when you do feel resentment; try to voice these only to each other, after the kids are in bed.)

Some day these will be the good old days.

Image courtesy of Imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Why your kids don’t listen – and how to deal with it

A mother of young children asked why she finds herself saying the same things over and over again, but the children don’t seem to be paying attention. “It would almost be better if they would openly defy me,” she said “Instead, everything goes in one ear and out the other. Why don’t they listen to me?”

As with so many of the issues we discuss with parents about those very complex little people – their children – the answers are many and varied. But from the top:

  • Maybe your children are so bombarded, all day every day, by sounds from the TV, radio, CD player, microwave, dishwasher, hair dryer, passing traffic, neighbor’s leaf blower, etc. etc. that they have become very accomplished at shutting a lot of it out – and that includes your voice. One thing you could do about that is to get rid of the unnecessary background noise by not permitting TV and radio to run constantly. That might help.
  • Or maybe you don’t always listen to them, either. What gets priority: them or the ringing cellphone?

But probably it’s not so simple. Do they seem to be listening at the time, but later when they have failed to finish their cereal or go get their shoes or whatever it is you have asked them to do, does it appear that in fact they have not heard a word?

That might indicate – and this is especially true of younger children – that they were confused, and didn’t really understand what was being asked of them. That might well be the case if you have given them a whole string of directives, such as “finish your cereal, and then go upstairs and brush your teeth, and while you’re up there get your shoes and bring them down, and then put on your raincoat, or we’re going to be late…” Sound familiar?

Maybe you asked them a “why” question. Children may well not know the answer to the question you ask and so don’t respond, appearing not to be listening. “Why did you leave that book at day care?” is an unanswerable question. So is, “Why didn’t you carry that bowl of cereal with both hands, the way I told you?”

Another possibility is that they are only faking the “in one ear and out the other” pose. Maybe they are actually defying you, trying to gain control, trying to get you upset. And they’re being pretty successful, aren’t they?

So take a look at the situations that most often end up in your getting upset because they “didn’t listen.” If they were only pretending not to be listening, then some feeling is behind it. Trying to figure out what the feeling is would help everyone.

Were they worried about what was going to happen at the place where you were in such a hurry to get them to on time? Have the days at day care not been going so swimmingly perhaps?

Were they angry at being rushed to do all those things you were asking and wanted to keep spooning in cereal at a leisurely pace?

What’s the feeling? You may not have time to discuss it right then, but later you can revisit it. Even if they can’t remember, it will be helpful for them to hear you say, “You must have been upset/worried/angry and next time you can tell me about it, so you won’t have to pretend you don’t hear me.” Then be prepared to ask and hear about that feeling next time.

Or maybe they’ve learned that if they wait long enough, after you’ve told them to go get their shoes five or more times and they continue to sit there as if oblivious, you’ll go do it yourself. Children can be incredibly patient sometimes.

It’s too bad we can’t have tape recordings of our voices to play back so we can hear what we sound like to our children. Sometimes we adults talk on and on, yammering away, with lectures and advice – none of which is very helpful.

One of the Grandmothers remembers giving what she thought was a very informative little talk to her young son about whether or not he should engage in some possibly (albeit remotely so) harmful activity. He waited until she was through, and then asked “Does that mean yes or no?”

Would you listen to you?

So try saying it only once or twice, in simple terms and few words, with the TV off and the cellphone on mute. Give them ample preparation time for each step of the early morning routine, or whatever the rushed time of day might be. And if they still don’t seem to be listening, offer to listen to their reasons why not. But remember not to actually ask them why they weren’t listening.

We told you it was complicated.

 

 

 

 

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

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

Addressing lying in older children

Pretend your son and his friend are playing basketball in the driveway. When his friend hits at long range and proceeds to celebrate, your son gets angry and hurls the ball at him. When you intervene he insists he didn’t do what you just witnessed through the window.

Now what?

When it’s obvious a child is lying, tell him that you (or another witness) saw him do what he denies. Then you must deal with the misbehavior and the lie.

First and foremost, deal with the misbehavior.

Whenever possible, give your child the opportunity to undo what he has done; in this situation that would be to offer an apology. Then impose a reasonable punishment: “You’re showing me that you can’t play basketball safely.”

“No, I can! I promise I can.”

“We’ll try again later, but for now we’re going to stop.”

In private, talk about what occurred, including the fact that your son lied to you.

If lying is an ongoing problem, counseling is advisable. If this is more of an isolated incident, discuss the importance of being honest — that lying is wrong; others won’t like him if he lies; and they won’t trust his word.

Inquire as to whether he has ever been lied to and how it made him feel.

In this instance, as well as all others, you see how very important parental example is. Try not to lie to your child, and always keep your promises – or explain why if you can’t.

 Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Moving to a new home: Why your kids aren’t excited

A mother of young children asked:

We’re going to be moving to another house in a few weeks, and whenever I try to talk to our kids about it, they tell me they don’t want to move. Or they give me blank stares like they don’t know what I’m talking about. We showed them the new place a couple of times, but they didn’t seem impressed. What’s their problem?

Moving from one home to another, whether halfway around the world or merely to another part of town, is upsetting – literally as well as emotionally. Everything must be packed, moved, changed.

Children’s sense of security depends in part on familiar surroundings and schedules – on predictability. They may not be able to understand why their parents  think a move is a good idea.

This would be our best guess about how everyone’s feeling these days:

First, you:

By day you may be excited about the newness of it all, and may enjoy telling friends about the charms and advantages of your new place. But in the middle of the night, you wake up overwhelmed at all the work you’re going to have to do to get your family safely settled again. You worry about finding the time to plaster and paint; you fret about finances; you remember the tulips you planted last fall that you won’t see bloom this spring; you grow wistful remembering bringing a small infant or two home from the hospital to this very room. You are, in fact, feeling anxious, unsettled and a little sad.

 Now, your children:

You don’t say how old they are, but for a preschooler, your middle-of-the-night feelings are his round-the-clock ones.

Of course, he’s a child and he often goes off to play or watch television – appearing to have forgotten about the whole thing. But when he hears you talking about the move or watches you haul in the boxes and start emptying the bookcase, he grows anxious, unsettled and more than a little sad. And, of course, intuitive little sponge that he is, he picks up your anxiety from you.

An older child would be worried about leaving his friends, maybe even his school, if that’s going to be required of him. He’s not going to be very interested in the family’s newly-acquired granite counter tops.

What to do

To the degree that it is possible, let them make some small choices – since they didn’t make that big one.

Let them decide some of the furniture arrangements, where the toys will go, the placement of their beds, the TV. For sure enlist their help with the move itself, including the packing. Help them keep track of their most precious belongings, making them the last things to go on the van – or better yet, bringing them in the family car.

For the little ones, write a book.

Illustrate it with your own drawings or cut pictures from magazines, showing everyone in the family – including the pets – moving safely from one home to the next. Use it to help illustrate the sequence of events involved.

Or get a children’s book about moving from the library, and read it together several times. Maybe you get those blank stares from your younger child because he really doesn’t know what you’re talking about exactly. He’s never moved before; what does he know about moving vans and U-Hauls?

What to say

Since you’re anxious yourself about this move, probably the last thing you want to hear about is your child’s anxiety. His sad and even angry feelings just make you feel guilty. So you are tempted to do all you can to jolly him out of his unhappiness, or change the subject when he asks questions like, “Why can’t we stay here?”

But all the same, here are some of the things you might say:

“Of course you’re sad to be leaving the place where we live in now. Of course you’re going to miss the kids across the street. Of course you’re going to miss your apple tree; and the bedroom ceiling that we put glow-in-the-dark stars on; and the window seat where you could watch for the school bus. Moving is tough!”

What not to say – at least not at first

“You’re going to love our new place much more than the old one. Did you see how big your and your brother’s new bedroom is?You’ll make new friends in no time. And this Saturday I’m going to buy you those curtains that we saw at Target with the whole solar system on them. Much better than stars on the ceiling. Wouldn’t they look great in your new bedroom? Etc. Etc. Etc.”

In other words, let your children be sad. Or mad. Tell them you understand – because you do; you remember those middle-of-the-night worries – and let them cry or rage or sulk. Don’t tell them how they ought to feel or try to cheer them up. Give them time, and lots of empathy.

You’re not going to be able to buy their happiness with new curtains, that’s for sure. But slowly, because you are the main source of their security, chances are they will grow to love the new place as your gradually make it a home.

Image courtesy of Ambro/Freedigitalphotos.net