Category Archives: Parenting Tips

Family Mission Statement and Talking About Sex…

So we worked on our family mission statement this weekend, and I read the Bruce Feiler chapter about talking to your kids about sex.

We’re enjoying taking the mission (he calls it branding) slowly… what do we stand for, really?  What are the most important things to all of us?  When my J. and I talked about this before, our kids were younger and not part of our conversation.  Now that we all have something to bring to the table, it feels more important, and better.

*EPIPHANY!*  At dinner this evening we were talking about the words that represented our family.  It was an okay conversation, but then I had an epiphany.  I asked my daughters, “How would you want to describe us to, let’s say, a friend from college who can’t go home for Thanksgiving.  How would you want to complete this… “Come to our house… it’s _______; for Thanksgiving we always ________; my mom ___________; my dad _____________.”  Then our talk really evolved.

As for the sex chapter– the basic premise is what I’ve always suggested. Here is a link to all the places sex appears on my website.

And now, I’m feeling like the Secrets of Happy Families blog posts are coming to an end.  I’ll check back in on them now and again.  I would really suggest, if you feel like you’ve had your fill of parenting books, or if you are looking for one, that this is healthy part of a parenting library.  Even if you feel your “parenting booked out” I would add this one to the shelf.

Talking With Your Children About Awful Things

There are times when we have to talk with our children about the most awful things.  When your child reads something in the paper, or hears about something from a friend, you may have to have a conversation you weren’t prepared for.  You can do it. Keep in mind these basic guidelines…

  • wait for the questions
  • clarify the question being asked– many times our prior knowledge and fears make us think something more complicated is being asked
  • answer as simply as possible
  • you are allowed to say I don’t know
  • your basic responsibility is to reassure your children how much you do to keep them safe, including helping them learn how to keep themselves safe.

If you have specific concerns about your child and his or her anxiety, please call your pediatrician for a referral.

In essence, having this conversation is showing your child how you think about the world and deal with what feel like unspeakable acts.

Letting Your Child Take the Lead

Have you ever suggested something you know your children should like, but the idea has been rejected?  And then you realize, if you had not been the one to suggest it, your children would have been open to it? I have. Sometimes it takes me by surprise, like the time my daughter wouldn’t try my noodle kugel (the recipe basically being a sweet combination of egg noodles, eggs, butter, brown sugar—what’s not to like?). This is a wonderful trait, this desire to have the ideas first. It’s part of parenthood, and you can work with it.

Children need to lead, or at least think they are, much of the time.  They are excited to share their world with us and need to feel like they are discovering and initiating.   (Note—this doesn’t mean using what’s known as pop “reverse psychology”—we never want to set up the expectation that our children want to do the opposite, even if we find that happening a lot.)

Introducing things subtly is important.  We want our children to have their own opinions, not be saddled with ours.  We want to model our values so our kids can take them on, if they choose, because they believe in them.

So what does this look like in family life?

Food… Serving different kinds of food, at meals or for snacks, making foods accessible, with no judgment.  Eat lots of different foods in front your child — often just eating a food yourself will make some children curious to try.  Not even a lot of talk.  More like:  “Broccoli?  Yes, would you like some?”

Books… Little kids are excited by picture books and connecting with you over your favorite ones.  Talk about picture books is usually fun.  Once your children are starting to read on their own, any suggestions you make can be seen as pushy… what to do?  Buy books that are just about your child’s reading level and leave them around, being as subtle (yes, that word again) as possible. You know your favorite read-to-yourself-books? The ones you can’t wait for your child to read and love? Try not to mention them specifically, by title, unless asked, until after they’ve been read. And then, start a conversation without adding your overall assessment.

Helping children navigate friendships…  It’s undeniable—the first time your child comes home and tells you how another child did something mean, or hurt them, you will feel that pain intensely.  After you take a moment and regroup, how you help your child move through that pain is key.  Again, subtlety is a great choice.  Your opinion of the situation, or what you do, doesn’t come into play.  Letting your child know you heard, “Sounds like your feelings were hurt.” ; “That made you feel betrayed.” And asking questions like, “Tell me more about what happened afterwards,”  ; “What words did you say?” ; “What are you thinking now?” ; “If ___ was right here, what do you want to tell them?”  are all questions that help your child make her own meaning, and come to her own understandings about friendships. This learning evolves over time, so a 5 or 6 year old won’t understand the way an 8 year old will, nor will a 9 year old understand as deeply as an 11 year old. And on, and on. Learning is gradual, and we need to be able to rest at each step with our children without rushing ahead for them.

Shopping for clothes…   Try not to say much;  especially things like, “that’s cute” or “that reminds me of something I had when I was little.”  Try to have clear ideas of what you need before you shop with older kids especially—clothes for school, or camp, or a special occasion. Trying things on at the store or at home if you’ve ordered will also do some of the work for you—kids may like something on the rack or in a photo but not on—you are walking them through the process.  If, in the end, your child wants something you really have an issue with, you can still say, “I know you like that.  At this point, I’m not ready for you to wear that.  What’s your next choice?”

Making big plans… It’s so important to do things that align with your long-term vision for your family.   Involving your children in those plans takes some finessing… you don’t want to ask them for their opinion and ignore it, but you might not always want to do or be able to afford things they suggest.  So set up some clear parameters, both for decision-making and options. What helps? Having set times to make plans (weekly family meeting, yearly family calendar meeting planning for trips) and having guidelines, “Sunday afternoon we are going to go somewhere as a family.  It has to be free or cost less than $20.  Let’s make a big list—where do you want to go?”  Your kids get to consider time it takes to get someplace, and they have opportunities to be creative and involved.

Political opinions… when you have conversations and use specific examples about what you believe, you give children a train of thought.  If you are attending a demonstration or talking about a candidate you like, say why, and give an example.  “We feel like it’s important to support _____ because she is working to make more parks and green spaces in our neighborhood.” Or “If _____ is elected, we hope she sticks to his promises and works to use taxes to pay for improvements in education.”

Are you having fun yet?

The other night I was re-reading parts of Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s book, The Whole Brain Child, and I was struck by how theoretical and practical it was (so my style!).  While I read it originally in October, I’ve kept it out and around- it’s that kind of book.  With cartoons giving examples of typical adult-child interactions, and ones written to read with kids, so they can start to understand how their brain really works, this book reminds us that there is the oh so important WHEN that comes before WHAT we say and HOW we say it.

One of the sections towards the end is all about family fun—how having fun experiences together taps into the brain’s desire to connect.  Our brains are social, they are “wired for we”.  I’ll take this a step further and add that the more fun our children have with us, the less they will look for extra fun outside the family, especially as they get older, especially into their teen years. When we have fun with our families, we are helping all our brains feel good about being together.

“Your brain cells receive what some people call “dopamine squirts” when something pleasurable happens to you, and it motivates you to want it to do it again.” (p.132)

This is why your child likes to play the same game, even though she knows the outcome.  Combine this with “wired for we” and we know why kids, and us, like being with our friends. This is why you feel good when you giggle and laugh.  This is why we can’t let days or weeks go by letting our day to day responsibilities prevent us from relaxing into casual fun, or planning big fun.

So, even though you already know that it’s good to have fun with your family, now we know what’s going on in our brains when we have that fun.  Last challenge, to make sure we’re actually having it!  Our days can be filled with a lot of getting from here to there, spending time in scheduled or structured activities, going places we need to go… are you having as much fun as you would like?

Easy ways to have fun on a regular day—eat part of a meal picnic style, or under the table for a change… have a dance party, take movies of each other or photos making silly faces, making up new words to a familiar song… with regular activities such as bath-time you can pretend to be different animals, or anything that seems funny and different.

And, for those of you with more than one child—this detail felt especially great.  “Recent studies have found that the best predictor for good sibling relationships in later life is how much fun the kids have together when they are young.” (p.133)  Statistics come and go, but I think it would be hard to dispute this.  Creating space for siblings to have really fun play, to be off on their own, to get messy—those moments are critical for their bonding.

It may seem silly that we have to remember to make time for laughter and for fun, but for many of us a reminder comes in handy.

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a wonderful holiday.  I found time to relax and kind of unplug (after a momentary breakdown when I realized I left my computer at home for a week).  The best part was spending time with my girls. (You can see me to the left, soap carving, an old fashioned and fun activity to do with kids—good for ages 7 and up– click the photo for some guidelines). By now you’ve probably re-settled into your daily routine and are thinking about 2012 and what will come.  Perhaps you’ve made some resolutions for yourself, or your family.

As I continue to expand my new business, I am constantly assessing and re-assessing what works, what I’d like to change, and discover where else I can grow.  As I work with clients I am helping balance the needs all parents face—that balance of practical and theoretical:  posting a checklist on the door, and finding the softest place in your heart with which to feel and see yourself and your children.

I offer some practical here:

Make doctors appointments for you and your family, now.

Your dentist, your general practitioner, and a dermatologist (and if you’re a woman, your OB)

if you have a child who will turn or is 3, and hasn’t seen a pediatric dentist, schedule an appointment (in NYC?  I love Dr. Ruby Gelman!).  Make your child’s yearly checkups in advance, so you get the appointment times you want.  If you have a child around 6 who has never been to the eye doctor, now is a good time for a general check up– it’s not necessary, but some people suggest.   Click here to download an easy checklist!

And some theoretical:

Most of us have noticed that the better you feel, the easier it is to parent.  Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start—and for that I offer, start with you.  What are some of  your building blocks of feeling good?  What do you need?  If you pick one of these things, and work at making it happen, you’ll strengthen yourself and in turn, your parenting.  What are my building blocks? Getting enough sleep, exercising, and  meditation.  It’s always a balance.

December is one of my favorite times of the year.

It’s a time of giving and receiving;  a time of seeing excess and great need.  This is your time to show children what’s important to you, and your family.

For me, walking with my children through the streets has that special winter feel.  The smells of Christmas Trees and hot apple cider at the market, choosing gifts for special people in our lives, and having more time to spend together are some of the things I like best.  For some kids just being awake when it’s dark is super exciting—we’re always looking for the moon on the way home for dinner.

How can you bring your own meaning to this busy time of year?

Create opportunities to give to people you know—depending upon their age, involve kids as much as possible with preparing gifts for relatives and friends, especially siblings and parents if that’s appropriate.  If you are writing cards with tips for people, you can talk about what you are doing, “We’re giving Patrick, our UPS delivery man, a present to say “Thank you for being so extra helpful and friendly throughout the year, and for making the effort to come back when I haven’t been home.”  (And we really are!)

Create opportunities to give to people you don’t know—while this is a time many charities are in great need, the entire year presents the same issue.  Perhaps over vacation you can research together a charity with a personal connection—have a child who likes to read?  Together you might want to choose a charity where you donate books to classrooms.  From art, to music, to sports, there are other children out there who need.

If your family sends holiday cards, maybe you can make some time for personal messages from your children to their friends or people who are important to them.  Depending upon their age you can take dictation, they can write something short, or even just their name.  It helps solidify what you are doing and why.  One hint—supervise in case of too much improvisation… we lost a few cards due to excessive xx’s and oo’s written by a zealous 5 year old…

Are traditions emerging in your family?  This season start to notice, and next year you can continue the ones you like, and skip the ones you don’t.  Not finding any?  What a perfect opportunity to create some.  Whether it’s a trip to a skating rink, New Year’s Eve with friends, a certain night of Chanukah to give to someone else, a Christmas present bought for a child who might not otherwise have one– the possibilities are endless.

Do you realize how much your children are learning all the time?

Our kids are learning something new every day.   Every day our children learn about living– for them, almost everything is new.  Not only are they learning about being a person, they are learning all the skills that we already have under our belt.  I know how to use a metro card, do the laundry, load the dishwasher, pack my purse, and more.  Kids don’t.  Learning to get to school is as important as what they learn at school.

So how do we support them in this tremendous journey?

Reconnecting with what learning feels like, and how it thrives, is one place to start.  You can use your feelings as a starting point— when you learn something new, what is it like?  I’ll bet it’s a bit of everything: exciting, nerve wracking, and sometimes totally out of your comfort zone.  That’s what it’s like for your kids too!

Keep them primed for learning—notice your language around learning something new, and promote ideas that keep it safe—notice and comment on effort and progress.  Be mindful of critiquing people who are trying but not doing so well—kids need to know it’s safe to make mistakes, and they need our approval, even if they say otherwise.

Name for kids what they do, re-tell the stories: “Remember when we first came to soccer?  It was warm and sunny and we walked together?  The first day you ran all over the field, up and down, and then you practiced your first kicks?”  or, “Remember when you looked at the bus and read Mary Poppins on the side?  You had a bit of help from the picture, but after that you started sounding words out all the time.  Now you can pick up a whole book and read almost all the words, and figure out new words!”

When you feel they need encouragement, take on the role of cheerleader: “You can do it!”  and “Do you see how strong you are!?” and “This isn’t easy!  Do you remember what it was like the first time?” and  “Look how far you’ve come!”

Authentic encouragement from others plays a role in learning.  People your child interacts with can support them with their true emotions—a stranger clapping while watching a child learning how to ride a bike, a younger sibling being grateful after getting help from an older one reading something, a waiter responding to a child reading something off the menu.  Those smiles and encouraging looks can be inspirational.

Everything that’s worth learning usually takes hard work.   The first steps of learning may be spread out over time, and then there are moments when kids are acutely aware of how hard it can be.  Frustration with a building, a math concept, getting better as a reader, making a basket.  Understanding that there are so many ways to approach the problem, and that hard work pays off, helps.  Knowing that a talent or inclination in an area is a start, and only a start, helps too.  You can tell your children about the brain and how it learns, how it forms new connections everytime you learn something new, and these connections promote more learning.  As Ken Robinson says, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Are you feeling super connected to your kids?

New York City,  November 2011

Are you feeling super connected to your kids? One of the best ways to stay connected is to start with the natural opportunities life provides us with.

Life provides us with natural greeting times: morning, after naps, pick up time from school, during playtime when your kids wander off and then come back to you and any other time when you haven’t seen your child for a bit and you re-connect.

“…a greeting should collect the eyes, a smile and a nod.” -Gordon Neufeld, PhD, in his book Hold On To Your Kids 

Make those moments as special as you can— take the time to lock eyes, to smile, and say something light to which they can agree.  You can touch,  feel how they are doing, make it clear that you are there for them.  “It’s so good to see you.” “Looks like you did some painting today!”  “I missed you today.”  “I saw you were Tommy’s partner on the way downstairs”… the point is you are saying something that just reminds your child that you are seeing him/her– you’re not asking, interviewing about the day, or by any means saying something negative.  Even if you see something that might seem off– your child pushing, or a ripped shirt, or a missing lunchbox:  these can be addressed, but after you re-connect.

What if I’m in a rush?  Especially if you are in a rush, take that first moment with your child as calmly as you can.  Then, with your body still calm, remind your child, “Today is a speedy day, remember?  We need to get right to music (or soccer, or gymnastics)…”   This should make things easier– you had a grounding moment, a plan, and now you are off together (you could even be “Team Speedy” if you think something cute like that might help streamline your experience).