Category Archives: Your child’s brain

Help Your Kids Connect With Others

One thing that is staggeringly clear to me as I get older is that there is very little we were meant to do alone.   The U.S.A. and so many other countries were founded on the concept of independence, meaning independence from tyranny, from unilateral decision making, and from being bossed around.  Progress is usually made through dependence upon each other to enhance ideas, increase productivity, and share life’s ups and downs.

This summer you can explore this dynamic in your life!  Perhaps in a journal, or a list, or in conversations.  How do you give and receive?  How do your children give and receive?  Where do you create opportunities for them to practice?  By naming what you do (especially when your children can’t see it) you show them.  If you find you are doing a lot of giving, give yourself permission to practice receiving.

Being reasonably dependent upon family and friends can be empowering.  Life is full of giving and receiving—the latter being a bigger challenge because it invites dependence. By showing our children how to depend upon us, and how other people can depend upon them, we are preparing them for a rich, fulfilling life.  By showing them how we give, and receive, we are paving a golden way for their future.

Do you ever doubt your importance as a parent?  Let me assure you– you are the connection to the world for your children.  You are their curator, their guide. You are the one who allows them to make mistakes, and creates opportunities for them to try again.  You are the one who can say “No” when they aren’t able.  You are the one who will love them with all of your heart and more deeply than you ever thought possible—and when you parent from a place of connection and unconditional love, you honor and nurture that bond so it becomes the strongest it can be.

 

To my Dearest Daughter in the Future When Her 8-Year-Old Wants to Buy Black Jeweled Slingback Rhinestone-Studded High Heeled Party Shoes

(originally published at MotherhoodLater.com)

You are having a great day when you remember you need to buy black party shoes for your daughter’s school play. You are happy you remembered on a weekend when you can go to a store and she can try them on, and you won’t have to comb through 58 pairs on-line and coordinate with the UPS man to return the ones that don’t fit. And I bet you are feeling just a bit proud that you can go to a discount shoe store in your neighborhood rather than a fancy one, because how often does one wear black party shoes these days before growing out of them? (The answer, 4 times, maybe 6, at the most.)

When you walk into the store and are present enough to use it as a retail navigational experience—“Let’s find your size, 1½ ” — you are feeling so good. A wall of choices, but not too many that it is overwhelming.

You hold your cool when she picks out the most inappropriate shoe there—part of you had to know it was a possibility—even then, the fact that this shoe exists in this small size is still surprising. But you are calm—you strap them on, and then watch your child stagger and lurch her way across the floor. The rhinestone studded heel blinks in front of you, and you wait for her to say, “No, these don’t fit.”

But instead you hear, “I love them! They’re perfect!”

What? You point out the front of her foot hanging out of the shoe, to be met with, “It’s supposed to be that way.” She agrees to try on the next biggest size, which both of you can see is practically falling off. She wants the first pair, convinced that all she has to do is move her foot back so the front will fit.

You walk back to the wall of 1½ and point out some others, including a larger size of a shoe she already owns and loves. No interest. Don’t be surprised that she is throwing a fit. Don’t be surprised at the tears, the pronouncements, “I’m never going to wear those!” and “I’m only going to buy these!” Don’t try to point out that she can’t walk in them. (This will backfire; trust me.)

This is a time to keep your eyes on the prize, so to speak. Acknowledge what she is feeling: “I know you like those shoes.” And WAIT. Deep breath. “You need shoes for the play at school that you will be comfortable in and that match your dress. You point to the larger size of the shoes she has recently grown out of. “I remember when you wore these. They looked good and you were really comfortable even at the end of cousin Ariel’s bat mitzvah.” You’re calling up good memories to reset her brain into happy mode. (It won’t work, this time, but there’s always next time.)

Keep waiting. Don’t freak out. There may be tears. Everyone in the store will be looking at you and saying things. The good news? They will be speaking Spanish, which you don’t really understand.

You leave the store with many “Thank Yous” and a very upset child. You think, you’re going to hear about this for a while. She’s in it, she’s disappointed, she had this vision of her foot with a fancy shoe. You get it. And you get that it is your job to make the fancy shoe for your 8-year-old a fantasy, and not a reality. You text your husband, who doesn’t like to shop for anything and who commiserates. You call yourself a goddess in your text back because you are feeling centered.

And then, six blocks later, as you are walking and talking about the plan for the rest of the day in order to shift the focus from the inappropriate heels, your 8- year-old makes a joke. And you think, “Oh, interesting…” and you keep talking, cautioning yourself not to rush into this new topic with gusto lest you ruin the moment. And your 8-year-old keeps going. And then you walk past the playground, and she asks to go on the swings. And that’s it. Really? Really. Later your daughter tells Dad about the shoes—not excited, but not upset. You think about that first winter cold, or a stomach virus, where you wonder if you will ever feel better. You always do—it just takes time. In this case, 6 blocks.

Enjoy every moment.

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.