Tag Archives: parenting advice

Family…

Dinner?  Breakfast?  Lunch?  Snack?  Dessert?

They are all options.  The goal?  Be together.  Talk.  Reminisce.  This (short) chapter talks about all the things you can do at family dinner– some challenging, all engaging.

At this point, I am thinking about Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson– their work with memories and telling stories can be a lovely part of family talk time.  Childhood stories, kids asking questions about “When you were little…” and more. (Difficult memories involving your children should be saved for more private conversations where you can be snuggling or sitting close– a great way to heal and help children make sense of memories is to re-tell and talk about hard memories while creating a sense of comfort.)

So for all of you who are rushing home for dinner and creating more stress– be creative, find another meal that works for you and your family.

Checklists and Family Meetings.

First, I’d like to tell you to buy Bruce Feiler’s book.  (Disclaimer– I don’t know Bruce Feiler, though I just started following him on Twitter 😉  I think you should buy it because: that’s how authors get public credit for their writing, plus royalties (eventually), plus orders for second printings, and because based on the introduction + first chapter, I can tell this is a book you should have in your parenting library.

CHECKLISTS I have long been a promoter of simple checklists (that you don’t necessarily need to “check off” but that you can “check with your eyes”) and family meetings.  Chapter one has reminded me how empowering checklists are for the entire family (nagging almost gone– just “check the list”).  Our morning checklist (made easier now because everyone can read, but before we did pictures) is basic– socks,  shoes, know what coat, gloves, book, LUNCH, homework folder or drama notebook or not, hair, teeth brushed for real with toothpaste, face washed.  Roughly in order, posted at child’s-eye-level.  For us there is no actual place to “check off”.  And it works.  Who made the list?  We did it together, and I typed it up and printed it out.  We’ve experimented with writing our own, decorating, etc.  Typed works best for us– maybe because it looks official?

FAMILY MEETINGS Family meetings can be another important part of successful family life.  Our lives are filled with too much to manage (logistical and emotional) without some kind of weekly check-in.  This chapter explains some of the nuances of the meeting, including best questions to ask.  As the wife of an author, I can’t give the secrets of any book away, but I will say that I am 100% sure our family meetings will improve.  I looked at the first page in our binder I keep for family meetings– we’ve been having them since 2006!  I hadn’t quite realized it’s been that long.  We’ve gone through phases of having them once a month, once a week, but there are definitely times we’ve forgotten to have one at all.  And, we had been starting with gratitude (everyone goes around saying something they are grateful for about someone else at the table) but gratitude practice is not for a meeting– that’s something else.  I loved the book Cheaper by the Dozen (check out the vintage cover!) when I was younger, and understood even then the beauty of routine and efficiency– how it can actually make more room for enjoyment.

It’s all I can do to not read more– but I’m pacing myself.  A chapter every few days.  If I can hold out!

UPDATE:  Our family meetings have changed exponentially.  We’ve shifted the focus to “we” and it creates a lot of space for people to be more accountable for themselves.  We can also refer back to goals we’ve set for the week by referencing our meeting– again, a shared experience.

It’s time to start MEDITATING…

Are you looking for something that will send a grounding confidence through your life?  You might want to start meditating.  Sometimes parenting support is about what to say and how to say it, but sometimes it’s about strengthening yourself.  And so we’re going to dive right in– you can start really simply.

  • Get a small cushion and find a quietish place to sit—it helps if your spine is “active” which means not relaxing and not hyper-extending.
  • Decide how you want to hold your hands—open on your knees is traditionally a receiving gesture.  Palms on your knees is traditionally grounding.  See what feels best.
  • You can use a meditation app (this is my favorite, it has lovely bells you can customize) or a timer or just glance at the clock—time may disappear for some when meditating, but I find for busy people, especially parents, it’s nice to know when you start and stop.
  • Close your eyes, and just listen to yourself breathe.  In and out.  If your mind wanders, bring it back to noticing your breath.  If you would rather focus on a word or short saying, you can choose one that is meaningful to you— peace / love / I am peace / I bring love / etc.  You can do a bit of both.

That’s it.  Congratulate yourself when you are finished– you just carved a few minutes out of a very very busy day.  I’d suggest starting with 1-5 minutes as many days as you can.

How did that feel? Questions about meditating?  Parenting?  The combination?  Post comments and questions here on my Facebook page!

 

 

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.

How are you going to greet your child today?

Whether you are picking up from school, coming home after a day at work, or something in between, that moment when you reconnect with your child is powerful.  Look into his eyes, give a big smile, a hug, a hair ruffle— something that brings you both into a moment where, even for a second, you are the only two people who exist.

When I sent my last newsletter, I let everyone know that my mother was very ill.   Thank you to everyone who emailed to let me know you were thinking of me.  Sadly, my mom died a bit later in the summer.  When I think about my moments of reconnection with her, from our whole life, they bring a warmth to my heart.  I remember her stepping out of the car on my first visiting day at sleep-away camp as clearly as her smile when I would arrive at the house this summer and lean over the bed to kiss her hello.

I want my children to feel my love and support throughout their entire lives.  Being confident about what I do every day to find that balance and create those relationships keeps me grounded.

So start small—start with your moments of hello.

Keep your kids safe– have systems in place…

David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, left his 8 year old daughter in a pub when she went to the bathroom without letting anyone know and each parent thought she was in the other car. This is a reminder, especially with summer coming up, about having systems with your kids and partners especially in transition times and in big crowds. Especially at parties– don’t assume the other is watching– have a pattern in place.

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.

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.