Social Connections Help Build Strong Families

Just before my first child was born my husband and I moved from New England to the Midwest.  We were young, newly married, and knew no one in our new hometown. All of our friends and family were thousands of miles away and we had a baby coming in a mere three months.

My husband’s new colleagues provided our first group of social connections.  To make new friends, we were intentional about attending church regularly. But it was the Welcome Wagon that really helped us build deep and lasting friendships.  They came with a list of ways to get connected.

Through them, I joined a Moms group (which included a babysitting co-op), we joined a card club and an International Dining group (potluck, a different country’s cuisine each month), and I started attending monthly La Leche League meetings, where I joined other new mothers for regular support after the baby was born.

All of these avenues of connection helped us build strong social connections and gave us a support system at a time when our old support network was very far away.  Our new friends could reassure us when we felt overwhelmed as new parents. They offered advice, entertainment, and babysitting. They helped us feel welcome and cared for in our new community.

Social connections are one of the five protective factors for strong families.  (You can see the other four here.) Friends can lend support when we are overwhelmed or just need a different perspective.  Others who are facing similar challenges can provide a listening ear or childcare assistance while you run to the doctor. When you have emotionally supportive friends, life gets easier – for you and for your children.

Here are some options for making connections with other parents in and around Corvallis:

HOME group. Meets at Northwest Hills Community Church, Tuesdays from 9:15 – 11:15 during the school year.  For moms with children 5 yrs and under. Childcare is provided while moms gather for fellowship and learning.  Emphasis is on equipping moms through gifted speakers, hands-on activities, and building a community of support through friendship.  https://www.helpingourmoms.com/

Osborn Aquatic Center.  Sign up the kiddos for swim lessons!  Parents participate in class with their youngest swimmers.  But as the children progress to independent lessons, parents

watch from

the bleachers – where they can visit with like-minded parents.

Corvallis-Benton County Public Library.  Activities for children and adults alike offer opportunities for parents to connect with other parents through shared activity.  In addition to the usual story hours and children’s reading clubs, the library also offers events just for adults. Looking for something to do without the kids?  Check out https://cbcpubliclibrary.net/events/adult-events/

Parenting Classes.  Check out The Incredible Years, for parents of preschoolers, or Make Parenting a Pleasure for those with older children.  Learn some new communication strategies and meet new friends in the process.  Many classes are free, with dinner and childcare provided. Details can be found here: http://www.parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting-programs/

Mid-Willamette YMCA. Offers programs for children and adults, such as their monthly Lunch and Learn, which is an opportunity to listen to a speaker while enjoying lunch with other attendees.

Community Events.  Corvallis has a long tradition of holding family-friendly community events –   like Benton County Fair in August, Fall Festival in September, and Downtown trick-or-treat in late October.  For more, visit: https://www.visitcorvallis.com/festivals-events

Other ways to make social connections:

Volunteer – in your children’s school, through a faith-based organization, or with an organization whose mission you support.  Watch for invitations to volunteer on social media, or reach out to an organization directly.

Join a Group – find a group of other adults doing something you love (biking, hiking, reading, knitting).  Attend their regular meetings and build friendships around your common interest. During the summer months parents in Corvallis hold regular meet-ups at community parks.  The kids spend time together while the parents visit with each other.

Reach out – to your family and your friends.  Plan get-togethers, invite them over for coffee or a meal.  Be intentional about building strong relationships with those you already know.

Strengthening your relationships outside your family can provide concrete support when you need it most and will strengthen your family at the same time.

 

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Be a Better Parent: Step Away

Taking time away from parenting can make you a better parent.  Sounds ironic, but it’s true. Taking a step away from parenting responsibilities gives body and mind a chance to recharge.  And that time spent focusing on your own needs can improve your parenting.

So much changes when you become a parent.  You still need to eat, sleep, and most likely earn a living.  But when that fragile newborn is placed in your arms they are suddenly the center of your universe.

In those early weeks, our life is on hold as we cocoon with our newborn.  We are wired to attend to their needs. In the middle of the night, they need to eat and so we give up our own need for sleep to meet those needs.   We juggle learning to parent while trying to resume all the other aspects of our life before baby. As we meet their needs for food, sleep, and dry diapers, it is easy to forget to take care of ourselves.

But prioritizing self-care can make you a better parent.  The same sleep, exercise, nutrition, and healthy relationships kids need are just as important for adults.  When we attend to our needs – physical needs for exercise and mental needs for healthy social engagement – we improve our state of mind.  

And being healthy and happy has a direct effect on our parenting.  When we are well-rested and know we have taken care of ourselves, we have the energy and enthusiasm to be our best for our children.

Taking care of ourselves also models well-being for our children.   When our children see that we also do things for ourselves – and with other adults – we teach what taking care of ourselves looks like.   We can help them recognize their needs for quiet or rest, if they see us recognizing and meeting our own needs for those same things. And we help them learn patience, gratitude,  and grace.

If you’ve neglected yourself while caring for your children, you can begin to make a change in your self-care by carving out some time each day just for you.  It doesn’t need to be a lot of time. Some days, it may be minutes you capture between scheduled activities. Other days, a whole afternoon can be scheduled “me” time.

When my big kids were young, I belonged to a babysitting co-op that allowed me and other young mothers to share childcare.  I would earn hours by watching someone else’s children, which could be redeemed by having someone else watch mine. It was a beautiful barter system that allowed us all time for self-care, without incurring the expense of hiring a babysitter.  It gave me an entire afternoon to pursue a hobby, or just sit with a book uninterrupted.

Mindfulness

Taking care of ourselves begins with being aware of how we are feeling, both physically and emotionally. Mindfulness helps us see how different stressors affect us.  It helps us identify those things that help us cope most effectively. Mindfulness can be as simple as pausing for a deep breath. These few seconds can create space for stress hormone regulators to slow the ‘fight or flight’ response caused by triggers in our environment.

Carve out time for yourself

Find moments of time in your day to focus on your own well-being.  In the early weeks of a newborn’s life, new moms are encouraged to sleep when the baby sleeps.  As children grow, we are tempted to do that ‘one more thing’ that needs to be done before we take time for ourselves.  Make it a habit to find time for yourself. Take turns with your partner so that each of you has one night a week to go out and enjoy a class, engage in a hobby, or just be alone or with friends at the library or coffee shop.

Take up (or resume) a hobby – something you do just for you

Having an activity or two that you do just for you gives you space to be you. Doing something you love, that satisfies and excites, gives you something outside of family life.  If that something is a group activity, it has the added benefit of enlarging your circle of support – friends and acquaintances who are there for you. Self-care directed toward group activities can expand  your circle of connection and support life-long learning and growing.

For more ideas on finding ways to care for yourself despite your hectic schedule, check out Ashley Looker’s wonderful list of self-care tips: 20 Little Self-Care Tips at MindBodyGreen.

 

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February is National Children’s Dental Health Month

Caring for Your Teeth Keeps Your Whole Body Healthier

Did you know that Americans without dental care report higher incidents of other chronic health issues?  They are 67% more likely to have heart disease and 29% more likely to have diabetes. A healthy mouth means greater health all around.

We’ve all heard it – brush twice a day, floss every day, see a dentist regularly.  But sometimes, as a busy parent, tired at the end of a chaotic day, that is easier said than done.  As you shepherd exhausted children to bed, taking that detour to brush those teeth can end up the last thing on your mind.

But the benefits of regular brushing can lead to a lifetime of better health.  Which means caring for your teeth is a habit that should begin to be established (by us, exhausted parents) as soon as that first tooth erupts.

Did you know?

  • Everyone should have their own toothbrush.  Shared toothbrushes spread germs. –
  • You should use only Soft or Medium toothbrushes.  Hard bristle brushes can injure your gums.
  • It’s helpful to change up the motions used while brushing so that spaces aren’t missed.  Try for up and down some days, circular or back and forth other days.
  • Don’t forget to brush your tongue too.
  • Toothbrushes should only ever be stored in an upright position in the open air. Don’t lock them up in a toothbrush holder  – they need to dry out between uses.
  • Because toothbrushes are in the open air in your bathroom, close the toilet before flushing to keep bacteria from reaching the toothbrush.
  • And be sure to toss your brush every few months, or sooner if the bristles start to bend and fray.   A new toothbrush will help you do a better job keeping those teeth clean.

So who needs what – and when?

Babies

As soon as your baby’s first tooth erupts, it’s time to schedule a visit to the dentist.  Baby teeth help babies chew properly. As they learn to talk, baby teeth help them speak clearly.  And those baby teeth form a path for the permanent teeth that are waiting behind them. Use a soft bristle brush with a small head at bedtime to brush those new baby teeth each day.  No need to use toothpaste – just the wet brush is sufficient.

Toddlers

Toddlers still need parents to brush their teeth for them, making sure all those emerging teeth are cleaned daily.  You can introduce ‘training toothpaste’ at this time, but avoid toothpaste with fluoride until your child is old enough to reliably not swallow during brushing.  Be sure to support your “help me do it myself” two year old but allowing them to also brush their teeth, either before or after you have made sure every tooth gets brushed.

Sippy cups filled with fruit juice or milk are a real threat to healthy teeth.  Use a sippy cup only as a transition tool from bottle to cup, moving to a regular cup sooner rather than later.   Keep sugary drinks from pooling on the teeth by filling sippy cups only with water unless they are at the table for a meal.

3-7 years

Parents should continue to supervise tooth brushing for their young child, making sure that teeth are thoroughly brushed twice a day.  Now is the time to introduce flossing – ideally daily.

7+

By now tooth brushing should be a twice daily habit, part of their morning and evening routine.  As your child becomes increasingly independent in self-care, you can take a step back from direct supervision.  You’ll still want to be making those appointments for regular cleaning and exam with a dentist.

Speaking of visiting the dentist, Corvallis is lucky to have affordable dental care available to all children between the ages of 0 and 19 years at the Johnson Dental Clinic, located at the Boys and Girls Club of Corvallis.  (Pregnant moms can also see the dentist at the clinic.)

The clinic welcomes all children – with or without insurance.  Fees are set on a sliding scale, with free care available to those who qualify.   Anyone who has a child in need of a dental exam or cleaning can call the clinic (541-257-2006) and make an appointment – often being seen within a week of the call.

Now that you’ve got the scoop, celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month by making those dental exam appointments today.  You’ll be glad you did.

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The Power of Attunement

I was sitting in the lobby as a parent was departing with their young child.  The parent stopped at the front desk, engaging in a conversation with the adult on the other side of the desk.  While they talked, the little girl noticed a slip of paper on the floor, across the room, not far from a waste basket.  As the parent continued in conversation, the child toddled over to the piece of paper and picked it up. She started toward the waste can just as the parent finished and turned their attention to the child.

“Come now, we need to go to the car,” the parent said striding over to the child and taking her  hand. The small child immediately wailed, resisting the pull toward the door. Unaware of the child’s intention to deposit the litter in the wastebasket, the parent proceeded to cajol the child, exasperated by their uncooperative behavior.

From my vantage point, it was easy to see why the child was being uncooperative.  But the parent had not seen the litter, or the little girl’s determination to “help”.  It was a perfect example of the importance of attunement.

Had the parent taken just a moment after completing their conversation to observe what the child was doing, they might have seen that the child was simply completing a small task they had independently begun.  Had the parent waited a few more seconds, just until that small piece of paper had been deposited into the trash can, I have no doubt the child would have happily walked out the door, all smiles and cooperation.

Attunement is the attention we give the mood and emotional needs of another human being.  Attunement parenting focuses on how well a parent recognizes and interprets their child’s needs, moods and emotions in order to respond appropriately.  Well attuned parents of infants are able to interpret their baby’s feelings and respond appropriately.

Attunement is facilitated by attention.  In order to accurately interpret another’s emotional or physical needs, one must first be paying attention.  If we are attuned to another person, we will have noticed what happened and be able to see the context within which that person’s need is being expressed.

Attunement requires our attention, but, as Nathalie Spencer observes, “Attunement is not simply undivided attention; it is both more and less than that.  It does not mean a parent giving in to every whim of a child. But it is the understanding of needs, and a response to those needs which ultimately help the other to regulate their emotions and arousal.  It is bringing someone up when they need some stimulation, and bringing them down when they need calming.”

Attunement is different from Attachment Parenting in that Attachment parenting uses continuous physical closeness and touch to promote the emotional engagement and connection between an infant and parent. Parents practicing attachment parenting carry their babies in a sling on their body as much as possible.  Often they co-sleep with their infants. The physical closeness of the infant to the parent supports the emotional attachment between the parent and child. Where attachment parenting focuses on physical closeness, attunement focuses on our attention to the emotions of the other.

It is easy to miss the cues about a child’s emotional needs when we are not paying attention.  This frequently leads to emotional disconnect and frustration, both ours and theirs. With so many things vying for our attention, it is easy to be unattuned to the people we are physically with.  Our mobile phones make us always accessible, so we push the stroller while handling the work call – with no opportunity to attune to the child who sees a plane in the sky and exclaims excitedly, “plane!”.

Neuroscience research has confirmed our brains are not wired for multi-tasking.  In fact, multi-tasking does not make us more efficient. Instead, it makes us worse at both of the things we are trying to accomplish.  Parents who try to multitask while in the company of their children do not give the children – or the other task – the full benefit of their time and attention.  Attunement suffers and often frustration ensues.

When choose to attend to one at a time, we stand a better chance of being attuned to our children’s emotional state.   And being better attuned – paying attention – gives us a better chance of meeting the needs or navigating the ‘no’. Attunement makes us better informed because we have observed and are paying attention.

 

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Supporting Children with Routines

The Parenting Success Network is proud to introduce our new PSN Blogger, Lynne Brown, formerly of the Montessori School in Corvallis.  Lynne has an education in journalism and a background in early education, and we are delighted to welcome her to the PSN family!  Lynne’s blogs will be published bi-monthly, and will upload on Monday evenings (usually).

 

Ah, the new year.  A fresh new calendar and a return to the routine.

The end of December, with the long stretch of time off from school (and for some of us, from work) offers a wonderful opportunity to be out of the ordinary.  Without the structure of the school day, we are free to sleep in, stay up, leave home, or leave town for extended periods of time.  It’s exciting and fun, chaotic and sometimes exhausting.

And then it is January, and our everyday life resumes.

After the excitement of the holidays, most of us are ready to get back into our daily routine of school and work.  While the unique schedules during the holidays are something we look forward to, our everyday routines are important for both growing children and their parents.

Creating regular routines – for starting the day, transitioning to naps, sharing meals, and heading to bed helps children feel safe.  When babies and toddlers can predict what comes next, and when what they expect actually happens, it instills security and gives them a sense of mastery over their environment.  As the young child absorbs the world around them, they reach a stage of development where they suddenly have an idea about what is going to happen next.  When that idea turns out to be right, their successful prediction builds confidence and reassurance.  Even school-aged children are reassured when their day is predictable and familiar.

Routines can also help children understand time and develop time management skills.  When my first

four were very young our morning routine included Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers for the oldest three while I finished feeding and dressing the baby.  During that phase of our family life, when my four year old would ask “How long until…”, I often answered with “one (or two!) Mr. Rogers”.  She knew how long Mr. Rogers lasted when she watched it in the morning.  Thus, measuring time by the length of that TV show helped develop her ability to think abstractly.

Routines also help children establish good habits.  If getting ready for school every day includes putting dirty laundry in the hamper, brushing teeth, and combing hair, these activities become just a part of everyday life – good hygiene habits that will last them a lifetime.

Establishing a routine can reassure young children that their world is safe and predictable when:

  1. Starting the day.  Create a predictable set of tasks that start each day, and do them in the same order each day.  Do we eat first, or dress first? Do we brush our teeth immediately after we eat breakfast, or just before we head out the door? What order we do these things in is not important.  What is important is to maintain consistency once you’ve decided which comes first and what is last.
  2. Preparing for Nap time.  How will your child know that nap time is coming?  In order to help with the transition to the afternoon nap, our routine included nap time immediately after lunch.  When we were done eating, we headed for the changing table and then to bed. We established this routine when our children were infants and I remember the challenge of transitioning out of the morning nap.  In that stage, when they weren’t sleeping before lunch, but needed the afternoon nap before noon, I still maintained the routine of lunch, then nap.  As I noticed the need for the nap, lunch was served.  It meant some early lunches for a time.  But that was short-lived as they grow out of that stage so very quickly.
  3. During Play time. Even free time can have a predictable routine which helps young children learn sequencing – first, next, finally.  First we choose what we are going to play with, next we play with it, finally we put it back where we got it.
  4. It is Bedtime.  Like naptime, a predictable sequence of events following dinner helps children know that soon it will be time for bed. Knowing what comes next can help reduce resistance and encourage a calmer transition to sleep.  Transitions can be hard for many children. Creating a sequence of events that signals a transition is coming can help these children through it.

At our house we are working on creating a routine – and a habit – for putting things away when we have finished with them.  My incredibly creative eleven year old still struggles with returning the tools of her craftiness to their respective places.  It’s a work in progress.  And that’s okay.

There will be times when the routines we have established go right out the window.  We all have days when we must be flexible and do things differently than usual.  How we respond to those times is also a learning opportunity for our developing children.

Our response to a break from the routine shows our children how to be resilient and flexible, how to adjust when what we expected is different from what we experience.  And how to settle back into a routine after a disruption.  As long as our routine days outweigh the chaotic, our growing children will learn that the world is safe and predictable and that they can trust us to take care of them and meet their needs.

 

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