About Time

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I’ve been thinking about time.

In a book featuring daily meditations for the Advent season, I came across this passage:

“The greatest gift I ever received,” said a successful young attorney, “was a gift I got one Christmas when my dad gave me a small box. Inside was a note saying, “Son, this year I will give you 365 hours, one hour every day after dinner. It’s yours. We’ll talk about what you want to talk about; we’ll go where you want to go, play what you want to play. It will be your time.”

In addition to wishing that I had come up with this myself, I was reminded of that phrase we always hear as parents, usually from older folks, about our children: “They grow up so fast.” It’s a cliché, of course, something that is said so often it threatens to lose its meaning. But like so many clichés, it is repeated because it’s true. We often hear it as a plea, its message being, “Pay attention to them. Give them time now, learn to be in the present moment with them, before it’s too late.”

This is a particularly hard lesson for me to keep in mind when parenting is difficult. My six year-old, who was once a champion sleeper (and, I have to keep reminding myself, surely will be again), has been waking in the night and struggling to rest without the company of an adult. So when sitting with her and waiting for her to drop off again proved arduous and ultimately unsuccessful—she almost always catches me on the way out—I had to choose between putting her in my bed, next to her mother, and sleeping on her toddler bed surrounded by stuffed cats, and moving her four year-old sister when she inevitably woke from the noise and sleeping in her (much shorter) one. I do not find this amusing, and neither do my knees.

What my daughter needs, though, in the middle of the night, is time with me. When nights are particularly hard and I am particularly tired, this is the last thing I want to give her. The message I am sending her is that I do not have the time. “Daddy needs to sleep too,” is what I keep saying because she does not seem to get it. “We all need to sleep in a bed.” She is not convinced by this logic, nor will she be comforted. And all I can think is that I need this time to pass and for her to become seven (and thus, developmentally, more likely to soothe herself back to sleep).

By refusing to be in the present with her, I am withholding the gift of time.

Being reminded of the value of this time, I think that the many wonderful and precious qualities of my daughter at this age, right now, will be changing as well: her wide-ranging imagination; her endless questions and charming observations; heck, the fact that she wants to have her dad around, just to be there.

My time may be a gift to her, but just as important is the time she is offering me.

She grows up so fast.

I need to pay attention.

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Out of the Ordinary

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I’ve written a lot on this blog about the importance of routines. We try to make the events of the day—meals and snack times, transitions, chores, bedtimes—as regular and predictable as possible. The more things kids can rely on, the more secure they will feel when things happen that are out of the ordinary. After all, the best way to tell if routines are working is when something happens to disrupt them.

A lot of things are different this week. My wife is away at a weeklong homeschooling conference. The four girls are with my mother-in-law in Newport for a few days; I will be home with them for the rest of the week. This is kind of a big deal for all of us. I am especially a stickler about bedtimes, if only because it’s such a cornerstone of our home life and because we have put so much time and effort into finding a way to do it that works most of the time (though I’m sure there are some control issues at play in there as well).

We sent along a rough schedule of a typical day’s events and hoped that the spirit of it, if not the letter, would be followed. Here are some excerpts:

  • Morning activity: We usually stay close to home during this time, go for walks or do arts and crafts. They will need a morning snack.
  • Afternoon activity: This is usually our going out time. They will need a snack!

As you can see, there is emphasis on regular feeding. At home we have breakfast, then a morning “tea” (sometimes known, hobbit-style, as “second breakfast”), lunch, afternoon “tea” and dinner. That’s food being offered just about every 2-3 hours, with quick snacks in between if needed. I am pretty sure that if my mother-in-law varies the rhythm of the day—with periods of activity followed by periods of rest—then any other problems can be solved by throwing food at them.

They are going to have fun. They will take trips to the beach, the lighthouse and the aquarium. They will go to the park and the toy store (they enjoy hanging out in toy stores, and don’t expect to walk out with anything. If I knew how this was accomplished, believe me, I would tell you). They will sleep as well as they will sleep, and I understand that I have no control over this. I never do. Working on letting it go.

What I do know is that when I bring them back home, they will have had several days of new and unfamiliar rhythms, and they will be…off. And though there are some things we will need to get done, including swim lessons and grocery shopping, we will be spending the next few days just trying to get back into those familiar routines. I expect anything, up to and including tantrums, large-scale meltdowns, and general low-level crankiness. What they need is a slow and gentle shifting of gears. Luckily we will have some time to do that.

Also, snacks. Lots of snacks.

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When All Else Fails

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Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of Daylight Savings Time.

Bedtime routines are a cornerstone of parenting in our house. We have worked out, over the years and with a lot of experimentation, how to give our children what they need to have a calm, predictable and nurturing routine in the evenings. And when things change—for example, the clocks Fall Back—it can throw everything into disarray. Suddenly bedtime no longer looks like bedtime. It’s not even dark yet! And it feels like starting all over again. Tonight my four-and six-year old had an exceedingly difficult time going to sleep.

This post is not about bedtime. It’s about what happens when this job that we do, surely one of the most difficult jobs around, suddenly seems too much to bear.

I am employed as a “Parenting Expert.” When I tell this to people, particularly the families with whom I’m working, I can’t help but put it in air quotes. After all, I am equipped with every tool available: the latest research, the best strategies, the right language; all the tricks of the trade. I spent much of last week attending a Nurturing Parenting Facilitator’s Training, where I was surrounded by experts and picked up more information than I know what to do with. And tonight, it just got to be too much. Those kids were not going to sleep. They were going to cry and scream. They needed help, and at some point I simply forgot everything I had learned.

I failed, people. Parenting fail, big time. So I reached for the last tool I could find. I gave myself a time out.

When all else fails, and a parent feels that it is no longer effective or even safe to remain in what looks to be an impossible situation with a child, it is the parent that needs a time out. Walk away, find a quiet place, take some breaths. When I did this I felt like I was giving up; as a “Parenting Expert,” I was ready to turn in my proverbial badge.

Ten minutes later, when I returned to the bedroom, The Situation was more or less the way I had left it. The screaming was in full effect. Nothing had changed except that I had done the only thing left for me to do. And I had just enough charge left in my parenting battery to try it again. To be the calm presence, to assure them that they were safe. To apologize for the words I had used and to offer better, kinder ones. To hold a toddler’s hand.

They’re sleeping, for what it’s worth. And tomorrow is a new day.

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Nurturing Lifetime Readers

This week’s guest post is from Lindsey Blake. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Lindsey. Here’s hoping there are some books under the tree this year.

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One of my favorite times as a child was when my mom would say, “Alright girls, let’s pick out some books for us to read before bedtime!” My sister and I would then race to our bedroom closet and bring out an armful of books. My mom would read them to us; and though my sister and I were toddlers, we would sometimes “read” the books to my mom.

Looking back, bedtime reading was truly a bonding experience for the three of us. No matter how busy we were as a family, my mom made an effort to set aside this time for us every night. Even if it was for a mere five minutes I always treasured this time, and it became part of our nightly routine.

Reading to children, from as early as infancy, is helpful in many ways:

1) Reading can foster a child’s imagination. Reading introduces children to new words, colors and pictures, stories and concepts. A preschooler may open up a book and read to those around her. She may tell a story that makes no sense to an adult, but to the child it is fascinating!

2) Reading can help children understand tough transitional times. Big milestones like potty training, going to school, going to the doctor, welcoming a new sibling, etc. can often be explained well with stories and pictures.

3) Reading a book with your kids can help build their attention span. Children, as you know, are full of energy and have a hard time staying still. Through reading on a regular basis, children will learn to be engaged with the story and will develop an interest in listening.

4) Reading creates the ability to learn for a lifetime. A toddler who is read to becomes an elementary student who likes to read, and will continue to read as an adult.

I encourage you to make reading to your child a regular activity. It’s never too early to start, and if you build it into your daily routine, then books will become a treasured and valuable part of their lives.

Happy reading!

 

Lindsey Blake is a Family Support Worker in the Parents And Children Together program at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

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To Nurture

 

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What do we mean when we say we want to nurture our children? As parents we probably think right away about food, clothing, shelter. I don’t know about you, but those considerations alone take up most of my time. Hugs, snuggles, taking care of “owies.” Those things are nurturing, right?

But when it comes to the more complicated functions of parenting—teaching values, establishing routines, instilling discipline—what is the most nurturing thing we can do?

It’s always useful to consult the Four Questions, as I brought up last week. When I check what I want to be doing against what I’m actually doing, I am often surprised, and not always in a good way.

What does nurturing mean? I’m not a gardener (I struggle to keep houseplants alive), but I can understand that I need to be watering and tending the plants that are useful, and that if I don’t, it’s the weeds that are likely to flourish and take over.

There’s a story that keeps coming up when I have conversations about parenting in a nurturing way.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.” 

What does this have to do with parenting? I want to “feed the wolf” that will help my child feel loved, valued and respected. So, I have to demonstrate this with real words and actions. For example:

My time with my children should belong to them, rather than my iPhone screen (I struggle with this).

Nap times and bedtimes should be calming and predictable, and I should be committed to helping them to rest.

I should discipline them according to clear and consistent expectations; they should know what my expectations are, and any consequences should follow logically from them.

If I want them to be the most responsible, capable and caring people they can be, I need to focus on the behavior that demonstrates these things, rather than the behavior that falls short. If I feed the wolf that misbehaves—with my time, my attention and especially my anger—then the misbehavior is what will flourish.

None of these things are easy. They take real work, experimentation and practice. But I find that it is helpful to keep in mind what it is that I want to do, and what it means to nurture.

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Reading With Preschoolers

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This week’s blog post is by guest contributor Angie Dixon. We hope that you enjoy her post and we look forward to more of her contributions in the future.

 

When it comes to reading with young children every family has a different style, a style that is unique to them. Some parents may be devoted readers; others may rarely read, and still others may not know how to read themselves. Regardless, all parents -even those with limited reading skills – can share books with their children. Here are some quick ideas that all parents can use to help teach their children literacy skills.

Family stories. What a great way to teach family values, retell your family history and increase a child’s thinking and listening skills. All children enjoy hearing “When I grew up” stories about their parents, grandparents or other loved ones and friends. Break out the old photo albums to help bring these stories to life.

Children’s stories. Share with your children the story of the day they were born or became part of your family. Tell them how you decided on the name that they have and where it came from, and what they were like as a little baby. What types of food did they like, what were their first words, what were some of their favorite toys?

Picture books. Did you know that a book does not need to have any words in order to tell a story? Picture books are a great way to increase your child’s language skills. Asking simple questions while looking at the pictures can help you create a learning opportunity. “What do you see?” “What is he doing?” “How do you think that made her feel?” “What do you think will happen next?”

Ways to include reading every day:

*Set aside a scheduled time for reading – bedtime or nap time works great.

*Read aloud different things – signs, food labels, directions for mac-n-cheese or even material in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

*Take time to listen to your child pretend to read a book or tell a story based on the pictures.

*Keep books where children can reach them.

*Take a trip to the public library for story time, and stay to explore the shelves with them.

 

Angie Dixon is a Home Based Specialist in the Therapeutic Early Childhood Program at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

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Bedtimes and Balloons

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If there is a secret to our parenting, it is bedtime.

There is a lot to say about the importance of calm, consistent bedtime routines, and it’s something I will return to in future posts. A lot of information out there, and I’ve found that most of it is along the same lines. There is a good primer on the Parents website, and another on babycentre, focusing on bedtime for toddlers. It’s British, and that’s okay.

Establishing these routines take time and experimentation. It takes a while to see what works, and as the needs of children change with age, and the seasons (and the light!), what worked in the past may not work now. What didn’t work before may work again later.

It is important in a routine to have signposts, things that signal to a child that it is time to get into the space of bedtime. I light candles in the bedroom (one for each of them because, you know, fairness) and, when they have put on their pajamas and brushed their teeth, they each choose a book to read aloud. When the reading is done, they blow out their candle and get into bed. I spend some time with each of them in turn, and I do this:

It’s a relaxation ritual that I have been using with my daughters every night for the last few months. I keep asking them if they are tired of it, if they want to try something different, but they insist on doing it exactly the same way each night. I think there’s something to be said for the comfort children find in repetition that we adults may not share or understand. Have your kids ever asked you to read the same book or tell the same story over and over?

This is how it goes, word for word. I don’t remember how I came up with it, exactly, but I have to give credit to an episode of Frasier in which a character is asked to put their angry thoughts in a balloon and watch it drift away. It’s a good recurring joke in the show, but I must have thought it might work for bedtime.

 

Now I want you to take everything that has bothered you throughout the day

(And only you know what those things are)

And I want you to put them inside a balloon.

It can be any kind of balloon you can imagine,

Any shape, any size, any color.

And when you’re ready, I want you to take that balloon outside

And let go of the string

And watch the balloon drift up, and up, and up,

Further and further into the sky,

Until it’s just a little dot

And then it’s gone

Leaving nothing but clear sky.

No more worries,

No more cares,

And you’re ready to rest.

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