How to build community in a socially distanced neighborhood

Kids are heading back to school, sort of, but COVID mitigation strategies mean that even schools that are offering in-person classes might not continue for long. Mask mandates are back, and social distancing is recommended. As quarantines continue and the delta variant sends hospitalizations rising among kids as well as adults, it’s clear that the pandemic is far from over. 

COVID-19 won’t last forever. But with no end currently in sight, it’s time to rethink how we approach social capital and neighborhood relationships. Is it possible to build community in a world where social distancing isn’t a short-term solution, but a long-haul necessity?

Familiar neighborhood connections like carpools, sleepovers, and after-school parties may have to wait, but building relationships is more important than ever. Here are some ideas for how you can continue to strengthen connections with your neighbors, even while we have to stay distanced. 

Hold a neighborhood zoom party  

Neighborhood porch parties may be a thing of the past – for now – but community starts with communication, and the internet makes digital communication easy. At this point, everyone’s an expert at zoom, so why not invite your neighbors for a zoom party? Play games, split into breakout rooms for small group discussions, or hold a contest for the funniest zoom background. 

Start a silly collaborative art project.

Even a simple art project can become a trend that takes off. In one neighborhood, a family started putting googly eyes on random objects throughout the neighborhood and posting pictures on social media, and the trend took off. In another neighborhood, one family posted a mayoral campaign poster for their cat, and other families quickly took up the project, with competing posters urging people to vote for Rover the Dog or Luna the Cat. It’s impossible not to laugh when you see a rock with googly eyes, and silly projects like this make it easy and fun for everyone to participate. 

Plant a community garden.

If you don’t yet have a community garden, there’s never been a better time to start one. If there’s a vacant, unused lot in your neighborhood, reach out to the landowner for permission to start gardening there. Even small plots provide an automatic boundary for social distancing while enabling you and your kids to socialize with neighbors. 

Build a little library. 

A little library is a wooden box in your yard for trading used books. Put books in it that you don’t want, and encourage neighbors to take books they want or bring books they don’t. You can download free plans for building a little library and do a construction project with your kids, or if that sound intimidating, buy a premade kit to put together. 

Make a chalk obstacle course.

Get your kids – and the rest of the neighborhood kids – moving and jumping with a sidewalk chalk obstacle course. Use different colored chalk to design different activities such as a maze to walk through, a dance challenge, or a classic hopscotch path. Have older kids design and draw obstacles for younger ones. To get the whole neighborhood involved, draw your course on a public sidewalk that’s used frequently so everyone can enjoy. 

Organize a car parade. 

Car parades are a great COVID-safe activity, since each family in the parade is essentially inside their own “bubble” while in their car. Although it takes more time to set up than the other activities, the fun is worth the effort! Reach out to neighbors to recruit families who want to participate in the parade, and choose a theme for car decorations. Then spread the word to everyone about the date and time, and encourage families who are watching to gather at the end of their driveways. If someone in your neighborhood has a speaker, you can put it in a truck at the front of the parade to provide music.  

Hold a screen on the green

Although the delta variant is more contagious than earlier versions of COVID-19, most experts agree that outdoor gatherings are still relatively safe when combined with social distancing. All you need for a neighborhood screen on the green is a large grassy field, a spot to hang a sheet, and a projector and speaker. Make sure that everyone sits at least six feet apart from other families, and encourage everyone to bring popcorn. Choose a family-friendly movie so everyone can enjoy, and start the show as soon as it’s dark.

Sharing activities together is one of the biggest ways that people build relationships in a neighborhood. While the pandemic has made that more difficult, it’s not impossible. With a little creativity, you can continue to get to know your neighbors and show your kids what community looks like – even in a pandemic.

Could This One Day Transform Your Relationship with Your Kids?

In 2009, an intriguing children’s book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal introduced a novel idea that many parents decided to try for themselves. 

Recently, Jennifer Garner popularized the idea – one she enjoys annually with her own kids – in a new Netflix movie

The concept is simple: Give your kids a “Yes Day.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: For one day, your answer to your kids’ requests is always yes. 

If you’re picturing your kids running wild for a day, eating candy for breakfast and jumping on the couches, you’re not entirely wrong. For families who’ve tried it, the fun of it lies in saying yes to requests that would normally trigger an automatic “no.” But if you think that sounds impossible, think again. With a few guidelines in place, many parents have found that a Yes Day can be feasible for their family.

Before you start planning your wild day, though, you might wonder why. Why would any parent want to agree to everything their kids ask for a day? It can sound intimidating to follow your kids’ lead, especially if you’ve gotten used to constantly saying no. But you might find that saying “yes” is worth the risk. 

Saying no is often the easy option for us as parents. But the truth is, circumstances will say no to your kid more often than not – and that’s been more true than ever in the past year. For many kids, the pandemic year has brought circumstances that forced many new “no’s”: No, you can’t go to school in person. No, you can’t go to a movie theater. No, you can’t see your friends. No, you can’t go inside the store without a mask. 

Choosing to say yes to our kids when we can – as difficult and scary as it may be – sends a message much bigger than the activity we’re saying yes to. A Yes Day can help you gain a deeper understanding of your kids’ interests and passions. It can grant your kids a new level of autonomy, sending them a message that you trust them and that you’re on their side. Most of all, it helps you reconnect your relationship, because for one day, you’re not fighting with your kids. You’re not trying to convince them to do the things they have to do, and you’re not focused on the tasks you need to accomplish. It’s a day to follow your kids’ lead – no matter where it takes you. 

Ready to give it a try? Here’s how to hold a Yes Day for your family without breaking the bank or losing your mind. 

A happy girl rides in a shopping cart at the grocery store

Start by setting some boundaries. Deciding to say yes doesn’t mean you have to keep every option in the world on the table. Unless you have limitless money to spend, set a budget limit (you don’t want to spend the next three months paying off your Yes Day bills!). You can do this per child or per activity, or you can set a total budget for the day and let your kids decide how to spend it. 

You might also want to set a location limit so you don’t spend the whole day driving. This could mean you tell your kids that all activities have to be within a certain number of miles or a certain driving time from your house, or it could mean you set a total mileage limit for the day – whatever works best for your family and your location. A time limit on each activity is also a good idea so you don’t spend the entire day doing just one thing (unless there’s one all-day activity that the kids really want).

If you only have one child (or if you have two parents and two kids who can split up), then choosing activities will be easy – your only child can get full say and follow any whim that catches their fancy. But if you’ve got several siblings and only one adult for the day, you’ll need to decide how the kids will choose activities if they disagree. You could have them take turns, so each sibling gets to pick an activity (time limits on activities will be essential if you take this route), or you could set a rule that they all have to agree (and you might be surprised how good they can be at compromising when you opt out of your usual veto power). 

And speaking of time limits, many experienced Yes Day parents recommend one final rule: No activities with long-term consequences. That means no signing up for six months of expensive archery lessons (but one trial lesson today is totally ok!), no dropping out of school (but playing hooky for the day might be an option), and absolutely no new puppies. 

Once you’ve agreed on the rules, you’ll have to decide how to plan your Yes Day. Parents are divided on this one: some like it to be a total surprise for kids when it happens, while others prefer to pick a date in advance and let the kids plan what they want to do. Both options can be a lot of fun, and you’ll probably be inclined to decide based on your own personal preference for planning or spontaneity.

But since Yes Day is a day for your kids, not for you, you might be better off letting them choose whether they want to be surprised or not. Keep in mind that this sudden decrease in structure (and increase in power) can be unsettling for kids as well as empowering. Some kids will be overwhelmed by choices if you surprise them with a Yes Day, and they’ll end up feeling stressed and disappointed by all the things they would have wanted to do if they’d had more time to think about it. Other kids will get overwhelmed by trying to plan, and they’ll enjoy the day more if they just go with the flow and choose what they want in the moment. If you’re not sure, consider talking with your kids about the theoretical idea of a Yes Day and how they would want to do it if they could.

Even if you do end up surprising your kids with the date, it’s generally a good idea to spend some time talking about it in advance so your kids aren’t overwhelmed by too many choices on the big day. Some parents like to plant ideas and suggestions ahead of time, while others encourage kids to make a list of 1-3 big things they definitely want to ask for when Yes Day arrives. Other families plan the entire day in advance. You can also write ideas on pieces of paper and put them in a bowl to draw from if your kids get paralyzed by indecision during the day. The key is to prioritize saying yes to what your kids want in the moment – and to remember that your kids’ needs and desires on the big day could be different from what they planned. If your kids plan a packed schedule and get exhausted halfway through, don’t insist on sticking to the plan – be prepared to say “yes” to going home and watching TV the rest of the day if you need to. 

Finally, once Yes Day is over, try to bring some of the spirit of Yes Day into everyday life. For many parents, one day of saying “yes” to their kids can help you recognize how often you say no – and how often it’s not really necessary. As parents, we often say “no” reflexively, feeling that it’s our job to set limits as much as possible. But often, the truth is that 10 more minutes of TV won’t really have much of an impact on bedtime, and two cookies instead of one won’t really give your child a sugar high. Yes Day can help you to reconsider which of your family limits are reasonable and necessary and which could use a little more flexibility. Saying “yes” when you can is a way to increase kids’ autonomy and ultimately to teach them responsibility. Saying yes can be an expression of respect and trust toward your kids. And the more you practice saying “yes” as a parent, the more your kids, in turn, will respect your “no,” because they’ll learn that when you set a limit, you have a good reason. 

How to Help Kids Cope with Trauma

Sometimes, the hardest part about being a parent is the things you can’t do. 

The past year has shown every family how powerless we are as parents to protect our children from trauma and stress. Even if your family was lucky enough to avoid serious illness or loss from the COVID-19 pandemic, your children experienced disruptive routine changes and isolation as they transitioned to online or hybrid school. And now, just as things are starting to get “back to normal,” one of the largest fires in our state’s history is raging just a few counties away. This year is underscoring the reality that we as parents can’t prevent frightening things from happening in our children’s lives.

And even if life does get back to normal over the next few months, that transition can be challenging, too. Going back to in-person school will be stressful for kids who’ve been learning online or hybrid for most of the past year. In addition to the stress of re-learning how to interact socially, kids need to re-learn how to get up and out of the house instead of rolling over and turning on the computer, how to manage a long day of school and after-school activities, and how to keep up with homework and motivate themselves after a long day at school. Plus, they’re doing all this in the middle of a pandemic that still hasn’t ended — most kids still can’t get vaccinated, and the possibility of more lockdowns and more school shutdowns still hangs over their heads. 

But even though we can’t prevent stressful situations in our kids’ lives, we can help them cope. 

Here’s how parents can help children manage trauma and stress. 

Keep your routine

Maintain your family routines as much as you can. Routines can give kids a feeling of security and reliability, so they can help kids feel safer in the middle of transition and stress. Even if it’s not possible to keep all your daily routines, aim for weekly routines. Even something as simple as a family board game night every Friday can help your kids feel more secure and give them a routine to look forward to. 

Listen

Now more than ever, it’s obvious to parents – and probably to kids, too – that we can’t always keep our families safe from danger. But as parents, we can create a sense of emotional safety for our kids, even in dangerous situations. Do this by listening and validating their emotions. Give kids a chance to talk about what they’re feeling about scary events in the world, whether it’s the fear of going back to school and not being able to connect with friends or the fear of having to evacuate because of fire. Help your kids find words to express their emotions, and validate that those feelings make sense.

Just listening can be difficult – when your kids talk about stressful feelings, your instinct is to want to fix it. But telling kids that it’s not as bad as it feels, or trying to convince them to feel better, can actually make them feel worse. Instead, try to just validate their feelings by saying something simple like “That sounds really hard” or “It sounds like you feel really scared.” Instead of offering solutions, give your kids space to feel negative emotions – and then give them the time to come up with their own solutions to the problem. 

Cry together

Grieving is an important piece of processing stress and trauma, but it’s one that we often try to gloss over. There are few things more painful than seeing your child cry, but grieving – and sometimes crying – is an essential step in accepting when bad or scary things have happened. Kids can process emotions in lots of different ways, so encourage them to express their feelings in whatever way feels best for them. That might mean crying and cuddling together, or it might mean drawing pictures or reliving scary experiences with toys. Even though it can be scary to let your kids revisit frightening or upsetting experiences, the truth is that feeling those negative feelings is essential to processing them. 

Encourage good boundaries 

For kids, traumatic experiences often involve having their boundaries violated. Feeling scared can also cause kids to struggle with defining good boundaries; they might want lots of space and independence one minute, and want to be coddled the next. You can help your kids process by modeling and teaching good boundaries. Teach them to recognize when they’re feeling stressed or angry, and tell them that anger is often a sign their emotional boundary is being crossed. Encourage them to tell you (with words!) what they’re feeling and to ask for what they need. 

Teaching kids to enforce their own boundaries is difficult, because most of the time, they’ll practice this skill first on you. But as a parent, it’s your job to be a safe space to practice these kinds of interpersonal skills – even if it’s uncomfortable for you. So when your kids ask you for space, model respect for their boundaries. It might feel like you’re giving up on connecting with them, but in the long run, your relationship will be stronger for it. 

Empower them to find solutions 

Instead of offering solutions, ask your kids questions that will help them create their own solutions. If they’re worried about seeing their friends in person again, help them role play what might happen and what they want to say on the first day of school. Encourage them to think through the “worst case scenario” and how they would handle it. Even though the worst case probably won’t happen, it can help kids feel better to make a plan for it.  

Tell the truth

When your child is struggling, it’s a natural instinct to reassure them that “everything is going to be okay.” But the truth is, you can never be certain about the future. You don’t know for sure if the pandemic is going to go away, or if the fire isn’t going to spread. Instead, tell your kids the truth: that their feelings are valid and allowed, that you’ll always support them no matter what, and that you love them. 

There are many things you can’t do as a parent. You can’t prevent bad things from happening, and you can’t control the future. But you can love and support your children unconditionally – and ultimately, that’s enough.

How Do Children Show Stress?

The past year and a half has created a new paradigm of stress for many families. A couple of years ago, a stressful day meant losing a baseball game or getting a bad grade on a test. But since 2020, stress means spending months or more indoors separated from friends, struggles with virtual school, and tragic family losses.

As an adult, you’re probably familiar with how you tend to react when stress gets to be too much. You might get snappy or irritable; you might have trouble sleeping; you might struggle to concentrate at work. But for your kids, stress can be expressed in a variety of ways. As a parent, it can help you to know how stress can look in kids of different ages, so you can help your kids recognize and manage it. 

Infants 

You might think that young children are less susceptible to the stressors we’ve experienced in the past year – after all, they don’t understand what COVID means, and their entire lives have been in quarantine. But the truth is that babies and toddlers are highly sensitive to family stress, and even if the pandemic didn’t have a significant impact on their usual routine, the stress you’ve felt has affected them. 

For young babies born just before or during the lockdown, life in a global pandemic is the only life they’ve known. For them, the return to normal schedules might be a bigger stress than anything they’ve experienced yet. If you’ve been home 24/7 for most of your baby’s life, then a new daily routine involving driving, work, and daycare could be a big and stressful change. Babies who are stressed tend to cry more and sleep less, which isn’t likely to improve your stress level (or your ability to get out of the house on time). But any significant change in your baby’s normal behavior could be an indication of stress, from dietary and bowel changes to sleep and activity levels. 

On the bright side, helping your infant better manage stress is relatively easy: nurturing touch and quiet routines can go a long way toward calming them down. Young babies don’t need a lot of entertainment or stimulation, and they usually get enough educational stimulation from daily life, so reducing stress for infants usually means reducing stimulation with calm, quiet time together. Just holding and rocking your baby can cause her cortisol levels to drop. And the bonus? Snuggling with your baby can reduce your stress levels, too. 

Toddlers 

Toddlers who have been growing up in Covid probably appreciate the fact that their parents have been present a lot during quarantine. Just like with babies born in the past year, for young toddlers it’s probably the “new normal” of businesses opening back up and parents going back to work that’s causing the most stress in today’s changing world. 

Just like young babies, toddlers aren’t verbal enough to talk clearly about their feelings, so they mostly express stress through behavioral changes. Bedtime resistance and nighttime wakings are a common sign, as are bowel changes, dietary changes, and activity changes. Stressed-out toddlers might become more clingy and unwilling to go to daycare or play with friends, and they might have nightmares or bedtime fears. They might also say they feel sick and complain of headaches, stomachaches, or other physical pain. Finally, of course, toddlers will show stress with their favorite way to express emotions – tantrums. 

One of the biggest ways to help toddlers manage stress is with familiar routines. So while it’s helpful to acknowledge what your child is feeling, and to name the emotion they’re expressing, it’s usually not helpful to change your usual plans in response to your child’s tantrums. Giving your toddler choices can help them feel empowered, but too many choices or too much change will make them feel out of control. Rather than saying “ok, you don’t have to go to daycare today,” try offering a choice like “do you want to put on your shoes first or your pants first?” Keeping a (somewhat flexible) routine and structure helps toddlers feel more secure, which reduces stress in the long run – even if it means you have to push through some protests.

It’s also common for stressed-out toddlers to invent routines out of random things you happen to do once. For example, if one morning you give your child orange juice and then a plate of scrambled egg, they might decide that this routine is essential and get angry if the next morning you give them eggs first and then orange juice. As your routines are changing in the transition out of quarantine, it can help toddlers to maintain as many daily routines as you can — even if they seem minor or silly. 

School Aged Children 

For school-aged kids, school and friends are a key source of both social learning and emotional support. Kids who’ve been separated from friends for much of the past year might have been really stressed by the isolation – and even more stressed about the return to school. If they haven’t seen their friends in a long time, they might worry that their friends don’t like them anymore. They might feel that they’ve lost the knowledge of how to make friends or how to play with other people. All of this might mean they have very mixed feelings about the coming school year – a perfect recipe for stress and worry. 

These emotions can show up in a variety of ways. Just like with younger children, your first clue will probably be behavioral shifts such as changes in sleeping, eating, or activity levels. School-aged kids who are stressed might withdraw from family and friends, or they might lash out and get in fights with friends or siblings. They might also have problems with grades due to difficulty concentrating or a loss of interest in schoolwork. 

Vague physical complaints, such as stomach aches or headaches, are another common symptom of stress in school-age children. Younger school-aged kids may also regress with behaviors like bedwetting, thumb sucking, or even tantrums. 

Even though these kids’ language skills are developed enough to talk about complex emotions, they probably don’t have the emotional awareness to understand or put into words what they’re feeling. If your school-aged child is lashing out or overreacting to seemingly small problems, it’s probably a sign that their level of stress is at the tipping point. 

While talking about their emotions can help, talking about anything can actually help kids at this age process stress as long as they feel like you’re listening and you care. Schedule time every day to just listen to your child talk about whatever’s on their mind, even it’s only 15 or 20 minutes. This might feel like a waste of time when all they ever want to talk about is their favorite video game or the latest video they watched on YouTube. But if you provide that space every day to listen, then eventually they’ll surprise you by sharing the emotions and fears that are worrying most. Playing with you is also a powerful way for school-aged kids to connect and express themselves, so make time to play what they enjoy – even if that means playing that video game you hate. 

Teenagers 

Teens are almost adults, and they’re likely to express stress in many of the same ways you do: getting snappy and irritable, having trouble concentrating, and having outbursts of frustration or anger. But because they’re teens and have a harder time regulating their emotions than you do, these outbursts are likely to be more extreme than an adult’s. 

Peer relationships are incredibly important to teens, but they’re also a big source of stress – and never more than now that they’ve been strained by separation and quarantine in unprecedented ways. Stressed teens might withdraw from friends and from social activities, and they might express worries that no one likes them or they have no friends. 

Teens can also react to stress with the same types of behavior changes as younger kids, such as trouble sleeping, changes in eating habits, and difficulty concentrating. 

However, all of these behaviors can be hard to distinguish from normal teenage moodiness, so how do you know if your child is stressed-out or just hormonal?

The truth is this: It doesn’t matter. No matter whether your child is dealing with the normal stress of teen hormones or the massive stress of transitioning out of a global pandemic, the emotions they’re feeling are real to them. It’s normal for teenagers to feel that problems that seem small to you are devastating and life-changing, and as their parent, it’s your job to accept those emotions and support them through them. Even if you think the source of their stress seems unimportant, treat it like it’s as big a deal as your child feels it is.

Just like with younger kids, scheduling time every day to talk with your teen about whatever’s on their mind can help them manage stress in their lives. Even if they don’t talk with you about what’s really bothering them, making yourself available is a statement to them that you care about their emotions. And just like younger kids, teens will eventually tell you what they’re feeling if you give them enough space and time and listen without any judgement. 

Stress is normal, and major transitions are always going to be stressful. In the wake of the Covid pandemic, it’s impossible to prevent your children from experiencing stress. However, the first step to helping them manage it is for you to recognize it for what it is. Once you understand that your child is dealing with big emotions, you are better equipped to help them manage and process stress. In our next blog post, we will talk about ways to help kids process stress and trauma.

Keep Your Kids Learning This Summer – and Have Fun Doing It

If you have a school aged child, then summer learning loss has probably worried you in the past – but never as much as this summer. This school year was a once-in-a-generation experiment in educational innovation. Your child probably experienced virtual school for the first time, and they may have even been in virtual school the whole year. If the coming of summer has you wondering whether your child will be prepared for the next academic year, you’re not alone.

But if you think that means it’s time to hire a summer tutor, think again. Many school systems are offering catch-up summer school, but after a year that brought unprecedented stress to children as well as adults, more time in the classroom may not be what your child needs. Before you shell out your stimulus check for a summer math class, consider what education your child really needs to be prepared for the next school year. 

There’s plenty of academic education to discover in the adventures of real life – and after a year in front of the computer, real-life adventure may be exactly what your child needs most. 

Practice real-life math with cooking. 

Remember all that sourdough you baked last spring? Maybe it’s time to break out your starter yeast again. Cooking, and especially baking, offers plenty of opportunities for kids of all grade levels to practice math skills. Younger kids can measure and count; older kids can convert recipes for different numbers of servings (hello, fractions!). Try doubling the recipe and bringing a loaf of sourdough to your neighbor. For bonus skills, have your kids invent a recipe of their own. 

Explore science at the park.

Science was invented in the great outdoors, and nature is the best teacher for kids of all ages. The inherent curiosity of kids makes them naturals at the scientific method: they’re constantly observing and asking questions about what they see. This summer, instead of googling the answers, help them figure it out for themselves with real-life experiments. Can that broken dogwood branch grow into a new tree? What do ladybugs eat? Only time – and a bit of experimenting – will tell. 

Take a geography trip. 

After a year of quarantining, many of us are itching to get out of town this summer. If you are heading out of town, take some of the planning off your plate and teach your kids geography by inviting them to plan part of your route. While they’re practicing skills like reading maps and estimating travel time, they can search for interesting points along the route that they want to visit. In addition to adding some adventure to your trip, having your kids identify locations they want to see – and predict how long it will take to get there – should cut down the endless whines of “Are we there yet?” 

Read, read, read.

As a parent in the 21st century, the value of reading with your kids has been drilled into you from the day you found out you were expecting. But if reading has gotten a little stale after months of being stuck in the house, try something different to spark your kids’ love of stories. Spend an afternoon in the library together, or hit up the library storytime. And if an overuse of screen time during quarantine has your kids bored by non-moving words on a page, try downloading some audiobooks to listen to together while you do a craft, or read a book and then watch the movie. 

Play board games. 

Board games are a lot more than a fun family night – they’re an amazing tool for teaching a wide range of social and academic schools. In addition to helping kids practice taking turns and following the rules, board games can teach math (Monopoly), reading (Cards Against Humanity Kids’ Edition), and even logic (Clue). While there are plenty of board games that are explicitly educational, pretty much every board game requires some academic skills to play, so play what your kids enjoy! 

Write stories. 

Sitting down and writing a story over the summer may not appeal to your kids – but storytelling is a human instinct, and there are plenty of ways to help your kids rediscover the joy of sharing their ideas through narrative. Try getting them a set of puppets and building a makeshift puppet stage, or download an app for green screen so they can make movies with their toys. Encourage them to write the story down so they can perform it for you (and maybe even the neighbors, too). 

Learn social studies through advocacy. 

2020 was a big year for political upheaval, and many people found themselves involved in political advocacy, often for the first time. Talk with your kids about political news, especially local issues that affect them. What rules will their school follow for COVID safety in the fall? What guidelines does the county have now for swimming pools this summer? Kids can write letters to representatives, call the school superintendent, and even make signs about an issue they care about. 

Watch for learning opportunities.

After a year of spending so much time together with family, paying attention may be the most difficult thing to do this summer  – but it’s by far the most important. Curiosity and interest are the biggest drivers of learning, and if you want to help your kids’ academic progress over the summer, the best thing you can do is pay attention. Notice when they ask questions. Notice what they’re interested in. Then look for ways for them to explore those interests and questions. When kids are interested, that’s when they learn. 

This past year of upheaval and change has been harder for parents than for anyone. After a year of worrying about COVID, working while teaching virtual school, and struggling to entertain bored children, the last thing you need is to add more stress this summer. Instead of working hard to make sure your children catch up on academics, seek out ways to let learning happen naturally – and make it fun for you as well as your kids. Fun, after all, is the best way to learn.

5 Ways to Prepare Your Teen for Adulting

High school graduation, check. College decisions, check. Job applications, check. You’ve guided and supported your teen toward the next phase of their life. Or perhaps your teen has a few more years before graduation. But before you know it they’ll be fully grown, and there’s more to adulthood than the academic knowledge they receive in high school. 

This summer is the perfect opportunity to catch your teen up on any life management skills they’re missing. Here are five ways to help your teen get ready for the big day, when they head out on their own – whether they are off to college, or simply onto their own apartment.

Ask your teen to cook a family meal.

Soon-to-be-freshman might be eating most of their meals next year in a college cafeteria, but they should still know how to cook a real meal before they leave home. Being able to cook something more than ramen will give your young adult a boost on healthy diet habits. Cooking dinner for the whole family will give them some practice at putting together an entire meal instead of just one dish. Bonus? You’ll get a night off. (Added bonus tip: If you’ve got a teen that needs to earn some spending money, hiring them to regularly cook dinner for the family is a win/win for you both.)

Let them do laundry. 

If your teen isn’t already washing their own laundry, it’s definitely time. With a brief lesson on how to sort and what temperature to use, they’ll be able to avoid being that freshman whose white t-shirts are all pink from being washed with colors. Your child may not want to fold their socks as neatly as you do (or at all), but giving them responsibility for their own clothes early in their teen-hood prepares them for a lifetime of caring for their own clothes. 

Give them bills to pay.

Chances are you’ll be helping your teen – even your new graduate – with their living expenses for a few more years, but that doesn’t mean they can’t start paying some of their bills and managing their budget before they leave home. If your teen isn’t already paying for some of their own expenses like cell phone, gas, or clothes, this summer is a great time to start. Obviously, in order to pay their own bills, they’ll need some income, so if they won’t have a job this summer, consider giving them an allowance or pay for help with chores so they have a budget to work with. 

Let them clean the bathroom.  

The stereotype of the dirty college dorm room bathroom may have more to do with students not making time to clean than not knowing how, but if you’re not confident that your teen can clean their bathroom, this summer is a good time to make sure. This goes for other household cleaning as well. It’s never too early to include teens in helping keep the house tidy.

Help your teen plan for emergencies

As a parent, this one could be hard to think about. But if your teen will be living away from home next year, they might need to handle an emergency on their own. Do they know what to do if they’re in a car accident? What about if their apartment pipes freeze? Talk through emergency scenarios with them and make sure they have a plan for the major situations life might throw their way. 

If some of these tasks are new for your graduate, they’ll probably give you some pushback – after all, it’s summer and time to kick back after the rush to wrap up the school year. But knowing how to take care of household tasks before they leave your house will be worth it for them in the long run.

Nurturing Attitudes

When I was a teen, my mother pretty regularly told me to “stop with the attitude”, “change your attitude”, or “watch the attitude”. If you have teens, you probably know what she meant. A  teenager’s approach to their blossoming independence often comes with some changes in attitude.

But teenagers aren’t the only ones that have attitudes. Part of being human is the process of forming attitudes and people of all ages have them.

What are attitudes and where do they come from?

Attitudes are ideas that we hold about ourselves, others, objects, or experiences. We can have a favorable attitude about something, a negative attitude, or even an ambivalent attitude. All of our likes and dislikes are formed by the attitudes we hold about those things. 

For example, you might have heard people talk about “cat people” and “dog people.” I grew up with both a cat and a dog in our household. I remember enjoying them both equally and never preferred one over the other. I never had a bad experience with either cats or dogs. And yet, today I admit I am a dog person. Dogs are friendly, cuddly, and always delighted to spend time with you. While some cats are also friendly, cats are often aloof, standoffish, and uninterested in cuddling. 

I’ve had some unpleasant experiences with cats as an adult. So it is not surprising that I ended up with this attitude about cats. Despite a pleasant childhood surrounded by both a cat and a dog, my experiences with cats have resulted in an attitude about cats that isn’t very favorable.

Psychologists define attitude as an evaluation a person makes about an object, person, group, event, or issue. I have definitely made a judgement about cats. Since our attitudes can be favorable, neutral, or unfavorable, we can have attitudes about both things we like and things we dislike.

The ABC Model of Attitudes

There are three components of an attitude, often referred to as the ABC model. The first component, A, stands for ‘Affective.’ Before we form an attitude, we experience or observe something. 

We may have a physical reaction that results from the chemical changes that occur as our brain processes the experience. For example, suppose I see a spider scurry up the wall beside me. Without conscious thought, my body reacts by jumping away.

This is the second component of the ABC model of attitudes, Behavioral. The experience results in feelings or emotions inside us and in response we take an action or behave in some particular way. 

Our experience and resulting behavior help us form a belief and an attitude about it. The third component is Cognitive, our conscious thought process. We form a belief based on the experience or observation. That spider startled me and I don’t like to be surprised. So I form an attitude about spiders.  

The attitudes we have formed as a result of our experiences and observations affect how we respond to new experiences. As parents and educators, understanding the way attitudes are formed can help us nurture healthy attitudes in the children in our care.

Join us virtually on Wednesday, June 2nd, for an indepth look at Nurturing Attitudes in the children in our care. Dr. Aoife Magee will guide participants as we examine the three components of attitude and explore approaches that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-bias in early childhood. We will explore practices to develop positive environments for growth and learning among children, families, and professionals. 

The workshop will be held online from 6:30pm – 8:30pm. To register: email poel@linnbenton.edu or call 541-917-4899.

How to Help Siblings Build Great Relationships for Life

As a parent, nothing hurts you more than seeing your child hurt. Whether it’s your tween moping because she didn’t get a part in the school play or your toddler sobbing over the last piece of cake, you feel your child’s pain as if it’s your own. 

And when it’s another child who’s hurting your child…that can strain your compassion to the limit. Your neighbor’s cute toddler at the playground will transform in your mind to an evil demon the minute she hits your child in a fight over the swing. 

But when the child who’s hurting your child is also your child? You’ll never feel so torn.

Siblings can be each other’s best friends and worst enemies – often in the same day. As a parent, seeing your children fight can be overwhelming. You want to simultaneously yell at them  and hug them both forever. 

But as difficult as it is, sibling conflict is also an opportunity. Siblings know each other better than anyone else, and sibling relationships are the key place where children can build conflict resolution skills like compassion, negotiation, and compromise. Here’s how you can help them build those skills – even when you’re seeing red. 

Appreciate each child’s individuality 

A desire for parental attention is often at the heart of sibling rivalry, so giving each child your undivided attention is key to minimizing conflict between your kids. Try to schedule 1:1 time with each child, even if it’s only a few minutes a day. Let them take the lead and tell you about their interests and stories. Listening and encouraging what they have to say will promote a healthy sense of self, which can help them learn to set boundaries and manage conflict with their siblings. 

Listening to each child talk about what they care about will also help you know how you can encourage activities they’re interested in. Valuing and recognizing the interests and personality traits that make them unique will help each child feel appreciated for who they are, without comparisons to siblings. This can help you, as Mayo Clinic recommends, “respect each child’s unique needs” and parent them equally, but not identically. 

Model healthy conflict 

Parents who have partners often think it’s best to go somewhere private to solve disagreements between adults, so children don’t have to listen to arguments. But the reality is that conflict with your partner is unavoidable, and since it can happen at any time, trying to keep it private often means that children see the beginning but not the resolution. It’s probably better for kids to watch you work things out, as long as you can do that in a healthy way. One study found that teens who observed “cooperative marital conflict” had better emotional coping skills. Another study found that children whose parents demonstrated “constructive marital conflict” had more prosocial behaviors. Good conflict means being able to compromise, avoid aggression even when you’re mad, and ultimately resolve the situation – even if you never come to an agreement. 

Arguments with your partner aren’t the only opportunity to model healthy conflict resolution – disagreements between you and your kids are inevitable, too, and you can use them as opportunities. Practice staying calm even when you’re frustrated, and model what you want them to do when they fight with each other. Demonstrate “I” statements, firmly but kindly step away if you need to cool down, and be open to negotiating with them. After all, if you want them to compromise with their siblings, you might need to be willing to compromise, too! 

Let kids work it out when you can

It can be tempting to break things up quickly when your kids are fighting. But waiting to see if they can work it out will let them build conflict resolution skills. If they’re not yelling or punching each other, let conflict go for a little to see if they can solve it on their own. 

You can set them up for success by creating routines that help prevent arguments before they happen. For example, teach toddlers to take turns with toys (it’s easier than sharing, which young kids don’t understand). When your kids start to argue, pay attention to their tone and body language – that will give you a clue whether the conflict is escalating or moving toward resolution.

If you do need to step in, be a coach, not a director. Offer suggestions and tools, but let your kids take the lead, especially when working out a compromise. If the ideas come from them, they’ll be more satisfied with the outcome – and they’ll have more skills for the next disagreement. 

Conflict is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to ruin relationships. Rather than preventing sibling rivalry, work on teaching your kids skills that will enable them to build better relationships not just with each other, but with friends, teachers, and even you.

Nurturing Strength in Children of All Ages

Our children come to us as helpless infants. As we care for them, we watch them grow stronger and develop skills. Newborns gain strength daily, becoming strong enough to hold up their head and control the movements of their arms and legs. 

Usually, when we hear the word ‘strength’ our thoughts immediately go to brawn and muscle – the physical ability to lift heavy objects. We don’t often think of young children as being strong, since strength is something you develop as your body grows and matures.

But strength can apply more than just the abilities of our muscles. 

There are other kinds of strength, like emotional strength, mental strength, character strength, social strength, and skill strength, such as athletic ability or artistic ability.

This month, Dr. Aoife Magee invites us to join her in exploring ways to nurture all of these different kinds of strength in our children. 

Mental Strength

Being mentally strong doesn’t mean acting tough or being defiant. Kids with mental strength are ready to meet challenges with confidence and courage. Mentally strong children are resilient, able to handle challenges, and bounce back from difficult situations. Mental strength is sometimes called ‘grit’, which is often defined as courage and resolve, and strength of character.

Helping children develop emotional regulation is the first step in building mental strength. As young children learn how to handle disappointment they are developing resilience and mental strength. As they get older, developing skills in positive self-talk helps build their ability to handle failure and try again. 

Mentally strong children are able to take responsibility for their actions and learn from the consequences when things do not go as they expected.

Emotional Strength

Like mental strength, emotional strength helps children navigate life’s ups and downs. Learning to understand and handle big emotions is part of developing emotional strength. Letting children know their feelings are ok and helping them learn to manage the way they react to their feelings is part of developing emotional strength.

Says Amy Morin, author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do”, social and emotional skills are the biggest predictors of future success.”

As adults, we can help support children’s big feelings by letting them know it’s ok to be frustrated, while helping them manage their behavioral choices when they are frustrated.

Physical Strength

Physical strength is built as children’s bodies grow. Active play builds muscles and encourages the use of their growing bodies. A well-rounded diet that includes fruits, leafy vegetables, and proteins contributes to healthy bodies and the development of physical strength.

KidsSense notes that physical strength and endurance are important to children of all ages: Strength and endurance are important to enable children to perform everyday functions such as fine motor skills (e.g. holding a pencil appropriately, cleaning teeth), gross motor skills (e.g. carrying heavy school bags, walking, running, skipping, playground skills such as climbing, and sporting skills such as catching, throwing and hitting a ball with a bat). Muscular endurance helps maintain proper posture all day long.”

Maintaining an active lifestyle, with lots of opportunity for running and jumping, climbing and lifting helps growing children build both physical strength and muscular endurance.

Nurturing Strength

We will explore ways to nurture all kinds of strength in our children at the next session of our Nurturing Children series.

Join us online at 6:30pm, Wednesday, May 5th as we take a deeper dive into ways to help children and families grow stronger together. Nurturing Strength will explore the strength-building power of attachment and positive relationships, social-emotional support for resilience, aids to physical development, and the usefulness of mindfulness practices for building strength in children and families.

To register send an email to: poel@linnbenton.edu or call: 541-917-4899.

Giving Teens Responsibility

In our last post we looked at the benefits of including our young children in the household chores and talked about how children are happier and develop greater self-esteem when they make a meaningful contribution to the family. This week, we look at what happens when kids enter their teen years. It’s an opportunity to meet their need for independence with expanded responsibilities beyond their contributions to household chores.

As our children become teenagers a big part of their attention shifts to their relationships with their friends and figuring out their place in the wider world. 

But they are still a big part of the family and continue to need parental guidance and support. Their bodies have changed and they may have reached their full adult size, but their brains aren’t finished developing.  They still need us while insisting they don’t.

This combination of an adult-sized body, the importance of relationships outside the family, and all of the time and attention needed to figure out what their adult life will look like can make for challenging times.

One way to ease the strain is to support their growing need for independence by expanding their responsibilities. They can still be expected to contribute to household chores, but we can help them grow toward adulthood by giving them some added adult responsibilities and more opportunities to make their own decisions. 

Growing toward Adulthood

Expanded responsibilities can mean that young teens take on more of the meal planning and grocery shopping. A few summers back, when we had three tweens/teens at home, we implemented a dinner rotation for meal prep. Each person in the family was assigned one night a week where they were responsible for preparing dinner for the family. Each Saturday we would get together to plan the meals for the week. Each teen decided what they wanted to cook. The ingredients they needed for their meal got added to the grocery list. I did the shopping, since none of them were driving yet, but if you have a teen who is driving, they can take on this responsibility too.

Post A Chore List

Another way to support this time of transition in your teens life is to take a step back from reminding them about their chore responsibilities. When you’ve reached agreement about what they will be responsible for, post the list of who is doing what where it will be seen often. The front of the refrigerator is always a great location for capturing a teens attention. 

You can also offer monetary incentive for taking care of their assigned chores in a timely fashion, or offer to pay for help that is above and beyond their assigned contributions. For example, making their bed and keeping their room clean might be a part of contributing as a family member, while doing yard work or watching younger siblings are responsibilities that you will pay them for.

Amy Morin, at verywellfamily.com suggests you let your expectations be known, clear, and reasonable. Assign chores ahead of time, be flexible about when they get done, and establish clear consequences so they know what will happen if they don’t do their chores. Now is the time to step back a little and let them take responsibility for time management and meeting expectations without reminders.

Help Them Set Up A Budget

If you reward them with money or they have an allowance, help them set up a budget. Have them write down what they want and need regularly so they can keep up with it. Older teens who have part-time jobs after school can assume more responsibility for paying for their own things, such as their phone bill or social activities. 

Show them how to track their money and keep a ledger. Some banks even offer budgeting tools in their online apps. 

If you haven’t helped them open a bank account yet, now is the time to do it. Helping them establish good money management skills while they are still at home will set them on the path to success as independent adults. 

Expanding Responsibilities for Older Kids

Here are just a few ways you can support your tweens and teens growing desire for independence:

 

10-13 Years: Pre-teens can help with everything smaller kids can help with in addition to sweeping and mopping the floors, helping out with yard work, cleaning out the car, and helping to make meals.

13-16 Years:  Young teenagers can take responsibility for all their personal hygiene and laundry, can help with or make meals, create meal plans and grocery lists. They can be responsible for yard work on their own and can watch younger siblings.

16-18 Years: Our older teenagers who have a job can be responsible for their own money and budget. While their chores at home might not change much, they are now in a position to begin paying for some of their own things – the cell phone, clothes, the costs associated with activities they do with their friends. 

With a love and guidance, helping our teens take on more responsibilities as they reach high school graduation prepares them for a lifetime as independent and responsible adults.