6 Fun Do-At-Home Activities

Losing patience with those you’ve been locked up with during these weeks of social distancing? Looking for some new ideas to keep everyone busy while we wait for permission to get out and get social again? Here are some fun things people have been doing – you might find a few new ideas among them!

Sensory walk

Create a fun path to follow along the sidewalk out front. Incorporate hopscotch, spinning, hopping, walking sideways. Stephanie Westbrook created one that incorporates lots of gross motor activity.  You can also add other sensory stimuli – warm water in a dishpan, river rocks, sand, mud.

Getty Masterpiece Challenge

The J Paul Getty Museum is inviting everyone to explore the museum virtually from home. They recently issued a challenge through social media, inviting you to recreate a famous work of art with objects from around your home. We had so much fun!

A picture of Michaelangelo's painting Study of a Mourning Woman is shown beside a picture of a child wrapped in a white sheet, recreating the painting.

For more inspiration check out what others have done with this challenge in their newsletter.

Long-distance gaming

Set up a Zoom or Facetime session with loved ones and play some games together. Any board game that doesn’t require randomly shuffled cards is fair game. Try Yahtzee, Bingo, or Monopoly. Other collaborative activities that can be done over video conferencing include talent shows, trivia contests, and charades. One creative family invited family members to create a 6 slide PowerPoint presentation on any topic and then share them at a family zoom meeting.

Artist for Hire

Have a child that loves to draw? Invite friends and family to commission a drawing. My grandson invited people to request drawings of specific bird species. He draws the requested bird and then mails them to the recipient. He loves sharing his talent and recipients have loved the special ‘snail mail.’

Backyard “Camping”

 If you’ve got a tent stored away in anticipation of summer camping trips, pull it out and set it up in the backyard. Let the kids play in it, do school in it, or just take a break in it. Turn it into a destination – somewhere different to go. It just might help with the monotony of being always at home.

Puppets and Plays

For artistically inclined children, gather a variety of household items (fabric, paper, yarn, the recycling), some glue, tape, and a stapler and invite them to create puppets and invent a puppet play. If you have a large cardboard box, creating the puppet stage can be part of the activity. If not, drape a sheet over the dining table instead.

What have you done for creative fun during this time at home? Share your experience in the comments below.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Feeling anxious? Try Mindfulness

It’s been a wild month. We are all learning so many new things. What it’s like to be together 24/7 with no end in sight. What adding ‘working from home’ and ‘schooling at home’ does to family life. Exactly how many steps it takes to walk around the block, which we’ve counted as these walks are now happening multiple times a day.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had many moments when I haven’t handled it well. I’m worried and stressed, frustrated and depressed. I have been delighting in the Zoom visits I’ve had with family and friends. But when the ‘meeting’ comes to an end, the weight of our social distancing crushes me. After one family call, I lost it and cried for nearly an hour. This is all so, so hard.

I was telling a friend about my rough week and she pointed me to an article that identified what I was feeling: grief. Says David Kessler, co-founder of grief.com, “We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.” 

It helped to have a name for the weight I am bearing. But what helped more was his advice for dealing with these feelings. 

Presence and mindfulness

“To calm yourself, you want to come into the present. There’s a computer, a chair, a picture of the dog, an old rug, and a coffee mug. It’s that simple. Breathe. Realize that in the present moment, nothing you’ve anticipated has happened. In this moment, you’re okay. You have food. You are not sick. Use your senses and think about what they feel. The desk is hard. The blanket is soft. I can feel the breath coming into my nose. This really will work to dampen some of that pain,” says Kessler.

“Presence” is the practice of being present in the current moment, focusing thoughts on what is happening today, instead of thinking anxious thoughts about the future or dwelling on regrets about the past.

Focusing on the present – this immediate moment I am living – help reduce my anxiety. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that right now we are all ok. We are healthy, the sun is shining, the kids aren’t bickering. In this moment I am ‘ok’.

Being deliberate about noticing our present circumstances is often referred to as mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is the practice of being intentional – aware of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Focus thoughts on that awareness, without judgment. Turning our thoughts to what we feel at the present moment, helps us turn away from thoughts about the past and anxiety about the future.

On my bleakest day so far, choosing to focus on just that day helped me move forward. I spent the rest of that day focused just on ‘today’. The next day I felt much better and the day after that, even better.

I know I’ll have hard days again on this roller coaster we are all riding. But remembering to come into the present moment and mindfully accept all the feelings – good and bad – will help on the rough days.

Let it go

When it gets hard, Kessler has one other bit of helpful advice: Think about how to let go of what you can’t control. “What your neighbor is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands. Focus on that.”

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Why Observe Children at Play?

My days seem so much longer during these weeks of social distancing. How about you? Without the regular commitments that keep us on the run and all the people home all the time, days seem to go on and on and on.

But while being home together, some of this ‘extra’ time we’ve been given can be used to practice our observation skills.

 

Educators use observation in classrooms to better understand how their students learn.  Observation helps them tailor the learning environment to each individual child. What they observe helps them better meet the needs of each of their students.

The Benefits of Observation

But observation is not just for teachers.  Parents can also see benefits from observing their children at play.  By watching, without influencing or interfering, we can gain insight into the connection between our children’s motives and behaviors.  Understanding what is triggering a behavior can help us help them navigate their reactions and feelings. 

In a recent article on being home for extended time with preschoolers, Teacher Tom encourages, “Instead of feeling like you need to fill their days with “enrichment,” I urge you to instead simply observe them at play: no “good jobs,” no unsolicited advice, no using the moment to answer email or check social media. Ask yourself, what are they teaching themselves right now? What theories stand behind their play? What are the driving questions they are trying to answer? I like to think of it as listening with all of my senses, with my full self. What will you do with the data you collect? Nothing. Be satisfied that you now know it. Better understanding our loved ones is an end unto itself.”

That is really the key: observation leads to better understanding.  Ready to spend a little time observing? Here are some tips for observing children at play.

Choose a time when your child is playing independently.  Sit where you are not a distraction and avoid calling attention to yourself.  Have a notebook and pen handy in case you want to write down your observations.  If your child tries to engage you in their activity, reassure them that you are nearby, but are busy doing your work.  

Observe what your child has chosen to play with.  What do they choose?  Do they use a single toy for long periods of time, or move about the room playing briefly with many different toys? How do they play with them? Do they invent new ways to use their toys, or use them the same way each time

Observe their interactions with others.  If you have other children in the home, how do they interact with others? What role do they take within the group? Do they initiate play or wait to be invited? What types of activities do they enjoy with others?  What do they enjoy doing alone? Do they look for your direction and attention? How do they ask for help? 

Observe their use of language. How do they use language?  Are they easy to understand? Do they make their wishes known verbally?  Are there other ways they express their needs? If you observe multiple times over the course of a week, do you see patterns of behavior?  Are there clues that lead up to a meltdown or a tantrum?   

Observe how they move. How much do they climb, run, skip, and jump?  Are they confident or hesitant in their movements? How is their balance? What physical activities do they enjoy? Does physical exertion change their mood?

Using what you observe

Teachers use the things they learn through observation to structure classroom experiences for individualized learning.  As parents we can use our observations just to know and understand our kids a little bit better, as Teacher Tom suggests.

But we can also use what we learn by being intentional about observation to adjust our parenting. Do you notice that meltdowns happen just before 11:00 each morning?

Would offering a snack and a change of scenery at 10:30 help ease them through this time of day?

 

My 6th grader was struggling with middle school last Fall.  So many classrooms and teachers, lots of responsibility for getting herself and her things where they need to be when they need to be there.  By observing when she struggled the most, I deduced that she was overwhelmed with the responsibility of all those choices. So we pulled back a bit on the independence and took away some of her choices. You could almost hear an audible sigh of relief. 

Some of what we observe confirms what we already know about our kids.  But some will provide new insights and maybe even an ‘ah ha’. When we take a step back, and spend some time observing our children we give ourselves the gift of intentional time spent understanding them better.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Fostering Independence in Toddlers

Two year olds get a bad rap.  It is all too common to label this stage of development “the terrible twos”.  But after four years of teaching in a toddler classroom, I am convinced that much  of what we call ‘terrible twos’ is simply the growing baby’s frustration at the limits placed on him by the well-meaning adults in his life.

By the age of two, babies have figured out that they are both physically and neurologically separate from their primary caregivers.  They have learned to control the movements of their limbs, and have developed the ability to grasp and manipulate objects. They’ve learned enough language to begin to communicate their wants and needs with words and speech.

They still have a long way to go, but they are not the helpless infants they were a short while ago.  Caregivers, living day in and day out with this growing child, can sometimes stay stuck in an early stage of development, not always recognizing how capable the toddler has become.

Babies come into the world so very helpless.  We spend 365 days that first year helping, and then helping some more, as they learn to roll over, sit up, and eventually crawl and walk.  That’s a long time to form a habit. And it doesn’t stop there. They will need help with so many things for years to come. So naturally, when they seem suddenly ready to be independent in some aspects of caring for themselves or their environment, we don’t always notice. 

Their awareness of their growing abilities, coupled with our tendency to see them as the helpless infants they once were, creates an environment ripe for conflict.  

Giving our ‘terrible twos’ the opportunity to demonstrate their growing developmental skills invites their cooperation and reduces frustration – both theirs and yours.  We can foster independence in toddlers by making a few small changes in our daily routines.

Here are 5 easy ways to give your toddler more autonomy and invite them into the process of family life.

  1. Attach a coat hook (or two!) to the wall at toddler level, so they can hang their coat themselves.  Provide a small bench below it to sit on when removing shoes. Store shoes and boots under the stool where they are easy to reach and put on when needed.  
  2. Create a routine for coming and going that is consistent.  For example, “we always hang our coat and remove our shoes or boots when we walk in the door.  We always sit to put on our shoes before we walk out the door.” Here’s how to teach your toddler to independently put on a coat: Have them lay the coat on the ground with the inside facing up.  Have them stand at the neck facing the coat and reach down, inserting both hands into the sleeve openings. Once their arms are inserted into the sleeves, have them swing their arms over their head, bringing the coat up and over their head.  The coat will fall down their back and their arms can then be lowered. Voila! Coat is on. If the coat has a zipper, get it started for them, but let them pull the zipper pull up. (You may need to hold the bottom of the zipper to provide resistance.)
  3. Move the cutlery to a low drawer, and invite them to help set the table at mealtime by taking silverware to the table.  (If you are reluctant to set them loose on everyone’s place settings, store their utensils, plates, bowls, and cups in a low drawer and invite them to set their place at the table while you set the rest.)
  4. Have a small whisk broom and dustpan stored where it is accessible to them.  Hang it on a low hook, or store it in a cupboard that does not have a child lock on it.  Invite them to help with cleaning up spills, using their broom.
  5. Build in extra time.  Above all, give yourself and your toddler more time to accomplish tasks together.  Sometimes toddler frustration is the result of being hurried to complete a task at which they are not yet fully proficient.  When we are in a hurry we are less likely to wait patiently while our two year old practices a new skill. Building in an extra 10 minutes gives us time to be patient and wait, allowing them to try, to practice, and to get better at it. 

Consistent routines, operating at ‘toddler speed’, and helping them do it themselves can all work together to foster toddler independence and reduce frustration all around.

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Temperament and Self-regulation

A pouting young girl in pigtails peeks around from behind a door.Anyone who has more than one child will tell you it is nothing short of amazing how such very different people can be born of the same two parents.  But it’s true. Babies seem to come into this world each with their own unique attitude. Called ‘temperament’, that inborn personality has an effect on how they respond to their world.

Temperament, says Leigha MacNeill, of the Pennsylvania State University, is “a biologically rooted and relatively stable disposition that contributes to how infants and children experience, express, and regulate their emotions.”

A baby’s inborn disposition encompasses such things as cheerfulness (positive affect), busyness (level of activity), risk-taking, sensitivity, and their response to discomfort (negative affect).  Variations in all of these areas are what make us all uniquely us.

Every baby is different

A child’s temperament affects how they respond to caregivers, how they navigate their environment and their receptiveness to new experiences. It also affects the development of self-regulation, a key component of executive function.

Executive function is important in helping us control and regulate our thoughts, emotions, and actions.  It includes things such as self-control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility – skills necessary for success at school and in the work force. 

“Self -regulation,” says Amanda Morin at Understood.org, “allows kids to manage their emotions, behavior and body movement when they’re faced with a situation that’s tough to handle. And it allows them to do that while still staying focused and paying attention.”

These differences impact the development of self-regulation

Differences in temperament can mean that some children struggle with self-regulation.  Says Dr. Matthew Rouse, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, “Problems with self-regulation manifest in different ways depending on the child. Some kids are instantaneous — they have a huge, strong reaction and there’s no lead-in or build-up. They can’t inhibit that immediate behavior response.

A child’s innate capacities for self-regulation are temperament and personality-based,” he explains. “Some babies have trouble self-soothing and get very distressed when you’re trying to bathe them or put on clothes. Those kids may be more likely to experience trouble with emotional self-regulation when they’re older.”

Tailoring parenting styles to the child’s temperament can help the child in their self-regulation journey

What does this mean for parents?  What if you have one child who is easy to calm, cheerfully embracing new experiences, waiting patiently for their turn, or accepting that their hoped-for result is not in the cards.  While another is reluctant to try the new activity, has difficulty not grabbing the toy they want to play with, and devolves into hysterics when they don’t get their way. 

Adapting your parenting style to the unique temperament of each child can support them as they work to develop greater self-control and self-regulation. 

For the child who has trouble controlling their impulses, helping them build their awareness of the emotions they are feeling can help them develop self-regulation.  Talking ahead of time about possible scenarios can help them work through the ‘what ifs’ before their emotions are affecting their thinking and reactions.

Practicing in a low-stress environment can also help children build their self-regulation skills.  Childmind.org offers this helpful advice: “Dry runs are another way to scaffold self-regulation. For instance, if you’ve had trouble with a child reacting impulsively or having a tantrum in a store, make a short visit when you don’t need to do serious shopping. Have her practice walking with you, keeping her hands to herself. She gets points towards some goal every time she is successful.”

A happy girl rides in a shopping cart at the grocery storeBut don’t give up if it takes time.  Says Dr. Rouse, “Parents get discouraged when things don’t go well the first time they try skill-building, but consistency and starting at a level that is appropriate for your child are key. Rather than giving up, try paring down the activity so it is more doable, and slowly give your child more and more independence to handle it. Breaking things into small steps allows them to build self-regulation skills in manageable increments.”

For more tips on helping kids develop self-regulation and coping skills, visit Understood.org.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

5 Ways to Improve Communication Skills for Parents

Does trying to have a conversation with your ‘tween feel like nails on a chalkboard?  Do you feel like you are talking to a wall rather than your teen? Do you try to have a heartfelt conversation, but feel like they just don’t hear you?  

If you struggle when trying to communicate with your children, here are 5 tips for improving parent-child communication skills.

Start with shared feelings, not a question

  • Initiate the conversation by sharing your thoughts and feelings rather than with a question.  Questions can make children defensive, making it harder for them to listen openly. Who hasn’t started a conversation with the question, “How was your day?”, only to get “fine” as the sum total of response? Starting with a comment about how you are feeling helps them see you as someone with feelings just like theirs and lays a foundation for reciprocal sharing.

Check yourself 

  • Remove distractions and make eye contact when your child is speaking. Make sure they know they have your full attention.
  • Don’t interrupt when they are talking – demonstrate good conversational skills by waiting until they have finished sharing their thoughts and opinions before you start sharing yours.
  • Be sure you are actively listening. Confirm understanding by restating what your child said, “What I heard you say is …, is that correct?”.  Let them repeat or rephrase what they said if your summary wasn’t correct.  
  • Don’t lecture or use a tone of voice that sounds angry or defensive.  

Get to know how your child communicates  

  • We all have different styles of communication.  Some children will happily expound on every detail of their day, while others have little to say and reluctantly engage in conversation.  If talking isn’t your child’s cup of tea, just spending time with them can help them know you are available if ever they want to talk.

Improve their listening skills

  •  Be a role model for good listening and demonstrate reciprocal conversation regularly. Practice active listening and demonstrate how to give undivided attention to the conversation.
  • Start young by reading together.  Invite questions and comment as you read, so your child has opportunities to practice listening and being listened to.  

A mom and a young girl gaze into each other's eyes

Talk every day

  • Find time to talk every day.  With a little time each day spent together and talking, your children will be practicing their communication skills.
  • Spend time one-on-one every week to build connection.  Learn about your children’s interests and show your support by expressing interest in what they love.
  • When your child talks about something that is bothering them, stop whatever you are doing and listen to them.  Let them share their feelings, and practice active listening by rephrasing what you heard them say.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Celebrating Valentine’s Day, Family Style

Valentines heart shapes in red and pink glued like balloons on a red background

It’s February and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner.  While many of us think of Valentine’s Day as a time to celebrate our romantic relationships, it doesn’t have to be just for grownups.  Celebrate Valentine’s Day family-style and share the spirit of love and affection with your kids this Valentine’s Day with these ideas for including the whole family in Valentine’s Day festivities.

Set the Mood

Decorate! Invite the kids to help you create paper hearts and chains to hang on walls and in windows. Make Valentine-themed placemats.  If you’re feeling adventurous, feature a Valentine tree where your Christmas tree sat! 

Your family can even put small gifts from the heart underneath to help create a sense of wonder and anticipation. Gifts can include small treats and useful items, or consider including handmade gift certificates. “Read aloud time”, “Walk the dog”, or “Help in the kitchen” are all great ways to model selfless giving.

Love of Food

Nothing says Valentine’s Day like special foods! Have a heart-filled menu for the day. 

The tools to make valentine cookies are gathered together, flour in a red ramkin, eggs in an egg carton, two heart shaped cookie cutters and a rolling pin.

Break out the heart-shaped cookie cutters and heart-shaped muffin pans and have some fun! Serve waffles, pancakes, toast, and sweet muffins in heart shapes along with a side of sliced strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream.

For a gluten-free start to the day, use heart-shaped cookie or biscuit cutters in a shallow frying pan to create heart-shaped eggs.  Or blend up a red breakfast smoothie made with beets.

If you’re packing lunches, Your cookie cutters come in handy to create heart-shaped sandwiches or pieces of cheese.  Serve them alongside red fruits or bowls of their favorite soup. Include a special Valentine card to make them smile.

Pull out all the stops for a romantic Valentine’s Day family dinner. Light candles or turn off overhead lights and use lamps. Put out fresh flowers and play soft music.  During dinner invite each family member to tell something they love about the others. Ask questions and really listen to the feelings beneath the answers. Finish the sharing with a funny story to lighten the mood.

Make the grand finale special by including chocolate or another favorite flavor in the form of brownies, cookies, or even ice cream. The kids can help create the menu and help you bake or assemble the goodies.)

Love of Play

Nothing says family like spending fun time together. Gather up the electronics, turn off the screens, and enjoy some good old-fashioned family fun this Valentine’s Day.

Break out the craft supplies and create Valentine cards. The Victorian era was the high point of exchanging Valentine’s cards. Print out some frilly Victorian images to cut and paste onto construction paper. Add ribbons and lace plus a warm sentiment or verse of poetry. (You can even exchange the cards at dinner.)

Take the family out for the evening.  Head to a movie, a family adventure center, or even the animal shelter to love on the puppies and kittens. Enjoy your time together by choosing something you all love to do together.   

adult and child hands holding red heart on aqua background,

Love of Family

Spend some time looking through photo albums and invite questions about the pictures you see together.  Use the opportunity to tell stories of loved ones and past adventures to help your kids feel like a part of your extended family.  The tale of the time Great-Uncle Paul got to ride an elephant will spark lively conversations and ignite wonder in your kids’ imaginations.

Another way to show love of family is to exchange chores for the day. Each family member takes over one chore from another, and dad or mom can help younger kids complete a grown-up chore for the other parent. Kids feel a special sense of pride when they’ve done something for someone else. Use dinner time to announce the chore and gratitude for the other person’s efforts.

Love of Life

End your family Valentine’s Day with a book about love from the library and a cuddle on the couch.  Reading together, sharing thoughts, and being grateful for the day of love and family can make a perfect ending to your family Valentine’s Day celebrations.  

Let this Valentine’s Day be a time of love, giving, and reflection. Fun foods, celebrating together, and sharing thoughts can build a sense of connection and unity.   A little planning can make this the very best Season of Love ever.

What are your family celebration plans for this Valentine’s Day?

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Observation and Reflection: keys to understanding your child

Sometimes you can learn a lot about a child by simply observing them in action. As adults, we often end up reacting to our children.  We know what needs to be done and how to do it, so we are quick to offer direction, tell them ‘no’ or ‘don’t’, or jump in and do it for them.

Yet, when we take the time to wait and watch and then reflect on what we’ve seen and heard, we gain insight into their needs and motives.  Our observation and reflection can make us better parents, by helping us see why they are behaving the way they are and what they are capable of.

Back when I was still in the classroom, I was having lunch with ten 2-year-olds.  We were gathered together around one large table. It was low to the ground, and each child sat in a small chair, feet firmly planted on the floor under the table.  I sat not quite so comfortably on a low stool at the same low table.

We each had a placemat, a plate, a glass of milk or water, a fork and a spoon.  Our food had been moved from lunch boxes to our plates and we used our forks, or fingers, as we ate and talked together.   Suddenly the child across the table from me swept his arm across his plate, accidentally knocking over his glass, which toppled and spilled its contents across the table.  My “oh!” burst forth, but then I stopped moving or speaking and simply observed what would happen next.  Group of preschool kids have a lunch in daycare. Children eating healthy food.

It was not easy to refrain from offering comment or advice, or leaping up to grab a towel and stop the flow of liquid. We are so wired to be helpful.  Often without even realizing we are doing it, we leap to assist. But something in that moment reminded me of the power of observation – and I waited.  

The toddler across the table took a moment to observe as well, and then pushed his chair back, exclaiming, “I’ll get a cloth!”.  He crossed the room, got a cleaning cloth from the stack on the shelf, returned with it in hand, and began to wipe up the spill. When he had finished, he took the wet cloth to the laundry basket and returned to his seat, smiling.  

He knew exactly what to do – without me needing to direct or advise – because he had observed me and the other children wiping up spills many, many times before that day.  By holding my tongue, he was given the opportunity bask in the pride of his own ability to solve the problem.  

Letting him fix the problem by waiting and observing let us both see that this young child was completely capable and needed no adult directing his actions.  

He sat back down and we shared a smile of satisfaction. He was proud of his ability to help and I was proud I’d chosen to observe and not rush in to fix it.

As adults, responsible for keeping our children safe, it isn’t easy to stop and watch or to wait and ‘see what happens.’  But practicing the art of observation, and taking time to reflect on what we observe, is a parenting skill that helps build strong relationships.

Observation: The What

As you observe your child in action, it isn’t necessary to take notes, document every action or utterance, or follow a prescribed checklist, although those things can sometimes add value.  "Observing can foster more positive relationships." quote by Kelly Griffith Mannion

Ask yourself, “What do I see and hear?”  Simply watch your child and notice how he interacts.   

Take note (either write it down or mentally file it away) of what is happening and how your child is responding to it.  Are there challenges? How do they meet those challenges? What do they choose when they are playing alone? What do they prefer when they are playing with others?  When do they become frustrated? How do they respond to the frustration? Patterns will emerge that will help you see what it is that results in perseverance and what leads to meltdown.  You will find underlying causes for mystifying behaviors.

“As parents, observing can be tough. We aren’t always objective. It can be hard to hang back, and it can be the last thing on our minds as we are busy multi-tasking and managing a busy family life. Yet, observing is truly the most illuminating gift—the gift of understanding our children,” notes Kelly Griffith Mannion, M. Ed.  

Reflection: The ‘So what’ and ‘What Next’

After observing, take time for reflection.  Reflecting on what you’ve observed helps you answer the question: “What does that mean to me?  What will I do with it?”

Reflection can help you make connections between behavior and what was going on inside the child.  As you reflect, try to identify what happened before, and what happened after. Is there a pattern?

Reflecting on the behaviors and emotions you observe in your child can deepen your understanding of your child’s inner life and create a greater connection.  Often as parents, we are in reactive mode, always trying to stay one step ahead of difficulties and challenges.  

Says Regina Pally, founder of the Center for Reflective Communities, “Reflective Parenting is a set of skills and guiding principles that encourage and support the use of Reflective Thinking in all the interactions parents have with their children. Reflective Parenting enables a parent to see the world from his or her own perspective and from their child’s perspective.” 

Taking time for observation and reflection helps us move from reactive parenting to reflective parenting.  Reflective parenting can foster positive relationships, allow for greater independence and growth in your child, and ensure greater satisfaction and fulfillment for you.

 

 

 

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Self-Care and Better Parenting

Finding Your Passion

Happy New Year!  Happy New Decade!  What better time to do a little bit of self-reflection and check in on how we are doing with self-care?  Parents often feel guilty about pursuing interests that have nothing to do with raising their children. Honestly, when you have little ones it’s hard to find the time – or the energy – to enjoy time doing things that aren’t related to raising children.  

But hard as it is, time taken pursuing your interests – doing things just for yourself – makes parenting easier and helps you be the best parent you can be.

Parenting is hard work. It is a 24/7 job that demands mental and physical energy nonstop.  Never taking a break can lead to short tempers, exhaustion, and discord.

“When the daily stress of parenting becomes chronic it can turn into parental burnout, an intense exhaustion that leads parents to feel detached from their children and unsure of their parenting abilities, according to new research. This type of burnout can have serious consequences for both parent and child.” – Science Daily

Says researcher Moïra Mikolajczak, “In the current cultural context, there is a lot of pressure on parents. But being a perfect parent is impossible and attempting to be one can lead to exhaustion. Our research suggests that whatever allows parents to recharge their batteries, to avoid exhaustion, is good for children.”

“Being on and at the ready for your children at all times can cause burnout and make things that could be everyday treasures feel like everyday chores. That’s why it’s important that all parents start taking real, regular days off,” says Lindsey Roberts on finding time for yourself in an article written for the Washington Post.

“This could mean asking a spouse to take the day off from an office job and be with the kids, or asking a family member to cover you for a day. Maybe it involves hiring a sitter. One friend of mine and her husband take days off from work together to go golfing while their son is in school. Whatever you need to do, make it happen.”

So where do we start? 

First, maximize your health.  Are you fueling your body with a balanced diet of healthy vegetables and sufficient proteins? (Are your kids eating better than you do?)  Are you getting enough sleep? Are you exercising? (Is finding time to exercise one of your goals for me-time?)

Next, address check your emotional/relationship health.  Are there relationship issues that might be dragging you down?  Would seeing a counselor to help resolve these might be a good thing to put on your me-time list?

Finally, find your passion – and pursue it.  Have you been in the parenting trenches so long you have no idea what you might be interested in? 

Be curious, try lots of different things

What did you enjoy before children? As a teenager, I square danced.  It didn’t score me popularity points back in high school, but I loved it and the friends I made there.  When I saw square dancing class in the LBCC community class catalog, I decided I’d make some space for me-time and signed up. Once a week I escaped the parenting routine with dancing – which turned out to be both just like it was way back when and yet different.

You can also try something new and see how it feels.  Try it again and see how you respond. Does it continue to excite and energize you?  If so, you can make a longer-term commitment. If not, find a new new thing to try.

Another way to find your passion is to tag along with friends who enjoy activities you are curious about. 

Most importantly, schedule your me-time just like you schedule routine doctor’s appointments.  It’s a commitment to better mental health and can help you be a better parent.

Ready to devote some time to you? 

Check out LBCC’s Adult Ed catalog. What piques your interest?  Classes are often low cost and short-lived.  If you don’t love it, you can move on to something different. If you join an activity that you find you love, you’ll have tapped into a group of people who are also interested and can point you to clubs or groups that meet on an ongoing basis.

Need more ideas on finding your passion?  You’ll find some here:

5 Ways to Find a Personal Passion

7 steps to Finding What You are Passionate AboutLynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Family Traditions Build Strong Families

Traditions are an important part of family culture.  The things we do together routinely, over and over, become our family’s traditions and define our family’s unique family culture.  Family traditions can be big (the Thanksgiving meal or family reunions) and traditions can be small (saying grace before dinner or sharing a hug when parting).  

Big or small, family traditions help define a family’s culture and help strengthen families in a number of important ways.  

What is a tradition?

What do we mean when we say ‘tradition’? Webster’s dictionary defines ‘tradition’ as “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom).”  

Simply put, a tradition is something that is done the same way over time.  The holidays we celebrate and the way we celebrate them are often traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation.

Following traditions that have been passed down from previous generations contributes to a family’s unique family culture.

What is ‘family culture’?

Culture is the way a group of people collectively thinks, feels and acts. We often think of countries, or regions of a country, as having a culture that is unique and different from the country or region next door.  

But families also have a culture, whether they intentionally set out to create one or not.  The things you do as a family, the values you hold and demonstrate to your children by your actions, and the daily, weekly, or annual rituals of family members all form a family culture that is unique to your family.

Why are traditions important?

Those habits we form together in a family can provide each family member with connection, comfort, and the security of being part of a like-minded group.  Shared activities strengthen the connections between family members and provide a source of identity and feeling of belonging.  

Traditions, and family culture, are also a way to pass along the values you hold dear to your children.  

When we form family traditions, we create opportunities to build connections within our family.  The things we do together regularly as a family- daily, weekly, or even annually – give children a sense of belonging.  

Daily traditions are small things you do each day to reinforce your family values and connection.  A high-five as kids leave for the school bus. Or the commitment to sit and eat a meal together around the dinner table.  

Weekly traditions can also be small activities you do together as a group to build strong, supportive relationships. Family game night on the weekend. Attending religious services together each week.

Life Change traditions celebrate family milestones – the beginning and end of a school year, birthdays, graduations, and weddings. 

For more on the importance of family traditions – and how to create them – check out Creating a Positive Family Culture.  

 

In our family, we have a simple birthday tradition that involves hanging streamers from the chandelier over the dining room table.  The streamers are hung after the birthday person has gone to bed the night before their birthday. The next morning the whole family is part of birthday excitement, seeing the table festooned with birthday streamers. The streamers stay up all day, and sometimes beyond the day if I forget to take them down!

Another family tradition at our house is the advent wreath in the center of the dining room table right after Thanksgiving each year.  Each Sunday in Advent, we read from a script that we brought home from church in 1984. It’s looking pretty tattered at this point, but it’s a family tradition we all cherish.  

One of our more recently implemented family traditions was started by my 17-year-old, who a few years back began baking massive amounts of cookies throughout the month of December.  By Christmas, we have platters of cookies, in an assortment of epic proportions. 

This goes to show that family traditions, while enduring and often passed down generation to generation, can also be begun, or even stopped, at any time.  

Family traditions can also be implemented at any time.  And can begin spontaneously. Our streamer tradition started that way.  The first time I hung them, it wasn’t in a conscious effort to start a tradition. But when the next birthday rolled around, someone asked where the streamers were.  And a tradition was born.

What family traditions define your family’s culture?  

Family traditions work together with a family’s values and norms to form a family’s culture.  They provide family members with a healthy sense of belonging, security, and connection – contributing to everyone’s well-being and healthy emotional development.