free to be

Once again The Parenting Place’s Children’s Festival has come and gone – yet the glow of the morning’s activities lingers in my mind.

So many folks commented about how peaceful it all felt.  How could that be with so many children present?

The answer, I believe, is that the children were busy -with real materials, intentional as they worked at their play, exploring  with freedom of choice and deep concentration.

Free to be.

I watched an older toddler, probably around two and a half years of age, digging in the dried corn bin in the “farm” area. She filled her measuring cup with the corn, picked up a plastic egg, realized she had to take it apart first, so put down the measuring cup, took the egg apart, picked the measuring cup back up and,  with such “tongue-biting” care,  filled just the right amount of corn into the egg, and then snapped it up tight.

Satisfaction!

There was no concern for who was watching. (In fact I was the only one and she did not know that.)  She needed no audience, no “look Mommy, look Daddy”, no “watch me”.

In fact, an audience would have broken the spell.

This satisfaction was totally hers to own.

And so, she then opened up the egg, dumped out the corn and began the process again.

This engagement was not limited to the very young child.  There were plenty of older children creating freely at the Art Factory; letting their imaginations take hold at the Soap Factory, the Mud Kitchen and Construction Site; pretending at Dinosaur Island and the “Campground”; building at Cars and Ramps.

Free to be.

Adults stationed at different activities asked me  “what should we do when the children come?”  I told them, “the children will know” and they did.

At a time in our lives when technology seems to be the answer, the means in which to make our children smarter, quicker, more in touch with their world around them, I wonder – really?

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super heroes

Little boys karate chop bubbles in the air – two other little guys arrive at Play Shoppe suited up in their super hero outfits creatively crafted from cardboard – a little girl arrives one morning, looking lovely in her fancy “gown”; “I’m a princess” she told us, “a superhero princess” – a trio of preschoolers, two boys and a girl, in their dramatic play, yell “Quick, the hospital ‘s under attack!” as they rush to save the day.

All of these children are protecting themselves from imaginary, playful villains yet  sometimes the fears are real and require the strength and protection of super heroes – like their parents.

The shooting episode on the south side of La Crosse on Friday was a devastating tragedy for the families of both boys and a frightening and anxious time throughout the neighborhoods and city.

A day like Friday doesn’t go unnoticed or unheard by most children.

Children are eager listeners – especially when we are talking to others. Even if your family did not live near the violence , your child, the eager listener, may have overheard talk of the shootings this past week on  local TV news coverage, conversation between parents, exchanges between the neighbors, store clerks, even other children. They have a sixth sense when adults are anxious and upset.

And as is the way with children, their biggest concern is “Am I safe?  Will I get shot?  Will my mom and dad get shot?  Who will take care of me?”

As parents we need to be vigilant about our children’s exposure to the conversations and media that happens when a community is rocked by a shocking incident such as this.

If your child has questions about what happened,  or you know he or she has overheard or seen images of the shootings, finding out what they already know or think happened will clarify just what you need to share with them – to assure them they are safe. Keep it simple and don’t give more information than they need.

Just as significant for children is adults being mindful of any stereotyping of individuals by race or economic status as “those people” – the ones we should fear.

And as we come together, sincerely and with generous hearts, we can hope that the problems that lead to senseless loss of young lives can be addressed, and we can all be a part of the solution.  By being good neighbors, strong super heroes ourselves, we can try and support each other and the children in our care and our community.

And we can appreciate that when our children are playing at their own kind of super heroes, they are also coping with their individual real or imagined fears, trying to make sense out of their world, finding the strength that lets them feel in control, that makes them feel brave, that makes them feel competent, and makes them feel safe.

Super Powers. We can all use a little of that.

 

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Joy

I’m around lots of special little children at The Parenting Place but there’s something different about actually having a baby in one’s home – an almost one-year-old little guy who came to visit for a week.

A child of this age has a lot to teach us if we let them.  The paradox is these lessons are all things we most likely once knew and practiced when we were very young.  But then we grew up – and now as the adults that we are, we read books and articles and attend conferences and pay money to try and relearn how to be the way we naturally were as toddlers.

For it’s all about being totally enthralled by the ordinary – every object, sound, sensation,touch – and how to stay and absorb the moment. The world is there – right now, for a toddler to observe – to enjoy, to soak up, to be thrilled by.  And that boundless enthusiasm and joy is very contagious.

It’s free and available for our very own senses to see, to feel, to revive.

Anyone lucky enough to have the chance to spend some time with an almost one-year-old can learn to appreciate this renewed wonder – by watching, by doing.

This past week the joy was mine.  It’s the kind of joy that makes stiff knees and achy backs go unnoticed.

It’s the joy of life.

Thank you, Theo.

The place to witness some of this very joy and focus in children is coming up soon – The Parenting Place Children’s Festival – where play happens – Saturday, August 25th at Myrick Park from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM.  Tickets are $4.00 each;  3 for $10; $5. each the day of the event.  They’re on sale now at The Parenting Place and  The People’s Coop. Join us for this special morning and help us to continue our free parent education and support programs.

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It’s true

I like my twist on the often heard quote, “It takes a village to raise a child”.

How about “It takes a Play Shoppe to raise a child”?.

Yes!

Because it is definitely during our weekly Friday Play Shoppe that I witness such communal interaction.

Emotions are shared, children included and embraced by others, parents supported.  Both children’s good behaviors and misbehaviors  are understood and appreciated. Misunderstandings between children are readily helped and negotiated, sometimes by the “happening-to-be-standing-next-to-them” adult. Suggestions are offered, sharing encouraged, occasionally ultimatums handed down, agreements accepted, harmony restored – a morning of caring, a morning of joyfulness, a morning of growth.

It is on Friday afternoons, after all is quiet and picked up, that I take the time to think back and reflect on the morning’s Play Shoppe goings-on – the conversations parents share with each other and with me, the exchanges and togetherness of the children, the imagination and poetry of their play.

And I believe it really is true.

It does take a Play Shoppe to raise a child.

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emotional connections

I overheard a co-worker talking to her upset pre-teenage daughter on the phone at the end of the day.   “I’ll be right there”, she said.

“I’ll be right there.”  Something about those words kept floating around in my head.  I even jotted them down.  They seemed to be so simple, so ordinary, yet felt so significant in the moment.

I think those words mean that ” I matter”, that “I’m cared for”, that “I’m safe”.  I think those words translate love, security, trust.  I think they mean we’re in touch.

I think that’s what this young girl probably felt.

For as parents, the most significant gift we can give our children is our presence.

But when we can’t, we can still convey the strength of our caring.

Our adult daughter lives out East so we talk a lot on the phone.  When she is mulling over things and ideas, decisions in her life, I’m often an ear and means for her to sort things out.  Many times when we are saying good bye, I tell her, remind her, “Well, I’m here” – in case she wants to talk more.

One night I got an e-mail, a one-liner, saying “Thanks for always saying “I’m here”.

“I’ll be right there” – “I’m here” – emotional presence, emotional connections.

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kudos

I am all about making emotional connections when it comes to our interactions with our children.  I always encourage parents to consider first what’s going on with a child, why is he acting out – what her needs might be – to refrain from taking the behavior personally – to respond instead of react – to be empathic – to be there for him.

But being emotionally connected with your child does not mean never setting limits, or carrying through with the limits you set.  And when we do this, a child might be very upset.  Yet as parents, we often do need to take charge, to stay calm, yet get the job done, in spite of mighty protests and tears.

For there is, of course, plenty of time for discussions, choices, listening, explanations – until there’s not – and then children need us to lead them, to help them feel safe,  to be their security, their guide, to follow through, gently but firmly.

In fact, often a child’s behavior is “asking” us to do just that – to help them stop, to tell them no, to be the grown-up.

I observed two examples of parents doing just that as Play Shoppe came to an end this week.

I watched as these moms understood it was up to them to be in charge, to show the way, and they did.

And their talking will continue, and their connection is still strong, and I believe their children feel the security, the strength and the caring of their parent’s love even more.

Kudos!

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take care

I watched a mom change her young baby’s diaper the other day and was once again so aware of the power of this shared moment between parent and baby.

For diaper changing is not only about keeping babies clean and comfortable, but also about the personal exchange that takes place.  For diapering offers both parent and child the perfect few moments to emotionally connect.

Who hasn’t  made up our own silly songs as we “do the dipe, do the dipe”, repeat the last little piggy running “wee, wee, wee, all the way home” , done a diaper dance, shared a peekaboo moment with the clean diaper before putting it on, or made a diaper talk to a run-away 18-month -old?

Then, of course there’s often the familiar banter, deals made  between partners of whose turn it is to take care of the big job this time.

Take care – those are the two operative words here for me.  I love that expression “take care”.

Because as parents, that is our job, our purpose.

We take care of keeping our children clean and comfortable.  We take care when we do this most intimate task in conveying joy and love through our actions.

As parents, we mostly take this everyday task of diapering for granted. Yet there are families who are struggling financially – where the expense of diapers is a stressful burden they face everyday and often find too challenging to keep up with.

And so the banter, the exchange, the ability to “take care” is limited, and this lack is heavy in the hearts and minds of these loving parents, and as research has found,  in the very well-being of the family.

That’s why The Parenting Place is holding a Diaper Drive during the month of July to gather diapers we can offer to families in need – so they can have the peace of mind and feel the relief and the joy in being able to take care of their child’s needs.

If you are interested in participating in The Parenting Place July Diaper Drive, we are accepting  all sizes, (partial packs included) as well as diaper wipes also.  The most requested size is 4’s and 5’s.  You can drop them off at The Parenting Place.  We will see that families receive them.

Take Care.

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