Monthly Archives: September 2009

Keeping children informed

How many times a day as adults do we check our watches, our cell phones,  our Blackberries, our schedule books to see what’s happening next in our day,  our week,  our month?  I’m in the habit of checking my schedule for the next day before going to bed.  There’s something about seeing things in print and reflecting on them for a few minutes that allows me to be peaceful and comfortable in the knowledge of the next day’s activities.

Children,  especially our youngest,   often don’t know what to expect from hour to hour and day to day. Often, we appear to swoop in,  bundle them up in their jackets and zoom off with little more than a  “let’s go”.   This unpredictability and lack of understanding  can make children feel anxious and stressed, leading to challenging behavior and an unhappy experience.

That’s where foreshadowing comes in.  Foreshadowing is creating for your child a mental picture of what’s  going to be happening for her.  ” Tomorrow,  Grandma will pick you up from preschool,  take you to her house for lunch  (she said she’s making your favorite,  french toast)  and then Daddy will pick you up when you have finished eating.”

Whether company’s coming to your home,  or you’re visiting friends in another town,  going to call on Great- Aunt Sadie at the nursing home,  or just meeting up with your friends at Play Shoppe,  inform your children.  Start this early – even as you are changing your new-born’s diaper.   Tell them what to expect,  how long it will take,  who will be there,  what they’ll be able to do.  This is a good time, if going to a place that is not that child-friendly,  to plan with your child what he can bring along for entertainment.

For big events,  like going to the hospital to give birth  (where will your child be and with whom and for how long ) ,  starting preschool or going on a trip,  share the story often.  Your child will gain confidence and trust from understanding just what will be happening and how he/she fits in.

When our children are informed,  when they know where they are going and what they’ll be doing,  their self-assurance, understanding and  cooperation will grow strong. As the little boy in the restaurant said,  in amazement,  to his parents   when the waiter gave him a menu too, “He thinks I’m Real!”,  your child will feel real secure included and ready for what ever is happening.

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Eye contact

Try this today.  When your child is talking to you,  turn and look at him –  intentionally giving him/her full eye contact.  Take in her expression,  her eyes,  her message.  Do that several times a day,  at least,  over a few weeks’ time and see if there’s a difference in behavior,  in connection,  in cooperation.

Think of what it would be like to go in to speak to your boss and she continued to do what she was doing, looking down at her papers while you talked.  What kind of  a feeling of worth, of being heard, respected or taken seriously would that give you?

Most parents agree that the one time they for sure have eye contact with their children is when they are scolding them.  Then they are right in their face.  Doesn’t count!

What a simple thing it is to give our children this emotional boost of clear, positive, I’m-interested-in-what-you-have-to-say eye contact.  No, perhaps it won’t be scintillating conversation you’ll hear.  It might be something you’ve even heard before – or the made-up version of their favorite knock knock joke.  But to have the eyes of a loved parent means they are being heard, being appreciated, being considered, being loved and, in our fast, hurried lives, that’s  a pretty powerful gift to give and receive.

Try it and eventually you might begin to see your children return the favor when you are speaking to them.

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La Crosse Play Shoppe – we’re back!

Labor Day is past,  school is open and yes,  Family Resources La Crosse Play Shoppe is back every Friday morning in the children’s room on 1500 Green Bay Street.  After a summer of visiting and playing at area parks,  experiencing the natural world and enjoying the opportunity for all to run,  climb,  dig,  swing and shout,  it is great to come together inside, where we are less spread out and it is  more conducive for families to connect with each other in a different way.

Every few years I notice a change  –  a moving on of our older participants  (the late fours and five -year-olds)  to kindergarten and other preschool programs and a new crop of younger ones stepping up.  It is particularly interesting to see the younger siblings of the children who have moved on  –  the ones who have paid their dues  –   morning naps  in their car seats, watching as they balanced on a parent’s hip,  hanging on to a familiar pants’  leg  (I think this is my mommy!)  or being  handed off to another willing adult to hold while mom or dad helps the older sibling with an art project.

Now,  however,  it is the younger set’s time to shine –  time for them to become the ones who know the ropes,  who do all the projects to “take home and hang up”, who have their parent’s focused attention and who,  during that time and activity,  are  seen and appreciated as  “being the older child”  and recognized,  (sometimes surprisingly)   for their evolving competence and knowledge.

No longer is their older sibling stealing the limelight,  painting better,  building higher, shooing them away,  always getting the biggest most ferocious dinosaur to play with  (and chasing them with it)  or getting all the favorite train cars for themselves.  This is the younger sibling’s time to blossom and blossom they do!

I think that’s one of the reasons I love doing Play Shoppe so much.  It is a veritable  study in child development in every aspect and provides a powerful window to observe different ages and stages.  From the independent crawler to the independent walker,  to the toddler “hoarding”  every toy vehicle he can hold to the 4-year-old calling to his friend, “Let’s play.”, to the early non-talker to the conversationalist sharing all the  “news of the family”  –  it is all present.  And as parents go through these years also,  they see the change,  feel the growth and marvel,  along with me,  that childhood is indeed a process,  a fascinating and wonderful unfolding and  a gift and a privilege to witness.

Keep in mind that every first Friday of the month,  La Crosse Play Shoppe will enjoy a  First Friday Adventure and we will be out of the building on those days – exploring and experiencing things to do out- of- doors,  even as the cold winter days descend upon us.  It is Wisconsin,  after all,  and there is fun to be had even outside in the Wisconsin cold ( more on that in another blog).  Locations and activities will be in the Fall Building Blocks  newsletter and,  of course,  on our web site.  Trust me on these days out.  They are a great deal of fun!

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Drop the labels

Labeling – are you familiar with this habit we have as parents in labeling our children.  It’s usually done in casual conversation,  definitely  not meant to be intentionally negative.

“He’s my eater – he’d eat anything you put in front of him – whenever and whatever.”

“Susie’s our talker – never stops even when she’s asleep, we hear her mumbling.”

“Joey’s the clown in the family.”

“Katie’s the serious, studious one – not like her brother who is the wise guy in the family.”

“Come here you little monster – you wild guy – you crazy man!!”

Maybe one of these labels has struck a chord with you – brought back memories of what you were labeled as a kid.  During a sibling rivalry class recently, I asked parents what their label was as a child.  Did they have one?  There was little hesitation.  Almost all the parents in the room had a label to share.  It stuck with them then and still lingers.

One parent commented, ”  I always wanted to be the star athlete but even though I played sports pretty well, that name was reserved for my older brother.  My label was the “follower”.  I often heard my parents remark that I was the follower – did whatever my older brother and sister did.  I didn’t like being thought of as the follower.”

As we talked more, parents recognized how easy it was to get caught in this habit of referring to our children in such defining ways and how that narrow label can become a solid part of who the child thinks he is.  Noticing what our children enjoy and like to do and are “naturals” at,  can be phrased differently perhaps.  “Jan really enjoys playing piano and plays very well” still leaves  room for her to try her hand at hockey and not just be ” the musician in the family”.  Piano is one thing she loves and does well – but it needn’t define who she is.

There are more negative labels that we should just try to avoid all together.

“He’s my clingy, whiny one.”   “Robert is the bossy one in the family.”   “Sara is the drama queen.  She makes everything into a big deal.”   ” Sam is the family delinquent – always in trouble.”  “Scott is just a little brat!”

Knowing  that our children are listening and taking our comments about them to heart, even when we think they’re not, makes it an opportune time to throw in some curves  – say something they don’t expect – express a confidence and description that will make their spirits soar and allow them to think they can be whatever they want to be.

While we’re at it,  let’s do the same for ourselves – drop the labels we may still believe and tell ourselves we can be whatever we want to be – star athlete and all!

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So … how was school?

Wow! Where did the summer go?  It’s hard to believe that for most kids, tomorrow is back-to-school day.  And for those children beginning brand new ventures –  first day in preschool, kindergarten, middle school, high school – where did the  the years  go?

During this season,  I remember so vividly the feelings I had of excitement and apprehension, building up to that first day of school – both when I was the young school girl myself and even later as a mom of school-aged children.  Now, as someone who talks with many parents daily, I share their anticipation, nervousness and joy as their children go off, for some of them, on their first solo flights.

One of the disappointments, however,  I hear from parents from day one throughout the school years is the lack of information or news that their child is willing to share.  Parents report their conversations go something like this, if they even get them to answer.

“How was school today?”  “Fine.”

“So, what did you do?”  “Not much.”

“Did you have fun?” “Yeah, I guess.”

Anyone who has a child in school has probably experienced this type of exchange.

So, parents often begin to worry and to imagine the worst.  He doesn’t really like it.  He’s behind all the other kids in social skills.  She’s bored.  She doesn’t have any friends. We should have sent her to our neighborhood school.

My son, a teenager at the time, used to tease me when I’d ask too many questions. “You’re just not in the loop anymore, Mom.”   And, in a way, that’s the truth.  So, we need to be patient – because the tale of what’s happening in your child’s life at school takes time to unfold.

Here’s a few tips to keep in mind when wishing your child had more to share.

Give your child a chance to transition.  Don’t pounce and expect him to be ready to answer your questions about school the minute you see him, no matter how excited you might be.  Think, “greet not grill”.  Just be happy and excited in welcoming your child home, offering a healthy snack (children will be famished, blood sugar low, so be prepared for orneriness).  Unwinding, regrouping and reconnecting will happen during this transition time and slowly your child will reappear.

Give your child the space to talk.  Interesting tidbits of information usually sneak out as the day wears on – when you’re doing something together, when the emphasis is no longer so focused.  So when you’re doing dishes and your child’s coloring at the table, or you’re taking a walk together, sitting by the tub while your child soaks, driving in the car to do an errand, saying good night – that’s when you’ll hear what happened during lunch, or about the story they read during library time or the girl she sat next to at lunch –  without even asking.

So, once your child starts talking, listen!   Don’t jump in too quickly or offer judgment on what’s being said.  Even if your son is saying, “I don’t like Jimmy.  He’s mean” – wait, rather than say that’s not nice to say.  If you want a little more info, how about saying something like,  “Really?  Sounds like he makes you angry”.  Then, there’s the space your child needs in order to fill in the details.

Eating together (sans television) is always a perfect place for sharing the news of the day.  Rather than questioning your child, why not tell about your day, about what happened to you on the way to work or what trouble the dog caused now.  I’m willing to bet that will definitely result in your child dying to tell you about what happened in his day also.

Having the whole family share their “grumblies and gratefuls” is fun and gets everyone sharing.  What made you grumbly today and what made you happy  helps put the day into perspective for everyone.

And if  any of you out there are wondering  how long this goes on,  think of me next week when my son begins grad school.  I’ll be curious to know how he likes it!

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