Monthly Archives: November 2009

The gift of four

A few years ago, I read about a helpful formula for giving holiday gifts to our children.  It was called the ” gift of four”.  The four categories are:  one gift that your child wants so badly, one that will thrill and delight her and you also, just by the look on her face when she opens it; one gift that your child needs – perhaps, new boots, snow pants, pajamas, a new backpack; one gift to replenish a disposable item like markers and crayons, drawing pads, paints, play dough, stickers, batteries; and one gift to celebrate the joy of reading with a book you know your child will love.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?  In my experience, however,  I find that it’s not the amount of toys and presents that a child receives that matters most. Presents are, undeniably, exciting and fun to dream about.  But for children everywhere, our presence is ever more important to them.  So when we are scrambling here and there to this sale and that bargain, consider the gift of four and the simplicity it implies – leaving all of us the time for presence in our family life.

A fun idea to help count down these days in anticipation, as well as remind you about intentionally sharing this time in your busy schedule, is to hang a paper chain with the appropriate number of rings.  On each ring, write the date and inside write a suggestion of something to do together. Perhaps on  December 18th, bake cookies for your next door neighbor; another day, walk around the neighborhood to see the decorations; hang the stockings; open one gift that came in the mail; read a holiday book; look in the top shelf of the cupboard for a yummy sweet treat; drag out the sleeping bags and sleep under the Christmas tree; make some popcorn and watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.

Activities such as these spread the fun and meaning of the season out and focuses on doing things together and enjoying each other. It is these experiences and times shared that will bring the true spirit of the holiday to your family life.

Now that’s a gift to remember!

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Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry.   So often parents throw up their hands in frustration when their children are constantly fighting.  Their original image of family harmony seems only to be a distant dream.  lt’s normal a parent is told.  All siblings fight.  There’s not much you can do about it.

One of the significant foundations of a family’s life and attitude toward one another are the standards that we set.  Standards can differ from family to family but within a family, your standards are the same to follow whether you’re the three- year-old or the forty-three-year-old.  So it’s not just a case of getting the kids to stop calling each other nasty names.  No one in the family gets to call anyone nasty names  if that is a family standard.

Standards don’t deal with minor infractions like dirty socks left in the living room or forgetting to take out the garbage.  Standards are the ideals your family lives by.  They don’t need to be highfalutin or sanctimonious.  They are actions that reflect the ways in which your family relates to each other, to happy and difficult times, to challenging problems and to celebrations.  When standards are in place from the beginning, they provide a compass that all members of the family can follow.  “In our family, we don’t hit”. A child who hears that from an early age, who sees it modeled, who feels its power every day, has the comfort, security and sense of belonging that allows him to integrate these standards within himself.

Does having family standards alone solve all the problems of sibling rivalry?  Absolutely not.  But they do provide a framework from which to begin to positively address issues that arise and a constructive path to solving them.

Differing temperaments, stress in the family, competition, jealousy, desire for attention – all can fuel the sparks of sibling rivalry.  But a hopeful thought is that sibling rivalry is only but one side of this shiny coin. The other side is sibling caring.

If your family seems like a battleground these days, Family Resources is offering a free 3-week Sibling Rivalry class .  Come figure out what’s working and not working in your family dynamics and the triggers that might be setting things off.  Snicker, Bicker, Tattle, Battle will be held on Wednesdays, December 3, 10th and 17th from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Limited childcare is available.  Registration for the class is necessary. Call Fran at 784-8125 for more information or to register.

What a great way to get ready to start the new year ahead!

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As much anticipated and cherished as holidays can be,they often introduce difficult choices.  Which side of the family do we celebrate with?   Do we go to dinner at one o’clock and then try to feign appetite and excitement for the second one served at five?  How much endurance can we realistically expect from our young children?  Is the expense of traveling long distance prohibitive for our family this year?

I talked to a mom of three children under four.    She was upset and confused.  Her dilemma was deciding whether she and her husband and children should travel to their extended families, as has been their yearly tradition, when that choice seems almost inconceivable to her this year.    Her four-year-old is just recovering from an extended case of the flu, her two and a half -year-old is having temper tantrums and has regressed in using the potty since his six-week-old sister arrived.  The baby is colicky, she and her husband are both exhausted, and it does not seem practical or wise to embark on an eight-hour car ride to have dinner at her family’s house and then the next day drive two hours to have another celebration with her husband’s parents. This mom  wants so much to be fair to both sets of grandparents and is very concerned that she is robbing her children of  their precious memories and traditions.

Traditions evolve and reinvent themselves over the years as situations and circumstances change. Children readily adopt new traditions (not forgetting the old ones) and eagerly claim them as their own.    With young children, especially, simplicity is always the more positive choice.

As parents, with a brood of children demanding energy, time and attention, you often need to start new traditions that will work for you.  Invite the grandparents to spend Thanksgiving with you at your home.  You might be surprised to learn that your parents are ready and willing to build new and different memories with your children and thrilled with your invite.   If that’s not possible, send homemade cards from the children, talk on the phone or virtually on the computer.  Tell them how much you’ll miss being with them this year, but this is the choice that presently meets your family’s needs.

If you have no family in the immediate area, and  are finding it difficult to make the trek long  distance, perhaps you can join together with another family whose situation is the same.  Share the cooking and enjoy each other’s company.  Or have a quiet family day, bake a pie together, stick the turkey in the oven, go for a walk, eat when it works for you, make some pumpkin spice play dough to play with, read some books, don’t worry about the dust on your shelves or that you’re still wearing your maternity jeans.

Every year won’t be like this one.  Pay attention to circumstances and what is most essential now to your family’s harmony and emotional health to help you make the right decision.   This particular year might well become a “remember the year” story  poignantly shared and repeated again and again at future Thanksgivings.

So for any parents out there struggling with too many obligations, trying to make the right choice,  breathe, relax and focus on the needs of the moment, and build on the blessings  and gifts of Thanksgiving Day.

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Find Me

At Family Resources’ First Friday Outdoor Adventure Play Shoppe this week, we began playing hide and go seek.  The children ranged in age from fifteen months through four-years-old.  I was the first one to find a secret spot, as all the children hid their eyes.  When the okay sign was given, the children took off running.

They flew right past me at first,  but on the second go round, the shrieks and screams of pure excitement and joy announced to all that Miss Fran had been found.

Then it was someone else’s turn.  That child ran off  while the rest of us covered our eyes.  Guess where she hid?  In the very same place as I had.  The shrieks and screams of excitement were just as loud and happy for each succeeding child who chose to hide – every one in the exact same place.

I realized then that for these children, it didn’t occur to them to choose a different place, a trickier place, a more-of-a-surprise place.  What they were seeking was the sure joy, fun, satisfaction (and perhaps, relief) of being found, reunited, welcomed back into the group.  As for the seekers, it was the pure thrill of finding their friend and, through this playful game,  reinforcing their own budding knowledge and awareness that out- of- sight does not mean permanently gone.

A dad who participates and volunteers a lot for Family Resources and I were on a shopping trip to Menards one day- our mission to buy hooks and screws and hardware necessary for a project we were working on.  This dad had his five year old son with him who periodically slipped down an aisle or behind a shelf where he was out of sight.  What this very knowing dad did to get his child back was to call his name and say, “Find me”.  And faster than a cat can blink his eye, his son reappeared, grinning and totally pleased with himself, to have so successfully found his dad.  What a masterful way to handle this typically negative situation by turning it into not only a simple game but an unspoken “given” that Dad would be there for him to find and glad to see him every time.

I guess it is all about knowing that we are not alone – even when we are and that it is safe and okay for us to be alone.   That the people whom we love and trust are still there.  So, when your child is reuniting, whether it is after a long day at child care, a morning at preschool, an overnight spent with grandparents,  an afternoon nap, a high schooler arriving home just in time for dinner, an older child calling from long distance on the phone, take advantage of this golden opportunity.  As many times as possible, celebrate this reunion, this being “found”, this welcome back – with genuine enthusiasm and joy.  You will never regret it!

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Hello Moon

A new month dawns, another season creeps in, the moon is full, the trees are bare, frost is on the pumpkins. The cycle of the natural world is dependable, beautiful and free for us to observe and appreciate.  As parents, recognizing these wonders and assimilating them into our family’s traditions and activities, can instill a sense of trust, confidence and awe in our children’s hearts and minds.

In a world that revolves increasingly around virtual experiences, it is even more urgent that we value what nature has to offer us.  Every season has its beauty, its mystery and its gifts.  We  weave these treasures into our lives, often without realizing it, until a warm breeze, a red sky,  the sound of the rain or the silence of the falling snow  connects us to a memory still alive and meaningful somewhere inside of us.  For our children,  it is this repetition and predictability in the natural world, as well as our own family rituals, that helps build sensitivity, strength and resilience in their core.

And then, when something goes wrong – when our confidence and reliance gets shaken – when something happens,  like the death of the young child in our community last week, that can’t be explained or fully understood, it can be this continuity and constant of family, nature and faith that comforts and heals.

Last night my husband beckoned me to look out and see the beautiful moon hanging  in the autumn sky.  We love the full moon and never let it pass without due notice. But who doesn’t?  From babyhood on, we look and wonder and point to the moon.

How could we imagine anything more magical than the moon as it waxes and wanes.  I like the idea shared in the book, Walk When the Moon is Full. It suggests taking a walk each month on the night of the full moon – the same walk  each time – perhaps just around your neighborhood.  Every walk, the same walk,  will amazingly look, feel, smell and sound differently  – if we pay attention.  To a child, this is a gift that could resonate throughout his/her life.

So let’s take advantage of the beauty that surrounds us.  Stop for a minute and pick up the pine cones, look for four-leaf-clovers, welcome the snow, twirl in the leaves, listen to the wind, suck on an icicle, watch for the crocuses to bloom.   We have the chance, as parents, to give our children a sense of wonder by rediscovering and sharing the beautiful, awe-inspiring gifts of nature.

Goodnight Moon.

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