Monthly Archives: January 2011

Monsters

During circle time at Friday’s Play Shoppe, we read Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberly, much to the children’s delight.  It’s a fun book that, as the pages turn, we watch the monster appear.  When the intensity and suspense is highest, however, we realize the control is really with us. 

 “We’re not afraid of you, Big Green Monster, we can make you go away” and as we turn the remaining pages and watch him disappear,  we’re left with the power to say – and believe –

   ” AND DON’T COME BACK UNTIL I TELL YOU!”  

Ironically earlier that morning my own big green monster was a scary MRI machine whose “mouth” was not as big as I wanted it to be.  But even as the Big Green Monster story goes, I too realized I was the one in control, so I focused on that power and met the MRI monster with confidence.

As parents and children, we all deal with fears, big and small. 

 Getting a haircut on Saturday, I watched a 2-year-old suffering through one near me.  His eyes were filled with fright as the sheet was fastened around his neck, his hair squirted down with water and as the scissors began to snip, he couldn’t control it any longer and the tears came.

But his mom was there to support, distract and help him to gain control – which he did.  I saw his face again as he was handed a sucker at the end.  His look was deliriously happy.  I like to believe it was not only about the treat he was given but also his own recognition of his accomplishment toward conquering his “monster”.

As adults we often fail to appreciate the types of fears our children have because they seem so childish.  Well…appropriately so.  Fear of the dark, monsters in the closet, flushing toilets, (especially those automatic ones), shots, barking dogs, scary masks, loud noises – the list goes on.

Rather than dismissing these feelings as silly, take some time to give your child some control.  Offer a night light or flashlight, stories that explain or present opportunities to relate,  your “own book” you make especially for her about this situation ( see Parent Pulse June 28th, 2010 post), empathy, and sometimes, just a little more time.

I know a dad who after watching a movie or reading a story that contains a part that is scary to his young son, acts it out together, as frequently as his son asks, until the process of doing that puts the control of the fear in its rightful place – within his son.  He can pretend it, exaggerate it, change it, be silly with it, understand it, dissolve it.

After our story at Circle time on Friday, we sang the song“If you’re a monster and you know it grunt and groan, stomp your feet, make a face, wave your arms, show your claws, gnash your teeth.”

The children relished the idea of being monsters themselves – being silly, being scary, being ferocious with menacing faces and grunts and groans.  What better way to diminish the importance of the monster than by imitating him in such a fun way.

As I endured my MRI experience, listening to the strange and unusual sounds occurring all around me, thinking of things to distract and amuse myself,  I repeated a children’s poem I had found recently.

                                                        Igga Bigga

If in the dark you’re frightened,

here’s all you have to do…

Say “Igga Bigga Dinka Danka Doo“.

These words give you protection

from monsters and witches too.

Say Igga Bigga Dinka Danka Doo”.

So if at night a monster whispers

“I’ll get you!” 

Yell, “Igga Bigga Dinka Danka Doo!”

So I did.

“Igga Bigga Dinka Danka Doo!”

I think it worked!

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Curiosity

What can we do to help our child be most successful in school  a mom and dad asked me recently.  Their son, a smart, curious little guy, was enjoying preschool and his parents were determined to help him continue to excel.

I thought about that conversation this weekend after listening to a program that cited U.S. students falling way behind academically in comparison to students in other countries and how another study showed U.S. college sophomores spending more time partying than studying and learning. 

 Then there was also the wide-spread coverage of a new book out by author/parent Amy Chua , The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, who raised two super children under a very strict, sometimes bordering on abusive, parenting style in order to achieve perfection.

So what is a parent to do? 

I like to think of the word I used to describe the young preschooler above – curious.  If we can keep a sense of intellectual curiosity alive in our children, we are more than halfway there to enriching their academic and personal success and growth.

Babies are born curious and teach themselves an unbelievably amazing amount their first year by watching, listening and exploring their world.

What I think is often the missing link in developing this curiosity further in our children as they grow is that we drop the ball by fearing and not trusting them to continue to find interest and delight in the world around them.  We jump in, fast forwarding information and experiences at them, leaving little time for conversation and assimilation through play.

 We need to be mindful of what we are offerring our children.  What are they viewing,hearing, experiencing everyday?  Do they have time to explore, invent, daydream, pretend?  Are they hearing stories read aloud of adventure, poetry, science, history, fiction and non-fiction throughout their childhood, even after they learn to read on their own?  Are they experiencing the wonders of the natural world? 

Or are they over-scheduled in extra-curricular activities, their days filled with adult-led instruction and competition?  Do they have an over-abundance and reliance on screen time – TV, computers?  Are they exposed too early to adolescent music, dress and culture?

One of my favorite short poems from my childhood by Robert Louis Stevenson is this:

The world is so full of a number of things,

I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

As parents, we make the choices in the world that fill our children’s hearts and minds.  We can intentionally choose to allow,encourage, and expect their unfolding interests, knowledge and competence to shine through and be strong by keeping alive their beautiful innate curiosity.

A favorite book I still recommend to parents that has been around a long time but I believe has valuable insight and information for parents to ponder is Miseducation, Preschoolers at Risk by David Elkind. 

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It’s still winter

It snowed today and several inches of the white powdery stuff accumulated before the weekend.  Winter’s definitely not over yet.

So…here’s a few suggestions to make it fun – to make some memories – to make the best of it.

*  What?  You haven’t been sledding yet?  Let’s change that by choosing a small hill to sled down.  This encourages more independence, more running up and down, more exercise yet speedy enough for little ones to have fun. Invite a friend or two to join you.

*  Snow babies.  Make a tiny snowman, three snowballs melded together.  Wrap in a small blanket for your child to care for.  They are so sweet.

*  Snowballs in the freezer?  Yes!  Make up a few dozen nice round snowballs and put them in the freeezer.  On the hottest day of summer, bring them out and surprise everyone.  Cool!

*  Dress up warmly and go outside someplace safe in search of a huge snow pile created by the snow plows.  They’re everywhere and kids and adults of all ages will have a great time climbing them, slipping, sliding and finally succeeding to the top.  Kings and queens of the mountain!

*  If you have a young baby at home making it difficult to get the older children out, bring the snow in the house.    Fill a roasting pan or tub with snow, lay a few towels on the floor, don some mittens and offer some kitchen spoons and utensils.  The kids will love playing with snow inside.

*  Don’t forget the birds.  Use a valentine cookie cutter to cut hearts from slices of bread. The children will enjoy helping with this.  Poke a hole at the top for hanging, using a straw.  Then leave the bread hearts uncovered to harden.  Thread some string or ribbon through the hole.  Choose a spot to hang these for the birds (and probably squirrels)  in your neighborhood. Have fun watching.

*  Sooner or later the January thaw will arrive, even if it doesn’t show up until late February.  When it comes, get out and let the kids enjoy the melting snow, the little streams it makes, the puddles, the splashing.  Be prepared for wet and sloshy snowsuits but happy, tired kids.

*  A great tip from a veteran childcare provider for saving time and patience once you get outside and your little one “has to go” is to put the bib snowpants right up over the jacket.  It works great and eliminates completely undressing.

*  Enjoy watching the sun set later every day, the colors in the sky at that time and the different light, all announcing that spring is definitely on its way.

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What is essential?

I like the word “essential” when we think of parenting – asking ourselves as we make decisions – big and small – about our families.  What is essential? 

 What do we really need today, next year, for our family to thrive?

Much of what is touted to parents as necessary for our children can and should come under our own personal scrutiny. 

 What works for one family does not always work for another.  What works for one child does not always work for another.

Some decisions we make as a family can be life-changing –  perhaps a career change, a move to another area, having more children, a parent returning to the work force or back to school to pursue a degree, down-sizing, home schooling. These kinds of choices are not made lightly.

Yet these can be the very ones that might give us second pause – because change is hard, because friends and relatives may not agree with us, because we are worried about our children’s reaction.

I’ve talked to several parents who have recently made difficult decisions.  One had to leave a place they loved to move to La Crosse for work; another family only being in La Crosse a short time moved for an opportunity too good to turn down; and yet another family made the decision to homeschool their children and find themselves struggling with relatives and friends who disagree.

All of these families have gone through the process of weighing pros and cons – perhaps asking what is essential – what do we absolutely need – to arrive at the answer that works for their family.

The most significant part of this process, however, is carrying out your personal decision with unwavering confidence.  Many parents tell me they feel guilt-ridden because they’ve needed to change their child’s school because of moving, or because the family budget no longer can afford private education, or because their child is now leaving all his friends behind.

Of course, we acknowledge the emotions all of us will be experiencing but children look to their parents to know their life is good, that they are secure both physically and emotionally.

It is within the embrace of the family circle that we grow in the ability to accept change, thrive in new experiences, make new connections and cherish our old ones.

When parents are strong in their decisions – positive, confident, calm – we are providing a true sense of belonging, even in the face of change.

What is essential in your family?

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Cabin Fever anyone?

Who isn’t feeling a touch of cabin fever as the temperatures stay frigid, the wind chill ups the ante, and the previously lovely snow cover has become hard, crusty and slippery.

After the bright lights and tinsel, the anticipation, the planning and preparations, the presents, the company, the food, the traveling, the fun and the commotion – it’s January.

Many people do experience a let-down feeling at this time of year.  And especially parents with young children often find themselves wondering how to fill these long winter days at home.

That’s one of the reasons I was so mesmerized by a powerful book I received for Christmas called ROOM, a novel by Emma Donoghue.  It’s about a young woman who was kidnapped as a college student, hidden and held hostage in an 11 x11 foot underground room.  In the story, she is a young mom of 25 with a 5-year-old son living in the world they call Room.

For this young 5-year-old, his mom has created a world focused on his growing needs.  She eeked out every ounce of imagination, creativity, playfulness, resourcefulness, instruction, spirituality, emotion and love that was available to her and within her.  To her son, Room was the only world he knew.

What this mom had to work with was her wits and using the little resources they had.  She relied on routines and schedules offerring a sense of security and predictability to his day.  TV was available but amazingly, even under their circumstances, she limited his screen time.

Which brings us back to cabin fever in the real world, our world.  When there are days that we feel “trapped” or the hours seem to loom ahead – imagine. 

What is there to provide?

Simplicity is often the answer. 

 The holiday toys may have lost their luster.  But a box?  Never. Or making some play dough?  Playing with mom’s scarves, making jello, pouring rice in a roasting pan or drawing letters and pictures with cornmeal on a cookie sheet?  Or creating a “hunt” – who said Easter eggs were only for spring time?  (they don’t even need to be filled, unless you ambitiously stick in a note or a treasure here and there).

Sharing a lap and reading can bring peace to everyone, in any situation, especially if we, as parents, allow ourselves to give in and “take” the time – generously.

Some of my most precious days as a mom of a young child at home was when we were forced to be in slow motion – when we did what the spirit moved us to do – because we needed to – whether it was weather related, a cold, or other situation where it was necessary to draw on our reserves to fill the hours.  And it was by giving in and letting go of the “should be doings” that allowed the day to blossom into a special one storing warm memories.

So just as you have the First Aid supplies for any fever or flu your child might catch, be so prepared for the possibility of cabin fever in your family.

Make a mental list of what you can draw from. Think back to your own passions as a child.  What simple thing did you do that you cherished?  Make sure there’s always a stack of new books (library’s great) to be read. There’s always a new idea to act out, extend, or pretend from a good story.

Think basic.

Think memories.

 Think a speedy recovery from cabin fever.

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