Monthly Archives: November 2011

90% advantage

T’is the season for shopping – for sure.  As parents, we often feel pressured to deliver up many of the toys that line the toy aisles ( with their electronic beeps, bells and whistles), flash across our television sets, beckon to our children and overwhelm us with which to buy.

But there’s really good news.

As parents, we don’t have to do that.  In fact, when choosing a toy that will empower your child, less is more. 

The best toy is 10% toy and 90% child.  The simpler the toy, the more that will come from inside the child. 

 Toys have low value when they can only be used in one way.  They look appealing to children but quickly can become boring because they often only require a child to push a button and watch what happens.

So many of these toys perform for children instead of fostering exploration, problem solving, mastery, creativity and engagement, which are the foundation for future academic learning and success.

With a child-powered toy,  the script is a child’s own and unlimited; play is active, fresh every day, and evolves over time.

 So use this as a guide – when you are struggling with your toy-buying decisions or share it with relatives – make the majority of your toy choices be 90% child, 10% toy.

Then watch the benefits – the enjoyment of more elaborate, self-directed, extended play periods, while building new skills. 

Just call it the 90% advantage!

If you would like any help deciding what kinds of toys would benefit your child, feel free to give me a call at The Parenting Place – 784-8125 or e-mail me at franswift@theparentingplace.net.

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Listening through play

On Sunday we decorated The Parenting Place’s tree for the Rotary Lights display at Riverside Park.  Many families showed up to hang the original, fun ornaments they had created, plus glittered pinecones, red bows and The Parenting Place name cards.

It looks terrific – truly a joint effort of young and old and our tree reflects this youthfulness and joy.

I smiled on my way home as I thought about this chilly early winter afternoon, hot chocolate and cookies to eat and drink, and work to be shared and enjoyed together – the significant word here being shared. When adults and children are both engaged in a mutual task, when the children’s efforts count and are appreciated, noticed and welcomed, team spirit is high and palpable.

After the tree was finished, treats enjoyed, pictures of all taken by two kindly passersby, some families had to leave – but to others, the empty space behind beckoned and the children were off.   Several adults were there with them – chasing, playing tag, taking turns “being it” for awhile, green light – go!, red light- stop!  The children could have kept this up all day, faces glowing, laughing, outsmarting the adults in their chase.

What occurred to me is that we need so much more of this.  More times to work together, side by side, to play together, to enjoy and laugh and shriek with excitement together.

So much of our daily interaction with our children is maintenance – time to get up, put on your shoes, let’s go, get in the car, pick up your toys, wash your hands, get ready for bed, brush your teeth

 We need to make sure we find the times that can connect us .

In Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen, PH.D, he tells us” so many children’s games are about connection – chasing, tag, follow the leader and hide and seek are obvious examples.  Play these games with your child and you’ll not only have fun, you’ll notice an improvement in your relationship with them.”

Cohen says, “Playing what they want to play and how they want to play it is our way of listening.  The more we join children in their world, the more cooperative they’ll be when we drag them along to ours.”

What kinds of play can you enjoy with your children – spontaneously, forgetting momentarily the roles that separate you and losing yourselves in playing, laughing, silliness, enjoyment of the moment?

The next time you’re at the Playground, don’t just stand there –  go up and down the slide with your child, swing high next to each other, play by their rules on their turf.  Try making up funny songs when there’s chores to be done, telling corny jokes, making up silly names for things we have to do. 

We’ll not only be having fun, getting things done, but we’ll be listening.

I wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving with much connection, sharing, playfulness – and listening.

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flickering fears

A little girl came in to Play Shoppe on Friday and proudly proclaimed to me that she was four-years-old now.

Soon after that announcement, this same little girl approached me with a very serious look and stated,”I get very scared when you flick the lights off and on to let everyone know that it’s clean-up time.  I’m afraid that we’re having a tornado.”

Fear – anxiety – lurks in some ways in all of us.  Not always obvious, certainly not  in this confidently boastful  little girl who announced her new age, nor even in the same little girl who was able to speak up so strongly about her fears of flickering lights.   But it is still there, very much, almost six months after the tornado raced through the neighborhood- her fear is there.

I appologized for not realizing that and asked her would it help if I let her know when I was going to flick the lights.  In fact, I said, “would you like to turn them off and on for me?”  She declined.  Her own decision was to stand by me with her eyes closed.

It’s easy to dismiss our children’s fears as silly, nonsense or attention seeking.  Often we’d like to just make them be unafraid so we tell them there’s nothing to be afraid of, to stop,  that they’re a “big boy” now and big boys aren’t afraid, or we compare their behavior to other children’s who aren’t afraid.  Our frustration often takes over, for haven’t we had this conversation before?

Most young children are not yet as adept at addressing their fears so directly as this young girl did to me. More often your child will act out his fear through anger, tantrums, refusal to do something he’s told or aggressive behavior that we mistake for misbehavior. 

 It falls to the parent to be the detective in finding out what’s fueling this behavior. 

As parents we can strive to understand and accept these strong feelings our child might be experiencing – but certainly not all the displayed behaviors.  Children need to know that it’s okay for them to feel angry, sad, frustrated,  but definitely not okay to hit or hurt anyone. We need to help children name their emotions and then together, find good solutions. 

Many times, this kind of emotion coaching cannot happen in the throes of a child’s distraut.  During that time, keep everyone safe and wait to talk things over and find new ways to help them when all has calmed down.

Spending time while reading books and pointing out how the characters are acting or looking in the illustrations, observing other children who are feeling sad, angry, afraid, frustrated,and naming our own emotions that we are experiencing will provide a child with the vocabulary, the awareness, the acceptance to be able to voice his/her own emotions to you.

And together you can try and find solutions as this little girl did – coming closer every time to facing her fear – standing by me and closing her eyes.

If you’d like some help in figuring out what might be fueling your child’s upsets, give me a call at The Parenting Place, 784-8125.

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Listen to the bells

A mom I know shared this story about her 8-year-old son who was spending the night at his grandma’s. 

Early on Sunday morning, the two of them got up and went outside on the deck overlooking the lake to listen to the church bells ring.  The grandma told mom later that her grandson stood there next to her, with his arm around her waist and he said, ” Grandma, you got the bells, you got the lake, you got the grandson – you got the life!

Out of the mouths of young children we often hear what’s essential in our own lives – that we might overlook – our clue, however, to listen up.

As nightfall settles in earlier now, Thanksgiving around the corner, let’s take some moments to offer to our families, to ourselves, what this young boy felt – a closeness, a sense of belonging, simplicity and the time to appreciate it with a special person.

And as the gift giving holidays approach, consider this.  Children are more in need of our presence  than our presents.

When making your holiday list of things to do this year, think hard about shared things to do together.  Think uncomplicated, think connection, think presence . 

 Think about making the ordinary extraordinary. Something as pure and simple as listening to the bells, looking at the lake, and feeling the closeness of someone you love.

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