While I try to be thankful all year, I find myself feeling especially grateful around this time of year. Yes, Thanksgiving was just here, but for me it’s the fact that, as the weather gets colder, I have a warm, sturdy house, plenty of clothing, and more than enough food to eat. I’m even grateful for the mess in my daughters’ rooms or the things around the house that I have to clean up because it means that we have things. True, too many things, but still plenty of things to be grateful for in my life.
My husband and I try to promote a sense of gratefulness and responsibility in our children by helping others who are less fortunate. Here are three ways you can involve your children in helping others.
Pick a tag off of a Giving Tree (or Angel Tree) and have your child help shop for a present and talk about the child you are shopping for. Help your child understand that this child might not get any toys/clothing if you did not help out. Explain that this child is loved very much by his/her parent, but the parent most likely does not have enough money for fun things or things above and beyond the necessities.
Adopt a family from a homeless shelter or check with your child’s school to see if there is a family you could help. Please note that there will likely be a need for confidentiality. Families in need do not typically want to be recognized or noticed. Even though your family might provide for the same adopted family all year, the shelter or school contact might not share anything other than age, gender and sizes. It is important that if you or your child figures out who this family is, that you don’t call it to their attention.
When we pulled names off a gift tree one year, my daughter figured out that she knew two of the children. We discussed confidentiality, how lucky we were to be able to help and how nice it was that she had insight into what these children might need and want throughout the year. Of course, you, the parent, need to determine if this is something your child understands and can handle. Some children would find it hard to keep that knowledge secret, especially over an extended period of time.
Donate. You can give your child a specific amount of money to donate and help him decide which organization he wants to donate to this year. Or, another thought is that you could match the amount he chooses to donate of his own money (from allowance, extra chores, gift money, etc.). This might not be a large amount of money, but even a handful of coins helps!
Donating clothing or toys is a great excuse to get your child to clear our closets and storage space for any new clothes/toys that she might receive this year. If possible, bring your child with you to the drop off location and have them carry their items in– often the people receiving the items will make a big deal out of the donation if you (or your child) mention that your child cleaned out her closet to be able to help those less fortunate.
These three ideas are great for children of any age. Even if you have an itty bitty child, begin a new tradition and talk to your child every step of the way. Each year he will understand a little more and the act of helping others will become a ‘fact of life’ in his world, maybe even something he eagerly anticipates each year and will share with his children.
I have many things in my life to be thankful for. I have learned, however, that just being thankful, is not enough. Thinking about why I am thankful for these things and verbalizing them outloud or writing them down has brought my gratitude and happiness to a whole new level.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be sending out tips on how to enjoy life and focus on gratitude – so if you haven’t subscribed to receive my Tips, check out the box on the right side of this website and sign up!
I am thankful for my health so that I can enjoy all of my senses.
I can hear the laughter of my children.
I can taste chocolate – hot chocolate in the winter, chocolate chip cookies year round-and I am fortunate to have the capacity to be able to drink/eat whatever I choose to drink or eat.
I can smell of roses, and babies, and bread baking on Friday mornings.
I am able to see snowflakes and beautiful sunsets and occasional sunrises.
I can feel hugs and wet puppy noses on my cheek.
I am thankful to have grown up in America and to have been able to live in a foreign country for a few years when I was younger.
I am free.
I am a female who can do many things.
I have had and still have many opportunities many people don’t have.
I am thankful for you.
You ask fascinating questions and are brave enough to ask some questions that many other parents want to ask, but don’t have the courage to do so.
You have the courage and strength to ask for help or guidance to get your life to a place that is easier and more enjoyable.
You share your life and experiences with me and teach me so much.
Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy finding things to be thankful for this week and always!
In the past few days, I have had a number of parents call me and ask what they should tell their children about the recent attacks in Paris (11/13/15). Depending on their child’s age, my response has been a little different, but there are some things that can apply to all ages.
The information in today’s blog is based on research and personal experience working with children and families while I was in Rochester, NY after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. No one experiences events like this in the exact same way regardless of whether you are an adult or child. So read through the suggestions below and do what feels best for you, the parent, and what you think will work best for your child.
Children don’t understand what has happened or why it has happened. Quite frankly, neither do most adults. If you have multiple children, each will respond and react in his or her own way. It is important to answer your child’s questions as honestly as possible at an age appropriate level and as calmly as possible. If you need some time to think about what you want to say, what you believe or how you feel, take the time before you talk to your child. Talk to someone else to bounce ideas of him/her to help you feel comfortable. Let your child know that you are thinking about how to answer some of their questions and want to make sure you have an answer that will make sense.
Children are often most concerned with safety and are very curious – if you have ever had a 2-3 year old, you know there can be a never ending stream of “Why”s. Sometimes we don’t have the answers to their “Why”s, but we can help them feel safe. Reassure your child that you are in charge of keeping them safe. You will not willingly put them in harm’s way. Talk about things you already do around your house to keep your child and family safe (i.e., lock doors to your house, wear seatbelts/buckle into car seats in the car, have an emergency plan to go to the neighbor’s house if there is a fire or you smell gas – or even if you get locked out). Again, remember to keep it age appropriate. Children don’t need to know everything. My kids didn’t know that we had a fire plan when they were toddlers, but they did know our last name and our phone number from the time they could talk/sing. We taught them our phone number by singing it to Mary Had A Little Lamb and substituting the phone number for the words.
As for the “Why”s, answer the smallest question you can. By that I mean that you don’t need to go into a two hour lecture about the history of war or about crazy people. Sometimes kids just want to know where Paris is on the map or how far away they are from the event. They also want to know if it could happen here. Again, reassure them that it is rare and that you are doing everything to keep them safe. You can also ask your child what she has heard or what she already knows. This will help you better understand what she is asking and how to answer her questions.
Keep things as normal as possible. When 9/11 happened, even though our world was turned upside down, preschools through high schools continued to run as scheduled to help keep things as normal as possible. There were often extra counselors on hand for both the students and the staff, but other than that, kids continued to be kids and go to classes. Continue to live and do things as you normally would, while being aware that you might continue to have conversations that you normally wouldn’t have with tough questions you wouldn’t normally be asked to answer.
If your child seems extra anxious or concerned – again, don’t worry, but be responsive. Continue to reassure your child that you are there to help keep him safe (as are teachers, police officers, fire fighters, nurses and doctors, too). Sometimes children will regress (if they were potty trained, they might need a little re-training – be kind and gentle), other children might have separation anxiety (again or for the first time). This will pass, so don’t make a big deal about it, but do reassure your child that you will be back. Offer a picture of you (or the family) or write a note for your child to hang onto until you return. For older children, you can ask a question for them to think about or give a challenge for them to tackle and report back to you when you return. If your child’s anxiety continues at a high level or you are worried about your child, it’s always OK to check with a professional to get some tips and advice. However, if your child’s anxiety is not constant and seems to come and go, it is probably natural and your child is dealing with things as needed.
Sometimes kids will act out a scene through play. This is them trying to figure things out. Often you can just watch and let the child play. Only get involved if he/she asks you to and then, you can be the person who helps, maintains order, or provides comfort.
Some children become more clingy than usual. Often this is not because of the actual events that happened, but because they sense that their loved ones are upset or because they’ve seen pictures on TV or on the internet that show adults who are upset, hurt or sad. Be aware of what your children are being exposed to –watch the news or check your phone out of eye/ear shot of your child. Offer your child more hugs and hands to hold as you can. Having a ‘lovey,’ a blanket or a stuffed animal, to provide comfort can also help. Letting your child sleep in flannel sheets or with a flannel blanket has also been said to have a calming effect when children experience trauma or loss.
Don’t worry if your child doesn’t show any interest or concern. This is big stuff and far away from their world of play. It does not mean that he/she will grow up not caring about others! It is much easier, especially if they feel safe, to remain in a child’s world. Children also tend to compartmentalize things, so they might talk about this seriously and be scared one moment and be outside playing ball the next. Be aware that your child may ask about this at a future date and time when you are least expecting it. They might hear or see something that makes them curious then.
Be patient and calm answering in the best age-appropriate way you can. I find that now it is even more important than ever to teach our children to be compassionate, kind and caring human beings.
While I have often challenged parents I work with to catch their children being good, a few years ago I decided to challenge my family to catch each other being good. I think it was a busy time of year and we were all tired and running in multiple directions. It seemed as if there were more complaints and arguments than usual. I wanted to shift our stinkin’ thinkin’ from the negative to the positive.
I cut long strips of colored paper and put them, along with a few markers, in a box labeled “Can You Catch Someone Being Good?” The goal was to make a chain with all of the strips of paper. I was surprised that this was difficult for my daughters at first, and will admit there were days that this was hard for me to do, too. However, after a little while, when the girls realized that being good didn’t mean doing big things, it almost became a competition to see who could catch the most people being good.
Each day I tried to find something that was good about my children and to look for a variety of things as often as possible. Here are some of the things I wrote on my slips of paper:
Alanna went to bed nicely tonight.
Megan brushed her teeth well for 2 whole minutes.
Alanna fed the dogs.
Megan played with the dogs.
Alanna held the door open while Mommy brought in groceries.
Megan walked to school with a friend so her friend wouldn’t have to walk alone.
Alanna donated allowance money to a friend who was in a jump-a-thon at his school.
Megan asked for items for the Humane Society instead of birthday presents at her birthday party.
Here are some of the things my girls wrote on their slips of paper:
Mommy put away the dishes from the dish washer (this was before it became a ‘life-skill’ assigned to my children…)
Daddy, Mommy and Alanna – for being you
Mommy walked the dogs today when they needed exercise.
Megan shared her toys.
Alanna is good at Irish Dance.
Megan played soccer great today in her game.
Alanna played dolls with me.
So, what do you think? Can you Catch Someone Being Good?!
After a great night of Trick-or-Treating, you’re a bit worried that your child is going to eat 2 pounds of candy a day for the next few weeks. So what can you do about it?!
Many parents will limit the amount of candy their children are allowed to eat after Halloween (1-2 pieces/day). Some even place a limit on the length of time… “We’ll eat Halloween candy for 2 weeks and then be done.” But then, if you’ve had a good year, there is still all of that leftover candy…
Many dentists and orthodontists will collect “extra” Halloween candy. When I first learned about this, I thought it would be bad for business. Don’t dentists stay in business because children eat all of their Halloween candy and forget to brush their teeth? However, each dentist I talked to assured me that they have plenty of business all year long, not just at Halloween and that promoting good dental care (“don’t eat all that candy”) was actually good for business. They want their patients to have healthy, happy teeth.
So, dentists and orthodontists collect the candy you don’t want your children to have. Some even offer bonuses or prizes. One dentist in our town offers a dollar for each pound of candy a child brings to his office. Our orthodontist provides “Goings Bucks” and the children earn one “Goings Buck” towards prizes for each pound of candy they bring in.
My favorite thing to do with “extra” Halloween candy is to donate it. Fortunately, our orthodontist helps with that, too. He collects the candy from his patients and a few local schools and sends it to our military troops serving overseas through Operation Gratitude. To learn more about this organization, click:
What a fabulous way to encourage better nutrition and healthy teeth in your children while thanking those who are protecting our freedom!
Other places you can donate your candy would be nursing homes, hospitals (nurses stations, not patients rooms!), fire and police stations. A great idea is to include a note along with your candy letting people know how much you appreciate what they are doing.
So, you see, there are plenty of positive ways to “share” the extra Halloween candy you don’t want your children eating. Do a little research, get a little creative, and then that candy won’t be sitting around calling your, I mean your child’s, name!