I hope you survived the Holidays and had lots of fun with your family. If it was a bit of a struggle for you, congratulations on getting through it, even with some bumps and bruises. Think of this new year as a great time to make a new start.
I’ve decided that my theme this year will be “Take Care of the Care Taker.” It’s been my mantra for years, but I have to admit, sometimes it is much easier said than done. It is my goal to help you learn how to get better at, or even just ‘how to’ Take Care of the Care Taker, meaning YOU! There will be at least one Tip each month geared towards this and today, will be the first.
Does your child have a bad case of the “Gimmes” or the “I-wants”? “Give me this” and “I want that!”
Parents often struggle with providing for their children while keeping their child from feeling entitled or falling into the “spoiled” category. Many parents feel like they are earning enough, so why shouldn’t they provide everything for their children? It’s also easy to want for your children what you didn’t have. Watch out and think twice before you provide everything! Material things end up meaning less if they are easily available.
If you want to break the “Gimmes” or “I-wants”, or if you are lucky enough to be reading this when your child is very young and want to prevent these sneaky creatures from entering your home, you need to have a plan. As a parent, you are in charge. You do not need to be mean, but you do need to think about your priorities and teach them to your children. Will you give them everything they need at any time, or only when you feel they need something? What about things they ‘want’ (the $200 pair of jeans, when you can get very nice jeans for $20-30). Will you provide an allowance and ask your child to provide for herself (clothing, activities, outings)? Will you ask your child to split the cost of the extras (movies, shopping for items that are not needed-just desired, such as his 8th hockey stick)?
If allowances or a demand for new things aren’t the problem but you feel like your child has too many things (notice a big mess around the house or things that get ignored for months?), think about having your child clean out his toy box right before the holidays or his birthday. See if you can find a homeless shelter, women’s shelter or another ‘real-life’ place to take your child to donate the old toys. Help your child understand that these children might not get any toys/clothing if you did not help out. Explain that these children can still be happy and healthy and loved, but their families most likely do not have enough money for fun things or things above and beyond the necessities.
And what about shopping trips to the grocery store or for another person’s birthday? As a parent who needs to take a child on a shopping trip, you face extra challenges than someone shopping alone. I’ll be the first to admit to buying a toy from the $1 section on more than one occasion to entertain my child throughout the shopping trip… See my blog on The Joys (not!) of Shopping with Children for more. If you buy your child something on every shopping trip, he will learn to expect it (and the “Gimmes” will be there in full force). If you give in to a tantrum because he wants something you are not willing to buy, he will learn that throwing a tantrum gets him whatever item he wants.
Some parents have children keep a list of things they want. Every time a child says “I want” something, they are politely told to write it down on the list. Parents review the list with the child close to birthdays, holidays and special occasions to see if the things on the list are still relevant. If they are, they can be shared with relatives or others interested in buying a gift for your child or the child can be encouraged to save and buy the item with her own money.
It’s not too late to get rid of the case of the “Gimmes” or “I-wants.” If there is something your child really wants, have her earn part of the money to pay for the item. Helping a neighbor or doing extra chores around the house can help a young child earn some spending (or saving) money. This is a good practice even when it’s not around the holiday time!
Let’s face it. In America, holidays are a stressful time of year, no matter what religion you practice. From mid-November through the end of December there are family dinners, travel plans, presents to wrap, extra concerts and activities, school assignments, not to mention meetings and gatherings or parties at work and wrapping up the end of the year activities. (Breathe.) All of that can add up to stress! If you are stressed, your kids will pick up on your stress and become stressed as well.
So what can you do?
Write down exactly what needs to be done, everything you can think of and a guestimate of how much time it will take. Remember things often take longer than anticipated, especially with little helpers or frequent interruptions, give yourself some extra time. Please don’t get overwhelmed, you are going to be able to tackle this list. Note what day/time each of these items needs to be done. Mark the items you can do in advance and start doing them. This will help prevent the last minute rush.
Prioritize. How many of these things need to be done? What can you honestly live without? Do you need place tags at your family dinner table for Thanksgiving? Do you need to make every dish for your big family dinner or can you let someone else prepare a meal for the family to eat? It is OK to share and let someone else enjoy a compliment, even if it’s just for a side dish or hard boiled eggs. Do you have a teen aged neighbor who would like to earn a few dollars by playing with your children while you get things done? Or maybe that teen is willing to do some chores around the house or yard so that you don’t have to do it all. Give yourself permission to drop a few things from your list that would probably be lovely, but not absolutely necessary. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and it also lets other people feel useful and needed.
Take Care of Yourself. In the middle of all of this crazy-ness, plan some Anti-Stress activities. Of course, you can go to an all day spa, but taking care of yourself does not have to be super expensive or time consuming when you’re feeling stressed for time. Take a few moments to sip your favorite tea. Go to the gym or take the dogs out for a quick 10 minute walk if that’s what helps you to calm down. Give your child a big hug! Call or email friend you haven’t talked with in a while.
Remember to breathe and to compliment yourself! You CAN do this!!
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!
Halloween is creeping up… and ghosts and goblins are jumping out at us along with witches and vampires.
How do you help a child who is scared of everything make it through the Halloween season?
Young children can have a hard time determining what is real and what is imaginary. They honestly can’t differentiate between the two. Sometimes, it is not just the things they see, but rather what their little minds create, what is known as “magical thinking,” that can frighten them.
To put it in a regular-day, not Halloween related context, an example of a common “magical thought” can be seen when a child is scared to take a bath because she sees the water going down the drain and thinks she might be washed down with it. As adults we know this is impossible, but young children do not.
This same magical thinking causes children to believe that ghosts and goblins might come after them at night.
So, what can you do to help your child who is scared? Here are 5 suggestions:
1. Don’t try to minimize the fear. Be there to support your child. The fear is real to him. Hold his hand, walk on the other side of the street, whatever it takes to support him.
Identify what your child is afraid of. Once your child is able to verbalize her fear, or when you are able to figure it out if your child is unable to verbalize, you can help decrease the anxiety. Is your child scared of the many creepy things walking around and people running everywhere? Maybe she doesn’t like going up to strangers’ houses (not necessarily a bad thing on normal evenings!). Or is it that your child is scared of Halloween because it’s dark outside?
Help your child deal with his fear, don’t force him to eliminate the fear. Help your child understand what he is scared of and listen to why he is afraid. Help put the scary thing into perspective. Many things at Halloween were invented to let people have fun scaring each other.
Recognize signs of anxiety. Some obvious signs of anxiety include your child clinging to you with a vice grip hold you didn’t know her tiny hands could accomplish. Crying, shrieking or hiding behind you are also more obvious signs of anxiety. Short breaths, timid steps, and slowing down while walking towards something are slightly less obvious signs of anxiety. Appearing angry or more violent (hitting or kicking you or siblings/friends) are also possible signs of anxiety.
Be Flexible. Maybe Halloween is your most favorite holiday and you like to go all out…you might need to adjust a bit for a year or two. If your child is scared of the dark, find day time, child-friendly Halloween events (check out local malls or Trunk-or-Treats). If your child is scared of going to strangers’ houses, take him to a few of your neighbors’ houses and call it a night. For children who are scared of all of the creepy things that go Boo in the night, turn off your lights and go to a back room, or bedroom to play a game or cuddle and read stories.