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.
In time, most children grow out of their Halloween anxiety. If you are willing to be patient, flexible and support them, they will be just fine. As they get older, children learn the difference between real and imaginary and many even find out that they enjoy being scared or being the one who scares someone else every now and then.
Is your child is learning to play an instrument? That’s great! Music is such an important part of brain development. It helps with math skills, timing, memory, anticipation, and so much more. For those of you whose children are not playing an instrument in formal lessons, even listening to music, singing or banging on an instrument will help.
When I taught piano, I would tell parents that they should encourage 5 minutes of practice a day and they would laugh at me. I heard, “5 minutes doesn’t seem like enough time to practice,” and “That sounds so easy.” Let’s face it, though. It’s not. Life gets busy and before we know it, we’re reading a bedtime story and we’ve missed that opportunity to practice that day.
Before you beat yourself up, know that it happens to everyone, even to the piano teacher’s children.
Here are four ways to get you off to a good start and maybe even encourage your child to practice on his/her own.
My Initial Chart:
This first idea was suggested by my children’s violin teacher, Mrs. Murphy. Draw your child’s initials in large block letters on a piece of paper. Then draw lines to create small boxes within the letter (think of a checker board inside each letter). Each time my daughter practiced, she could put a sticker or draw a star inside one of the boxes. She would earn a reward for filling in a full letter (new crayons or a pack of stickers) and a bigger reward when the second full letter was full (a special dessert after dinner, a manicure by mommy, family dinner at a restaurant).
Create a 10X10 grid (100 boxes) on a piece of sturdy paper. Each time your child practices, she can put a sticker or color in one box. Every 10 boxes she can earn a small reward (bubbles, chalk, stay up 10 minutes later). After 50 boxes she earns a bigger reward (an ice cream cone, a snow ball fight, a bubble bath), and at 100 you need to celebrate together (bake cupcakes or go to the movies).
When I used to practice piano in junior high, I would put a handful of m&m’s on the piano. If you don’t want your child eating m&m’s, you could use stickers for your child (but they don’t taste as good…ha ha). Each time I could play a line, or a phrase which was often 2-3 lines, correctly three times in a row without a mistake, I would reward myself with an m&m. I vaguely remember that I adjusted that system for pieces that were particularly hard, rewarding myself for each measure I played correctly. Or maybe, that happened on days that I didn’t really feel like practicing… Be gentle with your child and change things up occasionally. Offer different munchies or stickers for rewards, or alter the amount of music needed to be played three times in a row in order to earn the reward.
Have your child ‘perform’ his piece for someone else. A friend or neighbor, even a babysitter would be happy to listen to your child every so often. Your child can even put on an impromptu performance and play for far-away relatives on the phone or via Skype or FaceTime. Each time a piece is played, this is another opportunity to practice.
Once your child has a few songs under his belt, arrange for a concert at a local nursing home and have him perform there. If desired, invite siblings and friends to perform, too. Residents will love it, even if your child plays the same three line piece 5 times in a row. Having him play the piece where it is supposed to be played, and then in a higher range and again in a lower range will help make the concert more exciting (for your child). Having your child perform in a nursing home provides a bright spot in the residents’ day and gives your child a chance to show off and be applauded for his hard work.
Did you catch a 5th way to encourage your child to practice? It was hidden in the last paragraph: Have your child practice his piece in the lower and higher ranges, not just around Middle C where he is expected to practice. It might sound, um, interesting, if your child practices on a different string of his instrument, but that is still practice and a great ear/listening experiment.
As with any long term project or goal, interest will wax and wane. Focusing on the smaller goals of practicing a measure of a line will make it easier to continue. When you reach a big goal, such as completing or memorizing a full song, you can enjoy the progress, and hopefully, the wonderful music your child will be able to make.
“Get Some Sleep” is so much easier said than done! I can’t tell you how many times people told me to “sleep while your baby is sleeping,” when my first child was born. Sounds good in theory, but in real life, my daughter only took 2- 3 twenty minute naps a day! On a good day.
I hate to say it – and those of you who know me personally will know that this is hard for me to say, but I will: Get Some Sleep! You know how tired and cranky children can be when they are tired or hungry? Well, the same thing can happen to sleep-deprived parents. And let’s face it, the first few years with a new child provide many sleep deprived moments. Some days you feel like you are walking around in a fog just trying to keep your eyes open and make sure no one gets hurt.
Reading about the benefits of sleep have been eye- opening to me (no pun intended)! I used to be able to function quite well on 4-5 hours of solid sleep or 6-7 hours of interrupted sleep. I know that I am better able to handle life’s challenges when I am “more rested.” However, the specific health benefits I’ve learned about over the years have been enough to scare me into trying harder to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night. In fact, one year, my New Year’s resolution was to get in bed 15 minutes earlier every two months (starting at 11:45 in January aiming for 10:30 by December).
Based on research done by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, NOT getting enough sleep can:
Decrease one’s immune system
Impair cognitive functioning and memory
Affect mood, motivation, judgement and even our perception of events.
In fact, a study at the University of Rochester Medical Center, led by Dr. Maiken Nedergaardfound, found that sleeping actually flushes waste from the brain, helping one to think more clearly during the day.
Now, I’m not living in some fantasy world, although some days I imagine it would be nice. Getting a solid night’s sleep with an infant or young child in the house is challenging. Sleeping during the day when your child is napping can be even more challenging when you want to eat, go to the bathroom, do some work, clean the kitchen, do the laundry, catch up on bills, and maybe even throw a shower in there, too. But challenge yourself to make sleep a priority. You don’t even need to be creative about it. Hire a babysitter or a mother’s helper to sit with your child for a few hours so you can nap. Exchange babysitting days with another mom of a young child and use it as a play date for the children when they are at your house and a ‘nap date’ when the children are at her house.
The better rested you are, the better parent you can be, not to mention the healthier you will be and the longer you will live to parent your children. So please, do yourself and your children a favor and try to get some sleep.
I know you might not believe me if I told you that my girls started doing their laundry when they were 3 ½ and 5 ½ years old. And now that they are pre-teens, they are, in fact, doing their laundry on their own!
Think about how much free time you would have if you didn’t have to do so much laundry. If you have an infant, laundry, lots of laundry, is a fact of life. But your child will grow out of that stage and you will have a jump start because you read this in advance.
So, what have you got to lose? A sock? The possibility of a shrunken shirt? Or what if it’s a total flop and you end up going back to doing all of the laundry by yourself?
If you choose to start with the laundry, begin by teaching and modeling. This might take multiple loads, even a few weeks. Most young kids love to sort clothes and put them into the machine. They also like to measure and pour detergent into the machine and press the buttons or pull the knobs. It’s a bonus if you have a see-through door so your child can watch the water come in and the clothes spin.
Here are some tips to get you started.
Draw a line with a permanent marker on the measuring cup to the “fill” line you want.
Put detergent in a smaller container if necessary to make it easier to pour.
Put arrows where your child should press buttons or pull knobs to start the machine. Sticky notes or flags work well.
Sorting clothes offers a great chance to teach/review colors.
Teach your child how to ‘inside out’ any shirts with designs (prints) on the front.
Teach your child to check the pockets. I often let my children keep any coins they find (bonus!).
Let your child play basketball to put the clothes into the machine. This works for both the washer and the dryer.
The older your children are, the more you can let them do (under your supervision) without your help. You will still need to be very involved while your children are younger, but I promise you it’s worth it in the long run.
I often still help my daughters when it comes to determining which clothes go in the dryer and which clothes need to be hung up to dry. They are old enough to read the labels, but it is quicker (and there are fewer complaints) if mom helps. Sometimes I’ll even help them hang the up those ‘line dry’ clothes (great time to connect!).
When my girls were younger, when the clothes came out of the dryer, they would help by sorting clothes into each family member’s pile and help by finding clothes I was looking to fold, such as ‘Mommy’s shirts’. They could also match socks and learned to roll them together earlier than I expected.
For the most part, my girls are pretty good at doing their laundry from start to finish. We have had a few bumps here and there along the way. I have heard more than once that “no one else has to do her own laundry” and I’m sure I’ll hear it again. I’ve also witnessed some ingenuity and creativity. My younger daughter is ahead of her time. She used her allowance to buy more underwear so she wouldn’t have to do laundry as often – a trick most people don’t learn until they get to college…
So, was it worth teaching my girls how to do their laundry at such an early age? For my family, I have to answer “You bet!”
Pick a life skill, any life skill: mopping floors, making a meal, washing the windows, or weeding the garden just to name a few. I’m challenging you to teach, supervise, and then to trust and let go. Under your gentle guidance, your children can learn to do all of this and more.
When your child feels loved (taken care of, understood and protected) she will be more likely to respond positively when you ask something of her. There is less of an argument when something needs to be done because there is a sense that you are not making a crazy or unreasonable request.
Does that mean that you will never have problems? No. Problems can still occur, especially if you spring something on your child or if you are interrupting something fun that he is focused on. However, if you have a solid connection with your child, hearing “It’s time to go – I can’t wait until we get to come back again” or “Time’s up – where shall we start the next time we come to the zoo?” should go over pretty well.
So, how does a parent connect with a child in a way that will strengthen their bond? There are many ways and they do not need to be expensive! In fact, some of the best bond-strengthening activities are FREE and don’t even take a lot of time. Here are four ways to strengthen your relationship with your child:
Special Time. Pick a date and time to spend with your child and schedule it in your calendar. Let your child see that this special time is on your calendar and do everything possible to keep your date. Sometimes things come up and you need to change the date or time, but let the child know when you will be re-scheduling your date and mark it on the calendar.
Turn off the TV, computer and, yes, even your phone. If someone does call and you need to (or accidentally, out of habit) answer the call – notice your child’s reaction. Typically you will see shoulders slump, a sad face and sometimes even tears. But don’t worry, you can work magic and fix that. Continue to watch your child as you tell the person on the phone that you can’t talk right now. Throw in the fact that you are having Special Time with your child if you can. For some kids, it’s as if you hung the moon in the sky when they hear you value this time with them and that it is not going to be taken by or given to others.
Let Your Child Lead. This can be a challenge for some parents, but if you are able to follow your child’s lead during your special time, she will feel respected, understood and loved. Let her choose, within reason, what the activity will be – or, if the activity is already chosen, follow her lead while you do the activity. If you are playing legos, let her decide what to build. If you are walking the dogs, let her decide which path to take. If you are playing school or cars, let her take the lead on the story line.
Be Curious About Your Child. Ask questions, learn about your child’s favorite things, friends he hangs out with, games he likes to play. You don’t want to question your child with the 3rd However, asking a few well thought out questions here or there, especially during Special Time or when you’re driving somewhere in the car, will provide some insight into your child’s life that you might not get otherwise.
The key to a great relationship with your child is connection. Connect with your child and watch bonds strengthen and doors open that you might never have known were there.
Can you think of a time you had a key connection with your child? What were you doing? What was the result? I’d love to hear about it.
When was the last time you played as a family? Or just “hung out” together? Sometimes you need to call a Time Out of your hectic schedule, ignore your To-Do List and just take time to play. The laundry and the dirt in the corner of the bathroom can wait until tomorrow. When you take a break from the rat race, you give your family time to get to know and enjoy each other.
While time away can be a vacation or a pre-made adventure (amusement park, mini-golf, roller skating), it can also be simple and cheap. Here are the top 5 favorite Family Fun Escapes contributed by some of the families with whom I have worked:
Have a Picnic in the Den. Instead of sitting at the dinner table, lay a table cloth on the floor and eat picnic foods. You can play music that reminds you of summer and have popsicles or ice cream in cones for dessert!
Go on a Night Walk. One night, when no one has a super busy schedule the next day, surprise your kids after PJs and teeth brushing and go outside for a walk. Listen to the night sounds, look at the night stars or the snow if it’s falling. What does the night smell like? Is it the same as during the day or does it smell more clear and fresh?
Go on a Hike. Explore your local parks and paths. Bring plenty of water, a few snacks, and most importantly a camera to save your family memories!
Have a Family Game Night. Depending on how much time you have, each family member can choose a game to play or you can write down everyone’s ideas and pick one out of a hat. Serve a special snack (popcorn or fruit kabobs).
Have Ice Cream for Breakfast! You might have heard me mention this as a special surprise to get kids out the door on time or as a reward for getting all of their “To Do’s” done, however, if you haven’t done this in a while (or ever), serve ice cream for breakfast for a fun morning. You can balance it out with fruit toppings, or go all out and enjoy chocolate syrup and sprinkles. It’s such a fun way to start the day off with smiles and giggles, give it a try!
These are just a few ideas you can use to get to know your children better and to experience how much JOY and FUN you can have playing together. Can you think of more?