Category Archives: Parenting

Summer is here and where are all the kids?

It’s summer here.  School is out.  And it’s a ghost town.

Where is everyone?  The streets and yards are quieter than they are even during the school year.   I know there are plenty of people on vacation, since I’ve been seeing their vacation photos on social media.  And my kids and I just returned from visiting family for a week.  But we’ve been home a week, and have seen kids on our street once.  Once!

After school when the weather is nice there are often kids out playing, riding bikes, and running up and down the street.  Is everyone at the pool?  Or are they all at day camps?  We can’t even find friends to make plans with.  It feels super lonely and I start to get anxious that they’re avoiding me.  I’m not one to have FOMO, but I’m finding that the lack of seeing any families home during the day is making me feel like we’re really missing something.

kids on beach, respectful parenting
On our trip to visit family, where my kids had a cousin to play with

My kids don’t want to do camps, or anything structured, really.  They want to play, and swim, and watch tv, and go creeking, and go fishing.  And I do my best to honor that.  I’m not up for working on our separation anxiety all summer.  For my kids and for me, summer gives us a much needed break from that ever present situation.

I guess I really need to step up and get into planning mode.  If I don’t line up outings with friends, my kids don’t have anyone to play with except each other.  They really need to see some other people.  But planning is easier said than done.  Most everyone has their schedules full of lessons, camps, and other structured activities, and they aren’t even available to make plans to head to the creek or the pool.

I know there are parents out there who would love their kids to have unstructured time and aren’t able due to work schedules.  And I know many camps give kids lots of time for free play and summer fun.  My husband and I work opposite hours for childcare reasons, and so I do know a lot of people home during the day with  kids, because it’s when I’m home with kids.  And all our usual people are missing.

I remember feeling the same way last summer.  It makes me feel like I really haven’t met my people yet, and that gets into a lot of complicated issues about who I am and who my kids are that are a  bit much for this post.  But I’m still lonely.

Why do we shove our “shoulds” at our children?

At my daughter’s preschool this week, there was a little boy upset at drop-off, and crying because his dad was leaving.  One of the teachers was comforting him and his dad left, but on the way out he said, “shouldn’t he be over that by now?”

Yes, we’re nearing the end of the school year.   The child in question just turned four.  So should he be over it?

Separation anxiety comes and goes in these situations.  Even kids who don’t experience any separation anxiety at the beginning of school sometimes have a hard time later in the year, especially after a break.  The teachers at our school tell parents this fact often.  I’m sure this dad knows.  But the “should” still slips out.

Why are we so concerned with should?

I think it all boils down to embarrassment and fear.  We as parents get embarrassed by our children’s behavior, or overwhelmed by their behavior or emotions ourselves.    But why?  Why do we feel that we can’t support our kids big emotions?  Possibly because most of us were taught as children that our big emotions were not okay, and were meant to be shut down, sucked in, and punished out of us.

But for those of us who choose to do things differently with our own children, or send them to preschools like ours where they do things differently and actually learn about social and emotional skills, it can be a hard thing to un-learn.  So while even though we know we should be supporting our kids big emotions, it’s so easy to get caught up in the fact that they “should” be over it.

What does fear have to do with it?

We are so afraid that if we let our children have their big emotions, that they will never be able to deal with them, or control them.  When in fact, the opposite is true.  It is by dealing with their big emotions as children, with empathy and understanding, that they will learn to be emotionally intelligent adults.  This push-down of developmentally inappropriate expectations is so prevalent in our society, and people don’t even notice or think twice.  Just because kids will have to do something when they are older is not a reason to start now.  Again, the opposite is often true.  If we push skills they aren’t ready for in the place of what should actually be developing, we’re actually stunting their growth.

And then there’s shame

“Why would you do that?  You should know better!”  I hear it often, adults thinking that if they tell the child himself that he “should” know better or do better that it will somehow help it be true.  But this is no more than hoping shame will improve behavior.  And no one learns best through shame. This is the worst form of the “should,” in my opinion.

Learning from the teachers

The teachers in my daughter’s preschool handle these big emotions so well.  They give the kids space for their feelings, don’t patronize, stay calm, and help the kids work through their feelings and the situation.   I feel lucky to be learning from such talented people that truly like and respect my children.  Educating ourselves as parents about what is developmentally appropriate is a great step. I’m far from perfect, but work at it every day.

 

How I use my planner to capture life’s memories with young kids

I am a visual person and need a paper calendar and planner.  I also use a wall calendar, but really love having a portable planer as well.  I do have a phone calendar app so that my husband and I can share a portable calendar, but honestly, neither of us is very good at updating it and we both tend to update our wall calendar.  It’s a system that works for us.  This post contains affiliate links.

What I use

I love this planner by Mary Engelbreit.  The pictures online just don’t do it justice.  It’s spiral-bound, and includes both month-at -a-glance and week-at-a glance sections.

I have always loved to see my whole month laid out in front of me.  Week-at-a-glance set-ups don’t work well for me.   But I still use the weekly planner portion of this calendar for another purpose!

monthly calendar page
Monthly pages that I use as my calendar, for appointments, activities, etc.

How I use the weekly portion

When my first-born was a baby, I wrote down everything about our daily lives in a journal.  Mostly, I was so sleep-deprived that I needed to remember when he nursed, and little things like that.  But as he got older I wrote down lots of milestones and funny things he said.  He loves when we look back through his book.  After my daughter was born I just didn’t write as much.  I was better at mentally keeping track of baby stuff, and didn’t write down as much.  So when my daughter was old enough to ask, I realized I didn’t write down near as much fun stuff to tell her about her babyhood.

weekly calendar pages
Weekly calendar pages that I use to write quick notes about things my kids did and said 🙂

Since the weekly pages are set up with a few lines per day, I decided it would be the perfect format to jot down something we did each day, or something my kids did or said that we’d like to remember.  This works well, as I try to keep it handy most of the time.  Except for when it ends up hidden under a pile of mail or school papers, of course.  It’s my minimalist practice in journaling.

I know there are lots of great planners out there with stickers and quotes, but I don’t feel like they’d add anything I’m not getting here.  Plus I love the art of Mary Engelbreit.  And while I used to love journaling, it’s just not going to happen these days.  So this set up, for me, is the best of both worlds.

Please don’t talk about my kids in front of them Recognizing childism in our everyday lives

“We ask that you do not talk about your children in front of them without including them in the conversation. If you need to talk alone with teachers, make arrangements to talk without your child present.”

This quote is taken from the handbook of my children’s wonderful, progressive preschool.  It is a wonderful policy, and the kids truly are included in conversations if they are there.  The teachers speak to the children in real voice, not the squeaky, sing-songy voices often reserved by adults for preschoolers.  Children are respected in this place like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.

Which is why what I saw at our public school the other day bothered me.  It wasn’t my son’s kindergarten teacher, but another of the 3 kindergarten teachers in his building.  Someone I know was picking up her daughter from school.  She and I were chatting as we waited for pickup and she said her daughter has been having a hard time separating lately when it’s time for school and that it’s been really hard.

When the teacher came out, she mouthed to my friend “she was okay” and gave her a thumbs up.  My friend greeted her daughter and they prepared to walk home.  But then the teacher walked over to her to talk some more.   Mother and daughter were standing side by side, and the teacher started off facing them and whispering.  So the daughter moved in closer.  And then the teacher moved to block the child’s body.  The teacher pushed the girl backward by moving her body into the girl’s space, so she could talk to her mother about her.  The little girl stuck her head in the middle of the two adults, and the teacher moved closer to the mother again to block her out.

My son’s interpretation of being blocked out of a conversation. I love the child’s head poking through 🙂

I know many people will not take offense at this story.  But it was offensive to me, and I’m sure to the child.  This poor 5-year old was being physically blocked out of a conversation by a teacher she is supposed to trust to take care of her for many hours each day.    She knows they were talking about her, or at least about something she wanted to hear.  It shows a total disregard for the child as a person.  Imagine doing that to two of your friends.  How is this situation any different?

What she could do instead

It isn’t hard to imagine the possibilities.  The teacher could email, call, or text the parent.  Unless there is a threat of imminent danger, the adult conversation can wait until a better time.

Childism is alive and well.  Many people wouldn’t give this scenario a second thought.  We need to notice the lack of respect given to children in our everyday lives and routines. It is the first step toward improving the situation.

Choosing a relaxed weekend in the middle of the holiday season

It is the second weekend in December.  Christmas is two weeks from today.  And we did absolutely nothing holiday-related this entire weekend.  It was wonderful.

Last weekend we went to see a children’s production of The Nutcracker.  It was inexpensive, and advertised to be an hour-long show, so it sounded perfect.  In actuality, it was two hours with no intermission.  It was at 11 am and we planned on lunch after.  Instead we left at one, with two bored and starving kids, who proceeded to have meltdown after meltdown all afternoon.  It was not a pleasant day.

This weekend, there are even more holiday events happening.  Theater, ballet, symphony, train expos, holiday lights events, parties, and more.  I could have packed our schedule full, like many of our friends did.  But I didn’t.

What we did with our weekend instead

Friday night we had pizza and watched a movie and the kids played.  On Saturday, the kids played and we did some cleaning and work at home before going out for an early dinner.  Sunday, the kids played in the first snow of the season, had hot cocoa, and played more.  We got a few things done around the house to feel better about the busy weeks ahead.

weekend cocoa in holiday mugs
The most holiday thing we did all weekend. Cocoa in holiday mugs 🙂

All weekend I’ve been getting texts from friends saying how they are so busy with events, and about their kids being unhappy during said events.  I’m really glad we aren’t participating.

After snow play
Our yard after the snow play. Not much snow left!

But aren’t holiday traditions important?

Don’t get me wrong.  We have plenty of holiday traditions, and we will do more this holiday season.  Family traditions are important for children.  But so is plenty of time for free play.  And plenty of unstructured time away from school and structured activities.  They aren’t miniature adults, and don’t always find events fun and relaxing the way we can.  In fact, for my kiddo with sensory “stuff,” events are often hard work.  New situations are hard for him, and new smells, loud sounds, and big events require a lot from him.  As adults, it’s easy to see it all through our adult lenses and forget that children’s needs are different.

It’s also easy to forget that December seems to have its own buzz.  A hum of energy about it, with everyone being busy and feeling like there is so much to get done and so much fun to be had.  Adults help feed the buzz, and kids get swept up in it, too.  My kids are already amped up on the very thought of Christmas and general holiday excitement.  Add to that changing schedules and different events, at home and at school, and they deserve the chance to have a mellow, relaxed weekend.  They are much happier than they were last weekend when we were so very go, go, go.

Our relaxing weekend has been so great.  I’m once again reminded that going against the flow, rather than being swept up in it, can be such a great choice to make.

 

Why I Don’t Help My Kids On the Playground

Thanks to Natalie for this wonderful guest post!

You know when you see little kids, who have just learned to walk, being held up on climbing structures by well meaning parents? I don’t do that. I completely understand why parents (and grandparents) do that. We want our kids to enjoy the full playground, all the levels, the climbing, and the slides. Here’s why I rarely help my kids out on the playground. Continue reading Why I Don’t Help My Kids On the Playground

Ghost Bowling — Halloween Special Time

We’ve had a really busy couple of months. We’ve been letting connection time with the kids go by the wayside and it shows. I’ve been feeling disconnected and I have to imagine they are as well. So when my son asked if we could have special time one evening, we made it happen. We set the timer for fifteen minutes and got out the ghost bowling set I’d been working on for a kindergarten party at school. My son and I drew on the faces with black marker. We found that our new toilet paper from Aldi had white rolls inside.  They make great ghosts!

A friend who was a long time kindergarten teacher suggested bowling with pumpkins rather than a ball. So we decided to try out an assortment of mini gourds we had. They were surprisingly different from one another in how they rolled.  It was a lot of fun watching them roll wildly.

Our assortment of gourds. The bumpy one rolled hilariously, and the pumpkin rolled so fast it rolled up the walls!
Our assortment of gourds. The bumpy one rolled hilariously, and the pumpkin rolled so fast it rolled up the walls!

My son also had the idea to hide pirate coins in the rolls and see how long it took to knock down the ghosts with the pirate coin inside. We took turns setting up the ghosts and hiding coins inside in different configurations.  Then we tried knocking them down one at a time (or not!) with the gourds and pumpkin. Our aim improved quite a bit in just a short period of time.

Pirate coins fit perfectly inside the rolls. Special time ideas at their finest!
Pirate coins fit perfectly inside the rolls.

Special time is one-on-one time with your child, and it can be for as little as ten to fifteen minutes per day. I find that when we make time to include it in our daily schedule, we’re more connected and appreciate each other more. It is so easy to let it slide, especially when we’re busy. But it’s such a small time investment for such a large payoff.  It’s really worth it.

It’s Okay to Say No (Even if you’re a kid)

We were playing at the pool one day recently when several adult family members stopped by. One of them directed my son to demonstrate how he recently learned to jump into the deep end. My son said, “We’re in the middle of a game. I can’t right now.” So the adult said to the cousin he was playing with, “You show how you can jump in.” And she went right away without comment and climbed out and jumped in. And I understood it. Because it’s what I would have done (and been expected to do) as a kid.

I fully support my son’s right to defend his play. He wasn’t rude. We’d never question an adult who said “I’m in the middle of something, but will be with you when I’m done.” As an adult who has a lot of difficulty speaking up for myself and saying no, it is actually a skill I am working hard to help my children develop.

“The way kids learn to make good decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.” Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason

I’ve realized something recently as well. As much as we support our kids in their learning to voice their opinions, say no, and stand up for themselves, one of my kids has a much easier time doing it than the other. I can’t really take credit for doing more than not squashing this instinct that he was born with. It is who he is. He bravely stands up for the choices he makes and for what he feels is fair. We’ve surrounded him with situations and people who have supported him in that endeavor, like his wonderful preschool teachers. But a lot comes down to who he is, his personality, and his temperament.

I thought we had it all figured out and were really doing something right—ha! And now my daughter is old enough to be in similar situations. And she’s asking a lot more questions about what other people would like her to do. She has a lot harder time making decisions. She is a very sensitive child, definitely a highly sensitive person (HSP), but in a very different way than my son. Other skills, such as sharing and empathizing, coming easier to her. She reminds me so very much of me. And I’m realizing that we will see over the next few years if the supports we’ve put in place help her to develop confidence in her skills as well. Our own nature vs. nurture experiment. But I’m doing everything I can to support nurture.

“We learn to do something by doing it.  There is no other way.”  John Holt

I want my children to know themselves better than I knew myself. I also want them to be able to express their interests and beliefs with confidence, as well as to stand up for themselves when those beliefs are challenged. So I’ll support them in practicing now.  There’s no better time to start.