Parenting Secret of the Week:
December doesn't have to be stressful, no matter what holiday you celebrate. The increasing dark of the Northern hemisphere can be a signal to turn inward to your family, to create more warmth, light and peace in your home. It can be a time for cozy connection and deep joy, whatever your personal beliefs. The key is deciding what kind of experience you want to create, and meshing your expectations with your family's.
Imagine it's next January 1. Won't it be terrific if you find yourself rested, refreshed, and contented with your life? Imagine being able to:
- Use the time off at the end of December to have some wonderful, deep time with each member of your immediate family. Your whole family will start the year feeling energized and connected by how you've spent these days together.
- Give presents that delight the receiver, and therefore delight you. You don’t go over budget, and most of the time your present is something you make or do for the recipient-- with your child, easily and joyfully.
- Feel healthy and maintain a steady weight. Instead of overeating, you feed your hungry heart with connection to others, and with giving to others. You spend time outdoors. You nourish yourself and your family by cooking healthy food. In short, you nurture your own body and soul, as well as your children's.
- Find deep meaning this year in brightening the season for others. Through your example, your kids begin to discover the spirit of the season and feel the gift of being angels to others.
- Feel clarity, going into the new year, about the ways you want to make your life different in the future. You even make a plan that will be easy to stick to, that will help you change ONE important habit.
Does this fantasy seem alluring, but impossible? It isn’t. More and more families are saying no to the Holiday Frenzy and inviting connection, joy and reflection into their homes in December. Here's how.
1. Decide what’s really important to you and just say No to everything else.
We all have full lives the other eleven months of the year. Adding an elaborate agenda to accomplish during December can only send your household into a tailspin and your blood pressure through the roof. The guaranteed result is tantrums from the kids and tears for you.
There is a simple answer, if you’re willing to be ruthlessly honest with yourself about what you can actually handle. Start by sitting quietly for five minutes with your eyes closed, seeing in your mind the scenes you want to create this December. Then open your eyes and write down your top priorities. Be realistic. If you want homemade presents, you probably won’t also have a clean and orderly house. Decide what really matters to you.
Next, sit down with your partner, if you have one, and your kids if they’re old enough. Serve something delicious that reminds you of the season to come – holiday cookies, or eggnog. Talk about everyone’s ideas of what would be a perfect holiday season.
What do you need to do so it feels like Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanza, or the Winter Solstice, to you? Maybe you always decorate the house with greenery, or bake cookies. Maybe you’d like to make presents, or volunteer to deliver meals to someone who’s housebound. Maybe advent calendars or latkes are essential......(continue reading)
Ages & Stages: Preschoolers & School Age
It’s the thought that counts, and the love that goes into it. No need to spend a fortune on gifts, your kids will love making them for grandparents, cousins and teachers – and the recipients will treasure them.
Fair warning: If the kids help, your gifts are bound to look less professional -- but that will just make them all the more valued by the giftee, so be brave and stop worrying about making your gifts look professional.
Remember that your goal is to have fun with your child and give a token of affection, not to exhaust yourself by showing off your perfection. We all know you’re more than enough, just the way you are. You don’t need to show us how terrific you are with perfectly made gifts! Any parent who makes presents with her kids is by definition terrific. Take photos of your child making the present and Grandma will think it's priceless.
Why not just whip up big batches of something most folks will like (Fudge? Bath salts?) and finish all your presents in one weekend, while having fun with your kids?
Here's a bakers dozen list of ideas to get your creativity fired up; more explicit directions are easily available online.
1. Booklet of favorite memories: Have your child draw illustrations and dictate his or her favorite memories of/with the recipient and put it into a binder along with photos to make a very special gift book. Be sure not to correct misspellings or funny comments; that’s part of what makes this gift endearing....(continue reading)
Blog Post of the Week
"On Christmas morning, before we could open our Christmas presents, we would go to this stranger's home and bring them presents. I remember helping clean the house up and putting up a tree. My father believed that you have a responsibility to look after everyone else." - George Clooney
Many children experience the holidays as a time to create lists of all the material goods they covet, and toy companies spend fortunes on TV ads designed to induce cravings for more, more, more in our children. It’s our job as parents to protect our kids from this assault, and to teach them the deeper meaning of the holidays. No, not by lecturing. By giving our children the experience of how good it feels to be generous.
I know, your child probably doesn't think it feels good to "give" or "share." But that's because we don't usually let her choose to share; we make her share. All humans, including toddlers and preschoolers, get a little jolt of dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters when they willingly give to others (presumably because humans are social creatures and it helps the human race survive when we look after each other.) So giving our children the opportunity to willingly give helps them discover how good it feels to give and share with others.
The holiday season is the perfect time to create opportunities to give that will be pleasurable for your child. Before you know it, he'll be discovering that it really is more blessed to give than to receive. Here are ten ideas for you to choose from. If you have more, I'd love to hear your ideas.
1. Let kids experience how good generosity feels as you move through the holiday season. Buy an extra can of whatever you're buying and let your kids donate it at checkout, if your grocery store has such a program. Wrap gloves and mittens together to donate. Give your child a set amount to spend, take them to the toy store where they can pick out a gift for a needy child, and let them personally deliver it to a children’s hospital, homeless shelter or charity drop-off point.
2. Let your child play Santa through the US Post Office's Operation Santa program. Every year the US Post Office receives millions of letters from children saying things like "Mommy doesn't have enough money for Christmas this year...can you send us food and blankets and a backpack for school for my little sister?"
You and your child can serve as elves by going to a participating post office (here) if you're lucky enough to live near one, and "adopting" one or more letters. You then read the letter as a family, buy as many of the items as you can, wrap them for mailing, and return them to the post office with postage. The post office adds the address and mails the package...(Continue reading)
Parenting Question of the Week
Dr. Laura....In the past few weeks, I have had several conversations with other parents about whether we should talk with our children about the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, and if so, how?.....
I read your work because I am trying to better parent my children. Your positive parenting model represents a gentler, more conscientious method of parenting than what I grew up with. But it also lays the groundwork for a better world, where people better empathize with each other and try to work together towards solutions.
My friends and I want to be honest with our kids about the very real inequalities and prejudices they may encounter, experience, and/or witness, but we also don't want to overwhelm our kids before they are developmentally ready to comprehend these situations, nor do we want to terrify them.
What great questions you're asking. If we want to raise our children to be compassionate people who participate as responsible citizens in a democracy, we need to talk with them about the thorny issues that we struggle with as a country. Race, violence, and how to create change in a democracy are three of those issues. I don't think there is ever one conversation about such a big issue; I think we need to talk repeatedly about these tough issues on an ongoing basis as they arise. Sometimes current events will create the opportunity or the need for such discussions; sometimes our personal lives will.
Because we as adults struggle with these issues, we will often find ourselves struggling to know how to talk to our children about them. But that doesn't mean we don't have a responsibility to take a deep breath and try.
You're right that we need to talk about this differently with children of different ages and races. Unfortunately, the experience of racism is a daily occurrence for families of color, so it's a frequent discussion in many African American and Hispanic homes. I don't think I'm the person to give advice on that conversation, but I want to acknowledge how heart-breaking it must be to have to explain to your child that the color of his skin means that he may not be treated fairly by our society, that he runs even the risk of death if he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It would be facile--and just plain not true--to say "Stay out of trouble and you'll be fine." It's easy to give examples of African American men who have been killed when they had not committed a crime and were not resisting arrest; Eric Garner is only the most recent.
Cory Booker, US Senator from New Jersey, was my son's age when he graduated from Stanford, was honored as a Rhodes Scholar, and then was jumped by six police officers with their guns drawn. They held him for half an hour as a dangerous criminal, barking at him "I said Don't move!" while he was praying and shaking. My children, who are protected from such situations because of the color of their skin, would have been shaking and praying too, but would probably would have tried to assert their rights. That may well have gotten Booker killed.
White families often ignore the issue of racism because it makes us uncomfortable, and because we assume that it doesn't affect our children. But racism dehumanizes all of us. We can only end racism by talking with all of our children about how it unfair it is, by admitting that all of us have a tendency to judge people based on appearance, by pointing out the terrible cost to people of color but also to our entire society, and by teaching our children that treating all people fairly matters.
Many white parents talk about heroes like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, and about slavery. We also need to talk about institutionalized racism and about privilege, meaning how our children's lives compare to the lives of children their age who are of different races.
So, for instance, my son told me today that he remembers a time when we ran to catch a bus, when he was ten. After we got on the bus, I told him that friends of mine, who were black, had forbidden their son to run in public, even to catch a bus. They were afraid that a police officer would assume that he was running from a crime and should be apprehended. (Attorney General Eric Holder tells a story of how this happened to him when he was already a federal prosecutor.) My son was horrified, naturally, and this evolved into a discussion about privilege, which he remembers ten years later. Of course, over the years that ongoing conversation was amplified by my children's own experiences; such as watching their friends of color be repeatedly stopped and searched by police officers, when neither of my children were ever searched.
So how can we talk with our children about these recent incidents? Obviously each parent will have a somewhat different perspective, so what we choose to say might be different. I can only tell you what I would say. Let's take this by age....(continue reading)