Making Time for Family Time

Work together - and have FUN, too!

Work an a project together – and have FUN, too!

Life is BUSY for Today’s Parents

“I have to work late this week.”

“How many games do the kids have Saturday?”

“What time is the birthday party?”

“The laundry!!”

“What?? It’s December?!”

Life is busy – regular everyday life. And this time of year gets even busier. The holidays can be wonderful – full of family gatherings, special traditions, and delicious food. But it can also mean having too much to do and feeling very stressed! How can we navigate this hectic time and find the balance we need for ourselves and our families?

Family Time Can Be Simple, No-cost, and Beneficial

One of the most important things a family can do is to make time to be together. Time when everyone is unplugged and present. Time when the focus is on conversation. Time to re-connect. This is an excellent stress reliever and helps family members feel close to one another. But how do we find that time?

Here are a few ideas to carve out some family time with little or no fuss or prep:

  • Have a family meeting – get together over hot cocoa and graham crackers (without phones or devices). Start with each family member telling something kind or helpful another member of the family did for them. Talk about what is coming up that week. Schedule a Family Fun time – and it can be simple: block out half an hour to play a board game, go for a walk with flashlights, build a blanket fort, or color together. Having some simple, fun time together can make a big difference.
  • Eat together – one of the most important and beneficial things you can do with your children is have dinner together. Again, without any electronic devices or TV. Research shows children have a bigger vocabulary, do better in school, and even eat more fruits and vegetables when families have dinner together. And it doesn’t have to be a home-cooked meal. It’s the sitting down and eating together that’s important.
  • Give back – brainstorm with your children ways to help others. Think of something you can do as a family – volunteer at a food pantry, go through toys together to find some to donate, fix a meal for a neighbor, or serve a meal at a shelter. Spending time helping others strengthens the family bond and supports the community.
  • Work together – take on some projects that you can all do like raking leaves, sorting laundry, or organizing books. Make it fun by singing or telling knock-knock jokes. If children help with household chores from an early age, it becomes the expected norm. And it increases their sense of belonging and of feeling valued.
  • Just say ‘no’ – you do not have to say yes to every invitation or event that comes along – even if it might be fun to do. You don’t need to make excuses when you decline. A simple “We are not able to attend that evening” is fine. Scheduling time to not have plans is a splendid way to have some down time together. Treat that time like it’s written in stone; everyone can relax and re-charge.

Plan now to make family time a priority. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, or costly, or take a long time. It does need to be intentional and involve talking and listening. Everyone will feel more connected and better prepared to take on what life brings next.

Wait…a few more seconds

child waiting with parent

What’s the Rush? 

We’ve all done this, we all do this.  Habits are hard to change.

Imagine: You and your young child encounter another grownup you know.  The grownup looks at the child with a smile and asks him, “How are you?” “What are you up to today?” Your child looks at the ground, then up at you, and you quickly answer “We’re on our way to meet a friend.”

What happened?  The other grownup directly asked the child a question and the child didn’t get a chance to answer for himself. No big deal, right?  Actually, children benefit tremendously when they have more time to process questions before answering.  Some adults do, too.

As adults we often experience this rushed world.  We have become accustomed to immediate responses, instant gratification.  At the coffee shop, we expect our order lickity split.  At work, or even socially, some people jump in immediately with ideas or suggestions. Others may have equally valuable ideas but may not articulate them as quickly. We all process information in our own individual way. It’s important to honor a variety of personalities with varying degrees of willingness to speak up in a group.

The Value of Giving Children Time to Respond

Let’s go back to the child.  The value in giving the child 5-7 extra seconds to form their own response is immensely more powerful to that child’s individual development than saving 5 seconds and answering for them.

Why is wait time for a child important? What’s the big deal?

  • Having the support from a valued adult helps a child feel more comfortable thinking for himself and speaking up.
  • We are modeling that we value other people’s ideas and thoughts.
  • Thinking and speaking on one’s own terms builds self-esteem and confidence. This. Is. Huge.
  • Practicing wait time for children to respond is a valuable form of respect.
  • Waiting helps the child who needs more time to process and form a response.
  • If children are always spoken for, they may begin to believe they are unable to speak for themselves.  They may believe their thoughts are not valuable.

Research shows that when a teacher asks a question, the average wait time is one second or less. But when teachers purposely wait a minimum of five or more seconds after a question, children give higher quality and more substantive answers, their self-confidence increases, and they interact with one another to advance discussion. What’s more, children reluctant to raise their hands begin to participate.

Tips on Giving Children Time to Think and Speak 

So what can we adults do to intentionally give a child time to respond?

  • Take a breath.  “Life isn’t a race.” (As learned from my preschool students.)
  • Believe in your mind and heart that the child can think and speak independently.
  • Show on your face that you believe the child can express himself independently.
  • Say nothing and allow the child 5-7 seconds to think and respond.
  • Look at the child. This will help the other adult also look at the child and wait for the child’s answer.
  • For a child who is particularly reserved, it might help to gently prompt or coach, after giving him ample wait time.

What if the child’s response isn’t true or isn’t right?

  • Ask them more questions! This can be an opportunity to gauge their level of understanding or reality.
  • Is it hurting anyone?  If not, it’s probably fine if they answer incorrectly.
  • Ask yourself, what’s more important in the situation, being accurate or being kind?  We have our whole lives to work on accuracy; we don’t have to race there, but kindness can go an incredible distance.  (You can even transmit kindness by accepting a child’s response regardless of its accuracy!)
  • Are they using their imagination?  Childhood is for fun, for learning through play, and it’s a time to make mistakes and figure out reasons.

Now back to habits… It is tricky to hold back from answering for the child if you are constantly doing it.  Perhaps it’s a cultural norm, perhaps it’s a pet peeve.  If we can begin by being aware that we’re not giving children wait time, that’s a step!

Sure, there will be times that you ARE in a hurry and can’t wait a few extra seconds for a child to respond independently.  That’s okay, forgive yourself.  Barely anything about caring for children is realistic with ALWAYS or NEVER.

Here’s a challenge: try it out, ask a child a question and wait much longer than feels comfortable, maybe 7 seconds.  What do you notice?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and observations!

 

About Our Guest Blogger

Lisa has been in the field of early childhood for about 12 years, working with children 8 years and younger in Richmond, VA, Washington, DC, and Boston, MA. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Decision Information Sciences from the University of Maryland, a master’s degree of Early Childhood Education (PreK-2) from Lesley University, and a Post Master’s Certificate in Early Childhood Practice, Policy, and Research from University of Massachusetts in Boston.  She is aunt to four fantastic nephews and one incredible niece.

 

Easy Ways to Spread Kindness

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop

February 12-18 is Random Act of Kindness Week – and it includes Valentine’s Day as an added bonus. We see long lists of ideas for being kind and spreading acts of kindness. The ideas are wonderful and we think, “I could do that one, and that one, and maybe that one.” But do we? The reality is that sometimes we get bogged down by the demands of everyday life – and there is a lot going on!

Simple Acts of Kindness

So what can we do to combat the day-to-day drag-down and promote positive energy and kindness? Let’s start small, just with ourselves. Here are a few concrete, simple acts that we can each do, every day, right now.

  1. Eye-to-eye: When you pass someone, look them in the eye and smile. It’s amazing to see their face light up as they smile back – and they usually do.
  2. “After you”: Let someone go ahead of you in line – any line. At the coffee shop, in the grocery store, step back and gesture them in. Yes, you may be in a hurry, but it only adds a few minutes, and the goodwill lasts much longer, for both of you.
  3. Help others: Keep a pack of bottled water in your car, and hand them out to folks on the corner asking for help.
  4. Don’t talk: Make an effort to really listen when someone is talking to you. Look at the person, nod your head, pay attention. It lets that person know that you value their thoughts, and that you value them. And all we have to do is open our hearts and close our mouths.
  5. Write it down: Leave a note on someone’s keyboard, pillow, lunch box, steering wheel, or gym bag saying what you appreciate about them.
  6. Be present: Put your phone down and make a connection. In person.
  7. Be kind to yourself: In the midst of our busy lives, we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves. Remember that we cannot give what we do not have. If we are worn out and depleted, it’s hard to give. Think about what restores you – slow, deep breaths, a quick nap, a soothing cup of tea, a brisk walk, positive thinking? Try to make it happen.

And let’s keep it up beyond the week! When we are aware of how we interact with those around us, we can start a kindness revolution, an upward spiral of goodwill. Plus, we are modeling the kind of behavior we want our children to see and copy. So try to smile, listen, and connect. You will feel as good as the people you do it to!

A note of thanks.

a note of thanks

Being Truly Present With Children Is a “Priceless” Gift

What’s a Perfect Present for Young Children?

There is a no-cost, easy-to-acquire gift that supports the overall well-being and personal happiness of young children:  Be More Present.

Being more present with children sounds simple, but for many of us our daily lives feel more and more chaotic. We often feel stressed and distracted – so much to do and so little time.

 

Tune Out the Distractions and Tune In to Children

Many adults today are plugged in non-stop and maintain hectic schedules.  Balancing work lives (in or out of the home) and family lives can be tough.  Parents and children are often “together”, but not really together. How many of us have found ourselves talking with our children, nodding our heads, but not really hearing what they are saying because we are distracted by other things? We are physically present but we might be thinking about a disagreement we had with a friend or an email that needs to be finished. Without even realizing it, we are often focused on the past or the future, preventing us from being truly “present.”  It takes conscious effort to focus on the moment at hand.

 

Connecting with Children Helps Them Feel Valued

Young children are intensely present every day, every moment, absorbing and learning.  They can be thoroughly engaged watching a squirrel wind its way up a tree or stomping in a puddle. In a child’s perfect world, their favorite adults will slow down and appreciate their interest in the squirrel’s acrobatics or how high the puddle water will splash. Those adults will take a little time to have that meaningful, in-the-moment interaction.

Consider offering your child (and yourself) the sweet gift of tuning in.  Create some time to simply be more present, on purpose, with your child – even for just a few minutes. When you focus on your child and engage with him, you give your child a valuable message: “You matter. You are important. You deserve my time and attention.”

The gift of bring present  - giving your full attention.

The gift of bring present – giving your full attention.

Tips for Being (More) Present with Children

Of course, we can’t always be tuned in to our children. We have things that need to get done. And we are busy. And tired. And sometimes, in our jam-packed world, it’s ok to “listen” and nod while we think about those things. But connecting with a child for just a few minutes can have a huge impact.  A few strategies are:

  • When your child is telling you something, try to stop what you are doing, and really listen when you can. Let your presence show by validating your child’s feelings, making comments, or asking questions.
  • Watch for opportunities to connect with your child: in the car, walking the dog, settling down at bedtime. Whether for 10 minutes or an hour, focus on being ‘all in’ during this time. Let your child know she has your attention by looking at her, touching her shoulder, or holding her hand.
  • Put your phone away when possible. Let your child see that you value him above all else.
  • Plan a ‘together time’ or ‘just us time’ or ‘the two of us time’ and let your child choose a quiet activity for the two of you. Keep ‘together time’ media-free. Just making a long line of cars or drawing with markers or doing puzzles together creates opportunities for quiet sharing, or simply being close. If you have more than one child, let each know that they will have their chance for ‘together time’ too. Maybe it’s once a week, and maybe it’s for 10 minutes, but it’s invaluable.

Don’t worry if it’s not always a magical “movie moment.”  Sometimes children are cranky just as we are taking a moment to be present. That’s life. You’ll have another chance.

 

Being Present Can Reap Many Positive Benefits

While we all struggle to find the right balance, it is worth the time and effort to deepen our bonds with our children. Being present with your child helps them feel valued and develop a sense of self-worth.  They may even be more cooperative and are likely to show improved behavior. All the result of our truly listening and showing genuine interest in them.

As we reflect back on our own childhood, it is not the stuff we got for birthdays or holidays that stands out, but it is those times spent with a caring and present adult that was the best gift of all.

 

Free Resources for a Healthy New Year

Are you looking for research-based, practical, and easy-to-use resources that promote healthy eating and physical activity in young children? We can help! Take a look at the games, fun activities, and healthy snack ideas here.

 

 

Lots of Feelings as the New School Year Starts

Change Can Be ChallengingJohn in the hall - lightened (2)

The end of summer brings lots of changes. The weather gets cooler. The days get shorter. The leaves start to change color. Children start school. Or child care. Or have new teachers and classrooms. A lot of change.

While starting something new can be exciting and eagerly anticipated, it can also be scary for a child. Will my teacher like me? What are the rules? Will I know anybody? Where is the bathroom?

And it’s not just the child having all the worries! Parents have them, too. How did my child grow up so fast? What if he doesn’t like it? Will he have friends? How will I manage the school routine, soccer practice, my job, and everything else going on?

 

Getting Prepared

It helps us all to know what to expect when change is looming large. We need to be prepared for the ups and downs, the highs and lows. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • It can take weeks for children to become comfortable in a new environment.
  • When a child has to ‘keep it together’ all day, there may be melt-downs where it’s safe (with you!) and they can let it all out. Anticipating this can help us be prepared to stay calm and supportive.
  • New behavioral issues may surface: a child who rarely cries may be quick to break down. An easy-going child may become grumpy and quick-tempered. Or a child may regress and say she can’t get dressed on her own or pick up her toys anymore. Patience is the key here. Typically these behaviors won’t last long.
  • Children will probably need more sleep, especially early on – adjusting to all that newness can be exhausting!

So how do we weather the stormy or even the sunny transitions?

 

Supporting Your Child

  • Take your cues from your child. What questions is he asking? What is he worried about? What is he excited about? Help him identify his feelings and let him know those feelings are okay. He might be feeling anxious and eager. It is comforting for children to know that they can have more than one feeling at a time and that feelings can change quickly.
  • Be careful not to dismiss your child’s feelings by saying things like, “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.” While we want to be reassuring, it doesn’t feel like everything will be fine at the moment. Instead, reflect the feelings you hear.
  • Tell a few positive stories about your early school days, or about a time you started something new (going to camp, joining an organization, changing jobs). And talk about times you felt scared or nervous and what you did to feel better. It helps to know that we are not the only ones who have felt this way.
  • To build skills that are helpful in a classroom, play games that involve taking turns, have rules, or require thinking before acting. Even good ol’ Simon Says, Red Light – Green Light, and Mother May I help children develop self-control.
  • Keeping to a routine (as much as possible) is comforting to children. Try to hold the extra activities at a minimum those first few weeks. Allow for down time – over-scheduled kids can mean tired, frazzled, and tense kids. And parents!
  • Refrain from telling your child how much you will miss him. Instead, at the end of the day ask him to share one thing about his day, and you share something about your day as well.
  • Try to set aside a few minutes each day (without technology) to spend on an activity that your child chooses. That focused attention, even if it’s brief, is reassuring for your child and makes him feel valued.

 

Taking Care of Yourself

Sometimes in preparation for a transition like the start of a new school year, we focus all of our attention and energy on our child. If we are going to be supportive, we need to be aware of how WE are feeling, too. Young children are intuitive, and can pick up on adult worries and concerns. Whether you find comfort in talking with a friend, taking a walk, or just carving out a little ‘me’ time, try to take care of yourself, too. When we care for ourselves, we are often better emotionally equipped to have empathy for others.

Learn and practice steps designed to help you calm down when you feel yourself getting impatient or upset or even overly excited. Not only does this help you calm down, but you are modeling the use of a very helpful tool for your child. Teach it to them, too.

Stay in touch with your child’s teacher. It can help to know how things are going from that perspective.

In the immediacy of everyday life with young children, finding ways to take care of yourself, will help you be a calm, loving presence with your child.

 

Starting anything new is challenging. Taking time to plan ahead and be prepared can result in a more confident, relaxed child who is ready to take on the world!

 

The Empathy of a 2 Year Old and His Dinosaur

Healing Dinosaur Offered

Caring and Empathy Start in the Early Years

“I’m going to visit Papa in the hospital today,” my daughter said to her two young sons. “Wait a minute, Mommy,” said 2½ year old Noah. He then disappeared up to his room. After rummaging through his drawer, he emerged from his room, proceeded downstairs, and placed a tiny orange plastic dinosaur in his mother’s hand. She did not remember him having this toy and asked what it was all about. Noah explained that when he went to his doctor when he was sick, the doctor gave him the dinosaur to help him feel better. He then instructed my daughter to bring the dinosaur to me to help me feel better as I recuperated from knee replacement surgery.

When my daughter presented the dinosaur to me in my hospital bed along with the Noah’s instructions, I was overwhelmed by the level of empathy demonstrated by such a young child. It was hard to fathom that he felt that connected to me and what I was going through. That wonderful, healing dinosaur proudly sat on the mantle in our family room and inspired me every day to hang in there through the challenging physical therapy that followed and helped me heal so I could play with my grandchildren.

While I continue to be amazed at how a 2½ year old could empathize so appropriately, it was a real-life reminder that even the youngest of children can understand other people’s feelings and show they care. While children are born with the capacity to be empathetic, empathy is a skill that children learn. When children have adults in their lives who respond to them with compassion and understanding, they are more likely to be empathetic towards others. Children who are empathic are more likely to do better in school, have more friends, and lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

 

How Can Caring Adults Help Children Learn to be Empathetic? 

  • Talk about feelings often – how you are feeling, how the child might be feeling, how characters in a story might be feeling. “How do you think the boy feels when his kite gets stuck in the tree?
  • Teach children words to express their feelings.  Accept all feelings and validate them.  Help them cope with strong feelings. “I see how frustrated you are that the puzzle pieces won’t stay together. That would make me frustrated, too.”
  • Encourage children to consider that other people also have feelings just like they do.  “You told me you felt sad when Maria teased you. How do you think Trayvon feels when you tease him?
  • Brainstorm with children what they can do to help a child in distress feel better. “Alisha is very sad because her mom is on a trip. Do you have any ideas for what you could do to comfort her?
  • Recognize children when they show caring towards others. “You were a good friend when you asked Kendall if she wanted to play with you.
  • Role model kindness and empathy.  Verbally express your concern for someone’s feelings.  Give caring gestures like patting a child on the back or calmly tell a child you understand how she feels if she is scared, frustrated, sad, or upset. “That loud truck made you feel scared, didn’t it? I understand. Loud noises scare me sometimes, too.

When children’s own emotional needs are met in warm, caring ways, they are more likely to be able to respond to other’s discomfort and pain – and extend a dinosaur of kindness to those in need.

Norman Geller, Ph.D., Educational Consultant and Assistant Professor

Autism and Educational Diagnostics, LLC.