Creating Memories for Our Kids

I was coaching a couple yesterday around creating memories for their kids.  If you’re a parent, you’re creating memories everyday.  Once in awhile it’s good to just sit back and become more conscious of how our kids might look back at their childhood. Is it in line with how we’d like them to remember their early years?  What kinds of things are they likely to remember?  What are the things that are going to stand out?  We might be surprised when they grew up to learn of the things they remember with the most fondness.  Often too, memories that are lasting are ones we least expect to remain with them. 

I asked my clients to recall their favourite childhood memories.  As I anticipated, they remember the simple fun and unstructured family time.   They remember things they did with their friends where there were no adults in charge.   I asked my husband what he thought our kids would remember with the most fondness.  We both guessed it was when we went camping.  They could play on their own in the nearby playground, help build the campfire, find interesting things in the forest, play games at the picnic table at night by candle light……

I asked our two youngest who are now young adults what their happiest memories were of their childhood and indeed, on their list was camping.  My son remembers the street hockey games everyday after school.  Whoever in the neighborhod  wanted to play, was welcome.  Weather permitting, he played for several years.  He would come home from school and immediately set up the goalie net in front of our garage.  When he was 11 he started playing organized hockey with the local minor hockey league.  My daughter remembers too, playing outside with the kids in the neighborhood after school.  They all organized their own activities.  There were the races she organized, the lemonade stands, the games in the grassy field…. With her there was always lots of pretending.

When I look back at my own childhood, the things that stand out for me are spending time in the summers at our cabin on the lake, bike riding with my friends, playing kick the can after dinner, summer vacations in Seaside, Oregon.  We always stayed in beautiful hotels and ordered room service when we travelled.  That was my dad’s style. It was nice but we didn’t appreciate it at the time.  What we loved the most was the simple things that just happened; that weren’t organized by an adult. 

Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost a lot of those simple pleasures that create so much joy with kids.  With what seems like the take over of technology and ready-made gadgets there doesn’t seem to be the same opportunities to create and explore freely.  Are our kids missing out on old fashioned fun?  We’ve also become paranoid that if we allow them to play outside unsupervised, they won’t be safe.  I wonder what the long term consequence of all of this will be.

What Is The Impact of Over-Scheduling?

This week I gave a talk to a group of about 25 parents on the topic of over-scheduling.  Rather than present facts and opinions for an hour and a half, I decided to make the workshop completely interactive and allow the group to come up with answers to the questions I presented. 

I first of all wanted to get a general idea of the ages of their children and how many activities they were involved in.  Virtually everyone who attended had children under the age of 10 and most had children under age 5.  Everyone had their children in at least one activity and one set of parents had them in 6 activities.  The average seemed to be about 3.  The parents who had their children in only 1 activity were parents of toddlers.  One mom reported that her husband was anxious to get their 2 1/2 year old son into hockey. 

My next question to the group was “Why do we enrol our kids in extra-curricular activities?”.  They said things like “We want to give our kids exposure to as many things as possible so they are better able to choose the things they like” or “We don’t want our kids to be left out if the majority of their friends know how to play soccer, or soft ball or other activities”, ” or “It will give them an advantage when they become adults”, and some said they felt pressure from other parents to have their kids enrolled in multiple activities.  There were other reasons; all equally well-intentioned. 

From there, I wanted to discuss the impact on the family when our calendars are full of activities.  These are some of the things I heard:  “Siblings don’t get to see much of each other”, “All the focus is on the kids and there is very little couple time”, “Eating is often on the run so we don’t eat as well”, “Transitions are difficult which leads to a lot of nagging and yelling”, “Parents are stressed all the time”.  “There is almost no down-time” and “Very little family time.”  It was interesting to me that people came up with the answers very easily and we ended up with a fairly long list. 

Now that the audience was conscious of the impact of over-scheduling, I wanted then to  lead the discussion towards the things we value in life.  I put out questions like:  “How many of you value family time?”, “How many of you think healthy eating is important?”, “Why do we have more than one child?”, “How many of you value the relationship you have with your partner?”, “Why is it important for us to have down time?”  My questions stirred a lot of discussion so I then asked: “How are these things that we say are important, aligned with this list here (Impact on the family)?”

I wanted then to raise some awareness around the long term affects of over-scheduling.  I asked:  “If children have been enrolled in many activities since they were preschoolers, what do you think the impact will be when they become teenagers?”  People agreed that by the time their children became teenagers, they’d be burned out.  There was the possibility they’d lose interest in everything.  We talked about the potential to feel pressure from a childhood where there was always a push to get better at something.  I asked if anyone thought there was a possibility all this stress and pressure could lead to depression.  Many people raised their hand.

I ended the workshop with a brief discussion around the value of silence and when we really are the most creative.  People agreed that we are the most creative when left alone to explore and create on our own.  I wanted to know if anyone had read any research that suggested that adults who are the most successful in life are those who attented multiple extra-curricular activities.  No one said they had.

One Reason Your Child Might Be Misbehaving

In my work I talk a lot  about the reasons children misbehave, and there is always a reason.  Sometimes it’s obvious but often it’s not.  Children are human beings and like all human beings we do what works for us, even though it may seem nonsensical.  We might be protecting ourselves in some way or our behavior might be getting the attention we need from others.  There are a multitude of reasons. 

One thing that makes children feel secure and grounded is when we impose clear, consistent, enforceable boundaries.  By that I mean we make it clear what is acceptable and what isn’t and they know with 100% certainty where the line is drawn.  On our part, it requires us to be not only clear and consistent, but realistic.  How often have you said something like “From now on, no TV on Fridays”, or something like that? What often happens is we find it far too difficult to enforce so we relax the “rule”.  Another thing we might say is “Your job is to feed the cat everyday” but before long you find yourself feeding the cat.  Every time we impose a new rule or set a boundary we have to be prepared to enforce it.  When my kids were young I found there were things I said they couldn’t do, or must do, but later found them too difficult to consistently enforce.  I had to be realistic and honest with myself. How diligent was I prepared to be?  I knew it was important to be consistent if I really meant what I said, so I had to stick to guidelines I was prepared to realistically and consistently enforce. 

When a child asks to do something or have something and we say “no” but later give in to their demands, we weaken the boundaries.  In the short term it works because we no longer have to hear a whining child and our child is content because she got what she wanted.  In the big picture though, we’ve created boundaries that are gray.  Once kids learn how to push hard enough to get what they want, the word “no” no longer means “no”.  We make ourselves look wishy washy and easy to manipulate.  It’s not really what children want.  They want us to be strong and decisive.  They feel more secure when we are even though they protest when they don’t get their way.

When boundaries are unclear, many children will act out just to test where the boundaries actually are.  Some will accept what we told them the last time and not try again but many won’t.  They will continue to push the envelope just to see if we mean it.  Some will test boundaries daily, others once in a while and some never.  We all know our own children.  So if you have a child who is acting out frequently, you might want to ask yourself if your boundaries are clear and consistent.  Only establish rules you can realistically enforce and learn to say “no” and mean it, despite the tantrum or crying.

Parenting Our Adult Children

I remember when we brought our first child home from the hospital I said: “Well Claire, we’ve got the next 20 years together.”  Those 20 years have flown by and she is now almost 23 years old.  Marc arrived 2 years after Claire and he will turn 21 this July.  We also have 2 older ones who are 31; my husband’s twin sons from his previous marriage.  I’m learning that parenting doesn’t stop when our kids become adults.  They still need us, but in different ways.  They’re not dependent on us the way they were when they were young but as they make their way in the adult world, they often need a leg up.  They need to know we believe they have what it takes to get through their challenges and they still want to be recognized for their accomplishments.  They want to be heard.  They want some guidance when making decisions; but not unsolicited.  They want to be accepted for who they are and to know it’s OK to make a mistake. They also want “home” to be the same as it was when they were growing up.

My young adult children are also my friends.  I love being around them; hearing about what’s going on with their friends, hearing about plans they’re making and listening to all their anecdotes.  We laugh together and I love it that they get sarcasm.  By now they’ve figured out that their parents aren’t perfect  people.  We have our funny habits, quirks, weaknesses, and many imperfections.  They love us anyway. 

I recognize this as a whole new phase of life both for my husband and I and for our children.  They’re adults now and have their own lives yet our lives are still very much connected.  We’re connected in a nice way.  We respect each person’s need for independence yet we always know we’re there for each other.  We celebrate together and check in with each other.  We share the ups and downs of our lives together without leaning on each other. 

Parenting doesn’t have the same meaning it had when our children were young, but we’re still parents. The role has just been redefined.  It’s being there while at the same time, letting go.  It’s supporting without enabling.  It’s nurturing without coddling.  It’s creating space but staying emotionally close.  My children continue to help me grow as a person and I hope that never stops.

Finding Balance With Work And Family

A few days ago I gave a workshop on Work/Family Balance to a group of working parents.  They were all parents of young children.  I asked what challenged them the most.  They said things like guilt, meeting the needs of so many people, finding “me” time, finding couple time and transitioning from the work day to life at home with young children. 

I’m not sure if it’s possible to have perfect balance when we’re wearing two hats; especially in the early years.  We can though take inventory of our daily routine and see what adjustments can be made so there’s more down time.  I think we’ve taken the 20th century reality and tried to fit it into the 21st century and it doesn’t work.  We simply can’t do it all, all at the same time, without something suffering.  One mom said with so many demands she feels she only does an adequate job of both her paid job and parenting. 

One of the exercises I did with the group was ask someone to give us their typical day.  The mom that volunteered had a day that started at 6am and ended at 11:30pm.  When asked what her biggest challenges were she said trying to keep up with housework and the meals.  She also said she and her husband had little time together.  With both parents working full time, we all decided hiring someone to come in regularly to do housework would give her space in the day; especially the evening.  We also suggested putting time aside for meal planning would save a lot of time and money.  One mom in the group said she and her husband put aside a half an hour every Sunday to plan their meals for the week and they had a master grocery list.  We all agreed meal planning was a huge time saver plus saved money because you’re much less likely to eat out when you know ahead of time what’s for dinner and you have what you need. 

I took time during the workshop to emphasize the importance of nurturing our partnership.  It’s so easy to forget about date nights and time together.  With the many demands of the week,  we forget about the value of spending time together.  Children need us to keep the foundation strong; to maintain unity.  Often we can let some of the household tasks slide in favor of supporting our primary relationship.  Delegating can be hard to do if you’re not used to it, but there are times when it’s essential. 

There really is no such thing as having all aspects of our life in perfect harmony.  We work towards that end but it’s not easy.  We can though take a hard look to see if we’re living a life that is truely aligned with our values and spending time on the things that matter the most.

A Powerful Way To Reduce Sibling Rivalry

In the past week I’ve presented to two different groups on the subject of sibling rivalry.  I always like to start out by asking people how their own parents handled rivalry and how they wished they would have handled it.  I think we learn a lot by trying to see things from a child’s perspective. 

One thing we know for sure is that if we have more than one child there will be rivalry.  That’s a given.  Siblings will often fight with each other just out of boredom.  It’s as simple as that.  We probably all remember bugging our sister or brother just because it was fun.  Often though, there’s a reason children feel compelled to attack their sibling.  Their perception is that their brother or sister is getting more love and attention.  They sense an imbalance and they do what they can to even things out. 

Have you ever been told that we need to treat all our children equally?  The truth is, children would prefer to be treated uniquely.  They each want to know we see them as special and different from their siblings.  They want us to recognize their unique talents and abilities as well as needs and wants.  For logistical and practical reasons, when we take our kids out, we take them together.  When we photograph them, we often photograph them all together.  When one needs something new, we buy the other or others something new. 

 One thing that prevents rivalry is when each child knows, without a doubt, in their parent’s eyes they are special.  We do this by acknowledging the things they do well and the things that give them joy.  We take the time to spend time with each child, individually.   We recognize their individual style of learning as well as their  temperment.  If we have two children and one loves soccer but the other prefers hockey, we support those differences. We accept them for being who they are and don’t compare one with the other.  If we consciously treat each child uniquely rather than equally, we’re less likely to experience a lot of rivalry.

Finding the BEST Preschool

CBC television recently aired a documentary called Hyper Parents & Coddled Kids  It discussed how parenting somehow has become more about producing a “product” than raising a child.  Many parents do whatever it takes to make THEM look good.

I’m co-leading a parenting group for the next few weeks.  A mom recently brought me aside and very seriously asked me what I thought of Montessorri Preschool.  I told her that I really didn’t know enough about it to give her an informed opinion.  A lot of my clients have sent their kids to Montessorri and have had a variety of experiences.  Some swear by it and others question it.  I told this mom to visit a few preschools and find one where she likes the teacher, there is a variety of toys to play with, and she feels confident her child is going to have a positive experience.  I suggested she listen to her intuition.

Preschool is NOT about finding a school that is going to prepare your child for entry into Harvard or any other university for that matter.  It’s an opportunity to socialize with children their own age, learn to separate from you or their primary caregiver, and have a variety of age appropriate toys and activies to actively engage in.  To my knowledge there is absolutely no research that says sending your child to the “right” preschool is going to better equip them for a successful life. 

The mom is our group told us  she and her husband have heard of certain schools that start to teach children good study skills.  My co-leader said:  “If I walked into a school where 3 year olds were learning to study I would turn around and run as fast as I could the other direction.”  I said:  “I would too.”. To me, a lot of structured learning would be a big red flag.  Preschoolers need to PLAY and PLAY some more.  Play is how they learn and is what they need to be doing a lot of.  They also need to learn how to socialize. 

Preschool is also a time children learn to adjust to other adults and to adapt to the rules in a different environment from home.  You want to find a place where children are loved and respected and the focus is not on academics but on play that involves both gross and fine motor activies.  It is NOT a preparation for university.  Young children don’t need that kind of pressure and if we have a strong need for them to “succeed” when they’re 3 and 4 years old, they’ll feel it.

Do you have a strong willed child?

Apart from private coaching, I lead and co-lead parenting groups.  Invariably a topic comes up which leads to further discussion around a specific aspect of the topic.  Yesterday we were discussing temperament and how important it was to know your child’s natural temperament and be able to accept it.  Some children are just naturally more active than others.  Some are highly sensitive to their environment.  Some take a long time to warm up to new situations.  Others jump in without hesitation.  Temperament is something we can’t change but what we can do, is learn how to handle it and just go with it.

We all know children who are very strong willed and want to challenge us every step of the way.  Maybe you have a child like that yourself.  They constantly want to push the envelope.  I often tell parents of strong willed children,  that they’re difficult to parent but I believe they’ll do well in life.  They’ll know what they want and won’t let anything get in their way. 

 In the midst of our discussion on temperament, I was offering some strategies around getting children to do what we ask; in a democratic way.  In response, one mom said:  “Sometimes I just want to say to my son:  ‘Suck it up!’ “.   She said she doesn’t always feel like offering choices, or making a task into a game or distracting.   My response to her was that despite the new trend in parenting which is more democratic than autocratic, there are times when it’s completely ok to take full charge and let your child know that although it might not seem fair, or it’s not what you want to do, this is just the way it is. This mom has a strong willed child.

 Like everything else, if we over-use a particular strategy or take something to the extreme, it’s no longer effective.  I used the example of time-outs.  I think giving a child a time-out can be a very effective tool, but if you’re using it multiple times a day, it’s not effective.  It’s time to look at the bigger picture, or start employing a different strategy.  Parents of strong-willed children, can easily be pulled into prolonged negotiations and power struggles.  They need us to set firm, enforceable limits and know when to simply take charge.

Wisdom From The Singing Grocer

Yesterday my daughter Claire and I had a morning that was completely unplanned.  I was scheduled to start teaching my first Signing with Babies class for the winter session at a community centre here in Vancouver which is just off a street called Commercial Drive, or so I thought.  The plan was, we would drive there together and while I was teaching my class, she would stroll the street and pick up some produce we needed.  Commercial Drive is great for window shopping and people watching.  When I was finished the class, we planned to go for lunch. 

I arrived at the centre only to find out I was a week early!  I actually wasn’t scheduled to start until next week.  I obviously entered the wrong starting date in my calendar.  It was a lovely day yesterday so we just decided to stay in the area anyway and look in the shops and buy the produce we needed.  Claire suggested one of the bigger produce markets on the corner where she said the prices were really good.  We picked up various things from the bins outside then went inside and heard someone singing.  It was a man’s voice singing “Blowing In The Wind” – the beautiful folk song from the sixties written by Bob Dylan that Peter, Paul and Mary sang.  When you walk into a grocery store, or any store for that matter, you don’t expect to hear someone singing loud enough for everyone to hear.  The singer was who I think was the  Chinese owner, was standing over the melons with his green apron on, singing to his heart’s content. 

A little bit later while we were in the aisle, we saw the singing grocer so I felt I had to comment on his singing and say how lovely it was to hear.  He’s been working in the store for thirty years he said and when he was young some people told him it was “time to grow up” when they first heard him singing.  Thankfully he ignored them. When then got into a bit of a conversation around the music of the sixties.  He said he loved Peter, Paul and Mary and whenever he gets into a bad mood, he fills the house with their music.  “What’s your favourite Beatle song?” I asked him.  He thought for a moment and then said “Hey Jude”.  He also said he loved “The Long and Winding Road” and told us that when he and his wife get into an argument he tells her life is just like the song; “a long and winding road”. 

For the rest of the day I thought about our encounter with the singing grocer.  He reminded me of the power of music and how it can instantly elevate your mood and put you in a better place.  It’s such a simple thing to do yet so effective.   Today I decided I’d probably had heard enough gloom on the radio and TV for the day and remembered the wisdom from Norman the grocer.  I put on an uplifting CD and instantly felt great.

3 Things Parents Must Know About Technology

Guest Post by:  Carole Smith

If you’re a parent, especially one who was more at home in the 70s and early 80s before technology became something that was not a geek thing, you’re probably not at home around the gadgets and gizmos that are an essential part of every teen and pre-teen’s life. For them, there is no life without technology; they wake up to it, breathe it, live it, and sleep it. And if you think that you are too old to have any use for technology and that you can live your life just fine without having to get your hands on a computer keyboard or try figuring out how to get that blasted iPhone to work for you, well, you have another think coming.

In this day and age, it’s not that easy to escape technology, especially if your kids are taking to it like ducks to water. You must know enough about it to at least:

·         Know what your children are using it for: Only when you know what the technology does will you be aware of what your kids are using their gadgets for. There are a host of ways they can be misused, so unless you are up to scratch in your technology, there’s no way you can monitor what your children are up to and if they’re going to get into trouble because of technology. When they know that you don’t know much about technology, it’s easy for them to lie to you and get away with it. They could be playing games on the Internet even while telling you that they’re doing research for their homework.

·         Keep them safe from the dangers that it poses: Technology can lure children who are not mature enough and who are emotionally unstable into traps that could have adverse consequences. Pedophiles could lurk in Internet chat rooms and entice your children into revealing their addresses or setting up clandestine meetings. Your kids could give out sensitive information that could be have financial repercussions if people steal your identity and use your credit card to perpetrate fraud. So unless you know how to install the right kind of protection for your children, you’re going to subject them to unnecessary harm.

·         Be able to decide what they really need and what is unnecessary: With all the gizmos that are flooding the market today, you need to know what your child really needs and what is excess when it comes to technology. Gadgets cost money, and unless you are able to decide what is really necessary for your child, you’re going to be spending most of your salary on technology.

So if you’re lagging in this discipline, it’s never too late to get up to speed; start today and wow your kids with your newfound passion for technology. 

 By-line:

This article is contributed by Carol Smith, who regularly writes on the topic of ultrasound tech schools. She invites your questions, comments at her email address: smithcarol.311@rediffmail.com