Tag Archives: parenting tips

The Baby-Led Weaning Experiment

banana diveMy littlest one was sitting in her exersaucer, madly trying to eat the plastic letter B and the plastic butterfly hanging next to the plastic letter B. She was yelling a lot. I started thinking maybe they didn’t taste nice? How about a banana? I’ve been reading the Baby Led Weaning book for a little while now, and feeling inspired by their (many might say crazy!) ideas.

“The mush stops here!” In a nutshell (not a spoon), the Baby Led Weaning idea is that babies will feed themselves when they are ready to, and we don’t have to push food into them. It’s finger foods from the beginning, whenever the baby decides the beginning will be (an ability to sit up and grab things required).

BLW proponents say feeding themselves helps babies learn hand-eye coordination. Babies will have an sense of what they are putting in their mouths instead of being surprised by the mush, so they’ll be happier doing it. They won’t feel left out of the family dinner. They won’t choke because their reflexes will push the food out if they aren’t ready for it. (She pushed out the little piece of banana that she accidentally bit off.) I think BLW is even supposed to make them smarter!

I’m gonna give it a shot. I didn’t do it with her brother (and he’s certainly smart enough). I mostly chewed his food for him in the very beginning (I know, gross, but helpful in a digestive enzyme sort of way!), and he loved being fed so it wasn’t a problem.

My little girl, by the way, isn’t quite ready. As you can see from the photo up there, I was holding the banana for her, and I think that is a major no-no. The little girl needs to be in charge, and I don’t think she is quite up to the task yet. But soon!

For now, I think the thumb is yummiest. Especially when it’s covered with banana goop.

5 Tips To Survive Summer Vacation With Wild Kids

3766009204_8721a00ddeThere’s a picture of my sister in our family album that has inspired a family idiom: the purple kitty face. In the photo, my sis is standing in our driveway on a summer day wearing light blue undies and holding a tiny black kitten, scooped from a litter of mates produced by our ginger cat, Selena. In her sweet and quirky four-year-old way, she had convinced herself (and probably me) that the kitty was not black, but purple.

If you look closely at my sister’s expression, you’ll notice that her lips are pursed tightly in a sort of painfully loving grimace. Her teeth are clenched, as are her two little hands that are quickly crushing purple kitty’s spindly rib cage.

If a thought bubble could appear magically above my sister’s head it would say, “You’re so cuuuuuuttteee! I love you to deeeeeaaaaath!” Fortunately, no animals were injured in the filming of that scene. At least not that we knew of, anyway. I imagine that Mom swooped toward her daughter after snapping the pic, rescued the kitten from imminent death and returned her to the cardboard box from whence she came.

There’s a psycho-medical term for this exact situation I’m sure, but nothing quite pins the tail on the donkey like purple kitty. (Though that Looney Tunes scene with Daffy Duck and the Abominable Snow Man comes close, “I will hug him and squeeze him and call him George.”)

The purple kitty is sort of like that feeling of being insanely cold. When you’re so cold that shaking is involuntary. Only when you notice that your teeth are chattering so much your jaw hurts and your thighs are sore from tightening them against the weather do you become aware of the tension and mindfully release it… only to squeeze up again with the next frigid gust. (I’m a lifelong New Englander, I know about these things.)

My children make the purple kitty face all the time. We just got a puppy and she is often the recipient of squeezey loving. But I know it’s not just a behavior reserved for my family. All kids do this. I remember one day my old boss came into work and told us that her beloved family pet, a hamster, was laid to rest in a shoe box that morning – a victim of her daughter’s loving embrace. It happens. And not just with animals.

I remember doing this with my neighbor as a kid. He was such an adorable baby. I remember hugging him a little to tight, sucking my breath in through clenched teeth, body shaking from the effort of physical love, releasing only when the little toe headed cutiepie squeaked rather than exhaled. Honestly, sometimes I notice myself doing it still. What can I say? Babies are cute.

As a parent of small children, I’ve noticed that my purple kitty face, once associated with over-loving, has become one of Holy-Shit-I-Can’t-Take-It-Anymore-You-Are-Driving-Me-Crazy-And-I-Need-You-To-Stop-Screaming-At-Each-Other-Before-My-Eyeballs-Eject-From-My-Skull. I think the more common term for this is frustration, but frustration is not a rich enough word for the exasperation, disheartened-ness, desperateness, and anger that I can feel when my kids are totally obnoxious.

So I admit it. I’ve been known to occasionally squeeze my kids. And not because they’re cute. Thanks to a committed mindfulness practice, I can typically defend them from my clenching grip, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve never sent my kids off to school praying that their teachers wouldn’t roll up their sleeves and find red stripes around their biceps from where I grabbed and squeezed, imagining that my vice grip would somehow convince them to stop screaming, listen to my words, or clean up their blasted Pokemon cards.

It’s summer vacation now, and all this quality time with our unscheduled babies, as delightful as it is, provides us with endless opportunities to feel emotionally overwhelmed by their antics. So there are a couple of things I’ve done that have helped me to stop the squeezing and relax my purple kitty face, and I wanted to share them with you all.

I have three small children ages 4 through 8, and I mother each of them differently, but these five things work consistently for me with all three.

  1. Meditate. Your reaction to your babies is not about them, it’s about you. When you’re composed, no amount of nagging, screeching or spoiled-rotten-American-kid complaining will offend you.
    • A meditation practice takes time to develop, so in the meantime try this: The second you reach for that little arm, breathe into your squeezy hand and let the irritation melt like butter on plain pasta with no red sauce. Think these words: “This will be over soon, and we will be happy again.”
    • Another great mindfulness trick is the 10-10-10 rule. Ask yourself, “How will I feel about this in 10 minutes? In 10 days? In 10 years?” Probably not so great. So loosen up the tourniquet and know that this too shall pass.
  2. Make sure they’ve eaten. Hungry kids are CRAZY. We all know this, but somehow we all forget. Feed them. I always have a bag of apples and a slicer wheel nearby. It’s the perfect emergency food. But even with that, I still forget, too.
  3. Whisper or speak very softly when you’re explaining or disciplining. They’ll be like, “What? What, Mommy? What?” and they’ll stop screaming long enough to listen. Most of the time, they start modeling my volume and instantly the stress level dissipates – mine and theirs.
  4. If whispering doesn’t work, try crying. Channel your inner soap opera diva. Most likely, fake tears will not be hard to conjure, but feel free to give yourself over to real ones. There’s nothing wrong with letting your kids see you cry. They should know the effect their behavior has on others. And when you’re teetering on the edge of an emotional volcano, a sobbing mommy meltdown can be a great side effect – they stop flipping out and turn their compassionate focus on you. “I’m so sorry, Mommy. I’m so sorry,” complete with hugs and kisses and sympathy. Then they can stop being lunatics long enough for you to regain composure and control.
  5. When all else fails, put them in water. My neighbor, an experienced mother of several, taught me this and I am ever-grateful. Draw a bath, toss in a few face cloths and buckets, turn on some Mozart and leave the room – bathroom door open, of course.

How to Throw a Junk-Free Kid’s Birthday Party

I was terrified the first time I threw a kids’ party without the usual pizza and brightly dye-colored cakes and candy. I was worried I was going have a revolution on my hands, a mutiny, a gang of pizza-crazed 2-year-olds who were going to make me walk the plank. I was pleasantly surprised when only one parent asked,  “Where’s the pizza?” and astonished when there wasn’t a peep or a whimper from the kids. “Phew,” I thought back then. “It is possible.”

This year I had a little boy pull me aside. He had a concerned look on his face. He said, “I only eat one kind of chicken nugget, and I don’t eat salad.” I replied, “I’m sorry that I don’t have your special nuggets, but the chicken on the table is really tasty and you don’t have to eat salad.” About ½ an hour later I saw him happily munching on a sweet and sour lemon chicken stick and the noodles with pesto sauce. I personally handed him an apple lemonade ice pop and saw him wipe his cake plate clean. So, even the picky ones left satisfied.

On the menu this year was:

guac-and-chips-copy

For starters I made Guacamole and served it with Organic GMO free “Way Better” sweet potato chips.

Two quick tips on guacamole-making:

  1. Keep the avocado seeds in the guacamole. It will help keep it from turning brown.
  2. Add 1 teaspoon of avocado oil to your guacamole. This, too, will help it from turning brown.

Next up, hummus and vegetables. This year I bought some fresh made from a local market. Usually I make it fresh, but there is only so much time…

For a sweet snack, fruit kebabs. Honeydew, cantaloupe, pineapple and grapes. Yum.

And finally, the main course!

Grilled Chicken on a Stick 2 Ways. I marinated the chicken overnight and then I grilled them. Well, my husband grilled them…

  1. Sweet and Sour lemon. I used the marinade from my “Sweet and Sour Lemon Chicken.”
  2. Chicken Satay.

Here’s a picture of the Chicken Satay final product:

Sataysmall

Some ideas for healthy side dishes:

And now what the kids are all waiting for: dessert!

Sam-with-ice-pop-copy

First, homemade ice pops. Chocolate Mint, Apple Lemonade, Pina Colada, Sour Apple Sorrel, and Ruby Beet.

Sam is eating the Pina Colada Pop here. His favorite was the Ruby Beet. He looks like a vampire in the photos of him eating that one though!

These were a huge hit. I actually got a call from a 7-year-old boy who was at the party asking for the recipes! Ice Pop recipes will be available in an e-book I will be releasing in the next couple of weeks.

For a more traditional cake option, try one of these:

So there you have it! A kids’ birthday party without junk. It can be done.

 

Originally published on my website, Tapp’s Tips.

Related Articles:

The Desserty Secret: Eat Your Sugar With Fiber

3 Guilt-Free Steps to Satisfy Your Sugar Cravings

How to Balance pH for the Best Body You’ve Ever Had

5 Questions Every Modern Parent Should Be Asking

Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 1.00.44 PMDo you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re sort of uncomfortable but you don’t complain, don’t leave, don’t speak up because you don’t want to cause a scene or make anyone feel bad?

Even when we have concerns that are legitimate, sometimes we hold our tongues to avoid awkwardness or confrontation. We don’t walk away because we believe our departure implies criticism, judgment or lack of trust in another’s decisions or lifestyle.  We take care not to step on anyone’s toes. We don’t want to be rude or offensive by questioning what folks are doing. Maybe we assume that the other person knows better – or knows something we don’t.

Of course we know just fine ourselves. Our little voices whisper to us, “Get out of here. This feels wrong,” or, “This guy has no idea what he’s talking about. We’re in danger.” And our little voices are usually right on target. Those voices become especially useful when it comes to our kids. But sometimes, just as we ignore it when it comes to our own safety, we ignore it when it comes to theirs.

Even though we like to think that we’d never put our babies in harm’s way, it happens to every parent at some point. That moment when we know we should be changing course but we stay put instead because we don’t want to make waves. At times like these it’s important to remember that there’s nothing rude or offensive about being a good advocate for our children. After all, our kids trust us implicitly and believe that when we send them off into the world that we are sending them off to safe place with responsible people. They never say, “Momma, will I be safe?” They move through the world with confidence, knowing for certain that we have their little backs.

We are our children’s best advocates. We are responsible for our children’s safety. And knowing about the world and how it spins in 2013, we can initiate some pre-emptive, full-disclosure conversations that will provide us with comfort and trust as our children explore the world independently. These are five “little voice” questions that every parent should be asking without hesitation or fear of imposition:

1. “Can you please not drive and text or talk on the phone while my child is in the car?”  

We all know the stats. Distracted drivers hurt people. Carpools being a vital part of parenting, often times we toss kids into minivans assuming that the drivers are responsible behind the wheel simply because they are responsible for children. Do you know if the parents or guardians in your carpool are texting while driving? I admit, while I’ve asked this question to friends on occasion, for the most part I assume that people are doing the right thing. But there’s nothing wrong with asking. We have every right to protect our kids.

2. “Do you keep a gun in your house?”  

The Newtown tragedy was not lost on anyone, certainly not parents of small children. Let’s use this tragedy as a lesson to us all when it comes to gun safety. A few weeks ago, my son was eagerly anticipating a play date with a new friend. The night before the big day, I received an email from the boy’s mom, “Don’t take this the wrong way. But in light of everything that happened this year, do you keep guns in your house?” I was so happy that I wasn’t the only parent asking that question. There is nothing intrusive about ensuring our children are playing in a safe environment. I assured her I don’t have any weapons in my house and we cleared the way for a terrific conversation about modern parenting.

3. “Will there be any other people in your home during the play date?”  

Listen, I’m not a paranoid parent, but when I drop my kids at someone’s house, I want to know about older siblings, friends, visiting uncles or handymen hanging around. When we are alert, we pass this awareness onto our children and we give them a beautiful gift called confidence. When their heads are up, they are better prepared to protect themselves if placed in an uncomfortable position. Abusers seek opportunity.

I always tell my kids this: When you go to pick out a puppy, do you want to take home the puppy who is nipping and barking? Or do you want to take home the puppy that curls up in a ball in your arms? Of course they vote for the snuggly puppy. And then I tell them that abusers think this way when they pick out victims. They want easy prey. When we are confident, when we look people right in the eye and use our strong voices to tell them when we don’t feel comfortable, we are unbreakable. Knowing who is in the house, we can prep our kids with an easy conversation and remind them that if they are ever in a place where they don’t feel right, they should go to a parent and ask for help.

4. “Will the birthday cake have nuts in it? Will nuts be offered at the party?” or, “Does your child have a food allergy?”

According to Food Allergy Research & Education, 1 in 13 children has a food allergy – that’s about two kids in every classroom. With this in mind, the likelihood that an allergy sufferer attends your child’s birthday party is pretty darn good. Peanut is obviously the most prevalent allergy in children, though lots of other issues are out there – eggs, shellfish, gluten, dairy, soy… how can we do the right thing? Some kids know enough to ask the right questions. My son, for example, has been asking, “Are there nuts in this?” since he was two years old. He has a genetic allergy and knows to be vocal. Other kids might just trust that the food is safe. So it’s important for us parents to clear potential danger out of the way by asking about allergies ahead of time. This way the party host has a chance has full disclosure.

But even though the party host may not have an allergy kid, it’s also important for her to ask guests ahead of time. Because the last thing anyone wants to do is serve a strawberry cake with almond extract to a kid with a nut allergy and sit there helplessly while the child breaks out in hives and gasps for air. This is the world we live in now, and these are the precautions we need to take. We can no longer take the “I didn’t know better” approach. Because we do know better. Ask the questions. Protect the child. Protect yourself.

5. “Can you please not use your cell phone or go in my bedroom while babysitting?”  

We may be comfortable assuming that our babysitters know better than to text, play “Words with Friends” and chit-chat on their iPhones while caring for our children. But most likely, this is not the case. Very rarely do teens log out. But it is absolutely acceptable to ask them to turn off electronics while watching our kids. We are paying them to give their full attention to our children, after all. And if there is an emergency, they can use the house phone.

We may also assume that sitters respect our privacy when they’re in the house. But I’ve been shocked to hear many adult friends confess that they used to rifle through bedside goodie drawers and personal spaces of parents for whom they sat as teens. If it’s an uncomfortable topic to discuss casually, write down a short list of expectations for the sitter like this:

  • chicken soup for dinner
  • PG movies only
  • no texting or phone calls while kids are awake
  • be sure toys are put away and kitchen is clean
  • kids in bed by 9pm
  • my bedroom is completely off limits
  • we’ll be home by 11 but call for any problems

By taking time to create clear boundaries, we are letting others know that we value ourselves and our families. This is a good thing. And really, when we share our expectations we are helping everyone by avoiding uncomfortable situations. It’s okay to speak up. It’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to advocate for our kids’ safety. Safety is the last thing on their minds so it needs to be the first thing on ours.

A Mom to Her Young Daughter: You are not ugly. God doesn’t do ugly.

We'll Forsake Our Ages and Pretend We Are ChildrenMy first grader and I were snuggling at bedtime when she confessed:

“Mommy, I don’t like my face.”

She told me she thinks she’s ugly, that she hates her body, “The girls at school don’t want me in their group because my face doesn’t look pretty like their faces.”

Ummmm… Whhaaaaaaat?

She’s too young for self image issues. I was 12 before I started feeling insecure about my body, which is sad enough, but to be feeling this way at age 6?

How does a mother respond to that? Give a pep talk? Borrow a library book about self-esteem? Make a call to the school psychologist? And after I do all that, then what?

Carrying the burden of an unhealthy self image is like being an addict. You know it’s wrong, but no one can convince you of subscribing to another way of functioning until you’re ready. You’ve got to beat yourself up long enough to learn that accepting garbage into your life makes you feel like, well, like garbage – until finally you explode, “Okay, okay enough already! I want better for myself! I’m ready to make a change! Help me!!!”

My 6 year old is not ready for change because she doesn’t realize there’s a problem. Poor self image is her normal.

She doesn’t understand where her feelings are coming from. And honestly, I don’t either. A challenge from a past life? A side-effect of American culture? A chemical imbalance? I just don’t know. But ugly is her truth.

I can’t force her to believe that physical attractiveness is unimportant. No lecture can convince her that she was born perfect and complete. She needs to learn those things on her own. But she chose me as her mother for a reason – and I happened to be equipped with some pretty helpful tools with which she can empower herself and start fixing the bits she doesn’t know are broken.

To start, I talked to her about challenges, a familiar topic in my household and in my writing. I explained that we’re all born with a set of challenges, and it’s our job in life to figure out how to work through them. Challenges are sneaky. They feel like they’re real, but actually they’re more like a series of magic tricks. Smoke and mirrors. Divine booby traps set up to see if we can figure our ways past them and learn a lesson in the process. If challenges didn’t exist, life would be so boring that we wouldn’t exist either. So we deal with them – even welcome them – so we can continue to learn about love and life on this amazing planet.

Some challenges we can embrace and some challenges we can balance. The challenge that my baby girl is facing is one that requires a little of both of these actions. She needs to work on embracing, or lovingly accepting, her body just the way it is and balancing the way she feels about herself, inside and out, so that she can feel happy when she’s playing with other kids.

This idea is sort of lofty so we broke it down, talking about the divineness and perfection of her soul energy and decided together that she looks exactly the way the universe designed her to look. God doesn’t do ugly, only perfect. And there’s no arguing with God.

We also enlisted the support of my 6 year old’s personal hero – her big sister. Self esteem is cultivated safely at home, the perfect training ground for the outside world. We talk a lot about the power of our family and the strength that we emote through the way we love each other. Big sister agrees to help set the pace (as best she can) to help little sister with her challenge. She can help to provide safe harbor for her little sister by showing her kindness, affection, and forgiveness.

In Buddhism it is believed that a beautiful face is a gift from a previous lifetime of demonstrating kindness. But whether or not you believe in past lives, we can probably all agree that kindness and love manifest physically in people. We say things like, “I don’t know what it is. There’s just something about that person.” Or maybe you’ve heard the saying that by the time we’re 50 we get the face that we deserve. It’s rooted in the same idea – kindness IS beauty.

Insecurity isn’t about physical appearance. It’s about a deficiency in love and my family has no shortage of love to give my little girl.

So for another layer of healing, we coupled our breathing and meditation practice with Wayne Dyer’s “I Am” statements to program her brain with affirmations at bedtime saying, “I am loving. I am loved. I am compassionate. I am bright. I am kind. I am helpful. I am caring. I am good.” And she marinates in those words while she sleeps.

Notice that I do not use the affirmation, “I am beautiful.” I decided deliberately not to use that word because her current definition of beauty is solely external. Instead we focus on intangibles.

I’d like to tell you that we did this and it worked and my daughter is now a confident, carefree young girl. But that’s not the case. We keep bestowing our love while practicing our breathing and affirmations, and she continues to feel unsure about the meaning of beauty and her place in the social spectrum. I’m confident, however, that with time and mindful commitment, the momentum will shift and she will start to feel the peace that comes with finding balance and acceptance of her life as it is, just like her Mommy did.

Are You a Perfect Parent?

How about a perfectly imperfect one?

This February The Chopra Well launches our new family-centered show, PERFECTLY IMPERFECT PARENTS. Consider it your go-to for thoughtful, realistic parenting advice, with a twist of humor.

Three Los Angeles mothers (a pediatrician, an entrepreneur and a comic) sit down to compare notes and share stories from their challenges, successes and failures in parenting. Host Mallika Chopra is the driving force behind the website Intent.com and has authored two books on parenting. Dani Klein Modisett is a writer, actress, and comic who created the live show “Afterbirth,” which has been running in Los Angeles for eight years. And Dr. Cara Natterson M.D. is a pediatrician who has authored several medical and parenting books, the latest an update and expansion of the best-selling American Girl book entitled The Care and Keeping of You.

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 1.31.14 PMAs these three moms strive to raise balanced, respectful and happy children, they all face similar challenges, but with a slightly different approach. Every episode tackles a unique issue of family life, with plenty of tips and humor interspersed. How do you instill children with a sense of community responsibility? Do you allow smart phones? How about sleepovers? And how do you broach the subject of sex with squeamish adolescents?

The show launches on February 7, with an episode on bullying. This issue has featured heavily in the news recently, especially with celebrity coverage from the likes of Lady Gaga and Jennifer Garner. The hosts discuss the prevalence of bullying and what parents can do to ensure their kids’ positive school experience. Not to miss!

Subscribe to The Chopra Well now so you don’t miss the launch of PERFECTLY IMPERFECT PARENTS!

When Words Fail Us: The Love of Parent and Child

 Words fail us all the time. I was reminded of the inadequacy of words at my friend’s house last week. He has a son with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), a genetic neuromuscular disorder affecting some 1 in 3500 boys. There is no cure for DMD.

The life expectancy of a child with DMD has grown from 15 years to maybe 25 years with comprehensive care. My friend’s child was diagnosed six years ago when he was three. In six years my friend and his wife have learned a lot about DMD and spearheaded the development of a state-of-the-art comprehensive care clinic at UCLA as well as numerous research projects to find a cure. They’ve learned enough to know that every year they can extend a life with better comprehensive care, the closer a child is to living in a time when a cure is available. And a cure is inevitable — it is merely a matter of money and time to get there.

My friend’s mission to find a cure and build a clinic were told in a recent Los Angeles Times article. I visited my friends in their home to introduce them to another friend who built a camp for kids with medical difficulties (The Painted Turtle) that hosts a DMD week each summer. In our meeting, we watched a video of the DMD campers having fun at camp, unhindered by their physical disabilities. It was during the video that tears slowly dripped down the face of my stoic scientist friend, Stan, who like me was raised in the Midwest where we learn to keep our emotions in check at a very early age. While that trait bodes well in academia (where Stan and I met and have spent our careers) it is far from useful when coping with the pain of a child’s potential loss of life due to a progressive disease.

No words can convey the sorrow that swept across Stan’s face as he watched the varying ages and stages of DMD — ages and stages that lie ahead for his child. It is this depth of love that a parent has for a child that words can never come close to reflecting. That love is so joyous, so rich and so blissful that it can only compare with the magnitude of pain felt in response to the possibility of this joy being taken away. The idea of losing a child to illness, accident or some other tragedy takes our breath away as parents, because the love we have is our life, we literally feel we cannot breathe without them.

I thought about how tragic it must feel to know, as a parent, that there is a cure, just years away for DMD, if enough money were available to move the research forward faster it could be today; it must be heartbreaking to know that the millions of children robbed of their adulthood by this disease will someday be a thing of the past — some day, sometime, in the future.

Every dollar can help make a difference so donate if you can. Words cannot heal the pain of parents and children affecting by DMD, but clinics and cures will make them unnecessary.

To help find a cure and support the clinic, go here: giving.ucla.edu/duchenne

To contact the clinic: www.cdmd.ucla.edu

For more information on DMD go to the parent project muscular dystrophy

www.parentprojectmd.org

 

 

Checking in on Christmas

Conscious parenting tips for the busiest time of the year.

 

Seasons greetings from our family to yours. I just wanted to check in on all your holiday festivities. How’s it going?

As I write this, I am sitting in front of a crackling fire. Our tree is lit and my beloved older son just made me a steaming cup of hot cocoa. In a Santa Claus mug.

Woohoo.

This is not to suggest that everything is done. In fact, there were some anxious moments in the Brown household this past weekend. I lost the keys to the “gift closet”. All the Christmas goodies are locked in that closet and after two days of fruitless searching, we were all getting a bit frantic.

It should be noted that both boys admitted to trying to pick the lock in the past. (I think) I am happy to report that they were unsuccessful. Still, they might have saved me a few hours of craziness…

In my stressed out condition, I could not achieve the meditative state that typically leads me to the discovery of lost objects. After about forty-eight hours of frustration, I stopped looking (and meditating) and decided to allow them to show up in their own good time.

Which they did.

Or rather, the cat found them. Honest.

So, here is my conscious parenting tip for the day: Surrender. Go with the flow. Don’t try so hard.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Christmas will come, regardless. You don’t have to rush toward it or turn it into some tortuous exercise in master planning. That’s not what it’s about.

Maybe what you really need to do is clear some space for it.

Chances are good that you have lots of things on your to-do list that don’t actually need doing. Certainly, several of them are probably not fun. Can you cross them off, or postpone them, without compromising the safety of your family? Do it.

I am thinking of sending out “Happy New Year” cards this year. They will look a lot like Christmas cards, but they will arrive a week or two later. I figure they’ll stand out from the crowd that way. And they can double as “Thank You” notes for our Christmas gifts. (Watch your mailbox!)

Here is a test, to know if you are paddling upstream or enjoying the holiday flow.  Are your current activities (and mental state) bringing you closer to your children; or is all the panic and preparation separating you from your loved ones?

Just breathe. It’s all going to be fine. Trust me.

Okay, now it’s time for the the magic. What can you do right now, to slow down and enjoy a moment or two with your children? How can you make a real connection? Maybe bake some Christmas cookies. Or, go out and play in the snow. Watch some TV together.

Really.

Christmas is about family. Christmas is about love. Christmas is about peace. See if you can focus on that today, and try to absorb just a bit of that holiday spirit.

Let’s join in a chorus of my favorite Christmas carol: Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow.

 

Related Posts:

For more ideas on how to get into the holidays without being mowed over by them, see Easing into Christmas.”

A new holiday story may be just what your family needs to slow down and feel the magic. Check out “Bedtime Stories for the Holidays” to find some great choices.

Conscious Parenting Tips for Multitasking Families

I-tunes, Internet, texting and television… increasingly, all in use simultaneously… is multitasking good for our children?

What happens when you add family dinners or homework to the mix? Is anything really getting done with quality? Is anything really getting done, period?

In today’s hypertasking society, should we be placing a greater emphasis on teaching our children how to successfully complete one task at a time?

The truth is, our human brains don’t actually multitask. We’re not wired that way. What we really do is toggle back and forth between multiple activities, while keeping track of where we are with each. We can do this more or less effectively, depending on the complexity and familiarity of the tasks involved.1

(Which is why walking and chewing gum at the same time is far less dangerous than driving a car while sending a text message from your cell phone.)

Multitasking is by definition inefficient. All that toggling back and forth is overhead. It slows you down. If you and your family are multitasking to “get more done in less time,” you’re not.

Another drawback to multitasking is the distraction of it all. Children who try to do homework while watching television, texting friends and surfing the Web may be storing the information they learn differently than those who are more focused. The impact? They are less able to recall out of context, synthesize or apply the information learned.2

Perhaps the biggest downside: Researchers and educators alike are worried that today’s children, by living their lives in bite-sized chunks, are losing the capability for detailed knowledge acquisition, in-depth analysis, or dealing with ambiguity.3  Where, then, are our future scientists, inventors and world leaders coming from?

As a parent, my list of concerns might be even longer.

I worry about how our children will succeed in the development of mature, long-term, can’t-toggle-over-when-the-conversation-gets-too-personal relationships when their average encounter takes place by text, with dialog like: “sup?” “not much. u?”  How will they ever be able to sustain a marriage or raise a child?

I wonder how these children will fare, when they are required to complete a series of complex tasks in order to keep a job, manage a household or send an astronaut to Mars. Where are those future scientists, indeed? 

I am afraid that our children, who seem to experience separation anxiety from their cell phones more than from their parents – who find television too boring to watch without at least one other electronic device in use simultaneously – are losing the ability to find joy in nature, satisfaction in a job well done and peace in moments of stillness. Will they even know what they are missing?

I know, I’m sounding a bit overwrought. Multitasking may not actually signal the end of civilization, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take action. Conscious parenting means teaching our children to make conscious choices. Multitasking may be helpful – or at least, not overtly harmful – in some situations. But let’s not allow this hypertasking trend to deprive us of the qualities that make us human.

My Top Five Conscious Parenting Tips for Multitasking Families

1. Prioritize Face-to-Face Communications  Make it a habit in your family to look each other in the eye when conversing. If at all possible (probably not while driving), stop whatever you are doing and look directly at your child when you have something to say to them. Teach them to take both earphones out, mute the television, or turn away from the computer. 

Start each day with a personal, face-to-face, “Good morning” for each member of the family. End the day with a similar “Good night.”  When someone enters the room or leaves the house, stop whatever you are doing to greet them, or give them a hug “good-bye.”

2. Make Dinner Time All About Dinner  Please, please, turn off the television and cell phones while having dinner. We are all massively over-scheduled, but with just a little effort, I know we can swing a couple sit-down, everyone-around-the-table family dinners each week. Teaching our children about mindful eating is a wonderful way to develop a presence practice in the midst of a chaotic world.

It might just improve your digestion, as well.

3. Optimize Learning During Homework Time  Identify a specific time and location for homework. Turn off extraneous media. Your child might need the Internet for research, or they might insist that they concentrate better with some music playing… you be the judge. Chances are good that music, homework, television and texting friends are a distracting combination.

If sitting down to complete all their homework without interruption is too taxing, try doing one assignment at a time, with short breaks in between for a snack, a call to a friend or ten minutes of basketball in the driveway

4. Encourage the Development of In-Depth Thought Processes  Practice having extended conversations with your children. Here is where just a little multitasking might work in your favor. Look for windows of opportunity – while driving to school or sports practices, on a long walk around the neighborhood, during the aforementioned family dinner – and get your kids talking.

Read books together. Nice, long books that take several nights to complete. Take turns reading out loud and discuss as you go. Why did that character do that? What do you think will happen next? How would you write it differently?

5. Teach Your Child to be Still  Does your child experience something akin to panic, when faced with periods of inactivity? Can they be comfortably alone, still and silent… even for just a few minutes? If not, welcome to Generation M.4

Help your child (gradually) find the peace, healing, growth and power available to them in moments of stillness. They may not be ready for a sixty minute meditation session, but try leading them into moments of calm. Pause to turn your faces into the sun and just smile. Gaze at the stars on a clear night. Snuggle in front of the fireplace and stop talking for a bit.

The Secret Ingredient

Okay, here is my final tip: You need to lead the way. Take a few moments of quiet for yourself and think about the example you are setting for your family. Do you use your cell phone while driving? Return text messages during dinner? Work on your laptop while watching TV with your kids? Just stop.

Trust that all will get done as needed and remember that these moments with your children cannot be retrieved if you miss them. No phone call is worth that.

Related Posts:

I wrote about mindful eating and using the preparation of a family meal as a way to ground yourself in the present in, A Presence Practice for Multitasking Overachievers.”

For more tips on grounding yourself in the present moment, please see "Parenting Presence: How to Be There for Your Children"“Deepak Chopra and My Washing Machine”, or “Happiness Now!”

Sources:

 1 “Is Multitasking More Efficient? Shifting mental gears costs time, especially when shifting to less familiar tasks.” August 5, 2001. APA Online.

 2 Rosen, Margery D. “The Perils of Multitasking: When kids are plugged in, how much sinks in?” February 28, 2007. Scholastic Parents.

 3 Wallis, Claudia. “The Multitasking Generation”. March 19, 2006. Time in Partnership with CNN.

 4 “Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds”. March 2005. The Kaiser Family Foundation.

Conscious Parenting Tips: Raising Adolescents

Sometimes, it really does take a village. If you are raising pre-teens or teenagers – especially as a single parent – make sure your support network is ready and able to back you up when needed.     

While dropping my kids off for soccer practice last night, I quietly informed the coach that one of my sons was wearing the same socks for the third night running – sans washing.
         
He immediately promised to give the team a pep talk on personal hygiene. And threw in a helpful reminder that school and family come before sports, no matter what.
       
Thank you.
       
Am I nuts, exposing our family’s dirty laundry – quite literally – to a non-relative?
       
Am I a bad parent, betraying my hygiene-challenged son’s dirty little secrets to someone outside his immediate family?
       
I sincerely hope not. Because truth be told, I’ve been sharing a lot of family secrets in recent months.
       
Ever since puberty arrived in the Brown house.
        
Isn’t it lovely, the way a parent’s IQ drops one point per day, as soon as their oldest child turns eleven? We were warned about this phenomenon at seventh grade parents’ night last week. Our middle school helpfully distributed pamphlets adapted from the wonderful Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14.
        
They included helpful clues to the social attitudes developing in our little seventh graders. “Question and argue with adults about rules… more willing to accept guidance from adults other than teachers and parents… peer opinions matter more than those of teachers and parents.”  
        
Uh huh.
        
I understand the situation reverses itself once your child reaches adulthood, but I have serious doubts about my ability to wait that long. (And I’m rather concerned that the reversal won’t really take hold until said child has acquired children of their own… when we become grandparents – the wise ones.)
       
My oldest son turned eleven over a year ago, so my IQ is currently down in the negative number zone.     
Mom knows NOTHING.
       
Even when I am repeating something he’s heard from multiple other sources, the veracity of my message is questioned. He will argue with me about the merits of doing his homework, the danger of spreading germs by purposely sneezing on his brother and the color of the sky.
         
“Blue,” I say.
      
“Well, not really.”
       
Faced with my extreme lack of credibility (in his eyes, anyway), I have taken to recruiting trusted lieutenants to deliver – or at least, reinforce – my parenting messages for me.
          
This has taken some getting used to. I want everyone I know to think well of my son and our family. I want them to see his beauty and his brilliance. I would not typically choose to reveal his aversion to daily showers and clean laundry.
        
And I am trying to maintain just a slight air of parental competence, myself.
       
Oh well.
           
Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I am bringing in the cavalry. I’ve enlisted friends, neighbors, godparents, our former nanny and now, our soccer coach to deliver some of the messages necessary for healthy growth but somehow deemed untrue when coming from a parent.
       
“It’s true, you really shouldn’t play with matches.”
       
“Yes, it’s the law: you really do need to wear a bike helmet.”
       
“Cool kids listen to their parents.”
       
Still working on that last one.
       
I think this might be a bigger deal for single parents. We don’t have built-in reinforcements at home. Still, my married friends tell me this is an issue in their households, as well.
        
I guess, being single in this case just means that you have to reach farther to find someone to commiserate with, after a particularly ridiculous argument with your twelve-year-old over whether his math teacher really does expect him to complete his homework as assigned.
        
When I feel like my head is going to explode, I phone a friend. Thank goodness, there are millions who have gone before me. And Thank God, most of our peccadilloes are not unique.
       
“Your son refuses to use soap or shampoo and tries to make up for it by coating his body with deodorant and ends up going to school smelling like a vat of Old Spice? Been there, done that.”
       
So, perhaps the parental support group serves two purposes: To be our allies in raising our children the best way we know how; and to reassure us that we are never, ever alone on this path called parenting.
      
Or, maybe they are just there to help us laugh, to help us breathe and to pour the wine.
      
       
Related Posts:
If you would like to share my parenting adventures while raising adolescents, you can check out Single Parent: More on the Joys of Raising Boys” and A Letter of Apology to My Parents, Whom I Love and Adore.”
        
For a slightly more serious (and possibly more helpful) take on the subject, please see Attention Conscious Parents: Please Read This Book!”
          

Recommended Reading:
I am currently recommending this book to anyone working with children (especially teens and pre-teens): Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers, by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, M.D. Whether you are a single parent raising adolescents or a two-parent couple just getting into toddlerhood or a middle school teacher who cares about their students, there is an important message here. Please read!!

To learn more about what to expect from (and hope for) your school-aged child, see Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14, by Chip Wood. It is a great reference tool for parents and a quick read. It is chock full of conscious parenting tips that you can use today.

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