Thursday, April 6, 2017

Five Simple Ways to Teach Gratitude

I was so lucky to attend a Cubs Spring Training Game last week.  The weather was beautiful in sunny Arizona.  The Cubs didn't disappoint either, hitting home runs and making incredible defensive plays. It was a beautiful afternoon and I was so thankful to be there with my husband.  There were families sitting near us, and the children in those families didn't share my sentiments.

First, let me explain that we had splurged on excellent seats.  We were in the second row, directly behind the Cubs dugout.  Seated both in front of us and behind us were two families.  The family in the first row was a dad and his two young boys (around 6 and 8 years old).  The dad spent the game leaving his seat to buy the two boys shirts, nachos (which ended up uneaten on the ground), and finally ice cream.  The older boy threw a fit because his dad did not bring him the flavor of ice cream that he wanted.  He ranted and raved at the dad, and dad apologized over and over again.  Near the end of the game, they left and left the new shirts in their bag on the ground.  Keep in mind, these boys were in FRONT ROW SEATS!  They had better seats than anyone else at the game.  This idea was clearly not brought to their attention.

Behind us was a family with older children. Mom left this family near the end of the game to buy cotton candy for her middle school age daughter. She was gone a long time.  When she returned, she told her daughter that she waited in a very long line and when she finally got to the front, they were all out of cotton candy.  The daughter got very upset and began throwing a fit that her mom didn't try another counter or find the cotton candy that she wanted.  As a side note, this family had already enjoyed a complete lunch, when Mom had gone and gotten burgers and fries and drinks for the family.But once again,  Mom felt guilty and apologized over and over again.

We need to do better, parents!!!!  If we don't teach our children to appreciate the things we give them, then why are we surprised when they grow up to be entitled, unhappy and ungrateful.  Why were these parents apologizing to their kids, in the midst of giving their children such a wonderful experience?  I found it difficult to hold my tongue and listen to these apologetic parents, while their children sat in the best seats in the entire stadium.  Thousands of other people were less fortunate than these families but clearly this lesson was lost on the children.  Where is the active teaching of thankfulness and appreciation?  Here are some suggestions to help teach these important lessons to our kids, so that we as parents can develop empathy and appreciation in our children.

1.  Model Thankful Behavior:  Kids learn what they live.  Show them you appreciate things in your life by thanking your spouse, children and others when they give you something or make you feel happy.

2.  Pray:  Say a prayer of thankfulness before meals or before bedtime with your children.  This practice of thinking outside one's self is an amazing way to pass on the lesson of being grateful for simple things like food, a warm house, a comfy bed, our loved ones, etc.

3.  Help Others:  Nothing breeds gratefulness like the realization that everyone doesn't have what you have.  Donate food to a food pantry and discuss with your children that some don't have enough to eat.  Donate clothes to a charity and discuss that some children don't get new clothes. You get the idea.  Generous people are grateful people.

4.  Teach Polite Words:  Start when your children are small, requiring them to use polite words.  Expect them to ask for things with polite words "Please may I have" and regularly use "thank you" when they receive something.  Remind them that at birthday celebrations and other gift centered times, each gift requires a verbal thank you.

5.  Write Thank You Notes:  Teaching children to send thank you notes helps them acknowledge that they appreciate a gift.  This is a wonderful exercise in appreciation, and a skill they will need through out their lives.

These five tips will go a long way in helping your children realize the blessings in their lives.  Small lessons over time make a huge difference.  Embrace thankfulness in your own heart and life, and see it spill over into the attitude of your entire family.

For more ideas go to this helpful post:

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Pull Back To Allow Your Child's Growth

I had asked my son (who is 21 years old) to renew his passport this summer.  He was home on Summer break from college, and was attending two summer school classes and doing odd jobs--so I knew he had some responsibilities in addition to this request, but last week as he prepared to return to college this task remained unfinished.  I had reminded him multiple times throughout the summer but to no avail.

Two days before he was to leave he began asking me questions about what to do and how to accomplish this task.  Needless to say, I was a little frustrated.  But I made a conscious decision to hold back.  I did not jump in to help him figure the process out.  I did not run and find his birth certificate as he requested.  I told him where to look for the documents and tried to refrain from answering any of his questions.  All of this did not come easily to me especially as he became angry at my hands off approach.  The frustrated parent in me wanted to just handle this myself.  But a little voice inside of my brain kept urging me to stay out of the process and let him figure this out on his own.

Did I mention he was leaving for college in two days?  Did I mention the mother's guilt that kicked in, when I thought about how I would not be seeing him for the next few months?  This whole situation was as much a struggle for me as it was for him...but I stayed strong.  I left it all to him--and he got it done.

This situation is an example of how difficult it can be as a parent to allow our children to grow. Although Michael is not a child any more, I can remember other times in the years when my four children were at home that my husband and I consciously pulled back to allow them to grow.

What ways do you allow your children to grow?  Do you have them do chores in your home?  Do you ask your 'tweens to babysit their younger siblings, or pick up the phone and order a pizza for your family's dinner?  Do you have your little ones clean up their toys or practice good manners while visiting someone's home?  Growth only happens when parents take the time to pull back and encourage their child to take ownership of his/her own behavior.  It is a constant challenge for a loving parent to know when to hold back and allow your child to step up.

At the beginning of the school year, my preschool students often are scared to leave their moms and dads at the door and come into the classroom, but with a final hug goodbye--we encourage the parents to go, as we assure them that we will call if their child is inconsolable.  This exercise is often more difficult on the parent than the child.

So Parents, please remember to hold back because: every new experience is an opportunity for growth.  And this is a parenting skill you will be practicing for many years to come!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Houses and Families Require Solid Investments in the Future

When you purchase a house, usually you take out a mortgage.  Getting a mortgage requires you to decide how long of a period you are going to agree to in order to pay off the loan.  Mortgages are one of the times in life we are forced to face the future.

Unfortunately, with parenting we are not required to think about the future and and often we parents get so caught up in the day to day that we fail miserably at looking at the long term. Every parent knows that starting from the day that your baby is born, he/she requires a lot of work.  It can feel overwhelming at times, and is doubly hard as a single parent to put forth the effort each and every day to be a strong and effective parent.  But lately, I have observed in many different settings a disturbing trend of parents who seem to have given up.  I can't help myself, but I am an observer of family dynamics.  And for whatever reason, in the last few weeks I have observed parents completely ignoring the behavior of their children, when the children were crying out for attention.  This type of parenting is likely to have long term effects.  I wonder if parents have heard so much negative buzz about "helicopter" parenting that they think that ignoring their children is a better path.  Let me assure you--it is equally wrong to ignore your children and their behavior as it is to over manage and interfere with them at every turn.

Children need you to observe and monitor them.  As they get older they generally need less minute by minute parenting--but it is not good parenting to completely ignore them and their behavior.  Children need to be taught by their parents the standards of behavior required in different settings--a restaurant, a religious service, or a social gathering all require different sets of polite behaviors that children are not born knowing about.  It is your job as a parent to prepare them for civil society by teaching them manners and polite behavior in all the settings that they are exposed to.

The long term effects of good parenting will bless you with children who respect you and turn to you for guidance, but at the same time are able to make good choices.  But ignoring your children and hoping they will learn to behave somehow from school or other environments will leave you with children who will continually push the boundaries in order to get your attention and feel you care enough about them to notice them.  Children who lack boundaries will engage in riskier behaviors in order to figure out where you will finally draw the line.  Research backs this up.  Children raised by permissive parents show higher rates of risky behaviors.*  Why?  Possibly because they are trying to get the parent's attention and possibly because they are trying to figure out if the parent cares about them.

Substituting permissiveness or lax parenting for over parenting is not the answer.  Remember that your children want and need your guidance.  Remember that your children are a reflection of you.  Teach them how to behave in a variety of situations so that they are well prepared for a successful future.  Think about the long term effects of the parenting you are doing on a daily basis.

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*For further information, read Dr. Diana Baumrind's Studies on Parenting Styles at the University of California Berkeley.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Enjoy the Simple Things...

Yesterday at preschool we planted sunflower seeds in little pots.  We put on gloves and used a tiny shovel to fill small pots with soil, and carefully poke the seeds into the soft, black dirt.  We were so excited to gently pour water over our newly planted seeds and give them their first drink.  Our little faces were so serious as we concentrated on each of these little acts--filling a pot with a shovel, carefully poking our seeds into the soil, slowly pouring the water from our colorful watering cans. Our excitement for the entire process could hardly be contained.  And our eagerness to be helpful, coupled with our curiosity at each little step touched deep into my heart.

It reminded me that childhood is a magical time.  Little ones may talk endlessly about Minecraft and Paw Patrol video games, but their desire for real world experiences trumps the virtual world every time!  The message is clear.  There is a time and place for I-pad or App entertainment, but children covet simple, real world experiences.  Don't forget to give them these.  Make it a practice to try new things with them.  You will discover that when you expand their experiences, you will have a lot of fun in the process.  Their joy is contagious.

Take them on a train ride.  Play at a new park.  Go to the zoo.  Take them to museums and concerts. Visit relatives who live in different areas.  Hike in a  forest preserve or state park.  Go to a sporting event--your local high school or college teams are a great place to find less expensive tickets to competitions.  Bake something together.  Take a bike ride.

Time spent with your children is never wasted.  Take advantage of their curiosity and enthusiasm and explore the world together making precious memories that will last a lifetime. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Teaching Respect Starts Early

I recently returned from a vacation, and I found myself surrounded by families enjoying time together at our resort.  There was one family that I noticed had two lively and active boys...and although their behavior did not bother me or the other guests one bit, I came away feeling very sad for their mother. It was clear that these boys did not respect or listen to her at all--ever.  She would have to repeatedly ask them to do things, and then plead with them, and then usually give up...because her words had zero effect on these boys.  These situations were repeated over and over again, and I observed them at breakfast or by the pool continually ignoring every word that their mother said.

So where does this lack of respect come from?  I can tell you.  It is a combination of factors. The other parent normally plays a role in this.  If the father disrespects the mother, the children learn disrespect. And if the mother disrespects the father, the children learn disrespect.  And if you, as a parent don't demand that your children listen to you...then you are disrespecting yourself and teaching your children not to listen to your words.

I felt so sorry for this mom.  She was not enjoying the precious vacation time she was sharing with her beautiful boys.  She seemed so lonely, and dare I say--pathetic.  And thinking about the future, I wondered if these boys would ever see the error in their ways.  Would they come to appreciate their loving mother?  Would they grow up to be loving partners or disrespect their significant others in future relationships.  Had they learned this behavior from their dad?  Would the cycle continue?

The takeaway is that teaching our children to respect us as their loving parents is of paramount importance.  It sets them up to form respectful relationships throughout the rest of their lives with teachers, coaches, bosses and loved ones.  Don't settle for anything less than loving respect from your children.  It takes loads of work, but is well worth the effort.
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