Our children crave quality time with us, their parents and families. In fact, they need quality time with us. Quality time is the currency of love in our children’s world. It purchases their sense of security and it is crucial to their emotional and mental health. Quality time creates a sense of safety that allows them to explore their world, learn about their life, and grow more mature. One of the best ways to spend quality time with your children is to enter their world rather than expecting them to enter your world. When you enter your children’s world of play, imagination, and thought you learn so much about them and you help them grow more mature. Of course, sometimes we find it difficult to enter our children’s world. After all, it’s just so… well…childish. But the benefits to their emotional and mental health are enormous. Here are some tips to help you enter their world.
- Let them lead the play rather than you leading them. As they direct the play, you can narrate what is happening like a sport’s caster narrating the play. When you do this, your children feel valued and appreciated. They know you consider them significant enough to pay attention to. (Investing Time & Attention in Your Children will give you more ideas for letting your children lead the play).
- Let your children choose the toy. When children are expected to play with a toy not of their choosing, they quickly become bored. Their attention span shortens and their interest wanes. You actually help increase your children’s attention span when you follow their lead and let them choose the toys and objects of play (For more read Nurture Your Child’s Attention Span).
- Be available during the play without imposing your desires on them. Instead of suggesting what your children “could do,” delve into what they are doing and enjoy it. Enjoy their imagination, their ideas, and their activities. Your children will learn the importance and power of their ideas.
- Allow children to enjoy independent, unstructured play while you remain available to them. Studies suggest that children allowed to engage in independent play have higher IQ’s than those who engaged only in adult led and structured play (Read Make Your Child “a Head Taller than Himself” for more).
In other words, a great way to have quality time with your children is to let your children teach you rather than trying to teach them. When we allow our children to teach us, we let them have the joy of discovering themselves.
Sue looked exhausted, frazzled, and run down when I arrived at her house. I thought she’d be more rested at home. We had hoped to go out for coffee and conversation, but she couldn’t find a sitter. So, I figured I’d go to her house and enjoy some time together. It didn’t go as I had imagined. We did not sit at the kitchen table to enjoy conversation while her son played nearby. No, her son demanded her constant attention. She was constantly on the go responding to his unending demands for a drink, a playmate, an interaction…constant entertainment. If he wasn’t making demands, he was getting into something that forced Sue to run over and stop him, redirect him, and then entertain him. We “couldn’t get two words edgewise” because Sue’s son required constant engagement. That’s when I realized the importance of giving our children a place where they can play safely without adult intervention. Giving our children a safe place play alone, without adult intervention, demands some preparation. First, you have to organize a child-proof room. But once you have established that safe area, children can play independently with nothing more than their parent’s observation. Parents can sit comfortably or engage in other activities knowing their children can play safely alone. And, allowing our children time to play alone without adult intervention will benefit our children in many ways. Let me describe just a few of the benefits of allowing our children to play alone.
- Playing alone, without adult intervention, sparks children’s imaginations and creativity. Observe your children as they play alone and you will witness dragons, princesses, cowboys, doctors, and monsters come to life. You will see detectives and firemen working together to capture invisible villains and put out imaginary fires. Playing without adult intervention frees our children’s creativity.
- Playing alone, without adult intervention, gives our children the opportunity to learn problem-solving skills. When we stay out of the way, our children find their own solutions to problems that arise. They brainstorm and find ways to banish their boredom. They learn to negotiate and compromise with one another. They learn to set boundaries and assert themselves kindly. These are all lessons learned in the classroom of play when we don’t interfere with the teacher of experience.
- Playing alone, without adult intervention, helps children become more comfortable with themselves. They may explore new activities and, in the process, develop their interests. They learn they are “OK” without constant entertainment because they can entertain themselves by exploring novel activities. As a result of these things, they become more comfortable with themselves.
- Playing alone, without adult intervention, teaches children to manage their time. Rather than having their time managed by scheduled activities, these children learn to enjoy the quiet. They also learn how to entertain themselves.
- Playing alone, without adult intervention, allows children to learn to soothe their own emotions. They learn emotional management skills like distraction. They learn to focus their attention on what they have rather than what they do not have. They learn to soothe themselves.
As you can see, allowing children time to play alone helps them grow. Children learn so much in the classroom of play when allowed to play alone without adult intervention. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we never need to play with our kids. Our children need time to play alone and they need time when we engage them in play. Giving our children time to engage in unstructured, independent play without adult intervention carries many benefits we don’t want our children to miss.
John behaved terribly in Junior Church. He didn’t sit still. He didn’t listen. He talked constantly. He distracted the other children. He caused conflict. Finally, at my whit’s end, I told him, “I’m going to talk to your mother about your behavior today.” So, after dismissing the children, I cleaned up the room and headed to the sanctuary where I could talk with John’s mother. As I approached, John’s mother smiled and said, “Isn’t Johnny a good kid. He told me how bad he was in class today. He said he was sorry. He’s such an honest, good kid.” I was shocked that he had already told his mother. I asked, “Did you talk to him about the need to change his behavior?” “No, he told me what he had done wrong.” “Did he apologize for misbehaving?” “No, not really. But he told me about it. He’s such a good boy.” “Will you discipline him so this behavior doesn’t continue?” “Well, I don’t think I need to do anything. Boys will be boys. And he did come to tell me what he did wrong. He’s such an honest boy.” And, with that the conversation ended. I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn his disruptive behavior did not end. John’s mother loved her son. She had acceptance down pat but she was not great on limits. As a result, John’s behavior didn’t change. He continued to misbehave. She was missing an important factor in effective parenting: the “AND-factor.” Every effective parent practices the “AND-factor.” Let me share a just three examples to explain.
- Effective parents practice acceptance toward their children “AND” they set firm limits for their children. They accept and acknowledge what their children want “AND” maintain a firm limit. They even accept and acknowledge their children’s disappointment in not getting what they want “AND” still hold the limit firm. The parent using the “AND-factor” makes comments like, “I know you would like a cookie right now but it will spoil your dinner so you’ll have to wait until after dinner” or “I know you’d like your driver’s license now but you came in late and drunk two times in the last month so we can’t trust you with your license.” In both instances the parent acknowledges what their child wants “AND” maintains a firm and reasonable limit.
- Effective parents remain available “AND” do not become intrusive. They remain involved in their children’s lives “AND” encourage independence. They remain available to help resolve problems that arise, but they do not step in to fix it. They remain available “AND” they let their children work it out independently as much as possible.
- Effective parents practice patient acceptance toward their children “AND” they remain true to which behaviors are acceptable and which are not acceptable. These parents remain calm when their children misbehave. “AND,” they firmly tell their children what behaviors they will or will not tolerate. They wait patiently for their children to get ready for appointments (like catching the school bus) “AND” they encourage timeliness, even if that means their children receive a consequence when they are late. They remain calm in the midst of misbehavior “AND” they will enforce a consequence for that misbehavior.
I’m sure you get the idea. Other examples of the “AND-factor” include…
- Respecting your needs “AND” respecting your children’s needs.
- Encouraging open expression of feelings, even negative feelings and disagreements “AND” expecting, even demanding, those expressions remain polite and respectful.
Effective parents practice the “AND-factor” in many areas. Sometimes it’s a struggle “AND” it always produces the best results. So start practicing the “AND-factor” now. Strive to do it perfectly “AND” be patient with the times you fall short. Work hard at it “AND” have fun with it along the way. I could keep going “AND” you’d quit reading…so I better just quit now.
Ever see those parents who seem to have the whole parenting thing “down to the T.” They just seem to have it all together. Their efforts seem to flow so smoothly. I’m pretty sure it’s not always as it appears. But, it does get me thinking about to parent effectively, how to make parenting run smoothly, how to get our parenting efforts “down to the T.” If you want to parent “down to the T,” include these three “t’s” in your parenting repertoire.
- Touch Touch is one of our first connections to family. Gentle, peaceful, careful touch makes infants feel secure. Rough, impatient, nervous handling creates insecurity. Touch is not just important for infants. It remains important throughout life. One study demonstrated that harsh, aggressive touch from parents increased anxiety and somatic complaints in children while response and nurturing touch reduced withdrawal, decreased depressive symptoms, and decreased somatic complaints. Once again, healthy touch promoted a sense of security and positive emotional health. Even the NBA knows positive touch increases comradery and teamwork (Read A Page from the NBA Playbook for Your Family for more).
- Talk Keep the lines of communication open with your children from the time they are born until…well, never stop talking to your children. Tell them your plans before you start an activity. Talk over what will happen and the expectations. Then, when things happen as you said, your children learn they can trust your word. Talking about activities also lets your children feel included and respected. Tell your children what you admire about them and talk to them about areas of growth. Talking about strengths and areas of growth communicates how much you value your children and trust their ability to grow. Speak in a loving voice as often as possible. Even in the midst of anger you can speak with firmness and remain polite and respectful.
- Take it slow. Children move quickly, but they need more time to process information. They need time to transition from one activity to another. So slow down. Take your time. Talk about the transition and what to expect. You children will have more time to process what’s happening and they will transition more smoothly. Taking it slow also teaches your children the importance of pacing and resting. It builds a lifestyle of calm rather than a frenetic lifestyle of constant rush. A calm family life creates opportunities to connect and bond with one another. It will also reduce behavior problems (Read Managing Your Child’s Schedule for more).
Practice these three ideas and you will have parenting “down to the T.” Who knows, people may watch you and think, “Wow. They seem to have this parenting thing all together…right ‘down to the T.'”
Remember way back in middle school, maybe even elementary school, when you first learned the “scientific method”? If so, you might remember the first step in the scientific method. The very first step any good scientist makes is on of observation. She becomes curious about some event or experience she observed. Her observations lead her to recognize patterns and those patterns raise interesting questions. What’s happening? How did it start? What are the possible outcomes? What forces create the event? Interesting questions then lead to compelling hypotheses and exciting research to assess the possible patterns.
Like effective scientific research, effective parenting begins with observation. Effective parents observe their children with a keen curiosity. When we sit back and observe and, by doing so, we learn about our children. We begin to see patterns in their personality. We recognize their strengths and identify their areas of growth. Observation helps us learn patterns like how they interact, resolve conflict, and solve problems. We learn what bothers them, what interests them, and so much more. Recognizing all these patterns and characteristics in our children increases our trust in them. We better appreciate their abilities and, as a result, let them practice more independence. Observation also helps us discipline more effectively. We will know how to best intervene when the need arises. In other words, observation helps us identify various patterns in our children behaviors and personality. When something unusual happens, our observations allow us to ask interesting questions. Those interesting questions eventually become compelling hypotheses that help us intervene effectively to teach our children what they need to grow and mature. (Read Parents as Perpetual Students for more on parenting effectively by observing our children.) So, begin your parenting efforts like a scientist. Sit back and observe. Let your curiosity grow and learn about your children. You will love the results.
We hear a lot about the environment these days. Just do a google search on “environmental concerns” and around 12,900,000 links come up in a mere .87 seconds. We worry about the polar bears’ habitat, the impact of wasting water and not recycling, and the consequences of global climate change on nature’s backdrop. These are all worthy causes and concerns that deserve our attention. But, in our zeal to address the natural environment, we often neglect an environment just as important and even closer to home, an environment very dear to my heart. If you are a parent or grandparent, it’s probably dear to your heart as well. I’m talking about the home environment in which our children live and grow. This environment will have a long reaching impact on our children and everything they do. In other words, it will have a long-term impact on our social, political, and environmental world as our children grow up. As a result, the environment in which our children learn and grow needs our full attention. Even better, we create this environment by our efforts and through our interactions. Let me share three things we can do to create the best environment for our children’s growth and maturity.
- Children need a safe environment in which to learn and grow. To keep an environment safe for our children means to keep it clear of anything which poses a significant threat to them at their particular developmental level. This may involve putting up safety gates and installing “baby-proofing” locks on cupboards to keep our toddlers safe. As our children become “middle schoolers,” establishing a safe environment may involve charging cell phones overnight in the kitchen rather than the bedroom. A safe environment also includes plenty of healthy food and sufficient rest. You get the idea. Think ahead and create a safe environment for your children. Creating a safe environment for children also relieves parents of stress. With less stress over their children’s safety, parents can relax and observe their children. They can learn more about their children and grow closer to them each day.
- Children need an environment that is cognitively challenging. This will include age appropriate toys and play objects with which children can interact and problem-solve. Things as simple as building blocks, dress up clothes, and balls provide appropriate stimulation. Even objects in nature like trees to climb, bugs to watch, hills to roll down, and water to play in provide opportunities to problem-solve, negotiate, and create. TV’s and video games, on the other hand, rob our children of the opportunities to problem-solve and create. So, the best environment for our children will limit screen-time and provide plenty of “passive toys” (Read Two Observations on Parenting for more.)
- Children need an emotionally nurturing environment in which to learn and grow. A key ingredient of an emotionally nurturing environment is an attentive parent. The attentive parent possesses keen observation skills. They use this skill to learn of their children’s strengths and weaknesses, to identify their children’s abilities and areas of growth. Their keen eye will identify ways to modify the environment to encourage positive behavior and stimulate growth, provide success and introduce challenges. The emotionally nurturing parent rejoices when their child rejoices and feels sorrow when their child feels sorrow. Yet, because the parents are not overwhelmed by their children’s emotions, they can help their child temper and manage those feelings in a positive way. Read The Wings on Which Your Children Soar to learn more about providing emotional nurturance for your children.
The environment our children encounter in the world can be harsh and cruel. Create a home environment filled with honor, grace, and celebration…an environment of love. Believe me—it will have a global impact. If you want proof of the potential global impact, check out this fascinating study involving hot sauce and attachment: Hot Sauce Vs. the Power of Relationship.
It happened again. The summer flew by and school is upon us. I know several parents that struggle with the transition back to school. I know many more children who struggle with the transition back to school. Children around the world experience this same struggle and, just like us, their families work to make the transition go more smoothly too. Maybe we can gain a few ideas to add to our own repertoire and make this transition better this year than ever before. With that in mind, here are a few traditions from around that world that might make the transition just a little bit easier. Give one or two a try and see what you think.
- In Germany, children get a Schultuete on the first day of school. This large decorated paper cone is filled with school supplies and small presents. Sending your child to school with a modified Schultuete may make the transition easier.
- In Russia, children give their teachers colorful bouquets of flowers on the first day of school. The children receive balloons in return. Wouldn’t that be fun? It might even help build a better relationship with their teacher. How could you modify this to work with your children in your school district?
- In Japan, children may pack a traditional first day of school lunch for good luck. The lunch includes rice with seaweed sauce and quail eggs. (Learn more here.) I don’t know if my kids would like that particular lunch, but a special lunch could go a long way in making the school transition a little easier.
- Parents in Kazakhstan give their children a present filled with sweets, a pencil, and a candle on the first day of school. (Read more here.) Is there a small gift you might give your children to make school transition easier?
- In India, the first day of school coincides with the monsoon season. As a result, children get a new umbrella to start the school year. Perhaps a new pair of jeans, a new shirt, or a new pair of shoes would work just as well in the US.
When all is said and done, your child will follow your lead as they return to school. Enjoy the transition back to school with your child. Build traditions around the transition. Celebrate the next step in “growing up.” You can use the ideas from other countries to make it even more fun and educational…even if you have to modify them a little bit.
Our youngest daughter moved out of our house and into her college room today. I won’t get to tell her “good night” at the end of each day, hear her come down the stairs in the morning to start her day, or enjoy our “Tuesday Daddy-Daughter Days” now. On the other hand, I won’t have to ask her to put her stuff away every day or work my way through her leftovers in the fridge. I will really miss her daily presence in my life. Still, I have to say, it’s not the first time I’ve had to watch her take a step away from me and toward independence. This is just another step in a series of steps that began many years ago with the words, “No, I do” as she pulled away from me to zip her own coat. Some of her steps have been sure-footed, some hesitant. Most have proven more difficult for me than they were for her. She has learned the pace most comfortable for her in stepping toward independence. She has grown more confident in her abilities. Me…well, I’m just a “therapist with separation anxiety” (her words, by the way). I don’t completely agree with her assessment, but I have to admit…I have experienced some separation anxiety with each step she has taken. Overall, watching my daughter mature and walk toward independence has increased my joy. But, I have experienced some separation anxiety…and, I have learned at least two things from this adventure of letting go.
- I learned the importance of observing my daughter closely. Observation builds a foundation for understanding our children’s strengths and interests. It allows us to learn about their competencies and their developmental abilities. Observation allowed me to see what my daughter had learned, what she already knew, and what she was ready to learn and do. With all this knowledge, I was better able to present opportunities that fit my daughter’s readiness to learn while still challenging her to grow. It allowed me to keep the environment conducive to her abilities. Observe your child closely and you will learn the same things about your children. Even learning all this, you might struggle to learn the second lesson. I know I did.
- I learned to trust my daughter to initiate and explore herself and her world. This meant I had to learn to believe in her competence to learn. Sure, I supported her exploring and learning (just check my pocket book), but I had to trust her enough to let her go, to take a step away, and explore more and more independently. I had to trust her ability to manage the discomfort of trying something new with only my distant watchful eye for support. I had to trust her to learn from her mistakes without rescuing her…or sheltering her from future mistakes. I had to trust her to learn her limitations and strengths. And, as she did, she became more confident. Her judgment improved. And, I could trust her more. Trusting your child to takes steps toward independence throughout life will do the same for you as well.
Observing will increase your ability to trust. As you trust, you will observe all the more and rejoice in the growth you see. All the while, you will find yourself letting go one step at a time and trusting each step of the way…even if it does still remain difficult to watch them grow up and leave home.
Remember the age when your children started asking questions? I don’t mean when they asked one or two questions. I’m talking about the age in which they did nothing but ask questions every waking hour of every day. They asked about everything. They even asked questions about the questions! It was a constant barrage of never ending questions. Even in the midst of all those questions your children probably never asked the questions listed below…not out loud anyway. Sure, they wanted the answers to these questions, they even needed the answers, but they didn’t ask them out loud. They asked these questions through behaviors like hanging around your legs, getting under your feet, pushing limits, and even disobeying a request while looking you straight in the eye. What questions were they asking without using their words? The truly important questions like:
- Will you set clear and fair rules and limits? Will you enforce those limits consistently or can I make you give in? Your consistency answers another question I have…will you really keep me safe? Am I safe to explore the world under your watchful, loving eye?
- Do you delight in me? When I walk in the room, do your eyes light up with joy or do you look bothered and annoyed? Am I lovable and delightful in your eyes…or am I a nuisance?
- Do you realize I’m still a kid? I don’t have the knowledge or experience you have. Will you match your expectations match with my ability or will you expect me to do things I don’t have the ability or knowledge to do yet? Will you teach me and help me experience success so I can grow more confident?
- I hear you and see you. I’m listening to you and watching you very closely every day. I learn from everything you say and do. What will I learn from you?
- Can you hear me? Can you respect my ideas, even if they’re different than your ideas? Can I be my own person or am I trapped being the person you want me to be?
- Do you see me or just my grades? My character or just my sporting ability? My dreams or my achievements?
- Can we play together? I talk best when we’re having fun. So, can we have fun together?
- Will you accept me even when I make mistakes, clumsily spill a drink, act like a 5-year-old, or have a different opinion than you?
- Will you ever give up on me? Will I ever do something so bad that you just get rid of me?
- Do you really love me?
Our children need to know the answers to these questions even though they may never ask them out loud. It doesn’t really matter if they ask out loud because we answer these questions whether we know it or not. Our children discover the answers to these questions in how you look at them, how we talk to them, how we act toward them, and how we interact with them. They hear the answers in our speech and see the answers in our deeds. The answers they receive will shape their identity, their confidence, their desire to learn, their character, their self-concept. So, let me ask one final question: what answers do your children hear from you in response to these questions?
Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s a wise saying for many areas of life, including parenting. It is much more satisfying to prevent the crisis rather than deal with a problem after it arises; to look ahead and avoid the trouble rather than deal with the aftermath of troubling behavior.
With that in mind, here are a few preventative steps to take with your children.
- If you want your children to eat healthy foods, eat regular family meals in which you serve healthy food.
- Remove TV’s and game systems from your children’s bedrooms to prevent your children from spending all their time in their bedroom.
- Buy fruits and healthy snacks to keep in your house instead of junk food if you want your children to limit the amount of junk food they eat.
- If you want to limit how much time your children spend playing video games, get them involved in community activities with your family and as individuals (like sports, dance, music, youth group, etc.).
- Build strong relationships with your children by showing interest in their activities, having regular family meals, and engaging in open communications with them to decrease the chances of your children becoming involved in drug use.
- Model enjoyment of reading, read with your children, and share books with your children to raise children who read.
- Involve your children in significant household chores and do the chores together if you want your children to become hard workers.
- Each day spend time with your children identifying things for which you are grateful to help prevent children who develop a sense of entitlement.
- Model kindness to others and to your family in order to prevent your children from becoming rude.
- If you want your children to become creative and learn to have fun, get toys that require imagination— like dolls, action figures, and empty boxes.
- If you want your house to be the house where all the kids come and so allow you to keep an eye on what they’re doing, keep lots of food in the house and build positive relationships with your children’s friends.
- Teach your children an emotional vocabulary as they experience various emotions in order to prevent future meltdowns.
- Apologize when you are wrong to prevent irresponsibility in your children.
Each of these preventive steps will lead to healthier children and a happier home. Benjamin Franklin was right. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”