Well-being Wednesday – Responsibility

Today’s Well-Being Wednesday quote from Ann Landers provides an important reminder about what our kids need from us to learn to be successful themselves. If it inspires you to look for new ideas to help you foster independence and responsibility in your children, here is a link to one we shared last week on our blog: Calendars for Kids. Have a great day!Weds Quote- 19For a printable version of this quote, please click here: Weds Quote- 19

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Calendars for Kids

So anyone besides me feeling like they blinked and it is already mid-September?  Weren’t we all just reveling in the unscheduled hours of summer!?!  Well, now that our family has had a few full weeks of adjusting to the chaotic back to school grind, it felt like the right time for me to take a pause and do a quick inventory of what is and isn’t working well for our family in the new school year.  While doing this exercise I realized there is a small handful of valuable practices that just keep consistently working well for us and today I want to share one of those with you.  It is the practice of having my kids keep their own individual written calendars.IMG_1026I have long been a huge fan of a written calendar and I would venture to guess most adults managing a busy household are utilizing one.  I used to keep just my own calendar up to date and then when we held our family meetings (and this is another one of the practices that seems to consistently contribute to our family’s success.  Click here to a previous blog post I wrote on the topic if you are interested) I would share the upcoming weeks activities and we would discuss, but it was not like I could expect anyone to retain all that information for themselves.  Once I got each of my children their own calendar that they would bring to the family meeting and fill out with the activities and happenings that pertained to them for the week I started to see some big changes and awesome benefits.  A brief summary of the major benefits I see from utilizing this practice are below.

  1. Less morning madness.  When my kids have their own calendar filled out with their daily activities/appointments I spend less of my already rushed mornings with kids following me around asking, “What is happening today?”  In fact, when they ask that all I have to do is just calmly ask, “Did you check your calendar?”…and off they go.  Also, the kids can check their calendars at night and plan for the next day by pulling together sport/activity items they might need ahead of time.  It also has majorly reduced the household drama over clothing/uniforms they need clean being stuffed in the bottom of laundry baskets.  If they realize something didn’t get washed the night before they need it I can do something about it, 15 minutes before it is time to leave in the morning, not so much.
  2. Reduction of Homework Meltdowns. As a mama to middle-schoolers the calendar is a life saver when it comes to homework meltdowns. I think whenever kids hear that something isn’t due for a week or so they feel like they have all the time in the world to complete it, but as we all know that isn’t the case and Sunday night you have a stressed-out kid with an entire project left to do.  If they have a calendar where they can see that say Thursday and Friday their evenings are already packed with after-school sports or activities and they have a weekend basketball tournament then they are able to realize for themselves (and as an added bonus without parental nagging!!!) that they have to get that homework done earlier in the week.  This idea also works great for kids who have instrument practice, community service hours, AR reading points, or any of the other various things they may need to accomplish on a bigger picture deadline.  For my family specifically, all three of my kids play an instrument through their school music program and they have to practice for hours each week.  As soon as we complete our family meeting and they have all their activities recorded, they immediately then go back through their planner and write out when they will have free time to get their practice hours in.
  3. Cultivating Time Management Skills. One of the best ways you can set your child up for instant success in life is to help them cultivate strong time management skills and utilizing their calendar is a great way to practice. Just the simple exercise of writing out a week of appointments and activities helps them to understand and appreciate just how much effort is needed when keeping oneself on schedule.  When they plan and log scheduled times for tasks like homework, instrument practice, etc. this further enhances their personal organizational skills and teaches them to practice staying on task. Also, when they find themselves with days with multiple things that need to be accomplished they get to learn to prioritize as they figure out what the most important tasks are to accomplish each day.
  4. Teaching Personal Responsibility.  When you take the responsibility of filling out and monitoring the calendar off of you and transfer that onto your child it goes a long way in helping kids to realize that they are capable of learning to monitor and care for themselves.  I feel like there are so many ways children are micromanaged these days and micromanagement can erode their confidence in themselves. By showing them that as their parent we expect them to be in charge of filling out their own calendar, checking it often and take an active role in managing their time you are sending them the message that you trust and believe they have the ability to learn do things for themselves.  Of course it goes without saying that there are going to be mistakes and disappointments, but childhood, before there are grades going on official transcripts or jobs one can be fired from, is the perfect time for us parents to allow these to happen and then help them learn how to handle and adjust in the future.
  5. Comfort and Security Provided to Our Children. Without advance planning on how we are going to spend our time we can find our family living in a constantly reactive state. Living like this can increase anyone’s stress level, but it can be especially hard on children.  Kids are still learning to manage emotions and reactions and living with routine and structure gives them a sense of security and allows them to feel safe.  Utilizing a calendar allows them feel like they have been made aware of what is happening.  It allows time for upcoming events to be discussed and gives them ample opportunity to ask questions if they feel they need to.  Having advance notice of what is upcoming also helps all children, but especially introverted or anxious children, have the extra time they may need to get mentally prepared for things.
  6. Preservation of Family Time and Down Time. We live in a crazy, busy world and I feel like so often our families end up sacrificing things they really want to do together or downtime they truly need because they think there just “isn’t enough time in the day”.  If you are asking your child to keep a calendar for themselves, once they have entered all their necessary commitments, appointments, assignments they get to look at exactly what free time they have and make choices.  The calendar allows them to appreciate and understand prioritizing things that they want and need.  For example, a couple of my kids really like to get one weekend morning with a few hours of downtime to do some screens and avoid being rushed.  I know they have that in the back of their mind when they schedule their instrument practice time and try to add more in during the week to free up time on the weekend.  Also, our family tries to discuss and plan events that we all want to do together and get them into the calendar because that way if an invite from a friend, sports team or a conflict arises we feel good about the fact that we had this family time planned and we typically feel confident in saying no to whatever it is that is creating a scheduling conflict.

So as you can see the practice of maintaining a personal calendar isn’t just a practice that should be reserved for adults.  It is an awesome way to help kids learn valuable time, life and self-management skills all while contributing to the reduction of stress and strengthening of connection for your family as a whole.

Well-being Wednesday – Authenticity

Our Sunday post “Free to Be You and Me” which featured Pink’s recent courageously awesome speech at the MTV Video Music Awards, inspired my quote choice to share with you all today – wise words from Brené Brown that remind us to stay true to ourselves.  I hope you enjoy :)!Weds Quote- 18For a printable version of this quote, please click here: Weds Quote- 18

Free to Be You and Me

CCPost9-1This week I was given a real gift when a few different Facebook friends of mine shared the video of the speech given by Pink to her daughter at the MTV VMA awards.  I watched the video several times while tearing up over the beautifully honest way she conveyed the messages of self-love and acceptance.  After I stopped watching it on repeat, it took me all of 30 seconds to assemble my trio of kiddos on the couch (since I was asking them to look at a screen on a school night they moved quick) and in one of those awesomely simple parenting moments all I had to do was hit the play button and this crucial message was being delivered straight to my kids without mom’s lecturing voice behind it.

The impactful simplicity of that moment got me thinking and although I feel that you can never, ever replace the all important task of having meaningful in person conversations with your kids, I think there is a lot to be gained by finding easy and frequent ways to expose your children to values and messages you want in the forefront of their minds.  I ended up reflecting on one of the ways I did just that when my kids were younger and today I want to share it with you.  It was by simply playing an awesome album called Free to Be…You and Me by Marlo Thomas and Friends.

This album was recorded in 1972 and it is an epic compilation of catchy song and spoken word skits that share messages of things like self-acceptance, gender equality, empowerment, tolerance and peace that are meant for audiences of all ages.  My own mom loved this CD and played it for us all the time when I was young.  In fact, the first time I went and played it for my kids I realized I still had most of the album committed to memory.  And while I enjoy the whole album I will tell you about a few of my favorite things on it to give you an idea of what is in store for you and your family if you check it out.   There is an awesome ballad, “It’s Alright to Cry” whose words remind us that “it’s aright to cry ’cause crying lets the sad out of ya…it’s alright to cry…it might just make you feel better”.  To this day I still sing that to my kids when they are in the middle of a breakdown and I can sense them starting to be hard on themselves for having strong emotions.  There is a spoken word skit called Atalanta.  She was a princess and her father, the king, decided it was time to marry her off to one of the men of the town and was going to hold a race and the winner would get to marry Atatlana.  However, Atalanta was having none of it because she wanted to go out to see the world before deciding IF she would marry.  When her father insisted the race and marriage would take place Atalanta made a deal with her father that she got to participate in the race and if she won she would decide for herself what she would do about marriage.  And if spunky Atalanta and her stance are not awesome enough there is also one male participant, young John, who enters the race even though he disagrees with her father intentions, because he wanted to win the race to just earn the right to talk to Atalanta and spend time with her.  He wanted to ask for her friendship.  I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that it’s inspiring and beautiful.  In the short poem, “Don’t Dress Your Cat In An Apron” the narrator reminds us all that, “A person should wear what she wants to and not just what other folks say…a person should do what she likes to.  A person’s a person that way.”  And I could NEVER end without mentioning the narrative titled “Housework” with it’s WONDERFUL message that “Your mommy hates housework, your daddy hates housework and when you grow up so will you….Little boys and little girls, when you are big husband and wives, if you want all the days of your lives to seem sunny as summer weather, make sure that when there’s housework to do that you do it together.”    

This week the Pink video was a reminder to me that we have so many different tools and resources at our fingertips when we want to expose our children to the truths and messages we value. Free to Be You and Me is absolutely on of those tools as you can just put it on during playtime or a road trip and with just the simple push of the play button you can let the compelling narrative and catchy grooves gently teach and foster acceptance, equality, open-mindness and respect in your children.

Well-being Wednesday – Just Do It

Happy Wednesday all! The quote we are sharing today reminds us not to wait for perfect conditions to begin. Whether that may in your home life, your relationships, your adventures (or in our case our blogging career), whatever it may be, remember to take chances and keep stepping as everyday is a new chance to do a little living, loving and growing. Weds Quote - 17

For a printable version of this quote, please click here: Weds Quote – 17

Board Games – A Fun and Simple Way to Foster Important Qualities in Children

Board Games Post Pic1

I think it is safe to say that in the current day and age we are more likely to find children playing games on televisions or devices than on boards with other people.  And while I feel there is room for all types of entertainment in the life of a child, I think we do ourselves a huge disservice as parents when we allow our kids to transition away from the latter.  By simply playing board games with others our children are given invaluable opportunities to learn critical life skills. Below I offer examples of the things our children learn when we push them to grab a board game over a device or controller.

Sportsmanship.  When a child plays a game with a device instead of with a person there is no need to be a gracious winner or loser.  They can throw a fit and act out in anger after a loss or gloat after a win and then simply hit play again and off they go with no ramifications.  Playing a game with another human does not allow that.  Lose at a board game and throw a fit or act egotistical after a win and you will lose the ability to play again because no one will want to play with you.  To keep human playmates you need to learn to regulate the feelings of anger, disappointment or self-centeredness and be gracious in victory or defeat. 

Patience.  When playing a video game a child is constantly stimulated.  They are involved in every second of play.  That level of stimulation does not mirror most of the situations in real life.  In real life a child will have to patiently wait their turn…to talk in a conversation, to get to use the play equipment on the playground, to order at a restaurant, etc.  The turn taking required when playing games with others is one of the best ways to learn the patience needed to successfully navigate all types of social situations. 

Perseverance. How many of us have watched a child playing a game on a device and when it isn’t going well they simply hit quit half-way through the game and start over?  This simple act erodes their ability to navigate through a situation that is not going their way. Having a child sit through the struggle of being behind or losing during a game can help encourage them to foster a can-do vs a quitter mentality.  Also, as we all know, board games like Chutes and Ladders, Sorry, etc. have circumstances where the tide can quickly turn and seeing that can help foster their sense of optimism in difficult situations.

Respect for Boundaries.  Board games have clear rules and boundaries given for participation.  Children have to learn and respect those rules to understand the game and they have to be able to successfully remain within the boundaries of those rules for the game to go smoothly.  This is great practice for staying within the boundaries they will encounter at school, relatives or friends’ homes, extra-curricular activities, etc.

Ability to Delay Gratification.  Psychologists have studied and stressed the importance of children having the ability to delay gratification.  There are so many board games that are great at reinforcing delayed gratification.  These are most likely for slightly older children playing games that involve strategy, but so many games like Chess, Risk, Stratego, etc. require you to think of a long term strategy and patiently put it into action instead of going for the first available move.  Also, the overstimulating games on screens can interfere with a child’s ability to appreciate the use of quiet, thoughtful moments to plan out and think ahead.  

As you can see from the above the benefits of playing board games are numerous, so every now and then reach over and turn off the Play Station or iPad and break out Candy Land or Sorry instead.  Your children’s development and behavior will thank you.

Tips for Introducing a New Baby to Siblings

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We have a very special (and very pregnant) friend who has requested our return from retirement to blog about a topic that is understandably feeling very important and timely to her – introducing an older child to a new sibling.  Since her request was so flattering and we have been feeling the itch to write a bit again we spent some time reflecting about those beautifully insane days when we had infants in our homes and complied our best tidbits of advice for introducing a new baby into the family and fostering the early connection between siblings.

Do some prep work before the baby arrives.  Talk, talk and then talk some more to your older child about what to expect.  Discuss how you will hold a baby, how they eat, how much they might sleep, reasons they might cry, what they will and won’t be able to do, etc.  Kellie found an easy way to spend a little time talking about the subject every day by incorporating a book about a new baby coming into a family into her daughter’s nighttime reading routine. She loved hearing about what to expect and enjoyed the relaxed time to ask questions about what was going to happen.

Try to keep your (understandably high) emotions in check when the big meeting takes place.  Now we all know that is no small feat when you are exhausted and flooded with hormones, but if you can remind yourself to try to do your best to not project your big feelings about or ideals for the big moment onto young children it gives them their needed space to process things in their own way.  We all have this vision in our head of this beautiful moment of connection between our children, but the moment itself will probably involve them feeling more overwhelmed by the hospital setting or unsettled because they may have just been away from you from longer then they have before.  Allow your focus to be on respecting and validating whatever feelings they might be having in the moment.  This will help them feel assured that you don’t want or need them to be anyone or anything different just because the baby is here.

Along those same lines, try to keep your emotions in check with their behavior that can sometimes accidentally be too rough or irresponsible.  I clearly remember the moment when I walked into the living room after a 30 second bathroom break to find my one-year-old son sitting on my infant son’s head.  I wanted to flip out and scream “GET OFF THE BABY HE CANNOT BREATHE” but I mustered all my parental self-control and calmly said “please get off the baby’s head”.  My one year old stood up…watched his little brother gasp for air and then said “Oh sa-See Bebe” before he patted his head and
ran off to play.  He only wanted to be close to the baby, but had I reacted with anger he could have associated his being around the baby with angry mommy or even the baby coming and mommy getting more impatient.  It is also very helpful to do hands on demonstrations of what is gentle versus rough touches.  Anytime one of my older children was rough with baby, I would take their hand in mine and rub it softly against my face and then their own face while repeating “this is how we are gentle…this is how we are gentle.”

Give them their own baby.  This is great for several reasons.  First, it can be used as a siblingpost3teaching tool both during your prep work mentioned above and when the baby is here.  For example, after said head sitting incident we spent a lot of time practicing the way we can hold, touch or play with a baby using my son’s baby doll.  Second, it can allow them to feel like they are “playing” with you while you are just trying to get through the endless hours of care a baby requires.  Ask them to feed, change and dress their baby alongside you while you do the same to their sibling.   Kellie even invested in a baby carrier for her older daughter so the two of them could each wear their own babies together each day.

Try to facilitate simple ways to make the older child feel like the baby already loves and enjoys them.  And I really am talking extremely simple.  For example, I used to put a slightly hungry and rooting infant up to their big siblings cheek because I knew they would turn and try to suck on it.  My older two used to squeal with delight when this happened and I would be sure to say something like “look he’s trying to siblingpost1kiss you…because he loves you.”  Or when the baby was fussing after a nap and I knew they would most likely soothe when I picked them up…before getting him I would ask my daughter to sing or talk to the baby and then I would pick him up and tell her “look he loves your singing/talking so much he stopped crying.”  These probably seem so basic, but think about how good it feels to you as an adult to feel loved and needed. Facilitating moments where the baby makes the older child feel that way helps root their connection in warm feelings.

Keep their routine as consistent as possible. Sure as adults we know that overall things are very different once a new baby arrives, but if you can keep most of what makes up your older child’s day similar that will go a long way towards keeping them feeling calm and secure through an unpredictable time. To keep perspective on that I used to try to focus on doing as many of the same things I did with my older children before the baby arrived…only now I had another little human along for the ride. For example, I used to play with them everyday on the floor, so I would try to do a feeding or two while sitting on the floor while they played.  When they did their daily music/marching time we would lay the baby down right in the middle on a pillow and they would march and dance around the baby.  When they had outside play time we would wear the baby or bring him with us in the stroller.  As we did those things we tried to keep language around it very relaxed and matter-of-fact like “look baby is here to sit with us while we play…or baby is going to eat with mommy while we read books.”  The point is to just take the focus off the baby making everything change so your older child does not use all the change as a reason to feel resentment.

A new baby is a huge transition and even armed with all the tips and ideas in the world there are going to be some big bumps along the road.  When you are feeling overwhelmed by those bumps, try to remind yourself that the main things all of your children need from you are a sense of security and a feeling of unconditional love and acceptance and in the moments when you crawl into bed at night exhausted and not sure if you even gave them those, remember that everyday is a new day and in the morning the biggest blessing your children can have is a mom who shows up ready to try again.

Well-being Wednesday – Simple Reminders

It felt like time to come back and share one of our favorite quotes. It is the one that we so often find ourselves turning to when we have that overwhelming feeling that too much is being asked of us by ourselves, by others or by our chaotic lives. It provides that necessary reminder that what is needed from us each day is pretty simple. So enjoy and remember that every day is a new day to show up and try again.Weds Quote - 16

For a printable version of this quote, please click here: Weds Quote – 16

Well-being Wednesday – New Year

In yesterday’s post we suggested holding a New Year’s family meeting to discuss what your family dreams to achieve in the upcoming year. We selected today’s Well-being Wednesday quote to provide additional inspiration as you reflect on what those dreams may be.WBW15

For a printable version of this quote, please click here: Weds Quote- 15

New Year’s Family Meeting

HNY2I love the idea of the “new year.” It is an awesome opportunity to regroup and refocus on what it is that you want for yourself and your family. Today I want to share a simple, yet powerful way that you can use this opportunity to foster unity, positivity and teamwork in your home – A New Year’s Family Meeting.

If you have read earlier posts on our blog you know we are big fans of family meetings because they allow families to come together and work on valuable life skills like communication, cooperation, planning and organization. A New Years family meeting is simply a big picture version of a regular family meeting. It is a time to discuss what your family dreams to achieve in the New Year, and to focus on what each of you can do to support making those dreams a reality. Below we have provided some simple suggestions on how you can hold a successful New Year’s family meeting in your home.

  1. Do something to set this meeting apart from all your other family meetings. Hold it at a coffee shop and let everyone get hot chocolate or have it at a restaurant your family really loves. If you want to keep it at home, have it after serving a special meal or arrange an ice cream sundae bar to enjoy afterwards.
  2. Select a person to write down all the items discussed at the meeting. That way, when the meeting has ended, you can use the notes taken to make a poster of your family’s goals, dreams, etc. for the New Year. This can provide a constant visual reminder of what your family is focusing on for the year.
  3. Start the meeting off in an exciting way so everyone is engaged. Ask each person to share some things they would really like to see happen for your family in the New Year. Where would they like to go on vacation? What would they like to do more of together around town? Are there things that they want to do more of when you are at home? This is a great time to give feedback to your children to let them know you are excited about their opinions and grateful for their input when making plans for your family. You strengthen your family’s bond when you emphasize that everyone in your home, no matter their age, is valued and an important part of the family.
  4. Talk about the special family traditions that everyone would like to see continue in the New Year. These could be things you have been doing for years or things you did in the past year that you want to now make a tradition. Putting an emphasis on continuing special family traditions is a great way to give children a sense of security. Use this time to remind them that even though life can be unpredictable, you will always have special things within your family that they can count on to remain consistent.
  5. Ask for suggestions on ways your family can grow together. Maybe it is by trying an activity or by visiting a location that is new to all of you. Maybe you plan to research and learn about a new charity you can support. Whatever you choose, this is a significant exercise because it allows you to stress to your children the value of remaining open to new experiences and the importance of being a life-long learner.
  6. TeamworkEnd the meeting by discussing any new expectations, chores or responsibilities that each family member will have in the New Year. This is an opportunity to emphasize to your family that teamwork makes a dream work. Remind them that in order to be successful you all need to work together, not just when planning your fun adventures, but when accomplishing the everyday tasks that need to be done so your home runs smoothly.

We hope the suggestions above help your family to feel a strong sense of connection, collaboration and optimism as you embark on your journey into the new year!