Imaginary Friends

Is your child talking about a friend that you are completely unaware of ? Possibly you are told that the ‘friend’ is currently at your dinner table or on a trip with you  but you can’t see or hear them.  Your child is likely enjoying a special relationship that is only hers/his.   Do you recall having an imaginary friend ?

Not to worry. Imaginary friends are part of normal development.  By age seven, 65% of children have had one at some point.  The most likely children to experience an imaginary friendship are the eldest, shy or only children, for obvious reasons. .

An imaginary friend may be a person, creature, ghost or even a personified object.  It may involve a mirror image of  play that your offspring has had. Think of your child’s invention as an action figure or doll as they serve a similar purpose.  Invisible friends may be positive and soothing company for a child who is lonely or bored.   S/he can practice social skills and be able to be in complete control.   Such play involves  stretching the power of imagination.

You learn more about your little one when you hear what your child is saying to his/her friend or what that friend is quoted as saying. Is your child trying to ‘safely’ tell you about things s/he doesn’t like so it becomes the buddy who doesn’t want to visit grandma or go to school ?.  When does the friend pop up?  Dinner-, bed-, bed-time? There’s likely a message to you there.  If your child wants a certain toy or extra treat, for his/her friend of course,  you can say “Invisible friends get invisible treats”. Maybe the friend exists  in the service of becoming more independent…”my friend will give me a bath”. Sometimes, an imaginary pal may be nice, mean or bossy…more information for the adult to ponder.

No need to jump into the veracity pond. Just dip a toe in and go along with it.  These elusive friends usually fade when a child enters school.  If the friendship continues through  first or second grade, you will want to evaluate why they are still hanging around.

We adults have imaginary situations and conversations in our heads.  Think of practicing for a job interview.  “He’ll say…” and “I’ll respond…”  Or, “The next time my friend says…”  I’ll remind her….!”.  Our little ones are just  practicing in a more concrete manner.

 

 

The Fine Art of Negotiating With A Pre-Schooler

Too young to negotiate? No way! Your three year old has likely already has begun the process. At bedtime, “I’m thirsty” [ie, not ready for bed], ” I need another story”. “I need to kiss you again”. Sound familiar? They have begun. Time to negotiate? Absolutely. They know their own needs and wishes and you have years ahead of you to deal with their desires and yours.

Here’s the good news: conflict is an opportunity for resolution and your child can learn an important communication skill. It helps not to see your child’s effort as decision-making NOT only as an attempt to challenge your authority (though that has it’s own meaning, to advance their eventual independence)  but rather to recognize it as a sign of sophistication, intellectually and socially.

At this age, children understand your saying “If you are quiet at the doctor’s, we’ll get ice cream after”. they get the “if…then” statements. Compromise becomes possible when children are able to delay gratification. Compromise is an important tool in life, in so many ways. Children who learn to negotiate in pre-school have an edge. When others want something of his/hers, they an say “I’ll let you play with this if I can use yours”, etc. Such children can more easily cope with the increasingly complex social interactions they face in school.  when they are able to express themselves, there is less likelihood of physicality.

You can encourage your child’s negotiating skills before elementary school. Encourage him/her to make decisions, within certain boundaries that you have set. For example, “Which of these 3 dresses would you like to wear”? [not the whole closet full]. Your child sees you value her opinion and she still gets to make a choice.

Of course, certain things are NOT negotiable [safety, etc,] though you can still deal….”if you let me strap you in, we’ll listen to your favorite music, etc.”.

Let your children hear you negotiate with other adults. Be sure they hear you say, “Honey, you made dinner so I’ll do the dishes,.” Little ones repeat what they see and hear more than what they are told.

Let your child win some negotiations. There’s nothing like success to motivate them to try again. Enjoy and celebrate their new level of skill .

Christmas ‘Crankys’

 To young children, eight days can seem forever! The Yule pace has picked up at home and just about everywhere else. Parents are shopping, gathering, decorating, cooking and on and on….busy. They may be distracted, preoccupied and a little testy too. There is the excitement…or even a little stress [depending on the age and personality of a child]… of Santa coming down the chimney. “Will he fit? Can I hear him”?. Ads on TV, school presentations and projects, decorating the tree and the house, all add to the anticipation. “What will he bring me? I can’t wait”!!

 I have a little problem with some of the lyrics in ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’…ta da ta da…” “You better not cry, better not pout” [good luck with that in any given day or week] “ He sees you when you’re sleeping”. Children are prone to ‘magical thinking’ so it why add a little paranoia at bedtime? What’s with “He knows if you’ve been good or bad, so be good for goodness sake”. Santa, NO bad kids! This time of year is especially hard for model behavior. What if they have been cranky and naughty and get presents anyway? Now there’s a confusing double bind message. Young children are literal and believe what they see and hear…and sing. So, maybe pick another classic to teach them. There are so many … : -)

When possible, slow things down and share your child’s wonder and glee of the holiday. That’s the best gift of all. Happy holidays to you all !

Building Memories

Building Memories

How far back do you remember? What are some of those memories – big moments?  Small moments?  Traditions or a one of a kind experience?  They are all  important.

I recently enjoyed a ‘cousin’s weekend hosted by the adult child of a first cousin. The younger adults and their young children look forward to this annual weekend summer gathering.   The older adults drop in to enjoy seeing all of our children sharing their children just as we did over the last few decades.

There are expectations – Will aunt Carol bring her delicious tarts? Uncle Jay will likely fall asleep on a couch.  Will little Soleil swim this year?  There is acceptance, sharing and love.   Members feel part of something that offers a respite from the travails of the everyday world.  Family group traditions help us feel grounded.  Even if you are not close with all of your family members, you gravitate to your favorites.   There is predictability and that feels safe even if it’s not always ideal.

I recall hiding under a long holiday table, with other little cousins, waiting for the grown-ups to find us. Now we talk about when we played house and the grass became spaghetti and little stones were meatballs. When we share about “back then,” we each have some specific memories that others have forgotten.   We may also have different perspectives of some of the same situations that expand our views.  There is something special in

having people who your memories… that you don’t have with anyone else.  You are part of something bigger than yourself and connected.  We thrive on connections.

As soon as we are old enough to recall, memory building takes place. Each memory ‘brick’ adds to children’s emotional foundation. Bed and meal time routines, vacations, how we celebrate occasions and holidays help form our children and affects how they will create and maintain friendships and relationships. We grow up and move on to different lives in other places but there remains a sense of belonging and safety in returning to our past.  As children grow, such memories are imprinted in their mental album.   Siblings share memories that no one else has which may prove to be a great comfort, especially during trying times.

We are a conglomerate of memories. They can add to or subtract from our level of self-esteem.  They can transform into emotional symptoms  – or – give us strength to overcome adversity. Think of all of the special ‘bricks’ you provide for your children.  Consider having a family evening for sharing memories.  You may learn about experiences that you didn’t give a second thought to but were meaningful to your child.  There may be some delightful surprises!

 

 

 

 

Siblings: Rivalry and Revelry

What is the hardest thing to share, especially when you are very young? Your parents. They are the people you count on when you are not yet independent.  Parents provide the various kinds of sustenance to survive and thrive.  Children are housed, fed, protected, indulged, entertained, educated and loved.

The first child, once dubbed “the royal experiment”, has had it all – time, attention and love. Then, along comes a tiny interloper who has even more needs. So, #1 needs to share what was once all theirs.  At times, they need to be more patient, more quiet and more independent. What’s more difficult to share than one’s prized possession?  That’s what we are to our small children.  Although it’s our doing to bring a sibling into our home, it’s easier for #1 to pick on someone smaller –   hence, sibling rivalry.

For some children, it’s easier when the newborn just eats and sleeps.  Depending on the age and personality of the first child, they may be uninterested in the little bundle or want to hold and play with the new arrival.  As time passes, things change.  With each new phase of development that the baby achieves, it can be more fun…. or not, for the first child.  For example, a newborn is not going to interfere with big brother’s possessions but a crawling, and then, walking toddler will want to imitate their older sibling and play with their things.  Aging up, younger children want to hang out with the older sibling and his/her friends.  Imitation is flattery but #1 may not see it that way!

When handled well, rivalry has benefits. Children act on their wants and needs,  and eventually learn to negotiate and work out a solution. These abilities will come in handy as they mature.  Parents can help teach those skills, indirectly and directly.  Children observe parents and imitate.  They watch how parents cope with differences, with their spouse, their own parents, friends, etc.  Do they yell or use the ‘silent treatment’?  When parents are able to have a respectful discussion and come to a compromise, observing them is a learning experience for their offspring.  More directly, parents can help their young children by explaining the differences in the abilities of each of them [to the other] when they are having a problem.  “Your sister is too young to know when she hurts you”  or “ Your brother really needs some quiet time to be able to really talk…”.

While there may be resentment in needing to share, there is also the opportunity to have a sibling who is closer in size, dependence, levels of energy and enjoyment than the adults. There will be things to giggle about that grownups just don’t get.  They may also learn to team up with each other in order to bargain with parents. Although we see the rivalry, most older siblings would defend and protect their younger siblings if they were bullied.  Parents are relieved and entertained watching their children play well together and be affectionate.  It’s comforting to imagine their future adult friendship when we are gone.

We cringe at the rivalry and rejoice in the revelry. Both are essential.

 

 

 

 

Children and Frustration

Children and Frustration

Life is frustration, among other things.  Nobody gets everything they want and there are many things we simply have to wait for.  We all need the ability to delay gratification.  You begin a job and need to wait to prove yourself to ‘move up the ladder’.  Most of us eat dinner before dessert.  It’s hard to wait nine months before you get to see your beautiful baby and so on…we  bide our time.

When a newborn is hungry, s/he gets fed quickly but, as time passes, the baby learns to delay a little. Just hearing a soothing voice that the bottle or something is coming can help.  That’s the beginning of delaying need.  Most young children prefer to skip dinner and go straight to the goodies but parents help children learn to be patient, an essential  lesson in life.

In order to succeed in delaying gratification and tolerating frustration, children must learn that they are not the center of the universe and sometimes other things and people, come first. That reality is introduced quickly when there are siblings,  also clamoring for attention.  Day care and school are arenas where learning to wait one’s turn takes hold.

child behavior problemsParents who try to fulfill their child’s every wish, to avoid tantrums, set up a pattern.  When children carry on and then get their way, they learn that is how to get what they want. Those who can’t tolerate frustration often become demanding and self-centered. Compromise is not in their vocabulary because they are unable to consider the needs of others.  Their solution is to be demanding and manipulate to get their way.  That entitled way of looking at the world will likely present problems in personal and professional relationships.

It’s hard for a parent to say “no”.  We derive pleasure from seeing our children delight in our offerings.  We want them to have everything and yet…we adults need to remember that “no” and frustration are gifts.  The no is a healthy breeding ground for learning to be patient, have longer-term goals and to care about others and their needs.  That is our lasting gift of their success in life.

 

 

 

 

 

Kids…Frustration…A Good Thing

child behavior problemsLife is frustration, among other things.  Nobody gets everything they want and there are many things we simply have to wait for.  That means we all need the ability to delay gratification.  You may begin a job and have to wait to prove yourself to ‘move up the ladder’.  Most of us eat dinner before dessert.   It’s hard to wait nine months before you get to see your beautiful baby and so on…

When a newborn is hungry, s/he gets fed quickly but, as time passes, that little baby can wait a little. Just hearing mother’s soothing voice that the bottle is coming can help.  That’s the beginning of delaying one’s need.  Back to that dessert.  Young children might prefer to skip the healthy dinner and go straight to the goodies and the whining begins.  Parents help the children learn how to wait, an important skill in life.

In order to succeed in the life skills of delaying gratification and tolerating frustration, children need to learn that they are not the center of the universe and, at times, other things and people, come first. That reality pops up quickly if there are siblings, who are also clamoring for attention.  Day care is another arena where the reality of learning to wait one’s turn takes hold.

Parents who try to fulfill their child’s every wish, to avoid tantrums, are setting up a pattern.  We need to remember that “no” and frustration are gifts to our children.  They can be the breeding ground of learning to be patient, have longer-term goals and consider the needs of others.If a child tantrums and get results, they are going to learn that’s how to get their way. Those who don’t learn to tolerate frustration can become demanding and self-centered. They often have problems with intimate relationships as well as friendship.  Compromise is not in their vocabulary as they are unable to consider the needs of others.  Their solution is to be demanding and manipulate to get their way.  Their entitled way of looking at the world can present problems in personal and professional relationships.

So, the next time you have to utter a reasonable “no”, don’t feel you are a meanie but simply a mindful parent, setting a precedent for a patient, caring person.

 

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Keeping Peace During The Holidays

Does anticipation of the holidays have you stressed – gifts to buy, people to invite, meals to make, in addition to your already busy daily schedule?  First, enjoy a slow, long,refreshing breath and then, keep reading.

The frenzy of festivities for adults inevitably trickles down to children.  They sense tension (if not the reason for it) and react.  Children are creatures of habit and find comfort in the security of routine….knowing what comes next.  It gives them some sense of control, which is something they don’t yet have much of.  As holiday preparations interfere with parents’ usual routines and their stress level increases and patience decreases, children may show signs of distress,  becoming more clingy, needy, cranky or combative.  They may present problems with activities that they normally do with relative ease.  Bedtime, waking up and going to school or their play may be affected.

If you observe any of the above, or other changes, in your child’s behavior lately, you might want to consider a quick self-check.   Are you feeling overwhelmed by adult responsibilites?  Do you have less time to play or talk with your children?  Do you feel less patient when they are not being angels?  Relax.

Your first step is to help yourself.  Think of what they tell us on airplanes. ” Put your own oxygen mask on first!” OK, another deep breath.  Then you need to summon your support system – spouse, parents, family, friends – to lighten your load.  See if you can organize your time better, eliminating the frills for a while.  Only do what is most important;  some tasks and chores can wait until after the holidays.  A babysitter, even a young one who can occupy the children while you are at home, can offer some breathing space.  Maintaining some of the routines that your children are attached to helps keep them grounded.

You already know that children are often the most problematic when you really need to get something done.  Spending ten or fifteen mintues with them (a story, game or simple project that they can continue with themselves) should allow you to return to your task more peacefully.  If what you are doing is something they can participate in (making cookies, etc.), even at a very simple level, they feel important and may actually be helpful.  Even clean-up can be done together if it’s presented as fun (“see if you can beat the clock”, etc.).  It’s easier to do if there’s a promise of  something special to follow. [“If we can finish this chore quicker, we’ll have more time to read a book together”]

Young children can feel overwhelmed by the level of activity  –  crowds of pople, having to sit on Santa’s lap, worrying about Santa and all those reindeer on the roof, having to kiss  or be adorable for scores of relatives and friends.  What we take for granted or fun can be stressful to a child, depending on their personality and age.  Taking a few moments to listen or observe your child, especially if they are not yet verbal or  inclined to express their feelings, can save a lot of time and energy.

The spirit of the season will be remembered, in the long run, not for the number of presents or events attended.  Feeling safe and secure in a loving family ignites the spark of the warm glow we feel when we think of the holidays.   Enjoy !

The Hardest Job In The World

If you want to drive a car, you have to take a course or read an informational booklet and pass a driving test,  In order to do many jobs, training and/or study is  a requirement.  Often, it seems that only parenthood requires no training or prerequisites.   Yet,most parents would agree, it is the most difficult and the most important ‘job’ of all ! How do we know that what we are doing is right?

children and stressWe are, in a way, training (to be a parent) from the day we are born.  Experiences we have with our own parents play an important role in the way we parent our children. Think about it….the ways you communicate, express anger, love, disappointment, etc.  You will likely recognize some similarities in the way you were parented.  Some families express love with hugs and kisses, words of endearment or encouragement, others with gifts.  Some people are not so comfortable with physical affection or words of praise.  Anger may be freely discharged (and then forgotten about) in one household and utterly shunned in another. How did your parents allow you to express your anger as a child?  Were you “seen but not heard” or could you vent your frustrations, and, in what ways?  A parent who was not allowed to express his/her own opinions as a child may have difficulty permitting his/her own child to do so.  Or, he/she may go to the other extreme (to NOT do what his/her parent did) by  allowing a child limitless expression.  All of the above constitutes our informal and, largely unconscious, job training for parenthood. How many times have you said, or done things that you vowed you would never do (because your parents did) ?  That is how deeply these feelings, thoughts and actions are imbedded.  We all do it sometimes.

There are other opportunities for honing parenting skills, especially if you don’t come by them naturally (ie, by familial ‘osmosis’).  Our parents, or grandparents, had Dr. Spock  if they had questions. Today, we have an embarrassment of riches in resource materials.  Any good website or bookstore has a wealth of information, begininning with pregnancy, delivery, nursing, etc., to problems with sleep, toileting, and sibling rivalry, all the way through helping children get into college. Your first difficult decision may be which book or site to choose!  Take some  time and plan to explore a few. Determine which information is organized in a reader friendly way; for example, chapters that are clearly defined so you can find what you are looking for quickly without having to read the whole book if you are short on time.  See if the writer’s style and philosophy of childrearing is something you and your family are comfortable with and can manage.

Another important and pleasurable way to gain knowledge is to vicariously experience parenting through family, friends and groups. Talking with others offers  a wonderful opportunity to stretch your parenting skills.  You can learn what might be in your future as you listen to others talk about their child(ren) who is older than yours.’ Mommy and Me’ groups are wonderful.  ‘Daddy and Me’ groups could accomplish the same goals with parent and child.    There is not necessarily a right or wrong way to parent. Each family is unique, as is each  family member. When you have gathered a variety of possible responses, you can choose  from an array of solutions that might better suit the personalities in your household.

And, that’s just the beginning.  When you have ‘launched’ your children, be prepared to be open to learning  how to grandparent.  Observe your parents doing it with your children, another great learning experience.

Discipline

One of the hardest tasks we parents have to undertake is disciplining our children. Eventually our tiny ones learn that they are ‘separate’ from mother and have different feelings, wants and ideas from us and are ready to test us. Discipline is all about the consistent practice of clear, preset rules to help encourage responsible behavior, at home, at school and in the community.

children and stressThings to consider:

  • Know your goal. Is it about punishment or teaching?
  • Children learn more by what they see and experience than by what we say.
  • Set a pattern for self-discipline that they can emulate.
  • Repeated physical punishment does NOT work…it engenders hostility and rebellion.
  • Physical punishment teaches children to hit, hurt others when they are frustrated or angry.

Does your child misbehave? [I know, silly question]

  • Encourage them to share their problems…listen to their distress.
  • Be firm but not dictatorial.
  • Self-check…how do you feel about authority?
  • Are you clear, firm, consistent, fair?
  • Does your child show signs of being turned off to you, school, friends?
  • Help your child take responsibility for his/her words and actions.
  • Don’t overload them with responsibilities; be appropriate to age, ability, personality.

Discipline:

  • Always begin with communication.
  • Listen to their feelings.
  • Be clear about your requirements of them.
  • Remain calm (not easy) as it demonstrates good self-control.
  • Don’t give mixed messages and practice what you preach.
  • Be firm and consistent so your child knows what to anticipate as a result of behavior.
  • Be a parent, not a friend…children need our guidance to develop their own beliefs.
  • Let the ‘consequence’ fit the misbehavior. When related, it has more meaning.
  • For young children, consequences need to be immediate and brief.
  • Discipline is easier with a spoonful of love and praise, if honest and warranted.
  • ENJOY your progeny and have FUN!