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!

They’re Watching You: How Your Relationship Impacts Your Children

I am a gardener so I sometimes experience the world in terms of flowers. Children are the flowers we ‘plant’ and nurture. How we do that has a considerable effect on how they sprout and blossom. The relationship we have with our partner/spouse has a considerable effect on how children learn to deal with others. As you read this, you may recall your own parent’s relationship and its impact on you.

From a very young age, our offspring experience and observe us. We are the most important people to them. They count of us for survival, guidance, teaching and fun. It is a given that they learn more from what we do than what we preach. Infants are more keenly aware of their surroundings, especially people, than professionals realized many years ago. When babies are exposed to parental tension, they experience bodily responses, just as young infants often respond to other crying infants by crying too. Parental figures provide their sense of security and can threaten feelings of safety when they are engaged in angry disputes.

As a therapist,  it is important to understand the family “soil” in which a person grew and developed. There are many connections related to the interactions of parents which serves as a blueprint for children’s future intimate relationships. Just as we see children playing house, feeding or soothing a doll, they are absorbing and reenacting their parent’s ways of behaving, especially with each other. They may shave like daddy, cook like mommy and hug their little ‘spouse’ or… yell at them. They may learn to boss or control their playmate or, on the other hand,  ask what they think or would like to do.

So, no matter what we tell our children about behavior, we influence their belief system by our own behavior.   Do we negotiate respectfully, giving our partner/spouse the time to explain his/her feelings and perspective? Are our children learning to trust, respect and still feel secure, even if they disagree with others? Do they see us arrive at compromise with which we can both be comfortable? What are we demonstrating ie, teaching about friendship, caring and affection?

As parents, we need to prepare, work and enrich the soil of relationship in which our children can grow and flourish. Just as the above is true for marriages, it is equally, if not more so, for parents who are divorcing. We can demonstrate that, even though the love may be gone, to maintain a viable marriage, we can differ, negotiate and compromise to offer a continuation of respectful and civil co-parenting.

Remember…. they are watching you.

Children and Stress

Children experience anxiety, even though they don’t need to worry about earning a living, paying bills, dealing with health issues, etc.

 three categories of  stressful events which affect children:

*   Environmental or developmental events, such as toilet training, beginning school,   learning and becoming more responsible for oneself.
*   Disturbing events include illness, accidents or death of a relative or  events such as the birth of a sibling, moving to a new house, a new school or a first camp experience.
*   Major stressful  events involve hospitalization for a chronic illness or surgery, a disabling accident, separation and divorce, family violence or the death of a parent or sibling.

Although many consider stress as a negative, It can help a child develop coping mechanisms.  Children’s reactions vary, depending on the reasons for the stress –  the child’s personality and a variety of social, psychological cultural and developmental factors. Temporary behavioral problems  arise when a child can’t cope with a situation.  For young children, temper tantrums, excessive clinging or fears. nightmares, bedwetting or a reluctance to attend school may indicate stress.  How adults react to these symptoms influences whether the distress is temporary or becomes chronic. We fserve as the alter ego of our young ones.  We can help them to understand an experience and separate reality from fantasy.

Here are some ways to help your young child cope:

*   Be aware of how your child thinks, feels and reacts at different stages of growth and development.  You’ll know what kinds of experiences can  be traumatic and be better equipped to assist.
*   Be honest and open but age appropriate in your responses when discussing a traumatic event to help your child build a sense of trust and strengthen your relationship.
*   Develop your children’s coping skills by offering information in  advance.
*   If your young child is struggling, talk about the problem in small doses to make it more manageable.  Provide facts and observe reactions.
*   If considerable anxiety or behavioral changes persist, consider consulting a mental health professional.

Children are wonderfully resilient but caring, understanding parental support is a crucial asset for learning how to manage life.